RTC’s Kevin Doyle, author of the weekly column, The Other 26, and the Patriot League Correspondent, will be providing conference tournament previews for all non-BCS conferences.
As we near the weekend, more of the higher profile Other 26 conferences are beginning their postseason tournaments. In the east, the CAA, MAAC, and Southern Conference all get going with matinee affairs between Georgia State and UNC-Wilmington in the CAA and UNC-Greensboro and Davidson in the SoCon. Out west, the West Coast Conference kicks off their first round in what looks to be a very competitive tournament with St. Mary’s recent struggles and the resurgence of Gonzaga.
Colonial Athletic Association
The Favorite: Behind Cam Long and Ryan Pearson, George Mason has dominated the CAA and is the clear favorite to win the league. Old Dominion will be a tough challenger for the Patriots though.
Dark Horse: There have been many instances throughout the year that Virginia Commonwealth looks to be just as good as George Mason, but ending the year losing four straight games in the CAA will not instill confidence in many people. The Rams’ ability and talent is clearly there, and if they can string some wins together they can win the CAA championship.
Who’s Hot: George Mason winning 14 straight CAA games makes them easily the hottest CAA team.
Player to Watch: One of the most decorated players in Hofstra basketball history, Charles Jenkins is the best player to don a CAA uniform this year. The senior from Queens, NY is averaging 23.2 points per game.
First-Round Upset: William & Mary over James Madison. After having a very successful 2009-10 season, the Tribe has largely struggled this year, but is entering the CAA tournament having win two of three games. They have also split the season series with JMU this season winning the last game 73-67 and losing the first one 84-79.
How’d They Fare?Old Dominion, as a #11 seed, defeated Notre Dame 51-50 and then fell to Baylor in the second round.
Interesting Fact: The last time the CAA sent two teams to the NCAA Tournament was in 2007 when Virginia Commonwealth and Old Dominion went; it appears as if the CAA will be a multi-bid conference this year.
Nick Cammarota is the RTC correspondent for the Colonial Athletic Association. With the CAA Tournament tipping on Friday, get up to speed on the conference and gain a leg up on your Big Dance Cinderella candidate research.
A Look Ahead… Postseason Style
First-Round Game to Watch: No. 8 UNC-Wilmington vs. No. 9 Georgia State. It’s not the sexiest matchup out there, but then again, what first-round game is? The teams split the season series and always seem to play one another close. This one should be pretty interesting, too, in that whichever team wins will have to turn around and face the team with the longest winning streak in the nation: George Mason.
First-Round Player To Watch: Northeastern’s Chaisson Allen. One of the more underrated guards in the conference, Allen has a strong build doesn’t seem to break under pressure. There will be no greater pressure than this weekend, so look for Allen to have a decent showing.
Team Most Likely to Pull an Upset: William & Mary. If only because they beat their first-round opponent, James Madison, during the regular season. That and junior Quinn McDowell is a threat from anywhere on the floor.
Team Most Likely to be Upset: Virginia Commonwealth. The Rams are really struggling coming into the CAA Tournament and unlike years past, they don’t seem to have the right demeanor about them to turn it around and make a run. Then again, that’s what this time of year is all about.
Team Most Likely to Win it All: George Mason. The Patriots have thoroughly dominated the league in the second half of the season and are playing their best basketball of the year at the perfect time. Look for this to be a two-bid conference, with both George Mason and Old Dominion capable of making some noise in the Big Dance.
A Look Back
It has been a banner year for the CAA on many levels, and still (barring some upsets in the conference tournament) it looks as though the league will be sending only two teams to the NCAA tournament. That said, the CAA can boast that it’s one of two leagues, along with the Big East, to have six 20-game winners. It also finished with one team ranked in the Top 25 (George Mason), has the nation’s fourth-leading scorer (Charles Jenkins). There’s a lot to get to in the check-in/postseason preview, so follow along as we recap the regular season that was and look ahead to the postseason that will be.
