NCAA Game Analysis: Third Round, Saturday

Posted by KDoyle on March 23rd, 2013

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#4 Michigan vs. #5 Virginia Commonwealth – South Region Third Round (at Auburn Hills, MI) – 12:15 PM ET on CBS

It's Time For Burke to Play Like the NPOY (AP Photo)

It’s Time For Burke to Play Like the NPOY (AP Photo)

The even-keeled and veteran John Beilein, an All-American point guard in Trey Burke, and the scoring prowess of Tim Hardaway Jr. vs. Shaka Smart’s NCAA Tournament charm and relentless havoc defense led by Darius Theus and Troy Daniels. Make no mistake about it, Michigan vs. Virginia Commonwealth has the potential to be an instant classic. When the brackets were released this past Sunday evening, many of the talking heads on ESPN and other networks fell in love with Virginia Commonwealth and picked the Rams to advance deep into the Tournament. Jay Bilas, in particular, referenced their havoc defense and how it is so difficult to prepare for in such limited time. Bilas is right, their defense is a bear for any team to cope with. Just look at what the Rams did to Akron, albeit a depleted Zips teams. Lest we forget that Michigan is coached by one of the best in the business and has a backcourt consisting of two future NBA players? Burke has a 3.3 assist to turnover ratio and the Wolverines, as a team, take impeccable care of the basketball ranking #1 in the country in turnover percentage. On the flipside, VCU is #1 in turnovers forced. Something has to give, right? Assuming Burke takes care of the ball, limits Michigan’s turnovers, and turns it into a halfcourt game the Wolverines have the advantage. The Rams are very susceptible in giving up points inside the arc and are a weak defensive rebounding team. Mitch McGary and Jordan Morgan will have opportunities to score inside once Michigan is able to settle into their offense. In many of the games where VCU has had success, they have largely controlled the game’s tempo and forced 20+ turnovers that led to easy transition points. It is foolish to imply that the Rams are a one trick pony, though. They have three deadly three point shooters in Troy Daniels, Rob Brandenberg, and Treveon Graham, along with Juvonte Reddic who will challenge the Michigan big men in the paint. Ultimately, the game comes down to Trey Burke handling VCU’s pressure, thus forcing the game to be played in the halfcourt. I’m not betting against an All-American point guard, nor a coach like John Beilein.

The RTC Certified Pick: Michigan

#3 Michigan State vs. #6 Memphis – Midwest Regional Third Round (at Auburn Hills, MI) – 2:45 PM ET on CBS

Memphis’ Thursday victory over Saint Mary’s may not have been the most dominating of wins, but it advanced the Tigers to the round of 32 all the same. Michigan State awaits Memphis there, and Sparty looked awfully solid in dispatching Valpo in their Tournament opener. Derrick Nix was dominant against the Crusaders, as the smaller Valpo front line could not match-up with the burly Spartan captain. The final damage was 23 points and 15 rebounds for Nix, and a +23 edge on the boards for Michigan State. First order of business for the Tigers will be doing what Valpo could not in matching that trademark Spartan physicality – on the glass or otherwise. We all know how athletic this Memphis team is (across the board), but a second round win over a WCC team offers no conclusive evidence as to the toughness of this group. Beating the Spartans would. The Memphis frontcourt was solid against the Gaels, but obviously will need to elevate their play even further on Saturday. DJ Stephens was at his springy, high-flying best Thursday though, blocking eight shots and providing multiple highlight-reel caliber dunks – a reminder for all of us to say a nightly prayer for a Final Four that does not include Memphis, if only so that we see Stephens in that weekend’s dunk contest. I digress however, so back to Thursday, where Stephens and co. got a big boost from Tarik Black, who scored 12 points, grabbed seven rebounds, and didn’t miss a shot in his best individual game since January. Memphis fans would certainly welcome a repeat performance on Saturday against the Spartans. For all their tough, physical banging, Michigan State does have the athletes to match up with Memphis up front, with Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne adding the explosive athleticism that the plodding Nix lacks. The matchup in the backcourt will be equally important (and athletic), as Gary Harris and Keith Appling square off with the Tigers’ Joe Jackson and Geron Johnson.

Getting any kind of NCAA Tournament win was big for Memphis. But getting a win over Tom Izzo and Michigan State, with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line? It would completely legitimize everything Josh Pastner has done since taking over four seasons ago. If the Tigers can force turnovers and get easy buckets like they did at times against Saint Mary’s, there’s a shot that it happens. I just can’t see it though, as I expect Michigan State to make this a half-court game that Memphis never truly settles into.

