CAA Hoops: Let’s Get it On

Welcome to toss-up Saturday in CAA Hoops.

Good luck picking a winner in the five games that open the 2016-17 conference schedule. KenPom projects a margin of four points or less in each one. The wily band of cigar-smokin’, cash-countin’ cats in Vegas will also keep the spreads tight when the morning comes (For Entertainment Purposes Only, of course).  Then again, tomorrow’s schedule could be a precursor to another highly competitive CAA season, considering seven teams are in the KenPom top 150. The conference is 12th out of 31 (between the West Coast Conference and Mid-American) and will remain in that neighborhood, give or take a spot, over the next two months.

So, Let’s Get it On.

You can find all the games at CAATV. (All advanced stats against DI competition only).


UNCW (11-2) at Towson (8-5), noon

KenPom: UNCW 68-64, gives Seahawks 64 percent win probability

The Seahawks are on pace to have the best offense in CAA advanced stats history, which began with the 2001-02 season. They scored 1.17 points per possession in the nonconference by combining a low turnover rate (14.2 pct) with sharp 2-point shooting (58.0). They’re top 10 in the nation in both categories. And, here’s a scary thought for CAA opponents: Chris Flemmings (26.6 pct on 3s vs DI) and C.J. Bryce (28.6 pct.) haven’t found their long-range touch yet. On the other end, UNCW has been the nation’s best at choking off the 3-point line. Opponents have scored only 16 percent of their points beyond-the-arc.

Towson picked up solid wins over surprising George Mason and Iona in the nonconference, suffered a bad loss to Robert Morris and narrowly missed upsets at Boston College and Maryland. Shooting continues to be a huge question mark for the Tigers (29 pct on 3s vs. DI). Also, coach Pat Skerry probably expected his veteran bunch to offer more resistance on the defensive end, where they have an adjusted efficiency of 102.7, which is 171st in the nation. A stat worth watching in this matchup, per Synergy Sports: Towson has scored only 72 points on 106 possessions in its press offense. That places the Tigers in the nation’s 14th percentile. More than one-fifth of those possessions ended in a turnover, which could be trouble against the Seahawks. Still, with virtually the same personnel on each team, Towson beat UNCW by 16 at home last year and lost by six points in Wilmington.

Charleston (9-4) at Elon (8-5), 2 p.m.

KenPom: Elon 64-63 (54 pct.)

The Cougars, who I tabbed second in the preseason, are again one of the nation’s premier defensive teams. They’ve won six of seven, and were tied with LSU in the final minutes before the Tigers 10-0 spurt, aided by a mystery traveling call on Joe Chealey, finished off Earl Grant’s squad. Charleston is 27th in adjusted defensive efficiency (93.3) and also shuts down the 3-point line, which will be critical against the Phoenix. The Cougs’ offensive numbers are less attractive. Charleston has shot poorly on 2-pointers (44.5 pct.) and 3-pointers (29.2 pct.). A closer look reveals they need fewer spot-up 2-point jumpers and more pick-and-roll action with Chealey and Jarrell Brantley. Per, 31.2 pct of their field goal attempts have been 2-point jumpers, which is in the top third of DI.



Elon sputtered over the final weeks of the nonconference, dropping four of six although it fared admirably in losses to Georgetown and Duke. The Phoenix is a fluid offensive machine, fueled by balance and diversity. Sure, it loves the 3-point line, scoring 38.5 percent of its points from long range, however, it has converted 52 percent of 2-pointers and is 93rd in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency. Coach Matt Matheny has a dependable nine-man rotation. Four starters average in double figures and Dainan Swoope is on the verge at 9.9 points per game. Dmitri Thompson, a 6-5 wing, is emerging as a defensive stopper who can guard multiple positions. Brian Dawkins has made 20 of 29 3-pointers in the DI games.

William & Mary (6-5) at Northeastern (7-5), 2 p.m.

KenPom: Northeastern 77-74 (60 pct.)

