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After the Towson men's basketball team lost two-time Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year Jerrelle Benimon, two other starters and last year's top four scorers, one might expect coach Pat Skerry to lower the bar on his current squad.

That's not how Skerry thinks.

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"I'm not wired that way," Skerry said during Tuesday's CAA basketball media day at The Center Club in Baltimore. "I know we've got more talent in the program from top to bottom than we've ever had. We don't have one dominant player, but we've got some pieces. Now we have to put those pieces together."

The Tigers (25-11, 13-3 CAA last season) were picked to finish seventh out of 10 teams in the conference's annual preseason poll, which is voted on by the league's coaches, media relations directors and media members.

Gone are three starters in Benimon, a power forward who led Towson in scoring (18.7 points per game), rebounds (11.2) and assists (3.6); small forward Marcus Damas (11.1 points and 5.1 rebounds); point guard Mike Burwell (10.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists); and a key reserve in shooting guard Rafriel Guthrie (11.4 points and 26 steals).

Those four accounted for 82.6 percent of last year's scoring, 82.0 percent of the team's assists, and 48.8 percent of the rebounds.

"You don't replace them individually," Skerry said. "We're mindful that those guys did so much to help us out. There's an old saying that as we drink the water, we remember who dug the well. But I know our culture is strong. This is the deepest team we've had and the best chemistry we've had. Now we have to prove our experience and our toughness night in and night out, but I hope our culture does that."

Junior shooting guard Four McGlynn (9.2 points per game and 40.8 percent from 3-point range) and junior forward Timajh Parker-Rivera (6.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 44 blocks) are returning starters and may be relied on to spark the offense.

But Skerry said the coaches don't want McGlynn and Parker-Rivera to step out of character.

"I think they have high expectations because they were both starters on a 25-win team and they played a lot of minutes and helped us win a lot," Skerry said. "They've gotten better, too — markedly better. T.J. will go back to the 4 spot and won't have to play the 5 anymore. But what they've also got to be mindful about is staying into the roles and system. T.J. needs to be T.J, Four needs to be Four. ... They just need to be who they are, and if they do that with the other complement of guys that we have, then they'll have really good years."

Perhaps that is why Skerry chose to focus on his team's potential improvement on defense. Last winter, Towson led the league in defensive field-goal percentage (40.5 percent) and blocked shots (4.9 per game) and ranked second in defensive 3-point field-goal percentage (31.4 percent), and Skerry said this year's group could be even better.

"These guys are working their tails off," he said. "We anticipate that we're really going to defend and rebound the ball, which is what we've built this thing on the last couple of years."

Northeastern, which fell to conference champion Delaware in the semifinals of last year's CAA tournament in Baltimore, was picked to win the league. Huskies coach

Northeastern, which fell to conference champion Delaware in the semifinals of last year's CAA tournament in Baltimore, was picked to win the league. But Huskies coach Bill Coen said he wouldn't count out Towson from competing.

"Every year, you're going to have players graduate and move on and roles are going to change," Coen said. "The flipside to that is, it's an outstanding opportunity for some of the guys who have been in the program to step up and for some recruits to make an immediate impact. Under Coach Skerry's leadership, I think they're going to be just fine."

The CAA's men's tournament returns to Royal Farms Arena from March 6-9. The women's tournament remains at The Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro, and James Madison is the preseason favorite to repeat as champion.

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Towson's women's team was picked to finish fifth. The Tigers must replace three starters, but they return senior forward LaTorri Hines-Allen, a preseason All-CAA first-team selection who ranked fifth in the conference in rebounding (8.4) and eighth in scoring (14.1) last season.

Second-year coach Niki Reid Geckeler is also optimistic about the addition of six freshmen.

"Last year was really about setting in my philosophy and the play that I like, the culture, how we're going to do things at Towson," said Geckeler, whose team went 13-17 overall and 7-9 in the league. "This year, with six newcomers, they're all on board with our returners, and I think it's going to be a great year for us."

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