CAA Hoops: Opening shots


Towson is 10-3 and sophomore guard Zane Martin has been terrific. He has eight 20-point games and a 113.3 offensive rating. He’s attempted an astounding 35 percent of the Tigers’ shots during his 25.8 minutes per game.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step – Lao Tzu

It’s been a long time since I did the Stroll – Led Zeppelin

Towson 10-3 104 169 53 166
Charleston 9-3 118 311 165 319
W&M 7-4 194 98 68 94
Elon 8-5 185 147 106 171
N’ eastern 7-5 139 89 110 110
Hofstra 7-5 150 50 82 61
Delaware 7-6 226 267 253 294
Drexel 6-7 219 228 257 285
James Madison 4-9 241 248 337 327
UNCW 3-9 269 136 334 234


In professional tennis, the preliminary rounds are called the “Qualies.” Players who haven’t climbed to a certain point in the world rankings must win the requisite number of matches in a qualifying tournament to earn a spot in the main draw. They fight and scratch to qualify, make a paycheck and earn the right to get crushed by a superstar in the first round. The winners go down in history. The losers go home to practice.

College basketball at the one-bid league level lives a similar existence. It’s called the regular season. History reveals a team better have a top-4 seed if it hopes to win the CAA tournament (and yes, we remember outlier East Carolina, way back when). Still, everybody is alive as December becomes January. Some teams are searching for answers. Others are trying to build on what they’ve seen so far. But everyone is breathing. The eliminations come later, and quickly.

In CAA hoopsland, each coach is trying to shape his team into a finished product that can overcome different styles of play and win three (or four!) consecutive games in North Charleston on the first weekend in March. There are great games to be played in a series of ebbs, flows and nights where jumping-off-the-cliff seems like the best option. Buzzer beaters and incredible individual efforts lie ahead. Late-night road trips planned on a bar stool and getaway weekends to thaw out from the cold. Fans will fall in love with certain players and scream nasty words at officials (Moving Screen!).

But each team, fan and coach embraces the dream entering this first weekend, clinging to hope they can build momentum over the next two months, clip the nets and earn their way into the 68-team pinnacle of the sport. Everybody believes they can come together and become something much stronger than their flawed selves. It doesn’t matter how many times they’ve double faulted or clanked a volley into the net. The score is love, all.

What had happened was: Towson unleashed a flurry of aces until it flopped at Oakland and folded at Pittsburgh. Charleston welcomed back its main forward two games ago and is ready to slam opponents under the boards. Elon loves cozy Alumni Gym and may have a hard time saying goodbye. Northeastern rushed the net to beat three teams who were the preseason favorite in their respective leagues. Hofstra scored and played exciting games of basketball featuring long, wild, and so very improbable rallies. Delaware flashed power and precision and looked young and unpredictable. James Madison looked young and unfortunately predictable. Drexel’s players played a lot because often there were many players unfit to play at all. William & Mary made shots – from everywhere – and UNCW’s opponents did the same.

Here’s how KenPom saw things before the season began

KenPom CAA Hoops Opening Day projections

Here’s how the forecast has changed, six weeks in

KenPom pre CAA opener predictions


Up – Towson (3 wins), Delaware (2 wins), Northeastern (2 wins)

Down – UNCW (4 losses), Elon (2 losses)

The warmup games against overmatched schools from lower divisions mean nothing now. The pain from the beatings administered for the guarantee of a paycheck are gone too. It’s opening night, dammit, and some poor souls will be four games out of first before they can understand what went wrong, left there begging to return to love, all once again.

Towson at Charleston (4 p.m., Saturday)

The CAA Hoops schedule lords blessed us with this beauty, a rematch from last year’s tournament semifinals, to open the season. Two weeks ago, Towson looked like the superior team. But now, Jarrell Brantley is back for the Cougars and while he showed rust coming off the bench in the Cougars’ two most recent victories against S.C. State and Coastal Carolina (4 of 13 shooting, six turnovers) you better believe coach Earl Grant is happy to have his versatile, powerful junior back in the rotation. As a bonus, Jaylen McManus gained valuable experience while Brantley was out. The Cougars are going to have to shoot better at some point (47 percent on 2s, 33 percent on 3s vs. DI) but they have a reliable rotation loaded with veterans and are willing to defend.

