CIO… the Colonial Athletic AssociationPosted by Brian Goodman on November 28th, 2012
- Chris Ouch!: Drexel learned that top scorer Chris Fouch will miss the rest of this season with a broken right ankle. It’s a tough blow for the Dragons and their senior, who also missed all what would have been his freshman season with a knee injury, before winning rookie of the year as a sophomore. Fouch, a 6’0″ sixth man and shooting specialist, led the Dragons in scoring two seasons ago and was leading them through three games this year with a 16.7 PPG average. That puts more of a burden on guards Frantz Massenat and Damion Lee, a pair of CAA first team preseason picks.
- Everybody’s Got A Loss: Any unrealistic dreams of a perfect season by a CAA team were dashed this week when upstart William & Mary followed its 3-0 start with a pair of losses. Surely we didn’t expect to see any team go deep into the season without a tarnish, especially given the teams W&M beat to become undefeated. The Tribe had a shot to upset Wake Forest – maybe the worst team in the ACC – after doing so two seasons ago, but dropped that game after snapping their unbeaten streak against Miami (OH).
- Bright Lights Unkind To Hens: When Delaware beat Virginia in an NIT Tip-Off game, it set up a trip to Madison Square Garden for the Blue Hens. Playing on ESPN for the world to see, Delaware couldn’t muster another upset. It lost 66-63 against Kansas State, and then was trounced 85-59 in the third-place game by Pittsburgh. Devon Saddler, at least, looked like a superstar in NYC, scoring 60 points in the two games combined.
POY Stock Watch
It’s too early to crown a Player of the Year in the CAA, but there’s no harm in using the first handful of games for each team to set a baseline for the race. These five have earned front-runner status with their early play.
- Joel Smith – The Northeastern guard wasn’t named to the league’s preseason first or second team, but he’s stepped up in the absence of a teammate that was – guard Jonathan Lee, who’s out with an injury. Smith is second in the conference in scoring (17.8 PPG) and leads his team in assists and steals.
- Devon Saddler – Delaware’s power guard leads the league in scoring (22.2PPG), even if others surpass him in efficiency. If Saddler can display the all-around game to match his bucket-making prowess, the comparisons to former Hofstra guard Charles Jenkins – a two-time CAA POY who’s now in the NBA – will materialize.
- Marcus Thornton – It’s a point guard’s league, and Thornton might be the most responsible primary ballhandler, even if he’s just a sophomore. He’s shooting 54.2 percent from the field and is as consistent as they come.
- Jerelle Benimon – Towson coach Pat Skerry promised in the preseason that Benimon would be a “beast,” and the Georgetown transfer has delivered. Round up his rebounds and he’s averaging a double-double, adding a measure of toughness that Towson desperately needed.
- Keith Rendleman – That UNCW is .500 after six games should earn Rendleman a trophy itself. As mentioned before, he’s the only consistent player on his team, but he brings it every night and has made a lacking roster competitive.
- George Mason (4-2) – Mason, which led the league in scoring the past two seasons, is having trouble finding the inside of the hoop this year. It’s been defense (a CAA-low 57 points per game allowed) that’s carried the Patriots to the league’s best record and RPI (53) so far. Maybe no game is a better representative than the last one, a 48-45 home win over Boston University during which Mason shot just 36 percent from the field and 13 percent from 3-point range, but held the Terriers to a 28-percent overall clip. For the year, the Patriots are holding opponents to a league-best 38.5 percent from the field. Led by junior guard Sherrod Wright and his 15 points per game, the Pats are hitting enough threes to get by on the offensive end. If George Mason can get humming on offense – and that probably means a greater emphasis on the interior play of Johnny Williams and Erick Copes – the Pats will be the league’s favorite. Point guard Bryon Allen has 20 assists compared to eight turnovers, an acceptable rate for a player who’s also taking smart shots.
- Drexel (2-4) – The Dragons are banged up and struggling, and don’t resemble the team everyone penciled in as CAA champions prior to the season. They lost ace sixth man Chris Fouch for the season to a broken ankle, and it seems he’d be difficult to replace. But freshman guard Tavon Allen, a 6’7” wing, might be the answer. He’s averaged 12.5 points per game and connected on seven-of-12 three-pointers, after sitting out Drexel’s first two contests. Drexel has only scored more than 65 points once, but part of the reason is that the Dragons are playing at a grinding pace. They churn out fewer than 63 possessions per game, which is second slowest in the CAA (and actually lead the league in points per possession, with 1.02). Still, this team was built on defense, and while the Dragons have been OK on that side of the court, they need to be fantastic, like in recent past. If Drexel is for real, it will get on a roll here, with games against Rider, Tennessee State, Fairfield and Princeton – the final three being on the road – before tough home matchups against Davidson and St. Joseph’s.
