CAA Hoops: Colonial X returns

Hofstra - JWF

Hofstra guard Justin Wright-Foreman is the first CAA hoops player to record three 35-point games in conference since Towson’s Gary Neal in 2006-07.

Offense wins championships – Bill Walton

Got all them buckets comin’ out of my ears – Bob Dylan

We awoke from the slumber and the landscape did not look the same. Sure, there were basketballs, rims and nets. Cheerleaders stood on the baseline and big cats sat on the sideline. The courts still measured 94 feet. People stood and cheered when they weren’t staring down at their phones. Coaches paced and shouted, officials whistled and pointed. Bands played and babies cried.

And the players passed and dribbled as we remembered, looking to the sidelines for instruction, making crisp cuts and leaping high in the lane.

But the ball, it went into the basket from everywhere, and often, rippling the net and sending the 10 men quickly in the other direction. They made dunks and layups, 3-pointers and bank shots, tip-ins and pull-ups, flew above-the-rim after making steals and tossed in prayers as they fell out of bounds. Buckets, buckets, buckets, I tell you there were buckets everywhere.

There’s a whole mess of candidates for Colonial X, our ranking of the 10 men who rule the conference. The CAA leads the nation in efficiency (109.6). There are 14 players shooting 40 percent or better on 3s, 15 players shooting 53 percent or better from the field and 11 players hitting 85 percent or more free throws.

As always, we’re looking for efficient, consistent production and winning is important. Offensive Rating + Usage is a neat way of measuring a player’s impact on the game, per possession.

Justin Wright-Foreman Hofstra(126.7 O-Rating, 32.1 usage – CAA only)

JWF is third in the nation in scoring (25.6 ppg), which is the highest CAA scoring average since future NBA pro Blue Edwards of East Carolina averaged 26.7 ppg in 1988-89. His stats in the six conference games are ridiculous. Wright-Foreman has created an eight-point-per-game lead with 30.5 ppg and also dished 4.5 assists per game.

A polished, diversified offensive skill set makes him such a tough cover. Wright-Foreman scores effectively at all three levels and spreads around the shots. He’s attempted 356 field goals – 46 percent were launched beyond-the-arc, 30 percent in the mid-range and 24 percent at the rim. Coaches typically love to see an opposing player jack a 2-point jumper. Not true in this case. Wright-Foreman has connected on 47 percent. Guards claimed the last three CAA Player of the Year honors. Here’s how JWF stacks up.

Player School / Year PPG APG FG Pct. 3PFG Pct.
Thornton W&M ‘14-15 20.0 2.9 45.6 40.2
Green Hofstra ‘15-16 17.8 7.1 39.8 36.2
Williams Northeastern ‘16-17 21.4 5.3 46.3 33.3
Wright-Foreman Hofstra ‘17-18 25.6 3.1 45.2 33.3

Nathan Knight (122.4 O-Rating, 30.9 pct. usage)TribeScript_Round3Version

The sophomore forward is averaging 20 ppg, eight rpg, shooting better than 50 percent from the field and 75 percent from the free throw line. No CAA player has produced similar numbers since 1992-93 (sports-reference.com). His numbers are even better in conference play, and he’s also handing out two assists per game as coach Tony Shaver moves him around the floor and enables him to become a playmaker. 

Heretofore known as The Commodore, here are the closest comparisons to Knight’s combination of scoring, rebounding, shot blocking and field goal accuracy.

Player School / Year PPG RPG BPG FG Pct.
Hodge ODU ‘93-94 19.4 9.0 2.4 54.7
Hodge ODU ‘96-97 18.1 8.6 2.5 55.0
Evans Mason ‘98-99 17.2 8.5 2.6 55.7
Battle Drexel ‘02-03 15.1 8.2 3.7 52.9
Knight W&M ‘17-18 20.0 8.0 2.5 54.9

 

PrintJoe Chealey (122.6 O-rating, 24.6 usage)

For a coach, the only thing better than watching a talented fifth-year senior point guard run your team is watching him clip the nets after leading your team to a championship. Rest assured, that’s the primary priority for Chealey and his teammates, who are 3-3 but also have difficult road trips to Towson and Elon behind them. Chealey has been terrific all season, putting up 19 points per game in CAA action and handing out 16 assists while committing only eight turnovers in 227 minutes.. He’s second in the CAA with 37.8 minutes per game. I wouldn’t take him off the court, either.

