After garnering national recognition, a 31-win season, and claiming the program’s second CAA Championship in 2023, Charleston will have an opportunity to repeat the magic this season. However, in a league that seems to get stronger with each passing season, the challengers are anxious as ever for their shot at the CAA throne.
Reigning two-time conference Player of the Year Aaron Estrada won’t be around to steal the No. 1 seed this season, but look for others such as Drexel and Preseason POTY Amari Williams to provide the Cougars resistance.
2023-24 CAA Men’s Basketball Preseason Poll
1. Charleston (10) – 165
2. UNCW (3) – 157
3. Drexel (1) – 140
4. Hofstra – 137
t-5. Delaware – 115
t-5. Towson – 115
7. Northeastern – 84
8. William & Mary – 77
9. Stony Brook – 76
10. Elon – 62
11. Monmouth – 50
12. Campbell – 45
13. Hampton – 31
14. North Carolina A&T – 20
College of Charleston
After winning the 2023 CAA Championship, head coach Pat Kelsey and Co. had to deal with the loss of a few key seniors in Dalton Bolon, Ryan Larson, and Pat Robinson. As he’s done for the past two years, Kelsey reloaded the roster with portal talent and a few top-tier Division II prospects to pair with several recognizable returners.
“I love the makeup of our team,” Kelsey said at CAA Media Day. “We’re very particular about who we recruit and who we bring into our organization. I feel really good [that] as the season goes on, [the chemistry’s] only going to grow.”
The Cougars will be led this season by a rising junior class consisting of Reyne Smith, Ante Brzovic, and Ben Burnham, each bolstering NCAA Tournament experience.
With such a solid returning core already in place, Smith said new transfers Frankie Policelli, Bryce Butler, Kobe Rogers, and CJ Fulton have adjusted well to their fast paced style of offense.
“The returning guys have really stepped up in a leadership way, saying ‘This is how we do things,’” Smith said. “The new guys have bought in unbelievably well, it’s been exciting to see how they’ve jumped on board with what we do here and our style.”
While it’ll be nearly impossible to recreate the chemistry of last season’s team, the Cougars look set up to build on the magic of 2022-23 and potentially repeat as CAA Champions.
Following consecutive seasons of falling just short in the CAA Championship, Head Coach Takayo Siddle said this year’s squad is hungry to improve.
“It definitely motivates us but we can’t really dwell on it,” Siddle said. “We’re motivated, and these guys know what it takes to win at this level. If we’re lucky and fortunate to get back, hopefully we’ll have a different outcome.”
With almost 80% of the team’s minutes and offensive production back from last season, the Seahawks have possibly the deepest squad of Siddle’s tenure. Siddle pointed to players like Skykeim Phillips, Donovan Newby, Maleeck Harden-Hayes, and Trazarien White as veterans who’ll lead this team into the 2023-24 campaign.
“When we wrapped up [summer practices] we felt like we were in a pretty good spot,” Siddle said. “Having those guys back, I didn’t have to do a lot of teaching and coaching.”
With so much depth and returning talent, expect Wilmington to be firmly in the CAA title conversation once again.
As mentioned previously, Amari Williams will be the frontman on offense and defense for this Drexel team. However, this roster is one of the oldest in the league and will bolster tons of experience and veteran leadership.
“With the amount of returners we have and experience that we’ve added, I think there’s a focus and a determination to do something [special],” Head Coach Zach Spiker said. “Very proud of our guys, their approach daily right now, and what they’re looking to do.”
Yet Spiker’s message was simple: “We are assuming nothing.”
For the Dragons, the goal this offseason has been to continue developing in spite of all this experience and veteran leadership. And according to Spiker, it’s paid off.
“We’re trying to, as a staff, leave nothing to chance,” Spiker said. “Encouraging our guys to get in and get the additional work done. I’ve been very pleased with our players and their approach to that standard.”
After a fifth place finish in the CAA just a season ago, look for Drexel to make the jump to contenders this season behind Wiliams and this veteran cast.
