Looking Forward: William & Mary

While your calendar may show the year as 2015, William & Mary basketball fans will forever refer to this year as Year One A.M.T. (After Marcus Thornton).

While the Tribe’s all-time leading scorer and ‘14-‘15 CAA Player of the Year is busy balling down under with the Sydney Kings (after being drafted by the Boston Celtics), William & Mary must now pick up where Thornton left off in its chase for an ever-elusive ticket to the Big Dance.

Although the Tribe has the unenviable task of replacing one of its all-time greats, there are two very substantial pieces of good news:

  1. William & Mary is certainly not the only CAA squad that must replace a game-changing talent (see Lee, Damion and Eatherton, Scott).
  1. To borrow a phrase from nearly every other ’15-’16 Tribe basketball season preview that has been written (or will be written): “The cupboard is nowhere near bare.”

That’s right — minus Thornton, all the key players from last year’s regular season championship group return, with a few new faces to boot.

The task of upholding William & Mary’s newfound hoops tradition will rest squarely on the shoulders of senior forward Terry Tarpey. Last season, Tarpey was the ultimate “glue guy” — he flew around the court and did all the dirty work: collecting rebounds, diving for loose balls, dishing out assists, and even made a few adorable attempts at dunking the ball. For his efforts, Tarpey earned the distinction of being the first Tribe basketball player win the CAA Defensive Player of the Year award.

The question remains, though, how much Tarpey’s role will change this season. Up to this point, he hasn’t been a prolific scorer — you sort of look at the box score at the end of the game and realize that all of his scrappy offensive rebounds and fast break scrambles somehow added up to 15 points.

To put it more colorfully: Tarpey was an amazing Robin to Thornton’s Batman, but will he be able to serve as this year’s Caped Crusader? And better yet, does Tribe head coach Tony Shaver even want Tarpey to be Batman, or would he simply prefer that Tarpey continue being Tarpey, and replace Thornton’s scoring with a strong supporting cast of three-point shooters?

To that end, the Tribe may to look to a pair of junior sharpshooters for its offensive mojo. Omar Prewitt had a nice follow up to his sensational freshman season, especially in the CAA Tournament, and will be a focal point of the Tribe offense.

Daniel Dixon started off as a defensive savant, but has slowly morphed into a deadly three-point shooter who was responsible for one of the most thrilling finishes in recent Tribe basketball memory (#SorryHofstra).

Senior forward Sean Sheldon was steady yet unspectacular last season, and the Tribe could definitely use a scoring boost from down low. If Sheldon merely maintains the 6.2 points per game he averaged last season, the Tribe will be just fine. Also, very glad to see that Sheldon will continue to sport the league’s most adored and oft-chronicled man bun.

Perhaps the most interesting player this season is Colorado State transfer David Cohn. Tribe fans have been buzzing about his potential this offseason, but there’s really no way to know until he hits the court.

Cohn is touted as the elusive “true point guard” that the Tribe has been searching for since the days of Sean McCurdy (who also transferred in from Arkansas). Instead of playing three shooting guards at the same time as he has been wont to do, Shaver may be able to run a more traditional offensive system with Cohn at the point. He averaged 3.9 points in 15 minutes a game (38.5% from the field) at Colorado State, so there’s hope that he can help chip in from a scoring perspective as well.

Shaver has a little more leeway on the bench than he’s had in years past, and could end up having an eight-man rotation by season’s end.

Guard Greg Malinowski averaged 16 minutes a game last year, and could pitch in a stray 3-pointer here and there. Forward Jack Whitman will reprise his role as Sheldon’s backup, and could see more time if Sheldon fades down the stretch. Guard Connor Burchfield earned more and more playing time as last season wore on, and you can pretty much pencil him in for at least one three a game.

From there, the question marks begin. Oliver Tot and Michael Schlotman have both shown potential at guard, but will need to overcome injuries to break through. The message board faithful love redshirt freshman forward Paul Rowley, but there’s no way to know his capabilities until he plays his first game.