Chealey

Joe Chealey has made 101 free throws against Division I opponents this season and is 46 of 51 vs. CAA squads.

Jarrell Brantley (114.7 O-Rating, 30.4 usage)Print

The 6-7 forward is still only a junior. When he plays his best Charleston wins. Check out his splits in the Cougars’ three conference victories and three defeats. He and his senior point guard teammate  combine to form the best 1-2 inside-outside punch in the league. Now, if the Cougars can just resume defending like its 2015-16, they’ll be happy with how this season turns out.

Ws: 24 ppg, 16-24 2PFGs, 8-13 3PFGs

Ls: 17 ppg, 16-32 2PFGs, 4-12 3PFGs

Zane Martin (110.1 O-Rating, 29.2 usage)Towson

The sophomore guard is atop the conversation for most improved player in the league. He began to flash his potential late last season, erupting for 17 points in the CAA tournament victory over Northeastern, but was inconsistent. This season he’s been as reliable as a traffic jam on the Beltway. Martin has eight 20-point efforts in the Tigers’ last 13 games. He’s failed to score in double figures only once in 17 games and his strong body and aggressive, driving style fit perfectly in coach Pat Skerry’s no-nonsense program. The Tigers are another 3-3 team liable to emerge from the pack soon, with three of their next four games at home.

Devontae Cacok (104.5 O-Rating, 27.6 usage)CacokPrint

Last season, Cacok was surrounded by four excellent 3-point shooters and playmakers, could count on 1-on-1 coverage in the paint and, as a complementary piece in a top 20 offense scored all his points on lob dunks, putbacks and by outrunning his man in transition for more dunks. He shot 80 percent to set a national record that’s safer than Dimaggio’s hitting streak, Nicklaus’ major championship count, Wilt’s 100-point game, or hearing someone screaming about ‘Fake News.’ This season, the athletic muscular forward can count on two or three defenders surrounding him at all times. I’ve owned sport coats that were less snug. He’s the center of attention on every opposing scouting report and has been asked to expand his range. And he’s still leading the nation with 12.9 rebounds per game.

Elon_PrimaryTyler Seibring (134.6 O-Rating, 20.0 usage)

The 6-8 forward picks his spots and makes his shots. He’s taking them more frequently during conference play – 26 percent of Elon’s shots when on the floor compared to 22 percent for the season – and is accurate from everywhere, hitting 62 percent of 2-pointers, 48 percent of 3-pointers and 86 percent of free throws. He reminds me of former ODU star and 04-05 CAA POY Alex Loughton (GOOGLE IT, KIDS), except he’s a better long range shooter. All but one of his 47 3-pointers this season came in catch-and-shoot situations.

David Cohn (140.5 O-Rating, 20.7 usage)TribeScript_Round3Version

The Tribe’s captain is a gutsy leader who directs the conference’s best offense (117.5 points per 100 possessions) with aplomb. Vocal and energetic, he’s fast in the open floor and keeps the ball and teammates moving in the halfcourt. Cohn has scored 67 points in the last three games and his shooting percentages are just plain silly in conference play – 65 percent on 2-pointers, 50 percent on 3-pointers and 96 percent at the line. He’s also second in the CAA with a 2.6 assist-turnover ratio in conference games.

DelawareRyan Daly (106.1 O-Rating, 24.5 usage)

From simply a numbers perspective, Daly doesn’t belong in such elite company. But he’s the most valuable player in the conference. He’s an essential component of any Blue Hens’ success. With seven scholarship players, coach Martin Ingelsby has led UD to a 4-2 CAA record. Take Daly off the roster and the Blue Hens would have zero conference victories and not many overall. Whether it’s snagging a late offensive rebound to preserve a road win at UNCW or rarely committing a turnover (8 in 237 CAA minutes) or playing a league-high 93.5 percent of minutes in conference games, Daly has done whatever’s needed to give his squad the best chance to win the game.

NortheasternVasa Pusica (114.0 O-Rating, 24.7 usage)

I expected Pusica to be a game manager, floor leader type in his first season with the Huskies after transferring from San Diego. But he’s also given coach Bill Coen another dependable 3-point shooter (16 of 44 in conference) and more importantly, late shot-clock playmaker. The Huskies’ average offensive possession in CAA games lasts 16.9 seconds – 9th in the conference – and Pusica has proven to be comfortable when time is dwindling. Other than the winter weather, switching coasts has turned out to be an astute move for Pusica and the Huskies.