And down the stretch they come! Just like a commentator of a competitive horse race fervently belches when the horses make the final turn, college basketball commentators, analysts, and enthusiasts alike all speak of the game with greater eagerness and zeal at this time of the year. Judgment Week—still am not sure what ESPN is trying to do with this—has passed us, Championship Week is nearly upon us, and we all know what comes after that: the Madness!
While the majority of Other 26 teams around the country still have one or two remaining games left in the regular season, there are a handful of teams out there who have completed the second part of their season. Many coaches, especially those coaching in perennial single bid leagues, break down their year into three seasons: 1) the non-conference, 2) conference play, 3) the postseason. The opportunity is presented for many teams that have struggled during much of the season to get hot at the right time and advance onto the greatest postseason tournament in all of sports.
At the beginning of conference play, I wrote in a previous article the concept of “three games in March” which is often the mentality of teams from smaller conferences who have to win three games, or four in some cases, to advance to the Dance—it is their only way in. Well, here is that opportunity.
The conference tournaments will officially begin in the middle of next week with a few of the smaller conferences going at it. If one really wants to get technical though, the argument can be made that the Ivy League has a season-long conference tournament that commences at the beginning of league play.
Monday’s Syracuse-Villanova and Kansas-Oklahoma State games kicked off Judgment Week at ESPN, and TWTW has no idea what that exactly means. Are our opinions (or “judgments,” if you will) supposed to be dramatically altered based on this week’s outcomes? Syracuse’s win over ’Nova doesn’t mean they’re no longer a flawed team that’s capable of looking great one night and mediocre the next. And barring any game-changing injury, you shouldn’t think differently about a squad based on a couple of games at the end of February. You are who you are at this point — no extra judgments are necessary. So why does ESPN feel the need to dub almost every week now? Just stop at Rivalry Week. Sometimes games are just games, they don’t need any extra labels. There’s only one real judgment to be made this week — Battle: Los Angeles looks like a god-awful movie.
What We Learned
Smith And the Devils Are Back On Top of the Polls, But It Means Less At This Time of Year
We thought that Tristan Thompson was just speaking for Texas when he said that the Longhorns would prefer not to replace Kansas as the No. 1 team in the next AP poll — turns out he was expressing the sentiments for just about every possible No. 1 team in the nation. On Saturday #4 Pittsburgh went down at St. John’s, followed by #2 Texas at Nebraska, and then on Sunday #3 Ohio State lost at Purdue. ESPN Stats & Information said it was the first time that the #1-4 teams in the ESPN/USA Today poll all lost in the same week since 2003 — yikes. But this isn’t the first week that we’ve seen this level of attrition in the polls; remember, it was just a few weeks ago that 13 of the AP’s Top 25 lost and half of the top 10. So who deserves to be #1 now? Duke got the nod on Monday, but do the Blue Devils deserve to be vaulted all the way from #5 to the top? In all honesty, you could probably just put the top six teams on a dartboard (top seven if you want to include BYU who got two first place votes), close your eyes, throw your dart, and there’s your #1 team. Not that it matters — during the season #1 in college hoops has always felt like a superficial title to TWTW. What’s really important is who’s in position for a #1 seed. It’s not important to determine who’s #1 now. The competition to watch is the race to distinguish between teams #4 and #5.
***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game
Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.
With only two weeks left in the regular season, it’s time for teams to make their moves. This weekend provides ample opportunities for some to do so. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.
VCU @ Wichita State – 7 pm Friday on ESPN2 (***)
Skeen Leads VCU In Scoring (14.6 PPG), But Is Also Top Ten In the CAA In Rebounding (7.7 RPG) And PP40 (19.0)
This could very well prove to be an elimination game. VCU has lost two straight games at home and now has to venture out of conference on the road. Wichita State has lost three games at home already this season, however, and probably has to win out and make a run in the MVC Tournament in order to have a chance at a bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Shockers don’t have a win in the RPI top 50 and those three home losses are really holding them back. VCU was blasted on the boards by Old Dominion recently (40-21) and it’s going to be hard to avoid that again in this game. If the Rams can’t create extra possessions through turnovers, it’s going to be a very long night.
