CAA Preview: Northeastern Basketball

nuHead Coach: Bill Coen (12th season)

Last Season: 15-16 (8-10, 6th in CAA); lost to Towson in CAA Quarterfinal

Projected Finish: 6th

Preseason All-Conference Selections: G Devon Begley (Honorable Mention), F/C Jeremy Miller (Honorable Mention)

 

 

Losses:

  • G T.J. Williams (21.4 ppg, 5.3 apg, 4.7 rpg; CAA Player of the Year)
  • F Alex Murphy (14.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg)

Newcomers:

  • G Vasa Pusica (transfer from San Diego University)
  • G Derrick Cook (Langston Hughes/Fairburn, Ga.)
  • G Myles Franklin (Villa Park/Brea, Calif.)
  • F Tomas Murphy (Northfield Mount Hermon/Wakefield, R.I.)
  • F Jason Strong (Westminster Academy/Coconut Creek, Fla.)

by Matthew MacCormack

 

The 2017-18 season ushers in a new era of Northeastern Huskies’ basketball; life after T.J.

Point guard T.J. Williams exploded onto the scene last season, averaging 21/5/5 en route to a no-brainer selection as CAA Player of the Year. Williams went from averaging just 7 ppg in his junior season to being the undisputed focal point of the Husky offense as a senior.

But Williams in black and red is no more. The dynamic guard is on to the greener pastures of the NBA G-League. Gone, too, is Alex Murphy, a 6’8 combo forward who led the team in rebounding (5.6 rpg) and was the second leading scorer (14.1 ppg).

Therein lies the biggest question of the 2017-18 campaign; who will step up to replace this production?

The returning cast is, in a word, inexperienced – seven of the Huskies 12 active players are either freshman or sophomores.

Devon Begley an All-CAA Defensive selection and Preseason Honorable Mention, is the team’s only senior, and remains as the lone holdover from the 2014-15 Husky squad that won the CAA and nearly upset Notre Dame in the first round of the Big Dance. Begley posted a career-high 9.7 ppg last season, and found his niche as a 3-D wing and occasional playmaker. It’s possible Begley takes a Williams-like leap and becomes an All-Conference caliber player, but don’t count on it.

Around Begley are a cast of three juniors that will likely determine the Huskies’ success this season. Redshirt junior guard Vasa Pusica could find himself with plenty of ball-handling duties. The 6’5 Pusica averaged 8.5 points and 4 rebounds a game in his freshman year at U San Diego, and led the team in assists. The Huskies are thirsty for a playmaking point, and Pusica has the opportunity to deliver.

Center Anthony Green made huge strides on the defensive end last season, and the 6’10, 252 pound behemoth is a nice interior piece to build around.

Questions abound around 6’10 F/C Jeremy Miller. Miller entered Northeastern as a three-star recruit: an intriguing mix of size, length and shooting ability. After averaging 8.3 ppg and 3.9 rpg as a freshman, Miller regressed last season, largely due to an 11-game absence thanks to a knee injury suffered in a win at Michigan State.

Although Miller didn’t receive a medical redshirt, his classmate Donnell Gresham did. “Red” Gresham was a solid contributor in his freshman season, but missed all but four games with a hand injury suffered against LIU-Brooklyn. The redshirt sophomore has a good chance to earn a starting role, and is a great complementary ball-handler and spot-up shooter (42% from three in his freshman year).

Last year, a trio of freshman – G Bolden Brace, F Shawn Occeus and F Max Boursiquot – all saw extended playing time as injuries mounted later in the season. All three will have an opportunity to solidify their roles this season. Occeus is an athletic wing who flashed plenty of potential last season. Boursiquot is a do-it-all, undersized (6’5) four-man who profiles as a fantastic role player moving forward.

