Checking In On… the CAAPosted by Brian Goodman on December 14th, 2011
The Week That Was
- Lather: Shaka Smart’s VCU Rams put a 73-51 pounding on crosstown rival Richmond. The game turned on a mid-second half spree generated by the defense. From 11:03 to 3:35, a 20-4 run changed a 47-45 boxing match into a 67-49 runaway. Freshman Briante Weber is the head harasser, but Rob Brandenburg and Darius Theus gave the Spiders no room to operate. The Rams, supposed to struggle with four starters gone from its Final Four team, are without question playing the best basketball in the Association. Bradford Burgess is looking like a player of the year, scoring in double figures in eight straight games, and the Rams are getting increasing contributions from different sources—on Friday it was freshman Treveon Graham, who subbed for a foul-plagued Theus admirably. VCU coming together weeks faster than people thought is a scary proposition.
- Rinse: Of all the fresh faces making waves in the CAA, none have made a greater impact that UNCW freshman Adam Smith. Smith is tied for third in the nation in scoring among all freshmen with 17.9 PPG, trailing only Kyle Vinales of Central Connecticut (19.9 PPG) and Juan’ya Green of Niagara (19.7 PPG). He is tied with Justin Edwards of Maine (17.9 PPG). Smith has scored double figures in all seven UNCW games, including a 27-point effort at Toledo and 23 points at Maryland. Not to be outdone, Northeastern’s Quincy Ford is getting more comfortable with college. Making the first start of his career, Ford scored a career-high 18 points and snared a team-best seven rebounds in Northeastern’s 79-68 loss at Bradley last Tuesday. The freshman, who is one of 11 children and was home-schooled in high school, was 8-of-15 from the floor and made four steals, blocked two shots and dished out a pair of assists.
- Repeat: We mentioned the early success of Georgia State last week, but the Ron Hunter train keeps rolling. The Panthers overwhelmed Rhode Island 96-64, their seventh straight win. Devonta White scored 20 points and Brandon McGee added 18 off the bench. Importantly, each of the seven wins has been more impressive than the last. Georgia State’s 75-possession attack produced 32 fast break points with just nine turnovers, a turnover rate of 12.0%. And while the opposition hasn’t exactly been the Showtime Lakers of the 1980s, the Panthers have beaten their opponents in the streak by an average of 25 points per game. Plus, Georgia State continues to gain confidence and learn how to be productive and win. That becomes incredibly important when you look at their first three games of the conference season: Drexel, at VCU, and at George Mason. Those three teams were predicted as #1 through #3 in preseason.
- VCU (6-3): The Rams have won three in a row and five of six after beating Richmond. Impressively, VCU has held its foes to 56.3 points per game over the six-game span, and the cumulative effects of havoc defense are showing. Second half runs: 20-4 on Richmond; 13-4 on George Washington; 26-6 on South Florida; and 19-1 on Western Kentucky.
- George Mason (7-3): The Patriots failed their only test against Virginia, but keep winning. Because of that, we look at the margins to see what they show. Senior Mike Morrison had season-highs of 17 points and 11 rebounds in a win over Radford. That’s important because it takes block pressure off Ryan Pearson. Morrison is averaging 13.3 points and 7.3 rebounds over their last three games while shooting 65.4% (17-26) from the field. Point guard is an interesting conundrum for Paul Hewitt, and possibly an embarrassment of riches. Sophomore Bryon Allen has 15 assists and just four turnovers in the past 138 minutes over four games, Corey Edwards is a pure point guard and a young leader, and Hewitt gets Andre Cornelius back from suspension this week. The Patriots get second based on those margins.
- Georgia State (7-3): Here’s what you need to know—the last time a team came within 22 points of the Panthers, you hadn’t yet put your Thanksgiving turkey in the oven. Georgia State is also getting it done on the defensive end. Name a defensive category tracked by Ken Pomeroy, and the Panthers are top 100. Life gets tougher after the New Year, but the seeds have been sown. CAA fans will be paying attention to this team.
- James Madison (4-3): Nobody’s talking about the past seven games in Harrisonburg. Why? Because Devon Moore is eligible, and his mom is driving in from Ohio to see his season’s debut. The Dukes have proven they can score and shown they can play defense, but Moore changes all of that. He is their best player, best defender, and a leader. The Dukes get the Citadel on Monday, a nice tuneup and re-introduction.
- Drexel (4-4): Someone is going to turn Bruiser Flint’s halftime speech last night into an inspirational poster. The Dragons trailed Niagara 37-31 at the half, and after Niagara opened the second half with a basket, Drexel went on a 26-1 run. Chris Fouch hit four threes and scored 14 points in the outburst. Flint also got another stellar floor game from Frantz Massenat but has to wonder about the continued struggles of big man Dartaye Ruffin.
- Delaware (4-4): Folks were all atwitter when Monte Ross benched star guard Devon Saddler for the final 14 minutes of Delaware’s loss to Penn. Ross correctly said its better for Saddler to sulk but learn a lesson now rather than January. He played his star for 36 minutes in a win over Delaware State. Jamelle Hagins has got to be the best player you’ve never heard of. Hagins averaged 15.5/15.0 last week, including career-highs of 21 points and 19 boards (with five blocks for good measure) in the Delaware State win. Hagins has posted five straight double-doubles and leads the CAA with 11.5 rebounds per game. He is averaging 15.6 points and 13.6 boards over the past five contests. He is fifth in the country in rebounding. Stop that.