Freshman forward Hunter Seacat is the first Tribe big man in recent memory that doesn’t need to immediately visit all the pancake houses on Richmond Road to put on 45 pounds — he’s already listed at 6’9”, 235 pounds — but he could be headed for a redshirt season.

The Tribe has been slated to finish in fourth place, and that’s a pretty fair projection. In most respects, this appears to be a classic Tony Shaver team — there’s a surplus of shooters, a desperate need for impactful big men, and a healthy dose of optimism.

The question remains: will Shaver’s rag-tag group of sharpshooters be able to outduel Hofstra, Northeastern and JMU?

— Mike Barnes (@mjbarnes24)

Looking Forward: Towson

Heading into this season, the Towson Tigers have been picked to finish seventh in the CAA. No preseason prediction better demonstrates the CAA’s depth.

It was inevitable that our crystal ball would slight some of the mid-tier teams, and for my money, Pat Skerry’s team pulled the shortest straw. Despite the fact that the Tigers add a big-time transfer and return 72.5% of the scoring from one of the nation’s youngest teams (26th), media folk still have them pegged to be one of the four teams to play in the CAA Tournament’s Opening Round.

We were skeptical of Skerry’s squad in ’12-‘13, and it made us look silly. This team is going to be better, and potentially by a wide margin.

The Tigers’ mauling style produced some striking data points on the offensive side of the ball, as Towson finished third nationally in both offensive rebounding percentage (41.1%) and free-throw rate (48.3%). Towson scored a higher percentage of points (26.4%) at the foul line than any D-I team, although scoring such a hefty portion of points from the foul line was made possible in part by an abysmal effective field goal percentage (44.6%, 322nd in D-I).

Defensively, the Tigers permitted 107.1 points per 100 possessions (268th nationally). The Tigers were solid in defending the lane and preventing second-chance opportunities, but their slow physical brand didn’t produce many turnovers (sixth-worst defensive turnover percentage in D-I), and allowed opponents to get 25% of their points at the charity stripe.

Given the personnel returning, you can expect this year’s team to be a near carbon copy of its ’14-’15 rendition. Adding an ACC transfer to an intriguing core will make Towson even more brutish than before.

Arnaud William Adala Moto is a Cameroonian-born hoopster who averaged 6.9 points and 5.2 boards in 19.7 minutes of playing time at Wake Forest in ’13-‘14. The 6’6” redshirt junior’s ability to rebound and get to the foul line fits exactly with Skerry’s vision. He showed well at AfroBasket 2015 (12.4 points, 6.6 points per game), and the fact that he was an All-CAA Honorable Mention selection indicates that most pundits are expecting immediate contributions.

Adala Moto will team with junior forward John Davis to form a fearsome duo in the post. An All-CAA Preseason Second Teamer, Davis averaged 11.8 points and 8.1 boards off the bench. Davis excels in the same areas as Adala Moto, and is the biggest reason why Towson posted the third-best rebounding margin (+8.7 rebounds per game) in D-I.

The promise in the frontcourt doesn’t stop there. Sans Senior Day, Timajh Parker-Rivera started every game as a junior. He’s flashed tantalizing talent throughout his first three years, but has struggled with consistency. 6’8” junior Walter Foster plays both post positions, and could develop into one of the CAA’s better shot blockers.

With the switch to a 30-second shot clock, the importance of stable ball-handling will be more important than ever before. After its youthful backcourt produced the sixth-worst turnover margin (-3.9 turnovers per game) in D-I, this is an area in which Towson must improve.

With Four McGlynn onto his third different college, sophomore Byron Hawkins is the guy at point guard. Starting with the tenth game of the season, Hawkins became a staple in the starting five. He’s the most natural fit at point guard, and will also be tasked with picking up some of the scoring load.

