Nick Cammarota is the RTC correspondent for the Colonial Athletic Association.
A Look Back
Well, a lot has happened since our last check-in. Way back then (err, two weeks ago), this was a relatively quiet league with a pretty decent out-of-conference showing. Sure, there were occasional upsets (like Drexel over Louisville or Delaware over Old Dominion), but not too much to turn the conference on its head. Now, seven games into conference play, that has changed. Big time. Virginia Commonwealth and Hofstra have lifted themselves to the top of the conference standings, while Drexel and Northeastern have fallen a long way. Nobody seems safe anymore and with everyone beating up on one another, the CAA’s chances at being a multi-bid conference seem all but vanished. That, however, doesn’t mean there’s no reason to enjoy the games. In fact, this probably makes it far more exciting to be a fan of the conference. It’s becoming quite clear that spectators should watch these games with no preset notion of which team is going to win, because that’s likely to be wrong. Without too much more chit-chat, let’s get to the recaps and all-important power rankings in this week’s CAA check-in.
Player of the Week: Joey Rodriguez, G, Virginia Commonwealth: The senior guard has been an understated part of the Rams’ league-second-best offense (72.9 points per game) as he runs the point with the poise and experience of a fourth-year player. In two victories last week, he contributed 14 points, eight rebounds and 13 assists while turning over the ball only four times and creating four steals. There’s little doubt Jamie Skeen, Bradford Burgess, and Brandon Rozzell would be able to do what they’re doing without Rodriguez’s steadying presence.
Team of the Week: William & Mary: Don’t act so surprised. The Tribe has, in the previous two games, been able to do what many teams in this conference have not on consecutive nights – blow teams out. In a league where every matchup is seemingly a nail-biter, William & Mary upset Drexel (which was coming off a win against Old Dominion) and then beat Towson by a combined total of 29 points.
Stat of the Week – 6: The number of CAA teams in the most recent Mid-Major Top 25 poll, which speaks to the amazing talent and balance at the top of this conference.
Charles Jenkins Watch
Week Four of our Charles Jenkins Watch, and he’s still at it. The senior guard hasn’t scored less than 13 points all season (and other than that one game, it has been less than 19) and last week compiled 41 points in two contests. He was, however, only 6-16 from the field in a loss against Old Dominion, but the Queens native still ranks seventh in the nation in scoring with an impressive average of 23.2 points per game.
1. Old Dominion
(14-4, 5-2 CAA – RPI 22, SOS 40)
Last week: L 62-57 @ Drexel, W 75-64 @ Hofstra, W 64-58 vs. James Madsion
This week: 1.22 vs. Virginia Commonwealth, 1.24 vs. UNC-Wilmington, 1.26 @ Georgia State
Previous rank: No. 1
What a wild week it has been for Old Dominion. And for that matter, everyone in the conference. But for the Monarchs in particular, this was a week during which they could prove their mettle, and why they’re the highest-ranked CAA team in the Mid-Major Top 25. After faltering on the road against a baffling Drexel team, Old Dominion rebounded nicely with a win against previously undefeated in the CAA Hofstra and then snapped James Madison’s nine-game winning streak. Not a bad way to round out the week. And the kicker is, they’re still gridlocked in a three-way tie for second in the conference standings.
2. George Mason
(13-5, 5-2 CAA – RPI 44, SOS 56)
Last week: W 66-51 vs. Georgia State, W 71-47 vs. Drexel
This week: 1.22 @ James Madison, 1.24 @ Delaware, 1.26 vs. Towson
Previous rank: No. 3
Ranked 12th in the Mid-Major Top 25, the Patriots have been one of the few teams who have played things out according to script – lose to teams ahead of you, beat those below you. George Mason has the second-highest RPI of any team in the conference right now, and continues to feast on a high field-goal percentage (48.4 percent – 18th in the nation). If that keeps up, along with the 14-points-per-game scoring averages of Cam Long and Ryan Pearson, there’s little doubt the Patriots will more than be in the mix come season’s end. Want even more of a reason to feel good? Check out how many games kenpom.com has the Patriots losing the rest of the way.
3. Virginia Commonwealth
(14-5, 6-1 CAA – RPI 68, SOS 163)
Last week: W 73-64 vs. Northeastern, W 71-54 vs. Georgia State
This week: 1.22 @ Old Dominion, 1.24 @ Towson
Previous rank: No. 5
Would you look at that? Seemingly in the blink of an eye, the Rams are at the top of the conference and have pieced together a five-game winning streak in a league where it’s becoming apparent that that’s quitter a difficult task to accomplish. VCURamNation is buzzing, and rightfully so as the Rams most recently exacted revenge against Georgia State, which handed them their only conference loss thus far. A showdown against Old Dominion at the Constant Convocation Center looms on Saturday, so Jamie Skeen and company better eat their Wheaties.
