Mid-Major Top 10: Colonial Athletic Association

Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

The departure of Virginia Commonwealth from the Colonial Athletic Association leaves the conference without some of it presumed strength at the top, but that doesn't mean it is without its share of strong players. What players will lead the conference into its new age? We give you 10.

When it comes to the CAA, the conference doesn’t typically provide the household names that other mid-majors (read Creighton’s Doug McDermott) might, but it’d be foolish to think that there aren’t superstars among them.

Rather than assuming I know exactly how the CAA season is going to play out and forecasting numbers for the top players in the conference, I looked back at what the players did best last year (and what they need to improve on). It's certainly not a foolproof method because of potential breakout players, like Drexel's Damion Lee last year, but it's highly logical and decently reliable.

And if the players shake it up, well then I'll rerank them.

For now, here are the 10 best players in the Colonial Athletic Association:

10. Sherrod Wright, Jr., George Mason - 11-12 Stat line: 9.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.3 apg

It took a great deal of debating, but I decided to choose George Mason's Sherrod Wright over William and Mary's Marcus Thornton based on potential. Last year, Sherrod's points per game weren't impressive, but the rest of his game was ... overwhelmingly so. His free throw percentage came in at 85.9 percent, his field goal percentage at 52.9 percent, and his 3-point percentage at 40.4 percent. In any offense that hadn't been monopolized by Ryan Pearson last year, Wright would've been the dominant force. If he can continue to score efficiently (112.2 ORat at KenPom.com ($)), Wright has the tools to average 15 per game all year long for the Patriots.

9. Marcus Damas, Jr., Towson - 12.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.5 apg

As the only positive thing to come from Towson's absolutely abysmal 1-31 record last year, all the pressure in the world will be on Marcus Damas this year as the Tigers turn their attention to improving, which is almost inevitable. After putting up 12.5 points per game last year, the junior will have to seriously elevate his 35.6% field goal shooting and 70.7% foul shooting. But if he can, Damas has the talent and ability to put up 16 points a game and carry the Tigers to... 5 wins? But maybe that's wishful thinking.

8. Damion Lee, Soph., Drexel - 12.0 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 1.7 apg

Damion Lee burst on to the CAA basketball scene with his breakout performance in a game against George Mason in January of last season. The freshman went 8-for-14 from the field and shot 4-for-9 from 3-point land against the Patriots and never looked back. His role in the team's offense ballooned as the season went on, and I'm interested to see how he produces in his sophomore effort. With Drexel going fully guard-oriented, he and Frantz Massenat will lead the Dragons, and if he improves his 77.3 percent free throw shooting, Lee has the potential to be one of the best in the conference.

7. Joel Smith, Sr., Northeastern - 12.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.5 apg

Joel Smith is a key part of Northeastern's big three this season, and while I see him as a lesser player when compared with teammate Jonathan Lee, he is still a dominant force in the lineup for the Huskies. While he improved his free throw percentage by more than 10 percentage points last season, his 2- and 3-point field goal percentages both dropped significantly, due in part to his increased offensive role. If Smith can get his scoring efficiency back to where it was during his sophomore season and maintain the number of opportunities he received last year, Smith could be No. 1b on this Huskies team rather than No. 2.

6. A.J. Davis, Sr., James Madison - 15.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.9 apg

As James Madison's top returning player this year, all of the pressure from Dukes fans will be on senior A.J. Davis, and I'm curious to see how he responds. Davis' stats were well-rounded last year, and if he can improve his free throw percentage and try to be more prudent with his shot selection (attempting five 3-pointers per game is nearly never smart basketball), he could have a phenomenal year. However, I'm putting Davis at sixth because carrying the team on his back could deflate his already-average 43.7 percent field goal shooting from last year.

5. Jonathan Lee, Sr., Northeastern - 14.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.5 apg

Northeastern shows significant promise this season by returning their top three scorers in Jonathan Lee, Joel Smith, and Quincy Ford. Lee will be at the front of that offensive trio. Last season, he averaged 14.5 points per game with 41.7 percent accuracy from the 3-point line. Already an offensive machine (55% effective field goal percentage/59.4% true shooting percentage), Lee can boost his effectiveness if he could just do one thing: limit his turnovers. His giveaways increased to 3.1 per game last year, although his overall turnover percentage went down. If he can continue to "improve" in that category, he could be a real juggernaut for the Huskies.

4. Keith Rendleman, Sr., UNC-Wilmington - 15.3 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 1.2 apg

UNC-Wilmington had a rough go during last season, finishing 10-21, but one of the brightest spots in the Seahawks' campaign was Keith Rendleman, who finished the year averaging a double-double as one of the most statistically well-rounded players in the conference. His field goal percentage was extremely strong (53.0%) and with improvements from the free throw stripe, Rendleman can rack up yet another great individual season. His real problem will be figuring out how to transfer his skills to the rest of a lackluster team.

3. Jamelle Hagins, Sr., Delaware - 12.4 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 3.0 bpg

When you're talking about motivation, it's hard to get more serious than a senior college basketball player with the chance to take over his field in the upcoming season. Jamelle Hagins has the chance to become the dominant big man in the CAA coming off a stellar double-double season that also saw him average three blocks per game. He shot unbelievably effectively from the field last year (54.8%) and, if he can improve on what was an improved, but still weak 66.7 percent free throw percentage, Hagins will become the pre-eminent Colonial force under the hoop.

2.Frantz Massenat, Jr., Drexel - 13.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 4.8 ppg

With the departure of big man Sammie Givens, Frantz Massenat will be stepping into the official leadership position with the Dragons. As they transition into a guard-led offense -- and playing alongside No. 8 Damion Lee -- Massenat can look to improve on what was a phenomenal offensive season last year. His 45.0 percent 3-point shooting is lights out, and while it's foolish to think he can keep that up, it's also foolish to think he hasn't been developing his game in order to cement Drexel's place in the NCAA Tournament this year. Expect 17 points per game from Massenat as the Dragons terrorize the village of the CAA.

1. Devon Saddler, Jr., Delaware - 18.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.8 apg

The Fighting Blue Hens of Delaware hope to finish high in the conference, and Devon Saddler figures to play the lead role in those plans. As the top returning scorer in the CAA, Saddler can lift the Hens to new heights if he can further increase his 18.8 points per game average. The sore spot in his numbers last year was his field goal percentage, which dropped to a subpar 39.1 percent (and depressed his ORat to just 96.3). However, he was taking 5.1 more shots per game over his freshman year, and actually improved offensively in other ways. If the improvement continues this year, there is no reason Saddler can't average 20 points and lead the Blue Hens to new heights.

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