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2014-15 Mid-Major Conference Preview: Colonial Athletic Association

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In a conference lacking star power and sex appeal, the veteran Northeastern Huskies look poised to claim the CAA this winter.

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Jerrelle Benimon failed.

After transferring from Georgetown to Pat Skerry's Towson Tigers, Benimon earned back-to-back Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year honors, led the conference in rebounding, finished fifth in scoring and third in assists. He powered Towson to it's winningest single season in the 35-year history of the school's program. Yet he failed to deliver a NCAA Tournament appearance to the Tiger faithful.

Benimon graduated this past spring. So did Delaware's Devon Saddler, Davon Usher and Carl Baptiste. Drexel's Frantz Massenat and Chris Fouch, William & Mary's Tim Rusthoven, College of Charleston's Willis Hall and Hofstra's Zeke Upshaw are gone as well.

Suddenly, a parity-riddled, smaller Colonial is now left as a top-heavy league of 10 teams.

This season, Northeastern's Scott Eatherton and William & Mary's Marcus Thornton find themselves in a similar position as Benimon was a year ago; seniors who have collected accolades left and right and piloted terrific statistical collegiate careers. Like Benimon, both are bound to play professional basketball for many years. Can either lead his respective team to the Big Dance?

Without further ado, here is the 2014-15 Mid-Major Madness CAA Preview:

1. Northeastern Huskies

Last Year: 11-21, 7-9 CAA

Departures: Chris Avenant (1.3 ppg), Demetrius Pollard (8.9 ppg)

Key Returners: Scott Eatherton (15.9 ppg, 10.2 rpg), David Walker (11.5 ppg), Reggie Spencer (9.2 ppg)

Key Additions: Quincy Ford (Red-Shirt), C.J. Hill (Red-Shirt), Devon Begley (Freshman)

Scott Eatherton dominated his first year in the CAA, taking home Defensive Player of the Year honors, but team struggled as a whole. The Huskies' 11-21 record was a huge drop-off from their 20-win campaign that led to the 2013 CAA regular season title. The offense was stagnant as Bill Coen's attack tended to force-feed Eatherton and Spencer inside. Perhaps that issue was a result of losing versatile swingman Quincy Ford to back surgery for the entire year, leaving inexperienced guards in David Walker and T.J. Williams with a lot of responsibility to create from the perimater. But now, Ford returns, they've added another big guard in Begley and also a red-shirt freshman in C.J. Hill. Suddenly, Coen's club is the most veteran crew in the league and it's NCAA's or bust on Huntington Avenue this winter.

2. Hofstra Pride

Last Year: 10-23, 5-11

Departures: Zeke Upshaw (19.8 ppg, 4.2 rpg), Stephen Nwaukoni (6.2 ppg, 8.8 rpg), Jordan Allen (Transfer, 6.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg)

Key Returners: Dion Nesmith (13.3 ppg, 4.2 apg), Jamall Robinson (9.5 ppg, 4.2 rpg), Moussa Kone (7.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg)

Key Additions: Juan'ya Green (Transfer, Niagara), Ibrahim Djambo (Transfer, Clemson), Brian Bernardi (Transfer, SMU), Ameen Tanksley (Niagara), Malik Nichols (Transfer, South Plains)

A year after Zeke Upshaw followed head coach Joe Mihalich from Niagara to Hofstra and lit up the CAA, red-shirt junior guard Juan'ya Green is primed to take over the scoring load. Green averaged 16.5 points and 4.0 rebounds per game in his sophomore season at Niagara in 2012-13 before sitting the entire 2013-14 season due to the NCAA's transfer laws. Green, a CAA Preseason First Team selection, will be paired with grad student Dion Nesmith, a preseason CAA second team selection, who is the top-returning assist man in the CAA. Mix in a hot-shooting Jamall Robinson, Moussa Kone and the Pride have a solid core. That's also before you look at the other four transfers Mihalich has who are now eligible. After three-straight losing seasons, the Pride are no joke.

