League of parity rules in 2021
Welcome to the Colonial Athletic Association, where the 2021-22 season will be filled with immense competition.
I would say at least five teams – maybe even more – are able to win this league based on the return of incoming talent and skills from the transfer portal.
That means it could be one of the most entertaining mid-sized lectures in the country.
So, let’s dive into AAC by previewing the league from top to bottom. These rankings are based on each team’s current outlook and not where I think they’ll end up at the end of the season.
As mentioned earlier, there are many teams that are capable of winning the CAA title this season.
In my eyes, Delaware are the best of the group – at least at the start of the season.
Blue Hens fire all the important people of 2020-21, including preseason All-CAA first team forward Dylan Painter and top scorer Ryan Allen, and add a critical piece to George Washington’s transfer puzzle , Jameer Nelson Jr.
While the Blue Hens finished just 7-8 last season and fifth in the CAA standings, they started to gain momentum in late January. They won three in a row before COVID-19 forced them to cancel a month of hoops.
Martin Ingelsby’s peloton returned the most minutes in the conference (according to Bart Torvik) and its three star players – Painter, Allen and Kevin Anderson – are fifth-year seniors.
The experience is enormous in this sport, and Delaware has a lot of it.
While Drexel has lost third-leading scorer Zach Walton and versatile TJ Bickerstaff, he maintains what is quite possibly the best upside down duo in the conference.
Point guard Camren Wynter is back after averaging 16.3 points and 5.2 assists per game. The CAA preseason Player of the Year is the fifth in program history for assists as he combines an elite score, sheer speed and a high basketball IQ to lead the Dragons.
His counterpart is All-CAA preseason first team forward James Butler, who nearly averaged a double-double last season. The 6-foot-8 tall man is a solid finisher and dominant rebounder.
While the Dragons will be based on their two veteran stars, coach Zach Spiker’s team has a lot of depth. They added the transfer from Monmouth Melik Martin (12.5 PPG) and have three players ready to make potential jumps to Mate Okros, Xavier Bell and Lamar Oden Jr.
Hofstra has lost two of his top three scorers and will usher in a new era with Speedy Claxton replacing Joe Mihalich.
While Pride may take a while to adjust to the changes, it still sacks the conference’s second-leading scorer, Jalen Ray, and two other starters.
Ray is able to carry a team on his back based on his sheer ability to get buckets, but sometimes he tries to do too much.
This year, he may not have to do that based on the transfers added by Hofstra.
5-foot-11 point guard Zach Cooks comes from NJIT after scoring 17.1 points per game, and the pride will have three more major school additions to Abayomi Iyiola (Arkansas), Aaron Estrada (Oregon) and Darlinstone Dubar (Iowa) State).
A real star – plus depth – is huge when it comes to the conference title race.
Despite losing Conference Player of the Year to Matt Lewis, James Madison still has a chance to sit atop the standings in March.
Why? Thanks to Vado Morse, excellent coaching, versatility and some key transfers.
I’ll start with Morse, who averaged 14.4 points out of 41.4% shooting last season.
It certainly helped the defenses pay special attention to Lewis – which gave Morse more room to function – but the elder’s use rate will increase and his role will change this season. Expect Morse to average closer to 17 or 18 points per game.
Coach Mark Byington is another reason James Madison has a chance. In his first season, Byington helped guide the Dukes to a 13-7 record, which turned out to be the program’s best% WL (.650) since 2015-16.
Now in his sophomore year, Byington will have a full offseason to set up more tactics and use the versatility that is featured from top to bottom in this list.
Finally, the transfer from Seton Hall to Takal Molson could be the wild card that will help the Dukes move past fourth place. While Molson averaged just 5.3 points per game last season, his steadfastness, leadership and energy have been essential, both in the locker room and on the pitch, for the Pirates.
The northeast is also low due to the loss of point guard Tyson Walker to Michigan State. Walker averaged nearly 19 points per game last season and was the heart and soul of the squad.
Even without the 6-footer, the Huskies still seem to be in the game with Bill Coen on the sidelines. Coen is the most successful coach in the program’s history and has led it to four CAA regular season championships since 2006.
