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)

Looking Forward: Hofstra

The prevailing belief is that a college basketball coach should be producing significant results by his third year at a new job. When Joe Mihalich inherited just four scholarship players from a Hofstra Pride team coming off a disastrous seven-win season in April 2013, even the most optimistic fans had to acknowledge that the road to relevance would be arduous.

But the moment Juan’ya Green and Ameen Tanksley opted to follow their head coach from Niagara to Long Island, the rebuild at Hofstra took a toll-free path to prominence. Mihalich only had to wait one year to get his studs eligible, and two years to get them integrated into the team.

After doubling Hofstra’s win total from 10 (Year One) to 20 (Year Two), Mihalich heads into Year Three with the Pride positioned as the preseason favorite to win the CAA.

Hofstra’s ’14-’15 campaign can be summarized with an oft-referenced stat that frequented this blog last season. The Pride was 17-1 when holding opponents below 70 points, and 3-13 when the opposition hit that magical 70-point barrier. In KenPom World, the Pride was 16-0 when holding opponents below one point per possession, and 4-14 otherwise.

With enhanced depth and expected improvements on the defensive end, the Pride looks fully capable of concluding the season as the CAA’s supreme ruler. The Pride returns its three leading scorers. This trio of former transfers comprise one of the nation’s most underrated backcourts.

The fifth-year senior Green is the steady-handed catalyst that makes Hofstra’s offense go, and the reason the Pride finished 23rd nationally in offensive turnover percentage. Recently selected as the CAA Preseason Player of the Year, Green averaged 17.1 points and 6.5 assists per game last season. Dating back to the ’12-’13 season, he’s scored in double figures in 43 consecutive games. Need I say more?

Green is joined on the Preseason All-CAA First Team by his longtime running mate Tanksley. Tanksley averaged 16.2 points and 5.5 boards per game, and hit 74 3-pointers at a 39.8% clip. Tanksley’s ability to play both the three and four gives Mihalich’s squad multiple versatile looks. He’ll be a true mismatch for just about every team in the CAA.

Redshirt junior Brian Bernardi transferred in from Southern Methodist two years ago, and will start at the two. He’s one of the best pure shooters (95 3-pointers, 40.4% from three) in the country, and one of the Pride’s top defenders. Hofstra’s third wheel doesn’t get the same offensive volume as Green and Tanksley, but helps those guys get great looks because he’s a threat to score out to 25 feet.

Despite the loss of underutilized forward Moussa Kone, the Pride frontcourt has the potential to be much improved. Two sophomores flashed considerable potential in ’14-’15, while a pair of fifth-year senior transfers look like they can be difference makers as well.

Rokas Gustys posted multiple standout performances as a freshman, including an 11 and 16 double-double versus Delaware in early January. He averaged 9.5 points and 7.0 boards in 20.5 minutes per game in Baltimore, proving that he can be a physically imposing force on the block. At 6’9” 260 pounds, the only thing keeping this space-eating center from seeing the court more consistently is his propensity to commit fouls (7.4 fouls per 40 minutes).

As a freshman, Andre Walker’s playing time was far more limited, but promising all the same. Walker hauled in 11 boards and blocked four shots in his first collegiate game last November. He was even more foul-prone than Gustys (9.1 fouls per 40), but will have a chance to stake his claim for playing time during the nonconference slate.

6’8” Denton Koon is a graduate transfer who missed his last season because of an MCL injury. Mihalich says Koon, a double-digit scorer at Princeton as recently as ’12-’13, is a player who just knows how to win. The glue guy has a reputation as an excellent passer, and seems to have the inside track to start at the four.

6’10” Clemson transfer Ibrahim Djambo spent the summer playing alongside Drexel’s Mohamed Bah with the Malinese national team. Djambo is home attending to family matters this first semester, but should carve out a role upon returning in time for conference play.

While Hofstra seems fully capable of ransacking a league bereft of Lees, Thorntons, and Eathertons, it’s important to remember that many felt similarly following last season’s hot start. The Pride sat 13-4, and 4-0 in conference play, with Green setting Tanksley and Bernardi up for earth-scorching performances. Natural regression ensued, and the effects of a slim rotation started to wear on the Pride.

Heading into this season, a massive focus will be placed on keeping the team fresh. Hofstra’s bench accounted for just 26.4% of minutes played (290th in D-I), and lost its biggest asset (Dion Nesmith, a double-digit scorer who averaged 28.3 minutes per outing). Green, Tanksley, and Bernardi all averaged 32+ minutes per game, and saw their overall shooting percentages fall under 40% in CAA play.

