Hofstra may have won the conference’s preseason poll, but Delaware is arguably the best team in the CAA this year.
This is not to say the Blue Hens didn’t lose talent from the squad that opened last season with nine straight victories. Top scorer Nate Darling went pro, signing a two-way contract with the Charlotte Hornets to join former Charleston guards Grant Riller and Joe Chealey. Strong, athletic forward Justyn Mutts transferred up for the second time in two years, joining powerhouse Virginia Tech. And role-playing big men Jacob Cushing and Collin Goss graduated.
But the Blue Hens were so stacked to begin with that they remain a major threat.
Despite multiple injuries throughout his college career and an efficiency drop-off last season, senior guard Ryan Allen is still a force. Though he is just 6’2”, his powerful frame and bursts to the rim make him a challenge for any guard to stay with. He was named to the conference’s preseason second team, as was his backcourt mate Kevin Anderson, a longer 6’5” guard who showed improved shooting efficiency last year and led the team in assists and steals. Anderson has been one of the CAA’s best all-around guards for a season or two now, and he is poised to become even more of a weapon.
Rounding out Delaware’s top trio is Dylan Painter, the 6’10” midseason transfer from Villanova who will have more room to work down low with Mutts gone. While Head Coach Martin Inglesby rightly asserted that Mutts was so versatile he’d have to be replaced by committee, more of that work will fall on Painter than on anyone else. He is a big, powerful, bona fide center in a conference often lacking for such players, and could be a huge force on the block this season.
Junior transfer Reggie Gardner has garnered some attention as a possible difference-maker. While he was second team all-conference in his freshman year at North Carolina Central, he lost his starting spot the next year and his shooting efficiency wasn’t great in either season. He’ll need to step his game up to raise the ceiling of a team as strong as this.
Bottom Line: Though the Blue Hens have lost in the conference semifinals two years in a row, they’ve improved their win total in each of Inglesby’s four seasons at the helm. They’ve kept more of their star core intact than any other CAA team, and if they get even modest contributions from their role players and newcomers, they’ll be the favorite to win the whole thing.
Almost eight months to the day after Northeastern and Hofstra battled it out in the CAA Championship game, the conference released the results of its preseason poll.
For the second straight year, the Pride took the top spot. The Huskies, who underperformed their third-place projection last year before hitting their stride in the conference tournament, placed seventh. The point totals are shown below, with first-place votes in parentheses.
Hofstra will look to defend its regular season and CAA Tournament crowns in a league where several perennial contenders have lost multiple all-conference caliber players. The Pride lost First Teamer Desure Buie and Second Teamer Eli Pemberton to graduation, and will rely on seniors Isaac Kante, Jalen Ray, and Tareq Coburn to key their run.
Northeastern finished sixth last year, due largely to a stretch of one- and two-point losses in January. The Huskies are looking to Tyson Walker and Shaquille Walters to overcome the graduation of CAA leading scorer Jordan Roland and versatile glue guy Bolden Brace.
James Madison senior guard Matt Lewis was named the Preseason Player of the Year. Northeastern’s Tyson Walker joined defending Rookie of the Year Hunter McIntosh as sophomore Second Team selections.
A few other observations:
Four teams — Hofstra, Delaware, Drexel, and Towson — got at least four first-place votes. Even in a league noted for parity, this is striking.
Two transfers made preseason teams: Payton Willis (comes to Charleston from Minnesota) and Zane Martin, who returns to Towson after transferring from there two years ago.
Of the 16 players who earned preseason honors, 13 are pure guards. The CAA’s elite is usually guard-heavy, but the loss of elite big men Nathan Knight and Andy Van Vliet exacerbates that imbalance even more.
After a seventh-place finish in last year’s poll, William & Mary rode Knight and Van Vliet to a second-place finish. With those two gone, the Tribe dropped to last place in this year’s poll, and it wasn’t particularly close. Head Coach Dane Fischer has some questions to answer.
By far the largest point gap in the poll is that between seventh-place Northeastern and eighth-place UNCW, indicating a sentiment that there is a clear bottom tier. The teams in that tier — UNCW, James Madison, and William & Mary — have been ravaged by graduations, transfers, or both. James Madison and UNCW both have freshman coaches, while W&M Dane Fischer is entering his second season after winning Coach of the Year last year.
And finally . . .
Northeastern will kick off its season at the Paradise Jam Tournament in Washington, DC, on Thursday, November 26 at 2 PM Eastern. Milton Posner and Jack Sinclair will have the call for WRBB, with coverage beginning at 15 minutes before tip-off.
plays Elon in the semifinal of the CAA Tournament today at 8:30 PM EDT. Michael
Petillo, Milton Posner, and Matt Neiser will call the game, with coverage
beginning about 15 minutes before tipoff.
WASHINGTON — An atypical day for the CAA is, well, typical.
Sunday’s schedule saw four quarterfinal games, all of them
bemusing to one degree or another.
Hofstra 61, Drexel 43
This contest was decided, more than anything else, by starkly
contrasting star performances.
On one end, Hofstra senior guard Eli Pemberton rebounded
from a decent but unremarkable first half to eviscerate the Dragons in the second.
He began the half with a three-pointer, a driving layup, and a putback after
snatching an offensive rebound in traffic. A three-point halftime lead had
swelled to ten, Drexel called timeout to regroup, and Pemberton let out a
primal scream as his teammates surrounded him.
Pemberton maintained the energy even as Hofstra built an
insurmountable lead, diving for a loose rebound with seven minutes left and his
team up 20. He finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Pride.
Pemberton’s exact opposite was fellow All-CAA Second Team
guard Camren Wynter of Drexel, who had his worst college game at the worst
possible time. Hofstra’s matchup zone defense made things difficult for the
Drexel guards, who were left to pass aimlessly on the perimeter and toss up an
array of tightly contested layups that trickled off the rim. Wynter took just
eight shots, failed to score, and turned the ball over five times. Zach Walton
(17 points and 10 rebounds) and James Butler (14 points and 14 rebounds) were
left to shoulder almost all of the burden for a sputtering Drexel offense.
Drexel will be back. Barring transfers, they will return
their three top scorers next year. But it is Hofstra that moves on to the next
Delaware 79, Charleston 67
It’s a testament to how insane the CAA has been this year
that these teams were the fourth and fifth seeds in a ten-team tournament.
You’d be forgiven for thinking each was a top-three team. In Grant Riller and
Nate Darling, each team had one of the league’s most dynamic, talented scorers.
Each boasted a strong, versatile, athletic frontcourt that makes life difficult
for their opponents on both sides of the ball.
But ultimately it was Delaware — a team flush with high-powered
transfers and homegrown juniors maturing at the perfect time — that looked the
The Blue Hens built a slim first-half lead largely thanks to
two strong points. The first was Darling, who rained down consistent fire on
the Cougars from all over the floor, including a couple of difficult one-on-one
shots the Cougars couldn’t do much about. The other was a strong defensive game
plan similar to the one Northeastern used against Charleston last month: keep
Grant Riller out of the paint.
This is a tall order, but the Blue Hens largely succeeded in
the first half. Riller tried a number of tough shots around the basket and grew
frustrated when his attempts to draw fouls didn’t succeed. After the game,
Darling pinned the defensive success on the decision to have Justyn Mutts guard
Sam Miller, allowing Delaware’s guards to switch on screens without worrying
about the sweet-shooting Miller pick and popping to the three-point line. Riller
got hot in the second half, but by then the Blue Hens were in the driver’s seat.
Delaware scored 47 second-half points to advance to the next round, where they
will face No. 1 Hofstra.
It also marked the last college game for one of the best
players the CAA has ever seen. Riller overcame a season-ending injury during
his freshman year to make three All-CAA First Teams and score 2,474 points, trailing
only David Robinson and Charles Jenkins on the conference’s all-time list.
Elon 68, William & Mary
At first it seemed improbable, then mildly unlikely, then
reasonable, then likely, then certain.
This year, William & Mary had their best regular season
in seven decades. They were stacked and versatile, best exemplified by senior
forward Nathan Knight, who was crowned CAA Player of the Year and Defensive
Player of the Year two days earlier. By any measure, Knight is one of the best
players the conference has ever seen.
And now he’s done.
The Phoenix sledgehammered the Tribe from the opening tip. By
the time Tribe head coach Dane Fischer called for time with three-and-a-half
minutes gone, Marcus Sheffield II had led Elon to a 13–2 lead.