The RTC Certified Pick: Michigan State

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2012-13 RTC Conference Primers: Atlantic 10 Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 8th, 2012

Joe Dzuback of Villanova by the Numbers is the RTC correspondent for the A-10 Conference. You can follow him on Twitter at @vbtnblog

Top Storylines

  • The Best Basketball (Only) Conference in the NCAA? You Bet– With the departure of Temple (to the Big East) and Charlotte (to CUSA), A-10 fans knew the conference would not “make due” with a 12-team configuration. The question was which candidates would match best with the conference profile and mission and not in the chase for football money? The A-10 could afford to focus on candidates with high quality basketball programs, thereby offering regional rivalries to the Midwestern and Washington D.C. metro area members. Virginia Commonwealth and Butler were the logical choices as both have had recent Final Four appearances, are high quality programs, and boast two of the hottest young coaching names in Division I. Both schools accepted and the existing circumstances of member departures and arrivals means that the A-10, with 16 members and an 18-game conference slate, will have a superconference look and feel this season.

    Veteran St. Joseph’s Coach Phil Martelli Has Garnered Plenty Of Media Attention Over The Years. Now Thanks To A New TV Deal, The Entire Atlantic-10 is Going to Get a Dose Of Camera Time (AP)

  • The New TV Deal – The conference announced an eight-year partnership with ESPN, the CBS Sports Network and the NBC Sports Network, worth an estimated $40 million dollars ($5 million per year) to run from 2013-14 through 2021-22. The three media outlets will televise 64 regular season men’s games (CBS and NBC Sports Network will televise 25 apiece and the ESPN outlets will televise 14). These three outlets will divvy the responsibilities for the conference tournament with NBC televising the men’s (and women’s) quarterfinals, CBS televising the men’s (and women’s) semifinal games, and ESPN/ESPN2/ESPNU televising the men’s championship game. Though financial details were not disclosed, the conference’s 14 members are expected to collect about $400,000 apiece each season.
  • Brooklyn, Here We Come – A quiet affirmation that the move to lock up the Barclays Center in Brooklyn came with Hurricane Sandy. The superstorm swamped Atlantic City, New Jersey, and the Boardwalk Hall, previous site of the conference’s championship tournament. The Barclays Center has garnered positive reviews for its architecture, facilities and amenities. The brand-new facility will work out the kinks with a number of invitational tournaments (Barclays Center Classic, Coaches vs. Cancer, Legends Classic, Brooklyn Hoops Winter Festival and Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational) and be ready to host the conference tournament next March.

Reader’s Take I


Predicted Order of Finish

Signs that the A-10 is in for a wild ride this season are everywhere. CBS Sports’ five basketball experts (Jeff Goodman, Doug Gottlieb, Gary Parrish, Matt Norlander and Jeff Borzello) tabbed four different schools (Butler, Massachusetts, Saint Louis and Virginia Commonwealth) to take the regular season crown. The A-10 coaches named a fifth school – Saint Joseph’s – at the conference’s Media Day earlier this month. Note that nobody in that group is named Temple or Xavier – the two schools which have passed the regular season crown back-and-forth for the last five seasons.

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Rushed Reaction: #12 VCU 62, #5 Wichita State 59

Posted by rtmsf on March 15th, 2012

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Shaka Smart: Yep, Still Smart. Smart’s system may not always appear to be very organized, but it’s chaotic on purpose and his players execute it very well. The Rams took Wichita State out of its comfort zone for almost the entire night, and they’re instilled with the confidence needed to both take and make shots like the late threes that Troy Daniels and Bradford Burgess nailed when it appeared that the game was slipping away. Joe Ragland did his best down the stretch to bring the Shockers back, but in the end they frustrated a good-shooting Wichita squad into a miserable 37.5% shooting night (and only 5-17 from beyond the arc).
  2. Garrett Stutz Was Ineffective. He probably couldn’t have envisioned a worse final game for his career (4/6 on 2-11 FGs). Not only did he get into foul trouble early that clearly affected his game, but at the end of the night when he was back on the floor, a finger-roll attempt came off the rim on him and of course he ended up with the ball for a final shot from three that would have tied the game. In the press conference afterward, Stutz had clearly been crying in the locker room, as his eyes were red and he didn’t have much to say about his rough game.
  3. Wichita’s Last Play Was a Disaster. Gregg Marshall called a time out to draw up a play with his team down three points. VCU switched on everything and said later that their objective was to not let Wichita have a three-pointer. It worked exceptionally well, as the Shockers dribbled around and eventually had to bail out by giving it to Stutz at the top of the key with two seconds left and had to take a step back to shoot the three (he was 10-31 on the season). But this was no coincidence — Shaka’s guys knew the objective, and they executed it as well as could be asked.