Conditioning is crucial for this up-tempo team, and was a primary focus for both Tanksley and Bernardi this offseason. In order to ease Green’s burden, freshmen guards Desure Buie and Justin Foreman-Wright will be thrust into the fold from the get go. Mihalich stated that Buie will allow Green, who averaged a team-high 36.1 minutes per game, to play off the ball, while Foreman-Wright will give Hofstra a presence above the rim.

Koon’s presence will allow Malik Nichols to come off the bench, which proved to be beneficial for the Pride last season. In Hofstra’s CAA Tournament trip to Baltimore, the 6’6” senior’s tenacious defense made things difficult for smaller guards Marcus Thornton and Ron Curry. 6’5” junior wing Jamall Robinson was an All-CAA Rookie Team pick in ’13-’14, and should continue to be one of the first players off the bench.
Transfers Deron Powers and Hunter Sabety will redshirt this season, and help iron sharpen iron as members of the scout team. Powers is a 1,000-point scorer from Hampton, and will take over at point guard in ’16-’17. Sabety averaged a hair under 15 points per game in two seasons at D-III Tufts, and demonstrated the kind of efficiency that makes one believe he can play at a higher level.

Most teams in the CAA will struggle to keep pace with Hofstra’s fast but mistake-free guards. That 70-point barrier won’t be a good barometer in the 30-second shot clock era, which is why we’ll watch have to watch for improvements on a point-per-possession basis. Even a marginal improvement on the defensive end would have the Pride sitting pretty heading into conference play.

With an offensively potent rotation as strong as any in the league, it’s easy to see why the preseason prognosticators have pegged the Pride as the preeminent favorite to clip nets in Baltimore.

Looking Forward: Elon

Elon (15-18, 6-12)

It would be natural to write off a team that lost twice as many games as it won in conference play, and is absent of more than half its scoring from those same 18 games. When considering that one of the departed was the CAA Rookie of the Year, this situation looks particularly disconcerting.

But it’s important to realize what Elon had working in its favor before January began.

Heading into a nonconference roadie with former SoCon rival UNC-Greensboro, Luke Eddy was pacing the Phoenix at 13.8 points per game. Elon’s sixth man was the reigning CAA Player of the Week, having dropped 21.5 points per game on Mizzou and Duke the week prior.

Right before the first half’s U12 timeout, Eddy took an outlet pass coast-to-coast and finished over two defenders before tumbling to the ground. It was his last bucket of the season, as the junior guard suffered a torn ACL on the play.

The Phoenix won in Greensboro, and commenced on a four-game winning streak that culminated in a 77-67 victory at The DAC (Elon’s inaugural conference game as a member of the CAA). A few days later, the Phoenix pushed to 10-6 overall and 2-1 in league play after an 85-79 home win over William & Mary.

But without Eddy, things went largely downhill thereafter.

Over the next six weeks, Elon dropped 11 of its 12 games. The Phoenix concluded league play allowing a league-worst 106.9 points per 100 possessions.

The Eddy injury forced head coach Matt Matheny, with a backcourt thin on ball handlers, to rely on playmaking freshman Elijah Bryant to pick up the slack. As the centerpiece of Elon’s offense, Bryant tallied gaudy numbers and garnered the CAA Rookie of the Year award.

Bryant used more possessions (35.5%) than all but two D-I players in ’14-’15. When factoring in his 110 turnovers (seventh most in D-I) and sub-par shooting percentages (apparently, a result of the necessity to hoist shots with the clock winding down for a team that finished top-30 nationally in both adjusted tempo and average length of possession), his numbers lose a bit of luster.

Although Bryant has taken his desire to be an academician/high-volume chucker to Brigham Young, there’s reason to believe that Elon can be better for it. Momentum created by a late-season four-game winning streak, now-healthy knees, and an otherwise positive offseason have the Phoenix faithful believing that this season could be special.

When Bryant announced his intention to transfer in June, Matheny was tasked with replacing three guards (Bryant, Austin Hamilton, and Kevin Blake) who played more than 40% of Elon’s minutes in league play. Despite the impending addition of touted shooting guard Steven Santa Ana, Elon’s backcourt was looking direly shallow.

Matheny landed two guard commitments over the summer, solidifying Elon’s backcourt and adding to a promising freshman class simultaneously.

Eddy was primed for an All-CAA caliber season, and could be poised to make a run for those accolades this season. Eddy’s 120.6 offensive rating would’ve topped the CAA, and while we can’t expect him to be full throttle come November, he should be rounding into form by the time league play rolls around.

Senior Tanner Samson (12.5 points per game) enters the season 58 points away from 1,000 for his career, and just 24 treys away from becoming Elon’s all-time leader in 3-pointers made. After shooting 43.4% from beyond the arc as a sophomore, Samson had slumped to 36.0% as a junior. Elon’s offensive attack will be more balanced this year, which should help Samson find more room to operate on the perimeter.