Though Sheffield would soon drop off and wind up with a
merely solid if inefficient stat line, Elon forwards Hunter Woods and Federico
Poser picked up the slack. Poser posted his second straight good game, nailing
a number of short shots. Woods dropped 20 points and 15 rebounds, playing the
entire game and expending so much effort that his sweat-laden jersey was distinguishable
in color from his teammates’. He nailed five of seven tries from beyond the arc.
The Tribe eventually fought their way back, buoyed by
thousands of fans who traveled the relatively short distance from Williamsburg
to Washington D.C. Those fans, easily the loudest of any crowd in the
tournament thus far, boosted the Tribe during their steady second-half run.
The energy in the last 10 minutes was on an entirely
different level, peaking when Van Vliet’s titanic rejection of a layup led to a
momentum-building three by Quinn Blair down the other end. Blair, soon joined
by the William & Mary bench, motioned repeatedly to the crowd to get loud,
which they happily did.
When Bryce Barnes’ three-pointer cut the lead to two, the
crowd was so loud that it drowned out the Elon marching band.
But Elon’s starters took turns hitting shots at opportune
moments, and the Tribe would never quite catch them. A No. 7 team that few gave
much of a chance is now in the semifinals, where they will play No. 6
With one week remaining in the CAA’s men’s basketball
regular season, just four games separate third and eight place, and just two
games separate third and sixth.
The Northeastern Huskies sit in sixth place with an 8–8 record. There are four games on Thursday, four on Saturday, and one on Sunday (moved to accommodate the CBS Sports Network). Nine games to determine playoff seeding. All 10 teams make the CAA Tournament, but only the bottom four seeds play in the first round on Saturday, March 7. The top six teams receive a first-round bye. Because of the league’s higher-than-usual parity — and because the top six teams will play, at most, three games in three days instead of four games in four days — securing the bye is critical.
William & Mary Tribe
Delaware Blue Hens
James Madison Dukes
The top and bottom of the standings have more or less hardened.
James Madison can move from tenth to ninth if they win both of their games and
UNCW loses both of theirs, but James Madison’s recent play and the quality of
their opponents this week makes that highly unlikely. Same goes for UNCW, which
will remain in ninth barring two UNCW wins and two Drexel losses.
At the top of the standings, Hofstra has clinched a share of
the regular season title and can claim sole possession with a split or sweep
this week, highly likely given that they play last-place James Madison. William
& Mary owns the tiebreaker over Delaware, and therefore cannot fall lower
But the other six teams are in flux. Dissecting every possible
outcome and ripple effect would take hours, so ahead of Northeastern’s games
against James Madison and Towson this week, here are the Huskies’ possible
outcomes from worst to best.
If Northeastern loses both
games . . .
They will drop to 8–10. An Elon win over William & Mary would bring Northeastern and Elon into a tie. Because the pair have split their season series, it would trigger the next tiebreaker, record against the top team in the CAA. Both teams have lost twice to Hofstra, so Elon’s season split against William & Mary would give them the sixth seed and a first-round bye.
This is the only way the Huskies could possibly fall out of
the top six. It would require them to lose to a solid team in Towson and the
CAA’s worst team in James Madison, and it would also require a middling Elon team
to beat William & Mary. This outcome is possible, but highly unlikely.
If Northeastern wins one game
. . .
They will finish at 9–9 and guarantee a first-round bye
regardless of which game they win. If Charleston loses both its games — unlikely
but not impossible given their current four-game losing streak — the Huskies
will vault over them for fifth place due to their season sweep of the Cougars.
If Charleston win one or both of their games, the Huskies will finish sixth.
If Northeastern wins both
games . . .
They will finish at 10–8 and guarantee a first-round bye. They
finish fifth unless Charleston wins both of its games. If Towson loses to
Hofstra on Thursday, Northeastern and Towson will finish with the same record,
and Northeastern holds the season series tiebreaker.
Thus, a 2–0 record this week could put Northeastern anywhere
between fourth and sixth. Rising from fifth to fourth helps with optics and
bragging rights but is strategically and competitively useless because the
fourth and fifth seeds play each other in the quarterfinal anyway.
Assuming the Huskies avoid the worst-case scenario and finish
in the top six, they will face either Delaware, Charleston, or Towson. If this
season’s games are any indication of how a CAA Tournament matchup will go, Northeastern
would prefer Charleston, who they swept, over Delaware, who swept them. Northeastern
is 1–0 against Towson, who they play on Sunday.
Two wins this week would also provide a massive momentum
boost for the Huskies, who haven’t strung three wins together since the
beginning of conference play.
The Huskies’ game against James Madison begins at 8 PM EST;
WRBB’s live coverage from Matthews Arena begins about 15 minutes before
Those moments when you’re riding high, when you feel invincible,
when you feel like you have all the momentum and confidence . . . those are the
moments you’re most likely to be smashed over the head with a hefty
Such was the story of the Northeastern Huskies on Thursday
night. They entered Bob Carpenter Center for a showdown with the Delaware Blue
Hens, the best CAA team in non-conference plat, winners of seven of their last
But Northeastern had every reason to feel good about their
chances. After several weeks of failed crunch-time execution leading to blown
second-half leads and close losses, the Huskies won both of last week’s games.
Their win against Charleston was particularly encouraging, as the Huskies held
the Cougars’ excellent offense scoreless for 10 straight minutes. Grant Riller,
the conference’s best pure scorer, eked out nine points in the first half and
didn’t score at all in the second. The Huskies ran away with the game.
But Thursday night’s game would not build on that success.
Instead it would revive last month’s demons, as Nate Darling and the Blue Hens
hit the Huskies hard and quickly en route to a 70–48 win. It was the Huskies’
largest loss since their 34-point NCAA Tournament defeat against Kansas last March,
and their worst loss in conference play in nearly three years.
When the Huskies and Blue Hens met at Matthews Arena four
weeks ago, Nate Darling’s unconscious second-half shooting (28 points on 11
attempts) keyed a steady comeback, and the Blue Hens overcome a 16-point
deficit to win by two. Darling, who averaged more points in his last six games
than any player in the nation, went right back to torching the Huskies.
He began with a catch-and-shoot three from the corner on the
first possession of the game. A stepback long two, another catch-and-shoot
three, three free throws, and a semi-transition pull-up three later, the teams
headed into the first media timeout. With less than five minutes in the books,
Delaware had opened up a 16–4 lead, one that they would never relinquish.
Fourteen of those points were Darling’s, and he had yet to miss. It was the second
straight game in which Darling scored a dozen or more points before the first
Darling would hit another three after the break, then miss
his next five shots to end the game with a surprisingly modest, yet still
game-high 17 points. Though Northeastern contained him for the rest of the
game, the wounds he inflicted could not be stitched up.
It didn’t help that Northeastern’s offense wasn’t clicking.
A few wide-open misses notwithstanding, the Huskies had a tough time generating
quality looks. The Blue Hens pressured ballhandlers, kept them out of the
paint, and made routine passes difficult. The Huskies, normally one of the best
in the conference at protecting the ball, spent the first chunk of the game discombobulated.
Tyson Walker threw away a couple of passes, allowing Delaware to get out in
transition and build their momentum.
By contrast, the Huskies saw a set, staunch defense every
time down the floor. The long-armed Kevin Anderson was particularly effective
in denying clean looks to Jordan Roland, who registered a decent overall game
but never reached the flamethrower status Husky fans have become familiar with.
By the time eight minutes had been played, Darling’s scoring
had been supplemented by a Justyn Mutts tip-in, two free throws from Anderson,
and a pair of inside buckets from Colin Goss. Delaware led 24–4.
In a play that encapsulated the Huskies’ struggles, Greg Eboigbodin
leaped, snatched a rebound, and went right up for a putback bucket. But the
momentum from his jump carried him underneath the hoop, and his shot was
blocked by the underside of the backboard.
Not that the backboard was the only one blocking Husky
shots. Dylan Painter, the 6’10” transfer from Villanova, made his presence felt
on the inside, blocking three shots in the first half. Northeastern guards who
were already having a tough time driving into the paint were further dissuaded
by Painter’s paint patrol.
The Huskies finally got something going around the middle of
the first half, with Roland keying an 8–0 run. But the lead never dipped lower
than 15 points, and Ryan Allen’s brilliant and-one dissolved any lingering
Delaware led 43–21 at the half. Northeastern’s total was
their lowest in any half this season, a product of an offense unable to
generate clean looks consistently. Bolden Brace remained aggressive but made
just one of his eight shots. Shaq Walters notched two buckets but often stagnated
the offense by catching the ball, taking a couple of meandering dribbles in the
midrange, then dishing the ball to a teammate. Neither Guilien Smith nor Jason
Strong, both efficient shooters who played meaningful minutes off the bench,
tried a shot all night. By contrast, all but one of the Blue Hens who saw
first-half action had logged a bucket.
