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CAA Preseason Awards: Returning talent in a crowded first team

The Colonial’s Player of the Year race is as deep as ever.

Charleston v Auburn Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images

How loaded is the CAA on star power this year? The conference returns the NCAA’s leading rebounder, as well as the reigning CAA Player of the Year and Tournament MVP. Those are three of four returning first team selections, before factoring in a deep crop of returning players and transfers.

Here are our picks for the CAA preseason awards:

Player of the Year: Vasa Pusica, Sr., G, Northeastern

Talent in the CAA is extremely top-heavy, with any one of six players having a legitimate argument for this preseason honor. So when it came down to splitting hairs, I’m going with the best player on the best team: point guard Vasa Pusica of Northeastern. There’s not a player in the league that poses the same threat as both a scorer and passer. He’s one of the most valuable players in the league based on his team’s surging production when he’s on the court, and he also happens to be the point of attack for the CAA’s best defense. Pusica’s all-around game gives him the slight edge over the rest of his All-CAA peers.

Also considered: Justin Wright-Foreman, Sr., G, Hofstra and Grant Riller, Jr., G, Charleston

Newcomer of the Year: Jeantal Cylla, Jr., F, UNCW

The Newcomer of the Year distinction is dependent on both talent and opportunity. Based on the rumblings out of Wilmington, former FAU Owl Jeantal Cylla will have both for the Seahawks. CB McGrath has a lot of starting spots to fill out around Devontae Cacok, but Cylla seems to have the inside track for the other forward spot. The former three-star prospect has starter experience and spent his redshirt season honing his outside shot. That’s the perfect complement for Cacok, who operates best when he has space to catch lobs and crash the offensive glass.

Also considered: Jacquil Taylor, Sr., F, Hofstra and Zep Jasper, Fr., G, Charleston

Darkhorse Team: James Madison Dukes

Heading into year three of the Louis Rowe era, JMU might be ready to take a big leap toward contention. The Dukes finished in a four-way tie for last place in the CAA last season, but were just one win from a first round bye and two wins from finishing in the top half of the standings. Considering the young Dukes battled a team-wide case of the mumps in February (true story) and had a string of bad luck in close games, things are due for a rebound in 2018-19. All-Rookie guards Matt Lewis and Darius Banks join seniors Stuckey Mosley and Develle Phillips in a balanced starting lineup.

Also considered: Delaware

All-CAA Preseason First Team:

Vasa Pusica, Sr., G, Northeastern

See above.

Justin Wright-Foreman, Sr. G, Hofstra

There are maybe a handful of returning players in the NCAA who can drop 24 points per game as easily as Hofstra’s electric scorer. The reigning conference Player of the Year is nearly unstoppable when curling around a screen, giving defenses fits with his quick-release jumper and ability to explode to the basket.

Grant Riller, Jr., G, Charleston

Last season’s CAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player is one of the league’s most efficient guards. In CAA games last season, he shot 59.6 percent from the floor and 47.1 percent from three while pouring in about 20 points per contest. His quickness is utilized in a nasty first step and helps make Riller an excellent wing defender for the Cougars.

Devontae Cacok, Sr., F, UNCW

It’s a credit to Devontae Cacok’s talent that he is an All-CAA lock and Malone Award candidate even as CB McGrath is still putting his mark on UNCW. In three seasons, Cacok has led the NCAA in two separate categories (field goal percentage in 2017, rebounding in 2018) and could add more tools to his arsenal as a senior.

Nathan Knight, Jr., F, William & Mary

Since trimming about 40 pounds off his 6’10’’ frame, Knight has become one of the most nimble bigs in the country. Last season he was top-10 in the CAA in scoring, rebounding, field goal percentage and blocks, and W&M will continue to lean on him this season. Expect Knight to hoist more than the 36 three’s he attempted last year.

All-CAA Preseason Second Team:

Jarrell Brantley, Sr., F, Charleston

Charleston’s versatile forward was the best player on the court in their first round NCAA Tournament game against Auburn, where he posted 24 points and 7 rebounds. The 6’7,’’ 255-pound Brantley bulldozes through the CAA with his strength and ability to handle the ball, but also shot 38.5 percent from deep on over three attempts per game.

Tyler Seibring, Sr., F, Elon

Seibring is the CAA’s best-shooting big man and facilitates a lot of Elon’s offense. Over the years he has also refined his low post game and passing ability. He should lead the Phoenix in scoring and rebounding for a third straight year, and remain efficient from the field (49% last season) and the arc (43%).

Justin Pierce, Jr., F, William & Mary

Knight’s athletic partner in the frontcourt is the ideal fit in Tony Shaver’s system. He’s an excellent shooter (45.8% from deep), smart playmaker and finds cutting lanes in the defense. He’ll be counted on as more of a go-to guy this season after the graduation of the Tribe’s backcourt last spring.

Stuckey Mosley, Sr., G, James Madison

After transferring from Toledo, Mosley steadied the JMU offense and finished near the top of the CAA’s scoring list. He’s a smart and smooth combo guard who can easily pour in 25+ points, as he did eight times last year, or run the offense alongside Matt Lewis.

Eli Pemberton, Jr., G, Hofstra

With all of the attention paid to Wright-Foreman, it’s easy to overlook the effectiveness of his running mate. The do-it-all guard was second on the team in points (15.9) and rebounds (4.8) per game, and quietly ranked top-10 in the league three-point percentage and minutes played lists last year.