Zane Martin might be the CAA nonconference Player of the Year. He’s improved in every area in his sophomore season, despite taking on a more significant share of the offense. Towson coach Pat Skerry is committed to giving nine players double digit minutes and going deeper if necessary. The Tigers lead the league in every significant defensive category and have held DI foes to 30 percent on 3s and 44 percent on 2s.

Drexel at Elon (2 p.m.)

The Dragons open the season with the I-40 swing, starting at Elon, where coach Matt Matheny’s squad wasn’t always pretty yet was extremely effective, posting a 4-0 record that included wins over Radford and South Florida.

Drexel coach Zach Spiker has been relying on seven, maybe eight players as his squad has endured a litany of injuries. The good news for Spiker and Dragons fans is one of those players is Tramaine Isabell, a 6-3 transfer from Missouri. He’s done everything but sling cheesesteaks at halftime for Drexel, producing 19.5 points and 8.1 rebounds. Did we mention he’s a guard? Josh Verlin has a midseason review of the Dragons that’s well worth your time.

Elon has been a ‘mild’ disappointment. The Phoenix led the CAA in field goal percentage defense in conference games last season (48.7) and was 2nd in adjusted efficiency (101.7). With seven of its top eight players returning, it was fair to assume the Phoenix would build on that foundation this season. That hasn’t been the case. Elon allowed 1.06 points per trip to its 11 DI foes and had puzzling losses to Canisius and Milwaukee. Tyler Seibring remains an offensive rock (51 percent on 2s, 42 percent on 3s) but senior Brian Dawkins needs to rediscover his long range touch. He’s 13 of 50 on 3s after burying 46 percent a year ago.

Northeastern at James Madison (4 p.m.)

We’re high on the Huskies, despite an 84-65 loss to an excellent St. Bonaventure squad in their last outing. Northeastern has controlled the defensive boards and converted its 2-point chances (57 percent). Donnell Gresham has played well at times – 22 points in a win over Cornell – but also failed to reach double figures in half the games. Vasa Pusica has been steady in his first season at point guard, assisting on 25 percent of the Huskies’ buckets while hitting 60 percent of 2s and 40 percent of 3s. Turnovers are an issue (281st nationally).

The Dukes are in full-on rebuilding mode. Stuckey Mosley has been a pleasant addition. The transfer from Toledo has a 114.3 offensive rating. Freshmen Matt Lewis and Darius Banks are good signs for second-year coach Louis Rowe’s ability to evaluate talent. Defense is the issue. Rowe has been adamant about building his program on this end of the floor but his players haven’t grasped the concepts yet. DI teams have made 40 percent beyond-the-arc and rolled to 1.09 points per possession.

Hofstra at William & Mary (4 p.m.)

We love buckets. So we love this game. And these two teams don’t necessarily love each other. Which should make for a fun-filled afternoon in Kaplan Arena. Somebody make sure that my man Charlie Woollum has ample water handy, because the Tribe’s former coach and astute color analyst should have plenty of action to describe in this one. The names on these rosters are easy to find. They’re crowded atop the CAA Hoops offensive stats. William & Mary leads the league with 87 ppg in all games and adjusted offensive efficiency of 110.5, hitting 43 percent of 3s and 80 percent of free throws against DI. Hofstra is close behind at 108.6 efficiency and 77 points a night.

Nathan Knight is a CAA POY sleeper and his interior battle with Rokas Gustys should be high-level entertainment. Justin Wright-Foreman leads the league with 23 ppg. Matt Milon has been the most productive newcomer. Eli Pemberton adds 16 ppg for the Pride and scores in many ways. The Pride fan base can only pray that Daniel Dixon is far, far away from Williamsburg. His image still haunts them.

Delaware at UNCW (7 p.m.)

The Blue Hens are coming in hot after erasing a double-digit second half deficit to beat Cornell 97-96 in overtime for their third win in a row. But UD is banged up. Talented freshman Kevin Anderson missed the victory with a knee injury and is questionable vs. the Seahawks. Jacob Cushing suffered a broken nose in practice last week and forward Derrick Woods, a transfer from St. Bonaventure expected to provide valuable frontcourt depth, was kicked off the team last week. Ryan Daly is averaging 16.9 points and 5.5 rebounds.