The Tribe salvaged a somewhat disappointing nonconference segment Thursday night with an impressive 11-point defeat of old CAA rival Old Dominion. Daniel Dixon went berserk, hitting 11 of 15 shots – including five 3-pointers – to score 36 of the Tribe’s 65 points. The trip to Boston marks the third of a rough four-game road stretch, and if the Tribe hopes to escape the league’s northern extreme with at least a split it probably needs better shooting from Omar Prewitt. He’s hit 48 percent of 2s and 32 percent of 3s in the Tribe’s nine DI games. It’s been either sink or swim for wing Greg Malinowski. He has five games of double figure scoring and five games of three points or less.

Northeastern has won three consecutive road games against top-100 KenPom teams (Vermont, Michigan State, Oakland), which has never been done by a current CAA member. So hats off to Bill Coen and friends. (It’s worth noting that 2006-07 Drexel defeated Villanova (21), Syracuse (41) and Temple (131) on the road in succession). The Huskies also handled UConn (101) on the road earlier. Since UNCW and Charleston are the only top-100 teams, the Huskies must feel confident they can beat anybody in the Association. The 6-10 sophomore Jeremy Miller has been ultra-efficient, hitting 27 of 41 2s and 15 of 33 3s. He’s been dangerous as a spot-up shooter, as the receiver in the pick & roll and on cuts to the basket, per Synergy Sports data. Getting him another touch or two wouldn’t be the worst thing for the Huskies’ offense.

Hofstra (8-5) at Delaware (7-6), 2 p.m.

KenPom: Hofstra 71-68 (60 pct.)

Being a Hofstra basketball fan must feel like riding down Space Mountain while strapped into the seat backward as a mild psychedelic courses through your veins. They’ve climbed from ordinary to  outstanding, fallen to awful and risen again during their 16 seasons in the CAA. It’s too early to tell where the Pride will land this season but it has one trait in common with its predecessors: terrific guard play. From Stokes to Agudio to Jenkins to Green, the Pride has had perimeter players who can dribble, pass and score. Eli Pemberton could be the next legend in Hempstead. The freshman continues to thrive and receives ample help from veterans Deron Powers and Brian Bernardi. Hofstra has won 6 of 8 after a slow start and has an impressive adjusted offensive efficiency (108.4). Not letting opponents shoot 38 percent on 3-pointers would be a good way to improve the defense.

Delaware won its seventh game Wednesday night and it was the most impressive yet for rookie coach Martin Inglesby’s squad, a 63-54 defeat of Iona. Shooting has been a problem – 44.2 percent on 2-pointers, 29.1 percent on 3-pointers but the Blue Hens have shown a willingness to defend and rebound, both of which are a direct reflection of effort. Inglesby swooped into Philadelphia and scooped up Ryan Daly, and the 6-4 freshman is leading the squad in scoring (12.0 ppg) and rebounding (6.6 rpg). He appears headed for an All-Rookie team selection, giving the Hens hope for the future.

Drexel (6-7) at James Madison (2-11), 2 p.m.

KenPom: JMU 70-68, 56 pct.

In what could be a preview of pillowfight Friday in North Charleston, the surprising Drexel Dragons face the disappointing Dukes. Zach Spiker has already exceeded expectations in his first season at Drexel. Specifically, the Dragons appear to have a backcourt for the future in freshmen Kurk Lee (14.8 ppg) and Kari Jonsson (10.3 ppg). Spiker has also influenced his team’s shot selection in a positive manner. The 2-point jump shot is the least efficient (worst) shot in college basketball. In each of the last two seasons, Drexel has made 32 percent of its 2-point jumpers. But this season, only 24 percent of Drexel’s field goal attempts are 2-point jumpers, compared with 39 percent last season. In turn, the Dragons are scoring 1.032 points per possession (153rd in nation) compared to 0.962 ppp last season (302nd).