Sophomore Mike Morsell, a 6’5” swingman with a 7’2” wingspan, was an All-CAA Rookie Team member. Morsell started Towson’s final 12 games, and averaged 10.9 points and 4.3 boards over that span. He’s a lock for big-time minutes on the wing, and could make a massive leap if he irons out his three-point shot.

After averaging slightly under a dozen minutes per outing last season, 6’2” senior Josh Ivory, a transfer from Cleveland State by way of Baton Rouge Community College, has a chance to carve out a significant role. 6’5” sophomore Eddie Keith started Towson’s final six games, and will have to cut down on the turnovers if he’s to keep a stronghold on his spot in the rotation. Redshirt junior A.J. Astroh hasn’t seen many meaningful minutes since graduating high school in 2012, but could certainly find the court if he can display a consistent three-point shot.

Skerry has spoken excitedly about his three freshmen. Jordan McNeil is a 6’5” shooting guard who redshirted last season. Freshmen forwards Dennis Tunstall and Alex Thomas will have many bodies ahead of them in the fight for frontcourt minutes, but add much-needed size to Towson’s short but potent frontcourt.

With McGlynn gone, there are legitimate reasons to believe that Towson may be one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the country. Towson finished 321st nationally with a 30.1% mark from three, and doesn’t return any players who hit above 30% from downtown. Skerry’s teams have never depended upon the three-point shot as a primary means of offense, but still need someone to stretch the floor and provide a spark when the team is down.

An easy way for Towson to put up more points would be at the foul line. As mentioned, the Tigers were more dependent upon foul-line scoring than any other team in the country. But they shot just 66.3% (271st nationally) from the line, and lost one of the nation’s best free-throw shooters in McGlynn (hit 122-of-133, 91.7%). The Tigers dropped 11 games by five points or less, so it’s obvious that improvement on the freebies would go a long way towards fielding a more efficient offensive team.

The Towerlight’s Tyler Beard has indicated that Skerry wants this team to run more, which is noteworthy for a team that was in the conversation with College of Charleston and Drexel to be considered the CAA’s slowest. Skerry gives his teams offensive freedom once they’ve become comfortable in the system, and pushing in transition would allow this shooting-challenged group to put some easy points on the board.

It’s easy to visualize a flustered Matt Brady or Tony Shaver, seated inside SECU Arena’s pristine media room, recounting the difficulties their teams faced against the Tigers’ ferocious frontcourt. It’s not hard to imagine the Tigers grabbing each and every missed shot that clanks off the iron, getting the opposition in foul trouble, and being absolute hellacious for those CAA teams with thinner frontcourts. It’s just as easy, however, to imagine the Tigers playing long stretches without hitting net.

Towson has embraced its rock fighting identity, and most of its victories will be ugly. Improvements from the foul line (and beyond) and in the turnover department are essential, and will likely be season-defining pieces for this group. If one of the younger guards takes a big step, Towson has the pieces in place to vastly outplay preseason expectations.

Looking Forward: Northeastern

As was the case with this year’s Hofstra squad, your ’15-’16 Northeastern Huskies need no introduction. Husky head man Bill Coen returns four seasoned starters from a 23-win team that won the CAA Championship and gave Notre Dame more than it bargained for in the NCAA Tournament.

Coen has his Huskies primed to contend in the CAA once again, but there’s one big question to be answered. Despite returning starters at positions one through four, Coen will enter the season very green at the five.

Scott Eatherton was an uber-efficient big man who had helped Northeastern evolve into one of the best defensive rebounding teams (74.7%, 10th nationally) in the country. He was unique for Coen’s program, and there’s simply no replacing everything he brought to the court. Factor in the loss of Reggie Spencer, the sixth man who averaged over 25 minutes per game throughout his four years in Boston, and you’ll realize that the center spot will largely be a work in progress.

However, there are many, many positive things going on up in Boston.