If you are a true fan of Mid-Major basketball, then this is the weekend for you. Many fans who find a whole lot of joy in watching teams from the smaller conferences compete, share the common gripe that there is not nearly enough coverage of these teams. Well, at no other point during the season will you see ESPN dedicate an entire Saturday of basketball almost exclusively to the best Mid-Major teams around the nation.
Playing against the same faces within a team’s conference can become monotonous, but the BracketBuster weekend enables 114 teams around the country a brief recess before the final stretch of the regular season and tournament time to play an opponent they would otherwise never play. Although many of these games will have little meaning in the grand scheme of things, there are a select few that have serious implications as several Mid-Major teams partaking in the BracketBuster weekend sit squarely on the bubble.
Brace yourself for a great day of college hoops on Saturday. With so many of the top Mid-Major teams in the country playing—George Mason, Utah State, St. Mary’s, Cleveland State, Old Dominion, Missouri State, and Wichita State—you can bet that at least one of these teams, if not more, will be wearing Cinderella’s slipper come March.
In last week’s article I touched on the notion of parity and how great it is within the world of sports. After analyzing many of the Other 26 conferences this week, I could not help but notice how in several of the conference there is not one team that has distinguished themselves from the pack yet, and we are already nearing mid-February. In some cases, there are not even two or three teams that are running away with the league. Competitiveness or mediocrity? Well, does it really matter? All this means is that conference tournament week becomes that much more unpredictable and exciting. Here are a few of the conferences that are still completely wide open:
Atlantic 10: Four teams—Xavier, Duquesne, Temple, and Richmond—have records between 8-2 and 8-1.
CAA: Four teams—George Mason, Virginia Commonwealth, Old Dominion, and Hofstra—have records between 12-2 and 10-4.
The A10 and CAA are both very similar as each have four teams in legitimate contention, and both appear to be two-bid leagues at the moment.
Conference USA: Six teams—UTEP, Southern Mississippi, UAB, Memphis, SMU, and Tulsa—have records between 6-2 and 7-3.
Horizon League: Five teams—Valparaiso, Cleveland State, Wright State, Butler, and Wisconsin Milwaukee—have records between 10-3 and 9-5.
MAC: Eight teams—Kent State, Buffalo, Miami (OH), Bowling Green, Akron, Ohio, Ball State, and Western Michigan—have records between 7-2 and 5-4.
Southern Conference: Four teams—Charleston, Furman, Wofford, and Chattanooga—have records between 11-2 and 10-3.
Southland Conference: Nine teams—Northwestern State, McNeese State, Southeastern Louisiana, Nicholls State, Texas State, Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston State, UTSA, and Texas Arlington—have records between 7-3 and 5-4.
Very elaborate, I know. But, it is pretty remarkable the balance in the leagues. Of these seven conferences, there are a total of 40 teams who can still say they are capable and have a legit shot at winning their conference. What does this all mean? A great week of basketball during the conference tournaments, followed by more weeks of deliciousness during the NCAA Tournament. Enjoy.
Kevin Doyle is an RTC Contributor. His weekly column, The Other 26, explores the minutiae of the twenty-six Division I conferences outside the BCS sextet.
One of the best weekends of the year prior to Championship Week and, of course, the NCAA Tournament, is when the BracketBusters are played. It provides a nice break from conference play, and some of the top mid-major teams in the country have an opportunity to strut their stuff, build up that all-important resume, and have a last opportunity of picking up a quality non-conference victory. Because many of the top games are televised, it is also a great chance for all you guys out there that solely pay attention to the BCS teams around the country to gain some insight of who may have a shot at upsetting a higher seed and advancing a round or two when filling out your Tournament bracket next month. Here are my top 10 BracketBuster game, from tenth to first:
10.Kent State at Drexel—February 18, 9PM (ESPNU)
Neither team is in the running for an at-large bid, but obtaining additional confidence heading into their respective conference tournaments is what both will play for. Drexel is just a step below the top teams in the CAA, while Kent State is right in the mix for the MAC crown as there has not been one team that has truly distinguished themselves. The Flashes, led by Justin Greene’s 16 points and 7.5 boards a night, are one of the more balanced teams in the MAC as five players average nine points or more. Chris Fouch, arguably Drexel’s top player, will really test Kent State’s backcourt.
