CAA Hoops: Half-baked Half-Dozen II

There’s no other way to begin this edition of the Half-Baked Half-Dozen, although we must pause and issue a hearty cheers to all 10 CAA Hoops programs for keeping five on the floor so far this season. It’s not as easy to accomplish as one might think … 

Oliver Tot delivered a defining moment of the 2017-18 season, earned ESPN SportsCenter love and should receive a lifetime pass to Busch Gardens after giving  William & Mary a critical victory over old CAA neighbor Old Dominion. Tot’s only shot of the game sent the Tribe from losers to winners in a single swish. The team improved to 3-2 entering a home date with Marshall on Wednesday night. Tot, a senior, has endured an injury-riddled inconsistent career, falling from the rotation at times. He remains a bit player (14.8 minutes per game). Regardless his role in Tony Shaver’s rotation take the man to the head of the line so he can ride the Loch Ness Monster all night long.

The Tribe’s rollercoaster season began with a 34-point loss at High Point, a middle-of-the-pack Big South squad, yet the staff feels good about the top six players in the rotation and is hopeful depth will develop as the season unfolds. Sophomore wing Justin Pierce is thriving as a starter. He’s scored in double figures in all five games and recorded an impressive 121.6 offensive rating while taking 26.9 percent of the Tribe’s shots when on the floor. He’s one of four W&M players with a 108 O-Rating or better.

We’ve written this before but the Tribe must improve on the defensive end. It is 313th nationally in defensive efficiency and 321st in effective field goal percentage defense.

Also Good

Mike Morsell & Towson

The Tigers have won six in a row and cracked this week’s Mid-Major poll at No. 23 on the strength of their championship in the Florida Gulf Coast Showcase which they capped with a 70-67 defeat of a good Georgia Southern squad.

There are many reasons why the Tigers are rolling: Zane Martin’s emergence as a scorer, Eddie Keith’s play making at power forward, the Tigers are actually making shots! leading the CAA in field goal percentage (48.9) and outscoring their opponents 168-60 beyond-the-arc. And, of course, Towson is good at rebounding (first in offensive percentage). Even when Towson hasn’t been very good at basketball in recent seasons it has excelled on the glass.

MorsellOverriding all of those important factors, however, is the play of guard Mike Morsell. The 6-6 senior, a third-team All-CAA pick last season, possesses all the tools to be a top-five player in the conference and now he’s turning the potential into production. Morsell is taking a career-high 27.9 percent of Towson’s shots when in the game, using his sturdy frame to convert inside-the-arc (15 of 23) and drawing 5.7 fouls per 40 minutes on drives. Towson coach Pat Skerry has been pleased with Morsell’s shot selection thus far. In past seasons, Morsell was good for two or three troubling 2-point attempts per game but he’s avoided the urge to force from 17-feet for the most part and is also in the best physical condition of his career, Skerry said. It’s impossible to win the CAA without at least one first-team all-conference performer and Morsell’s ability and experience make him the best candidate to fill one of those slots.

Towson heads across the Atlantic to Belfast, Northern Ireland this weekend and on Saturday the Tigers face LaSalle (4-3), coming off a solid win over Big 5 rival Temple. Each of the Explorers’ losses is to a top-90 team. Towson plays either Holy Cross or Manhattan on Sunday.

Towson opens the CAA season Dec. 30th at Charleston in what could be a preview of the tournament championship two months later.

Dainan Swoope

There’s a strong batch of point guards in the CAA this season, starting with preseason POY Joe Chealey, who is fulfilling the billing with 19.5 ppg and 5.0 apg to rank third in the conference in both categories.

Elon point guard Dainan Swoope belongs in the conversation. He’s scored 95 points in the last four games, hitting 20 3-pointers while also recording a better than 3:1 assist-turnover ratio. Productive point guards are part of the program at Elon, and also Davidson where Phoenix coach Matt Matheny served as an assistant.

“He’s getting more comfortable playing the point in our system,” Matheny said. “The last 15 years coaching in this system the point guard has been a leading scorer, leading assist guy. If I’m a recruit that plays the point, I’m looking at our system.”

The Phoenix has hit 39.5 percent of 3-pointers in five games against DI opponents and the buckets have been generated by running the offense, as the team assist rate of 48.5 percent is 17th in the nation.

Elon enjoys a rare visit from an American Athletic Conference member on Thursday as South Florida enters Alumni Gym to close a home-and-home series. Former Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory is in his first season at USF and has a bunch of guys who haven’t played much at all and even less together. The Bulls are 345th in minutes continuity (14.5 percent) a stat devised by Ken Pomeroy to determine a team’s returning experience playing together. Elon, on the other hand, leads the category, returning all five starters and key reserves to form the nation’s most experienced team (81 percent).