Senior David Walker is a Preseason All-CAA First Team selection who averaged 13.5 points and a team-high 3.6 assists last season. Walker shot 39.2% from beyond the arc, and has 92 career starts to his name. Walker averaged fewer than 10 shots per game last season, and will be asked to do more offensively this season. That’s an exciting prospect for one the most efficient offensive players (and best dunkers) in the CAA.

Redshirt senior Quincy Ford was the CAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, playing his best game (22 points) in the CAA Tournament final. It was a welcome sign to see Ford, who missed all of ’13-’14 with a back injury, erupt after averaging just over seven shots per game in league play. He’s a unique talent who’s spent his first three seasons playing alongside big-time scorers (Eatheron, Joel Smith). He certainly appears poised for a career year in ’15-’16.

Junior T.J. Williams started all 35 games last season, and was Northeastern’s primary ballhandler. Williams actually outscored Ford in conference play, averaging 11.1 points in 35+ minutes per game. He’s shown a knack for drawing fouls, and if he can improve upon his 60.2% mark at the stripe, he could truly have a breakout season.

Senior Zach Stahl is a jack-of-all-trades 6’5” power forward. He’s a great passer out of the post, and his ability to play on the block allows Northeastern to create mismatches with the 6’8” Ford on the perimeter. Stahl shot the ball at a 56.9% clip, and is the Huskies’ leading returning rebounder.

With 285 career starts between them, this foursome possesses talent and experience that rivals anyone in the CAA. The fifth spot is the one in question, and will inevitably be filled by a committee of players.

Fortunately, Coen revamped the frontcourt with three impressive young big men. Coen’s never been shy about playing freshmen early and often, evidenced by the fact that Walker, Ford, and Williams all started 19-plus games in their first seasons of collegiate ball. Coen will be forced to rely upon the youngins again this season.

Three-star newcomer Jeremy Miller boasts an impressive offer sheet, and was previously committed to Boston College before pledging to play for Coen. Sajon Ford is Quincy’s brother, who was also courted by multiple noteworthy coaches. 6’10” 270-pound Anthony Green is ready to challenge C.J. Gettys as the CAA’s biggest center. These gentlemen don’t need to put a ton of points on the board, but need to protect the glass and help Stahl defend the interior.

Out of 351 D-I hoops squads, Northeastern received the sixth-fewest minutes from its bench. Coen started the same five players in all but one game last season, and simply can’t bank on such remarkable health this time around. Fortunately, this year’s bench will be more experienced and in a better position to contribute.

The Huskies weren’t dependent upon the three ball last season, but shot the long ball at an elite percentage (38.6%, 28th in D-I). This strength could become magnified this season, and the first two guards off the bench could be a big reason why. Sophomore Devon Begley flashed the goods on numerous occasions last season, connecting on half of his 30 three-point attempts. Walk-on senior Caleb Donnelly scored in double figures in both the CAA Tournament Finals and Semifinals, and shot 52.9% (27-of-51) from three on the season. He should enter this season brimming with confidence.

The rest of the bench is a bit of a mystery. Redshirt junior forward Kwesi Abakah had a bit of hype heading into last season, but could never find the court consistently. His classmate Jimmy Marshall has a reputation as a knockdown three-point shooter, but hasn’t played enough to find any rhythm.

Northeastern’s deliberate offense typically results in a few needle-threading passes gone awry each night. With a defensive style that doesn’t force many turnovers, it might be surprising to hear that Northeastern had one of the worst turnover margins (-3.8 turnovers per game) in the nation last season. This shouldn’t happen for such a veteran team, and is the reason why freshman guards Donnell “Red” Gresham and Brandon Kamga could find the court if they prove they can adequately man the point.

