At roughly its midway point, the Colonial Athletic Association has more parity than just about any other conference. A month into the league play, frontrunner status has already been passed between at least four teams.
College of Charleston was the unanimous preseason favorite, but stumbled out of the gates and on the road. Towson was collecting AP votes after a 10-1 start, but has gone just 5-7 since. William & Mary was the last unbeaten team in conference play but lost its next two games by a combined 46 points. Northeastern was alone in first place last week, but lost to ninth-place Drexel to fall into a three-way tie.
One thing that has stood out from this muddled field has been the individual talent. Pick any stat and you’re likely to find a CAA player at or near the top of the list nationally. The league is home to the national leaders in rebounds per game and three-point shooting percentage. Three more players are top 10 in scoring, free throw attempts, and minutes played.
The Player of the Year race, like the regular season champion, is going to come down to the wire. In no particular order, here are the contenders you should be watching.
Devontae Cacok, UNC Wilmington
While UNCW isn’t the favorite to capture a third-straight CAA title, Cacok’s numbers are impossible to ignore. After obliterating the record books for field goal percentage last season, the springy 6’7 junior has a sizable lead on the rebounding crown with over 13 per game. He also has 16 double-doubles and counting. In two games last week, Cacok averaged 19 points and 19.5 rebounds, further proving he can produce no matter who is on the Wilmington roster or sidelines.
Justin Wright-Foreman, Hofstra
Quietly ranking ahead of other mid-major scorers like Chris Clemons, Fletcher Magee and Jock Landale on the points-per-game list is Hofstra’s Wright-Foreman. Despite improving from 1.6 to 18 points per contest last season, he’s still adding to both his game and his boxscores. Watch Wright-Foreman play and you’ll notice he really can beat a team from all three levels: behind the arc, off mid-range pull ups, or at the rim. But he’s also finding his teammates and getting to the line better than he did last year. That’s helping Hofstra stay within a game of first place.
Nathan Knight, William & Mary
Knight is another player who seemingly went from a gifted prospect to full-on POY candidate overnight. As a sophomore, Knight is drawing enough defenders into the paint to free up William & Mary’s sharpshooting guards. He already has four games of at least 25 points and 10 rebounds, and leads the Tribe in both categories. Like any member of the Tony Shaver Princeton offense, he’s also added an outside shot to his game, shooting 33 percent from three. That production, along with the steadying play of CAA assist leader David Cohn, has the W&M offense humming to league-best ratings in points, assists, and efficiency.
Joe Chealey, Charleston
With so many newcomers and underclassmen dominating the conversation, it’s easy to overlook the Preseason Player of the Year. Despite the uneven start, Charleston’s floor general has not lost a step from last year’s all-CAA performance and has led the Cougars back to the top of the standings. His scoring, assist, and rebounding numbers are all career-highs, and he leads the team in minutes. Now a fifth-year senior, Chealey also has the foul-drawing savviness of a 13-year NBA veteran. He’s gotten to the line 164 times already this season, where he converts on 86 percent of his shots.
Vasa Pusica, Northeastern
The San Diego transfer has been one of the biggest surprises in the CAA and is a major reason why the Huskies are unexpectedly in first place. Pusica is scoring twice as much as he did on the west coast, and gives Northeastern a lot of versatility. He’s got the size (6’5) and outside shooting touch (42.4%) to play on the wing, but Bill Coen has deployed him as the de facto point guard. That decision has unlocked the offense, forcing opponents to switch everything on defense or get burned by endless ball screens. In conference play, Pusica is averaging over six assists per game.