 

CAA Hoops: There’s something happening here

Wins like these make a season special. William & Mary was awful until it was amazing Thursday night. The Tribe won a game it had every reason to lose. The ending was so dramatic, frenzied, improbable, coach Tony Shaver figured he might forego his typical postgame cool down period and watch a replay of the final minute some time around 3 a.m.

Sure the comeback came against the last-place team at home. William & Mary had no business trailing James Madison by 20 points in the first place. Down nine points with 45 seconds remaining, the Tribe appeared to be losing hold of first place before having a chance to know how it felt.

Then, Connor Burchfield stole the ball. Known for his shooting because he’s one of the best in the nation but having an off night (1-for-6 on 3s), the slender senior from Concord swiped the ball from Stuckey Mosley and converted the layup.

Through most of the first 35 minutes the Tribe was outhustled, executed poorly and allowed too many offensive possessions to end with dribbles into danger, straying from the driving, passing and ball sharing which enabled it to enter the game as the nation’s best shooting team. Players complained about officials’ whistles, made silly passes and missed the open shots they’d been hitting.

But when Burchfield cut the deficit to seven points with 43 seconds remaining, Kaplan Arena got loud, the team’s belief grew even stronger and the Dukes helped out any way they could, missing four free throws and committing two turnovers in those final possessions.

Matt Milon rattled in a 3-pointer with 4.7 seconds remaining to tie the game. Burchfield tipped the ball away from Mosley enough to throw off his timing before he launched the potential game-winner and the game went to overtime.

JMU scored five points in the final 150 seconds. But the Dukes were feisty if not polished. After falling behind by four points in overtime, they regained a one-point lead with 1:15 remaining when freshman Matt Lewis (game-high 22 points) buried two free throws. Milon answered again, cutting backdoor to take a feed from Burchfield and finish the layup. Burchfield made another steal (and later a block) and the Tribe did winning things to increase its lead to two games over five teams in the conference standings.

When the final buzzer sounded, the 1.36 points per possession and 64 percent shooting William & Mary allowed in the first half had long been forgotten. And in less than 48 hours the Tribe welcomes Towson, who Shaver described as one of the toughest and most talented teams in the conference. After being picked 8th in the preseason poll, William & Mary has played with a chip on its shoulder for most of the season, Shaver said. The Tribe lost that edge for a while on Thursday night but picked it back up just in time.

Observations

  •  Two-time CAA Player of the Week Nathan Knight struggled early against JMU’s aggressive defensive game plan. He never looked completely comfortable and foul trouble set in during the second half, sending him from the game with 2:32 remaining and his team trailing by 10. Knight needs to develop his right hand because conference opponents are going to sit on his left. Still, on an ‘off-night’ he ended up with 21 points, five rebounds and 12 of 12 on free throws in 29 minutes.
  • JMU’s Matt Lewis played like an all-league guard in the first half (6 of 7, 19 points). He played like a freshman in the second half (0 of 6, 1 point). He’s going to be a good player for the Dukes. I like his confidence, speed and shooting stroke. He’ll play a bunch of minutes and be a 1,000-point scorer, at the least.
  • William & Mary is winning hard fought games because individuals are proving they are more than one-dimensional players, for the good of the team. Not only did Burchfield make significant contributions on the defensive end, but Justin Pierce overcame a 1-for-5 shooting effort by snagging 17 rebounds – with 16 in the last 25 minutes. The Tribe is overcoming a lack of depth – Shaver’s rotation is essentially six players with cameos from forward Cole Harrison and guard Oliver Tot – because players understand they have to fill multiple columns in the box score and make contributions that go beyond.

CAA Hoops – Towson & Charleston, again

Brantley

Jarrell Brantley has been ferocious in CAA play, leading Charleston to a 2-1 record. The Cougars forward averaged 23.3 points, 6.6 rebounds and shot 64 percent in the first three conference games. 

Charleston and Towson were picked in the top three of every credible CAA Hoops preseason poll, including the official one, voted on by media, coaches and the athletics communications representatives from each member school.

The Cougars, returning their top seven players from a 25-win team, were the unanimous pick to win the regular season and with good reason. The Tigers also welcomed back the bulk of their roster from a 20-win outfit and haven’t disappointed, stringing together 10 consecutive victories already in the 2017-18 campaign.

Today at 2 the teams conclude their regular season series, meeting for the second time in nine days. Why so soon? This is silly and should have been avoided.