9.Austin Peay at Fairfield—February 19, 1PM (ESPNU)
Fairfield has been flying under the radar playing in the MAAC this year—not as much attention has been given to the league due to Siena’s return to mediocrity after a great run under Fran McCaffery—and they are one of the hottest teams in the nation. Aside from a tough one point loss at Loyola (MD) in mid-January, Fairfield has not lost since November 23 against St. Joseph’s. They are currently the favorite to win the MAAC, but there are a host of teams nipping at their heels. The Stags will take on an Austin Peay squad that sits atop their league—the Ohio Valley Conference—as well. The game will feature two of the better point guards in the land of mid-majors as Derek Needham for Fairfield averages 14 points and 5 assists, and Caleb Brown for Austin Peay is second in the OVC in assists.
8.Hofstra at Wright State—February 19, 11AM (ESPNU)
Hofstra and Wright State are both teetering on the edge of becoming legitimate contenders in their respective leagues. The Pride got out to a quick 5-0 start in the CAA, but have gone 3-3 in their last six to fall behind Virginia Commonwealth and George Mason. In the crazy Horizon League this year, it is anyone’s best guess who will be the last one standing. Cleveland State with Norris Cole looks to be the current favorite, but Wright State is not far behind. The storyline for this game will undoubtedly revolve around Charles Jenkins who has a legitimate shot of hearing his name called by David Stern on NBA Draft night, but don’t be surprised if Vaughn Duggins for Wright State steals the show. The fifth-year senior has scored in double figures in every game save two, and is the fourth leading scorer in the Horizon League.
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.
Nick Cammarota is the RTC correspondent for the Colonial Athletic Association.
A Look Back
Still searching for that last-minute holiday gift for your favorite Colonial Athletic Association diehard fan? Well, see if you can somehow wrap your hands around a DVD (or Blu-Ray – they’re all the rage) of Drexel’s monumental upset win against previously undefeated Louisville at the (yes, this is the real name) KFC Yum! Center. Or, if DVDs aren’t available – which in all likelihood, they’re not – maybe just a framed photo of the box score. Either way, chances are this win serves as an early present for mid-major fans everywhere. Entering the contest, kempom.com pegged Louisville as 86% favorites. With Drexel’s victory (the Dragons’ first against a ranked opponent since 2006), perhaps those in the Philadelphia area now will be forced to consider the petitions to change the Big 5 tag to the City 6. Given the way Temple and Villanova are playing, too, it looks to be a promising year in Philly. That, however, is beside the point. The point is that this conference’s stock is very high right now thanks to Old Dominion’s consistently high billing, Drexel’s upset win, VCU’s already sterling reputation, and George Mason’s six-game winning streak. Elsewhere last week, UNC-Wilmington beat Wake Forest for the first time in school history, and the CAA continued to roll along in non-conference play. Six teams in the conference boast RPIs in the top 100, and the CAA’s non-conference record is now 68-42 (.618). With only a handful of out-of-conference games remaining before the real fun begins, all CAA fans can be friends for a few more weeks, which is nice. We wouldn’t want anyone on edge for the holidays.
Player of the Week
Jamelle Hagins, F, Delaware: Since there weren’t that many games last week thanks to the exam schedule for a majority of CAA teams, let’s give some props to Hagins. The 6’8, 220-pound sophomore held his own against Villanova in Philadelphia en route to scoring 12 points, pulling down eight rebounds and blocking a whopping seven shots. Hagins is blossoming in his second year, and leads the conference in blocks per game, with four.