The second half changed absolutely nothing, as both teams
scored 27 points. Darling and Roland, two of the CAA’s minutes leaders, played
less than their averages once the score was a foregone conclusion. Vito
Cubrilo, who had played just 16 minutes all season for the Huskies before
Thursday, entered the game with almost 17 minutes remaining. His only shot
attempt was a doomed drive against Goss, who pounded Cubrilo’s layup toward the
floor. Cubrilo is the only Husky this season who has seen the court but not scored.
This is not to say that the second half lacked interesting
moments. Delaware energized their home crowd with a few dunks from Allen and
Mutts, the latter of whom has established himself as one of the conference’s
best highlight generators.
But it was Jordan Roland who recorded
the play of the night. After hitting a tricky standstill, no-rhythm three over
Painter the possession before, Roland used a behind-the-back dribble and a
massive stepback to separate himself from Kevin Anderson. When Anderson leaped
forward to contest the shot, Roland leaned in, trying to draw a three-shot
But Roland’s stepback had created too
much room for that, so Anderson landed cleanly. Roland was left to jack up a
twisting, flailing, double-clutch, left-handed prayer from several feet beyond
the deepest part of the three-point line, a shot he tried only because he was
banking on a foul call, and a shot that no right-minded player would attempt
under normal circumstances.
With any other player you’d assume the
shot was a fluke, but Roland hit a similar left-handed three against Hofstra
two weeks ago.
Miraculous though the shot was, it was
ultimately a splash in a disappointing bucket. No Husky besides Roland and
Walker scored more than five points, and even those two combined for just 26
points on 27 shots. The team shot 37 percent from the floor and 29 percent from
downtown. The Huskies scored just 48 points, their lowest total since a 47–44
win over Towson more than four years ago. They haven’t scored so little in a
loss since December 2014 against Harvard, and haven’t done so in conference
play in more than six years.
Fortunately for the Huskies (13–14, 7–8
CAA), Towson and Drexel both lost Thursday night, meaning the Huskies remain in
sixth place, one game behind Towson and a half game ahead of Elon. With only
three games left to play in a conference season marked by remarkable parity,
securing a sixth seed or higher is imperative for the Huskies. The top six seeds
get a first-round bye in the CAA Tournament, a major advantage given the small
number of games and the fatigue of playing on consecutive nights. The Blue Hens
(20–8, 10–5 CAA) remained in third place.
The Huskies will look to rebound Saturday afternoon against
the Drexel Dragons, who they defeated last month by 33 points. Michael Petillo
and Milton Posner will call that game, with coverage beginning at 1:45 PM EST.
If you took a shot every time a CAA coach, player, or
commentator said the word “parity,” you’d probably wake up the next morning
with a raging hangover, an empty wallet, a lower-back butterfly tattoo, and no
clue how you wound up two cities over.
It’s entirely justified. The Hofstra Pride, last year’s
regular season champion, finished just one game ahead of the second-place
Northeastern Huskies. The last-place UNCW Seahawks finished just one game below
James Madison and Towson. The year before, Charleston and Northeastern tied for
first, with four teams — Elon, Drexel, Delaware, and James Madison — tied for
This is the definition of parity: few outliers. In any given
year, a handful of the CAA’s ten teams have a legitimate chance at the conference
championship and the automatic March Madness berth that comes with it.
The conclusion of Saturday’s games marked the halfway point
of the conference season. Each team has played every other team once, with the
distribution of home and away games as even as possible. A cursory glance shows
the parity we’ve come to expect; three teams boast 6–3 records and three more
boast 5–4 records.
But a deeper dive reveals something completely different.
This is not just parity; this is insanity.
Whether by pure chance or the interference of a few rogue
basketball gods looking for a laugh, the Colonial Athletic Association’s men’s
basketball teams have spent the last month setting, then destroying, the
expectations of fans and analysts. By way of a midseason roundup, I’ll try to
make sense of the ongoing tornado, beginning with . . .
Let’s define “game-winner” as a field goal made within the
last 10 seconds that gives a team a lead they don’t relinquish. The six
game-winners in CAA play have produced two storylines.
The first, and the less interesting of the two, is how often
Hofstra is involved. Four of their nine games have been decided by game-winners,
with the Pride winning twice and losing twice.
The second, more interesting storyline is the convergence of
Northeastern and Delaware.
The Huskies began conference play with wins over Towson, James Madison, and Elon by a combined margin of 41 points. Delaware stalled, losing four of their first six CAA contests in a surprising turnaround for a team that won the most non-conference games of any CAA squad. But game-winners would quickly swing each team’s fortunes.
For Northeastern, last-second shots proved fatal. The first
one, a forced layup from William & Mary star Nathan Knight on January 4, handed
the Huskies their first conference loss.
Five days later, Hofstra star Eli Pemberton decided that one
Husky loss on a last-second lefty layup wasn’t enough, and did it to them again.
This time a national television audience got to see it.
The following week, Delaware, by this point trending toward
the conference cellar, found themselves in a dogfight with bottom-tier Elon.
Ryan Allen drove, drew three defenders, and found infrequent three-point
shooter Jacob Cushing atop the arc for the decider.
One game later, Kevin Anderson launched himself to the top
of SportsCenter’s nightly top 10 when he fielded an inbounds pass, swerved
around reigning Defensive Player of the Year Desure Buie, and drove the length
of the court for the layup that gave his team a win. Tyus Edney was probably smiling
So when the two teams met on Saturday,
and when Delaware steadily closed the lead in the second half, you’d be
forgiven for assuming a dramatic ending was in store. Would Delaware’s third
consecutive game-winner hand Northeastern their third last-second loss in as
many weeks? Would Northeastern flip the script on the Blue Hens (and the rest
of the CAA) with their own season-defining moment?
Neither. Delaware finally tied the game
at 67 with 3:55 remaining. Of the 16 points scored between then and the final
buzzer, 10 came from the free-throw line. The last field goal splashed through
with 1:53 still left on the clock. When Tyson Walker tried to drive for a
game-tying basket with five seconds left, he stumbled and coughed up the ball. The
final score — 76–74 in Delaware’s favor — was the product of a sluggish march toward
an uncertain conclusion. A game ripe for fireworks fizzled instead.
It’s unreasonable to expect juicy,
coherent, fulfilling storylines after just nine conference games. But these
squads had polar opposite game-winner storylines. The way the first 35 minutes
of Saturday’s game played out inspired hope that a dramatic finish was in
order. When such a finish failed to materialize, it was easy to wonder whether
the storyline was over. Or, just maybe, the narrative letdown was in itself a
But those who require a different sort
of absurdity are in luck because . . .
The CAA’s Blowouts Make No Sense
A blowout is defined here as a game
decided by a margin of 20 or more points. There were five blowouts in the first
half of CAA play.
As with the game-winners, there are two
we will ignore because they are of incidental concern. This is primarily
because both games — a 27-point Hofstra win on January 4 and a 22-point Drexel
win on January 16 — came against the Elon Phoenix, who sit in ninth place and
haven’t finished a season higher than seventh place in three years. Especially
given that they graduated most of their key players last year, it is
understandable that stronger teams can run up the score on them. It is the
other three blowouts that make no sense.
On January 2, William & Mary
stormed into Hofstra’s house and knocked off the reigning regular-season
champions 88–61. Eight Tribe players scored at least six points, and their five
starters nailed 25 of their 31 shots. The Tribe held the guard-heavy Pride to a
meager four-for-25 from beyond the arc.
The smashing of Hofstra looked to be the
crowning jewel in what became a six-game winning streak. But this is the CAA,
where all observations are eventually proven wrong.
On January 18, the undefeated Tribe
were flattened by the Drexel Dragons 84–57. Zach Walton, Camren Wynter, and
James Butler combined for 60 efficient points. Drexel shot the ball well inside
and out and limited Tribe center Andy Van Vliet on both ends. It was Drexel’s
third straight win, pushing them to 5–2 in conference play and putting everyone
And . . . yeah you see where this is going. Five days later Northeastern steamrolled Drexel off the floor 85–52, the largest margin of victory in CAA play this year. Even more remarkable was that Northeastern built a 32-point lead by halftime, responding to Drexel’s first bucket with 18 unanswered points and flooring the gas pedal for the rest of the half. Jordan Roland and Bolden Brace turned in stellar performances on both sides of the ball, and seven other Huskies scored at least five points.