I understand that building a regular season schedule for a 10-team conference is a complex challenge. Teams can’t play more than three consecutive games at home or away. Loose geographic partnerships and Thursday-Saturday (or this week Friday-Sunday) pairings have eased travel concerns in a conference that stretches from Boston to Charleston but also forced certain games to be played in a specific order. There are many moving parts. Changing the date of Charleston’s trip to Towson might have also affected their first game on the trip, Friday night at Drexel (which the Cougars would prefer to forget). Pleasing all 10 teams is impossible, unrealistic and shouldn’t be considered. Regardless how it’s laid out, some team must start the CAA slate with a three-game road trip or extended homestand. Argue on about the favorable or unfavorable order in which a team’s games are assembled but one important trait cannot be denied:  The CAA is one of 17 Division I conferences that crowns a legitimate regular season champion because each team faces each opponent home & home.

CAA Standings 01-07-18As the old folks used to say, it all comes out in the wash.

Still, for the sake of the conference there’s no reason Towson and Charleston should conclude their series before the spring semester starts. Having the teams meet on opening day was a terrific idea. Why not start with a battle between the two teams who could very easily meet again on the final day of the season, 10 miles down the road, with a trip to the NCAA tournament on the line. But teams evolve as a season unfolds. Players improve and regress, rotations change, coaches tweak strategy and hope their late February product shines brighter than what they put on display in early January. The outcome of today’s game will likely have significant bearing on the final standings and tiebreakers and such. If the Tigers hope to win the regular season, they can’t afford to fall to 1-3. Charleston, which headed north eyeing the outright lead better fix its defense or it will head home .500, nearing the quarter pole.

The second meeting should have been scheduled for mid-February. But it’s today, and we’ll be watching.

Charleston won that first meeting 73-62, of course, as Jarrell Brantley, Joe Chealey and Grant Riller were spectacular. Brantley’s efficiency has been ridiculous in three conference games – 15 of 23 on 2-pointers, 8 of 13 on 3-pointers, 16 of 18 on free throws. His offensive rating (produces 124.3 points per 100 possessions) is even more impressive when factoring in an obscenely high usage rate (31.3 pct. of possessions). If you want to be picky his 14 turnovers are not ideal but I’ll bet Earl Grant is fine with an errant pass or two from the 6-7, 250-pound mismatch problem. To put it simply, college basketball assistant coaches commonly use another name – actually, there are two – to describe a player like Brantley. For the sake of the children, neither one can be written in this space.

Charleston won the first game at the free throw line. The Cougars outscored the Tigers 54-53 on field goals. Towson narrowly won the offensive and defensive rebounding scuffles. Charleston was 22 of 28 on free throws. Towson was 9 of 15. There’s your margin.

Keys for the Tigers? Taking more free throws, making the Cougars’ big three shoot a bunch to score their points and getting more than six points and five shots from Mike Morsell, who could score 32 or 2 this afternoon and I’d be shocked by neither one.

There are four other games this afternoon as the teams wrap this four-games-in-nine-days flurry and in most cases return home to resume classes.

JMU @ Northeastern, 2 p.m.

Coachspeak: Don’t let a loss beat you twice. JMU had victory ripped from its mitts by Justin Wright-Foreman in Hempstead on Friday night. I don’t believe the young Dukes will bounce back quickly. Vasa Pusica isn’t going to win a footrace or jumping contest anytime soon but he’s quickly becoming a star at Northeastern. He’s hit 55 percent of 2s and 47 percent of 3s in CAA play while assisting on more than one-fourth of the Huskies’ hoops. This one could get ugly.

UNCW at Delaware, 2 p.m.

The Seahawks snatched defeat from the hands of victory last week in a 58-56 home loss to Delaware. The Blue Hens snared not one but two critical offensive rebounds following missed free throws in the closing seconds and even though they would’ve been even money to drop a basketball into the Atlantic Ocean from the end of Johnnie Mercer Pier, they won a game they had no business winning. What does that mean about today’s game? I have no idea. CAA teams have made 45 percent of 3-pointers vs. UNCW.

William & Mary at Drexel, 4 p.m.

We can go on-and-on about the Tribe’s offense, have before and will again. But here’s a number to follow: 1.03 – that’s how many points per possession (adjusted) William & Mary allowed in its first three CAA games. It’s the second-best defensive efficiency in the conference. If the Tribe can remain in the top four, it will remain in the regular season title race until the final week of the season. That being said, the Tribe could be in trouble today. The Dragons are full strength and riding high after the upset of Charleston. There are many promising pieces on the Drexel roster and Alihan Demir (20 pts., 6 rebs, 4 assists vs. Charleston) has been excellent of late.