While there are obvious concerns, most specifically in replacing the rebounding production left behind by Eatherton and Spencer, it’s important that we acknowledge how Coen has everything rolling in Boston. He returns three seniors who’ve played a role in winning two regular season championships, brought in the best freshman class in the CAA, and has Tom Izzo’s Spartans coming to Matthews in December. This momentum is not lost on the young hoopsters, as Coen already has three commitments from the high school Class of 2016.

We trust that Coen, perhaps the best end-game coach in college hoops, will figure out the proper way to utilize his talented and experienced core to maneuver around any potential shortcomings to give the Huskies another shot at getting back to the NCAA Tournament.

Looking Forward: UNCW

It’s fair to hold procrastinators who post season previews the day before the season starts more accountable for their words than those responsible people who planned ahead, and made their predictions weeks before Daylight Savings.

Had I written this preview back then, it’s undeniable that I would’ve pegged UNCW to finish higher up the standings. Early last month UNCW head honcho Kevin Keatts dismissed Jarvis Haywood, the high-scoring guard who sat last season after transferring in from Jacksonville, before he ever had a chance to play a meaningful game in Trask.

With Haywood in hand, UNCW was my sleeper pick to win the whole damn league. Even without Haywood, I still think we might all be dozing on this team.

Yes, UNCW graduated its top two scorers in Addison Spruill (All-CAA First Team) and Freddie Jackson (All-CAA Second Team). The duo combined to average 27.5 points per game, and turned in stellar senior seasons that helped UNCW go from worst to first in a matter of one season.

But before last season, we were much more concerned with the impending graduation of athletic shot blocker Cedrick Williams. I didn’t write that to downplay the graduations of Spruill and Jackson, but to serve as a testament to Keatts, who coached a team picked to finish ninth into a first-place finale.

Kids bought into Keatts almost immediately, evidenced by the fact that the coaching change did not result in a single voluntary defection. Keatts’ system requires guys to play hard for 40 minutes each night, and is designed to muck things up and keep the Seahawks close no matter the opposition’s offensive prowess.

All last season, the buzz out of Wilmington signaled that the transfers who sat last season were better than the guys dawning the highlighter and teal-tinged jerseys. Haywood was the most highly regarded of that bunch, and is a no-doubt big loss.

But this year’s roster is unquestionably deeper, and potentially more talented from top to bottom. While it’s impossible to project how the seven newcomers will slide into UNCW’s rotation, the returning backcourt players will play a huge role in determining whether or not the Dubmen are queued for an encore.

As was the case last season, this team’s strength projects to be its backcourt.

UNCW returns the lone player who started all 32 games in ’14-’15: redshirt senior Craig Ponder. The longest-tenured Seahawk has a history with Keatts dating back to ’10-’11 at Hargrave Military Academy. Ponder shot 44-of-97 (45.4%) from three last season, and might have been the most naturally talented upperclassmen guard on the roster. If he can improve upon his assist-to-turnover ratio, he’ll have a great chance at following Spruill and Jackson’s steps to an accolade-garnering season.

Sophomore Jordon Talley held down the point guard position for a team stocked full of fourth-year college guards, and concluded the season as an All-CAA Rookie Team pick. On a squad that will have more guys capable of stretching defenses with long-range shooting, Talley’s ability to drive the lane and get to the foul line will be further accentuated.

Newcomers will comprise the rest of the backcourt, and Eric Detweiler has been on the workingman’s grind to get us up to speed on these guys. Of the aforementioned transfers, redshirt junior Denzel Ingram started 38 games over two seasons at UNC Charlotte, and will give the Seahawks another reliable ballhandler. Ingram averaged 8.1 points per game as a sophomore, and hit 44.1% from three. Walk-on Chris Flemmings sat last season after transferring in from D-II Barton College, and stuffed the stat sheet in UNCW’s exhibition game against his old school.

The incoming freshmen will provide Keatts with a plethora of lineup options. Per Detweiler, 6’5” freshman C.J. Bryce is a versatile piece who can play positions one through four. 6’6” Mark Matthews can play three spots, and it’s very telling that Matthews, who tallied a team-high 28 points in the Bahamas, induced Detweiler to write the names Luke Hancock and Brett Blizzard in neighboring sentences.