The most intriguing of the three, however, is Bolden Brace. The 6’8 sophomore has a sweet shooting stroke, and showed on multiple occasions last season that he can carry an offense. Brace dropped 20+ in back-to-back games in early February at William & Mary and James Madison, and then tied the school’s all-time record with 10 threes in a 40-point performance at Elon. If Brace can take a step as a playmaker, he might be something special.

Of the crop of four freshman, bigman Tomas Murphy is the most likely to play a large role this season. With his older brother Alex graduated, the 6’8 Tomas has a chance to earn big frontcourt minutes. Murphy was rated as a four-star recruit by ESPN. Players of that caliber rarely enter the CAA – you can thank the Murphy family’s close ties with coach Coen for this one.

Bottom Line: The media picked Northeastern to finish 6th in the CAA in the preseason poll, and that seems fair. Williams’ graduation leaves a massive hole in the playmaking department, but there’s a chance a more equal-opportunity offense opens things up for the young Huskies. Uncertainty is the name of the game here, and the development of players like Pusica, Miller, Gresham and Brace will likely determine how the season goes. If all goes right, the Huskies will be in the middle of the pack in the CAA, and the young guys will get plenty of time to hone their skills for the future.

 

CAA Preview: Elon University Phoenix

elonHead Coach: Matt Matheny

Last Season: 18-14 (10-8), 5th in CAA

Projected Finish: 3rd

Preseason All-Conference Selections: F Tyler Seibring (First-Team), F Brian Dawkins (Second-Team)

 

Losses:

  • G Luke Eddy (7.3 ppg, 3.2 rpg)
  • F Christian Hairston (2.5 ppg, 2.6 rpg)
  • G Ryder Bowline (0.0 ppg, 0.5 rpg)
  • G Patrick Ryan (1.8 ppg, 0.5 rpg)

Newcomers:

  • F Duje Radja (Fr./Split, Croatia/Kimball Union Academy in New Hampshiref)
  • G Nathan Priddy (Fr./Argyle, Texas/Argyle High)
  • F Simon Wright (Fr./Minneapolis, Minn./Hopkins)

by P.J. Wright

With just one freshman, last season’s fourth-place Elon squad was already pretty experienced. The Phoenix finished in the middle of the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) with a 10-8 conference record.

Now, with all five starters returning, Elon is poised to make some noise in their fourth year of CAA play.  The Phoenix play a smart, fundamental style of basketball — and with their core another year older, there is reason to believe they will be able to challenge defending champion, College of Charleston.

Last season, Elon was first in the CAA in field goal percentage defense (.417), defensive rebounding (29.1 per game), and second in free throw shooting percentage (.732). And despite their fifth-place conference finish, they were third in scoring margin at +2.4.

The main losses from last year’s team are guard Luke Eddy and forward Christian Hairston, who both graduated in the spring. Eddy found himself in a lesser role than his junior year, but finished his career at Elon with 296 career assists, which ranks 8th in program history. Hairston was one of the most efficient scorers on the team, shooting 56.9 percent from the field in his four years.

This season, the Phoenix will be led by Second Team All-CAA junior forward Tyler Seibring (14.4 ppg, 6.9 rpg) and senior forward Brian Dawkins (12.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg). The two shot 39.5 and 44.6 percent, respectively, from beyond the arc a season ago.

The x-factor for this year’s team might just be junior Steven Santa Ana (11.7 ppg, 3.8 rpg). The 6-foot-4 junior hit a team-high 71 triples last season but only on 32.7 percent shooting. Improved three-point efficiency from Santa Ana to go along with Seibring and Dawkin’s scoring could be exactly what Elon needs to put them over the top.

Returning junior guard Dainan Swoope was the fourth player on the Phoenix to average double figures last season at 11.7 points per game to go along with a team-high 37 steals. He was second on the team in minutes a year ago (31.7 mpg), so expect Elon to continue to rely on his playmaking and defense.

Also expected to play a key role this season will be senior guard Dmitri Thompson, who started in 30 of Elon’s 32 games last year. He was the only Phoenix player to record back-to-back 20-point games during the season and was third on the team in rebounding at 5.0 per contest.

