CIO… the Colonial Athletic Association

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 30th, 2013

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Mark Selig is the RTC correspondent for the Colonial Athletic Association. You can also find more of his written work at jamesmadison.rivals.com or on Twitter @MarkRSelig.

Mid-Season Awards

The CAA schedule is roughly halfway over, so it’s time to see who’s leading the race to rack up hardware.

Coach of the Year

  1. Bill Coen, Northeastern
  2. Pat Skerry, Towson
  3. Matt Brady, JMU

All-Rookie Team:

  • R.J. Hunter, Georgia State (ROY)
  • Andre Nation, JMU
  • Jerome Hairston, Towson
  • Chris Dixon, UNC-Wilmingon
  • David Walker, Northeastern

All-CAA Defensive Team:

  • Jerrelle Benimon, Towson (DPOY)
  • Andre Nation, JMU
  • Jamelle Hagins, Delaware
  • Devon Moore, JMU
  • Keith Rendleman, UNCW

All-CAA First Team:

  • Jerrelle Benimon (POY)
  • Sherrod Wright, George Mason
  • Joel Smith, Northeastern
  • Damion Lee, Drexel
  • Keith Rendleman, UNCW

All-CAA Second Team:

  • Rayshawn Goins, JMU
  • R.J. Hunter, Georgia State
  • Marcus Thornton, William &  Mary
  • Devon Saddler, Delaware
  • Quincy Ford, Northeastern

All-CAA Third Team:

  • Tim Rusthoven, William & Mary
  • Jamelle Hagins, Delaware
  • Devon Moore, JMU
  • Devonta White, Georgia State
  • Frantz Massenat, Drexel

Power Rankings

After his team lost its third straight game last week, Delaware guard Devon Saddler said the Blue Hens needed to go to the movies to grow camaraderie and snap out of the slump. If the Hens did in fact share a movie night, it worked. They beat host Drexel last night on NBC Sports Network, despite nearly blowing a late 15-point lead. Every team in the CAA should pop some popcorn and watch a movie. In this week’s power rankings, I’ll suggest which current flicks each team should visit their nearby Regal to see.

  1. Northeastern (13-7 overall, 8-0 in the CAA): A skilled team of experts taking down targets on a regular basis, the Huskies might as well buy tickets for “Zero Dark Thirty.” Zero, after all, is Northeastern’s total of CAA losses through eight games. The Huskies are just the seventh Colonial team to begin a season 8-0. The last two to do so won the CAA title. Five of the eight wins have been by five or fewer points, but not the most recent one. NU smacked George Mason on Sunday, sweeping the series with a 20-point home win. The televised game was Northeastern’s announcement to the league that it’s the team to beat. Only one school earns a bye in the seven-team CAA tournament this year, and NU is already three games in the loss column ahead of next-best Mason/James Madison. Read the rest of this entry »
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CIO… the Colonial Athletic Association

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 23rd, 2013

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Mark Selig is the RTC correspondent for the Colonial Athletic Association. You can also find more of his written work at jamesmadison.rivals.com or on Twitter @MarkRSelig.

A Spotlight On Towson Athletic Director Mike Waddell

It’s Sunday morning and I send a direct message via Twitter to Towson athletic director Mike Waddell. It’s probably not the most conventional way to request a five-minute interview that will turn into a half-hour, but Waddell isn’t the most conventional A.D. Minutes later, Waddell messages back: “Call Now,” along with his cell phone number. And seconds later, another message: “6 minutes response time. Lol.” Think of Waddell as a first-responder – the fire-truck bowling down the street, sirens blaring, a crisis to confront. His emergency here is public relations. The most accessible athletic director in Division I athletics – unofficially, at least – lives to market the once-sorry program that he’s helping turn around in a blink. His impact since taking over Towson athletics in September 2010 is far-reaching, but let’s just focus on basketball, which, as he notes, is “the one sport that can be a revenue generator” in the Colonial Athletic Association.

