Checking In On… the CAAPosted by Brian Goodman on January 18th, 2012
The Week That Was
- D-D-D-Defense: In the CAA we call them rock fights, but the rest of the country calls 58-54 victories “defense-oriented basketball.” No matter the nomenclature, defense is reigning supreme in the Association so far. Five teams have held its opposition to less than 60 points per game in conference play, led by Georgia State. The Panthers, despite Ron Hunter’s desire to run, run and run some more, are holding CAA opponents to 49.2 points per game and an astounding 0.73 points per possession. Teams are shooting 30.9% against Georgia State, made impressive when you consider 11 of the 12 teams are shooting greater than 38% for the season. You want a specific example? Fine. Over the course of two games, VCU hurled boulders. The Rams didn’t allow a field goal over a stretch of 16:57 last week — the last eight minutes of the James Madison game and the first nine minutes of the Delaware game. Want even more? See below.
- We’ve Got Spirit, Yes We Do: VCU is working on a string of 11 straight sellouts in its 7,600-seat Stu, already a CAA record. The Rams are one of six teams in the nation (Gonzaga, Duke, Michigan State, Kansas, and Kansas State) to have sold out every game this season. The fans of Georgia State have taken notice of the team’s success. The Panthers drew a tad shy of 3,000 for its win over UNCW—three times their average from last season. What’s more, a student named Nick Bray created Hunterville, a tent city modeled after Duke’s Krzyzewskiville. Old Dominion has played before eight crowds of better than 7,000 at the Ted this season, including a sellout crowd of 8,460 versus nationally ranked Missouri, and Drexel has had sellout crowds for its past two games against VCU and George Mason.
- Be. Aggressive. Be Aggressive: Freshmen are seeing significant playing time and making a huge difference around the CAA this season. All 12 CAA teams have at least one freshman on their team who is averaging better than 16 minutes per game and each CAA team has had a freshman start at least two games. Four freshmen are among the CAA’s top 30 in scoring: UNCW’s Adam Smith, Drexel’s Damion Lee, W&M’s Marcus Thornton and UD’s Kyle Anderson. Two are among the top 15 in assists: Towson’s Kris Walden and Delaware’s Khalid Lewis; and two are in the top 15 in steals: VCU’s Briante Weber, and NU’s Quincy Ford. UNCW’s Cedrick Williams is ranked 14th in the league in rebounding (5.9 RPG) and Ford is 17th (5.4 RPG).
- Maybe You Should Bring Your Cheerleaders On The Road: Visiting teams went 6-6 last week, continuing an early-season trend of success by the road warriors. Through the first 36 conference contests, home teams are only 19-17 (.528). Old Dominion moved to 3-0 on the road in CAA play after edging Delaware 68-66 in overtime last Wednesday, while Northeastern also improved to 3-0 on the road after winning 64-62 at Hofstra. George Mason also has three CAA road victories (3-1). Six of the league’s 12 teams are .500 or better on the road in CAA play.
- Drexel (4-2, 12-5): The Dragons have won 10 of its past 11 games and swept VCU, Mason, and UNCW in the past week — combined conference record 12-6 (or 12-3 against teams not named Drexel). Frantz Massenat has blossomed as a floor general and is averaging a team-high 12.5 points per game. He ranks third in the CAA in assists (3.7 APG) and first in three-point FG% (46.9%). However the biggest tell that Drexel is scary: Chris Fouch and Samme Givens, Bruiser Flint’s two most productive players, scored a combined 26 points in the wins over VCU and Mason. The Dragons are also leading the CAA in three-point field goal percentage, led by freshman Damion Lee. But the defense, Drexel’s calling card, is still there: Drexel has held its past six opponents to just 49.2 points per game. All have scored fewer than 60 points.