3. William & Mary Tribe

Last Year: 20-12, 10-6

Departures: Tim Rusthoven (12.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg), Brandon Britt (10.7 ppg), Julian Boatner (5.1 ppg)

Key Returners: Marcus Thornton (18.7 ppg), Omar Prewitt (11.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg), Kyle Gaillard (6.9 ppg, 3.7 rpg)

Key Additions: Michael Schlotman (Red-Shirt), Jack Whitman (Red-Shirt), Greg Malinowski (Freshman), Paul Rowley (Freshman), Oliver Tot (Freshman)

The Tribe was 25 seconds away from capturing the CAA title and advancing to the big dance in March before Delaware swiped the crown. William & Mary returns Marcus Thornton, voted preseason CAA Player of the Year, for his senior season, but they did graduate two of their top four scorers from a year ago in Tim Rusthoven and Brandon Britt. Now, the door is open for Thronton and Omar Prewitt to flourish as perimeter scorers. Still, the Tribe will have to trouble defending the paint, especially considering top contenders like Northeastern and Hofstra have the bodies to dominate around the rim. Head coach Tony Shaver will have to rely on inexperienced 6-9 junior Sean Sheldon (14.7 mpg a year ago) and freshmen bigs Jack Whitman and Paul Rowley. William & Mary has the shooters to succeed, but will his Tribe's defense be sufficient enough to win the league?

4. Drexel Dragons

Last Year: 16-14, 8-8

Departures: Frantz Massenat (17.5 pgg, 4.7 apg), Chris Fouch (18.3 ppg), Dartaye Ruffin (5.0 ppg, 7.7 rpg)

Key Returners: Tavon Allen (11.7 ppg), Kazembe Abif (7.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg), Rodney Williams (5.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg), Freddie Wilson (2.6 ppg)

Key Additions: Damion Lee (Red-Shirt)

Bruiser Flint expected his club to compete for the CAA crown a year ago. In his mind, a lethal lineup of speedy, long and sweet-shooting guards would prove to be a matchup nightmare in the historically slow-paced Colonial. Then, Damion Lee tore his ACL just five games into the season and the Dragons' NCAA Tourney hopes disappeared. The one positive? Lee now has two more years of eligibility with a pretty decent young core of more speedy, long and sweet-shooting guards in Philly. Flint has his system, let's see how well it works this season.

5. College of Charleston Cougars

Last Year: 14-18, 6-10

Departures: Willis Hall (12.3 ppg, 9.2 rpg), Nori Johnson (7.5 ppg), Anthony Thomas (7.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg)

Key Returners: Anthony Stitt (10.0 ppg, 3.1 apg), Canyon Barry (9.3 ppg), Adjehi Baru (9.0 ppg, 7.5 rpg), Joe Chealey (6.9 ppg)

Key Additions: Donovan Gilmore (Freshman)

After the Doug Wojick scandal shook the entire Charleston athletic department, the Earl Grant era is set to begin at The College. Grant has been dealt a nice opening hand, as well. Charleston is by far the biggest team in the conference with 11 of the 15 players on the roster standing taller than 6-4. The front court features senior Adjehi Baru, who was named to the CAA Preseason second team and this could also be the year 7-2 junior Tulsa transfer David Wishon (12.6 mpg) evolves into a legitimate contributor. Still at the end of the day, the Cougars will only be as successful as Anthony Stitt and Canyon Barry, NBA legend Rick Barry's youngest son, are offensively. This team is built to protect the paint, can those two provide the sizzle to the team's defensive steak?

6. James Madison Dukes

Last Year: 11-20, 6-10

Departures: Charles Cooke (Transfer, 14.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg), Andrey Semenov (10.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg), Taylor Bessick (Transfer, 6.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg)

Key Returners: Andre Nation (15.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.0 spg), Ron Curry (12.1 ppg, 3.4 apg), Jackson Kent (5.9 ppg, 2.5 rpg)

Key Additions: Winston Grays (Transfer, Cincinnati State), Dante Sterling (Freshman)

A year removed from their conference championship and NCAA Tournament appearance, the Dukes stumbled in 2013-14, largely due to the fact Andre Nation was suspended for half the season. Sure enough, Nation is set for the sidelines  for the first five games of this campaign. If he serves his suspension and returns to the court locked in and focused to lead the Dukes, James Madison can compete in this conference with a dynamic 20-point scorer who doubles as one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. The loss of Charles Cooke, who transferred to Dayton is tough, but Matt Brady has Winston Grays now in Harrisonburg from Cincinnati State and Dante Sterling, a 6-5 guard from Georgia, to help fill the void. Junior Ron Curry can hold down the point like the best of them in the Colonial, but the he Dukes will only go as Nation goes. Many are skeptical he can even make it through the full season without being dropped from the program.