Then Northeastern turned around and
lost their next game.
In a league with remarkable parity, you
wouldn’t expect consistent, overwhelming dominance from one or two teams. But
what do you make of swings this large? What do you make of it when the
literally cartoonish stereotype of one fish eating another fish, then being
eaten by a third larger fish comes to pass on the hardwood?
Even if the blowout train stops here, the
abject craziness of the conference slate still begs the question . . .
Who is Actually the Title Favorite?
The meaning of life and the existence of
god might be easier questions to answer than this one, so I’ll present the best
case I can for each team, starting from last place and working my way up.
Madison: The Dukes are 1–8 in non-conference
play and have the worst average margin of victory (–8.3) of any CAA team. That
said, they had the third-best non-conference record and are extremely young,
with their top six scorers comprising three juniors, a sophomore, and two
freshman who are still developing. Their precipitous plunge in the last month
is one of the biggest surprises of the year, and it isn’t unreasonable to think
they can rediscover their form in time for the CAA Tournament.
My mom always taught me that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say
anything at all.
Two weeks ago, the Seahawks’ entry would be the same as Elon’s.
They had just lost to Elon by 17 — Elon’s first conference win marked UNCW’s 11th
straight loss — and remained the last winless squad in the CAA.
Two days later, UNCW fired head coach
C.B. McGrath, who managed just 26 wins in two-and-a-half years at the helm. The
promotion of assistant coach Rob Burke to interim head coach didn’t cause much
buzz around the league. Why should it? It was mid-January and the Seahawks hadn’t
won since before Thanksgiving. Grad transfer Carter Skaggs and point guard of
the future Kai Toews had left the program, and junior guard Jay Estimé was done
for the year after knee surgery.
But Burke and the Seahawks were about
to put everyone on notice. After battling Hofstra to a two-point loss, they
faced off against Northeastern on January 18. Burke’s sideline demeanor was
just as captivating as the action on the court. His energy was limitless; he jumped
around and clapped and encouraged his players. He turned to the crowd,
encouraging them to get loud. At one point he started doing jumping jacks. When
Shykeim Philips nailed a shot to end the first half, Burke slammed his hand on
the scorer’s table.
His energy somehow increased during his
team’s second-half comeback. Sometimes he displayed a defensive stance, sometimes
he got down on one knee and pounded the floor with his open hand. Trask
Coliseum was electric, with fans and players alike feeding off Burke’s energy.
By game’s end, he was sweating as much as any of his players.
are still just 2–7 in conference play, and their seven straight losses might
keep them from a top seeding even if they run the table. But in three games
since Burke took over — against the preseason poll’s top three teams, mind you
— they’ve had a two-point loss and two two-point wins. They can’t be ignored
Northeastern: Spots two through seven on this
list are all within one game of each other, so that the CAA’s tiebreakers put
Northeastern seventh is hardly a matter of concern. But what’s curious about
the Huskies’ 5–4 record is that their average margin of victory (7.7) easily
outstrips every other CAA team.
of Northeastern’s five wins came by 16 or more points; when they win, they win
convincingly. But all four of their losses have come by two points. It’s disingenuous
to say that the Huskies are therefore eight points away from a 9–0 record, but
their loss margins indicate that their win–loss record could be just as
forward Tomas Murphy misses the rest of the season — something head coach Bill
Coen seems increasingly concerned about — the Huskies still have enough dynamic
scoring to contend for the CAA title. There isn’t a player in the CAA who can
match the shot-making of an on-fire Jordan Roland, and freshman point guard
Tyson Walker has shown flashes of stardom and established himself as the
favorite for CAA Rookie of the Year. Throw in Max Boursiquot’s versatile
defense, and the defending conference champions are in decent position to do
Drexel: The Dragons arguably have the
worst chances of any team outside the bottom tier, but their 27-point win
against William & Mary and the emergence of Camren Wynter as a bona fide
star mean that they can’t be completely written off. The continued development
of James Butler and Zach Walton gives Wynter some backup, though all three need
to click for the Dragons to have a shot at beating top teams.
Delaware: It’s tough to say where the
Blue Hens stand now. They began the season with nine straight wins, lost seven
of their next ten, and have now won three straight games by a combined four
said, they’re scary. None of their top five scorers are seniors and two are
transfers, so their development and chemistry progression throughout the rest
of conference play could make a difference come tournament time. Nate Darling
is a flamethrower, dropping 28 second-half points on Saturday against a
Northeastern team that had no answer for him. Kevin Anderson is shooting threes
at an elite level in addition to his usual all-around contributions, and
versatile forward Justyn Mutts’ play has bolstered the Blue Hens’ attack. Don’t
be shocked if things pick up for them soon, especially as Villanova transfer
Dylan Painter gets more comfortable in the rotation.
Towson: After losing their first three conference
games, the Tigers reeled off six straight victories, all of them by seven or
more points. The emergence of sophomore guard Allen Betrand as a backcourt
force alongside Brian Fobbs has upped the Tigers’ attack, and, as is typical
for a Pat Skerry team, they lead the league in scoring defense, field goal
defense, and rebounding margin. If their offense can take another step forward
in the next month, no team will feel comfortable against them.
Charleston: The Cougars won their first five,
and though they have lost three out of four, only the William & Mary loss
was by more than three points. That Grant Riller’s scoring volume hasn’t
increased from its non-conference level masks the fact that his three-point
shooting, long his biggest offensive weakness, has jumped from 26 percent in
non-conference play to 44 percent in conference play. Throw in slightly
increased offensive contributions from Brevin Galloway and Sam Miller, and the
Cougars are as threatening as they’ve been all season.
Hofstra: Desure Buie has established
himself as arguably the conference’s best two-way guard, and his shooting
efficiency is on par with Jordan Roland’s. Isaac Kante’s numbers are inflated —
unsurprising for a big man on a guard-heavy team — but his inside play has
helped cover up the team’s size weakness. Tareq Coburn’s 45 percent mark from
downtown in conference play has bolstered the Pride’s attack.
Pride haven’t always looked great this year, but they’re still a threat. If second-leading
scorer Eli Pemberton ever finds his shooting efficiency, watch out.
William & Mary: Though the Tribe have lost two
of their last three, their white-hot start laves them as the only CAA squad
with seven wins. Though some teams boast solid stretch fours, there are only
two genuine centers in the CAA who can protect the rim and score from anywhere
at an elite level. William & Mary has both of them.
is playing his usual elite basketball, Andy Van Vliet is just as scary when he
gets going, and Luke Loewe went from afterthought backup to elite perimeter
marksman. Throw in Thornton Scott and Bryce Barnes and you have a balanced team
on both sides of the ball. When they’re clicking, it’s hard to imagine another
CAA team keeping pace. So . . .
Does This Leave Us?
left to do when parity becomes absurdity? How do we predict? How do we analyze?
How do we set our expectations?
going to sit back, not take anyone’s predictions too seriously, and enjoy the
ride. The biggest gift of all this madness is the gift of the unknown — just
about any team can realistically beat any other team, in any place, by any margin.
I want to see whether Rob Burke’s energy makes UNCW into a contender despite a
talent deficiency. I want to see whether anyone can stifle William & Mary’s
twin towers. I want to see whether Northeastern’s performance rises and falls with
Roland — and Charleston’s with Riller — or whether their supporting casts will
back up the stars.
is no king in this conference. The throne is wide open. Let the crazy continue.
BOSTON — At the close of CAA action on Saturday, the Northeastern Huskies’ average margin of victory in conference play rested at 7.7 points, nearly three points better than the next-best team. And yet they sat tied for fifth, owners of a 5–4 conference record, an anomaly possible only because each one of their losses has been by two points.
Four losses. Three of them in front of their home crowd. Two
of them on last-second game-winners. Eight combined points.
The Huskies appeared to be in the driver’s seat for most of
Saturday’s tilt against the Delaware Blue Hens. They took a 13-point lead into
halftime, buoyed by Jordan Roland’s 14 points. Max Boursiquot and Myles
Franklin each contributed eight points without missing a shot.
Northeastern picked up where it left off Thursday night against Drexel. Players moved constantly and the ball didn’t sit in one person’s hands for too long. Boursiquot, Bolden Brace, and Greg Eboigbodin sprung ballhandlers loose on screens; if the screens didn’t force switches or create separation, they would spread out and re-screen the ball. Roland earned a number of open perimeter looks by dashing around staggered pindown screens. The offense was efficient, precise, and energetic.