The three freshmen guards should find the court early and often. Santa Ana, a three-star prospect with flashy high school numbers, will compete for big-time minutes (potentially a starting role) from the get go. Sharpshooters Dainan Swoope and Sheldon Eberhardt were the two late additions to Elon’s five-man recruiting class, and should also get run. Swoope appears well-positioned to carve out a consistent role at point guard while Eddy works his way back from injury.

Injuries forced the Phoenix to play a lot of small ball in ’14-’15, as Matheny’s squad finished 305th nationally in effective height (the average height of players playing the center and power forward positions). Consequently, the Phoenix blocked fewer shots at the rim (3.0%) than any team in D-I, and allowed CAA foes to grab a league-high 32.6% of their missed shots.

The return of Brian Dawkins, a redshirt sophomore who was held out last season following a prolonged recovery from offseason knee surgery, and an influx of freshmen bigs will allow Elon to field stouter, more traditional lineups.

Athletic wings Christian Hairston and Dmitri Thompson will spend less time in the post banging with beefier opponents. Hairston shot 61.9% from the field, and needs more touches. Thompson is an offensively raw but promising wing who has the potential to be a true difference maker on both ends of the court. 6’6” swingman Collin Luther mixed in for a dozen minutes per game last season, notably dropping a career-high 11 points in Elon’s CAA Tournament victory over Towson.

Tyler Seibring and Karolis Kundrotas are the big men filling out Elon’s freshman class. Seibring will be an asset as a versatile big who can stretch defenses with his shooting. Kundrotas was originally committed to Charlotte, but reopened his commitment after the coaching change. The 6’10” forward from Lithuania possesses a body ready for college ball, and the ability to step out and hit shots on the perimeter.

Seibring and Kundrotas will compete with senior Tony Sabato and sophomore Jack Anton for post minutes. Sabato and Anton ranked ninth and eleventh, respectively, in minutes played per outing. The two post players from Cincinatti’s Archbishop Moeller should benefit from the presences of other big-bodied post players, but will need to produce more in the minutes they receive to earn expanded roles.

Invited walk-on Jack George redshirted the ’14-’15 season with the goal of becoming physically ready for D-I basketball. We’ll see if George has progressed to the point of carving out a role in the frontcourt.

The common denominator for Elon’s five freshmen is the highly proficient shooting, and adding these five into the mix with Eddy and Samson will give Elon the potential to be one of the better three-point shooting teams in the CAA.

Despite Bryant’s exodus, there are positive things in motion here (including designs for a new convocation center). Even so, it would require a leap of faith to peg Elon in the upper half of the CAA. More than half of the team hasn’t ever suited up in a CAA game. That’s not damning by any means, but it does speak to the fact that this a relatively young team that hasn’t been through the conference rigors. That’s what made this summer’s voyage to Germany, Austria, and Italy so valuable.

Another challenging nonconference slate featuring college hoops blue bloods Duke, Syracuse, and Michigan will provide Elon with early proving grounds. Additionally, the Phoenix will play four of its first five conference games at home, which will give Matheny’s squad multiple opportunities to start the new year with a bang.

To be taken seriously as a contender, Elon will need to emerge from that early five-game conference stretch with (at minimum) a 3-2 record. While I think this team will make strides as the year progresses, I will be surprised if the Phoenix manages to escape one of the two opening-round games in Baltimore.

Summer School: Drexel

Drexel (11-19, 9-9)

“I’d trade numbers for wins.”

A seemingly harmless postgame statement spoken after Drexel’s seventh consecutive loss didn’t hold much weight at the time, but became ever-relevant some three months later.

When stud wing Damion Lee announced his intentions to play his fifth season outside of Philly, he instantaneously transformed the outlook of his former team’s upcoming season.

And now we’re left to ponder what’s next for Bruiser Flint’s squad.

Drexel is coming off a mercurial season that featured a seven-game losing streak (including…well…this) that was nearly forgotten amid a six-game stretch of CAA ascendancy that saw Lee dominate the best teams the league had to offer.

Drexel turned in its worst defensive performance (allowed 105.0 points per 100 possessions, 216th in D-I) since Flint’s first year in ’01-’02. Outside of Lee, the Dragons were downright poor offensively, posting an abysmal 0.59 points per possession in the worst single-game offensive performance (JMU home game) of the Flint Era.

This overall lackluster play can be recognized by the fact that the Dragons finished ninth in conference play in both offensive and defensive effective field goal percentages.

As has been the case in recent years, injuries played a massive roles. Flint was forced to rely heavily upon a five-man freshman class, causing Drexel to conclude the season as D-I’s 306th most experienced team. Flint will lean on that youthful experience and three redshirts to keep the post-Lee ship floating.