Star of the Game. Darius Theus, VCU. There was no single player who stood out for the Rams or the Shockers tonight, but Theus’ play at the point guard position was instrumental in giving VCU a chance to win. He had a few turnovers (four), but for the most part he successfully handled the press that Wichita State threw at him and kept his head in the game so that he could make the game-winning shot with a seven-footer coming at him in the paint.

Quotable. “Last year we were able to blow teams out more because we could go on runs with our shooting… but defensively, we’re much tougher. We grind it out better. We get after it a little bit more.” – Shaka Smart, comparing last year’s team to this year’s.

What’s Next? The Shaka Train rolls on to the Round of 32, with VCU advancing to play the winner of #4 Indiana vs. #13 New Mexico State in the nightcap in Portland. You’d have to figure that based on style of play and the coaching abilities of Smart, the Rams will have an excellent shot to get back to the Sweet Sixteen.

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ATB: Madness Ensues During Four Classic Conference Tournament Finishes Monday Night

Posted by EJacoby on March 6th, 2012

Last Night’s Lede – Not a single power conference team played on Monday night and there were only 12 total games played, yet it ended up being one of the best nights of the entire season. Why’s that? Because it was the first full night of Championship Week, in which all games taking place from here on out will come during postseason tournaments. Monday saw four conference tournament finals take place – two at 7:00 PM ET, two at 9:00 PM ET – on ESPN or ESPN2, and each game came down to the final possession. The four championships were decided by 13 total points and included three overtime sessions. There was also important action taking place in other mid-major tournaments, so let’s jump right into it…

Your Watercooler MomentVCU Returns to the Tournament

Brad Burgess and VCU Shot Their Way Back to the Big Dance (Washington Examiner/L. Alvarez)

Last year’s unbelievable Cinderella story has guaranteed itself a place in the Big Dance once again this year. Shaka Smart’s VCU Rams were squarely on the bubble heading into Monday night’s CAA Tournament final, as was their opponent, Drexel. A hard-fought game in which VCU led by double-digits for much of the game wound up being close at the end and came down to the final possession when Drexel guard Frantz Massenat’s three for the tie hit the back iron. VCU earned itself an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament and there’s not a single team in the bracket that wants to face Shaka Smart’s team in the first game next week. The Rams got 16 points, five assists, four rebounds, and five steals from Darius Theus while their star Brad Burgess had just six points. Drexel, which had just eight assists compared to 18 turnovers, now must sweat it out on Selection Sunday with a very strong conference showing but some weak overall profile numbers such as the #226 strength of schedule that won’t be pleasing to the NCAA Tourney committee. Don’t be shocked, though, if Drexel ends up making it so that you’ll see both of these teams playing again next week.

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Set Your TiVo: 03.05.12

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 5th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Four conference tournament titles will be decided this evening. The most important game may be in the Colonial where the loser of the game needs to make a good impression for the NCAA Selection Committee. Rankings are subject to change with a new RTC Top 25 coming out today.

Colonial Athletic Association Championship: Drexel vs. VCU (at Richmond, VA) – 7:00 PM EST on ESPN (****)

Will Shaka Smart Earn Himself More Nets Tonight?

