Last Season: 25-8 (T-1st, CAA Tournament champs)
- G Ambrose Mosley (Old Dominion/Jacksonville, Fla.)
- F Matt Elmore (Dixon/Jacksonville, N.C.)
- G Jaylen Fornes (Word of God/Pamlico County, N.C.)
- G Craig Ponder (11.4 ppg, 3.1 rpg)
- C C.J. Gettys (5.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg)
- F Dylan Sherwood (4.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg)
- G Mark Matthews
- G Trey Grundy
By: Matthew MacCormack
The voters made it clear when the CAA released its preseason media poll in late October; UNCW is the best team in the conference, and it might not be that close.
The Seahawks received 37 of the 40 first-place votes, and senior G/F Chris Flemmings was voted as the conference’s preseason Player of the Year. Head coach Kevin Keatts returns after back-to-back Coach of the Year designations. Three of his top four scorers are back from last year’s CAA champs, and the Seahawks look primed to take advantage of a conference that lacks another elite squad.
In his second season at the helm in Wilmington, Keatts steered the team to 25 wins, which tied a program record. After edging Hofstra in the conference championship, the Seahawks came close to busting brackets in the NCAA Tournament. Four-seeded Duke squeaked by the 13-seed with a 93-85 victory, but the game nonetheless served as Wilmington’s welcome to the rest of the college basketball world.
The up-tempo Seahawks offense took the conference by storm last year, leading the CAA with 80.2 points per game. Keatts frequently rolled out four-guard lineups, allowing the “space and pace” system to thrive.
Defensively, the ‘Hawks were just as impressive. UNCW led the conference in steals per game (with a whopping five players finishing with 30 or more thefts) and finished second in blocks per contest.
Flemmings was the key to UNCW’s defensive success. The 6’5 swingman is the CAA’s answer to Draymond Green; Flemmings can cover basically anyone in the conference, as evidenced by his shadowing of CAA Freshman of the Year Jarrell Brantley in UNCW’s win over Charleston in the conference tourney. This versatility allows Keatts to go small without sacrificing defense, and unlocks the activity and quick hands of the UNCW’s guards.
As evidenced by his preseason POY nod, Flemmings is one of the premier talents in the CAA. The smooth-shooting, gangly-armed wing led UNCW in scoring (16.2 ppg) and rebounding (5.8 rpg) while shooting 51% from the floor.
“Chris is what college basketball is all about,” Keatts said of Flemmings, who transferred from Division II Barton College.
“He’s a guy who didn’t get a lot of offers out of high school and he’s kind of worked his way up and earned his position.”
Joining Flemmings as returning starters are guards C.J Bryce, Denzel Ingram, Jordon Talley. The 6’5 Bryce earned All-CAA Rookie honors after averaging 10.1 points and 4.2 rebounds, showing intriguing potential all season long. Ingram isn’t the biggest guy out there (6’0, 175 lbs), but he led the Seahawks with 75 three-pointers at a 37.1% clip, and was second in scoring with 12.7 ppg.
Talley averaged 8.5 points a game, but is suspended indefinitely for conduct detrimental to the team. His absence hurts the Seahawks depth; look for Old Dominion graduate transfer Ambrose Mosely to step up in his place.
If there’s a chink in the Seahawk’s armor, it’s in the frontcourt. Seven-footer C.J Gettys transferred to Rutgers, and 6’9 captain Dylan Sherwood graduated. A group of less-experienced but capable bigs will have to emerge. Senior center Chuck Ogbodo is a defensive specialist, and junior Marcus Bryan brings a soft tough and intriguing post skill set. The X-Factor could be Devontae Cacock, a 6’7, 240-pound wrecking ball who just scratched his potential in limited minutes as a freshman.
Keatts has a track record as an excellent recruiter, dating back to his days as an assistant at Louisville with coach Rick Pitino. Don’t be surprised if a newbie steps up and plays a big role, just like Bryce did a season ago. Guard Jaylen Fornes has an opportunity with Talley’s suspension, and forward Matt Elmore will be able to compete for frontcourt minutes.
There’s a lot of unknowns in the CAA this year; parity reigns supreme and it’s hard to decipher which teams will emerge. If there’s one certainty, however, it’s that the Seahawks will be the premier team in the conference this year. Flemmings could easily win POY honors, and Keatts is one of college basketball’s rising coaches. It’s not a bold prediction, but the Seahawks should have no trouble running the CAA this year.