UNCW’s defense

The two-time defending champions are 2-3 and surrendering 90.8 points per game.

It’s extremely early. The Seahawks have a new coach, a new system and lost four veteran starters from a championship team. They’ve also lost to three teams who are loaded with bucket makers. Davidson, Loyola – Chicago and Valpo are top 40 in the nation in effective field goal percentage.

Still, the trend is troubling. UNCW is 259th in defensive efficiency and 345th in effective field goal percentage defense. Teams have scored, at will at times, around the basket and behind the 3-point line. Guarding the ball has been a real issue, even in the Seahawks’ lone DI win over Campbell.

UNCW beat writer Alex Riley felt the squad showed the requisite defensive effort for most of the Valpo game. His point is confirmed by the efficiency stats as the Crusaders scored 0.98 points per possession, which is below the Division I average (1.03) and should be a winning number. It was by far the best effort for UNCW in its four ‘real’ games.

Listen to the entire podcast here. The conversation on the UNCW defensive issues starts around the 19 minute point.

Seahawks have a good shot to continue their defensive progress Thursday night at East Carolina, which has failed to meet the national average in offensive efficiency in five of six games.

Conference’s Record

The CAA collective is 21-30 vs. Division I opponents entering tonight’s schedule. The conference is 3-13 vs. teams in the KenPom Top 100. Towson (Ga. Southern), William & Mary (Old Dominion) and Drexel (Houston) are the lone CAA teams to record a victory against a top-100 foe this season. UNCW is 0-3 while Hofstra and Northeastern are 0-2.

The league has slipped to 13th in the KenPom conference rankings, behind the Sun Belt and Missouri Valley, which is enjoying a banner nonconference season and ahead of the Ivy, MAC and Summit.

This week’s schedule provides opportunities to square the record. Games such as UNCW at East Carolina, Drexel vs. Lafayette and Charleston vs. Western Carolina need to land in the CAA win column.

Drexel’s luck

The Dragons’ backcourt is depleted. Miles Overton and Sam Green are out with leg injuries while Troy Harper has a separated shoulder. Their absence was felt in an ugly loss at NJIT which included 17 turnovers, 13 missed free throws and 3 of 21 3-point shooting.

Drexel is capable. Coach Zack Spiker’s squad owns the best victory in CAA land with the aforementioned defeat of No. 61 Houston. Get all the details firsthand right here. 

And we’ll close with a fitting gem, from the Mothership in Hampton, Va., right down the road from where Tot’s shot fell.

CAA Hoops: The fully baked half dozen


Elon started the season Friday night at the top of the college basketball ladder. (Duke Athletics)

Like the solar eclipse, a preschooler’s attention span and my leaf-free front yard, opening weekend in college basketball has come and gone. After months of speculation, we finally #STDGA.

One thing you can count on in the early weeks each season is a wide disparity in the range of competition.

Elon, expected to contend for the CAA Hoops title this season, is a good example. It opened the season Friday at No. 1 Duke, which started five soon-to-be NBA pros, and lost by 29. The Phoenix returned home Saturday to face William Peace, which was an all-girls college for more than a century until it converted to co-educational five years ago, and won by 43.

November and December serve many purposes for college teams. Teams hope to jell, players adapt to balancing travel, practices, games, on-the-road study halls and early morning classes after late night arrivals. But now that the CAA has accepted its position as a one-bid league, coaches use the nonconference schedule to figure out their team and understand which players they can trust when the New Year arrives.

Because the CAA regular season matters. In the last 16 years, no team seeded worse than third has won the conference tournament and claimed the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. In the current 10-team configuration, Northeastern won as the 3 seed in 2015, UNCW as the 2 in 2016 and UNCW repeated as the 1 last season.

So, here’s a fully baked half dozen thoughts from the weekend. We’ll try to make this a regular deal.

Charleston’s offense

Unanimous league favorite Charleston showed its experience and resolve in gutting out a 68-60 overtime win over Siena at home. Playing without All-CAA forward Jarrell Brantley, who suffered a minor injury in practice, the Cougars looked lost on the offensive end. They shot 40 percent on 2-pointers, 20 percent on 3-pointers (5 of 25) and mustered only 0.87 points per possession against a Siena team that was 208th last season in adjusted defensive efficiency and is projected 250th this season. Missing a player of Brantley’s caliber hurts any team, obviously, but the Cougars spent too much time standing around against the Saints’ zone. Brantley’s ability to gain position and pass out of the mid-post, around the free throw line and in the short corner would’ve been helpful against the 2-3 zone.  Charleston plays one of the best defensive teams in the nation tonight at No. 7 Wichita State (9 p.m. CBS Sports Network). The Cougars have the personnel to become an excellent offensive team. They’ll need Brantley at full strength tonight. Of course tonight’s game also has two interesting side notes. C of C coach Earl Grant worked under Gregg Marshall at Winthrop from 2004-07 and during that span Marshall was the Cougars coach for 24 hours. Here’s a fun piece from King Kresse on what might have been.