Towson AD Mike Waddell Has Stuck With Pat Skerry, A Move That Has Paid Dividends With The Tigers Making Noise.

Towson AD Mike Waddell Has Stuck With Pat Skerry, A Move That Has Paid Dividends With The Tigers Making Noise.

After a 26-point win over James Madison on Saturday, Towson is 10-9 and 4-1 in the CAA. The school hasn’t had a winning record this late in the season since 1999-2000, which, technically, is last century. Bill Clinton was still in the Oval Office, not at the Golden Globes. The Tigers are not eligible for the CAA Tournament or any postseason play this season because of academic sanctions which go back to the previous regime. It’s a shame too, because Towson could be one of the best stories in college basketball. After a 1-31 season, the Tigers are one of the top teams in the CAA. Who knows if they’d win the league title, but CBS would practically explode if it had the chance to craft one of those feel-good segments you see every March. Inevitably, that segment would have to start with the vision of Waddell.

Following the 15th consecutive losing season for Towson hoops, Waddell said goodbye to coach Pat Kennedy. He looked at his own athletic program, at the coaches in charge of the sports that were succeeding, and aimed to fill the men’s basketball opening with a gritty, like-minded candidate. “Who are we going to bring in who can grind the way these people grind?” Waddell asked himself. The A.D. says the first person on his wish list was Pat Skerry, then an assistant from Jamie Dixon’s staff at Pittsburgh. Skerry grew up just outside of Boston and has the hearty accent to prove it. More importantly, he expected success and knew there wouldn’t be shortcuts to attain it. Waddell hired Skerry, who hopped into a kitchen lacking any utensils last season. Year One was an expected disaster, but Skerry has quickly brought in enough talent – including three Big East transfers – to now compete.

The roster isn’t home grown, but it looks scary good for the future. Barring the unforeseen, only fifth-leading scorer Bilal Dixon will be gone next year, which could be a new era for Towson basketball. In addition to boasting a deep roster featuring do-everything forward Jerrelle Benimon and flourishing guard Jerome Hairston, Towson will open a sparkling 5,200-seat arena, it will be eligible again for postseason competition, and it will have the CAA Tournament in its backyard for the first time. George Mason, Delaware and Drexel will again be among the favorites to win the CAA next year, but Towson will be more than just a dark horse pick to claim its first Colonial title, at First Mariner Bank Arena in Baltimore.

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CIO… the Colonial Athletic Association

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 15th, 2013

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Mark Selig is the RTC correspondent for the Colonial Athletic Association. You can also find more of his written work at jamesmadison.rivals.com or on Twitter @MarkRSelig.

Caught On Film

The CAA not only made a rare appearance on “SportsCenter,” but it reached the pinnacle of the iconic show’s Top Plays segment. Northeastern sophomore Quincy Ford’s double-clutch three-pointer to tie Drexel with 1.9 seconds remaining was selected the No. 1 play of Tuesday night. (Unfortunately it had no chance of unseating Jadaveon Clowney’s hit in the ongoing “Best of the Best” segment). Northeastern has become Buzzer Beater U. this season, but this is its first time penetrating the national sports scene with a late-game shot.

Check out the play:

And see it on SportsCenter:

 

Power Rankings

Typically, each week of the season brings a dose of clarity: The more available data, the more conclusions we can draw from trends and developments. But this year, in the Bizarro CAA, each week has seemingly brought new information to refute – rather than confirm – something we previously thought. As of Sunday, George Mason was the only Colonial squad ranked in the top 100 (or even the top 145) in terms of RPI, but that comes a day after a loss to UNC-Wilmington, which is treading in the 300s.

Here are this week’s power rankings (subject to change by the hour) along with an observation from this past week that might help to portend future developments. Or, given the way of the Bizarro CAA, may not.