7. Towson Tigers

Last Year: 25-11, 13-3

Departures: Jerrelle Benimon (18.7 ppg, 11.2 rpg, 3.6 apg), Rafriel Guthrie (11.4 ppg), Marcus Damas (11.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg), Mike Burwell (10.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg)

Key Returners: Four McGlynn (9.2 ppg), Timajh Parker-Rivera (6.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg)

Key Additions: A.J. Astroh (Transfer), Josh Ivory (Transfer), Mike Morsell (Freshman)

Pat Skerry has continues to recruit talented transfers to Towson. First came Benimon in 2012, then came Four McGlynn in 2013 and now A.J. Astroh (Vanderbilt) and Josh Ivory (Cleveland State) will hit the hardwood for the Tigers this winter. Unfortunately, the additions still won't be enough to counteract losing Towson's top-four scorers from a year ago. McGylnn is a lights-out shooter (40.8% 3PT), but he thrives as a secondary option. Skerry desperately needs someone else to step up and shoulder the scoring load.

8. Delaware Fighting Blue Hens

Last Year: 25-10, 14-2

Departures: Devon Saddler (19.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.6 apg) Davon Usher (19.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg), Jarvis Threatt (18.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 5.4 apg) Carl Baptiste, (11.1 ppg, 7.9 rpg)

Key Returners: Kyle Anderson (11.0 ppg), Marvin King-Davis (5.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg), Cazmon Hayes (2.0 ppg)

Key Additions: Chivarsky Corbett (Freshman), Kory Holden (Freshman)

Fresh off a run to the NCAA Tournament, Monte Ross' squad should plummet to the conference's cellar this season. We've already mentioned Saddler, Usher and Baptiste graduating. To make matters worse, Jarvis Threatt was dismissed from the program in June and he's now pursuing a professional career. Suddenly, sharpshooter Kyle Anderson (37.6% 3PT) is left as the team's best scoring option and with few tested pieces around him. Sophomore Cazmon Hayes played bigger minutes when Threatt was suspended towards the end of the regular season and King-Davis is the only returning big man that played major minutes. It will be a tough year in Newark. The Hens are essentially an even less sexy version of the already un-sexy Towson team.

9. UNCW Seahawks

Last Year: 9-23, 3-13

Departures: Shane Reybold (6.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg)

Key Returners: Cedrick Williams (11.5 ppg, 6.6 rpg), Addison Spruill (9.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg), Freddie Jackson (7.3 ppg)

Key Additions: Yemi Makanjuola (Transfer, Tennessee)

Former Louisville associate head coach Kevin Keatts claims the reigns of the Seahawks program this year after four unsuccessful years under Buzz Peterson. UNCW returns its top-two scorers and many key contributors while the addition of Makanjuola (Tennessee) will also add an improvement. But UNCW is still a year away from returning to competition. Keatt has four more transfers in Marcus Bryan (UNC Charlotte), Chris Flemmings (Barton), Jarvis Haywood (Jacksonville) and Denzel Ingram (UNCW Charlotte) all sitting out this season due to the NCAA's transfer policy. Get ready for the Seahawks in a year. But right now, they'll stay in the conference's cellar where they've been trapped for six-straight seasons.

10. Elon Phoenix

Last Season:  18-14, 11-5 Southern Conference

Departures: Lucas Troutman (15.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg), Sebastian Koch (11.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg), Ryley Beaumont (10.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg), Jack Isenbarger (9.0 ppg)

Key Returners: Tanner Samson (9.4 ppg, 3.6 rpg), Austin Hamilton (6.2 ppg, 2.5 apg)

Key Additions: Demitri Thompson (Freshman), Collin Luther (Freshman), Jack Anton (Freshman), Jack George (Freshman), Elijah Bryant (Freshman)

Entering their first season as members of the Colonial Athletic Association, the Elon Phoenix are bound to endure one of the more disappointing seasons in recent program history. Elon graduated its top three scorers from a year ago in Troutman, Koch and Beaumont, leaving coach Matheny without a returning player who averaged double digits in scoring in 2013-14. Now it's time for 6-4 junior guard Tanner Sampson to claim the reigns of the Phoenix. Sampson played in all 32 of Elon's games last year, making 22 starts. He averaged 9.4 points on a night on a ridiculous 43.4 percent clip from three-point land. He has the potential to challenge Towson's Four McGlynn and Delaware's Kyle Anderson for the top shooter in the CAA. The problem: He'll have no help.