4. James Madison
(15-4, 5-2 CAA – RPI 63, SOS 201)
Last week: W 79-67 vs. Georgia State, W 63-54 vs. UNC-Wilmington, L 64-58 @ Old Dominion
This week: 1.22 vs. George Mason, 1.24 @ Hofstra, 1.26 vs. Drexel
Previous rank: No. 4
Everything was lined up perfectly for the Dukes to steamroll into the toughest portion of their conference schedule riding an unprecedented winning streak. That is, until they lost to Old Dominion, and now must find a way to regroup with George Mason, Hofsta and Drexel on the horizon rather than look to extend a record streak. Still, what the Dukes accomplished during their impressive run (the school’s best since 1992-93) won’t soon be forgotten and a showdown against George Mason at 11 a.m. on Saturday probably has leading scorer Denzel Bowles (17.1 points per game) champing at the bit.
(12-6, 6-1 CAA – RPI 103, SOS 143)
Last week: L 75-64 vs. Old Dominion, W 66-57 vs. UNC-Wilmington
This week: 1.22 @ William & Mary, 1.24 vs. James Madison, 1.27 @ Virginia Commonwealth
Previous rank: No. 8
A mistake is a mistake, and it appears as though last week’s rank of No. 8 was way too low for the Pride. After the conclusion of the non-conference schedule, Hofstra simply skyrocketed and now sits tied with Virginia Commonwealth at the top of the standings. If not for a loss against Old Dominion, the Pride would be roaring even louder. Naturally, Charles Jenkins receives a large amount of attention, but don’t underestimate the minutes Mike Moore (14.8 points per game, 5.7 rebounds per game) contributes. The key to Hofstra’s success so far has largely depended on its ability to hang on to the ball (17.2 turnover percentage) and nail free throws (75.5 free-throw percentage).
6. Drexel Dragons
(11-6, 3-4 CAA – RPI 65, SOS 95)
Last week: W 62-57 vs. Old Dominion, L 80-66 @ William & Mary, L 71-47 @ George Mason
This week: 1.22 vs. Northeastern, 1.24 vs. Georgia State, 1.26 @ James Madison
Previous rank: No. 2
You can’t help but think that Drexel did this to itself. Maybe it was coach Bruiser Flint’s suspension, maybe it was the realization that rebounding alone cannot win basketball games, maybe it was the high from downing Old Dominion, or maybe the Dragons had become such a target that other teams played at their top level in order to defeat Drexel. Whatever the case, the Dragons already have lost four conference games and back-to-back games in humiliating fashion. First it was an 80-66 pounding at the hands of William & Mary. Yes, you read that right, and yes the Tribe shot 60 percent in that game. Then the Dragons dropped a 71-47 decision to George Mason in which they scored 17 second-half points. So in a two-game span, Drexel lost by a combined 38 points and completely undid what little chance there might have been for an at-large bid.
(9-8, 4-3 CAA – RPI 137, SOS 180)
Last week: W 66-63 @ Towson, W 54-52 vs. Northeastern
This week: 1.22 @ Georgia State, 1.24 vs. George Mason, 1.26 @ William & Mary
Previous rank: No. 6
This is where the dividing line starts to fall between the CAA’s top teams and the rest of the pack. But with that said, any of the teams ranked sixth and below have proven very capable of beating anyone in the upper tier. The Blue Hens probably had a bit rougher week than anticipated as both victories against Towson and Northeastern came down to the wire – especially Jamelle Hagins’ dunk with 21 seconds remaining to give Delaware the victory against the Huskies. The Blue Hens are the last remaining team on this list with a winning record in conference play.
(9-9, 3-4 CAA – RPI 131, SOS 110)
Last week: L 63-54 @ James Madison, L 66-57 @ Hofstra
This week: 1.22 vs. Towson, 1.24 @ Old Dominion, 1.26 vs. Northeastern
Previous rank: No. 7
It wasn’t the best week for Seahawks anywhere as UNC-Wilmington dropped down to .500 by losing consecutive contests to James Madison and Hofstra. Granted those are two of the better teams in the conference, but it was a hit UNCW probably couldn’t afford to take more than midway through the CAA slate. The Seahawks do a lot of things well, but nothing great which is pretty much the recipe for a .500 squad. Chad Tomko (16.1 points per game) and Keith Rendleman (10.2 points per game, 7.4 rebounds per game) continue to leads a team that’s right in the thick of things, but probably not good enough to down the big boys come crunch time.
9. William & Mary
(6-12, 2-5 CAA – RPI 245, SOS 132)
Last week: W 80-66 vs. Drexel, W 83-68 @ Towson
This week: 1.22 vs. Hofstra, 1.24 @ Northeastern, 1.26 vs. Delaware
Previous rank: No. 11
The Tribe picked one heck of a way to snap a seven-game losing streak, eh? Not only did William & Mary trounce Drexel, but then it turned right around and dismantled Towson. In two games, the Tribe has beaten its opponents by a combined 29 points and have turned their downtrodden program into a respectable one in a matter of days. The real test will come Saturday, when the Tribe has to face a difficult Hofstra team at Kaplan Arena.