James Madison plays Youngstown State on Jan. 7th in Frisco, Texas for the FCS national championship. Bryan Schor passed for 2,800 yards and 27 touchdowns to pace an attack that pumps out 48 points per game. The Dukes defeated top-ranked North Dakota State 27-17 on Dec. 17th to advance to the title game. JMU football has a 13-1 record.






CAA Hoops: Sorting through the muddled middle



Luke Eddy’s shooting has lifted Elon to a strong start (pilfered from Elon Athletics)

Conference power rankings seem pointless once the actual conference schedule starts. The standings speak for themselves. However, a solid month into the 2016-17 season and still three weeks removed from scuffling with familiar faces, this seems like a good time to assess the 10 teams in the CAA, attempt to put them in a sensible order.

First, here are my preseason predictions, which appeared in the 2016-17 Blue Ribbon Yearbook: 1. UNCW, 2. Charleston, 3. Towson, 4. Hofstra, 5. William & Mary, 6. James Madison, 7. Elon, 8. Northeastern, 9. Delaware, 10. Drexel

Every CAA team has played at least seven games. The ambitious youngsters at Hofstra are 10 games deep. And all but William & Mary return to action this weekend.


With roughly 30 percent of the regular season behind us, the top of the CAA is clearly defined and, unfortunately for those in Harrisonburg, so is the bottom. In case you missed it, JMU AD Jeff Bourne fired Matt Brady after last season. Brady led the Dukes to a 40-25 mark the last two seasons, 19-13 in the CAA and they shared the 2014-15 regular season title. Last season, the CAA matched its highest ranking ever (ninth) out of 32 Division I conferences, per The CAA was also ranked ninth in KenPom in 2010-11, which, along with 2005-06, is considered the strongest season in conference history as six teams won 20 games, three (George Mason, Old Dominion and VCU) reached the NCAA tournament and the Rams made their remarkable run to the Final Four. JMU won 21 games that season, finished 10-8 in the CAA and beat VCU in Richmond in the regular season finale.

In 2013, Brady led the Dukes to their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1994, when Lefty Driesell was the coach. Brady had a 139-127 (.523) overall record in eight seasons at JMU and was 40-30 in the CAA in his last four. By comparison, in the eight seasons before Brady arrived, JMU had a combined record of 77-145 (.347) under Sherman Dillard and Dean Keener. The Dukes were 31-85 in conference during that span.

2012 MBB-Philadelphia

Duke Dog, when his basketbowl was full and his coat was clean (stolen from a rando on Pinterest)

Anyway, there’s a muddled middle, again. Will Hofstra ever defend? Why does William & Mary keep missing so many 3s? Who are Elon’s most important players? Let’s get to it.

1. UNCW (7-1)

Best Win: East Tennessee State (88 KenPom); Worst Loss: Middle Tennessee (83)

The Seahawks aren’t perfect. The frontcourt depth is suspect. C.J. Gettys transferred to Rutgers and Chuck Ogbodo is suspended, sent home last month following the first of three games in Nashville. There goes 13 feet, 10 inches of paint protection. Opponents have exploited the interior, shooting 54.8 percent on 2-pointers (301st in the nation). And UNCW still fouls too frequently, leading to 24.1 free throws per game for the other team.

But their pressure remains fierce, forcing turnovers on 24.1 pct of possessions (17th) and Kevin Keatts has collected a cast of consistent finishers – 57.6 pct. on 2s (11th). The athletic, muscular sophomore Devontae Cacok has made the freshman-to-sophomore leap and ODU grad transfer Ambrose Mosley has knocked down 3s (40.7 pct vs. DI teams), as advertised.

Chris Flemmings, Denzel Ingram and C.J. Bryce form the best perimeter trio in the CAA.


2. Charleston (6-3)

Best Win: Davidson (63); Worst Loss: UCF (72)

Entering their game Sunday, against old SoCon rival Davidson, the Cougars’ season had essentially gone according to form. They beat the teams they were supposed to beat and didn’t have a bad loss. One could argue they should have handled UCF at home, but with 7-6 Tacko Fall in the middle, veteran guards in the backcourt and Johnny Dawkins on the sidelines, the Knights are the best defensive team in the nation.

