Checking In On… the CAA

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 28th, 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

  • From GSU To JMU: Georgia State is being lauded for its ninth straight win, a school record. But the Panthers aren’t alone in their high quality play. VCU has won six in a row and seven of its last eight. The Rams’ six victories have all been by double digits, which is the first time they have accomplished that feat since 1973-74. Drexel has captured its last four games, George Mason has claimed six of its last eight contests, and James Madison has won five of its last six, including three in a row on the road.
  • From CAA To NBA: Since it was a light week for the current CAA players and the NBA season beginning stole headlines, this is a good time to spotlight recent grads. The CAA is well-represented with five players on NBA roster. Former CAA players include Northeastern’s J.J. Barea (Minnesota Timberwolves), Hofstra’s Charles Jenkins (Golden State Warriors), VCU’s Eric Maynor (Oklahoma City Thunder), Towson’s Gary Neal (San Antonio Spurs) and VCU’s Larry Sanders (Milwaukee Bucks). The Association has had a player drafted into the Association the past three years (Maynor, Sanders, and Jenkins).
  • From HS SR To NCAA FR: Freshmen are seeing significant playing time around the CAA this season. All 12 teams have at least one freshman who is averaging better than 16 minutes per game and JMU is the only team that hasn’t had a freshman start at least one game. Four freshmen are among the CAA’s top 30 in scoring: UNCWs Adam Smith, Drexel’s Damion Lee, William & Mary’s Marcus Thornton, and ODUs Dimitri Batten. Four are among the top 15 in assists: Towson’s Kris Walden, Mason’s Corey Edwards, Delaware’s Khalid Lewis, and Drexel’s Lee. Three are in the top 10 in steals: VCU’s Briante Weber, Northeastern’s Quincy Ford, and Mason’s Edwards. Three are also three in the top 20 in rebounding: UNCW’s Cedrick Williams and Northeastern teammates Ford and Reggie Spencer.

Ryan Pearson (center) Is Brimming With Confidence For The Patriots. (Getty)

Power Rankings

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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

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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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The 2011-12 ProZach Awards

Posted by zhayes9 on November 8th, 2011

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court. Follow him on Twitter @zhayes9.

Every August, ESPN college football guru Kirk Herbstreit releases his Herbie awards, a grab bag of honors and predictions about the upcoming season covering everything from quickest running back to hardest-hitting linebacker. The Herbies are so popular they even resulted in their own half-hour show hosted by Herbstreit and Erin Andrews. With no equivalent in the hoops world, I volunteered to step up to the plate. Some of these awards are Herbie knock-offs, some are 100% original and all are intended to be fun. Whether they look ridiculous by March…well, the jury is out. Here are this year’s Pro-Zach awards, passing out happy pills since 2011:

Washington's Terrence Ross is ready to make the leap

All-Next Chapter

  • Team Irreverence: Players Who Don’t Get Enough Respect – GOLD: Rodney McGruder (Kansas State), SILVER: Kent Bazemore (Old Dominion), BRONZE: Doug McDermott (Creighton)
  • Shhh, Don’t Tell: Best Kept Secrets – GOLD: C.J. McCollum (Lehigh), SILVER: Alex Young (IUPUI), BRONZE: Dominique Morrison (Oral Roberts)
  • Forwarding Address: Top Transfers – GOLD: Mike Rosario (Florida), SILVER: Royce White (Iowa State), BRONZE: Brandon Wood (Michigan State)
  • Fresh Approach: Top True Freshmen – GOLD: Anthony Davis (Kentucky), SILVER: Austin Rivers (Duke), BRONZE: Andre Drummond (Connecticut)
  • Off and Running: Ready To Take It To The Next Level – GOLD: Terrence Ross (Washington), SILVER: Keith Appling (Michigan State), BRONZE: Michael Snaer (Florida State)

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RTC Conference Primers: #11 – CAA

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 26th, 2011

Michael Litos of CAAHoops.com is the RTC correspondent for the CAA. You can find him on Twitter @caahoops.

Reader’s Take I

The conference has seen Eric Maynor, then Charles Jenkins, win back-to-back player of the year awards. This year, it’s a wide-open race.