- George Mason (5-1, 13-5): Paul Hewitt must be resting a little easier, knowing his Patriots are one Damion Lee explosion from being undefeated in CAA play. Plus, like the little Swiss guy in that yodeling “Price Is Right” game, Mason has slowly climbed the mountain of the season — getting a little better each game. Mason tops the CAA in FG% (47.1%) and is 2nd in FG% defense (38.4%). Senior Mike Morrison scored in double figures for the fifth straight game at JMU and is averaging 12.0 points and 7.4 rebounds per game over that stretch. But it isn’t just the old fogies. Freshman Eric Copes had seven first half blocks against Drexel, and fellow frosh Vaughan Gray hit JMU for 19 points. Both look solid.
- VCU (4-2, 13-5): Shaka Smart got exactly what he wanted after two straight losses — two dominating victories. VCU held JMU to four points in the final 12 minutes of its game and then held Delaware scoreless for the first nine minutes just two days later. And while the Rams are known for steals, turnovers, and layups, it’s worth noting JMU shot just 35% and Delaware 31% last week. What’s more, VCU has outrebounded 10 of its past 12 opponents.
- Georgia State (5-1, 13-4): The latest sign that the Panthers are going nowhere? After a 57-42 pummeling of Towson, Hunter didn’t make his players available for interviews. He told them to bring their hardhats to practice on Monday. Hunter was angry—first time in 20 he had to coach effort, he said. “If you are going to be a championship team, you can’t coach effort.” Hunter is keeping his team from resting on the early-season accolades. He knows what’s coming in February.
- Old Dominion (5-1, 10-8): In a familiar march, ODU fell behind Hofstra 16-3 after six minutes. Blaine Taylor was unconcerned, since his team has fallen behind early in every single game since the first of the year—even Towson. But every time but one they’ve come back to win. It took just two minutes to run off nine straight points to reset the game. Still, Taylor knows the Monarchs have to break out of this pattern—the road is going to get tougher. However they aren’t as inept on offense as people think. Guess who is leading the CAA in three-point percentage? ODU at 35.7%.
- Northeastern (4-2, 8-8): We got all over the Huskies earlier in the year for their wanton ways with the basketball. Five straight games with 20 or more turnovers resulted in five straight losses. However, Bill Coen slowed his team down preferring precision over pressing. He realized young players can get a little over-excited at turnovers and get out of sorts and turn the ball back over. Since then, NU is averaging 11.7 turnovers per game and has won five of six. Tough road this week with Georgia State at home and Drexel on the road—but Coen is one of the best rock fighters out there.
- Delaware (3-3, 7-9): Monte Ross seems to have his team stuck. They keep beating the teams they are supposed to beat and losing to the teams they hope to beat to play among the elite in the CAA. Last week saw losses to VCU and Old Dominion (OT). Star guard Devon Saddler was held to 3-19 shooting against VCU and star big man Jamelle Hagins was limited to a big fat bagel on the scoreboard against ODU. The help is there: Josh Brinkley averaged 14.5 points and 11.0 rebounds last week. He recorded the first two double-doubles of his career vs. ODU (16/11) and VCU (13/11). What’s more, freshman Kyle Anderson is an old school gunner—no fear, and fourth in the CAA with 2.4 made threes per game.
- UNCW (3-3, 7-9): The Hawks were exposed on defense last week, losing to Drexel and Georgia State, and are now giving up a CAA worst 1.13 points per possession. What’s worse is that the high output offense was limited to less than 60 points in both contests. The pieces are there. Keith Rendleman is putting together the kind of season that gets you named player of the year. Rendleman averaged 23.0 points and 11.0 rebounds per last week, including his eighth double-double (23/13) at GSU. He’s scored double digits in 14 of his last 15 games and ranks second in the CAA in rebounding (10.4 RPG) and sixth in scoring (16.1 PPG). Freshman Adam Smith scored 14 points against Drexel and is the third leading freshman scorer in the nation.