The Phoenix will be challenged right away when they travel to Cameron Indoor Stadium for their season opener against the No. 1-ranked Duke Blue Devils in Durham, N.C. The Phoenix then play a schedule without any currently-ranked opponents before beginning CAA play on Dec. 30  at home against Drexel.

Bottom Line: Continuity will play a major role in Elon’s success this season. The Phoenix have the experience and chemistry, and if they can string together a strong offensive attack to go along with last season’s stifling defense with an improved backcourt of Santa Ana and Swoope, watch out. Expect Elon to finish near the top of the CAA and potentially make a run of the title if all the pieces come together.

CAA Preview: UNCW Seahawks

uncwCoach: C.B. McGrath (1st Season)

Last Season: 29-6 Overall, (15-3 CAA), 1st Place, CAA Tournament Champions

Projected Finish: 5th

Preseason All-Conference Selections: Devontae Cacock (First Team), Jordon Talley (Honorable Mention)

 

 

Additions:

  • G Tyrone Taylor (Sophomore, Wichita State)
  • C Trey Kalina (Junior, JUCO/Chattanooga)
  • G Jacque Brown (Junior, Cape Fear CC)
  • G Daniel Etoroma (Junior, Lewis and Clark Community College)
  • G Jeffrey Gary (Colorado Springs, Colo./Sand Creek)
  • G Jay Estimé (Lilburn, Ga./Berkmar)

Losses:

  • G C.J. Bryce (17.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 3.0 apg)
  • G Chris Flemmings (15.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg)
  • G Denzel Ingram (14.6 ppg, 5.4 apg)
  • G Ambrose Mosely (8.2 ppg, 42% 3PT PCT)
  • C Chuck Ogbodo

by Justin Littman

Last season was another incredible success for the UNC Wilmington Seahawks. They finished atop the CAA for the third consecutive season, and plenty of players received accolades for their performance. Senior guards Chris Flemmings (15.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg) and Denzel Ingram (14.6 ppg, 5.4 apg) rounded out their illustrious careers by earning First and Second Team All-CAA Honors, respectively. Sophomore forward Devontae Cacok evolved into a threat on both sides of the court, leading the nation in field-goal percentage (80%) and earning the CAA Defensive Player of the Year award. If that was not enough, they also happened to have the runner-up for CAA Player of the Year, and CAA Tournament MVP, C.J. Bryce. Bryce, only a sophomore last season, led the team in scoring with over 17 points per game, and showed dynamic offensive ability.

UNCW managed to capture the hearts of every mid-major college basketball fan. They played with passion and energy, and pulled fans in with an attitude that reflected the mentality of head coach Kevin Keatts. The Seahawks ran through the CAA, and earned their second consecutive NCAA Tournament bid. Led by a rising superstar head coach, and armed with experience, the Seahawks appeared ready to take the nation by storm. Unfortunately, the harsh reality of the NCAA Tournament set in, and the Seahawks joined an unfortunate group of many potential Cinderellas before, unable to earn their shining moment in the Big Dance. A magical season came to a premature end with an opening round loss to Virginia. Fans who saw even greater potential for UNCW learned a painful lesson: Not every magical story turns into a fairytale.

Less than 24 hours after their season ended, NC State announced that Kevin Keatts had agreed to terms to become their new head coach. Following the success that Keatts had with UNCW, it seemed to be only a matter of time before he left for a position of more prestige. It only took a few more months for C.J. Bryce to decide that he wanted to continue playing for his coach, and he followed suit to NC State. Kevin Keatts helped return UNCW to prominence, and even though Cacok is the only starter that will return next season, this program has a lot of momentum to build off.