- Old Dominion (5-4): The rollercoaster ride continues in Norfolk. ODU made just 17-57 FGs (29.8%) and dropped its roadie at Fairfield, 59-51. Kent Bazemore followed up a gem at Northeastern (21 points, seven rebounds) by posting a six-point, zero-assist, five-turnover dud. The issue is a lack of a playmaker on offense, combined with the lack of a go-to inside presence. ODU makes hay by bludgeoning opponents, masking shooting deficiencies by getting tow and three shots on every possession. That isn’t happening this year; hence the struggles. Of note: Richard Ross and Donte Hill make their debuts this week.
- Northeastern (3-4): The Huskies continue to rebound well and grow as a team, but desperately need to take better care of the basketball. It was another loosey-goosey week handling the tater—23 turnovers sunk them against Bradley. Jon Lee continues to play well, posting his first career double-double at Bradley with 13 points and 11 assists. Lee has scored double digits in 11 straight games, which is the longest active streak in the CAA. Lee is also among the CAA’s top 10 in scoring (14.6 ppg/9th), assists (4.3 apg/2nd) and steals (2.6 spg/2nd). But all that rings hollow with the plethora of turnovers in the halfcourt. Bill Coen debuted a full court press in a loss to Old Dominion—a sign that the conservative coach believes he has horses.
- UNCW (2-5): Yes, it’s early and I’m not generally a fan of RPI, but it’s worth noting that the 2-5 Seahawks carry the CAAs second-best RPI. Buzz Peterson has his troops taking better care of the basketball—remember they have seven freshmen playing on this team, so every game is going to get a little better. Keith Rendleman poured in a career-high 29 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in UNCW’s 77-68 victory at Liberty last Tuesday. The junior forward, who was 12-of-19 from the floor, also had three steals and two blocks. It was Rendleman’s second straight double-double and third of the season. There’s leadership, and there’s leadership plus production.
- Hofstra (3-7): Mo Cassara is very happy to give his struggling Dutchmen a few days off. Four straight losses and an injured point guard (Steven Mejia) and a dose of an enigmatic big man (Bryant Crowder) can do that to you. But the Pride is still defending. In three of their four losses, they’ve held opponents to less than 0.980 points per possession. Wagner shot 34%, but Hofstra was unable to capitalize, scoring 43 points in a 70-possession game. The important takeaway from that is that defense is a matter of effort. Cassara’s kids are still playing hard and not allowing this lull affect their overall play.
- William & Mary (1-8): The Tribe didn’t play last week, and like Hofstra that can only be a good thing. Quinn McDowell is averaging a team-high 10.4 points per game, but is shooting only 32.9% from the floor and 31.1% from three-point range. Tim Rusthoven, who missed W&M’s first six games due to injury, is averaging 9.7 points and a team-high 7.0 rebounds through three contests.
- Towson (0-9): The Tigers missed an opportunity to break their 26-game losing streak. An 8-25 performance from the free throw line, including 3-15 in the second half, doomed them in the loss to UMBC. They get another chance against Coppin State tonight.
- Bradley at Drexel (Saturday): Yes, I’m mixing metaphors, but this is the game where you get all your chess pieces in place, and where truly good teams run away to big victories. Drexel has Chris Fouch continuing to get healthy, and should have Derrick Thomas back from an illness. This may be the first game Bruiser Flint has his full squad on the court. That means the team has to relax and play its game—big men and guards alike.
- William & Mary at Missouri (Sunday): This one isn’t about win or lose. The Tribe needs to show well, to play well. Quite frankly, few teams are playing as well as Missouri or as poorly as William & Mary. They get the Tigers in a perfect spot—just after exams. Tony Shaver’s team can gain a lot from the neck up by competing in this game.
- Old Dominion at Richmond (Tuesday): Starting slow is not news in Norfolk, and the Monarchs have changed seasons with a big December win that began an extended run of quality play. This is their opportunity. It’s the second game for transfer Donte Hill and freshman Richard Ross, which is added comfort for a team looking for playmakers. Plus, after their loss at the hands of VCU, Richmond will be looking for its pound of CAA flesh.
Spotlight On… Havoc
By its very name and nature, Shaka Smart’s brand of attacking basketball would seem to signify fast games played in the 80s and 90s. But in reality it’s a style designed to create offensive possessions for his team by putting the opposition in uncomfortable positions. The goal: Force them to make plays they aren’t accustomed to making in unfamiliar spots on the floor. Guards are forced to run and make quick decisions with defenders in unpredictable places. Often big men are asked to help, which plays into Smart’s hands. Get that big to try to make a pass off the dribble, Smart reasons, and there is a greater likelihood of a bad pass destined for a cheerleader. And that’s a result that finishes a close second to a steal and run out. It isn’t fast, but it’s very effective. What’s more, VCU is playing a ferocious halfcourt defense this year that their Final Four team never mustered. So an opponent is left with a difficult choice: Go too fast and risk a turnover, or grind for 30 seconds and wear down by the second half. Smart’s okay either way. Both have worked for him.