Elon at Hofstra, 4 p.m.

Justin Wright-Foreman hit a 3-pointer with 1.1 seconds in regulation to send the Pride into overtime against JMU on Friday night and the Pride won 87-81. Wright-Foreman finished with 26 points and leads the conference in scoring. He’ll join the 1,000-point club with nine points today and we’re betting he gets there because he’s scored 89 points in three CAA games despite shooting poorly from beyond-the-arc (6 of 23). Elon is one of the better shooting teams in the conference but has a turnover problem (20.3 pct of possessions in conference games).

CAA Hoops: It’s only real if you believe

Milon17GMJA172

Matt Milon has been a terrific addition to coach Tony Shaver’s squad this season. The transfer from Boston College averaged 15 ppg, 7.5 rpg and 3.0 apg in two Tribe victories last week. W&M seeks its first 3-0 CAA start since 1997-98 tonight at Delaware.

CAA Standings 1-4-18

At this juncture, William & Mary could be considered a mild surprise. On the flip side, Towson’s 0-2 start was less predictable although the scheduling lords dealt coach Pat Skerry a cup of week old she crab soup by sending them on the road to open the league slate against the two teams that sandwiched them on top of the preseason poll, Charleston and Elon. Of course, what goes south must come north in the CAA and the crabs are served with tiny hammers in the Mid-Atlantic. The Tigers look forward to the home cookin’. They’re 28-6 in SECU Arena the last three years.

There’s a marchin’ band still playin’ in that vacant lot
Where she held me in her arms one time and said, “Forget me not”

– Bob Dylan

The NCAA tournament, in particular the opening week, is an almost perfect event. From the haggling over seeds on Selection Sunday to the thrill of the First Four in Dayton to the upsets and near-misses, stars and stories emerging from the flurry of games in those four days when the field dwindles to 16, it delivers everything we love about basketball and sports.

CAA teams have enjoyed amazing moments in the NCAA tournament since David Robinson led Navy to the Elite 8 in 1986. March Madness will always provide the ultimate platform where a league can earn respect and name recognition beyond its region. There’s also the money, which is nice.

Conversations like this were real not that long ago. And they were fun and came to fruition.

3Bids4CAA tweet

But the tournament can also cloud our collective vision. I watched it unfold in a flurry of Tweets last night in the minutes after upstart Tulane upset American Athletic Conference power SMU. While folks gave credit to the Green Wave, much of the conversation focused on how this would hurt the American’s opportunity to receive more than its customary two or three bids to the NCAA tournament. And, those statements are accurate. From that perspective, sure it’s better for SMU to win the game. But that’s also a myopic view.

Step back and think about it from the Tulane side. The Green Wave has a losing record in 108 seasons of playing basketball. Outside a six or seven year run under Perry Clark when Tulane discovered magic in the Metro, the program has been merely a footnote in New Orleans sports, ranking somewhere behind the Saints, LSU Football, LSU Recruiting, LSU Tailgating and a host of other activities including but not limited to competitive Hurricane drinking. Now, because the Tulane administration applied original thinking and hired a coach with decades of NBA coaching experience but none in college, Mike Dunleavy Sr., the Green Wave sits on the cusp of being relevant again. They are 11-4, also have a road victory over Temple and upcoming games against Memphis and UConn all of a sudden appear quite winnable. It may all go to hell in a bucket in a month or two but right now these are damn near magical times around a Tulane program that’s enjoyed two 20-win seasons this millennium. Discussing a team’s fight to finish above .500 or win 20 games doesn’t draw the same interest as debating those 36 at-large bids, but that doesn’t make it any less compelling. Teams all over the country are out there trying to build something similar.

In short, more than 280 teams do not make the NCAA tournament each year. Doesn’t make their seasons a failure, necessarily. Also, there are two sides to every story. It’s one of my biggest gripes with most beat writing today. Too many folks are telling only one side. The other team has scholarship players and smart coaches too. Sometimes, it’s not about what one team didn’t do, but about what their opponent did well.

OK, back to our regularly scheduled programming …

As Jerry Beach pointed out late Wednesday night, nine teams have scored at least 100 points in a conference game since the start of last season. That’s also the number of teams who reached the century mark from 2001-02 to 2015-16.