- Northeastern (4-2) – The best win in the CAA thus far – at least in terms of RPI – belongs to Northeastern. The Huskies knocked off previously undefeated Belmont (#29 in RPI) in the Great Alaskan Shootout. The Huskies weathered an incredible shooting display by Ian Clark (9-11 3FG) and got one of their own from Joel Smith, who scored 26 points in the tight victory. Smith, in the absence of fellow veteran guard Jonathan Lee, has been superb for Northeastern, scoring nearly 18 points per game and dishing out 3.7 assists per contest while shooting 45 percent from deep. As a team, NU shoots 41.1 percent from deep – the best mark in the Colonial. A sign of great ball movement: 67 percent of the Huskies’ baskets are assisted, which ranks 13th nationally. The slow-paced team must improve a bit defensively and on the glass to be elite, but its shown great signs without its best all-around player.
- Delaware (2-4) – Coach Monte Ross compared guard Devon Saddler’s performances at Madison Square Garden to those of Kemba Walker at the Big East Tournament two years ago. The main difference? Walker and UConn won, while Saddler’s Blue Hens lost despite his scoring heroics. Saddler scored 60 combined points in losses to Kansas State and Pittsburgh as part of the preseason NIT in MSG. He then scored 25 in a loss to Temple, while teammate Jamelle Haginspoured in a career-high 29. Saddler leads the league with 22.2 points per game, yet UDel has lost twice as often as it’s won. The Hens would be better off to find some balance. Sophomore sharpshooter Kyle Anderson has taken just more than five shots per game, despite the fact that he was a complimentary scorer as a freshman. Hagins, meanwhile, the most statistically efficient player in the league, hadn’t attempted more than 10 shots in a game until the most recent loss against Temple – its 18th straight to the Owls. We expected Delaware’s players to make leaps and therefore vault the Hens into a position of power within the CAA, but the same issues from last year’s solid-but-unremarkable campaign are propping up.
- Georgia State (3-2) – After an 0-2 start, Ron Hunters team has gotten on a roll, winning three straight at home as part of the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament. What are the Panthers doing well? Creating havoc on defense. They lead the league with 5.6 blocks per game (3.2 by senior center James Vincent) and also lead with 8.8 steals a night (2.2 each by R.J. Hunter and Devonta White). White and Hunter have also been the team’s go-to scorers, while junior Virginia Tech transfer Manny Atkins poured in a career-best 26 points in a two-point win over South Alabama. It was the second 20-point game of the season for Atkins, who either has it or he doesn’t. This week will be telling for GSU, which plays 4-1 East Carolina and 5-0 Louisiana Tech.
- Hofstra (3-4) – Hofstra has been a bit schizophrenic this season, which is to be expected with so many new players. Three of the team’s top four scorers weren’t active for the Pride last year, so there’s a bit of familiarity that still needs to be worked out. The Pride is moving at a fast pace (the fastest in the CAA), but is shooting the ball poorly. It’s defense, meanwhile, has been quite holey, allowing opponents to make 57.4 percent of their two-point field goals. Hofstra is fast and physical though, and look no further than Rookie of the Year front-runner Jimmy Hall. The freshman forward from Brooklyn is averaging 9.4 rebounds per game, and has grabbed at least eight in six of seven games. Penn State transfer Taran Buie leads the team with 14.4 points per game, but is doing it the hard way. He’s made just 11-of-31 shots from inside the arc, and 9-of-19 behind it.
- William & Mary (3-2) –The Tribe finally ran into some reasonable competition this week and it fell back down to earth. After winning its first three games – all against teams with RPIs of 272 or worse – W&M lost by double digits at home against Miami of Ohio and then at Wake Forest – which is far from an ACC heavyweight. The Tribe failed to reach 60 points in either game, falling victim to its own feast-or-famine 3-point shooting. Sophomore guard Marcus Thornton is still putting up CAA first team type numbers (17.6 PPG on 54.2 percent shooting, 2.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists), but he’s got to make his team a contender to receive the proper recognition.
- Old Dominion (1-5) – Blaine Taylor was encouraged by his team’s 79-72 loss at Murray State. Encouraged by a loss to an Ohio Valley Conference team (albeit a really, really good one)? The mighty have fallen. Also last week, the Monarchs suffered their first loss to VMI since 1978. Perennially a CAA power, ODU has the league’s worst RPI (331), and isn’t far from the bottom of the nation. The Monarchs are shooting a league-worst 24.5 percent from 3, and the problem is that they’ve been reliant on the long-ball – attempting more than 16 per game. Old Dominion is still one of the best rebounding teams in the league, and there will be plenty of rebounds available if it doesn’t sure up its shooting.