On defense, Boursiquot once again held fast against larger matchups,
in this case 6’10” Villanova transfer Dylan Painter and 6’7” standout Justyn
Mutts. The Huskies fought through and around screens, rotated swiftly, and swiped
errant or lazy passes. Transfer guard Nate Darling, who nearly kept pace with
Jordan Roland’s scoring in non-conference play, registered just six points on
The first half mirrored Thursday’s game against Drexel; the second mirrored last week’s game at UNCW. Once again, a 16-point second-half lead steadily evaporated. Once again, Northeastern allowed the opponents’ guards easy access to the lane. Once again, the game ended in a 76–74 Husky loss.
“We just couldn’t get a stop in the second half,” Northeastern
head coach Bill Coen remarked. “We just came out really, really flat . . . They
made a couple shots, got their energy up, and decided to play attack
On one level it was a team problem. Northeastern’s rotations
weren’t as crisp in the second half as they’d been in the first, and sometimes
close contests didn’t happen even when the rotations did. Perimeter defenders
had a harder time keeping their assignments in front of them. The Blue Hens
tried 12 second-half two-pointers and nailed 11 of them.
But the biggest post-halftime change was Darling, who poured
in 28 points and missed just three shots all half. He established his perimeter
shooting and his assertive driving simultaneously, leaving the Huskies wondering
which way to force him. He finished with a game-high 34 points — his best total
since November 10 — and catalyzed the Blue Hens’ 47-point second half.
Just like the UNCW game, the meltdown didn’t happen all at
once. In the absence of speedy transition basketball (the squads combined for
just 13 fastbreak points) or numerous turnovers, the lead shifted gradually.
The Huskies also suffered from factors outside their
control. Junior forward Shaq Walters was not present at Matthews Arena, which Coen
attributed to a “violent stomach bug.”
“Just really, really bad timing for Shaq . . . it was a day
that we could really use him,” Coen noted. “With his perimeter defense he would
have been the perfect guy in this role.”
It was a significant loss for a Northeastern frontcourt
already missing junior forward Tomas Murphy, who has been sidelined for more
than two months with an ankle injury.
“Tomas hasn’t returned to practice yet,” Coen confirmed. “I’m
not really sure where it’s gonna go but he hasn’t been healthy enough to get
back and practice . . . The deeper it gets into the season I’m less hopeful.”
All the challenges aside, the Huskies had a chance to pull
out a victory. Down two points with the shot clock turned off, they planned to
feed Roland for their last shot, with an inside option for Boursiquot as well.
But with 10 seconds left, Tyson Walker found himself with the ball out top,
guarded by the larger, slower Jacob Cushing. Walker started his drive, but lost
his balance on a crossover, fell, and couldn’t bet Cushing’s dive for the ball.
Roland finished with 27 points and is averaging 30 points
per game across the team’s last five contests. Boursiquot chipped in a
career-high 18 points, adding six rebounds and immeasurable defensive presence
in the first half. Besides Darling, the only Blue Hen with a great stat line
was junior guard Kevin Anderson, who notched an efficient 12 points, seven
rebounds, and six assists.
The Huskies have shown brilliance at times in non-conference
play, but the brilliance has been dulled by poor execution down the stretches
of close games. They will try to get back on track Thursday night at William
& Mary, the team that dealt them the first of their four two-point losses.
Milton Posner and Adam Doucette will call the game, with coverage beginning at
6:45 PM EST.
With the CAA’s conference slate beginning today, WRBB examined the non-conference performances of all 10 CAA teams and ranked them from worst to best. The rankings are based on each team’s record and strength of schedule, with occasional deviations if a deep dive into a team’s schedule, margins of victory, or statistics warranted one.
CAA teams played 125 non-conference games and won 68 for a winning
percentage of .544. Their average opponent, as determined by KenPom’s strength
of schedule metric, was very slightly below the Division I average.
They also spent a sizeable chunk of the last six weeks bludgeoning Division II and III squads. Eight CAA teams won a game by 40 or more points, with three teams winning by 60 or more. The largest margin of victory went to the Towson Tigers, who flattened Division III Bryn Athyn by 69 points. Only Northeastern’s biggest blowout — a 57-point laugher against Holy Cross— came against a Division I team.
Though a comment or prediction is given for each team’s
upcoming schedule, the rankings reflect only how the teams performed in their
completed non-conference games. Each section is prefaced with the team’s record,
strength of schedule rank (compared to other CAA teams), head coach, and, just
for kicks, the player with the best name along with an explanation for why.
With that said . . .
#10: Elon Phoenix
Non-Conference Record: 4–9
Strength of Schedule Rank: Fourth
Head Coach: Mike Schrage (first season)
Best Player Name: Federico Poser — fun to say whether you
pronounce it correctly or not
This is not to say that Elon had no bright spots in the season’s first six weeks. Stanford grad transfer Marcus Sheffield emerged as a premier scorer, posting 17 points per game to go along with five rebounds and three assists.
Freshmen Hunter Woods and Hunter McIntosh were also pleasant
surprises for a team that lost its top five scorers from last year. Both are
averaging double figures in scoring and shooting more than 40 percent form
downtown. Woods also leads the team in rebounding.
The Phoenix even managed to hang with No. 5 UNC for the
first 20 minutes of their November 20 matchup, despite the Tar Heels entering
as 30 ½-point favorites. Though UNC pulled away at the start of the second
half, the Phoenix faithful could take some small comfort in Sheffield’s poster
slam over former CAA standout Justin Pierce.
But the good news ends there for Elon. The UNC loss was one piece
of a six-game losing streak. Of their four non-conference wins, two came
against Division II teams, one against a Division III squad, and one against a Kennesaw
State club ranked 342 out of 353 Division I teams.
The Phoenix are last in the CAA in offense and scoring
margin, and are the only squad shooting below 40 percent from the floor. They
are last in offensive rebounds and rebounding margin. Their sole saving grace
is their three-point shooting; they are the only CAA club making more than 10
threes per game and are fourth in three-point percentage. But even then there
is a downside; they are worst in the conference at defending the three.
The emergence of Woods and McIntosh as scoring threats is welcome news for first-year coach Mike Schrage. But Elon’s lack of depth and veteran talent is evident. Given that the team finished with the CAA’s worst non-conference record despite multiple players exceeding expectations, it’s hard to imagine they can pose a threat during conference play.
#9: UNCW Seahawks
Non-Conference Record: 5–8
Strength of Schedule Rank: Third
Head Coach: C.B. McGrath (third season)
Best Player Name: Brian Tolefree — you don’t have to pay for
If the William & Mary Tribe were the CAA program most ravaged in the offseason — four of their top five scorers fled to other schools after the dismissal of longtime head coach Tony Shaver — then UNCW was the program most ravaged in non-conference play.
Though the Seahawks weren’t expected to shine much after the
graduation of monster forward Devontae Cacok and the transfer of junior
standout Jeantal Cylla, they at least had a few exciting pieces to fuel coach
C.B. McGrath’s up-tempo offense.
The first domino to fall was sharpshooting junior guard and
leading returning scorer Ty Gadsden, who began the season sidelined by injury,
played December 7 against Charlotte, and hasn’t played since. The team confirmed
he is out indefinitely, indicating that he may return sometime this season. The
same cannot be said for fellow junior guard Jay Estimé, who injured his knee,
went under the knife, and will miss the rest of the season. The injuries, when
combined with the departure of grad transfer Carter Skaggs in November, gutted
a Seahawks’ roster struggling for experience (the Seahawks are one of seven Division
I teams without a senior).
But the last and largest domino fell after the team’s
non-conference closer against Vanderbilt on December 21, when sophomore point
guard Kai Toews informed McGrath and his staff that he is leaving the program. McGrath
called the announcement a “total surprise.” The team said Toews planned to pursue
a professional basketball career in his native Japan; Toews announced on
Twitter that he was “thinking of going on a professional path or transferring.”
Toews said previously that he would like to compete for the Japanese national
team at the FIBA World Cup and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Though he was averaging just five points, four rebounds, and
three assists this year, Toews was a crucial component of the team’s future. Although
he wasn’t a major scoring threat, he was named to the CAA All-Rookie Team last
year after breaking the conference record with 253 assists.
In their stead, sophomore guard Jaylen Sims has picked up
some slack, leading the team in points (15) and rebounds (6) per game while
shooting a CAA-best 47 percent from behind the arc.