Team of the Week
Drexel Dragons: Should there be any other? The Dragons slowly and methodically tore apart Louisville, akin to what Gerard Butler’s character does to his adversary in Law Abiding Citizen, through a bevy of monster rebounding (46-26) and stingy defense. As of now, the CAA’s top four teams are in very good standing, not only among mid-major clubs, but in the national eye as well.
Stat of the Week
34: The number of consecutive double-digit scoring games for Hofstra guard CharlesJenkins. Which leads us to a new feature of the CAA Check-In…
Charles Jenkins Watch(new feature!)
As if you haven’t already heard enough about the superb guard from Hofstra, here’s a new feature to keep an eye on just how good he is compared to the rest of the nation’s scorers. And thanks to a 40-point performance against Binghamton, followed by 32-point and 21-point outbursts, he’s ranked fourth in the nation in scoring (24.9 points per game) behind Connecticut’s Kemba Walker (28.1), Northern Illinois’ Xavier Silas (28.1) and Nicholls State’s Anatoly Bose (25.0). Couple that with the fact that Jenkins graduated Sunday, and he’s ending 2010 with a flourish.
The CAA recap video from December 14 – AKA, the Drexel-Louisville game.
Highlights from Delaware’s loss against Villanova. Philly’s own (well, technically New Jersey’s own) Scott Graham on the play-by-play.
This’ll give you a look at UNC-Wilmington’s big win against Wake Forest, among others…
1. Old Dominion
(8-2, 0-1 CAA – RPI 13, SOS 19)
Last week: Idle
This week: 12.23 vs. Presbyterian
Previous rank: No. 1
While Old Dominion has relinquished its top spot in the Mid-Major Top 25 poll (as of December 13), second place isn’t a bad consolation prize. Naturally, the Monarchs still should be considered the class of the CAA, but it’s important to remember that Drexel hadn’t beaten Louisville when this Mid-Major Top 25 poll was released, so things could change. It’s still a little hard on the eyes to look at the disparity between ODU’s two losses, though: Nov. 12, 62-59 vs. Georgetown and, uhh, December 4 at, uhh, Delaware, 75-67…
2. Drexel Dragons
(8-1, 1-0 CAA – RPI 26, SOS 141)
Last week: W 52-46 @ No. 20 Louisville, W 61-57 @ St. Francis (Pa.)
This week: 12.22 @ No. 5 Syracuse
Previous rank: No. 4
Yeah, yeah, that win against Louisville was fantastic for Drexel’s image. Want to know if the Dragons are really for real? Check out Wednesday’s showdown against fifth-ranked Syracuse. As if the matchup itself wasn’t tough enough, the game’s in the Carrier Dome. Still, before we get too far ahead of ourselves, remember that Bruiser Flint’s squad had an amazing week that included a signature win, followed by a sloppy trap game victory. All of a sudden, the hopes for the CAA’s status as a two-bid conference don’t seem so distant.
3. George Mason
(8-2, 1-0 CAA – RPI 70, SOS 143)
Last week: Idle
This week: 12.22 @ Duquesne
Previous rank: No. 2
The Patriots are on a nice little six game winning streak, but given some of the high-quality wins by other CAA teams, George Mason’s run has largely gone unnoticed outside of Northern Virginia. People, however, should start to notice, as the Patriots boast three scorers averaging double figures – Luke Hancock (13.0), Cam Long (12.5)and Ryan Pearson (12.3) – and a team field goal percentage of .492, which is 16th in the nation.
4. Virginia Commonwealth
(7-3, 1-0 CAA – RPI 69, SOS 142)
Last week: W 70-67 vs. Tulsa
This week:12.21 @ University of Alabama-Birmingham
Previous rank: No. 3
It wasn’t technically “last week,” but we’re going to mention VCU’s loss to Richmond anyway. The Rams dropped a 72-60 decision on December 11 at Richmond in what could have been a major statement game for them and the conference, and could have provided bragging rights in the Battle for Richmond. Instead, the Spiders picked apart VCU’s defense (55.1 percent from the field) and assisted 18 baskets to Virginia Commonwealth’s six. The Rams, however, bounced back nicely with a 70-67 win against Tulsa.