- James Madison (1-4) – In five games – 205 total minutes – James Madison had led for just 9 minutes, 26 seconds. The Dukes were fortunate to sneak out a victory against Youngstown State in which they lead for just 45 ticks of the clock. Otherwise, it’s been all bad for the Dukes, who have sunk into deep halftime deficits every game. JMU is allowing opponents to shoot 52.1 percent from the field. That’s the worst mark in the league, and right down there nationally. Offensively, little has come easy for JMU, which has demonstrate poor execution and flow. Senior forward Rayshawn Goins leads the team with 16.8 points and 8.6 rebounds per game, but after him, everyone else is a wild card. Senior A.J. Davis, a preseason CAA second team pick who averaged a team-best 15.6 points per game, has already been dispatched to Matt Brady’s doghouse, because, the coach said, Davis failed to get into defensive sets and did nothing to show he wanted more burn after being pulled. Davis is averaging just seven points per game this year and played a combined 23 minutes in the last two contests – both lopsided losses.
- Towson (3-2) – Don’t check for typos, that is indeed Towson at the top of the CAA’s scoring list headed into this week. The Tigers, who managed a league-worst (by far) 52.2 points per game last season have averaged 70 through their first five games. Yes, they’ve also tripled their 2011-12 win total. Towson, which shot a league-worst 40 percent from the floor last year, is shooting nearly 47 percent from the field so far. That high number is thanks to a pair of former Big East post presences – 6’8″, 245-pound junior Jerelle Benimon (a Georgetown transfer) and 6’9″, 260-pound senior Bilal Dixon (a Providence transfer). Both are hooting better than 52 percent from the field, and they combine for 17.6 rebounds per game. The Tigers rebound 62.2 percent of all available misses – the top mark in the league and top 15 nationally.
- UNC-Wilmington (3-3) – During the Seahawks’ 61-60 win against Hampton on Sunday, UNCW beat writer Brian Mull tweeted, “I lead the nation in 5-plus minute scoring droughts witnessed.” That pretty much sums up UNCW, which can look ugly even in victory. At 56.7 possessions per game, UNCW is the slowest-paced team in the nation. Grinding it out may just be Buzz Peterson’s best way to get this team to double-digit victories. The win over Hampton was a relative scoring carnival compared to the 49-37 victory over Wofford the previous day. The Dub is averaging a league-worst 53.7 points per game and is shooting a CAA-low 36.7 percent from the field. Senior forward Keith Rendleman continues to be a force, averaging 16.3 points and 9.7 rebounds, but he has zero help. The next leading scorer is point guard Tanner Milson, who’s averaging 7.7 points and just two assists.
- George Washington at James Madison (7 PM, Wednesday, NBCSports) – Neither team has performed exceptionally well this season, so why watch this game? First of all, because it’s on television. The match-up is part of the CAA’s new television agreement with NBCSports. If that’s not enough of a carrot, how about this: The teams met last year in D.C., and the game was wildly entertaining. JMU held a 22-point second-half lead, lost all but four of it, and barely clung to victory. Many of the key parts are back for this rematch.
- Delaware at Duke (2 PM, Saturday, televised on ACC Regional) – Duke’s already gotten the better of one CAA team (Georgia State on opening night) and another old friend (VCU at the Battle 4 Atlantis). Can the Blue Hens take down the Blue Devils? Unlikely, but it’s always fun when a Colonial team gets a crack at the nation’s basketball villains.
- SMU at Hofstra (4 PM, Saturday) – What happens when one of the nation’s youngest coaches tries to match wits with 70-year-old Larry Brown? We’ll see on Saturday, when the Pride try to knock off a future Big East team in SMU. Both teams can score the rock, and this one could be entertaining.
- Old Dominion at William & Mary (7 PM, Saturday) – The first intra-conference game of the year for the CAA will be this eastern Virginia rivalry. Old Dominion has arguably been the biggest disappointment in the league so far, while W&M was the Colonial’s early surprise. The Monarchs, though, have won the last nine meetings between the teams.
- Maryland vs. George Mason (2:30 PM, Sunday, televised on MASN) – This game, as part of the BB&T Classic in Washington, will be a great measuring stick for George Mason’s defense. Can the Patriots hold down Terps’ star center Alex Len? It’ll be the only way they’ll have a chance to pull off this upset.