  1. Delaware (8-8 overall, 3-0 in the CAA): Delaware has shot better than 50 percent in each of its two wins last week, and suddenly the Blue Hens look like an offensive juggernaut (by CAA standards), scoring more than a point per possession in each of their last five games. UDel’s 3-0 CAA start has come against teams with a combined 11-36 overall record, so it’s too early to anoint the Hens a head-and-shoulders favorite. But things are looking up in Newark. Devon Saddler is scoring a CAA-best 26.3 points per league game, and shooting a ridiculous 63.4 percent to get there. Fellow guard Jarvis Threatt’s 18.7-point average within CAA play ranks fourth. Read the rest of this entry »
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CIO… the Colonial Athletic Association

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 9th, 2013

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Mark Selig is the RTC correspondent for the Colonial Athletic Association. You can also find more of his written work at jamesmadison.rivals.com or on Twitter @MarkRSelig.

Looking Back

  • Earning Their Stripes: The Towson Tigers are quickly becoming the darlings of the CAA. A year after finishing 1-31 and earning national attention for their losing ways, the Tigers have started 2-0 in the CAA, winning both games on the road. Before last week, Towson hadn’t registered a CAA road win since February 2010. Almost overnight, second-year coach Pat Skerry has infused the program with enough talent and attitude to be a legitimate contender in the league… if only the Tigers were eligible. Due to academic issues from before Skerry arrived, Towson cannot compete for a CAA championship or any type of postseason play. Still, this season can go a long way in turning around a historically moribund program.
  • Drexel Misses Record: One of those Towson wins last week was over Drexel, which snapped the Dragons’ 17-game regular-season winning streak within CAA play. Drexel fell one game short of matching George Mason’s 18-game run from January 2011 to January 2012. Ironically, neither last year’s Drexel team (which is responsible for most of that streak) or the previous season’s George Mason team won the CAA tournament title.
  • We Won’t Protect This House!: With so much parity in the CAA, common wisdom said that any game would be a toss-up, and maybe the difference from night to night would be who was at home. Well, Week One of league play certainly didn’t shape up that way. Home teams went 2-7. Or, for a glass half-full look, road teams went 7-2. Those seven road wins included two by Towson and one by Northeastern over George Mason, which had won 18 straight in the Patriot Center.  Delaware, meanwhile, won at Old Dominion for the first time since 2003.
With The CAA Likely To Be A One-Bid League, Jamelle Hagins Has The Conference In His Crosshairs.

With The CAA Likely To Be A One-Bid League, Jamelle Hagins Has The Conference In His Crosshairs.

Reader’s Take

 

Power Rankings

  1. George Mason: It seems the Patriots are just looking to give away the top spot in the power poll, but no one is there to seize it. Mason lost its CAA opener at home to Northeastern, a team that had dropped six of its previous seven. The Patriots got back on track with a road victory over William & Mary. Sherrod Wright‘s streak of four straight games with 20-plus points snapped against Northeastern, when he tallied 19. He made up for it with a career-best 28 against W&M. Mason is likely still the favorite to win the CAA, but at this rate, the Patriots (or whoever wins the conference tournament) would probably be a No. 15 or 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The CAA has never sent a team that was slotted as a 16-seed, and none of its entrants have been worse than a 12-seed since 2004.
  2. Northeastern: A true statement victory, Northeastern won its CAA opener at George Mason by outscoring the Patriots 54-37 in the second half. After winning at UNCW, the Huskies made another statement by beating Drexel in Philly. In the win against Mason, one of the league’s top defensive teams, the Huskies shot 53 percent from the field, 56 percent from 3-point range and 86 percent from the free throw line. Those are winning numbers against pretty much anybody. NU had been 4-0 in games in which it averaged more than 1.1 points per possession, but instead got it done on the defensive end against Drexel, limiting the Dragons to 36 percent shooting and 0.85 points per possession. Read the rest of this entry »
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A Day in the Life of Mid-Major Basketball at Drexel University

Posted by CNguon on January 9th, 2013

Danny Connors is a RTC correspondent. He filed this report after spending last Friday with the Drexel University basketball team. It’s a fascinating read about the ins and outs of a 16-hour day during the regular season at a mid-major college basketball program.