Sophomore forward Martin Linssen has also chipped in,
logging 10 points and four rebounds per game in his first season with the
Seahawks after transferring from Valparaiso. But the biggest surprise has been
six-foot freshman guard Shykeim Phillips, who is averaging nine points per
contest on 49 percent shooting. Though he isn’t scoring from the perimeter, he
uses a smorgasbord of quick hesitations, jukes, and handles to dart to the
basket for layups. Phillips began the season off the bench, but earned a
starting spot several weeks in.
But, like Elon’s, most of UNCW’s five wins have come against
Division III teams, with Campbell and FIU as the only DI victories. The four
departures and injuries are reflected in the CAA-worst five-game losing streak
they take into conference play. Their typically high-octane offense keeps their
scoring, field goal percentage, three-point percentage, and assists in the CAA’s
top five, but their field goal, three-point, and scoring defense all rank
Even if Ty Gadsden returns for a good chunk of conference play, enough damage has been done to put the Seahawks in contention with the Phoenix for the CAA’s bottom spot.
#8: Drexel Dragons
Non-Conference Record: 7–6
Strength of Schedule Rank: Sixth
Head Coach: Zach Spiker (fourth season)
Best Player Name: Coletrane Washington — greatest jazz name
of all time
Like Elon and UNCW, Drexel needed to replace a mix of graduates (Trevor John, Troy Harper) and transfers (Alihan Demir). The three combined to average more than half of the team’s points last season.
Unlike Elon and UNCW, Drexel has maintained enough healthy
talent to post a winning record in non-conference play.
The biggest component behind the Dragons’ success has been
the miraculous progression of senior guard/forward Zach Walton, who jumped to
Drexel from Edmonds Community College (not in the NCAA) and played just seven
games last year before an injury ended his season. Walton had a breakout night in
the team’s third game against Abilene Christian, dropping 22 points and sinking
the game-winning three after reigning CAA Rookie of the Year Camren Wynter was
denied the ball.
Ten days later, he dropped a season-high 32 points in a win
over Bryant. Though Walton’s 28 percent clip from downtown leaves much to be
desired, his 13 points per game are keying a Drexel offense badly in need of
scoring punch. His four boards per night and a steady series of highlights aren’t
too shabby either.
Wynter and James Butler sit right behind Walton in the
scoring column with 12 points per game. Both lead the CAA in a key category,
Butler in rebounds (11.5 a game) and Wynter in assists (5.8). Butler’s inside
presence is by far the biggest reason for Drexel’s strong rebounding margin,
the third-best in the CAA.
But Drexel lacks both an elite scorer and a deep, balanced roster of offensive options, which will likely spell trouble in conference play. Their offense and defense both ranked eighth in non-conference play, and though their assist and three-point defense stats led the conference, they need to find another gear to exceed preseason expectations. They also need to figure out how to win away from home; they won five of their six contests in Philadelphia but lost all five road games.
#7: Northeastern Huskies
Non-Conference Record: 6–6
Strength of Schedule Rank: Eighth
Head Coach: Bill Coen (14th season)
Best Player Name: Greg Eboigbodin — save for the word “boing,”
there’s no better way to describe the motion and feel of a trampoline
It’s surprising to see the Huskies this far down on the list, especially given that their scoring margin ranked third in the conference. But a .500 record and the third-weakest strength of schedule leaves them here.
That said, their bright spot was brighter than anyone else’s.
In the season’s first few games, senior guard Jordan Roland torched every
defense he saw, leading the nation in scoring and forcing his name into
national conversations, award watchlists, and ESPN segments. He infuriated
defenses with a flurry of difficult lefty floaters and overwhelmed them with
twisting, drifting, contested threes from distances where no one in their right
mind would think to shoot a basketball.
Roland’s best game came in an 84–79 win against Harvard on
November 8. He scored 11 points in the game’s first three minutes en route to a
42-point firestorm that shattered the single-game school record held by Husky
legends J.J. Barea and Reggie Lewis.
Though he tailed off somewhat as the season progressed, his
22.4 points per game still lead the CAA and rank seventh in the nation. His marks
of 51 percent from the floor, 43 percent from three, and 93 percent from the
foul line are all preposterous, and rank as the conference’s fourth-best, second-best,
and best, respectively. He is also second in the conference in minutes per game
(37.3) and has established himself as the clear favorite for CAA Player of the
Year ahead of Delaware’s Nate Darling and Charleston’s Grant Riller.
Tyson Walker, Max Boursiquot, and Shaq Walters have stepped
up at various times, giving hope that the Husky offense can become more
balanced. Walker in particular has exceeded expectations, starting every game and
taking the offensive keys from graduating guard Vasa Pusica.
But the consistency hasn’t been there. Senior guard/forward
Bolden Brace, who was expected to be the team’s second scoring option behind
Roland, has shot efficiently but hasn’t scored in volume, logging double
figures in just four of the team’s 12 games. Without reliable scoring from him,
Northeastern will be hard-pressed to remain a top-three CAA team.
The team also suffered from injuries to big men; 6’8” Tomas
Murphy has missed the last eight games with an ankle injury and 6’10” Greg
Eboigbodin has missed the last two. Though there have been some fine
performances in their stead — namely back-to-back double-doubles by 6’5”
utility man Max Boursiquot — the lack of size has presented problems for the
Huskies. Though their CAA-worst rebounding numbers are partially attributable
to their having the slowest pace in the conference, their challenges in
crashing the boards without Murphy and Eboigbodin have often hampered their
ability to build and maintain momentum in games.
The Huskies excelled from the outside, nailing a CAA-best 41
percent of their three-pointers, with their three most frequent perimeter
shooters all shooting between 42 and 44 percent. They also sank 82 percent of
their free throws, easily the best mark in the conference. But they allow the CAA’s
highest field goal percentage, in large part due to the shortcomings of their
The Huskies’ non-conference slate left plenty for coach Bill Coen to be optimistic about. But offensive inconsistency, namely from players not named Jordan Roland, left the Huskies with a .500 record when they could have fared much better.
#6: Towson Tigers
Non-Conference Record: 6–6
Strength of Schedule Rank: Second
Head Coach: Pat Skerry (ninth season)
Best Player Name: Demetrius Mims — m’s in all the right
Last year, Towson struggled mightily, winning less than a third of their games while trying to incorporate 11 new players. This year, with 90 percent of their scoring and 86 percent of their rebounding from last year returning, the Tigers have a much better chance to develop.
Towson finished with the same 6–6 record as Northeastern,
but Towson had a higher strength of schedule. Oddly enough, their most
encouraging moment was a loss. Despite entering a mid-November game against the
No. 15 Florida Gators as 18 ½-point underdogs, the Tigers kept the game close
throughout. The clubs were tied with 80 seconds left before Florida salvaged a
As expected, senior guard Brian Fobbs has keyed the Towson
attack, averaging 17 points and five boards a night. However, his relatively
low efficiency marks (41 percent from the field, 29 percent from three) will
have to rise before he can join the elite tier of CAA scorers.
Sophomore guard Allen Betrand and senior forwards Nakye
Sanders and Dennis Tunstall have continued their solid offensive production
from last year. But all three will need to up their production before Towson
can take the next step.
The Tigers’ reliably scrappy, energetic defense has shown up
this year; they allow a CAA-best 65.4 points per game and boast the second-best
rebounding margin and third-best steal total. But they don’t rank near the top
of the conference in any meaningful offensive category and only Fobbs qualifies
as any sort of offensive standout.
Their excellent defense can only take them so far, and if Towson wishes to capitalize on the senior seasons of Fobbs, Tunstall, and Sanders, the entire team needs to boost its scoring.
#5: Charleston Cougars
Non-Conference Record: 6–6
Strength of Schedule Rank: First
Head Coach: Earl Grant (sixth season)
Best Player Name: Zep Jasper — plenty of powerful plosives
Charleston is a general consensus top-three CAA team that finished 6–6 in non-conference play. At first glance, this might lead to comparisons with Northeastern, but Charleston had a decidedly superior non-conference slate.
Though they suffered blowout defeats at the hands of
Oklahoma State and Central Florida, their other four losses were by
single-digit margins to good teams: Central Florida again, Wake Forest,
Richmond, and VCU. The Cougars fought through the most difficult non-conference
schedule of any CAA team and emerged with plenty to be happy about.