  • This is a huge game because the loser is going to be sweating it out for the next week. Drexel won the first and only meeting between these teams way back on January 8. The Dragons bring the #4 eFG% defense to the table along with one of the slowest tempos in Division I. That combination could really frustrate a VCU team that likes to play faster and score in transition. The Rams are the best team in the nation when it comes to defensive turnover percentage but creating turnovers against Bruiser Flint’s Dragons is going to be very difficult. It’s always easier to slow a team down than it is to speed one up and that’s exactly what Drexel has to do in order to win in Richmond tonight. Drexel point guard Frantz Massenat will have to play a complete game and set the tone for his team in front of what should be a quasi-road atmosphere.
  • The one problem an aggressive team like Shaka Smart’s group can have is foul trouble. Drexel is a solid free throw shooting team (76% in CAA play) so VCU needs to avoid fouling and putting the Dragons in the bonus early and often. VCU’s defensive free throw rate is not good and Drexel had a remarkable 89.7% free throw rate when these teams got together in Philly in early January. VCU simply can’t afford another effort like that if it hopes to win the CAA’s automatic NCAA bid. The Rams are not a particularly great shooting team but Bradford Burgess and Troy Daniels pose major perimeter threats. Burgess has last year’s experience to fall back on in a pressure situation and you have to believe that helps when faced with what should be a very close elimination game.
  • The point guards could decide this game. Massenat can distribute and shoot with the best of them in this conference while VCU’s Darius Theus must play the role of facilitator and not as the go-to scorer. Theus went 1-6 from the floor in the first meeting but did record six assists. A few less shots and a couple more assists could be the difference for VCU tonight. For Drexel, Samme Givens has to come up big on the boards. The 6’5” swingman is a terrific rebounder for his size and should look to take advantage of VCU’s weakness on its offensive glass. We think this is going to be a contest that comes down to the very end. With an NCAA bid on the line and no guarantees for the loser, it should be quite an atmosphere in Richmond on this night.

West Coast Conference Championship: #20 Gonzaga vs. #24 St. Mary’s (at Las Vegas, NV) – 9:00 PM EST on ESPN (****)

  • These teams will meet for the third time after splitting the regular season series, each winning at home. Gonzaga smashed BYU on Saturday night behind 30 points from Kevin Pangos and the Bulldogs will look to do more of the same against a St. Mary’s defense that is vulnerable to the three-ball. The Gaels allow opponents to shoot 37.5% from deep and that’s not something Randy Bennett wants to see when going up against a shooter as talented as Pangos. While the SMC defense is a concern, the Gaels shoot more threes than Gonzaga and can gain an edge because of it. When Clint Steindl and Matthew Dellavedova are knocking down triples, St. Mary’s is tough to beat. Gonzaga’s defense is pretty good on the perimeter but it will be tested significantly by the Gaels’ guards and forwards. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the CAA

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 25th, 2012

Michael Litos is the RTC correspondent for the CAA. You can also find his musings online at caahoops.com or on Twitter @caahoops.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Just Watch: The, uh, “controversial” RPI and terrible November are old news for the national media when it discusses the CAA’s chance at an at-large bid. We keep hearing more calls of “they look like an NCAA Tournament team,” or ye olde eye test. Drexel has won 16 straight and 22 of 23 and VCU is 13-1 in its last 14 games, losing only on a 30-foot buzzer beater at George Mason. And those Patriots are 16-3 in their last 19 games. ODU and Delaware are not in the running for an at-large, bid but both are closing fast. The Monarchs are 12-3 in their last 15 games and the Hens have won seven straight.
  • Bustin’ Out: The CAA went 7-5 in BracketBusters last weekend, including a perfect 3-0 mark in televised games. VCU defeated Northern Iowa 77-68 on Friday, while Drexel dominated Cleveland State 69-49 and Old Dominion won 73-67 at Missouri State on Saturday. CAA teams are now 19-10 in TV games over the last eight years, which is the best winning percentage (.655) of any participating conference in the history of the event. The top six teams in the CAA all won as George Mason held off Lamar, Delaware got past Hampton and Georgia State topped UT-San Antonio. Hofstra also beat in-state foe Siena.
  • Must See TV: The CAA has reached a five-year agreement with the NBC Sports Group that will provide the most extensive and comprehensive exposure of the conference in its history. NBC Sports Network will provide national television coverage for a minimum of 12 men’s basketball games each year, including the semifinals and finals of the CAA Men’s Basketball Championship. The Comcast SportsNet regional networks will regionally televise 39 additional men’s and women’s basketball games, including the quarterfinals of the CAA Men’s Basketball Championship. The agreements will begin with the 2012-13 season and run through 2016-17. The CAA is the first college conference to strike a deal with the NBC network, turning its back on ESPN.

Can Shaka Smart Lead VCU To A Tournament Bid? We May Have To Wait Until The Conference Tournament To Find Out.