5. James Madison
(8-3, 0-1 CAA – RPI 100, SOS 250)
Last week: W 66-61 @ South Florida
This week: 12.22 vs. Marshall
Previous rank: No. 5
Phew. The Dukes finally return home after a lengthy five-game road trip in which they went 3-2. JMU has won its last two games, but the reward for finally returning home isn’t too sweet – a matchup against Marshall, the same team they lost to, 67-63, on December 7. Perhaps the change of scenery will aid James Madison this time around. If not, perhaps senior forward Denzel Bowles will. His efficiency from the floor is a ridiculous .623, helping him pour in a team-high 17.2 points per game.
(5-4, 0-1 CAA – RPI 72, SOS 75)
Last week: W 81-69 vs. Wake Forest, W 64-50 vs. Radford
This week: 12.20 vs. Illinois State, 12.22 @ Campbell
Previous rank: No. 9
While it wasn’t quite on the same level as Drexel’s upset, UNC-Wilmington’s dismantling of intra-state rival Wake Forest last Sunday at the Greensboro Coliseum was quite impressive. The final score, 81-69, was a large reason why. The Seahawks shot 14-27 from three-point range and five players reached double figures in what was a marquee for coach Buzz Peterson in his first year at the helm.
(5-3, 1-0 CAA – RPI 73, SOS 130)
Last week: L 78-59 No. 10 Villanova
This week: 12.22 vs. Penn
Previous rank: No. 6
It was fun while it lasted, but apparently all good things must come to an end. Prior to Saturday’s 78-59 loss against Villanova, the Blue Hens were riding a five-game winning streak – their longest since 2001. The short trip to Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia proved too much of a challenge for Delaware to notch its first win against a Top 25 team, though. Still, with an RPI of 73 and a home game against far more manageable Big 5 opponent in Penn upcoming next week, things don’t appear so Blue for the Hens.
(6-4, 1-0 CAA – RPI 159, SOS 183)
Last week: W 71-58 @ Manhattan
This week: 12.22 vs. Holy Cross
Previous rank: No. 7
In between a thrilling overtime victory against Binghamton and a blowout of Manhattan, the Pride slipped up against Florida Atlantic despite a 32-point effort from senior guard Charles Jenkins. It cost them a few slots in the RPI rankings, as well as the potential for a six-game winning streak heading into Wednesday’s game against Holy Cross. Still, if Jenkins keeps it up (24.9 points per game, 4.3 assists per game), Hofstra will never be counted out of a conference game this season.
(2-5, 0-1 CAA – RPI 163, SOS 33)
Last week: Idle
This week: 12.22 vs. Saint Louis, 12.23 vs. East Tennessee State/Southern Mississippi, 12.24 vs. TBA
Previous rank: No. 8
The CAA’s northern-most team has fallen the farthest south in the standings. Last in the conference in wins (two), the Huskies have dropped five in a row, most “recently” a 79-67 loss to URI on December 8. Bill Coen’s team has two tournaments remaining before the start of CAA play – the Cancun Governor’s Cup and the UCF Holiday Classic. Maybe a few exotic getaways (to Cancun and Orlando) are what this team needs to slide back on track. That said, NU’s strength of schedule is 33rd in the country, so who knows what might happen once conference play rolls around.
10. Georgia State
(4-4, 1-0 CAA – RPI 278, SOS 287)
Last week: W 76-67 vs. Florida A&M
This week: 12.22 @ Georgia Southern
Previous rank: No. 10
It’s a good, heck, a great thing for your conference when the team with an RPI of 278 maintains a .500 record (4-4) in non-conference play. Which is exactly what Georgia State is doing thanks to the strong play of, well, everybody. Nobody on the roster is averaging more than ten points per game, but nine players are averaging more than five per contest. And Harold Dobyis right there with an average of 4.9. Don’t expect the Panthers to contend for a CAA title, but enjoy what they’re doing for the conference.