It is for this reason that new head coach C.B. McGrath felt UNCW was the right situation for him to finally depart from his role as an assistant for the UNC Tar Heels. McGrath played at Kansas under Roy Williams, and continued to serve as his assistant coach at North Carolina for 14 years. He will implement new philosophies as a first-year head coach, and will look to establish a new identity for the Seahawks. With the departure of four starters, there will be various players ready to assume larger roles with the team. To learn more about what to expect this season, I reached out to Noah J. Thomas, sports editor of UNCW’s student newspaper, The Seahawk.  

Justin: UNCW was an up-tempo, offensive juggernaut under Keatts. How will their identity change with a new head coach?

Noah: As far as the change in identity goes, don’t expect the UNCW offense to dip too far in production this season. Will the Seahawks average nearly 90 points per game in 2018? No. But the “Run. Defend. Win.” mentality is still very much alive in Wilmington. The key difference between Keatts’ system and McGrath’s will be what position becomes the focal point of the offense. Keatts used a variety of small lineups to keep opposing defenses guessing and guard play was always the top priority. If McGrath attempts to emulate Roy Williams’ system, expect the big men to become the focal point. That means reigning CAA Defensive POTY Devontae Cacok may see a rise in production in his junior year.

Justin: Coming from the Roy Williams coaching tree, C.B. McGrath appears to be a good hire.

Noah: You’re right. This is the second head coach in a row UNCW has hired who is coming from a Hall-of-Fame coaching tree (Kevin Keatts was an assistant at Louisville under Rick Pitino). On paper, this seems to be the perfect hire for the Seahawks. In his first head coaching gig, McGrath brings in an up-temp mentality similar to what Keatts brought when he arrived in 2014.

Justin: Where will production come from? Are there any players you think will have a breakout season?

Noah: As I said before, look for Devontae Cacok to possibly become the focal point of this offense. He already averaged a near double-double in his sophomore season, and he only has room to improve as he masters his touch around the rim and attempts to raise his free-throw shooting percentage.

UNCW’s breakout star for 2018? Look no further than Jaylen Fornes. The sophomore out of Raleigh, N.C., showed flashes of brilliance at times during his freshman year. There were multiple occasions during last CAA season in which he either 1. Made the difference for UNCW in a tight game or 2. Helped swing the momentum in the Seahawks’ direction. Increased playing time this season and a potential role as the starting shooting guard will only allow him to flourish. Expect Fornes to be the big surprise out of Wilmington this season.

Jordan Talley will contribute a lot, as he will likely become the starting point guard. Expect Ty Taylor, a transfer from Wichita State, to step into a supporting role.

Justin: Where do you see UNCW finishing in the CAA this season?

Noah: Oh boy. I’ve thought about this a lot over the last few months. Let me say this: I don’t think anyone in the CAA will be able to touch College of Charleston this season. The Cougars returned virtually everything that made them great a year ago, so I don’t the Seahawks or any CAA team will be able to match their experience and drive to win.

That being said: I don’t believe UNCW will have a bad year in 2017-2018. It will be a rebuilding year with some growing pains and a fair amount of rebuilding. A new-look team and a first-year head coach doesn’t help in that department, but you never know. McGrath and his guys could surprise us like Kevin Keatts did three years ago. My prediction is UNCW finishes in the top five in the conference — possibly as high as third or fourth — and maybe wins a game in the CAA Tournament if the Seahawks hit their stride. That’s about all UNCW fans can hope for this year, I’m afraid.

Bottom Line: The Seahawks are losing four starters who combined to average over 55 points per game. They simply will not be able to make up that production overnight. However, there is an influx of talent that will be joining UNCW this season. Ty Taylor represents one of four transfers who will enter the program. The other three all spent time playing college basketball outside of Division I, following in the footsteps of Chris Flemmings. In total, the Seahawks will add six new players this season. Combined with a new head coach, they will likely need time to gel. UNCW may be in a rebuilding year, but the term rebuilding means something different in Wilmington than it does for most CAA teams. This team will be competitive in conference play and likely finish in the middle of the pack, setting a strong foundation for continued success in the future.