I have been in the locker room before and after games, coached at the camps and traveled with the team, but never in my life have I spent a day as a fly on the wall in the Drexel University basketball offices. That changed Friday, as I shadowed the staff through a long day of preparation and practice.

I’ll take you through the day:

  • 5:06 AM - Drexel associate head coach Mike Connors — oh by the way he’s my Dad — woke me up. My eyelids wanted another couple minutes (or hours) of rest, but my brain prevailed. I got up and showered.
  • 5:30 AM – I scrambled to find my notebook and phone charger. I walked outside and my Dad already had the car running. The car lights brightened an otherwise dim, black, shivery morning.
  • 5:50 AM – The train came into sight at the Yardley Station. We walked up the steps to a relatively empty train. Very few suits were parked in the worn, cushioned seats at this hour, mostly blue-collar workers commuting to the city.
Coaches put in long hours every month of the year. RTC learned that first hand from Drexel head coach Mike Connors

Coaches put in long hours every month of the year. RTC learned that first hand from Drexel associate head coach Mike Connors

  • 6:56 AM - We arrived at 30th Street Station and started walking to Drexel. The sun was yet to peak it’s head over Philadelphia. “It’s dark when I leave the house, it’s dark when I get back,” Connors said, “I haven’t seen the sun since September.”
  • 7:06 AM – My Dad and I walked into the freshly renovated basketball office. The building was empty aside from a man sitting on a chair down the hallway. It was Drexel legend Calvin Hicks, the mentally handicapped 50-year-old man whose title is “assistant to the head coach” but wholeheartedly believes he’s a coach. Hicks’ humor, undying love, and enthusiasm for Drexel sports have made him a recognizable figure anywhere on campus. He travels with the men’s basketball team and sits courtside at all their games where he can be heard yelling through his Drexel megaphone. Hicks was putting on his shoes, getting ready for a workout on the elliptical machine. Still drowning in my tired trance, I couldn’t believe Hicks was already in the office. “When did you get here Cal?” I asked. “Been here since 5:15,” Hicks said.
  • 7:35 AM – Connors opened up his laptop connected to a nearby monitor to scout Drexel’s next opponent, Towson. After watching five of Towson’s previous games yesterday, he had a grasp on the Tigers’ style but wanted to watch a couple more games to put highlights in a scouting tape for the team. Connors said he had done every scouting report in the last 17 years for head coach Bruiser Flint, dating back to their time together at UMass. Previously, he had to get tapes from other coaches, but now the Drexel staff uses DragonFly, an online program “designed to secure, manage and deliver digital coaching and evaluation content anywhere in the world,” according to its website. Read the rest of this entry »
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CIO…the Colonial Athletic Association

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 2nd, 2013

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Mark Selig is the RTC correspondent for the Colonial Athletic Association. You can also find more of his written work at jamesmadison.rivals.com or on Twitter @MarkRSelig.

Conference POY Race

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Reader’s Take 



Power Rankings

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

    Damion Lee Is One Of The CAA's Top Scorers, But Drexel Struggled In Non-Conference Play.

    Damion Lee Is One Of The CAA’s Top Scorers, But Drexel Struggled In Non-Conference Play.

  3. Read the rest of this entry »
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The Other 26: The Mountain West Enters the Spotlight

Posted by IRenko on December 29th, 2012

I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

The action was light during this past holiday week, but the Mountain West’s finest took advantage of the lull to thrust themselves into the spotlight with two exciting contests, a pair of one-point games against top 10 teams decided by last-second blocks. In the final of the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii, San Diego State fell just short against third-ranked Arizona, losing 68-67 when Xavier Thames’ potential winning shot was blocked by Arizona’s Nick Johnson as time expired. Two days later, New Mexico visited eighth-ranked Cincinnati and emerged with a hard-fought 55-54 victory that was sealed by a last-second block from sophomore Alex Kirk. What was most impressive about these hard-fought contests is how both teams showed that even if you take away some of their key weapons, they are deep and versatile enough to compete.