10. Georgia State
(8-9, 3-4 CAA – RPI 205, SOS 200)
Last week: L 79-67 @ James Madison, L 66-51 @ George Mason, L 71-54 @ Virginia Commonwealth
This week: 1.22 vs. Delaware, 1.24 @ Drexel, 1.26 vs. Old Dominion
Previous rank: No. 11
While Georgia State has lost three games in a row, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that they’re the only team in the conference to beat both Virginia Commonwealth and James Madison. The CAA’s version of a spoiler, no doubt. Last week, however, both school exacted their revenge on the Panthers, who are still searching for a go-to scorer down the stretch. Those three losses, however, came to three very talented schools. Don’t be surprised is Georgia State pulls a few more upsets before season’s end – snow-delayed games or not.
(4-13, 0-7 CAA – RPI 267, SOS 168)
Last week: L 66-63 vs. Delaware, L 83-68 vs. William & Mary
This week: 1.22 @ UNC-Wilmington, 1.24 vs. Virginia Commonwealth, 1.26 @ George Mason
Previous rank: No. 10
Towson joins Northeastern as the two winless teams in CAA play But the Tigers do appear to be in slightly better shape than the Huskies. No, it’s not because they’ve only lost six straight instead of eight. But because they are getting contribution across the board (four scorers average double figures) and their rebounding (33.4) and points (70.1) averages aren’t nearly as bad. No game is going to be easy for Towson the rest of the way, but there’s little doubt the Tigers won’t get that first conference victory sooner rather than later.
(4-14, 0-7 CAA – RPI 184, SOS 30)
Last week: L 73-64 @ Virginia Commonwealth, L 54-52 @ Delaware
This week: 1.22 @ Drexel, 1.24 vs. William & Mary, 1.26 @ UNC-Wilmington
Previous rank: No. 9
Oh how the mighty have fallen. Well, maybe not mighty, but certainly not many could have predicted the Huskies would be winless through seven games of conference action. Northeastern has lost eight games in a row and is having trouble both scoring (62.8 points per game) and rebounding (28.5 rebounds per game). And in a conference where rebounding is king, that’s a problem. One quick look at Northeastern’s kempom.com page, and the amount of red tells you all you need to know. The Huskies haven’t beaten a team with an RPI higher than 130 this season. Thought if it’s any consolation, their strength of schedule is a robust 30. It will be interesting to see who wins Saturday’s matchup of two struggling programs in Drexel and Northeastern.
A Look Ahead
For whatever reason, the chips just happened to fall on Saturday as a huge day of games for the conference. Here’s a look at three games you won’t want to miss this weekend. And mine as well throw the NFL’s championship weekend games on top of that as well. Those things are gonna be good÷
Jan. 22, George Mason (13-5, 5-2) at James Madison (15-4, 5-2): Set the coffee maker and make sure you wake up for this one, which tips off at 11 a.m. from the JMU Convocation Center. The game will be televised on ESPNU and, more importantly, will provide a big road test for the Patriots, who are coming off a big win against Drexel. Player to watch: James Madison’s Denzel Bowles. The senior forward has compiled back-to-back 20-plus point games and boasts the top field goal percentage on the team (and second-best in the conference) at 60.9 percent. He also has yanked down double-digit rebounds in three of JMU’s previous four games.
Jan. 22, Virginia Commonwealth (14-5, 6-1) at Old Dominion (14-4, 5-2): If possible, this game might carry bigger implications than the George Mason-James Madison battle, if only because VCU sits atop the league and on a five-game winning streak. That said, Old Dominion is out to prove it’s still the top dog in the CAA. Player to watch: Old Dominion’s Frank Hassell. Two of his five double-doubles on the season have come in his past two games. The senior forward has the ability to take over a game, so watch out if the crowd gets behind him.
Jan. 22, Hofstra (12-6, 6-1) at William & Mary (6-12, 2-5): While this might not be the sexiest matchup of the CAA’s Super Saturday, it has the potential to be an important one no matter which team wins. If Hofstra takes it, it does no worse than maintain its position atop the conference. If the Tribe pulls an upset, it extends its winning streak to three and proves that nobody should take it lightly. Player to watch: William & Mary junior swingman Quinn McDowell. In his previous three games, he has scored 45 points and pulled down 12 rebounds. As the lead contributor on the Tribe, he’ll need to step up. It will also be interesting to see who guards Hofstra’s Charles Jenkins.
Caught on Film
Remember, if you like CAA basketball highlights (and we’re assuming you do since you made it this far), check out the CAA’s YouTube page for regular highlights.