It’s also not like Coen is devoid of talent. CAA’s sixth man of the year Jahmyl Telfort is back after averaging the team’s second-most points last year. He’s up for another jump and should be Northeastern’s player of choice.
Third-top scorer Shaquille Walters is also back and is expected to take the point guard.
Finally, four transfers are eligible, including Joe Pridgen (UNC Wilmington) and Nikola Djogo (Notre Dame).
Don’t sleep on the Huskies.
That could end up being too low for the Cougars, who said goodbye to Earl Grant and hello to new head coach Pat Kelsey.
Kelsey has been one of the most prominent names on the coaching carousel and is a big improvement over Grant in the long run. But how will Charleston behave this season?
They’ll certainly play faster and be less defensive-oriented, but it’s not always easy to pull off a total of 180 in terms of schematic lags and hope for immediate success.
Charleston also lost its top three goalscorers last season, and although they add several transfers – including talented sophomore Fah’Mir Ali from Radford – this team mainly has new pieces around returnee Brenden Tucker.
It may take a while for Charleston to really freeze and find its rhythm with a new roster and Kelsey in charge. The future certainly looks very bright, even if the results are not there until the second half of the season.
If you’re looking for a team that could turn this league upside down, the Phoenix can be your team.
Despite a poor mid-season pass that included eight straight losses and several games canceled due to COVID-19, Elon still somehow earned seven straight wins before losing in the CAA tournament final to Drexel in 2020-21. .
The Phoenixes lose a few key pieces, including Ikenna Ndugba, but they return the selection of preseason All-CAA first team, Hunter McIntosh.
McIntosh is set to explode this season – even beyond his 15.7 points per game he scored last season. And while he’ll be the team’s best player, he has plenty of help from Jerald Gillens-Butler (15.7 PPG) and a possible home run transfer from Missouri to Torrence Watson.
Zane Martin won’t be entering the Tigers this season, but they still bring back second leading scorer Nicolas Timberlake and starting big man Charles Thompson.
But what really stands out from this list is transfer talent.
Terry Nolan Jr. jumped from George Washington to Bradley, but the guard is long and versatile. Antonio Rizzuto has shown that he can really shoot the rock in Albany. George Washington’s Chase Paar brings a legitimate height to 6 feet 10 inches. And UT Martin’s Cameron Holden and High Point’s Curtis Holland III can get buckets.
On top of all that talent, head coach Pat Skerry is excellent on the sidelines, even though the team hit rock bottom last year. Towson’s defense should be better and if the transfers all fit together, the Tigers could surprise some.
The Seahawks are perhaps the most difficult team in the conference to understand. They could finish dead last or place in the top five, depending on how their new additions work.
One thing we do know: Two of the team’s top three scorers from last season, Jaylen Sims and Mike Okauru, are back.
If Okauru improves his outside shot and Jaylen Fornes (Nicholls State) and James Baker Jr. (Morehead State) add an extra punch, UNC Wilmington could be dangerous.
The Tribe finished 7-10 and lost three of their last four games before placing seventh in the CAA last season. On the bright side, they were 10-7 ATS and showed flashes, especially in an overtime win over George Washington.
Luke Loewe and his 16.2 points per game won’t return, but sophomore Connor Kochera has good potential after shooting 44.6% from the field in 2020-21.
The tribe have three seniors in their starting lineup, but their bench is filled with inexperienced young players.
If you are a futures bettor, this league will be very difficult to predict due to the parity and depth. However, that does mean that there will definitely be some value, especially on teams like James Madison, Northeastern and Charleston who will be much better later in the season.
Personally, I love that Drexel wins the CAA. I have a lot of confidence in the Wynter and Butler duo, and after watching several games last season, I think Bell is poised to be the next star on the roster.
Elon and Towson will be potential black horses, but getting them to win the conference can be too much of a stretch. However, both teams are certainly capable of finishing in the first half of the standings.
If you’re betting on non-conference games, keep an eye out for Delaware. The Blue Hens are experienced and will have strong chemistry. They could be a team to support early on depending on the spreads offered against opponents like Davidson, Temple, La Salle and Siena.