Checking In On… the CAAPosted by Brian Goodman on November 24th, 2011
Caught On Film
Check this clip out to see why William & Mary’s Quinn McDowell has earned the Twitter hashtag #quinntowin. Trailing by three, McDowell hits a game-tying bomb; trailing by two he converts a natural three-point play and then boxes out to get the deciding rebound on a missed free throw:
The Week That Was
- Thud: Coming off its greatest season ever, the CAA is sporting a hangover. The league is 20-30 and lacks a notable win. (Old Dominion beating South Florida qualifies as the conference’s best.) What’s more, the early season has featured head-scratching losses. Preseason favorite Drexel lost to Norfolk State, Delaware lost to Radford (five wins last season), William & Mary lost to Lehigh by 25 points, and George Mason lost to Florida International. The CAA is a collective 0-3 against Florida Atlantic. While it seems silly to discount the notion of an at-large bid this early in the season, the conference has likely burned up any wiggle room it had come March.
- Give It Up: Coaches have their clichés, and for good reason, but “value the basketball” has taken on a special meaning in early CAA action. The relative inexperience of CAA guards is taking its toll. James Madison is the only CAA team with more assists than turnovers (and that number is just 41/36). Seven of the CAAs 12 teams are in the bottom 100 in the nation in turnover percentage (the number of possessions that end in a turnover). Last season, seven CAA teams were in the top 100 of this category. Though they have played an impossible schedule, Towson sports an almost unbelievable 27 assists and 95 turnovers.
- Frank Who? Old Dominion annually plays with a dominant big man, but coming into the season there were questions about whether or not Chris Cooper had the chops to continue the tradition. Early returns bode well. Cooper recorded double-doubles in three of ODUs four games, tallying a career-high 17 points and 12 boards against Kentucky, 13 points and 10 rebounds in a win over Howard, and 10 points and 11 caroms in a victory over Long Island. The senior forward also blocked seven shots and made six steals last week. Importantly, Cooper got his frontcourt mate Nick Wright back from suspension this week.
- B-B-B-Baby You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet: Bumpy starts from banner players has contributed to the burgeoning bummer of a season. Bradford Burgess, Rob Brandenberg, Kent Bazemore, Eric Buckner, Brandon Britt, and Julian Boatner are all expected to be team and conference leaders. For one reason or another, none have provided that beacon. The list includes Tim Rusthoven, nicknamed Beasthoven.
- Old Dominion (3-2): The Monarchs’ trip to Uncasville has proven to be the conference’s beacon thus far. ODU came back to beat South Florida, and then traded blows with Kentucky—they trailed 50-49 with about six minutes to play–before falling late. Blaine Taylor has Kent Bazemore playing earlier than anticipated, and Nick Wright (back from suspension) gives them an entirely new and better look. Taylor is juggling a lot of new names but the style doesn’t change—ODU is forcing 19 turnovers per game and confounding opponents with multiple variations of a 3-2 zone. When you consider they get two of their better players eligible after the end of the first semester, the Monarchs look strong. Again.
- Drexel (2-2): I still love what the Dragons have, top to bottom, but a loss to Norfolk State and a 35-point adventure against Virginia give me pause. Still, Frantz Massenat is noticeably better as a floor leader, and two of Bruiser Flint’s best players—Derrick Thomas and Dartaye Ruffin—have yet to get untracked. Thomas is shooting poorly—3-21 threes and 9-36 overall—and Ruffin doesn’t seem to be into the game until well after tipoff. But freshman Damion Lee has been better than expected, leading the Dragons in field goal attempts and sporting a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. What’s more, we’re not dropping any F-Bombs until Chris Fouch does. Even without the gunner, Drexel is a tough team to handle.
- George Mason (4-2): We toyed with making the Patriots the #2 team this week but Brown and Albany, their last two opponents, sound like a law firm, not a basketball opponent. Mason has shown marked improvement over its six games and that is more important than you would immediately think. Ryan Pearson served notice as to whose team it is. Pearson put up a double-double in their first three games, including a 28 and 12 against Rhode Island. Paul Hewitt gets lead guard Andre Cornelius back next month and it will be interesting to see the backcourt dynamic—freshman Corey Edwards seems to be settling into that role nicely.
- Hofstra (2-2): Credit Mo Cassara for not giving one inch to the cries of post-Jenkins woes. His Pride have started the season in fine fashion, perhaps the best in the CAA despite a 2-2 record. Hofstra flew 3000 miles and battled a good Oregon State team to the wire and 72 hours and 3000 more miles later held their own despite tired legs in a win over St. Francis. Cassara seems to have settled into his eight-man rotation already, but 6’10″ Bryant Crowder is ready to play when Cassara decides. Interesting point: Rhode Island transfer Steven Mejia was supposed to take over leading the offense, but incumbent Dwan McMillan has thoroughly outplayed him and leads the CAA in assists.
- VCU (2-2): The Rams looked very uncomfortable losing two of three in Charleston; not so much due to any Final Four hangover, but more so because any five players on the floor at any time are in new roles. That is borne out in the fact that VCU is the worst shooting team in the CAA (33.9%) and also the worst field goal percentage defense team (48.2%). However supersoph Rob Brandenberg led a spirited second half charge against Western Kentucky that appears to have changed the mojo for VCU. Plus—cliché alert—with every game played Shaka Smart’s freshmen gain experience and his sophomores inch closer to becoming juniors. Stat to watch: VCU is 27-2 under Smart in games in which they have picked 10 or more steals.
