Is it March yet? We’re still waiting out the NBA strike, but we DO have college basketball right around the corner! There was all of that excitement last year with VCU trying to go Cinderella Story on the Final Four, and we always look forward to the CAA Tournament. Which teams are you going to be pulling for this year? Here’s a little breakdown of some regional schools to help you get started: VCU coach Shaka Smith isn’t getting much sleep these days, what with the baby and all. He’s also probably up late trying to figure out how he’s going to replace Joey Rodriguez. Rodriguez was one of the big reasons that VCU made it so far last year. He kept things exciting, was hard to defend, and was a big team leader. They did keep Bradford Burgess, who is a good 3-point shooter, and they do have a handful of guys over 6-8. The challenge for Coach Smart and the Rams is going to be trading in a manic offense for a more conservative and structured attack. And what of the Spiders? They have been near the top of their division for the last four years, and have based a great deal of their success on a blistering defense that’s part zone, part mano-y-mano. They did lose Justin Harper and Kevin Anderson, both All Conference players, but have Francis-Cedric Martel and Darrius Garrett to pick up where last year left off. They think that many of last year’s bench warmers have seen enough in practice to make an impact on the floor this year. They also have about the best freshman class in U of R history. They got 6-8 Alonzo Nelson-Ododa, Kendall Anthony (who was apparently a scoring demon in high school), Trey Davis whose father is a Spider alum from the 80’s and is in the U of R Hall of Fame, and 6-11 Luke Piotrowski whose dad was a 7-1 Blaze in the pan for Portland (’83-’84). His brother, Mat, is taking his 7-1 self to Boston University. Wonder what breakfast was like in THAT house? Just to give Luke someone to talk to, the Spiders are hanging on to a 6-11 senior, Josh Dunker. With a name like “Dunker”, he’d better have some game. The University of Maryland is starting their season with only 8 scholarship players. Between graduations and players leaving for the NBA (oops) he’s had to fill his bench with 6 walk-ons. A reporters poll picked them to be bottom of the pile when the ACC dust settles. Between a lack of bench depth and a new coach in Mark Turgeon what do you expect? Maybe they’re afraid that the team will be making the same fashion statement as the football Terps? Virginia Tech seems to always be oh-so-close to a March Madness bid, but basketball is not horseshoes and the Hokies need to rock out some conference games to get a nod this year. That same poll has them just above the Terps. They have a handful of promising freshmen to help get them out of the basement. Dorian Finney-Smith from Portsmouth, and three from Hargrave Academy out by Lynchburg: Marquis Rankin, Robert Brown, and CJ. Barksdale. Hopefully, Dorenzo Hudson can stay healthy this year and Erick Green will repeat his performance from last year. Old Dominion ranked third in the NCAA last season for defense, but will struggle coming out of the gate. Last year’s CAA defensive player of the year Kent Bazemore is out right now with a broken foot. They play the Spiders right before Christmas and face VCU twice, in January and February. Keep in mind, the CAA isn’t an easy conference. They’ll have to deal with George Mason, too. Last year VCU, Mason, and ODU all made it to Tournament Time. Speaking of George Mason, they capped a 27-win season by getting a new coach, Paul Hewitt from Georgia Tech. A CAA poll has them finishing right behind front-runner Drexel, with VCU third, ODU fourth, and then James Madison and William & Mary. Mason does have returning stars Ryan Pearson, Mike Morrison, and Sherrod Wright, but Hewitt will be missing Andre Cornelius due to some off-the-court shenanigans. Tune in next week and we’ll take a look at some other schools that sometimes play Naismith’s game. Like, gee whiz, Virginia? And be sure to visit us for some brand new VCU Rams Gear!