The final season of the CAA under its first commissioner had a lot to remember. And when the season ended, the changes were only just about to begin, and they didn’t end with the retiring leader.
The conference had some good talent returning, and there was every reason to expect it to be as competitive as ever. That certainly panned out, although a three-game difference between the teams who tied for first and the three teams right behind them might not indicate it. Road teams had a particularly good year, winning exactly half the time in conference play, and no team ran the table at home. Seven of the ten teams had a winning road record in conference play, and only one of those teams didn’t have a winning overall road record (William & Mary finished 7-7, which is still .500).
Three more NCAA Tournament bids went out on Sunday, all to familiar faces. One had a familiar ending, while another nearly had a quirk in the end result.
It was six years ago that Ali Farokhmanesh was one of the newest names born in the month of March, hitting a big three-pointer to sink No. 1 seed Kansas and lift Northern Iowa into the Sweet 16. The Panthers have been a steady program over the years, especially under Ben Jacobson, as they have finished in the top half of the Missouri Valley Conference for 13 straight years. They are headed to the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in his tenure now, though it didn’t look like it would happen for much of the season.
Two NCAA Tournament bids went out on Saturday night, one expected and one not necessarily expected at the beginning of the day. And for different reasons, you can’t blame either coach if they got a little emotional.
We start with the Ohio Valley Championship game, the one certainty when the day began. UT-Martin, who has never been to the NCAA Tournament, took on Austin Peay, the school that’s been there six times and has been among the signature programs in the conference for a long time. Head coach Dave Loos, who for a long time was also the athletic directory, turned 69 on Saturday and has been doing this for a long time. He is the winningest coach in Ohio Valley Conference history, having been at Austin Peay for 26 years; the conference’s other coaches have combined to be at their schools for 33 years. He’s seen a lot, and won a lot, but this one was clearly different for him.
It hasn’t taken long to be reminded of why March is the best month of basketball (or to me, the best month of the year). In another sense, we’ve been reminded why, as wonderful as the NCAA Tournament is, conference tournaments are college basketball at its finest.
And we’re still only just beginning. Not only that, but there was big news in games outside of conference tournaments as well, making it the biggest Friday night in a while.
Welcome to the latest edition of Talking Hoops with Ted Sarandis. In it, Ted and I get into the start of the best month of basketball, as Championship Week is now upon us.
We start with a look at some of the postseason awards that came out this week, which was in a number of mid-major conferences. In doing so, we specifically take note of one standout player and team who will be in a conference tournament next week, and they might be a trendy upset pick if they win.
The final CAA Tournament under the only commissioner it has ever known, Tom Yeager, is ahead of us starting on Friday night. If the season to date is any indication, what is also the last tournament in Baltimore – it moves to Charleston for the next three years – should be a great four days.
Before that, we will learn who takes home the conference’s postseason awards. As is always the case at this time of the year, I feel it is worth sharing how I voted for the CAA postseason awards. I have been a voter for the last 11 years, and always feel like this also gives a sense of how I saw the season play out and how things look heading into the conference tournament.
Not only are we in the midst of the holidays, but conference play beckons if it hasn’t already started. Non-conference play is almost complete, and teams form impressions during this time of how they will be in conference play. Even so, as is always the case this is imperfect. Conference play is a different animal, as teams are more familiar with each other from having played each other every year. That’s why we see some teams even in mid-majors get nice wins in non-conference play, but then lose games in conference play that strike the untrained eye as head-scratchers.
It is with that in mind that we take a look at how all 31 conferences shape up based on non-conference play thus far.
In a conference that has seen lots of changes recently, the CAA got news of one more big one this past off-season. Tom Yeager, the only commissioner the conference has known, will retire at the end of the academic year. There is a time and place for reflection on what he has built, along with his place as a well-respected influencer in college basketball, and that will come. A more pressing question is: what kind of conference will he leave behind?
An unfortunate part of his legacy will be that the CAA was hit hard by conference realignment more than once, and that can’t be pinned on him. The first time, just after the new century, put the conference in danger, but it survived and subsequently thrived after adding strong members from another conference. More recently, however, the conference was among the hardest hit, watching signature programs George Mason, Old Dominion and VCU leave along with Georgia State, who had just turned a corner after an otherwise uninspiring tenure in the conference. Two of those four left to play Division I-A football.
Jr. G Canyon Barry
So. G Cameron Johnson
Jr. G Payton Hulsey
So. F Donovan Gilmore
Sr. F James Bourne
G Anthony Stitt and F Adjehi Baru are starters who are gone from last season’s team. They will also be without G Joe Chealey, who will redshirt due to a leg injury sustained in practice.
52 percent of scoring and 47.7 percent of rebounding
Fr. F Jarrell Brantley
Sr. F James Bourne (transfer from Winthrop)
Jr. G Payton Hulsey (junior college transfer)
Fr. G Marquise Pointer
Fr. G Grant Riller
The non-conference schedule is a little more manageable than in past seasons, but still has some challenges. Six homes games are included, with Big South defending champion Coastal Carolina, LSU and East Carolina being the most noteworthy opponents. They go on the road to play Davidson and Miami. CAA play has a tough start with three of the first four games on the road, though they later have a stretch with five of six at home.
Last year was a tough transition year as Earl Grant took over in September. They won a game in the CAA Tournament, so they finished well. Now, they have a group with new players all over the floor, and Grant has indicated there will be plenty of competition for minutes and roles. That should only intensify with Chealey lost for the season due to injury, which likely means either Hulsey or Pointer gets the nod; don’t be surprised if it’s Pointer as he can play and was well-tested in high school. Gilmore showed some promise last season, while O’Donhue had 14 rebounds in their CAA Tournament win and Bourne should boost them right away as their most experienced player up front. Brantley should get every opportunity to play as well. Barry is the one guy this team can definitely hang their hat on, and Johnson should start alongside him again. The Cougars were one of the best defensive teams in the conference last season, and they’ll need to repeat that this season since they lost three of their top four scorers from last season if you include Chealey. They should be competitive, but are probably a year away from contending, especially since Chealey’s absence will mean younger players get more of an opportunity to grow now than they would have otherwise.
In our latest podcast, we touch on a number of issues affecting conferences like Conference USA, as well as a big loss for Creighton, less mystery in Arizona, and more on the ACC as we look forward to the weekend.
In our latest podcast, we talk about a short stint in the top spot of the polls, some developments in the Mountain West Conference, and more of the ACC before closing with the Big East and Atlantic 10.
In our latest podcast, we talk about the great games Kentucky has been a part of lately. We go on to other ACC matters involving arch rivals, as well as some quick hits and a conference race that should be as good as expected.
In our latest podcast, we talk about a coaching legend reaching a milestone, the defending champs looking very good and continuing their winning ways close to home, and some off-court news during a light week of game action.
Early season tournaments are the focus in this episode, with a look at how strong a few Big East teams are out of the gate and how strong the ACC could be. Plus one SEC team had a big week outside the scope of tournaments.
We look back at the 2016 Boston Back to School Showcase, where a couple of Boston City League teams were among the most impressive on the day.
We look back at the championship games of the 2016 Hoopville Spring Finale, which had a big local flavor as one might have expected.
We look ahead to the 2016 Hoopville Spring Finale, held at a familiar location in Boston.
Sunday was a big day for the host program at the 44th Boston Shootout
The Boston Back to School Showcase gave high school teams from three states and north of the border a chance for a couple of early games. We take a look back at the day and a few who stood out.