Power Rankings

  1. Drexel (15-2, 24-5): The Dragons have won 16 in a row and is 22-1 in their last 23 games. Drexel’s winning streak is the second-longest in the nation currently and is the school’s longest ever in D-I. With eight rebounds on Wednesday, senior Samme Givens became only the sixth player in CAA history to amass 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in a career. With its win over JMU, combined with George Mason’s loss to Northeastern, Drexel locked up the regular season championship and automatic NIT bid that goes with it. However with such impressive credentials, the Dragons want more. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On.. the CAA

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 25th, 2012

Michael Litos is the RTC correspondent for the CAA. You can also find his musings online at caahoops.com or on Twitter @caahoops.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Workin’ Part Time At A Five And Dime: This week marked the annual five games in 10 days stretch that always challenges CAA squads. Because of Bracketbusters and the need to get 18 league games played in January and February, the CAA must play one game in December and one Monday during the year to get in all the games. The result is a stretch of Wednesday-Saturday-Monday-Wednesday-Saturday games that make CAA legs rubbery. The first three games went fairly according to schedule, but the back two games are likely to produce some surprises.
  • About That Home Court Advantage…: Home teams went 5-1 on Monday night, thwarting an early-season trend of success by visiting squads. The unusual home court success, which is unusual in itself, meant that through the first 54 conference contests, home teams are only 31-23 (.574). Old Dominion has a league-best 4-1 road record in CAA play, while George Mason and Northeastern are 3-1. Seven of the league’s 12 teams are .500 or better on the road in CAA play.
  • I Get Delirious Whenever You’re Near: The stretch of five games in ten days is beginning to separate teams in the standings, and the rest of this week is likely to further that trend. A six-team glut for one of the top four spots in the CAA Tournament will winnow to five as Northeastern and Delaware, both 5-4, match up tonight. And with only Drexel vs. Georgia State among the top six playing each other Wednesday and two games pitting top-six teams on Saturday, the divide is sure to grow.

The Latest Hero For Drexel Was Big Man Dartaye Ruffin

Power Rankings

  1. Drexel (7-2, 15-5): The Dragons have become a force in the Association. Drexel has seven straight wins with six different leading scorers. The latest hero is big man Dartaye Ruffin—his 18 points led Drexel past William & Mary. Might not be a big deal to the rest of the world, until you realize Drexel had lost five straight in Williamsburg. Bruiser Flint has the luxury of not needing top gunner Chris Fouch playing well.
  2. George Mason (8-1, 16-5): Paul Hewitt probably used the word sloppy a lot this week. After drilling Delaware, his Patriots slogged to a 12-point win over Towson and survived a homer against UNCW. Ryan Pearson now has eight double-doubles after identical 24/10 games against UD and UNCW. Bryon Allen led the way against the Seahawks with 17 points, a career high. The good news for Hewitt: he has multiple weapons, and focus is correctable. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the CAA

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 14th, 2011

Michael Litos is the RTC correspondent for the CAA. You can also find his musings online at caahoops.com or on Twitter @caahoops.

Reader’s Take

 

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.

Paul Hewitt And The Patriots Are Gathering Steam In The Colonial. (AP Photo/Andrew Shurtleff)

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Checking In On… the CAA

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 7th, 2011

Michael Litos is the RTC correspondent for the CAA. You can also find his musings online at caahoops.com or on Twitter @caahoops.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Changing of the Seasons: Logistics dictate that in order to get all 18 games in by March, the CAA has to play one conference game in December. Last Saturday was slated for five matchups, and UNCW plays at VCU on December 17. Road teams went 3-2, with George Mason winning 65-53 at Towson, James Madison a 62-60 victor at Hofstra, and Old Dominion gutting out a 69-59 win at Northeastern. Delaware held serve at home, beating rival Drexel, 71-60, and Georgia State cruised by William & Mary in Atlanta, 66-34. The full conference slate begins January 2.
  • Changing Of The Guards: Freshmen, especially guards, are seeing significant playing time 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 JMU and Northeastern are the only teams who haven’t had a freshman start at least one game. Four freshmen are among the CAA’s top 30 in scoring: UNCW’s Adam Smith, Drexel’s Damion Lee, William & Mary’s Marcus Thornton and Delaware’s Kyle Anderson. Three others–Towson’s Kris Walden, Mason’s Corey Edwards and Delaware’s Khalid Lewis – are among the top 15 in assists, while VCU’s Briante Weber and ODU’s Dimitri Batten are among the top 11 in steals.
  • Changing of the Discussion: CAA fans are used to seeing Old Dominion, VCU, and George Mason lead the “teams playing well in non-conference action” conversation. And while those three are certainly doing fine, James Madison and Georgia State are turning heads with high quality play too. The Dukes continue to play well offensively but have won three in a row behind a staunch defense, something Matt Brady has never had the luxury of coaching. Ron Hunter’s Panthers have won six straight contests and are giving up just 47.0 points per game and limiting opponents to 30.7% FG shooting during the run.  The 34 points allowed to William & Mary were the second-fewest allowed in school history.
  • Changing of the Spotlight: It’s been a year of change around the CAA as many returning players have stepped into new roles and several newcomers are making an impact. Of the top 20 scoring leaders in the conference, 13 of them weren’t even among the top 30 in the league in scoring a year ago. The seven who were on last year’s top 30 list are Hofstra’s Mike Moore, Mason’s Ryan Pearson, VCU’s Bradford Burgess, ODU’s Kent Bazemore, UNCW’s Keith Rendleman and Northeastern’s Jonathan Lee and Joel Smith.

