After the exodus of VCU, George Mason and Old Dominion, the Colonial Athletic Association went through a bit of a prolonged skid. A mid-major conference that sent three teams to the NCAA Tournament in 2011 would not get the same return in newcomers like Elon and CofC, but hardly lost all its footing over the next few years. Cut to the fall of 2015 and league preseason meetings were cautiously optimistic. The CAA was stable, returning a lot of talent and would perhaps have real parity for the first time in years.
Although the conference sent only UNCW to the Dance this year, it actually had a higher conference RPI (9th) than any multi-bid season. Here's how things shook out in one of the country's most competitive single bid races.
This is Part Two of a three-part Colonial Athletic Association season recap. View Part One HERE.
James Madison (21-11, 11-7)
Back in October, JMU was picked to finish the 2015-16 season in second place. Cut to the spring of 2016 and longtime coach Matt Brady was let go by the school. How did it that happen? Senior guard Ron Curry and junior big man Yohanny Dalembert were supposed to lead the program back to NCAA Tournament. The team had made it to the mountaintop in 2013, and with veteran talent across the court the timing would seem right.
Curry was again stellar - torching the nets and drawing opponents' best player each night to cruise to All-CAA and All-Defense honors. Unfortunately Dalembert and other players struggled with injuries and inconsistency. While solid defensively, Brady's lineups drew the ire of fans by too often devolving into jump shooting contests and sluggish play.
In Brady's eight seasons at the helm, the Dukes had only moved past the opening round of the CAA Tournament once - that fateful championship in 2013. A double-digit stomping from William & Mary in the first game of the 2016 postseason was enough for administrators to overlook regular season numbers and cut ties with their head coach.
Outlook: Wait and see. New coach and JMU alumni Louis Rowe doesn't have any experience as a head man, but will look to invigorate the fan base with an injection of youth. The cupboard is not completely empty - with guard Shakir Brown and Dalembert returning. Talented Niagara forward Ramone Snowden also becomes eligible. We're not sure what kind of system Rowe will unleash, but CAA coaches like Keatts and Skerry have been surprisingly successful in their first seasons.
William & Mary (20-11, 11-7)
Spoiler alert: William & Mary continued their unfortunate streak of having never made The Big Dance this season. The year started well enough with an opener win at NC State, and the brilliant guard play and offense of the Tribe kept them competitive throughout the season.
Junior wing Omar Prewitt put up All-CAA numbers (17.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 36% 3pt) in the absence of 2015 NBA lottery pick Marcus Thornton, and guys like Daniel Dixon and Terry Tarpey helped shoulder the scoring load. The points will always be there with a Tony Shaver-led team, the issue once again this year was delivering a consistent defensive effort. Fortunately Tarpey won a second straight DPOY award in his senior season - mostly because he was cleaning up for his teammates. Too often the Tribe were susceptible to dribble drives and kick outs, and it was an issue that came back to bite them in a CAA tourney loss to Hofstra.
Outlook: Steady. Prewitt returns for one more season and should be an early pick for Player of the Year. Dixon, David Cohn and sharpshooter Connor Burchfield are nice returning role players. Tarpey has graduated, so it will have to be defense by committee if William & Mary is going to stop anyone from dropping 80+ on them.
Northeastern (18-15, 9-9)
The 2015 CAA Champions came into this season with so much promise. They were returning four starters (three seniors) from their title run including tournament MVP Quincy Ford. Things started off great, as the Huskies came out of the gate at 4-1 before landing the league's best win of the year - a 78-77 triumph at Miami.
Then things started to spiral downward, especially in conference play. You would think the experienced lineup would not struggle with mental toughness, but the Huskies had a debilitating propensity to cough up big leads all year long. They were easily thrown off by the slightest defensive shifts from opponents and seemingly could not get to the line or buy easy baskets in second halves. This issue caused the team to slide down the standings all year.
There was a small glimmer of hope in the final stretch when NU won a veritable tiebreaker with Charleston for the much-coveted final first round tournament bye, but the feeling was short-lived as they were quickly bounced in the postseason.
Outlook: Not great. The Huskies lose the winningest trio of players to ever grace their court. One positive - the fifth starter in that group was 6'10 freshman center Jeremy Miller, who picked up All-Freshman Team honors. He'll have some big shoes to fill next year.