(Getty Images)

Alex Kirk Led a Tough New Mexico Performance Against Cincinnati (Getty Images)

The Lobos distinguished themselves not just with a victory, but the way they earned it. They are accustomed to racking up points at the free throw line, but reached the charity stripe at only a 20 percent rate, far below their season average and good enough for just six points. But they gritted out the win by patiently moving the ball against Cincy’s high-pressure halfcourt defense to find open shooters and cutters. Junior point guard Kendall Williams turned in a performance befitting of a team leader, stepping up to hit several big three-pointers and finishing the game with a team-high 16 points. But it was Kirk who set the tone with his lunch bucket performance, fearlessly hurling himself into battle against Cincinnati’s imposing frontline and surviving with 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting, seven rebounds, and three blocks, including a game-clinching rejection of a Sean Kilpatrick three-point shot.

The Aztecs, too, can be proud of the fight they showed in Honolulu despite coming up short. Leading scorer Jamaal Franklin was held to just nine points, his lowest output of the season.  But Franklin found other ways to contribute, pulling down eight rebounds and dishing out six assists. And San Diego State found other players to carry the scoring load. Chase Tapley, who had already poured in 46 points in the first two games of the tournament, dropped 19 against Arizona to push his season scoring average to 15.8 PPG. And the Aztecs showed how strong their defense is, holding the Wildcats to 37.3 percent shooting.

This Saturday, UNLV will have a chance to intensify this week’s spotlight on the Mountain West when they travel to North Carolina. In a year when the conference seems as deep as any in the country, the only lingering doubt heading into this past week was whether they had the heavyweights to compete with the nation’s best teams. But as the final week of non-conference play comes to a close, the conference’s top teams are leaving little doubt that they can.

Top Ten Rankings

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CIO…the Colonial Athletic Association

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 26th, 2012

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Mark Selig is the RTC correspondent for the Colonial Athletic Association. You can also find more of his written work at jamesmadison.rivals.com or on Twitter @MarkRSelig.

Looking Back

  • Kings of the Coliseum? The CAA’s two teams were each underdogs in the inaugural Governor’s Holiday Hoops Classic played at Richmond Coliseum, but the Colonial ruled the event, going 2-0. George Mason came back from 12 points down to defeat Richmond 67-64 on a buzzer-beater by Sherrod Wright (when have we seen that before?). Old Dominion, meanwhile, was a two-touchdown underdog against Virginia, but beat the Cavaliers 63-61 to snap a nine-game losing streak. Virginia, an ACC school, dropped to 0-3 against the CAA this season (the Cavs are 9-0 against everybody else).
  • More Saturday Success: Also on Saturday, Drexel protected its home floor against defending Southern Conference champion Davidson, beating the Wildcats 69-58 behind 26 points from sophomore Damion Lee. After falling behind by 13, James Madison defeated San Jose State 77-68 after midnight out in Las Vegas. The CAA had its b­est day of the year Saturday, picking up four wins against teams with winning records.
  • Key Injuries: After missing the first nine games with a foot injury, guard Jonathan Lee – a preseason first team pick – returned for Northeastern. The senior picked up right where he left off, going for 19 points and five assists in his return, and then following up with a 15-point, 12-rebound performance. News wasn’t so bright at Hofstra: The Pride learned that Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, a transfer from UConn, won’t be able to suit up this season because of knee issues. The team is down to seven scholarship players.

George Mason\'s Sherrod Wright Lives For Big Moments. George Mason\’s Sherrod Wright Lives For Big Moments.