CAA Preview: Delaware Blue Hens

delawareHead Coach: Martin Ingelsby (second season)

Last Season: 13-20 (5-13), 9th in CAA

Projected Finish: 7th

Preseason All-Conference Selections: G Ryan Daly; All-CAA 2nd Team

 

Losses:

  • G Cazmon Hayes (8.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg)
  • F Chivarsky Corbett (6.4 ppg, 3.0 rpg)
  • F Devonne Pinkard (6.3 ppg, 2.5 rpg)
  • F Barnett Harris (1.5 ppg, 2.1 rpg)
  • G Curtis McRoy (0.0 ppg, 0.4 rpg)

Newcomers:

  • G Kevin Anderson (Fr., Williamsport, Pa./St. John Neumann)
  • G Ryan Allen (Fr., Bowie, Md./DeMatha Catholic)
  • G Connor Rufo (Fr., Hockessin, De./Sanford)
  • F Chyree Walker (Fr., Fairfax, VA/Bullis School in Md.)
  • F Collin Goss (Jr., 1.5 ppg, 1.1 rpg at George Washington in 2016-17)

by P.J. Wright

My, how the mighty have fallen. After Delaware was crowned as the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) champion in 2014, the Blue Hens have failed to put together a winning record in each of the past three seasons. In two of those three, Delaware has been at the very cellar of the conference in 10th place.

Heading into last fall with a new coach in Martin Ingelsby, Delaware had lost their two leading scorers from the prior season. 2nd team All-CAA guard Kory Holden transferred to South Carolina while 3rd team All-CAA forward Marvin King-Davis was lost to graduation. The two accounted for 32.5 points per game in the 2015-16 season.

The Blue Hens finished the season 13-20 (5-13) and ninth in the CAA.

However, the team’s lack of offensive weapons opened up an opportunity for Ryan Daly. The 6-foot-4 guard led all CAA freshman in minutes (33.5), points (16.0), and rebounds (7.4) per game. Daly’s remarkable freshman year earned him CAA Rookie of the Year honors, making him only the second Blue Hens’ player to be win the award and first since Devon Saddler in 2010-11. Look for Delaware to rely heavily on his offense this season.

Delaware loses three key players from last year’s rotation. Guard Cazmon Hayes (8.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg) and forward Devonne Pinkard (6.3 ppg, 2.5 rpg) graduated while forward Chivarsky Corbett transferred and will play his senior season at Bellarmine University in Kentucky.

Corbett had planned to transfer to Texas-San Antonio in the wake of Monte Ross firing as head coach in the spring of 2016, but after Martin Ingelsby’s hiring in May, Corbett reconsidered and returned. As last season progressed, Corbett saw his playing time tail off significantly and his role reduced. When the season concluded, the 6-foot-7 forward publicly stated that we wanted out.

Perhaps filling the hole will be newcomer Collin Goss, a transfer from George Washington University. The junior forward only appeared in 13 games last season for the Colonials, but could provide a spark with increased responsibility in Delaware.

Goss’ former teammate, junior guard Darian Bryant, transferred from George Washington last season and became the fourth leading scorer for the Blue Hens at 7.6 points per game in 27.5 minutes per game.

Another big part of Delaware’s offensive attack will be returning senior Anthony Mosley. The 6-foot-1 guard has been a starter on the team in each of the past three seasons and will provide the Blue Hens with some experience to go along with his speed and athleticism. Mosley led the team in assists per game (2.5) and was second in scoring (10.0 ppg) last season.

Bottom Line: Delaware returns four starters of its five top scorers from last year’s 13-20 team. With Ryan Daly back after a tremendous freshman season and Anthony Mosley looking to make a mark in his senior year, the Blue Hens have some intrigue. That intrigue, however, probably won’t lead to many more wins, if any. Their skilled backcourt could steal some games, but expect Delaware to be near the bottom of the CAA once again.