UNCW won for the first time in 40 days, beating up on D3 Greensboro College. That makes two of the Seahawks three wins this season against non-DI competition. The deficiencies are deep-rooted. UNCW is 325th in defensive efficiency, allowing 1.18 points per possession. To put that in perspective, last season the Seahawks had one of the best offensive teams in CAA history and scored at a similar clip. UNCW’s Division I opponents have made 44 percent of their 3s and scored nearly one-third of their points beyond-the-arc. The Seahawks are down to eight scholarship players after 15-minute-a-game backup guard JaQuel Richmond was booted from the team for undisclosed rule breaking.

CAA Hoops – Authentic Assessment


Power Rankings are great. They provide a platform for diving deep into a team or player’s hoops DNA. They can be taken in many directions while taking the pulse of a conference in a concise manner. Love the concept, but the term is tired. Besides, Luke Winn, now of the Toronto Raptors, perfected the format during his years covering college basketball for Sports Illustrated’s website and magazine. Any other Power Ranker is playing for silver.

So, why not take a spin with a fresh name and, hopefully, interesting insight. Welcome to the initial CAA Hoops Authentic Assessment as we enter the final week of the first month of the regular season. These rankings will become less necessary once the conference season reaches the halfway point and the standings do the speaking. But, let’s try and make ’em a thing between now and then.

  1. Towson (8-1) – The Tigers had so much fun winning their first in-season tournament since 1990, they traveled 3,333 miles to beat two opponents from the Northeast and won another one. In the first college basketball games ever played in Northern Ireland, coach Pat Skerry’s club defeated LaSalle and Manhattan to claim the trophy. Towson’s strength so far this season? It doesn’t have a glaring weakness. TowsonThe Tigers have improved in areas that cost them a year ago such as 3-point shooting or excessive fouling. There’s an array of green on their KenPom page, not a drop of red and just a tinge of pink (turnover percentage). The sophomore guard Zane Martin was terrific in the two games, pouring in 40 points by terrifying teams in the paint. He was 14 of 23 on 2-pointers and 6 of 7 at the free throw line. Towson trailed for all but about a minute in the title game and Skerry admitted they were fortunate to escape with the one-point victory. Mike Morsell, who buried the winning jumper with 1.5 seconds remaining, said: “We found a way and we’re a real gritty team. We have a bunch of veterans here and we always believe if there’s time on the clock that we can win any game. We stuck together today during the tight moments and trusted one another.”

   2.  Charleston (5-2) – Preseason Player of the Year Joe Chealey is recording numbers Joe Chealey(19.5 ppg, 5.3 apg) but he’s needed a plethora of possessions to produce. Against Division I teams, Chealey, a senior point guard, has made 32 percent of 3-pointers and a career-low 36 percent of 2-pointers while taking one-third of the Cougars’ shots when on the floor. He’s 6 of 23 on 2s and 3 of 15 on 3s in the last three games. Opposing coaches can live with those percentages. In his defense, playing the entire season thus far without interior partner Jarrell Brantley and a handful of games without backcourt mate Grant Riller forced Chealey to take shots he probably would have otherwise turned down. Still, it’s not as if his woes can be blamed on the competition. The Cougars have played seven games: at Wichita State (No. 5 KenPom), a non-DI, and five teams rated 234th or worse. The Cougars opened the season No. 74 in KenPom and have fallen to No. 102 due to an offense that’s managed only 0.97 points per trip.

3. Elon (6-3) – The Phoenix loves overtime. It’s as if it is reborn in those five minute periods. Matt Matheny’s club is one more thriller away from hitting for the extra session cycle. Elon added an OT defeat of South Florida and a double OT defeat of Saint Peter’s last week to an earlier triple overtime victory against Florida International. The Phoenix evolved into the CAA’s most difficult team to shoot against last season and proved against Saint Peter’s it can still win with defense. Elon’s 41.4 effective field goal percentage was its lowest in nearly a calendar year. Tyler Seibring scored 38 points and was 11 of 15 on 2s in the two games and Elon will need similar productivity if it intends to make a serious bid at the regular season title.

4. William & Mary (5-2) – One of my favorite parts of watching AAU basketball in the summer – like the only favorite part – is when an entire bench erupts and starts screaming, “Shooter,” when the one dude on the other team who lives beyond the 3-point arc catches the ball. Better be a whole lot of hollerin’ against William & Mary and a 100-watt speaker handy when Connor Burchfield catches in the corner. He’s been hot as a Concord summer, posting 3-point numbers that are ridiculous yet real. He’s sixth in the nation on the season (57.4 percent) and 23 of 33 in the last four games, all Tribe victories. And he’s not alone. W&M is top six in the nation in effective field goal percentage, 3-point percentage and free throw percentage, per KenPom. Today’s profound observation: Shooting is a valuable skill to have in basketball.