Bradford Burgess Is Smoother Than Silk For The Rams, And VCU's Defense Is Getting It Done At The Other End. (AP)

Power Rankings

  1. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the CAA

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 30th, 2011

Michael Litos is the RTC correspondent for the CAA. You can also find his musings online at caahoops.com or on Twitter @caahoops.

Reader’s Take

The Week That Was

  • Whew: Order was restored last week, when CAA teams went 12-10 and looked like The Association we’ve come to know. The 12 wins included several notable performances. Northeastern rolled St. John’s in Queens 78-64, and it wasn’t that close. The Huskies led all but 37 seconds of the game. Hofstra used a 20-4 second half spree to down previously unbeaten Cleveland State, 63-53. The win is doubly-notable because leading scorer Mike Moore was held to five points. Both James Madison and George Mason won their final two games of early exempt tournaments, and Georgia State (3-0) and Delaware (2-0) had undefeated weeks. Finally, VCU gave 13th-ranked Alabama all it could handle on Sunday night before dropping a 72-64 decision. The Rams led most of the second half before the Tide stepped on the gas pedal late.
  • Who? AJ Davis was 5-50 from three in two seasons at Wyoming, but hit eight of nine threes in a win over Rider and went 3-5 against Penn. Davis has now made 16-27 (59.3%) from three in five games for JMU. Davis scored the first 14 points of the second half for the Dukes in its win over Penn. Interestingly, Davis has scored 87 points in the second half of games this season and 27 points in the first half. His accuracy seems to be catching on. JMU as a team is hitting threes third-best nationally (46.9%). Predictably, that makes head coach Matt Brady nervous.
  • Wow: Delaware’s Devon Saddler is leading the country in scoring (24.5 PPG), but the CAA has seen many amazing individual performances. In fact, it forced the conference pooh-bahs to select tri-players of the week. Saddler, who averaged 26.5 points , five rebounds, and four assists in a pair of Delaware wins, was joined in the honor by JMUs Davis (23.3  and 5.7 RPG, hit 16 of 22 from three-point range) and Joel Smith from Northeastern (29 points and 10 rebounds in the St. John’s win, including 7 of 12 from three-point range) in the honor.
  • What? Why?  Non-conference gives way, temporarily, to conference play this week. It’s weird to jam in conference games just before exams, but it’s necessary.  Because there’s eight weekends in January and February and one Saturday is betrothed to Bracketbusters, the CAA is forced to play one week of Saturday-Monday-Wednesday-Saturday action, as well as play one conference game in December. This is that weekend. Ten of the CAA’s 12 teams open conference play. UNCW and VCU will face each other on Dec. 17. The move was made to allow VCU to play George Washington in the BB&T Classic this Sunday.

It's Tough To Find Anyone In The Country Stroking The Three Better Than James Madison's A.J. Davis. (CAASports.com)

