CIO…the Colonial Athletic AssociationPosted by Brian Goodman on January 2nd, 2013
Conference POY Race
- Sherrod Wright, George Mason: If Mason is the top team in the CAA, then Wright is the league’s top player. He’s led the unbalanced Patriots in scoring in nine of the first 12 games, averaging 17.5 PPG a night. Wright has been super-efficient, too. He’s making 54.5 percent of his field goals, 45.5 percent of his threes, and his 61.9 percent effective field goal average ranks second in the league. The junior guard has scored 20-plus points in each of Mason’s last four games.
- Jerrelle Benimon, Towson: The Georgetown transfer is sixth in the league in scoring (16.2 PPG) and second in rebounding (11.6 RPG). Forget about the stats, though. Benimon’s toughness has transformed Towson into a competitor overnight. He’s a 6’8”, 245-pound pick-up truck that has hauled the Tigers to five wins already after a season in which they won just one game. Most impressive was his performance against Oregon State, in which Benimon played all 45 minutes of the overtime road win.
- Marcus Thornton, William & Mary: The Tribe’s point guard has made the sophomore leap, and is now an elite backcourt player in the CAA. While W&M’s schedule has been soft, Thornton has still led his team to wins. Until that stops, he’ll be among the front-runners for POY honors. The Upper Marlboro, Maryland, native is averaging 18.3 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game.
- Keith Rendleman, UNC-Wilmington: Five double-doubles through 12 games is par for the course for the senior forward who’s been doing this since his breakout sophomore year. Maybe the most gifted all-around forward in the league, Rendleman inspires hope on an otherwise inconsistent roster. His 16.2 points per game are a career best, and his 9.7 rebounds per contest aren’t far behind last year’s average of 10 RPG.
- Damion Lee, Drexel: Lee’s teammate, junior point guard Frantz Massenat, was the preseason pick for this award, but Lee has been the most impressive member of the Dragons’ backcourt. The sophomore is averaging 18.8 points per game, and just finished off a December in which he averaged 21.5 PPG. Lee is asked to do more this year, and his shooting percentages have dipped a bit, but that doesn’t diminish his value. The 6’6” Baltimore native is also averaging 5.4 rebounds per contest.
With the start of the conference play gearing up for (mostly) everyone this week, today’s power poll will discuss the best non-conference win for each team:
- George Mason: The Patriots beat Virginia to start the season, but that’s become commonplace for the CAA (which is 3-0 against UVA this year). More impressive was their 67-64 win over Richmond at the Richmond Coliseum on December 22. Mason has struggled a bit on the road this year, but that victory – capped by a Sherrod Wright buzzer-beating three-pointer – shows its ability to take care of business outside the Patriot Center.
- Drexel: This is a no-brainer for the Dragons, whose only other wins were against two Ivy League schools and Rice. Drexel finally notched a quality win on December 22 when it imposed its defensive will on Southern Conference favorite Davidson, and sophomore guard Damion Lee poured in 26 points en route to a 69-58 win. The Wildcats have a top-100 RPI, and have been impressive amidst a super-tough non-conference schedule. But Drexel, at home, was able to limit them.
- William & Mary: Owners of the weakest non-conference schedule in the CAA – and maybe even in the entire nation – W&M’s best scalp thus far might be over Old Dominion, in the lone league game played to this point. But that doesn’t qualify in this exercise, so, like choosing the best set of sunglasses from a dollar store, we’ll say a 60-55 win over Radford on December 8. The Highlanders have more wins (three) than any other opponent W&M defeated, and the game was in Radford.
- Delaware: Delaware’s 59-53 win at Virginia in the preseason NIT on November 13 was its best of the year. Unfortunately for the Blue Hens, it set up a more difficult schedule that struggled to keep up with. The Hens got a chance to play Kansas State and then Pittsburgh at Madison Square Garden, but lost both games, which might have been confidence-shakers once they started playing easier competition. Aside from Virginia, Delaware hasn’t defeated a team with an RPI better than 290.
- James Madison: At the time it didn’t look very impressive, but JMU’s home win over Winthrop on Dec. 2 remains its best in terms of opponent RPI (#145). Still, a better win was on December 22 against San Jose State in Las Vegas later that month. SJSU didn’t have its top scorer, but the Dukes showed grit in pulling out a 77-68 neutral-site, comeback victory without one of its key players down the stretch, senior forward Andrey Semenov. The Dukes used that momentum to defeat San Diego the following evening.
- Northeastern: Belmont had won its first four games, including one at Stanford, but the Bruins’ first loss came at the paws of Northeastern on November 23. Senior guard Joel Smith dropped 26 for the NU. It would be nice if the Huskies could have used that 74-71 victory – over a top-25 RPI team – to build momentum, but instead, they’ve gone 1-6 since the win in Alaska. Most of those losses have been close for NU.
- Towson: The Tigers’ win over Vermont on December 5 was their first over a winning team in several years. But their win over Oregon State this past weekend? It’s Towson’s first over a BCS-conference team since, if my research is correct, December 14, 1991 against Washington. (The Tigers beat #4 Louisville in 1995, but at that time, the Cardinals were still in the Metro Conference). Sure, Oregon State is a soft 9-3 this year, but Towson’s win, courtesy of a 20-point, 21-rebound effort by Jerrelle Benimon, is significant. The Tiger came back from a 19-point second-half deficit to force overtime, where Marcus Damas hit a game-winning shot in the final second. 67-66 Towson.
- UNC-Wilmington: Wofford, which beat Xavier last week, is the best win on the UNCW’s resume, even if it was a painfully ugly win. In their third straight game with fewer than 50 points, the Seahawks held Wofford to 29 percent shooting in a 49-37 final on November 24. Thankfully, UNCW hasn’t dipped below 58 points in the seven games since.
- Georgia State: The Panthers’ 59-57 Coaches vs. Cancer Classic win over Tennessee State on November 20 remains their only one over a top-200 team. It didn’t come easily. Rashaad Richardson needed to make a half-court buzzer-beater to put the Panthers in the win column. GSU has lost four straight after consecutive wins over dreadful Liberty and Southern Poly (a non-D-I school).
- Old Dominion: The Monarchs have only two wins. So shall we go with Morgan State or Virginia? Making another appearance on this hit list is Virginia, which is lucky to be in the ACC rather than the CAA. On Dec. 22 – a banner day for the Colonial – ODU got 23 points from Dimitri Batten to prevail 63-61 over Virginia at the Richmond Coliseum.
- Hofstra: Of its three wins, Hofstra’s 66-63 victory over South Dakota State, home of super-scoring guard Nate Wolters, is best. That game happened all the way back on November 16, and was the first of a three-game winning streak. Everything since has been turmoil for the Pride, which has lost a handful of players and eight straight games.
Here are the tastiest of first-week CAA games:
- James Madison at Old Dominion, 7 PM Wednesday: The Monarchs have won eight straight against the Dukes, but JMU is the hottest team in the CAA, while ODU is 2-11. The Dukes need this road win to show that they’re real.
- George Mason at William & Mary, 2 PM Saturday: The two winningest teams in non-conference play meet on the Tribe’s turf. But Kaplan Arena shouldn’t intimidate the Patriots; Mason hasn’t lost there since 1992.
- Towson at Drexel, 4 PM Saturday: Hyping this game would have seemed laughable last year, but Towson is now competitive and Drexel’s difficult to peg. The Dragons should win this battle, but it’s Benimon’s chance to face a big and physical front line.