Blue Hens Rising

Ryan Daly

UD sophomore Ryan Daly had 22 points, hitting 8 of 10 2-pointers in the win over Richmond.

Delaware went down to the Spider Hole and whipped a Richmond squad that’s expected to finish in the middle of the pack in the Atlantic 10. Granted, the Spiders were missing their leading returning scorer, Khwan Fore, still, this is a signature victory for second-year UD coach Martin Ingelsby, who is building something special in Newark. Ingelsby landed Ryan Daly last season and he was easily the CAA Freshman of the Year. Kevin Anderson, a 6-5 freshman, scored 11 points in 31 minutes against Richmond and five of the eight Blue Hens who played are underclassmen. I picked Delaware seventh in the CAA in my Blue Ribbon preview. Is it too late for a mulligan?


As of today, the 10 members of the CAA are scheduled to play 22 games against teams in the KenPom Top 100. This number could grow as teams advance in preseason tournaments. Northeastern is again the conference’s scheduling stalwart, set to face five top-100 squads, including Stanford, Bucknell and Vermont. On the flip side, every CAA member is playing a non-DI foe this season, combining for 14 affairs against the likes of Wentworth (which I thought was a good golf course in England), Arcadia(n) – a fine layout in Myrtle Beach and Molloy (which for some reason makes me think of the Smails’ kid’s line about a Scotch ad in Caddyshack).

Too many golf references in one paragraph. Also, too much fluff on the schedule. It’s a shame the similar mid-majors of the world can’t figure out a way to meet more frequently in the opening weeks of the season. There are 351 teams in Division I, after all. Scheduling is complicated and coaches aren’t eager to visit Trask Coliseum or Alumni Hall. That being said, UNCW at Davidson, Delaware at Bradley and JMU vs. ODU should be accurate barometers for both squads in the next two nights.

What to make of Drexel

The Dragons were well shy of full strength in their home opener, a nine-point loss to Bowling Green. There were bright spots: Senior big man Austin Williams was perfect on seven shots and had a double-double of 18 points and 12 rebounds. Sammy Mojica, who was last seen firing up quick, contested 3-pointers in the North Charleston Coliseum, played like a veteran with 17 points on 13 shots and seven boards. There were bleak spots: Guards Kurk Lee and Troy Harper, a transfer from Campbell, missed 21 of 25 shots and the Dragons committed turnovers on one-fourth of their possessions. Drexel has a tough trip to Houston on Friday followed by a five-game stretch of reasonable games that should shed light on which way this season is headed for coach Zach Spiker.

Fornes is key for Seahawks

The sophomore guard had 11 points, five rebounds and four assists in 21 minutes for UNCW in its season-opening laugher over D3 North Carolina Wesleyan. As expected All-CAA forward Devontae Cacock and senior point guard Jordon Talley combined for 45 points to lead the way, but if the Seahawks plan to contend for their fourth consecutive regular season crown, they’re going to need a consistent third scorer. Fornes is extremely athletic and has a sweet stroke from deep. Bothered by nagging injuries in the offseason, Fornes possesses the tools necessary to thrive in the CAA. Keep a close eye on his stat line this season. UNCW faces one of the most exciting guards in the nation Saturday when Chris Clemons and Campbell come to Trask.

Another Murphy

The final Murphy brother, Tomas, is a freshman at Northeastern. The 6-8, 220-forward wasn’t bashful in the season opening win over Boston U., taking 31 percent of the team’s shots when on the floor. He finished with 15 points on 6 of 12 shooting, adding six rebounds and three assists in 31 minutes. Northeastern’s Bill Coen excels at coaching and downplaying his freshmen, yet there was noticeable optimism in his voice this summer when I asked him about Murphy’s potential. Riddled by injuries in 2016-17, the Huskies appear to be nine or 10 deep and possess the versatility throughout the lineup to match an array of opponents. The sophomores thrown onto the floor out of desperation a year ago should benefit from the game experience as this season unfolds. The turnover count was high against the Terriers (26 percent of possessions) however attribute it to first-game jitters for junior point guard Vasa Pusica, who hadn’t played in 18 months after transferring to NU from San Diego.