They are led by senior guard and CAA Preseason Player of the
Year Grant Riller, who is logging 21 points, four rebounds, and four assists per
night. His scoring mark is good for third in the CAA (20th in the
nation) and his field goal and free throw percentages are both top five in the
conference. His scoring is coming in the same way it did last year: subpar
three-point shooting and a sky-high percentage around the rim.
On November 29, Riller keyed a win over Providence and
passed former teammate Jarrell Brantley for third on the school’s all-time
scoring list. Two weeks later, he notched his 2,000th collegiate point.
That said, there is room for Riller to improve, particularly
regarding his 26 percent mark from three-point land. He’s had a strong season,
but at his best he is the conference’s greatest scorer and arguably its top
player overall. He hasn’t hit his ceiling yet.
The Cougars lack a clear second scoring option behind
Riller, but junior guard Brevin Galloway and senior forwards Jaylen McManus and
Sam Miller have all assumed larger roles in the offense. Miller in particular
has stood out, notching seven points and seven rebounds per contest thanks in
part to moderately efficient perimeter shooting.
The Cougars boast a strong defense, led by a combined four
steals per game from Riller and Galloway. Though their CAA-worst perimeter shooting
badly warrants improvement, many of their other low ranks in team stats
compared to other CAA squads can be explained away by their slow pace of play
and the tough competition they’ve faced so far.
Their record isn’t fantastic, and there is room for improvement up and down the roster. But don’t be fooled; this Cougars team is still dangerous.
#4: James Madison Dukes
Non-Conference Record: 7–4
Strength of Schedule Rank: Seventh
Head Coach: Louis Rowe (third season)
Best Player Name: Michael Christmas — because Christmas time
At the outset of the season, James Madison appeared poised to snap a streak of three consecutive losing seasons, and they haven’t disappointed so far.
Leading the way is junior guard Matt Lewis, who ranks fifth
in the conference in points (18), rebounds (7), and minutes (35) per game, and
adds a third-best five assists per game as well. He’s taken the lead on a team
with no seniors in the regular rotation.
His backcourt partner and fellow junior Darius Banks is
faring almost as well, averaging 14 points (on 41 percent from downtown) and
five boards a night. He has also continued his thievery from last year, swiping
the ball 1.6 times per contest.
And if that wasn’t enough junior talent, try 6’8”, 250-pound
junior forward Dwight Wilson, who missed the first four games of the season but
has averaged a double-double since. Or junior forward Zach Jacobs, who chips in
eight points and six boards a game.
But the performance nobody saw coming, especially with so
many returning offensive centerpieces, is freshman forward Michael Christmas,
who is putting up nine points and six rebounds per game, shooting a comical 46
percent from three on decent volume, and has established himself as a one-man
The Dukes’ team stats require a bit of context to decipher.
At first glance, their counting stats and percentage stats appear to tell
opposing stories. This is explained by the team’s pace of play, easily the
fastest in the conference. The Dukes have the 26th-fastest pace out
of 353 Division I teams; the next closest CAA team is Hofstra, nearly 100 spots
down the list.
More possessions mean that the Dukes score more and give up
more points, skewing their counting stats. The percentage stats tell a more accurate
story. James Madison is eighth in the CAA in field goal and three-point
percentage; save for Banks and Christmas, the regular three-point shooters are
converting less than a third of their tries. They also struggled from the
charity stripe, making just 65 percent of their free throws.
The Dukes shone on defense, limiting opponents to the lowest
field goal percentage and second-lowest three-point percentage of any CAA team.
They also led the conference in blocks.
The Dukes’ offense has a high ceiling and is likely to improve as the season progresses. But it is their defense that has turned heads, going from a middle-of-the-pack unit last year to — along with Towson — the conference’s best so far this year. If they can overcome the offensive hole left by the graduation of Stuckey Mosley, the Dukes can join the CAA’s top tier.
#3: Hofstra Pride
Non-Conference Record: 9–4
Strength of Schedule Rank: Tenth
Head Coach: Joe Mihalich (seventh season)
Best Player Name: Stafford Trueheart — no idea why he’s playing
basketball instead of commanding the English army in the 12th
Hofstra begin their non-conference schedule with a mandate (a first-place finish in the CAA Preseason Poll) and the question of how to replace the offense of graduating guard Justin Wright-Foreman, the two-time reigning CAA Player of the Year and arguably the best scorer the conference has seen in years?
But, as it turns out, you can lose Wright-Foreman and still
have the best and deepest backcourt in the conference. It begins with a pair of
seniors: Eli Pemberton and Desure Buie.
The pair have remarkably similar numbers. Pemberton averages
17.1 points per game, good for sixth in the conference; Buie’s 16.6 points rank
eighth. Pemberton is third in minutes per game with 35.6; Buie is right behind
him at 35.5. Pemberton averages six rebounds per contest; Buie notches six assists,
good for second in the conference. Buie has also retained the defensive
brilliance that won him CAA Defensive Player of the Year last year; he leads
the conference with 2.7 steals a night.
Junior guards Jalen Ray and Tareq Coburn round out the backcourt,
averaging a combined 18 points and 11 rebounds. Coburn’s seven rebounds per
contest lead the team, while Ray has been the most efficient scorer among the Hofstra
guards, shooting 41 percent from downtown.
Sophomore forward/center Isaac Kante, who sat out last
season after transferring from Georgia, has established himself on a squad short
on rebounding and defensive presence down low. He is averaging nine points on
61 percent shooting to go along with seven rebounds.
The Pride also scored the biggest win of any CAA team so far
this season. On November 21, they walked into Pauley Pavilion and toppled UCLA.
Keyed by 29 points from Buie and 27 from Ray, Hofstra came
back from a 13-point first-half deficit to take the game 88–78. It was the
Bruins’ first loss of the year and one of the biggest wins in program history
The Pride are the best-scoring offense in the CAA so far,
though their numbers are inflated by their relatively fast pace of play and
their strength of schedule, which was the weakest of any CAA team. Their four
main guards are all among the conference’s ten best free throw shooters, with
Buie’s 91 percent second only to Northeastern’s Jordan Roland. The team as a
whole knocks down 78 percent of their foul shots, second only to Northeastern’s
82 percent. The Pride have the most steals, most offensive rebounds, and best
assist-to-turnover ratio of any CAA team.
Hofstra’s biggest causes for concern inside depth (as
evidenced by their middle-of-the-pack rebounding numbers) and efficiency — they
ranked seventh in field goal percentage and three-point percentage.
The Pride enter conference play riding a three-game winning streak. They have a quartet of guards that can outpace anyone. If they can find the efficiency and inside play buttons, they will be an imposing bunch.
#2: William & Mary Tribe
Non-Conference Record: 8–5
Strength of Schedule Rank: Fifth
Head Coach: Dane Fischer (first season)
Best Player Name: Thatcher Stone — if people were once again
named after their professions, you’d hire him to build you a sturdy house
This one was a surprise.
A month after their CAA Tournament exit last season, the
Tribe looked like a bomb had hit them. Tony Shaver, their coach of 16 years, had
been fired. Justin Pierce, Matt Milon, Chase Audige, and LJ Owens — four of the
team’s five leading scorers who had a combined eight years of eligibility
remaining — had transferred. Leading scorer Nathan Knight was thinking about
bailing on his senior season and declaring for the NBA draft.
New head coach Dane Fischer walked into this mess and pulled
everything together. The Tribe posted the CAA’s fourth-best winning percentage
in non-conference play; the three teams ahead of them had considerably weaker
It begins, as any William & Mary conversation inevitably
does, with Knight. When he decided to return for his senior season, the Tribe
retained the conference’s best big man and, along with Charleston’s Grant
Riller, a solid candidate for Player of the Year. He hasn’t disappointed,
posting nightly averages of 20 points and 10 rebounds, with his 56 percent mark
from the field and 1.5 blocks per game leading the conference. Along with
Northeastern’s Jordan Roland, Knight was named to the watchlist for the Oscar
Robertson Trophy, given annually to college basketball’s best player.
As spectacular as Knight has been, his elite play was
expected. What wasn’t as expected was the establishment of senior center Andy
Van Vliet as an elite two-way player. The seven-foot Wisconsin transfer is
averaging 15 points and 10 rebounds a night, the latter tied with the 6’10” Knight
for second-best in the conference. His is sixth in the conference in field goal
percentage and blocks.
Good shooters are not hard to come by in the CAA; good
shooters who are seven feet tall are rare. Both Knight and Van Vliet can space
the floor, nailing 35 and 39 percent of their threes, respectively. This allows
Fischer to play a twin towers lineup without sacrificing perimeter shooting,
creating matchup and switching nightmares even for well-balanced defenses.
