Will this season’s VCU come out of the Colonial again?
by Jon Jaques / @JJaques25
Defending Conference Champion: Old Dominion
Top Player: Bradford Burgess, VCU
Top Freshman: Erik Copes, George Mason
Most Underrated Player: Chris Fouch, Drexel
Tournament Teams: George Mason, Drexel
1. Is this a two-bid league?
We saw last season how hard it is to keep at least two Colonial squads out of the NCAA Tournament now that 68 teams get invites. Even though I think we can all agree VCU had a marginal Tournament resume heading into Selection Sunday by traditional selection standards last season, there were hardly any schools with better credentials to choose ahead of the Rams.
A similar situation could easily play out this March. Whether its Drexel or George Mason or someone else with the league’s auto bid, the selection committee will probably find it hard to keep a second team out of the Big Dance. George Mason and Drexel, especially, have the look of Tournament teams on paper and are playing competitive schedules this non-conference season. It doesn’t hurt that they will be coming out of a mid-major conference that has produced two Final Four teams in the past six seasons. Perception matters on Selection Sunday … the CAA’s reputation is at an all-time high.
2. Does VCU have a shot at one of those bids?
Like when George Mason stomped its way to the Final Four in 2006 and captured our hearts, our natural response to any CAA pre-season chatter is to wonder whether VCU can come close to repeating its insane journey from Dayton’s play-in round to Houston’s Final Four bonanza.
Not a chance. As far-fetched as the Rams’ run was, there was no disputing the squad’s talent. But with the exception of conference player of the year contender Bradford Burgess and coach Shaka Smart (by far the biggest returnee of all for the VCU program), most of that talent and Final Four experience is gone. Burgess can’t win games on his own, so I’d expect some non-conference struggles for VCU. But Smart proved last season that he’s as capable as any coach in the country at flipping the switch at the right time.
Predicted Finish + Bottom Line:
1. George Mason
Drexel has already been picked as the official pre-season number one, but I like what the Patriots have coming back, especially forward Ryan Pearson. People started dogging Paul Hewitt toward the end of his tenure at Georgia Tech, but the man can flat out coach; Final Fours don’t grow on trees.
This team will be dangerous and should challenge for an at-large bid even if they don’t win the conference title. Forward Samme Givens is this team’s horse, once guard Chris Fouch returns from off-season knee surgery, he will help an experienced and hungry bunch of Dragons.
So what if the Rams lost practically everyone from its Final Four roster other than Bradford Burgess and coach Shaka Smart? The program-wide swagger that comes with an unexpected Tournament run like that should lead to a solid season. A massive target is on VCU’s back though.
4. Old Dominion
The Monarchs lose its entire frontcourt from another Tournament squad, and stud defender Kent Bazemore is out for the foreseeable future with a stress fracture in his foot. More importantly, now that Fran Dunphy has shaved his mustache, coach Blaine Taylor sports the best upper lip hair in the business.
5. James Madison
Well-rounded senior guard Devon Moore and forward Julius Wells lead a group that is the most talented Dukes team in years. Sophomore guard Chad Jackson is a breakout candidate.
How will this program respond to the loss of once in a blue moon CAA player Charles Jenkins. With the program’s all-time leading scorer is gone, the Pride will rely on giant strides from others, like forward David Imes.
7. Wiliam and Mary
After a watershed ‘09-10 campaign in which no opponent seemed to figure out coach Tony Shaver’s unconventional offense, last year was a disappointment for the Tribe. Bouncing back behind the three-ball this season is definitely possible this season, especially if all-league guard Quinn McDowell gets some help from his frontcourt.
Talented point guard Devon Saddler will lead the Blue Hens this season. The loss of reliable big man Jawan Carter might prevent Delaware from making significant strides, though.
After a breakout sophomore season, forward Keith Rendelman will need to do more of the same to help the Seahawks inch up the CAA standings. Expect sharpshooting guard Tanner Milson to be the next Wilmington sophomore to break out.
Chaisson Allen’s production will have to be made up somewhere. Junior guard Joel Smith is a good place to start, but on a roster with no seniors, the Huskies will need more underclassmen to emerge.
11. Georgia State
The Panthers’ roster is bloated with seniors. For new coach Ron Hunter, senior leadership doesn’t necessarily equal production though. None of these players has ever averaged more than 10 points per game in a season.
The Tigers are the youngest team in the league, but there is plenty of potential for upward mobility if upperclassmen Isaiah Filmore, RaShawn Polk, and a bus load of freshman can mesh quickly.