A Look At My Preseason All-CAA Ballot
HARRISONBURG - It's that time of year again. College basketball practices have begun. Media days will soon arrive and with them plenty of preseason rankings and awards.
As a voting member of the Colonial Athletic Association media horde, I once again turned in a ballot to the league office and, like last season, I'll break down my votes for transparency and discussion purposes.
First off, here's how my ballot looked:
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1. College of Charleston
7. UNC Wilmington
9. William & Mary
PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM (RANKED IN ORDER)
1. Nathan Knight, W&M
2. Grant Riller, C of C
3. Eli Pemberton, Hofstra
4. Brian Fobbs, Towson
5. Matt Lewis, JMU
6. Jordan Roland, Northeastern
7. Camren Wynter, Drexel
8. Desure Buie, Hofstra
9. Ryan Allen, Delaware
10. Darius Banks, JMU
Similar to last year, ranking the teams was difficult because there's simply not a lot of difference between most of them. I'd expect Charleston to be the overwhelming choice to win the CAA and Elon will almost certainly be picked at the bottom.
Grant Riller is a stud for Charleston and coach Earl Grant is one of the best in the country. Sophomores Zeb Jasper and Jaylen Richard could be ready for bigger roles and freshmen Brenden Tucker is going to be a CAA Rookie of the Year candidate. Elon is in serious rebuilding mode with first-year head coach Mike Schrage. The way he's recruiting, the Phoenix won't be down long, but this year is not the year for Elon.
The eight in between? There's going to be a lot of debate there and they could go in just about any order.
Well, not any order. When you look around the conference there are a few coaches and programs established enough you can just about count on them being competitive every year. Hofstra loses CAA Player of the Year Justin Wright-Foreman, but has a talented backcourt returning, led by Eli Pemberton who could have a true breakout year with Wright-Foreman off to the NBA.
Northeastern has plenty of question marks on the roster after losing Vasa Pusica, Shawn Occeus and others, but Jordan Roland and Bolden Brace make a nice returning core and Bill Coen is a coach who will always have the Huskies in the mix.
But there is a reason I have Delaware ahead of them despite the offseason loss of Ithiel Horton as a transfer to Pitt. Ryan Allen and Kevin Anderson bring veteran toughness and scoring to the backcourt, but the key for the Blue Hens are in newcomers. A trio of transfers shined for UD in the offseason. Don't be surprised if Dylan Painter (Villanova), Justyn Mutts (High Point) and Nate Darling (UAB) all make a big impact.
James Madison and Towson are both middle-of-the-pack teams with an opportunity to make a jump. JMU returns four starters, including three juniors who averaged double figures last year while Brian Fobbs has proven his ability to carry the load for the Tigers.
UNC Wilmington and Drexel are a couple of teams who were hit hard by transfers. Drexel may surprise after injuries were a factor last season, but losing Troy Harper and Alihan Demir are major subtractions.
There's likely a line of separation after those teams with William & Mary and Elon in for tough seasons after coaching changes. The Tribe got a boost out of the cellar when Nathan Knight pulled his name out of the NBA Draft, but four other starters transferred out after Tony Shaver was fired.
As for the All-conference team, after losing a handful of pros the list this year doesn't have as many familiar names to the more casual fan, but the top of the conference is fantastic and the battle for CAA Player of the Year should be a good one.
I gave my preseason POY nod to Knight, though the difference in resume between he and Riller is quite small. Knight is coming off a season in which he averaged 21 points, 8.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.3 blocks. Those are incredible numbers across the board and had it not been for Justin Wright-Foreman being among the nation's leading scorers in 2018-19, he would have gotten more MVP consideration last season.
Riller's numbers are also outstanding, averaging 21.9 points and 4.1 assists last year. Both Knight and Riller may be asked to do even more for their teams this time around, but the fact that Knight does a little bit of everything - those are point guard assist numbers in a center's body - gave him the edge for me.
Those two are the givens on the All-CAA first-team, but Eli Pemberton and Brian Fobbs were pretty easy picks as well. Pemberton averaged 15 points and nearly five rebounds playing Robin to Wright-Foreman's Batman last season and he should get even more opportunities to shine this time around. Fobbs, who averaged 17.5 points per game, was close to unstoppable at times last year with his strong frame driving to the basket.
Going with Matt Lewis for the final spot on the first team required a bit more thought, but the JMU junior is the fourth-leading returning scorer in the league at 16.4 points per game and coming off a third-team all-conference selection he's one of the most consistent veterans in the league.
His JMU teammate Darius Banks picked up a spot on my second team with solid offensive numbers, but it was his defense that did it for me. I felt like he should have been on the league's all-defensive squad last year and seeing former Charleston star Jarrell Brantley, who Banks shut down in Harrisonburg last year, muscle his way to the basket in NBA Summer League only confirmed it for me.
Northeastern's Jordan Roland could certainly make a case for first-team honors, but the athletic shooting guard also needs to become more consistent as the Huskies will rely on him more. He was capable of going off for 30 one night last season, but just as likely to follow it up with a couple slow games.
Drexel's Camren Wynter, Hofstra's Desure Buie and Delaware's Ryan Allen are all proven commodities who have won All-CAA honors of some sort at one point or another in their careers.
The hardest part of picking 10 was who got left off. UNCW point guard Kai Toews was really good as a freshman, averaging 8.8 points and 7.7 assists per game, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if he increases his scoring this year and makes a push for all-league honors.
I also wouldn't be surprised if any of Delaware's three transfers, Dylan Painter in particular, play at an All-CAA level. It's just hard to put them on the list right now when others have more established resumes.