CAA Preview: UNCW Seahawks

Head Coach: C.B. McGrath (third season)

Last Season: 10–23 (5–13), tenth place CAA, lost in CAA semifinal

CAA Preseason Poll Finish: Ninth

Losses

  • G Ty Taylor II
  • G Jaylen Fornes
  • G Jacque Brown
  • F Devontae Cacok
  • F Jeantal Cylla
  • F Shawn O’Connell

Additions

  • G Mike Okauru
  • G Shykeim Phillips
  • G/F Carter Skaggs
  • G/F Jake Boggs
  • F Imajae Dodd

By Christian Skroce

After a trip to the CAA semifinals in C.B. McGrath’s first year as head coach, UNCW looked to build upon their success in 2018–19. Projected to finish fifth in the conference, the Seahawks had the makings of a CAA dark horse. But looks can be deceiving.

UNCW had one of their worst seasons in recent memory, finishing dead last in the CAA regular season standings. In an attempt to show their season wasn’t a total disaster, the Seahawks pulled off a tournament win against seventh-seeded Elon before fizzling out in the quarterfinals with a 80–59 drubbing from Northeastern. For a once-top-tier team in the CAA, there were far more questions than answers, and the bad news continued during the offseason.

While everyone knew the day would come, it was still difficult for many to say goodbye to senior forward Devontae Cacok. The talented forward and fan-favorite had become the face of the program, and UNCW will have to adjust to life without Cacok on and off the court.

Cacok went undrafted but signed an Exhibit 10 contract with the Los Angeles Lakers in June. Though the team cut him in October before the start of the regular season, his performance in Summer League and preseason was outstanding. He is now on the training roster for the South Bay Lakers, the team’s G-League affiliate.

Three other offseason losses for the Seahawks came as a complete surprise. On the same day, junior guards Jaylen Fornes and Ty Taylor II both announced they would be transferring from UNCW. Although neither were elite players, they provided valuable bench minutes and would have contributed a veteran presence for a team now missing their leader.

But the offseason’s biggest shock came a few days later, when junior forward Jeantal Cylla announced he would be transferring — he eventually landed at the University of Arkansas. Cylla was a key player for the Seahawks last season, averaging 13.7 points and 4.6 rebounds as part of the formidable frontcourt with Cacok.

Despite the losses, the offseason was not all doom and gloom. The Seahawks are bringing in two transfer guards: grad Carter Skaggs from Washington State and junior Mike Okauru from Florida. Both players provide much-needed experience for a team losing several leaders.

Skaggs enjoyed a nice two-year career at Washington State, averaging 7.2 points in 56 career games. Okauru will be the more interesting of the two, as he never quite found his groove at Florida, averaging just 2.6 points in 69 career games. Despite his poor numbers, Okauru has the talent and athleticism to succeed alongside returning point guard Kai Toews, who averaged an astonishing 7.7 assists during this freshman campaign.

Junior guard Ty Gadsden averaged 12 ppg last year on a ridiculous 48 percent from three. He will likely miss the first month of the season after surgery on both hips and for a sports hernia, per Brian Mull.

Joining Okauru and Skaggs this season is a solid freshman class. Among the newcomers are forwards Imajae Dodd and Jake Boggs and guard Shykeim Phillips. While Phillips’ minutes will likely be limited, the Seahawks are likely to ask a lot from Dodd and Boggs. The duo, along with returning forwards John Bowen and Martin Linssen, look to fill the massive shoes left by Cacok and Cylla.

Rebounding is another concern. Cacok pulled down a CAA-best 12.3 boards per contest last year and was the nation’s top rebounder the year before. Cylla, at 4.6 rebounds a night, was second on the team. Without them, the rebounding will likely be done by committee.

Bottom Line: Expectations are low for the Seahawks this season, as they probably can’t replace Cacok and Cylla in one year. Gadsden and Toews bring intelligence and athleticism to the backcourt, but if the newcomers can’t pick up the pace on the boards, it’ll be a long season for the Seahawks.

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