A quartet of sophomore guards enters the season in fierce competition for playing time.

After starting 14 games alongside Frantz Massenat and Chris Fouch in ’13-‘14, Major Canady was poised to step into a massive role last season. Canady fractured his ankle before the season, continuing an unfortunate recent trend in Flint’s snake-bitten tenure.

Now healthy, Canady will compete with rising sophomores Rashann London and Sammy Mojica for playing time.

London (7.0 points per game) started every game as a freshman. His 0.85 assist-to-turnover ratio was concerning (even for a freshman point guard). But London improved in that area as the season progressed, and would’ve registered higher assist totals on a better shooting team. Canady’s presence will allow London to play off the ball more frequently.

Mojica was a crucial sparkplug during Drexel’s midseason surge, averaging 10.5 points during the six-game winning streak. On a team lacking proven three-point shooters, Mojica (24-of-64, 37.5% from three) will have a claim to big-time minutes.

6’5” Ahmad Fields chose Utah over Colorado, Mississippi, and St. Joe’s out of high school. Adam Herrmann indicated that Fields has been a standout in intrasquad pickup games, and might start from the get go. Fields showed a propensity for getting buckets in limited action as a freshman, and the redshirt sophomore might be the player best suited to consume the bulk of Lee’s minutes.

The Dragons return a double-digit scorer in senior Tavon Allen. Allen is 157 points away from hitting 1,000 for his career, but last year’s 37.3 effective field goal percentage and Dan Crain’s research point to Allen as one of the least efficient scorers in D-I. Allen averaged 3.7 assists per game during Drexel’s six-game winning streak, which shows how the team thrived when he took on more of a facilitative role.

Drexel’s lone freshman, Terrell Allen, might be the only pure point guard on the roster. He’s a good bet to see the court for that reason.

Last season represented the third consecutive in which Flint had to replace his leading rebounder. Bru’s teams finished top-16 nationally in defensive rebounding percentage from 2011 through 2013 before slipping to 96th in 2014 and a middling 172nd last season.

I expect the fall to stop there.

Injuries forced Flint to roll with guard-heavy lineups, and we know damn well that four guards and one forward make Dan an angry man. Frontcourt depth should allow the Dragons to play to their strengths, and avoid guard-heavy lineups that are particularly problematic for the archetypal rock fighter.

In Rodney Williams and Mohamed Bah, Flint has two juniors with 30+ career starts to their names. Insert Kazembe Abif, who redshirted last season while recovering from a torn ACL, and this has the makings of one of the better frontcourts in the conference.

Williams was an All-CAA Rookie Teamer in ’13-’14, and brings a rare level of athleticism to the league. Williams put up numbers (8.2 points, 7.0 rebounds) despite missing the first eight conference games with a stress fracture. The team needs to prioritize getting Williams the ball.

Bah started every game last season, but averaged just over two field goal attempts per game in conference play. Bah spent his summer playing with the Malinese National Team, and is another guy with solid percentages (64.3% during conference play) who could use a few more touches.

Abif has 17 career starts to his name, and will be the most tenured big man on the squad. He’ll most likely start on the bench while he rounds into form.

Sophomores Tyshawn Miles and Austin Williams played spot minutes as freshmen. Miles posted a double-double versus Delaware in January, and mixes Daryl McCoy’s size with Samme Givens’ desire to be a true difference maker on the glass. Williams actually started a dozen times, but only played more than eight minutes in one of those starts.

Flint secured an intriguing midseason transfer who will redshirt the upcoming season. Miles Overton put up Tavon-esque (efficiency wise) numbers in 36 games at Wake Forest. It remains to be seen whether or not he was a product of Jeff Bzdelik’s trainwreck, or part of the quandary. We’ll have to wait until ’16-’17 to see Overton on the floor.

Without a Givens, Massenat, Fouch, or Lee in sight, Flint has to get this team back to the rugged underdog mentality that’s defined Drexel basketball for the majority of the last 14 years. Dominating the boards, defending the perimeter, and taking care of the basketball are three elements that had Drexel on the winning side of so many rock fights in the past decade, and we need to see the Dragons trend back in that direction.

This program has positively surprised us before, and returns three players who started 30-plus games last season. Ultimately, it just feels like the Dragons will be too reliant on unproven players. We’ve seen enough flashes from the sophomore guards and upperclassmen bigs to understand this team’s potential for growth, but even extreme optimists would have a hard time pegging Drexel as a contender.

If Bru turns in a throwback coaching job, this team could surprise and push for a .500 finish in conference play. Given what we know about the team right now, I think seventh or eighth place might be this team’s ceiling.