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 hoop-math.com, 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.