11. William & Mary
(4-6, 0-1 CAA – RPI 248, SOS 172)
Last week: 12.16 W 72-44 vs. Shenandoah (Div. III), 12.18 L 71-62 @ Liberty
This week: 12.21 @ North Carolina
Previous rank: No. 11
First William & Mary’s football program took a crack at North Carolina. Now it’s basketball’s turn. The Tribe’s football team lost by four points (21-17). Just imagine if the basketball squad can keep the score that close… Junior swingman Quinn McDowell has been a one-man show for the Tribe, leading the team in points per game (14.6), rebounds per game (5.8) and three-point field goal percentage (.528).
(3-5, 0-1 CAA – RPI 286, SOS 324)
Last week: Idle
This week: 12.20 @ Hampton, 12.22 vs. Princeton
Previous rank: No. 12
OK, so the Tigers haven’t played what you would call a challenging non-conference schedule. They’ve still notched three wins, and have a legitimate chance at two more this week. Plus, despite the sub-par quality of opponent, Towson is scoring at a pretty decent rate – 74.5 points per game with an adjusted tempo rating of 71.5 (good for 33rd in the nation). In addition, junior forward Braxton Dupree is one of two players in the conference (Drexel’s Samme Givens is the other) who’s averaging a double-double (13.1 points per game, 10.1 rebounds per game).
A Look Ahead
If you have plans on Wednesday, it might be best to postpone them. At least if you’re hoping to watch your favorite CAA team in action before the Christmas holiday. There are a number of intriguing games on the docket. Let’s check them out:
December 21, William & Mary at North Carolina (7-4): Alright, so this probably won’t be the best game out there, but it’s always fun to watch mid-majors take on traditionally strong programs, especially ACC schools. It doesn’t help the Pride that the Tar Heels are coming off a heartbreaking loss against No. 22 Texas, but who knows what will happen. That’s why they play the games. Player to watch: UNC junior forward TylerZeller. William & Mary doesn’t have anyone who can match up against the 7’ tree on paper. Zeller is leading the Tar Heels with 15.6 points per game, not too far ahead of UNC’s two other massive post players – 6’10 John Henson (10.5 points per game) and 6’9 Harrison Barnes (12.3 points per game).
December 22, Northeastern vs. St. Louis (4-5): This will be Northeastern’s first game since December 8, a 14-day layoff. Either the Huskies will enter their tournament in Cancun refreshed and ready to play, or they’ll appear disjointed and sluggish. St. Louis, out of the A-10, appears to be an ideal first-round matchup for what is quickly becoming Chassion Allen’s team. Player to watch: Whoever is going to rebound the basketball. No player on either of these teams is averaging more than six rebounds per game, which means anyone will have the opportunity to step up and control the boards. For a reference point, Allen leads the Huskies with 5.9 boards per game and Dwayne Evans leads the Billikens (5.6).
December 22, Drexel at No. 5 Syracuse (11-0): Well, the Dragons already have knocked off one previously undefeated Big East team. Why not do it again? The Orange have one game – Monday against Morgan State – before the Dragons come calling, while Drexel is off until it faces its second ranked opponent in about as many weeks. Much like the gameplan entering the contest in Louisville, Drexel must rely on its offensive and defensive rebounding to keep the score low. That should swing the tempo in its favor. Remember, the Dragons are fifth in the nation in rebounds per game (43.0), so that strategy isn’t nearly as crazy as it sounds. Player to watch: Syracuse senior forward Rick Jackson. The 6’9 Philadelphia native is averaging 13.5 points per game and 12.1 rebounds per game, but had his string of 10 straight double-digit scoring games snapped with an eight-point effort in a win against Iona last week.