In this segment, I outline the emerging prospects for the 2011-2012 Colonial Athletic Association season.
Bradford Burgess, VCU- In VCU's magical run to the Final Four, Bradford Burgess was a revelation on both ends of the floor. Over the course of the season, Burgess stood out as one of the most efficient offensive players in the CAA. He ranked 3rd in the conference in Offensive Rating and 6th in Effective Field Goal %, yet was used on under 20% of his team's possessions. All of that should change this year. With the graduations of Rozzell, Nixon, Rodriguez, and Skeen, someone is going to have to make up for VCU's lost offensive production. Burgess is the odds on favorite to accept a larger role in the offense largely because he is known for his fundamentally sound play. He ranked 12th in the CAA in Turnover Rate last year, meaning that Coach Smart would like to have the ball in his hands early and often. Further, on the defensive end, the wiry Burgess was extremely aggressive at times, yet was still one of the best in the conference at avoiding foul calls. (16th fewest Fouls Committed Per 40 Minutes) Overall, look for Burgess to continue playing inspired basketball this season as the unquestioned leader of his VCU squad.
Devon Saddler, Delaware- After earning the award as the conference's top freshman, UDel's Devon Saddler is poised for a big sophomore campaign. Last year, their star combo guard demonstrated that he is one of the top scorers in the CAA, posting a 51.6% Effective Field Goal %. Despite this, he was not very efficient offensively and finished in the bottom half of the league in Offensive Rating. With that said, he was thrust into a major role very early on, finishing 8th in his conference in % Possessions Used as a freshman. Look for him to mature this season and to improve upon his efficiency numbers. But, due to the graduation of Jawan Carter, expect him to take on an even bigger role in his squad's offensive sets. Further, due to the influx of freshmen at key backcourt positions, Saddler should see more time at the point. If this happens, he should not have that much difficulty transitioning into the role of facilitator. Last year, he ranked 14th in the CAA in Assist Rate. On the defensive end, Saddler will likely avoid getting into foul trouble this season, as he ranked 8th in Fouls Committed per 40 Minutes as a freshman. All in all, Devon Saddler should emerge as one of the CAA's top talents this year. He must improve his scoring efficiency and learn to play as more of a traditional point guard if he hopes to project as a next level talent though.
Mike Morrison, George Mason- With the loss of Cam Long and the suspension of Andre Cornelius on the perimeter, look for George Mason to get the ball into Mike Morrison more often. This versatile forward is a capable offensive threat who shot the ball efficiently last season, posting a 56.2% Effective Field Goal % (9th best in the Colonial). Morrison is also a reliable option with the ball in his hands because he rarely turns it over, finishing 13th in the conference in Turnover %. And, he is able to get to the line fairly often, as he was the 3rd best in the CAA in Free Throw Rate. Moreover, Morrison proved to be capable on the glass, where he finished 14th in Defensive Rebounding % and 16th in Offensive Rebounding %. On the defensive end, Morrison was one of the conference's best shot blockers. (7th in Blocks %) Even beyond that, Morrison was able to disrupt offensive players and create extra possessions for his team. Overall, Morrison brings a diverse skillset to the table and should receive more touches on a George Mason squad that is in desperate need of some leadership.
Julius Wells/A.J. Davis, James Madison- With the loss of All-Conference player Denzel Bowles, Wells and newcomer AJ Davis will need to compensate for JMU's lost offensive production. Senior Julius Wells is a combo forward with the range to step out and hit shots from beyond the arc. After a rather lackluster year by his standards, he is looking to rebound and lead his Dukes in conference play. In terms of what he brings to the table, Wells is a fairly efficient scoring weapon. As such, his 53.6% True Shooting % was good for 24th in the CAA last season, despite his high usage (20.8% of Team's Shots). Wyoming transfer AJ Davis brings some length and experience to the table for JMU, as he was his team's third leading scorer before he decided to transfer. Davis is a high caliber athlete with an ability to score over smaller players inside. While he has not yet perfected his outside stroke, Davis is capable of attacking the basket and finishing through contact. He is also a fairly proficient rebounder. All in all, look for Wells and Davis to form a nice tandem and help JMU exceed expectations in the Colonial.
Brandon McGee/Josh Micheaux/Eric Buckner, Georgia St.- After a fairly disappointing season a year ago, Georgia St.'s three talented seniors have a shot to redeem themselves in 2011-2012. While the point guard dilemma has still not been resolved, Josh Micheaux will likely make better decisions on the wing now that he has a year of Division 1 experience under his belt. Further, he is capable of taking on most of the responsibilities of the lead facilitator, as he ranked 5th in the CAA in Assist Rate last season. Moreover, Micheaux is an athletic wing with the size and length to excel on both ends of the floor. Look for him to utilize his considerable strength and to get to the line virtually at will. Last year, he finished 13th in the conference in Fouls Drawn. Further, interior presence Brandon McGee should provide the necessary muscle on the boards this season. He finished 10th in the CAA in both Offensive Rebounding % and Defensive Rebounding %. The former highly touted JUCO standout is also versatile enough to defend both forward slots. Finally, top returning weapon Eric Buckner is poised for a breakout year after leading the Panthers in scoring a season ago. This lengthy big man ran the floor well and demonstrated considerable promise on both ends. He was particularly effective defensively, where he ranked 58th in the nation (and 3rd in the conference) in Blocks %. In order to fulfill his long run potential, though, Buckner must bulk up. When it is all said and done, look for these three Georgia St. seniors to lead their Panthers club to a much improved conference record.