In 2011-12, the last season the CAA included VCU, George Mason and Old Dominion, conference games produced the worst offensive efficiency (0.98) of all 32 conferences. But the trend toward offense is real. The conference was fifth last season, with teams churning out a hefty 1.069 points per trip in league affair.

The times they are a changin’ indeed. In the opening week of the season, CAA games produced the highest effective field goal percentage in all 32 conferences (54.2) and the second-best offensive efficiency (109.8) in the intraleague scuffles. Maybe coaches will adjust and shooters will turn cold.

Or, just sit back and watch the buckets rain. Oh where have you gone, Bruiser and Blaine?

Each team gets two chances in 48 hours this weekend to show off its array of offensive skills. The CAA packed four games into the first nine days, as has been the case in recent years and the highlight of the entire weekend is the Charleston – Towson rematch in Maryland at 2 p.m. Sunday. Hammers and bibs, optional.

 

Elon at Northeastern

Elon’s only home loss since Dec. 31st, 2016 was the double overtime thriller against Northeastern in the final week of last season. But the Phoenix are heading north to sunny – and cold – Boston to face a Northeastern squad that’s desperate to salvage a homestand following a one-point loss to Hofstra.

UNCW at Towson

Through the tiny sample size of two games, UNCW has been the CAA’s best offensive rebounding team (36 percent of missed shots). Towson has been the CAA’s best defensive rebounding team (14 percent).

The Seahawks lost four starters, three of whom were All-CAA selections, from last season’s 29-win team. C.J. Bryce would’ve been my pick for CAA Player of the Year as a junior if he’d opted not to follow Kevin Keatts to N.C. State. After UNCW whipped Drexel by 20 on Tuesday, McGrath told me he just wants to see improvement from this unit, which doesn’t have those guys or Keatts’ five-man recruiting class, which was considered the best in school history, or expected returnees JaQuel Richmond (dismissed) and Matt Elmore (injured), who McGrath envisioned as starters. Improvement might be difficult to gauge tonight against an angry bunch of Tigers.

William & Mary at Delaware, 7 p.m. 

Kevin Anderson, Delaware’s excellent freshman guard (13.7 ppg) had season-ending knee surgery. That stinks.

William & Mary’s 2-point proficiency is striking. The Tribe has made 44.8 percent of its 2-point jump shots (11th in nation), per hoop-math.com. Even better, the Tribe takes 2s selectively (20.1 percent of all field goal attempts). It leads the nation in 3-point shooting (43.6 percent) and 42 percent of its field goals are from behind-the-arc. The rest are at the rim.

The key to William & Mary’s offensive efficiency is transition execution, specifically finding open shooters in advantage or less than 5-on-5 situations. The Tribe’s effective field goal percentage in transition is 75.0, which leads the nation. More than half of its shots in transition are 3-pointers and 51 percent have dropped. W&M point guard David Cohn has 92 assists and 39 have been dealt in transition. With its plethora of shooters, guarding the Tribe 5-on-5 isn’t much fun either, but it’s probably a defense’s best chance of holding coach Shaver’s club under the 1.12 points per possession they average.

Then, opponents have to deal with this guy:

Click the link below to see how Knight’s season stacks up statistically against top-notch CAA big men from the past.

http://cbbref.com/tiny/dSRUg

James Madison at Hofstra

Here’s a piece of good news for Hofstra and fans: Snow blowers are half-price at the neighborhood hardware store. Just kidding, the neighborhood hardwood store went out of business trying to sell CAA rockfights. The Pride hit only 25.8 percent of its 3-pointers in splitting against W&M and Northeastern in the opening week. It’s a better shooting team than that number indicates. The Pride has also been wandering the earth like Caine in Kung Fu, separated from its home floor since late November. That probably means trouble for the Dukes.

Charleston at Drexel

If the Cougars plan to continue scoring 1.29 points per possession against conference competition, we can all just save ourselves the time and convene down in North Charleston, SC in a couple of months. Joe Chealey, Grant Riller and Jarrell Brantley have been dominant.

Drexel gave up 1.32 points per possession in losses at Elon and UNCW. This one could get ugly unless there’s significant regression to the mean from each side.

CAA Hoops: Opening shots

BM6I0320

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

Record KenPom KP SOS RPI RPI SOS
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

Movers

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

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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.

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 CollegeInsider.com 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).

Bad

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: 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).

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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.

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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

 

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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.

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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 KenPom.com. 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.

morsell

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 KenPom.com. 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.