 

Top Storylines

  • Encore Performance? Last season was undoubtedly the best in conference history. In addition to VCU‘s incredible Final Four run, George Mason and Old Dominion gave the CAA three NCAA Tournament teams for the first time ever. The obvious question becomes: How in the world do you follow that? The CAA is better top-to-bottom this year, which is great for competitiveness but lousy for at-large bids.
  • Disabled List, Midseason “Call Ups” A Factor: The CAA is going to look very different in January, as some of the conference’s best players will miss parts of the nonconference season for varying reasons. Old Dominion’s Kent Bazemore, a first team All-CAA selection, is expected back in December from a foot injury. Ditto Drexel’s leading scorer Chris Fouch (knee). William & Mary’s Quinn McDowell, another first teamer, is battling knee problems as well. Old Dominion’s Richard Ross and James Madison’s Devon Moore return from academic suspensions after the first semester, and Blaine Taylor also gets Clemson transfer Donte Hill eligible.
  • Be Very Quiet. I’m Hunting Dragons: Speaking of Drexel, it will be interesting to watch how the Dragons react to being a conference favorite. Drexel has won at least ten conference games in eight of its ten CAA seasons, but has never entered a season with such lofty expectations. That changes this year, as Drexel is the only CAA team to return its scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and blocks leader.  What’s more, Bruiser Flint’s lack of success in March is glaring: Despite those successful regular seasons, Drexel has played in the CAA tournament semifinals just once since 2003.
  • One Tribe, Y’all: Despite finishing 4-14  last year, CAA eyes are trained on William & Mary and its cadre of young guards. One year removed from an NIT season, Tony Shaver’s team lost eight CAA contests by five or fewer points, and seven of those were by four or fewer. Shaver played six freshmen or sophomores regularly, and that experience will pay tremendous dividends. Plus, senior Quinn McDowell is a player of the year candidate. If the Tribe can get a beastly performance on the boards from sophomore Tim Rusthoven, William & Mary may shoot up the standings.

What Does Shaka Smart Have In Mind For An Encore After VCU's Run For The Ages?

Predicted Order of Finish (predicted conference records in parentheses)

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Ten Offseason Scribbles

Posted by zhayes9 on June 1st, 2011

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.

It was easy to get energized about Vanderbilt’s chances next season once the somewhat surprising news was announced that versatile swingman Jeffery Taylor would return for his senior campaign. Taylor joining forces with an experienced and talented guard tandem of John Jenkins and Brad Tinsley, along with efficient big man Festus Ezeli and quite a bit of depth, immediately gave folks in Nashville reason to believe they could contend with the powerhouse roster Kentucky assembled in the SEC. While those are four legitimate reasons for excitement – it’s awfully rare a team without a brand name like Duke, Carolina, Kentucky or UCLA returns their top four scorers (including three possible first round picks) from a top-15 efficient offense in the one-and-done era – I won’t be completely sold on Vanderbilt’s chances to usurp the Wildcats, or even fend off Florida, if their team defense doesn’t improve dramatically. The ‘Dores ranked a meager 88th in the nation in defensive efficiency last season, a mark good for tenth in the SEC, well behind the likes of both Kentucky and Florida. Their inadequacies on defense were a major reason why those of us tantalized by Vandy’s talent last season was so dumbfounded when they couldn’t quite put it all together on a sustained basis and why they ultimately dropped their final two games of the season to Florida and to #12 seed Richmond. The most confusing part: Vandy seemingly has the ancillary parts to be a strong defensive club. Taylor is regarded by NBA scouts as a premier stopper on the perimeter and Ezeli ranked 16th in block percentage in 2010-11.

Taylor needs to coax his teammates into playing stronger defense

The near-unanimous reaction following the NBA Draft declaration deadline was that Texas was the big loser. This isn’t necessarily false, but were we all that surprised Jordan Hamilton and Tristan Thompson bolted for the pros, especially once it was known Thompson would be a lottery selection? Playing with a fellow Canadian in Myck Kabongo may seem enticing until millions of dollars are staring you in the face. Hamilton was never suited for a structured college game, either, and could really take off in the pros as a polished, explosive scorer capable of putting up points in bunches. The most shocking decision was that of Cory Joseph, who opted to leave school primarily on the basis of one workout just prior to the deadline, a decision that very few saw coming from an undersized point guard without mature floor instincts. Joseph likely saw the writing on the wall – that he’d be playing primarily as a two-guard opposite Kabongo and this move would devastate his draft stock even more – and ditched while he had a chance at the first round. Ben Howland must have been even more crushed than Rick Barnes, though. With Derrick Williams and Momo Jones out in Tucson, the opportunity was there to re-establish UCLA’s status as the premier Pac-10 representative after two tumultuous seasons. Tyler Honeycutt and Malcolm Lee are far from locks to have their name called in the first round, yet both made the abrupt decision to forgo their remaining eligibility and take their talents to the NBA. With Honeycutt and Lee joining forces with Reeves Nelson, Josh Smith, Lazeric Jones, Jerime Anderson, Tyler Lamb and incoming two-guard Norman Powell in the fray, UCLA had a top-10 roster had the parts stayed together. It’s a shame, really.