Reader\’s Take

 

Power Rankings

Here in the weekly power rankings, we\’re in the business of spreading Christmas cheer, but for everyone worthy of gifts under their tree, there are those who haven\’t been so deserving. So this week\’s list will include something naughty and something nice about each CAA team through the opening month and a half of the season:

  1. George Mason: Naughty: Vertrail Vaughns, a sweet-shooting southpaw who averaged 8.8 points per game as a sophomore, has been limited to just 3.7 in the scoring department this year. His minutes are down to 17 per game, and he\’s struggled from the floor, shooting just 28 percent from distance. He and freshman Patrick Holloway will continue to battle for minutes off the bench, and if Vaughns doesn\’t heat up, the youngster might grab the edge. Nice: Tabbed in the preseason as a possible breakout star, Sherrod Wright has more than delivered. The only Patriot averaging double-figures, Wright (16.9 PPG) is a picture of efficiency, shooting 56 percent from the field and 47.5 percent from three. The 6’4” junior\’s numbers are up across the board, and he clearly still has a nose for the clutch – drilling a game-winner to beat Richmond. Wright, who\’s scored 20-plus in his last three games, will be a Player of the Year candidate, as long as Mason remains atop the league. Read the rest of this entry »
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Drexel Begins to Right Ship With 69-58 Win Over Davidson

Posted by IRenko on December 23rd, 2012

I. Renko is an RTC correspondent and the author of the weekly column, The Other 26. He filed this report after Satuday night’s game between Davidson and Drexel.

After Drexel’s 69-58 win over Davidson on Saturday night, head coach Bruiser Flint minced no words when talking about his team’s disappointing play to that point. “I’ve been telling the team, honestly, that I’m actually surprised that [our losses] have been as close as they are. That’s how bad we’ve been. We’ve had our opportunities to actually win some of these games, and we’ve been horrible.” But with conference play on the near horizon, the CAA’s preseason favorite took a strong step in the right direction on Saturday night, improving its record to 4-7 before 1,879 fans at the Daskalaikis Athletic Center in Philadelphia.

Drexel Fans Are Hoping Frants Massenat and Damion Lee Can Lead a Turnaround (Josh Verlin / Philahoops)

Sophomore guard Damion Lee, the Dragons’ leading scorer, hadn’t practiced all week because of a foot injury, but came off the bench to pace the team with 26 points on 8-of-17 of shooting. Senior point Frantz Massenat added 14 points on 6-of-13 shooting. But it was Drexel’s renewed commitment to defensive toughness that earned their coach’s praise after the game. “We finally got back to guarding people,” Flint said. “That was the key right there.” Flint’s Drexel teams have been known for their tight, physical defense, but they’ve allowed more than a point per possession this year. The last time the Dragons gave up more than a point per possession over the course of a season was 2005. When asked if he saw some of the passion and toughness that had been missing from previous games, a relieved Flint declared: “Yeah, it’s about time. We haven’t been seeing that in some of the other games, we’ve been back on the heels. We didn’t play on our heels. We came up with some tough stops, dug some balls out, stuff like that.  We made some tough plays.”

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The Other 26: The New A-10 Asserts Itself

Posted by IRenko on December 21st, 2012

I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

When the A-10 added Butler and VCU to its ranks this past offseason, we knew that the two teams would strengthen the now 16-team conference. The two schools, each of which has had recent improbable Final Four runs, were expected to join the ranks of Xavier, Temple, St. Louis, and Dayton, and, along with a resurgent St. Joseph’s, UMass, and LaSalle, make the A-10 the deepest and, arguably, most exciting non-BCS conference in the country. But after the past week, it’s become clear that not only are these two programs going to add depth to the A-10, they may very well conquer it in their first year.

