Last season proved that talent runs deep in the Colonial Athletic Association. Going into 2016-17, the defending champion UNC-Wilmington Seahawks return most of their championship team and are the early favorites to repeat. A muddled second tier of potential contenders will be nipping at their heels though, led by William & Mary, Towson and Charleston. After that is a cluster of intriguing rebuilds. If past seasons are any indication, one of these teams will catch the CAA off-guard in 2016-17.
Colonial Athletic Association Preseason Power Rankings:
1. UNC Wilmington
Three explosive starters, including All-CAA wing Chris Flemmings, return for the reigning CAA champions. Head coach Kevin Keatts’ Louisville-inspired pace will get an added boost with Old Dominion transfer Ambrose Mosley and another year of development for the rotating crop of athletic forwards.
Keatts took the Seahawks from worst to first in just two seasons, and now the pressure is on to stay consistent and make another tournament run with a target on their backs.
2. William & Mary
An already shaky defensive team loses Defensive Player of the Year Terry Tarpey, but will hum offensively behind seniors Omar Prewitt and Daniel Dixon. Prewitt should make a run at conference Player of the Year if he keeps the Tribe in contention for that elusive NCAA Tournament berth.
Guards David Cohn and Greg Malinowski will step up in coach Tony Shaver’s perimeter-oriented attack, but the small lineups need to improve defensively to prevent W&M from getting beat at the rim.
3. College of Charleston
Reinforcements are here for the Cougars, who had their ups and downs last season as multiple young players stepped into larger roles. With two starter-caliber players — Joe Chealey and Grant Riller — back from injury, Charleston has the depth to maintain its suffocating defense and keep enough in the tank to score on the other end.
Look for 2016 Freshman of the Year Jarrell Brantley to take another step in his development and shooting guard Cam Johnson to cement himself as one of the league’s best two-way players.
The Tigers may be the most physically intimidating team in a conference that usually favors speed and guard play. Big man William Adala Moto drew fouls at the highest rate in the league and will spearhead the five-man glass-cleaning effort. Scoring is the question mark for the Tigers, as they lost their starting point guard to the transfer market and the team is low on jump shooters.
5. James Madison
Despite losing do-all point guard Ron Curry, first-year head coach and JMU alum Louis Rowe inherits a team with plenty of experienced and talented players. Guard Shakir Brown figures to take on the majority of the scoring load, with productive former Niagara forward Ramone Snowden ready to contribute after sitting out last season. JuCo transfers Vince Holmes and Terrence Johnson also figure to play major roles, as they were hand-picked to execute Rowe’s spread offense.
The All-CAA backcourt of Juan’ya Green and Ameen Tanksley has moved on, leaving Hofstra to reload around talented forward Rokas Gustsys. The 6’9 Lithuanian center was a revelation as a sophomore last year, averaging 13.5 points (66 percent from the field) and 13 rebounds per game. Next season, we’ll see if he can duplicate the same success with sophomore guard Desure Buie and senior Brian Bernardi spotting up around him.
The three-point-heavy, motion offense of Elon plays at the fastest pace in the league and will start tapping into the young talent on the roster this year. 2-guard Stephen Santa Ana showed enough flashes as a freshman to step into the volume-shooting role that Matt Matheny has traditionally carved into the roster. Expect senior point guard Luke Eddy to find him, and All-Freshman forward Tyler Seibring on the perimeter for open looks.
Bill Coen has proven to be one of the top coaches in the CAA, but he has his work cut out for him when it comes to replacing one of the most successful classes in the school’s history. Forward/center Jeremy Miller is the only returning starter, but he is just a sophomore. TJ Williams returns from injury to run the point, but the rest of the roster has a lot of question marks.
Former Army head coach Zak Spiker begins the rebuild in Philadelphia to bring the Dragons back to contender status for the first time since 2012. The team needs to replace four of its six top scorers, but skilled forward Rodney Williams and Wake Forest transfer Miles Overton will help guide the transition. Regardless of results, Drexel will be a lot more fun to watch this season.
The Blue Hens somehow recovered from a stalled Athletic Director and head coach search by nabbing Notre Dame associate coach Martin Ingelsby to replace Monte Ross. Although it was too late to retain Kory Holden, Ingelsby was able to keep most of the team together and snag a few late recruits in the process. It looks like an uphill battle for UD, but Ingelsby has the full support of the program.