Charleston gave a glimpse of what it could become in the second half against Davidson. The offense came alive for the Cougars, who are top 50 in adjusted defensive efficiency again. They shot 56 percent and held the potent Wildcats to 5 of 20 shooting and 22 points. On the season, the Cougars have an abysmal effective field goal percentage of 44.8, but that’s more a reflection of poor shot selection. More on that, tomorrow.


3. Elon (6-3)

Best Win: @Northern Illinois (164); Worst Loss: Charlotte (188)

Last week, I picked the Phoenix as one of seven pleasant surprises in college basketball and consecutive defeats to Georgetown and UNC Asheville haven’t changed those feelings. The home loss to the Bulldogs, though, magnified what center Brian Dawkins has meant to Elon this season. After scoring in double figures in seven of Elon’s first eight games, Dawkins missed all five shots and mustered one point in the 11-point loss to solid UNCA (127).

The talented sophomore class at Elon (Seibring, Santa Ana, Swoope, Eberhardt) is trending in a positive direction, but the key players in the early success have been Dawkins and point guard Luke Eddy, who is producing like he did prior to his late 2014 ACL injury. Eddy had a 120.9 offensive rating through nine games that season and in the two games before he got hurt, scored 43 points on 24 shots against Missouri and Duke.

Both veterans have shot the ball significantly better than they did last season.

PPG Offensive Rating FG Pct. 3PFG Pct.
Dawkins 15-16 5.6 92.1 51.3 20.7
Dawkins 16-17 12.1 120.5 62.9 63.2
Eddy 15-16 10.5 95.4 39.7 26.0
Eddy 16-17 12.1 117.8 48.5 42.9



4. Towson (5-4)

Best Win: George Mason (151); Worst Loss: Robert Morris (265)

Pat Skerry wanted to challenge his veteran group in the early going. The Tigers opened by beating old CAA friend Mason and that win looks even better now that the Patriots have won six in a row. The Tigers just missed wins at Maryland and Boston College, and at home against an Old Dominion squad that makes us nostalgic for the rockfights of yesterday.

Towson creates extra opportunities with excellent offensive rebounding (12th, with 39.8 percent) but squanders possessions via turnovers (21.4 pct.). Poor shooting has also been a problem. Per Synergy Sports, 22 percent of the Tigers possessions have ended in a spot-up jumper. They’ve scored only 122 points on those 145 trips, which drops them into the bottom fourth in Division I.

Mike Morsell has scored 14 points or more in Towson’s nine games vs. DI foes, boosted his output at the free throw line by drawing 6.9 fouls per 40 minutes.


Mike Morsell is third in the CAA in scoring 18.0 ppg. (Hijacked)

5. Hofstra (6-4)

Best Win: Columbia (217); Worst Loss: Sacred Heart (325)

The Pride is 296th in adjusted defensive efficiency, per It has surrendered 1.13 points per possession and 77.9 points per game. It’s not good, Dino.

Hofstra has defended poorly in two vital areas: beyond-the-arc, where opponents have made 8.6 per game at a 41 percent clip and at the rim, allowing 61 percent (215th). In the halfcourt, they’re one of the worst teams in the nation defending the pick & roll and handoffs. They are also in the bottom one percent of 351 DI teams in defensive transition.

On the bright side, Rokas Gustys is leading the nation in rebounding and scored a season-high 20 points last time out against St. Bonaventure. The freshman wing, Eli Pemberton, has been brilliant also, with four 20-point games and a 139.3 offensive rating.


6. Northeastern (4-6)

Best Win: UConn (78); Worst Loss: LIU Brooklyn (279)

The Huskies have been up-and-down, as expected and are riding a three-game losing streak, which can be blamed on poor defense (248th in adjusted efficiency).