Rotnei Clarke’s Sharpshooting Helped Butler to a Big Upset of Top-Ranked Indiana (Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports)

Rotnei Clarke’s Sharpshooting Helped Butler to a Big Upset of Top-Ranked Indiana (Brian Spurlock/USA Today)

By now you know that Butler took down top-ranked Indiana 88-86 in a thrilling overtime win last Saturday. What was most surprising about the win, though, was how Butler did it. It wasn’t their vaunted defense, which gave up 1.13 points per possession to Indiana’s full-throttled attack — the second most this year for the Bulldogs and well above their averages during the Brad Stevens era. Rather, it was Butler’s efficient offense, which registered 1.16 points per possession. Part of that was their three-point shooting (11-24, 48.1%) with Rotnei Clarke leading the way (5-11). We have come to expect that from Butler, which often relies on the three-point shot as a great equalizer. But the more surprising, and perhaps more significant, elements of Butler’s offense were its willingness to attack the basket and its prodigious output on the offensive glass.  Sophomore wing Roosevelt Jones led the attack, often exploiting a favorable matchup against Jordan Hulls, en route to 16 points on 6-10 shooting (no threes). And the Bulldogs rebounded nearly half of their own misses — 48.7%. To some extent, the Bulldogs took advantage of sloppy block-outs by Indiana, but this reflects a season-long strength and a marked shift from the early years of Brad Stevens’ tenure. In Stevens’ first four seasons, Butler never averaged an offensive rebounding percentage of more than 32.8 percent. But last year, the Bulldogs hauled in 35 percent of their misses, and this year, it’s up to 39.4 percent.

As impressive as Butler’s win was, VCU quietly made waves of its own this past week as they pummeled Alabama and Western Kentucky by a combined 51 points. In both games, VCU went for the kill early, jumping out to big leads on the strength of their Havoc defense. The Rams did not allow Alabama to score a field goal until 10:44 had elapsed, en route to a 33-18 halftime lead that they would convert into a 73-54 final score. Alabama finished the game with 18 turnovers — a season high, as it often is for teams facing VCU’s defensive pressure. Four days later, VCU suffered no letdown from its BCS beatdown, whipping on Western Kentucky, one of the Sun Belt’s top teams and last year’s Tournament participant. After jumping out to 15-3 lead, the Rams would head into halftime up 42-16, cruising the rest of the way to a 76-44 win.  VCU forced a whopping 32 turnovers, including one on each of Western Kentucky’s first three possessions.

The old Bulldogs may be learning new tricks while the Rams thrive on the tried-and-true, but regardless of how they’re doing it, both teams have vaulted themselves to the top of A-10 heap.  Don’t take my word for it, ask the computers. Any of them — Butler and VCU are the A-10’s two highest ranking teams in the RPI, Sagarin ratings, and Pomeroy ratings.  The A-10’s mainstays have not distinguished themselves. Temple was routed badly by Duke in its first real competitive game of the year and just lost to Canisius at home by 10 points; Xavier is trying to replace five starters; St. Louis is trying to get their feet under them after losing their coach and then their star point guard to injury; and St. Joe’s, UMass, and Dayton have struggled to find consistency. As a result, there is a good chance that the A-10 will crown a champion it has never crowned before.

On to this week’s Top 10 and more …

Top Ten Rankings

RTC -- TO26 (12.21.12)

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CIO… the Colonial Athletic Association

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 12th, 2012

Mark Selig is the RTC correspondent for the Colonial Athletic Association. You can also find more of his written work at jamesmadison.rivals.com or on Twitter @MarkRSelig.

Looking Back

  • Future Tournaments In Charm City: After 24 straight years at the Richmond Coliseum, the annual CAA Tournament is uprooting and moving north. Beginning next season and running through 2016, Baltimore’s 1st Mariner Arena (basketball capacity: 11,800) will host the league’s crown jewel event. When VCU left the CAA for the Atlantic 10, a significant chunk of the tournament’s Richmond fan base left with it. That opened the door for the CAA to negotiate a new venue – something the league’s northern schools have clamored for, citing the Rams’ unfair home court advantage. Baltimore quickly made an aggressive push to host, and the CAA announced Wednesday that its tournament would feast on crab cakes for three years, beginning in 2014. While the league office is located in Richmond, and the city is roughly centralized geographically, the projected drop-off in attendance from VCU’s departure made the location and its dingy arena a bit less appealing. Baltimore’s 1st Mariner Arena (opened in 1962 as the Baltimore Civic Center) is no state-of-the-art building, but it will at least help showcase the Colonial to a new town.