The Pride and Head Coach Speedy Claxton had the best season of his short tenure in 2022-23, finishing with a share of the CAA regular-season title and earning a bid to the NIT.
Now, with two-time CAA Player of the Year Aaron Estrada gone and a few other key pieces moving on, Hofstra and Claxton need the next group to step up.
Much of the Pride’s game plan will be predicated around All-CAA Preseason First Team selection Tyler Thomas who’ll look to fill a similar role to Estrada.
“This year, for me to take another jump it’s less about basketball and more [about] vocal skills,” Thomas said. “Being a leader to get us where we need to go, I think that’s what I needed to improve on for this year.”
Outside of Thomas however, Claxton said a lot of this season’s development and potential success will hinge on the growth of fellow guards Darlinstone Dubar and Jaquan Carlos.
“A lot of our season will depend on not just [Carlos] but Dubar,” Claxton said. “We’re looking forward to making that extra jump. If they can average somewhere between 10-12 points, I think we’ll be pretty successful.”
This won’t be the deepest team of Claxton’s tenure as head coach, but the Pride have the intangibles to be competitive in the CAA once again behind a more leadership focused Thomas.
While the Fightin’ Blue Hens will be without last season’s leading scorer in Jameer Nelson, Jr., Head Coach Martin Ingelsby brought in a massive amount of transfer talent to compensate.
Building off of returners Jyáre Davis and Christian Ray, Ingelsby secured portal commitments from Gerald Drumgoole, Zion Bethea, Jalun Trent, Tyler Houser, and Niels Lane.
“This group is really motivated, led by [Davis] and Christian Ray,” Ingelsby said. “They’ve done a great job leading our group and offseason workouts in the summer. [We’re] really motivated to head in this year with some added ammo in the guys that we’ve added to the roster.”
Between a loaded transfer class of mid-major stars and power-6 recruits, this’ll be the deepest roster that Ingelsby’s had during his time in Newark.
“Last year we were very short handed,” Ingelsby said. “As we crafted this roster, adding six transfers with the six returning guys, I do feel it’ll be the deepest roster that we’ve had since I’ve been here.”
If Ingelsby can generate some chemistry and merge this experienced transfer class with the individual success of last season’s returners, the Blue Hens will finish better than fifth in the CAA.
Pat Skerry’s team’s are without a doubt, always well coached, but the Tigers dealt with lots of offseason roster turnover. Including the losses of Nicolas Timberlake, Cameron Holden, and Nygal Russell, leaving question marks behind in the process.
An early offseason ACL injury for North Carolina A&T transfer Marcus Watson that’ll derail him for the year certainly didn’t help the situation.
Yet still, Towson is very veteran centric and bolster’s one of the league’s best front court rotations behind returner Charles Thompson.
“I’ve always been a big believer that most of the guys we’ve had didn’t come in as guys that scored a lot of points,” Skerry said. “There’ll be a next guy that steps up and gets touches and shots, but I’m anticipating us being a bit better defensively.”
The experienced players like Thompson and guard Rahdir Hicks will lead these Tigers while the additions of (hopefully eligible) Nendah Tarke and former Wofford standout Messiah Jones will slot into the starting five.
It won’t be Skerry’s most talented team at Towson, but if he can push the offensive tempo as we’ve seen in years past, the defense should be enough to support another 20-win season.
The Huskies will have to deal with the loss of All-Conference Third Team selection Jahmyl Telfort. However, behind a veteran class of returners, and several exciting transfers, Northeastern will look to take a step forward this season.
“In this program, we want to compete for a CAA Championship and with all the great teams and coaches in this league that’s going to be a huge challenge,” Head Coach Bill Coen said. “Now these guys have an experience of what it actually takes. The growth within this team, from top to bottom when you talk about the knowledge that they’ve learned going through difficult times, that adversity only serves you well going forward.”