- Hofstra (0-6, 6-12): There is no question Mo Cassara is not coaching an 0-6 team, but it’s just as clear that he’s leading the Frustrated Coaches standings. Five of the Dutchmen’s six losses have been by a combined 19 points, including a toughie at Delaware when Mike Moore, an 83% free throw shooter, missed a pair with 23 seconds to play. Moore scored a team-high 21 points at ODU and now has a league-best 13 games with 20 or more points this season. He’s been Hofstra’s top scorer in 15 of 18 games. Nathaniel Lester averaged 17.5 PPG last week and has reached double figures in 10 straight games. He’s averaging 17.3 points over his last six contests. Lester and Moore have combined for over 50% of Hofstra’s offense (622-of-1222 points) this season.
- James Madison (1-5, 8-9): Matt Brady is dealing with a short bench and a short team that forces him to have a long temper. The Dukes are very perimeter-oriented but not making shots. In most games tired legs cause late clangs, empty possessions, and scoring droughts that put them on the wrong end of 14-2 runs. JMU has lost five straight in the CAA and not topped 40 percent shooting from the field during its skid, hitting a combined 105-of-282 (37 percent).
- William & Mary (2-4, 4-14): The Tribe split a pair of roadies last week, beating Towson before losing to Northeastern. Quinn McDowell seems to have his legs back under him. McDowell scored a season-high 26 points at Towson and is averaging 15.9 points over the last seven games. Freshman Marcus Thornton has reached double digits 11 times and is second on the team in scoring with 11.3 points per game. However it’s weird that Thronton took just seven shots total last week.
- Towson (0-6, 0-18): Pat Skerry knows it’s only going to get more difficult for his team as the season progresses, but he remains steadfast in his approach and his message. This week, he treated everyone to college basketball being more than “I’m playing hard, coach.” Skerry is playing for this year, not next year.
- Drexel at Hofstra (Wednesday 1/18): This game is the very definition of a trap game. Hofstra is 0-6 in conference but four possessions from 3-3. Plus, the Pride’s Mike Moore is capable of dropping 30 points on anyone and breaks eventually even out. The Dragons have three straight big victories and are due a clunker. Going from their warm, DAC home to the Wilmington beach to Long Island is a dangerous mixture.
- Georgia State at Northeastern (Wednesday 1/18): This game may be a race to 40, and we’re only half-joking. The Northeastern way is to slow it down, rebound hard, take care of the basketball, and take your chances. And of course if you’ve read this far you know Georgia State has held CAA opponents to 49.2 points per game this year. Folks are surprised at Northeastern’s 4-2 conference record, but don’t be surprised if they walk out of Matthews Arena 5-2, tied with the Panthers.
- Northeastern at Drexel (Saturday 1/21): The importance of this game is specifically undetermined, but generally we know it’s critical for both teams. Both enter Wednesday 4-2, and depending upon those results the winner and loser of this Saturday matchup could be 6-2, or 4-4. Big difference, eh?
- Old Dominion at VCU (Saturday 1/21): Quite simply, it doesn’t get any better in the CAA than ODU/VCU. The bitter rivalry spans more than 30 years, two conferences and 84 games. VCU leads the series 43-41. The teams have split six CAA tournament games and knocked each other out of the past three CAA tournaments. The best part: the programs and teams bring out the best in each other—beautifully played basketball games due to a mutual respect, despite the ire.
Whether traditional stats or possession-based stats are your cup of tea, CAA squads are playing dominating defense. Three CAA teams — Georgia State (36.9%/9th), George Mason (38.4%/23rd) and Delaware (38.4%/24th) — are among the top 25 nationally in field goal percentage defense. Drexel is ninth nationally (27.2%) and UNCW is 25th (29.1%) in three-point field goal percentage defense. Four teams are in the top 46 defensive efficiency rankings — Georgia State (7th), Drexel (30th), VCU (40th), and Old Dominion (46th). In steals, VCU ranks eighth in the nation (9.7 SPG), Georgia State is ninth (9.6 SPG), and Old Dominion is 18th (9.1 SPG). VCU is also sixth in opposition turnover rate (25.4%).
That’s a pile of numbers that add up to one, simple English statement: You’d better show up ready.