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Surprise! Assessing Early Signs of Life at Providence, Oregon & Iowa State

Posted by rtmsf on December 22nd, 2010

Andrew Murawa is an RTC contributor.

Last week we spent some time praising the work of two of the most familiar faces in the college basketball coaching world, Rick Pitino and Bruce Pearl, in getting their teams off to sparkling starts in the aftermath of some rough off-court patches. Today, I’d like to recognize some perhaps less well-known coaches who have turned awful offseasons of a different sort into solid starts for their respective teams. At Providence, Oregon and Iowa State, the basketball programs all went through turbulent summers full of personnel changes and uncertainty, but thus far the coaches at each of those programs has fought through the adversity to earn a combined 29-9 record for the three schools, albeit against maybe some lesser competition. None of the three schools are necessarily expected to be major contenders for NCAA Tournament berths, but at least they’ve got their programs headed in the right directions after rough offseasons.

Marshon Brooks Has Been a Revelation This Season

For Keno Davis and the Providence Friars, the offseason was an absolute nightmare – not that 2009-10 was all that great to begin with. The Friars lost their last 11 games of last season on the way to a 12-19 record, during which time junior guard Kyle Wright abruptly left the program. After the season was over, a new rash of bad news hit the Friars. First, it was announced that point guard Johnnie Lacy and center Russ Permenter would be transferring out of the program. Then, a couple days later, Lacy and freshman center James Still were charged with felony assault, leading to Still’s eventual dismissal. A month later, the bright spot in the Friar program was extinguished when leading scorer and rebounder Jamine “Greedy” Peterson was kicked off the team. About a week later, assistant coach Pat Skerry left to head to Big East rival Pitt, and in the process, severely hurt Providence’s recruiting with incoming 2010 recruit Joseph Young announcing that he would be staying closer to his Houston home for college. After Davis lost some face in refusing to allow Young out of his scholarship for a time, he was eventually released and allowed to enroll at the University of Houston. Next, 2011 commit Naadir Tharpe announced that he was withdrawing his commitment to the Friars and opening back up his recruitment. And finally, for good measure, Kadeem Batts suffered a disorderly conduct charge in July. In short, it was a miserable offseason.

But, in the face of all of that turmoil, the Friars are off to an 11-2 start to this season. Yes, they’ve dropped games to La Salle and Boston College, and for every win over a Rhode Island and an Alabama, there’s a win over Central Connecticut and Prairie View A&M, but at least Coach Davis has not allowed the negative momentum of the offseason to boil over into a disastrous 2010-11 campaign. Senior wing Marshon Brooks has developed into a versatile threat (22.9 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.8 SPG, 1.5 BPG, 2.0 3PG) and a team leader, while sophomores Vincent Council and Bilal Dixon are each developing into serious Big East-level talents. Council is among the top ten point guards in the nation in assists, with seven per game (he had 16 in a game against Brown), while Dixon has been killing the boards on both ends, to the tune of 9.7 rebounds per night (more than three of those on the offensive glass), and adding almost three blocked shots a night. While much more serious competition awaits the Friars come Big East play, Davis has focused on tightening things up on the defensive end where PC ranked in the bottom 100 teams in Division I last year in defensive efficiency; now PC ranks in the top 100. There is certainly a ways to go for this Friar team, and the talent level  is still such that any dream of a run to an upper-division Big East finish should be tempered with, you know, sanity, but Davis has taken what was a disastrous offseason and settled things down in Providence to the point where the program is no longer in freefall and is playing up to their talent level. There are sure to be plenty of losses (and losing streaks) in conference play, but expect the Friars to beat a team or two that they have no business beating, and to be competitive on a regular basis.

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