bmore charm city

  • Remember When We Used To Do This More Often?: VCU and Old Dominion, two teams that combined to win the last four CAA championships, met up again in Norfolk, Virginia, for their first non-conference game. VCU left last summer for the Atlantic 10, while Old Dominion announced its plans to defect this summer for Conference USA. Meanwhile, the teams gave us another chance to pine for the days of Frank Hassell battling Jamie Skeen on the low block. This match-up had appeal but not much on the line. The Rams cruised to a 13-point halftime lead and maintained it throughout the second half, sending the Monarchs deeper into their early-season slump. Au revoir, ODU and VCU.
  • Tigers Roar, At Last: Towson earned its first win over a plus-.500 team since February 2010, beating Vermont, 68-64. Its next game, though a loss, was just as impressive. The Tigers went to the wire against Georgetown in a slug-it-out defensive battle. Before the season we predicted in this space that Towson would be the CAA team no one wants to play, even if it isn’t in the top tier. That appears to be true. The Tigers have won the rebounding battle in their last eight games, and have a genuine star in forward Jerrelle Benimon.
  • Another Losing Week: The CAA conglomerate once again failed to reach .500 last week. But its 9-12 record actually brought the league’s season-long non-conference winning percentage up to .385. That’s mark ranks 21st among all conferences. The league’s RPI (#24) is even worse. The CAA has taken a fast nose-dive after losing VCU. Last year the league held the 14th-best RPI, and the previous season it was ninth, one spot ahead of the Atlantic 10 (the league to which VCU defected in a strictly basketball move).

Reader’s Take

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What Has Happened to Drexel?

Posted by rtmsf on December 5th, 2012

David Changas (@dchangas) is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from the Drexel-Tennessee State game tonight in Nashville.

Early in the 2011-12 season, Bruiser Flint’s Drexel Dragons got off to a woeful start, losing four of their first six before a remarkable finish led to a 29-7 record, the Colonial Athletic Association regular season championship and a run to the quarterfinals of the NIT. With nearly everyone returning from last year’s squad, the Dragons were touted as the odds-on favorite to repeat in the CAA, with their stiffest competition, VCU, having moved on to the Atlantic 10. Unfortunately for Flint, this season has started even worse than last year, as Drexel dropped to 2-6 after yet another disappointing loss, this time to a heretofore underachieving Tennessee State squad Tuesday in Nashville. The question surrounding this team is whether it can repeat last year’s turnaround.

Bruiser Flint’s Team Has Not Gotten Off to a Good Start This Season At All

Led by preseason CAA player of the year Frantz Massenat and sophomore guard Damion Lee, Drexel has a potent backcourt that can score consistently. In their third game of the season, though, the Dragons lost senior guard Chris Fouch, who was the team’s leading scorer in the early going (16.7 PPG). Fouch, who led the Dragons in scoring as a sophomore, appeared ready to return to that form after finishing fourth on last year’s team. “Chris brought a little more toughness to the team, which we miss a little bit,” Flint said. While Lee and Massenat are capable scorers, neither is particularly adept at creating his own shot. Massanat (4.7 APG) is a pass-first point guard who can penetrate and get to the basket, but, at times has trouble finishing, and can struggle against quick guards. Lee works hard to come off screens, but is not going to overwhelm defenders off the dribble. Moreover, Fouch was the team’s best three-point shooter, hitting nearly half of his 25 attempts through the team’s first three games. Without Fouch, the Dragons have made only 34% of their attempts from long range, with Lee shooting a paltry 28.9% from behind the arc.

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