The Colonial Athletic Association’s 25th anniversary season saw something that rarely happens these days: the team picked to win actually won. Old Dominion, the preseason favorite, was the top seed in the conference tournament and took home the title and lone NCAA Tournament bid. They proceeded to beat Notre Dame in the first round before bowing out to Baylor in the second round.
What the season didn’t see is a second team in the NCAA Tournament. Although a couple of teams had good non-conference wins and relatively good profiles, no one joined Old Dominion in the NCAA Tournament. Northeastern and William & Mary made the NIT, while VCU and Hofstra made the CBI (VCU won it) and George Mason made the Collegeinsider.com Tournament. The general feeling was that the Monarchs had a good chance at an at-large bid if someone knocked them off in the CAA Tournament.
The CAA set a record with the six postseason teams, one more than the five from last season.
The conference had a clear top seven teams and a good drop-off to the five teams behind them in the standings. All seven teams won at least 10 CAA games, the first time that has ever happened. Hofstra, who finished seventh, got there largely from a great month of February. There wasn’t a dominant team among the top seven, and while the bottom five were clearly a notch below them, every one of those teams scored a win over a team in the top seven. All five teams were there for a reason: Towson lacked any semblance of frontcourt play, Georgia State was consistently inconsistent, UNC Wilmington could never get their offense going, and injuries hit James Madison and Delaware hard.
This year was one where juniors fared well, which lends some hope for next year. Nine of the 15 all-conference players were juniors, with seven of them placing on the first or second team. One will not be back, as VCU big man Larry Sanders declared for the NBA Draft and signed with an agent, but having eight all-conference juniors return for one more year bodes well.
One subject of discussion around the conference tournament centered on the future of it. Right now, the CAA Tournament is set through 2012 in Richmond, but the condition of the Richmond Coliseum is the elephant in the proverbial room. Sources say the city is likely to put some money into it, but commissioner Tom Yeager had a long list of issues with the facility and it’s unlikely enough money will be put into it to resolve an appreciable number of them. The current economic conditions have something to do with it, but there’s also a question of the bang for the buck the city would get as the Coliseum is used for more than just the CAA Tournament. For a lot of reasons, it’s hard to imagine the tournament being held outside of Richmond, and that was the general sentiment expressed, but that possibility may be explored more in the months ahead as the conference looks for where it will be held following 2012.
|William & Mary
The first round saw just one upset, with No. 11 James Madison sending Drexel home early. A night later, the Dukes threatened to do the same thing to William & Mary before a big second half by Danny Sumner and a clutch shot late by David Schneider put the favorites in the semifinals. Hofstra narrowly escaped in the first round against Georgia State, then took Northeastern to the brink in the quarterfinals in a double overtime loss. The semifinals were terrific games, with Old Dominion knocking off arch-rival VCU and William & Mary handing Northestern a heart-breaking loss to set up the title game matchup. William & Mary made it a game after a slow start, but the favorites had too much and took home the title and the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. It marked eighth time in the last nine years that the top seed has won the tournament.
Player of the Year: Charles Jenkins, Hofstra
Rookie of the Year: Chris Fouch, Drexel
Defensive Player of the Year: Larry Sanders, VCU
Coach of the Year: Tony Shaver, William & Mary
Chaisson Allen, Jr. G, Northeastern
Matt Janning, Sr. G, Northeastern
Charles Jenkins, Jr. G, Hofstra
Gerald Lee, Sr. F, Old Dominion
Larry Sanders, Jr. F-C, VCU
- CAA teams were 80-76 in non-conference play, highlighted by seven wins over teams from the six power conferences, nine more against Atlantic 10 teams and a 4-1 mark against Conference USA opponents.
- Old Dominion became the third CAA team in the last five years to win at least one NCAA Tournament game. It was the first time since 2007 that happened, and coincidentally, all three teams were a No. 11 seed.
- William & Mary had the best non-conference run of any CAA school. The Tribe had a difficult schedule, but pulled off wins at Wake Forest and Maryland and also beat Richmond at home.
- Northeastern had a tough non-conference slate, and early on they lost a lot of close games. But late in December, they started an 11-game winning streak that carried them well into CAA play.
- Charles Jenkins could always score, he rebounded well for his size and people knew he was unselfish. But this year, he found a consistent jump shot, especially from long range as he was fourth in the conference at 40.9 percent, and that helped him become the conference’s Player of the Year.
- In a bad year for James Madison, Denzel Bowles was the big bright spot as he led the conference in scoring and rebounding.
What we expected, and it happened: Old Dominion was the conference’s best team. They were the preseason favorites, and for much of the conference season was on top in the standings. The Monarchs rode the leadership of Gerald Lee and a well-balanced lineup to the NCAA Tournament and a first round win.
What we expected, and it didn’t happen: James Madison finished near the bottom. A torn ACL ended Devon Moore’s season before it began, and that didn’t help since he was a big reason the Dukes surprised many last year. The Dukes never really got untracked, and head coach Matt Brady felt the team didn’t improve over the course of the season the way he hoped they would.
What we didn’t expect, and it happened: William & Mary was a contender and in the discussion for an NCAA Tournament at-large bid. Certainly, one had to figure the Tribe would be closer to the team of two seasons ago than that of last season, but surely no one had them picking up the aforementioned non-conference wins and then getting to the conference championship game for the second time in three years.
Team(s) on the rise: George Mason and VCU. The Patriots showed their youth at times this season and might have overachieved a little, although they certainly weren’t lacking talent. The Rams had some growing pains at first adjusting to new head coach Shaka Smart and life without Eric Maynor, but they took advantage of the CBI to grow as a team and improve from the regular season. Larry Sanders is gone a year early, but the Rams have a year under Smart and will return a lot next season.
Team(s) on the decline: Georgia State. It’s hard to put anyone in this category with so many teams having a lot of players back, and if we’re talking about projections for next season, it would be easy to put Northeastern here because the Huskies lose so much. But the Huskies are in a good position looking a little past next year even if they take a step back. Georgia State, on the other hand, doesn’t appear to be getting better. They looked to be a team on the rise before 2008-09 and didn’t hit their stride until late in the season, and never seemed to get untracked this season. What next season holds is anyone’s guess, but most figured this team would be off and running by now after all the promise Rod Barnes’ first season had.
2010-11 CAA Outlook
2010-11 could be a banner year for the conference just based on returning talent. Of the 15 all-conference players, 10 will return next season, including the Player of the Year, and all but one from the All-Defensive team will return. But go to the statistical leaders and it gets better, because the top four scorers and six of the top ten all return, along with 11 of the top 13 rebounders and eight of the top ten assist men. For good measure, the top five marksmen from long range will return as well.
It doesn’t stop there, as many teams will return a high percentage of starters and key players, while the two bottom teams in the conference will each return a starter who missed this season due to injury. Old Dominion will have a strong chance to repeat as champions with only two departing seniors, although Gerald Lee will not be a small loss. George Mason and VCU will bring back most of their teams and should be contenders, and Hofstra will also return much of its team but has not had a smooth off-season in the coaching department. Northeastern and William & Mary will take hits in the personnel department, but neither should fall far and both are in good positions long-term.
It all adds up to reason for optimism in the conference next season. Coaches expressed plenty of that at Media Day last October, and chances are there will be even more of it five months from now.