William and Mary's run to the conference championship game of the Colonial Athletic Association's men's basketball tournament last season was unexpected and uplifting.
It was also, in the estimation of the CAA's coaches, sports information directors and media members, a fluke.
The Tribe was picked to finish eighth in the 12-team conference in the league's preseason poll released Wednesday. Two-time defending regular-season champion Virginia Commonwealth was picked first, Northeastern second and Old Dominion, which returns just one senior from last year's 18-16 squad, third. George Mason, three seasons removed from its Final Four appearance, was fourth and Delaware fifth.
In the CAA women's preseason poll, Old Dominion was picked to win its 18th consecutive conference title.
"It never gets old," Lady Monarchs coach Wendy Larry said. "It's a great place to be in. It's a compliment to our program, (and) it's a compliment to the teams we've had in the past. Every team in every conference would covet the opportunity to be a preseason No. 1 pick. That's why you play competitive sport."
The Tribe women, coming off a 14-18 season, were picked 10th.
Last season, the William and Mary men knocked off Old Dominion in the CAA quarterfinals and VCU in the semis before falling to George Mason in their first-ever conference title game.
"That stretch drive last year created a real buzz here at William and Mary about basketball, and the excitement level seems to be higher," said fifth-year coach Tony Shaver, whose team finished 17-16 last season. "More important than all those things, it created a new level of confidence in our players. The key for us is to do it again."
That won't be easy. The Tribe lost a pair of four-year starters and 1,000-point scorers in Laimis Kisielius and Nathan Mann, but return leading rebounder Pete Stein at center and two all-tournament guards in David Schneider and Danny Sumner. The Tribe's backcourt will get an additional boost with Arkansas transfer Sean McCurdy now eligible, and from newcomers Quinn McDowell of Archbishop Moeller (Ohio) and Kendrix Brown of Norview in Norfolk.
Shaver hopes his team's mix of experienced players and young talent can get the Tribe back to the CAA championship game — but with a different result this time.
"We've been patted on the back enough for that right now," Shaver said. "It's a new season, and kind of our theme for this year is unfinished business. We didn't win the championship last year and didn't advance to the NCAA tournament, and that's really what we would like to do."
Blaine Taylor's Monarchs made the 65-team NCAA field in 2007, but had to settle for a bid to the first-year College Basketball Invitational last season. ODU returns just one senior — forward Jonathan Adams, who averaged six points and four rebounds — from that team, along with leading scorer (13 ppg) and rebounder (six rpg) Gerald Lee, a first-team all-conference preseason pick.
"We're the youngest team in the league," said Taylor, whose 13-man roster includes five freshmen and one redshirt freshman. "If you look around the country, you probably wouldn't find a handful of teams that are younger. But we embrace our youth. We would never use it as an excuse. The thing about it is, if we can get the job done now, we'll be good for quite a while."
Larry's Lady Monarchs return two starters from the team that won its NCAA-record 17th straight league title last season, including first-team all-conference selection Tiffany Green, who averaged 11.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and two blocks last season, and senior point guard Jazzmin Walters (7.5 p ppg, 179 assists). Also back is junior forward Jessica Canady (11 ppg, 6.5 rpg). Walters and Canady were both named preseason all-conference second-team.
VCU, James Madison, Drexel and Towson rounded out the women's top five.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun