It seems like every season the CAA has a player who comes out of nowhere to take over the conference. Last year, Northeastern’s T.J. Williams more than tripled his points per game average to win Player of the Year. Wilmington’s Devontae Cacok developed almost overnight from a raw freshman prospect into the league’s Defensive Player of the Year, and the NCAA’s record holder for field goal percentage (80%) over a season.
UNCW hitting the reset button after two straight championships opens the door for a number of players to seize the national spotlight. The league is definitely not devoid of returning talent or potential breakout stars, which should make for a competitive awards race.
Joe Chealey, Charleston – Player of the Year
Chealey is the only returnee from last season’s All-CAA First Team, and he will be the floor leader for what many believe will be the league’s best team. The CAA’s top honor has been awarded to a senior guard each of the past three seasons, and Chealey seems like the logical successor. He averaged nearly 18 points per game last season on an efficient 60 percent true shooting percentage, and was the go-to game closer for the Cougars in crunch time with his three-point shooting and ability to get to the free throw line. If things fall into place for CofC, Chealey will also be the best player on the CAA’s best team.
Justin Wright-Foreman, Hofstra
Wright-Foreman was another out-of-nowhere star last season. He barely played as Hofstra chased a title his freshman year, but the sweet-shooting guard was a stud as a sophomore. After scoring 14 points against Kentucky, he took full advantage of Joe Mihalich’s green light and scored in double-figures every game the rest of the season, including four games with 30 or more. The Pride are going to put up a lot of points this season, and Wright-Foreman will be the catalyst.
Mike Morsell, Towson
The CAA awards selection committee loves seniors, and Morsell should be the two-way star of a very competitive Towson team. The Tigers’ leading scorer last season and a CAA third team selection, Morsell still has room to grow and will have a larger role this year after the graduation of Towson’s starting frontcourt. Like most of Pat Skerry’s players, the 6’5’’ wing rebounds well for his position and gets to the line. If he picks up his efficiency on offense, Towson will be a dangerous team.
Jarrell Brantley, Charleston
Brantley is a matchup problem at the mid-major level. At 6’9’’ and 250 pounds, he bullies smaller defenders with excellent footwork and positioning in the paint. He can also migrate out to the perimeter and become a threat to shoot, or make plays from the elbow. The former CAA Rookie of the Year boosted his scoring and rebounding numbers, and can still improve on the flashes he’s shown as a passer. That versatility helps make Charleston a favorite, and Brantley one of the best bigs in the conference.
Rokas Gustys, Hofstra
Once again surrounded by talent on the perimeter, expect Gustys to return to his sophomore year form this season. The center from Lithuania will again be at the top of the national standings in all rebounding numbers (12.1 RPG last season), but he will also get his double-doubles now that opposing teams have to check Justin Wright-Foreman and Eli Pemberton. Hofstra fans are still waiting for Gustys to improve his ghastly free throw shooting, which has made him a liability late in games, but his presence still demoralizes opponents with every offensive putback and blocked shot.
Ryan Daly, Delaware
Last year’s Rookie of the Year did it all for Delaware, leading the Blue Hens in scoring and rebounding. UD will improve as a team this year, and Daly’s development as a playmaker and defender will be a big reason why.
Devon Begley, Northeastern
Begley will try to fill the void left by T.J. Williams and lead a team of young talent toward consistency. He may not be a 20+ points per game scorer, but the traits Begley has already displayed as a passer and on-ball defender should help coordinate a deep roster of quality players.
Grant Riller, Charleston
After missing his entire true freshman year with a leg injury, Riller made an immediate impact last season for the Cougars. For a team that struggles to score, Riller’s lightning fast first step was a welcome go-to scoring move that kept them from falling into droughts. He looked much bouncier in the team’s summer trip to Ireland, meaning he could have the confidence and health to make a big leap this season.
Tyler Seibring, Elon
Seibring highlights a Phoenix team that returns all five starters and is finally poised to contend for a CAA championship. The junior is a modern forward, capable of stretching out and shooting from beyond the arc, moving without the ball and finding teammates in Elon’s motion offense.
Devontae Cacok, UNCW
Cacok was a running, rolling and rebounding beast for the champion Seahawks last year, but there are so many question marks coming into this season. How will he fare in a more traditional two big lineup? Is new coach C.B. McGrath going to have him post up or shoot jumpers? Cacok has the obvious talent, but his surroundings have changed a lot since his monster season last year.
Rookie of the Year
Tomas Murphy, Northeastern
Murphy is the highest-rated recruit in the CAA this fall, and picked Northeastern because he trusted Bill Coen to put him in the ideal situation. The Rhode Island native has the genetic pedigree – older brother Alex transferred to NU as a grad student last year, and the eldest (Erik) starred at Florida - to pay off immediately. Tomas is an athletic, 6’7 prospect with great hands and a shooting touch. He projects to play major minutes in the Husky frontcourt, and should have open lanes with Begley and sharpshooter Bolden Brace complementing him.
Coach of the Year
Earl Grant, Charleston
Grant nabbed this award last season after the Cougars won eight more games than the previous year and finished runner-up in the CAA. It’s still his to lose if Charleston picks up where it left off last season. UD’s Martin Ingelsby had the Blue Hens playing inspired, effective basketball last season that could pay dividends with a jump up the standings in 2018. He could contend for this award if UD moves into the top half of the conference. People may be underestimating UNCW’s McGrath as well. The longtime UNC assistant has players with championship experience and could find the right fits for them sooner than anticipated.