T.J. Williams, however, is playing like his pants are on fire. There’s a long 18-game conference schedule ahead, but he’s on pace to have a historic high-usage, high-efficiency season that would put him in the company of CAA legends. And, who saw this coming? Williams played less than half the minutes last season and took only 14 pct. of the Huskies’ shots, compared to 28 percent this season.

(Charles Jenkins led the nation in efficiency in 2010-11 among players used on at least 28 percent of possessions)

Player Offensive Rating Usage
Charles Jenkins, HU ‘10-11 123.5 28.4
T.J. Williams, NU ‘16-17 122.2 30.6
Damion Lee, DU ‘14-15 118.4 28.1
Eric Maynor, VCU ‘08-09 116.2 33.0
V. Vasylius, ODU ‘06-07 114.8 28.3
Gary Neal, TU ‘06-07 113.6 34.0


7. William & Mary (3-4)

Best Win: Liberty (245); Worst Loss: Hampton (323)

Traveling 40 miles down I-64 and handing Hampton its first win against a DI opponent was not the best path for the Tribe to take into a 13-day exam break.

W&M was 5 of 23 from beyond-the-arc and scored only 0.92 points per possession against the Pirates, continuing a season-long slump from long range. The Tribe has hit 32.9 percent against DI teams, which is below the national average and is its worst 3-point effort since the 6-26 season in 2011-12.

The Tribe’s perimeter defense has also been porous. They gave up 124 points to the five starting guards for Central Michigan and Hampton, in their last two losses.

Greg Malinowski scored 14 points against Hampton, though, which provides a flash of hope for the future. The rangy wing suffered a concussion in the preseason and has struggled to find form since. Nathan Knight is a promising 6-10 freshman. He scored 14 against Louisville and 11 at Duke.


8. Drexel (4-4)

Best Win: High Point (290); Worst Loss: Niagara (281)

drexelZach Spiker inherited a mess in Philly. The Dragons were 288th in minutes continuitywhich means they had a host of new faces expected to take on new roles.

I’ll have more on this in the next post, but Drexel fans should be encouraged by a) talented freshman guards Kurk Lee and Kari Jonsson b) enhanced offensive aptitude. Spiker’s personnel will only improve in the upcoming seasons, but he’s already pouring the mortar necessary to build an efficient attack.

On the other end, the Dragons are doing a fine job defending the basket, holding opponents to 45.8 percent 2-point shooting.


9. Delaware (5-3)

Best Win: Bradley (271); Worst Loss: Austin Peay (289)

It’s hard to get a good handle on the Blue Hens, because they’ve played a schedule ranked 312th in the nation – and that doesn’t include their two wins over non-Division I schools. The Delaware situation was on the brink of irrevocable damage, but all signs point to Martin Inglesby being the upgrade required to inject energy into the fan base in Newark.

Like their old rivals up the road at Drexel, early statistical evidence reveals a more sophisticated and reliable offensive scheme. In short, brighter days lie ahead.

Injury halted Chivarsky Corbett’s season after four games last season. But the versatile 6-7 wing is scoring, shooting and rebounding like he was before he tore his ACL. He’s part of a balanced attack where six players average between eight and 12 points.


10. James Madison (1-7)

Best Win: Longwood (338); Worst Loss: Montana St. (227)

The Dukes won at Longwood last week after opening the season with seven straight losses. As Ken Pomeroy pointed out recently, new coach Louis Rowe didn’t inherit any automatic wins on the early schedule.

I watched the Dukes at Charlotte last week. (I’ve seen UNCW, W&M and Charleston (3x) live as well). The Dukes had a solid game plan. Their mistakes weren’t egregious, although the intent was unclear on many offensive possessions. On-floor leadership was difficult to identify and a JMU fan would probably hope to see more outward emotion. Down the stretch, they just looked like a team playing as if it expected to lose. I’ve seen that show before.

From a statistical view, the Dukes are 342nd in turnover percentage and 248th in effective field goal percentage. Those are two deep potholes on the road to good offense.