Power Rankings

  1. Drexel (2-2): The Dragons played just one game, but it was telling. Drexel thumped Winthrop and had the look of a top-tier CAA team. The Dragons grabbed a lead and didn’t rest—they played harder and better. The result was a coach’s dream—a 10-point lead became an 18-point lead, not a four-point lead. Guard Frantz Massenat scored a career-high 23 points and hit 6-8 threes while directing the attack, and freshman Damion Lee continued to play well, contributing nine points, eight rebounds, and seven assists. What’s more, Drexel is close to getting leading scorer and top gunner Chris Fouch back from injury.
  2. Northeastern (3-1): For lack of flowery language, the Huskies just plain look different. They are big, long, and attack gaps.  They beat teams up and beat up St. John’s in every facet of the game including grabbing 53.8% of their misses on offense. The Huskies don’t give opponents the easy energy baskets, forcing opponents to shoot 21.8% from three (ninth nationally), and blocking shots on 16.8% of defensive possessions, good for 12th nationally. Because he a basketball coach, Bill Coen wants them to focus on taking better taking care of the basketball and fouling less often.
  3. George Mason (4-2): It’s impossible to figure out what to make of the Patriots. First, they took the weekend off. Second, while they’ve improved markedly since their first game we’re not sure what we know—the schedule strength is an abysmal 322th. Still, Paul Hewitt has one of the conference’s best players playing well—Ryan Pearson has three double-doubles and scored a team-high 23 points against Brown and 24 points against Albany He is third in the CAA in scoring (21.3 PPG) and second in rebounds (9.0 RPG). It’s worth repeating that freshman Corey Edwards is beginning to look awfully comfy in the point guard spot, and incumbent Andre Cornelius—one of the conference’s best defenders—returns from a ten-game suspension in less than three weeks.
  4. James Madison (3-2): The Dukes are firepower personified. You have read about AJ Davis and you know how well Humpty Hitchens is playing, but Matt Brady is getting yeoman’s work from Andrey Semenov. What’s more, senior Julius Wells is making a difference in stats other than FGA and Alioune Diouf passed up a redshirt to join the rotation this weekend to help defensively. All of this and their best player, Devon Moore, is still two weeks from becoming eligible. Of note, Rayshawn Goins opted for surgery and will miss the season, taking a redshirt.
  5. VCU (3-3): The Rams have almost imperceptibly improved in every game they’ve played this season. One key has been the exuberant play of freshman Briante Weber, who plays with as much energy as anyone in the country. His defense energizes the team defense. To wit, Western Kentucky was held to one field goal and committed nine turnovers in the last 13 minutes against VCU. Shaka Smart is getting unspectacular but steady play from point guard Darius Theus, and Brad Burgess is beginning to grow into his superstar. The Rams were in control of their game against Alabama on Sunday for 34 minutes before letting it slip away. To a man they know they need 40 minutes of effort.
  6. Old Dominion (4-3): The story of Old Dominion’s topsy-turvy season can be summed up by its last two games. The Monarchs built a 12-point second half lead against Vermont but gave it up and lost in overtime. The cause? The Monarchs were beaten on the backboards (48-37). Old Dominion just does not get killed on the boards by teams named Vermont. Next game was a brutal rock fight victory over East Carolina. Star guard Kent Bazemore is clearly pressing, and it’s impacting everyone. Bazemore is 8-37 from the field in his past three games, and when you tack on point guard Marquel DeLancey’s 1-15 you can see ODU isn’t exactly overwhelming anybody. ODU players will have to guard against standing around waiting for Bazemore–who still clearly doesn’t have the same explosion due to an injured foot–to make a play. On the bright side, Nick Wright returned from suspension and gives Blaine Taylor a different look. Wright can play high post and trigger the offense, but he can score—Wright put a 24/10 double-double on Vermont. Plus, Dmitri Batten had a confidence-booster in the East Carolina win.
  7. Hofstra (3-4): The Dutchmen accomplished something nobody—including Vanderbilt—has done. They beat Cleveland State. The Pride got a lot of little things from a lot of players, and none were named Mike Moore. It’s significant because Hofstra has to prove to itself can beat quality competition without Moore pouring in 23 points. That’s exactly what they got. Bryant Crowder returned over the weekend from coach’s exile and gave the Pride more versatility in the post. Still, it seems like this team will rise and fall with senior Nat Lester. It seems Hofstra wins when he plays well, and struggles when he doesn’t.
  8. Delaware (2-2): The Hens boast the nation’s leading scorer in Devon Saddler, but honestly the team is looking better and better because Saddler has tempered his shooting ways and gotten more Hens involved in the offense. To wit: Saddler had scored 32 points against Lafayette on Saturday, but in a tie game with less than a minute to play penetrated the lane and kicked the ball to freshman Kyle Anderson, who promptly buried a back-breaking three. And Jamelle Hagins played his best game of the year, a 13/14/3 block masterpiece. There is a very tangible meshing feel to this team.
  9. Georgia State (4-3): Though the competition has been McNeese State, Samford, Liberty, and South Carolina State, the Panthers won all four games last week to even their record after the 0-3 disaster in Washington. Ron Hunter still is not playing as fast as he’d like–65.9 possessions per game is 248th nationally—but they are getting contributions that are complimentary. Jihad Ali scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half and went six-for-six from the floor, including four three-pointers in the Liberty win. That’s worth mention because if Hunter can get enough scoring from Ali and Devonta White, it frees superman Eric Buckner to make athletic plays without having to worry about carrying an offensive load. Buckner blocked a career-high seven shots against Liberty
  10. UNCW (0-4): Point guard Craig Ponder was hobbled all season by an ankle injury and finally gave up the ghost—he is undergoing season-ending surgery.  That forces Buzz Peterson to begin a revolving door approach to his point guard play. Tanner Milson, Freddie Jackson, and KK Simmons (two freshmen and a sophomore) will all take turns. We knew UNCW was young and Peterson would play the kiddies, but this stat bears out just how reliant they are on youth: freshmen have accounted for 145 of the Seahawks’ 242 points (59.9%) this season. Side note: UNCW was 0-3 from three in a loss to Davidson, marking the first time since 1996 it didn’t hit a trey
  11. William & Mary (1-6): It’s almost Bizarro World to consider Quinn McDowell—a first team All-CAA honoree and in the conversation for player of the year—took one field goal attempt in 33 minutes against Howard on Saturday. However, that sums up the slow start for the Tribe. Brandon Britt is playing better after his awful start, and freshman sensation Marcus Thornton is starting to figure out “good shots” in college. Most importantly for Tony Shaver is that Beasthoven made his first appearance of the year. Sophomore Tim Rusthoven hit went 4-5 from the floor in 21 minutes, scoring 13 points and grabbing six rebounds (four on offensive end). In the words of someone who was there: he was the best player on the floor. Shaver could not have dreamed of a worse start to the season, but the pieces are beginning to come together.
  12. Towson (0-5): The Tigers can say they played in front of the President, losing 66-46 in their home opener against Oregon State, coached by Barack Obama’s brother-in-law. However they are doing what Pat Skerry asks—continue to play hard and improve every night. Towson is actually a +4.8 rebound margin against the ninth-toughest schedule in the country. Sophomore Marcus Damas recorded a double-double against Oregon State with career-highs of 18 points and 10 rebounds. Skerry is near begging his team to cut down on turnovers, which continue to plague them.