William & Mary
After adding 10 new players to the roster last offseason, the Tribe return a solid core this season and have built on it with three exciting transfer pieces. Former Penn State wing Caleb Dorsey, USF guard Trey Moss, and Division II transfer Sean Houpt should all help William & Mary to continue developing on last season’s improvements.
“As you look at our team moving forward this year, a lot of the guys that played significant minutes for us are back and they’re a year older and got some really good experience,” said Head Coach Dan Fischer. “Then we’re adding some guys that I think can really fill in some key holes for us and add an overall talent level. I’ve been really pleased with the way this team has been working.”
Following an injury plagued 2022-23 campaign, the Seawolves look ready to turn things around. All-CAA Preseason Second Team selection Tyler Stephenson-Moore returns and he’ll team up alongside last season’s injury victims in Aaron Clarke, Dean Noll, Sabry Phillips, and a cast of notable transfers.
“Every game is going to be tough and they’re all going to be fights but the good news for us is a year ago there were some games we had zero chance,” Head Coach Geno Ford said. “That won’t be the case this year. When we play well, we’re good enough to hang with everybody. We’ve just got to find a way to get over the [injury] hump and stay relevant.”
The Phoenix were young and injury ridden in Head Coach Billy Taylor’s first season, finishing with just eight wins and departing leading scorer Sean Halloran this offseason. Now, Elon returns that young core with more experience and continued to build on it by recruiting exciting youthful talent.
Under Taylor, the Phoenix will be a team to watch for the future in the CAA conference.
“We wanted to lay the foundation and we knew this would not be a quick fix type of situation, so I’m grateful for the young men that stayed in our program,” Taylor said. “We saw a glimpse of hopefully what we want to see more of in the future and I’m excited to take on the challenge of this season.”
For the second year of Monmouth’s venture into the CAA, Head Coach King Rice will be joined by his son; Bucknell transfer and All-CAA Preseason Honorable Mention Xander Rice. He’ll unite with a youthful Hawks roster that saw some major improvements late into last season as the staff looks to build on that new found experience.
“Our dream when [Xander] was a kid was for him to play at North Carolina or another high-major program,” Rice said. “Then he earned that opportunity and came home and said ‘that could be cool for 8-9 months, but what we could do [at Monmouth] could be cool for a lifetime.’ When your son tells you something like that, it makes you just want to be better.”
After showing tremendous growth and development to close out the 2022-23 Big South season, the Fighting Camels arrive for their first year in the CAA. Head Coach Kevin McGeehan dealt with some roster turnover this offseason, but talented sophomore Anthony Dell’Orso will provide problems for opponents unfamiliar with the Camels unique style.
“It’s always a balancing act because you’re trying to make sure that your guys have some confidence and can feel successful as well,” McGeehan said. “We’re going to get a couple scrimmages under our belt and I think we’ll have a better idea of what we need to improve on to be able to be really competitive when it comes to league play.”
Following a last place finish for the Pirates in their inaugural CAA season, Head Coach Edward Joyner, Jr. will look to stabilize the program with several reinforcements from the transfer portal. A trio of power-6 additions, an in-conference transfer from Campbell, a new veteran ball handler, and a refreshed game plan can all contribute to Hampton’s rise after familiarizing themselves with the CAA.
“The league was night in and night out [physically tough], we felt like every night that we were in a contest,” Joyner said. “In this league, you definitely have to have depth and you definitely have to have a certain toughness. It’s a high-major feel to every game that you play every night in this league.”
North Carolina A&T
Aggies Head Coach Monte Ross returns to the CAA having won the conference’s Coach of the Year award back in 2014 at Delaware. However, without much confidence surrounding the first-year head coach, Ross put it best in regards to the team’s last-place projection.
“In the most respectful way, how do they know?” Ross said.
Highlighted by five new JUCO transfers and an exciting freshman class, the Aggies will have an opportunity to develop some experience this season and build on the future of this program.
“This is a place that we can have some success with and we can get it done and do it the right way,” Ross said. “Very excited about that aspect of it and just in general, being at a place that is so passionate about not just men’s basketball but about sports, period.”