The line between the frontcourt and the backcourt will be blurred at times. Three upperclassmen returners averaged between 12-16 minutes per game, and each brings a unique skill set to the frontcourt.

6’9” senior Dylan Sherwood logged 17.6 minutes per game over UNCW’s final 15 outings. Two-thirds of Sherwood’s field-goal attempts came from beyond the arc, where he connected at a 38.5% clip last season. His minutes will likely fluctuate again this season, but he’s an intriguing piece.

Chuck Ogbodo progressed between his freshman and sophomore seasons, posting some nice lines in the nonconference portion of the schedule. I’m interested to see if he can replace Williams as the Dub’s best shot blocker.

Keatts knows he’ll need to pick his spots with 7’0” 275-pound junior C.J. Gettys, who started 16 of UNCW’s first 21 games in ’14-’15. Gettys scored in double figures three times, and it’s noteworthy that two of those performances came against high-speed Hofstra.

Walk-on senior Kevin Hickson will also mix in here and there.

Once again, there are newcomers who will try to steal minutes from the incumbents. Redshirt sophomore Marcus Bryan is another Charlotte transfer who should find a steady role as one of the only true post players with D-I experience. 6’7” freshman Trey Grundy is another Hargrave guy, and it’s telling that Keatts first met Grundy when Grundy was visiting Louisville. Devontae Cacok plays with the energy Keatts craves, and should find a spot as an athletic rebounder.

While it’s impossible to know how the starts and minutes will play out, we do know the sorts of things UNCW will need to do to be successful. The Seahawks posted a +1.7 turnover ratio, good for 62nd nationally last season. Their intense defensive effort will produce turnovers, but it’s worth mentioning that they coughed it up 25 times in their exhibition versus Barton.

While they might not have the most on-court experience, Ingram, Flemmings, and Bryan have been practicing with the team for well over a year now. There are numerous guys who’ve redshirted, and others who played an extra year at the prep level. Additionally, this past summer’s foreign trip to the Bahamas was the perfect happenstance for a team integrating so many new pieces.

While growing pains are inevitable, I have full faith that the reigning CAA Coach of the Year will extract maximum effort from his team on a nightly basis. Keatts has accumulated many complementary pieces, and depth that did not exist last season. I think they’re in a similar spot as Delaware last season, in that some lumps in the nonconference season will give way to some perceived upsets when January rolls around.

While the Seahawks will face a tougher CAA than the Blue Hens did last season, they have the talent and coaching to become one of the more feared teams in Baltimore.

Looking Forward: James Madison

Ron Curry will win CAA Player of the Year in March. Well, now that we’re officially on the record, we can begin this honorary preview of James Madison University’s ’15-‘16 basketball season, which kicks off tomorrow night in Richmond.

The Dukes will set out to avenge a disappointing end to a ‘14-‘15 campaign that included a terrible exit in the Second Round of the CAA Tournament. That final game left a sour taste in my mouth.

On a personal note, that was the last JMU game I’d ever cover. I was the beat writer for The Breeze from ’11-’15. I witnessed slews of terrible losses, but that 74-57 loss to Hofstra inside Royal Farms Arena was one of the worst. JMU played with little heart, and was manhandled by an extremely physical Pride roster.

Curry sat in the pressroom that afternoon with his sweatshirt hood draped over his head. It was at that moment I decided he would bounce back strong and bring home Player of the Year honors. As one of only two seniors on this year’s roster, I enlist full faith in his decision making and leadership. I expect to see his 13.9 points per game average blow past 15 this year.

Curry’s been a quiet guy since his freshman year, but now knows when he has to speak up. If you recall, that freshman class included Andre Nation (officially dismissed from the team in January) and Charles Cooke (transferred to Dayton). They concluded their freshmen year playing in front of 10,000+ in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament.