Looking Ahead

  • Drexel at St. Joseph’s (Wednesday): The Dragons are 9-42 lifetime against the Hawks and have not won up at Hawk Hill since 1978. Drexel won this game last year and walks to the jump circle having never—ever—beaten St. Joseph’s in consecutive games. The Hawks will test them, as they’ve built a 4-2 record against a tough schedule. That said, Drexel may get Chris Fouch back and still have not played to their potential. This has all the makings of a rock fight.
  • Old Dominion at Northeastern (Saturday): The Huskies have a decidedly ODU look. They grabbed 21 offensive rebounds against St. John’s, while ODU was busy being outrebounded by Vermont. Matthews Arena is a tough place to play for CAA foes—it’s a hockey arena co-opted for basketball. Northeastrn has won two of the last three against ODU in the building. This is a match-up of minds: Bill Coen and Blaine Taylor are X/O, white board maniacs; and Northeastern is feeling good about itself while ODU is not, which probably puts ODU exactly where they want to be.
  • James Madison at Hofstra (Saturday): This game pits two of CAA teams that are outpacing expectations and this game will surely have tiebreaker ramifications come late February. Matt Brady has practically begged for defense. The old saying is that good teams win on the road, and they do so by playing defense. There you go.
  • Drexel at Delaware (Saturday): Drexel is a great defensive team, and I read somewhere that good teams win on the road by playing great defense. Delaware is preaching turn the corner this year, so what better opportunity to put on your turn signal than to beat the conference favorites at home? This is also the conference’s second most-hated rivalry. It’s worth noting that last season Delaware beat the CAA favorite Old Dominion in a December home game as well.

 Spotlight On…Northeastern

Bill Coen graduated four senior starters and the Huskies predictably lost their first eight conference games last season. However, they rallied late, winning six of their final ten games as sophomores Jon Lee, Joel Smith, and Kauri Black gained experience. Those three are bringing along a talented freshman class quickly and results are positive. NU is leading the CAA in rebounding—something they did poorly last year—and are aggressive with the basketball.

“Those guys have played here for three years,” says Coen. “They just have a different sense of confidence and a feel for one another that can only develop by playing together.”

The scary part for CAA opponents is that Ryan Pierson and Alwayne Bigby, two of Coen’s go-to players in the past two seasons, have yet to make a significant impact. What’s more, the Huskies’s biggest deficiencies are correctable: they turn the ball over and foul too much. Both are products of their aggressive play, and both can be mitigated by smart aggression.

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