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Put your Dukes Up: James Madison expected to reign again in CAA

The Colonial Athletic Association’s coaches’ poll unsurprisingly picked 2015 champion JMU to take the crown again after only losing one game in conference play all season. Let’s take a look at the Dukes upcoming season, as well as the rest of the conference.

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

In a poll taken by all ten head coaches of the CAA, the James Madison University Dukes are projected to win the 2016 CAA Championship, after winning last year's tournament for their second consecutive championship.

Led by 2015 Coach of the Year Kenny Brooks, the Dukes ran through the CAA last year with their high-pressure defense and explosive offense. The team had the highest scoring offense in the conference last year, besting second place Elon by 10 points.

The JMU defense ranked third in the league, giving the Dukes the CAA's best scoring margin of 15.8 points; Hofstra ranked second. Their scoring margin: 3.7. JMU's dominance wasn't only noticed by CAA fans; the Dukes were ranked in the Top 25 several times during the season, topping out at number 21.

Two members of JMU's frontcourt were chosen for the 2015-2016 Preseason All-Conference First Team, seniors Jazmon Gwathmey and Angela Mickens. Gwathney was named the conference's Preseason Player of the Year, and Mickens ranked fourth in the nation in assists.

JMU will need additional production from both following fellow senior guard Precious Hall's preseason injury that will keep her out for the whole season. Hall was JMU's leading scorer last year, and almost single-handedly kept JMU undefeated in the conference, scoring 26 points in the team's sole CAA loss to Hofstra last year.

Drexel, picked to finish second by the CAA's coaches, is the only school other than James Madison with two selections to the Preseason All-Conference Teams. Junior forward Sarah Curran was selected to the first team, while senior Rachel Pearson represents the Dragons' backcourt on the second team. Curran was a First Team All-CAA selection last year, leading the team to only their fifth ever 20-win season. She also led the team in scoring with just over 12 points a game.

Pearson was a Second Team All-CAA Selection, ranking in the top 50 nationally in three-point percentage. The 2015 CAA All-Academic Team guard was a mainstay on the floor for the Dragons; she notched 40+ minutes in nine games during the season, going the distance in eight of those contests.

Hofstra, meanwhile, projected to finish 3rd, retains four starters from the same team that surged all the way to the CAA Championship final. Returning for the Pride are last year's CAA Rookie of the Year Ashunae Durant and 2014 CAA All-Tournament Team selection Kelly Loftus, the team's two leading scorers. Hofstra proved their ability to hang with the best of the conference last year with their win over JMU, and their hard work resulted in an invitation to the WNIT.

Below you can find the 2015-2016 CAA Women's Basketball Preseason All-Conference Teams:

First Team
Bre Bolden, College of Charleston            Jr.           Guard
Sarah Curran, Drexel                                    Jr.           Forward
Ashunae Durant, Hofstra                             So.         Forward
Jazmon Gwathney, James Madison         R-Sr.      Guard
Angela Mickens, James Madison              Sr.          Guard

Bre Bolden won CAA Defensive Player of the Year last season, after breaking College of Charleston's 25-year-old single season steals record. Besides ranking 15th in the country in steals per game, Bolden also led CofC in scoring.

Mickens was a finalist for last year's Nancy Lieberman Award, given to the nation's top point guard. She set JMU's single season assist record with 250 dimes, and came one assist short last year of achieving the first triple-double in the school's history.

Second Team
Erika Brown, Delaware                                  Jr.           Guard
Shay Burnett, Elon                                          So.         Guard
Samantha DeFreese, Northeastern           Sr.           Forward
Rachel Pearson, Drexel                                Sr.           Guard
Marlena Tremba, William & Mary                 Jr.           Guard

Erika Brown was tied for the Blue Hens' leading scorer with 14.2 points per game and was voted Delaware's team MVP. Shay Burnett helped Elon earn an at-large bid to the WNIT in their first year in the conference as a CAA All-Rookie Selection.

Samantha DeFreese led Northeastern in both scoring and rebounding, with seven double-doubles on the year. William & Mary's Marlena Tremba rounds out the All-CAA Second Team. Tremba three-point accuracy helped her become the Tribe's leading scorer with 12.5 points a game. W&M also appeared in their first-ever Division I postseason tournament in the Women's Basketball Invitational.

Elon is predicted to finish fourth in the conference, followed by Delaware in fifth and William & Mary in sixth. UNCW, with All-CAA Honorable Mention Naqaiyyah Teague, is slotted for seventh, with Towson and fellow Honorable Mention Dominique Johnson in eighth. College of Charleston (ninth) and Northeastern (tenth) round out the predicted finish.