Phi Slama Jama, Jimmy V & a twist of fate

My wife and I watched the ESPN 30-for-30 documentary, ‘Phi Slama Jama’ Sunday night. Like most of the series, it’s terrific.

I was 10 years old in 1983 when Houston and N.C. State met for the national championship. My mom, my sister (nearly four years older) and I watched every game on N.C. State’s run to the championship. We weren’t Wolfpack fans but loved college basketball. The game got in my blood early. I was going to play point guard in the ACC, no question. State was the ultimate underdog with a lovable coach. They were easy to pull for.

A rare March snowstorm hit Eastern North Carolina during the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. The power went out and the three of us sat around the fireplace and listened to the games on the radio. The Cardiac Pack beat Virginia and 7-4 center Ralph Sampson twice in three weeks, which seemed impossible even to someone with my lack of experience.

N.C. State kept winning, each one more improbable than the next. Then it was time for the Final Four. Houston played Louisville. There was a ball and two baskets on a court. But the teams were playing a different sport from another planet. It was fast, amazing and most certainly above the rim. Dunks and dunks and blocks and dunks.

We didn’t have cable at that time, not that they were airing anything that resembled what happened in that national semifinal. My college basketball viewing consisted of whatever ACC game was on TV each week. Raycom, Bones, Packer and Thacker, manual scoreboard in Carmichael, Sail with the Pilot.

There wasn’t a shot clock. The ACC had great players and coaches but nobody played like the Cougars and the Cardinals. Virginia and North Carolina had played a snoozer in the ACC championship game the year before. (I searched the interwebs for video footage, but luckily, thankfully, none exists. As an aside, four future Division I head coaches and three future Naismith Hall of Fame members played in the game – and they only scored 92 points!).


At some point during the second half of that one, as the Tar Heels held the ball for what, to a nine-year-old, seemed like 4,000 straight minutes, I walked outside and started shooting baskets on the goal in my backyard. Probably missed the end of the game. I didn’t miss one second of Houston – Louisville, just stared at the TV when it was over.

Two nights later, Whittenberg makes the heave, Charles dunks it and Jim Valvano runs around the court seeking someone to hug. But the part we always overlooked, over here on this side of the country, was just how close Benny Anders came to stealing the pass and rewriting the ending. As we were watching the sequence in ‘Phi Slama Jama’ my wife said something to this effect: just think if he steals that pass, his life turns out better, but because he didn’t Jimmy V won the national championship and there’s a foundation that helps so many people.

She was absolutely right. One play changed the fate of so many.

I’ve always been fortunate to be around smart ladies.

My sister, Ashley, died of breast cancer in June of 2012, four weeks after my first daughter, Kate, was born. She loved college basketball. As adults, whenever we talked on the phone this time of the year, the conversation generally turned to hoops and stayed there. Oh sure, I’d get the necessary updates on my nieces, how they were doing in school and such, but she lived in California and needed the latest scoop from Tobacco Road. I was glad to help. She’d tape games shown at 4 p.m. her time and watch them later without knowing the score. She knew basketball and loved to watch, was unafraid of good-spirited trash talk on social media. When I covered the NCAA tournament, she’d pay close attention to the televised press conferences, hoping to hear me ask a question.

This is Jimmy V Week, of course, on ESPN. There’s a doubleheader tonight in Madison Square Garden. Like so many college basketball fans, I’ve watched the famous “Don’t Give Up” speech a dozen times. It’s become a holiday tradition on the screen at our house, as familiar as The Grinch or Clark Griswold. Cancer is everywhere, and it sucks. We’ve all been affected by it. Valvano’s words will ring true forever, even to the generations that never saw him coach a game. He was authentic, charismatic, flawed but genuine. I’ve heard great stories about his early days at NC State, this Italian guy from New York traveling to small towns across the state on the booster club circuit. The fans hung on every word.

The foundation bearing his name has awarded more than $170 million in cancer research grants since 1993. A endowment handles expenses, directing every dollar donated to research. That’s not the case with other organizations.

“your family, your religion and the Green Bay Packers”