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COLONIAL

Predicted order of finish

1. Drexel, 2. George Mason, 3. Old Dominion, 4. Virginia Commonwealth, 5. William and Mary, 6. James Madison, 7. Delaware, 8. Northeastern, 9. Hofstra, 10. UNC Wilmington, 11. Georgia State, 12. Towson

Surprise team: William and Mary. Picked sixth in the preseason, the Tribe could contend for a top-four spot in the conference. Quinn McDowell is the only one of the CAA's top 10 scorers from a year ago who returns, and coach Tony Shaver has a history of maximizing the talent at his disposal.

Hot seat: Monte Ross, Delaware. The Blue Hens doubled their win total in 2010-11, but still wound up with their fifth losing season in as many years under Ross. Delaware probably isn't in position to contend for a conference title just yet, but Ross might need to show further progress this season.

Three key games:

* VCU at Alabama, Nov. 27. It's a clash of VCU coaches past and present as Shaka Smart takes his team to Tuscaloosa to face Anthony Grant and the Crimson Tide. It's also an early barometer for the Rams as they come off the first Final Four appearance in program history.

* George Mason at Drexel, Jan. 12. The preseason favorites meet for the only time this season in one of the schedule's rare Thursday conference games. It's the fifth league game for both teams, but it could still prove a crucial tiebreaker once late February arrives.

* Drexel at Old Dominion, Feb. 25. Another important one-shot deal comes on the final day of the regular season. It could be a first-to-50-wins sort of day when Bruiser Flint's Dragons visit Blaine Taylor (now sans mustache) and the always rugged Monarchs in Norfolk.

Three key players:

* G Kent Bazemore, Old Dominion. The conference's preseason player of the year is a defensive ace who has led the CAA in steals the last two seasons. He'll be asked to carry the Monarchs, who were significantly depleted by graduation, at the offensive end as well.

* G/F Bradford Burgess, VCU. The top returning player from the Rams' Final Four team, Burgess ranked in the top 15 in the CAA in scoring (14.3), rebounding (6.3) and steals (1.1) last season. He's VCU's lone senior this season.

* F Samme Givens, Drexel. Even at 6-foot-5, the double-double machine is a perfect match for the grind-it-out style the Dragons prefer. Count on the tenacious Givens to lead the CAA in rebounding, perhaps by a healthy margin.

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