- Northeastern (2-1): This isn’t your mother’s Northeastern Huskies. Led by freshman Reggie Spencer, they are leading the CAA in rebounding margin (+6.3) and blocked shots (6.3 per game). Bill Coen’s team is rebounding 41.2% of its misses—also tops in the CAA. What has to make Coen happy is that his two best shooters and team leaders have not yet begun to shoot the ball well. Joel Smith (4-15 from three) and Jon Lee (4-12 from three) made a combined 111 bombs last year at a 44% clip. The freshmen played like freshmen in the Huskies’ lone loss against Massachusetts, but Coen has to like what he’s seen so far.
- James Madison (1-2): Matt Brady has one of the CAAs fullest heads of hair. However if his team continues to treat defense as something to do until they get to shoot again, he may be bald by Christmas. The Dukes have firepower: Humpty Hitchens is averaging 21 points and dished out ten assists against Robert Morris. AJ Davis had five threes in two seasons at Wyoming but hit five Tuesday night. In fact, the Dukes hit 16 threes against Robert Morris and shot 47% from beyond the arc—and lost. Someone named Velton Jones will tell his grandkids one day about the 38-point night he had in college. And there’s the issue—if JMU plays defense they will hover near the top of the CAA. As of now, they are giving up 82 points per game.
- Delaware (1-2): Devon Saddler may have made the mistake of listening to his coach. Saddler, last year’s freshman of the year has first-team All-CAA talent and is expected to lead the Hens in what is supposedly a resurgent year. Monte Ross surely gave Saddler that honor. But Saddler took 48 shots in their first two games, both losses, and made just 16 of those. The rest of the Delaware team had taken just 69 shots. Tuesday night’s win over Cornell proved the difference: Saddler was 6-14 from the field and dished out a season-high five assists. Ross still needs to get Jamelle Hagins more involved, but the course may have been corrected.
- Georgia State (2-3): The Panthers defeated Samford last night 55-47, a score coach Ron Hunter probably wishes were a halftime score. But Hunter is getting the point guard play he needs from Devonta White—six assists and one turnover last night. After a tough three-game trip to Seattle in which the Panthers never led in any of the games, Georgia State has returned home a more comfortable team. Lesser competition has helped, but understanding what Hunter wants to see on the floor is critical. Jihad Ali is coming around, and Eric Buckner should follow soon.
- UNCW (0-3): Like a PGA Tour pro lurking three strokes back entering the final round, Buzz Peterson has got to like his position. It’s true that the Seahawks have a bagel in the wins column, but it’s just as true that Peterson has got to like what he’s seen from his squad. When you have eight freshmen in total and a line-up that could include four on the floor at any point, there will be rough patches. But UNCW hung with Maryland and Marshall (sandwiched around a blowout loss at Dayton). Adam Smith (freshman) has shown he will shoot in abundance with a no-fear mentality, and two other freshmen (Craig Ponder and Freddie Jackson) appear to be figuring out college basketball.
- William & Mary (1-5): Tony Shaver has called everyone but Hawkeye Pierce to get his Tribe healthy. Tim Rusthoven and JohnMark Ludwick were expected to man the block for William & Mary, but both have worn a shirt and tie to every game this season. Quinn McDowell, preseason first team All-CAA, missed six weeks with a bum knee. Kyle Gaillard will likely miss the entire season and now Andrew Pavloff is shelved. Though Shaver wants to scream “Frank Burns eats worms,” he sees a light. Rusthoven may be back this weekend, and freshman Marcus Thornton is understanding the college game better with every game. And point guard Brandon Britt can only play better.
- Towson (0-4): This is one team and one season where the numbers truly aren’t as important as what occurs within the basketball team. The Tigers were blasted in three of its four games but continue to play hard to the buzzer. After falling behind Michigan 21-0 they actually outscored the Wolverines 47-43 the rest of the way when they could have folded. Senior Robert Nwankwo averaged 13.7 points and 9.0 rebounds last week and posted double-doubles against nationally ranked foes Kansas (14 pts/10 reb) and Michigan (16 pts/10 reb). Kris Walden and Deon Jones continue to make strides in the backcourt.
- Hofstra in the TicketCity Legends Classic: Assuming you have read the above praise for Mo Cassara’s Pride, the true test begins. Hofstra gets Rhode Island on its home floor Friday then faces a quick turn-around to play a tough Cleveland State team on Saturday. Whatever gas is left in the tank on Sunday will be spent trying to knock off Boston University. There is a good chance we will learn much more than wins and losses by next week. Hofstra has the luxury of two point guards, but they are not very deep on the baseline. This is a good time for Mo Cassara to get Bryant Crowder some action.
- Northeastern at St. John’s (Saturday): The Huskies have avoided early season cupcakes and bring a real 2-1 record to Queens. The Red Storm play aggressive and will test the strong but young interior on both ends of the court. St. John’s loves to slash gaps which could spell trouble for Reggie Spencer if he chooses to reach instead of move. On offense, the pups have been turnover-prone and will be challenged by an active St. John’s defense. NU could use a breakout shooting game from its thus far chilly backcourt duo of Joel Smith and Jon Lee. I like their chances.
- VCU at Alabama (Sunday): This is the ballyhooed “take our coach, play a home-and-home” game VCU writes into every contract. Anthony Grant won an NCAA game with VCU before heading to Alabama (along with point guard recruit Ben Eblen). This game will pit VCUs havoc defense against a Tide team that likes to grind you defensively. Pace will be a tremendous influencer in the outcome—the faster the better for VCU. JaMychal Green and Trevor Releford get to the line often, which also matters to an aggressive but foul-prone VCU frontline.