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October 22, 2010

League preview: Colonial Athletic

We continue with our league breakdowns for the upcoming season; we'll work backward from league No. 32 to our top-ranked league.

The breakdowns will become more in-depth as the leagues get bigger.

11. Colonial

By Mike Huguenin

Old Dominion doubled-up by winning the CAA's regular-season and tournament titles, then did the league proud by winning a first-round game in the NCAA tournament as a No. 11 seed.

The defense-minded Monarchs bumped-and-grinded their way to a 51-50 upset of Notre Dame in the first round before falling to eventual Elite Eight participant Baylor 76-68 in a game that was a bit too up-tempo for ODU.

The Monarchs lost all-league big man Gerald Lee, but he is the only loss among their top six scorers. F Frank Hassell, G/F Kent Bazemore, F/G Ben Finney and G Darius James are returning starters, and F Keyon Carter should move easily into the starting lineup. ODU plays stifling defense and pounds foes on the boards, and that won't change. Coach Blaine Taylor wouldn't mind better 3-point shooting, though, after ODU shot just 31.7 from beyond the arc last season.

VCU and George Mason are the other legitimate contenders. VCU lost C Larry Sanders, who turned pro a year early and went 15th in the NBA draft. But a solid backcourt headed by Joey Rodriguez -- high school teammates on a state championship team with Florida's Chandler Parsons and ex-Gator Nick Calathes at Casselberry (Fla.) Lake Howell -- and good overall athleticism will keep the Rams in the hunt.

George Mason G Cam Long is a league player-of-the-year candidate and heads a veteran group. The Patriots didn't play defense to the liking of coach Jim Larranaga last season, but that should change this season. If some sophomores develop fully in the frontcourt, the Patriots are a real threat to win the league.

There's a drop-off after the top three, and the fight for fourth through eighth place in the league is going to be a good one.

Hofstra has the best player in the league in G Charles Jenkins, but a coaching change and some outgoing transfers are going to hurt the Pride. Incoming transfer Mike Moore, who moves over from Fordham, should team with Jenkins to form a nice 1-2 scoring punch.

James Madison has two big-timers up front in beefy Denzel Bowles (the league's leading returner scorer and rebounder) and Julius Wells, but the backcourt is a big question.

Northeastern will miss Matt Janning, but senior G Chaisson Allen is one of the league's best players and a nice building block for coach Bill Coen.

Drexel will miss high-scoring G Jamie Harris, who is gone after being arrested for armed robbery in July. Sophomore G Chris Fouch has all-league potential and must play with consistency.

William & Mary surprised last season, but the Tribe lost three starters. Swingman Quinn McDowell averaged 13.9 points last season, and he should increase that by at least three points this season. McDowell is one of only four returning players nationally who shot at least 49 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 80 percent from the line last season.

Delaware and Towson return a lot of players, but those teams won a combined nine league games last season. Delaware G Jawan Carter will vie for all-league honors, but will he have enough help to get the Blue Hens to even .500 in the league? Towson's frontcourt could be solid, but the backcourt is an issue.

Georgia State and UNC Wilmington will battle to stay out of the cellar. Georgia State returns just one starter from a team that won five league games, so coach Rod Barnes looks as if he is in for a long season. New coach Buzz Peterson, who arrives from Appalachian State, has a rebuilding job at UNCW. Senior G Chad Tomko is a good all-around player, but there isn't much else.

F Denzel Bowles, James Madison
F/G Quinn McDowell, William & Mary
G Chaisson Allen, Northeastern
G Charles Jenkins, Hofstra
G Joey Rodriguez, VCU
F/G Ben Finney, Old Dominion
F Frank Hassell, Old Dominion
F Julius Wells, James Madison
G Jawan Carter, Delaware
G Cam Long, George Mason
PLAYER OF YEAR: G Charles Jenkins, Hofstra
NEWCOMER OF YEAR: G/F Mike Moore, Hofstra (6-5/200, Jr.; transfer from Fordham)

1. Old Dominion
2. George Mason
3. VCU
4. James Madison
5. Northeastern
6. Drexel
7. Hofstra
8. William & Mary
9. Towson
10. Delaware
11. UNC Wilmington
12. Georgia State

Best frontcourt: Old Dominion
Best backcourt: George Mason
Coach on the rise: VCU's Shaka Smart
Coach on the hot seat: Towson's Pat Kennedy and Delaware's Monte Ross
Most underrated player: G/F Kent Bazemore, Old Dominion (6-5/195, Jr.)

New coaches: Mo Cassara at Hofstra (had been assistant at Boston College), Buzz Peterson at UNC Wilmington (had been coach at Appalachian State)
Regular-season winner last season: Old Dominion
Tourney winner last season: Old Dominion
League RPI rank in each of past 3 years: 12th in 2009-10, 14th in 2008-09, 13th in 2007-08
Last NCAA tourney win by a league team: 2010, Old Dominion as a No. 11 seed in first round
2011 conference tournament: March 4-7, Richmond, Va.

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