Last year, the Monarchs were a deep, balanced team that won 28 games and went to the NCAA tournament. This year, they’re all that plus more experienced. And if they get tripped up late in the conference tournament, the Monarchs could still earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. That would make ODU only the second CAA team to earn an at-large bid. (Richmond did it in 1986.) Reigning CAA Player of the Year Alex Loughton could be a repeat winner. Loughton averaged 14.1 points and 8.2 rebounds per game last year, while Isaiah Hunter chipped in 13.4. Guard Drew Williamson is steady at the point and solid defensively.
2. Hofstra (21–9, 12–6)
The CAA’s best backcourt tandem -- junior Loren Stokes and sophomore Antoine Agudio -- makes the Pride the most likely conference team to unseat Old Dominion. Agudio only got better as last season wore on, capping his freshman year by making the CAA All-Tournament team. Stokes finished second in the league in scoring, averaging 18.3 points per game and also led the Pride in assists and rebounds.
3. George Mason (16–13, 10–8)
Quality big men are hard to come by in the CAA, but the Patriots boast one of the best in 6-foot-7, 275-pound senior Jai Lewis, a tough matchup for whoever Mason is facing. Lewis, who averaged 13.0 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, starts the Patriots’ inside-out offense, an attack finished off by the steady 3-point shooting of 2-guard Lamar Butler. Butler was fourth in the league in scoring at 15.7 and led the CAA with 87 3-pointers. The Patriots also had three players on the five-man CAA All-Rookie team -- guard John Vaughan, swingman Folarin Campbell and forward Will Thomas. They’ll only be better this year.
4. VCU (19–13, 13–5)
ODU’s Alex Loughton may be the league’s MVP, but no one is more talented than VCU forward Nick George. George combines inside scoring with a motor that doesn’t stop running. The Rams feed off George’s intensity, and his 16.8 points per game, third-best in the league, don’t hurt either. VCU does lose forward Michael Doles -- and his 14.9 points per game -- to graduation.
5. UNC Wilmington (19–10, 13–5)
Year after year, Wilmington’s halfcourt offense, solid defense and homecourt advantage combine to make the Seahawks a factor in the CAA. UNC-W went 11–2 at home last year and returns scoring point guard John Goldsberry. Goldsberry was second in the CAA last year in assists per game at 4.78 but wasn’t afraid to shoot either, hitting 43.4 of his 136 3-point attempts and averaging 12.1 points per game.
6. Northeastern (21–10, 15–3 America East)
It will take the Huskies a while to recruit up to the CAA talent level, but scoring point guard Jose Juan Barea and 6-9 shot-blocker Shawn James (5.4 per game in ’04-05) could make Northeastern surprisingly competitive in its debut season. Barea nearly bolted Boston for the NBA Draft, eventually withdrawing because of concerns about the lockout, which was later avoided. His 22.2 points per game were eighth-best in the nation. Add 6-10 Nigerian import Benson Egemonye, the team’s likely starter at center, and Northeastern should more than hold its own this year.
7. Drexel (17–12, 12–6)
The Dragons could finish higher, but after losing four starters, Bruiser Flint will have to forge some chemistry with this group early. The cupboard is far from bare, as Drexel returns point guard Bashir Mason, perhaps the CAA’s top perimeter defender, and shot-blocker Chaz Crawford. The Dragons were third in team defense last year, allowing just 66 points per outing.
8. Delaware (11–20, 7–11)
The CAA’s biggest underachievers last year, the Blue Hens bring back scoring machine Harding Nana but lose point guard Mike Slattery. Slattery was a four-year starter who led the league in assists last season with 6.46 per game. But Nana alone should be enough to keep Delaware in the running. He averaged 18.5 points and 10.4 rebounds per game, both tops in the CAA. He might have been the Player of the Year if not for the Hens’ 11–20 record.
9. James Madison (6–22, 3–15)
For the nine-through-12 spots, you can pick out of a hat. In his second year, Dean Keener will be able to play a more uptempo, attacking style of basketball. Shooting guard Ray Barbosa is on the verge of being a conference star -- he averaged 14.9 points per game last year -- but the Dukes might not have enough around him to break into the middle of the CAA pack.
10. Towson (5–24, 2–16)
LaSalle transfer Gary Neal -- if he can get clear of his legal troubles -- could be one of the CAA’s top players. He could also elevate Pat Kennedy’s program out of the bottom half of the league. But if Neal is a no-go, don’t look for much from Towson, which won only two conference games last year.
11. William & Mary (8–21, 3–15)
Junior forward Corey Cofield and sophomore Laimis Kisielius won’t be enough to get the Tribe into the hunt in the CAA. Not one year after finishing last in the league in scoring defense, yielding 73.4 points per outing. Cofield did average 13.2 points and 6.9 boards per game last year.
12. Georgia State (14–15, 11–9 Atlantic Sun)
The Panthers went 14–15 last season, and coach Michael Perry was given a three-year extension. It might take him that long to make Georgia State competitive in the CAA. But like last season, when the schedule included Kentucky and Texas Tech, Perry isn’t shying away from competition. The Panthers host Kentucky and play at Alabama this year.