5. Northeastern (4-4) – Ballhandling (14.9 turnovers per game) and free throw shooting (69 percent) have been trouble spots for the Huskies thus far, but both can be improved upon as the season unfolds and the squad’s newcomers develop chemistry and become comfortable playing together. Donnell Gresham, lost to injury a year ago after scoring in double figures in three of the first four games, was strong in the win over Cornell (22 points, nine rebounds, four steals). Vasa Pusica has brought a steady hand to the point guard position (14.6 ppg, 3.6 apg) and it appears the Huskies have legit depth this season, going nine players deep on the regular.

6. Hofstra (4-3) – There will be guards in Hempstead; but will they guard? This is the question that keeps the Pride Nation up at night. Buckets have come (1.07 ppp vs. DI) but the zone defense is offering little resistance. The Pride rarely creates a turnover and despite the powerful presence of center Rokas Gustys, it ranks 291st in defensive rebounding percentage. Opponents have scored 74.9 points per game against coach Joe Mihalich’s club which has road games against regional foes Monmouth, Rider and Stony Brook on its upcoming plate. Transfer forward Joel Angus has been a quality addition (129.1 offensive rating in 25 minutes per game. Justin Wright-Foreman hasn’t found his shooting touch yet either, hitting 38 percent from the field and 30 percent on 3s.

7. UNCW (2-4) – It’s been a rough opening month for new coach C.B. McGrath, the longtime North Carolina assistant who replaced Kevin Keatts. Following The Man is never easy, especially when you inherit a team that lost four starters from one of the best offensive teams in CAA history. Scoring hasn’t been the issue for the Seahawks, however. Abysmal defense has been the culprit. UNCW is 348th in the nation in scoring defense (91.2 ppg), unable to contain dribble penetration (allowing 56 percent on 2-pointers) and in serious jeopardy when either Devontae Cacok or Jordon Talley has foul trouble. Speaking of Cacok, he continues to be unstoppable in transition or 1-on-1 in the halfcourt. He poured in 35 points on 19 shots in an OT loss to East Carolina and leads the nation in a statistical category for the second season in a row, snatching 13 per game.

8. Drexel (4-4) – Injuries have kept coach Zack Spiker’s second squad in Philly from playing at full strength, however, Missouri transfer Tramaine Isabell is emerging as a major force on the scoreboard and the backboard. The 6-1, 180-pound guard leads the CAA with 22 points per game and is FOURTH in rebounding with 9.1. He’s attempted 32.6 percent of the Dragons’ shots when he’s out there vs. DI teams and made them count, hitting 52.6 percent on 2s and 39.5 percent on 3s while drawing 6.5 fouls per 40 minutes. Kurk Lee, the second-best freshman in the CAA last season, has started slow – hitting 8 of 41 3s vs DI teams thus far.

9. Delaware (4-4) – Half of the Blue Hens victims are non DIs. Delaware has CAA Rookie of the Year Ryan Daly and he’s the top target on every opponent’s scouting report. He’s not sneaking up on any coach this season. The opening night win over Richmond doesn’t carry much weight because the Spiders, frankly, are terrible (1-7). An ankle injury to starting post Eric Carter has thrown a wrench in coach Martin Ingelsby’s plans. Carter’s been productive when available, scoring double figures in four games, but missed three of the last four games. With a well-coached Buffalo squad and the return of Mike Brey and a visit from Notre Dame ahead, things may get worse before they get better in New-ark.

10. James Madison (3-6) – The Dukes rebounded from a nightmarish final minute loss to George Mason that included the rare 7-point possession for the Patriots. That’s unusual but not unheard of as Hofstra legend Charles Jenkins once scored eight points on one possession, driving home what turned out to be the final nail in the UNCW coaching career of Benny Moss. JMU coach Louis Rowe is trying to build a program in Harrisonburg and had to be happy how his team handled Charlotte 87-82, riding another strong showing from transfer Stuckey Mosley (25 points). Defense is an issue for the Dukes also. They are 286th in adjusted efficiency and 313th in effective field goal percentage defense. The young pieces have shown promise but it’s likely to be a long year in the Shenandoah Valley.