Whichever characteristic you feel best translates to success on the hardwood, the UNC Wilmington Seahawks probably have it.
Coaching? Kevin Keatts has two CAA Head Coach of the Year awards in two seasons at UNCW. Experience? The ‘hawks return two all-league seniors. Defense and depth? Those are prerequisites for Keatts’ Louisville-inspired style of play.
These factors have led to Wilmington being tabbed as the obvious favorite for the 2017 CAA title -- but winning it won’t be an easy task. The league hasn’t had a repeat champion since 2011.
Here’s who could prevent the Seahawks from going back-to-back:
William & Mary
If the W&M Tribe are going to finally break the Forgotten Five curse, Omar Prewitt and Daniel Dixon’s final season is a prime opportunity. Prewitt, the 6’7 sharpshooter, will contend for Player of the Year and lead coach Tony Shaver’s high-volume offense. Dixon will likely surpass 1,000 career points while complementing Prewitt on the perimeter.
It will be replacement by committee for the two starting big men that William & Mary lost, including leading rebounder and CAA Defensive Player of the Year Terry Tarpey. The Tribe should have little trouble scoring the ball, but how far they go next season will be based on how they execute on the other side of the court.
The Tigers’ reputation under Pat Skerry is defined by terms like gritty and physical — really, euphamisms for high personal foul rates. Towson is a team no one wants to meet in March and they’re eyeing a championship run in 2017. They are the antithesis of Wilmington’s light-footed attack.
Rising senior William Adala-Moto was eligible last year after two seasons at Wake Forest and will likely lead the team in points and rebounds again this year. He also has a bevy of burly forwards rotating beside him to provide energy, defense and toughness. Mike Morsell at guard is the other surefire starter -- the team’s best passer who can easily pull down five boards a night.
College of Charleston
A second-round exit in the 2016 CAA Tournament was nothing to write home about for Charleston, but there’s a lot of potential for Earl Grant’s young squad. Returning for the Cougars are CAA Freshman of the Year Jarrell Brantley, All-Freshman guard Marquise Pointer, leading scorer and All-CAA swingman Cam Johnson, and fellow All-Defensive guard Payton Hulsey.
That’s a lot of talent and chemistry to bring back and that doesn’t even include guards Joe Chealey and Grant Riller. Both players missed last season with injuries but will compete for a starting spot. The lack of a go-to scorer could make closing games tough for the Cougars, but the defense, newfound depth and experience makes them a challenger to their coastal neighbors.
A 21-win, third-place league finisher returns four starters from last year. Why aren’t they a shoe-in at the top of next year’s projections? Two reasons: first, that fifth starter was point guard Ron Curry — one of the best two-way players in the league. Second, after parting ways with Matt Brady, the Dukes will be under the tutelage of first-year coach Louis Rowe.
Shakir Brown is an explosive guard who can fill up the score sheet in a hurry and big guys like Dimitrije Cabarkapa and Yohanny Dalembert can compete in the paint with anyone in the CAA. If Rowe can find an answer at point guard, and balance his coaching preferences with the strengths of the team, JMU will be in good shape.