That trio has since dissipated, leaving a reserved Curry at the forefront of an always young JMU team. Over the years, I often asked Curry about his leadership role. He admitted he didn’t like having to speak up, but understood the importance. He learned under Devon Moore, his predecessor. Moore was also reserved off the court, saving all his chatter for game time.

This is Curry’s year to shine. He needs to be selfish, and more so needs to be vocal. I foresee times of frustration, especially early on as he’ll be rallying to formulate chemistry with a few new faces in the mix, but it can be done.

For the Dukes to be successful, it has to be done.

I’ll bring to light one roster change that may go unnoticed, but could be of big impact for the Dukes. By comparing last year’s roster to this one, I noticed junior Jackson Kent is listed at 200 pounds, 15 more than the 185 he was listed at this time last season.

If this is true (and we all know rosters may be misleading), Kent with significant bulking could lead to prominent gains on both sides of the ball. In the two years I covered Kent, perhaps the biggest thing I watched him develop was his physicality with opposing players.

Without significant roster turnover, the Dukes head into this season still undersized. It was a tremendous hindrance in ‘14-’15, as they were constantly outrebounded night after night. Getting boards any way possible will be crucial for this club. This registers as an even larger point with the meniscus injury recently suffered by junior Yohanny Dalembert. The 6’8” forward can hang with the best in the league down low, but will miss 2-4 weeks with this injury.

Head coach Matt Brady has never had much luck in the injury realm. He’s always used it as somewhat of crutch with the media, but sometimes you have to give into the guy and actually just buy what he’s selling. Brady’s had terrible luck with injuries. Yes, it doesn’t need to become an excuse, but it is an unfortunate trend. Dalembert’s doesn’t help in the slightest, but it should be pretty juvenile if he can rest and rejoin the team before Christmas and more importantly, conference play.

In his sophomore season, Dalembert averaged just over 11 points and six rebounds per game. He’s continually become more comfortable scoring with his back to the basket. Dalembert averaged just over 25 minutes per contest, and we should see that number rise this season as he’ll once again be the go-to guy down low for Curry and the backcourt.

On the nonconference front, JMU will have the luxury of playing 10 home games throughout the course of late fall and early winter. It’s a slate Brady has been waiting for, as the recent years have seen JMU on the road basically until after Christmas. This treat is capped by a six-game December home stand which includes a visit from George Mason on December 12th, easily the highlight of the non-conference schedule harkening back to their old CAA rivalry.

With an at-large bid likely out of reach for the Dukes or anyone within the CAA, the non-conference schedule is the test ride, and the time to hammer out the kinks. It’s the time to get through a couple of minor early-season injuries and get over the hump into CAA play, which begins December 31st against College of Charleston.

Two players to watch will be sophomore Joey McLean and redshirt junior Devontae Morgan. McLean has the potential to be deadly on the offensive front, but has to seamlessly find a way to best utilize his small stature (6’0”, 160 pounds) wisely. Morgan redshirted last year after transferring from Butler University. He has a reputation as a great defender, and his implementation into the backcourt could be a hearty addition. Behind Curry and Dalembert, these two should get as much run as anyone on the team. While Morgan could go through some growing pains early, he too could end up on an All-CAA Team come March.

With some mistakes in his past, junior Tom Vodanovich also looks to improve in this upcoming campaign. He’s the most aggressive and physical player on the roster. Vodanovich will need to bump his four rebounds per game up this season and ideally contribute some more points, after averaging 4.7 over his first two years. Look for this to happen in the trenches and ideally on offensive rebounds.

The Pride and the Dukes make up the top two teams in the CAA Preseason Poll. This time of year pays in predictions, and with continued player development and little luck in the injury department, JMU could certainly earn a meaningful rematch in March.

— Stephen Proffitt (@JStheProffitt)