The Tribe also have benefitted from a pair of guards: grad
transfer Bryce Barnes and junior Luke Loewe. Barnes is averaging eight points,
three rebounds, and four assists a night in his first and only season for the
Tribe after three years playing for Milwaukee. Loewe has taken a gigantic step
forward, upping his production and efficiency across the board. He’s averaging
11 points a night on a hyper-efficient 53 percent shooting from the floor and
47 percent from downtown.
Sophomore guard Thornton Scott has missed nine straight games
with a lower leg injury. In the four games he played — all of which the Tribe
won — he showed tremendous progress from last year, averaging 13 points, five
rebounds, and four assists with an absurd 52 percent clip from downtown. If he
returns soon, it will add another weapon to an already well-stocked arsenal.
The Tribe won their first four games out of the gate, three
of which came on the road. One of those wins came against Wofford, courtesy of
a game-winning layup by Barnes. Before Barnes’s shot dropped, Wofford had won
its last 17 home games in a row.
Fischer has picked up his predecessor’s tendency for a
relatively even distribution of minutes. Van Vliet leads the team with just 30
per game, trailed closely by Knight and Loewe. It begs the question of what
happens if Fischer decides to up their minutes, leaving opponents to face his
twin towers for longer stretches.
William & Mary’s team stats reveal no obvious weaknesses
so far. Their scoring, assist rate, points allowed, margin of victory, field
goal percentage, field goal defense, and three-point percentage all fall
between third and fifth. They rank second in defensive rebounds and blocks, and
first in rebounding margin. Even their bottom-half offensive rebounding and
three-point defense aren’t far off from respectable levels.
Entering the season, the Tribe were a question mark, with Knight projected to dominate but nothing else assured. With non-conference play complete, the Tribe have joined the CAA’s top tier and have as good a shot at the CAA title as anyone.
#1: Delaware Blue Hens
Non-Conference Record: 10–3
Strength of Schedule Rank: Ninth
Head Coach: Martin Inglesby (fourth season)
Best Player Name: Nate Darling — any Delaware fans who think
he’s cute have an easy poster idea waiting for them
December 3, 2019. Hofstra, the winner of the CAA Preseason Poll, was 6–3. Northeastern, the defending conference champion, was 4–4.
The Delaware Blue Hens, who most preseason observers had
placed outside the CAA’s top tier, were undefeated, winners of nine straight
games. And though they fell to earth by losing three of their next four to
close non-conference play, the statement had been made: Delaware is the team to
beat in the CAA.
Although many had high expectations for junior guard and UAB
transfer Nate Darling, he has outplayed those expectations and then some. His
21.4 points per game are second only to Northeastern’s Jordan Roland and rank
16th in the nation. He has played more minutes and made more threes
than anyone in the CAA, and his stellar three-point percentage of 42 ranks
third. Throw in his four rebounds and three assists per contest, and Delaware has
the best CAA transfer since Northeastern nabbed Vasa Pusica from San Diego.
But because one excellent transfer isn’t enough, the Blue
Hens have another: sophomore forward Justyn Mutts. In his first season with
Delaware after leaving High Point, Mutts is logging 14 points per game on 53
percent shooting (second in the conference to Nathan Knight) and 9.6 rebounds
(fourth in the conference). As if that weren’t enough, his highlights are
Now, for the returning play . . . what? They have another transfer?
He’s from Villanova? He’s 6’10”? He dropped 19 points in his Delaware debut?
Sure, why not? This might as well happen.
Dylan Painter is a midseason transfer, so he only recently
became eligible, playing in Delaware’s final two non-conference games. The Blue
Hens won nine games in a row, then added a major piece to compliment Mutts down
And finally we turn our attention to returning junior guards
Ryan Allen and Kevin Anderson. Both have long been ticketed for CAA stardom but
have seen serious injuries impede their progress. They’re healthy now, and at
the perfect time. They have similar numbers: double-digit scoring, a field goal
percentage in the high 40s, and a three-point percentage around 40 percent.
The Blue Hens are third in scoring, points allowed, field goal and three-point defense, and defensive rebounds. They lead the conference in scoring margin, field goal percentage, and assist-to-turnover ratio. Though they ultimately fell 78–70 to No. 20 Villanova, they proved they could hang around against a superior team. In the season’s fourth game, Painter and Anderson combined for 69 points.
Last year, Delaware finished with a losing conference record
and lost in the semifinal round of the CAA Tournament. Now they’re stacked, and
the road to the conference’s March Madness bid goes through them.
Last Season: 17–16
(8–10 CAA, fifth place), lost in CAA semifinal
Martin Ingelsby (fourth season)
CAA Preseason Poll
G Ryan Johnson
G Connor Rufo
G Curtis Lochner
G Ithiel Horton
G Darian Bryant
F Matt Veretto
F Eric Carter
G Nate Darling
G Reggie Gardner
G John McCoy
G Ebby Asamoah
F Dylan Painter
By Michael Petillo
The 2018–19 season was supposed to be a rebuilding year for
Delaware, but the Blue Hens cobbled together a respectable 8–10 conference record
and finished fifth. They pulled off a mild upset by knocking off William &
Mary in the second round of the CAA Tournament before falling in a close game
This year’s Blue Hens will have to overcome the graduation
of forward Eric Carter and the transfer of standout freshman guard Ithiel
Horton to the University of Pittsburgh. Despite those losses, Delaware has the
talent to compete in the CAA.
The height of their ceiling largely depends on whether
junior guard Ryan Allen takes the next step. Allen established himself as a
player to watch as a freshman, averaging 15 ppg while knocking down 39 percent
of his three-pointers. It was hoped he’d reach the next level as a sophomore,
but his scoring average improved only slightly, to 16 ppg, as he missed the
beginning of the season due to injury.
Allen’s backcourt running mate, Kevin Anderson, is another
player to watch. A 6’5” guard, Anderson is a long, rangy defender who also
dished out 3.8 apg as a sophomore last year. If his shooting improves a bit,
he’ll become the second option for head coach Martin Ingelsby. He sat out
summer activities — including the team’s trip to the Bahamas — with an injury,
but he appears to be back at full strength.
Adding to the backcourt mix is highly touted junior transfer
Nate Darling, who averaged 10 ppg in his last season at UAB. The 6’5” Canadian
is a knockdown three-point shooter (41 percent as a sophomore) who sat out last
year after transferring to Delaware. As with previous CAA transfers (see
Pusica, Vasa), Darling could outperform his previous stats after having a year
to work on his game and learn Ingelsby’s system. His impact could elevate an
otherwise middling team to an elite one, making him one of the conference’s most
pivotal players. Though his role at UAB was spotting up from the perimeter,
Ingelsby says he has diversified, even playing point guard in practice.
Delaware’s obvious weakness is the frontcourt, where they lack a top-end talent to replace Carter. Senior role players Jacob Cushing and Collin Goss will likely see a big uptick in playing time. Both are serviceable big men who can stretch the floor, which should open driving lanes for the guards. They will look to hold the fort down for the first half of the season, at which point Villanova mid-year transfer Dylan Painter will be eligible to play. Painter, a 6’10” redshirt junior, struggled to find playing time for the Wildcats but will look to find his niche with the Blue Hens; he could boost the team at the beginning of conference play.
Bottom Line: Delaware is a talented veteran team, but there are too many question marks to pencil them in now among the CAA’s elite. That could all change by conference season if Darling shines and Allen becomes a first-team all-conference type of player. Until that happens, however, the Blue Hens are a second-tier CAA team with first-tier potential.
Ahh, the CAA Preseason Poll. That wonderful time of year when the conference’s coaches, media relations directors, and media members (including a few from your favorite Northeastern student radio station) gaze deep into their crystal balls and relay the results of the upcoming season. The results of this annual divination ritual, released Wednesday, were among the closest ever, with five teams receiving first-place votes.
Points (First-Place Votes
James Madison Dukes
Delaware Blue Hens
William & Mary Tribe
Hofstra, the defending regular-season titleholder, narrowly topped Charleston despite receiving fewer first-place votes. Northeastern finished third without immediate neighbors, and James Madison squeaked ahead of Delaware.
Charleston senior guard Grant Riller took home Preseason Player of the Year Honors and headlined the All-CAA First Team.
Grant Riller, Charleston
Nathan Knight, William & Mary
Brian Fobbs, Towson
Eli Pemberton, Hofstra
Matt Lewis, James Madison
Jordan Roland, Northeastern
Ryan Allen, Delaware
Camren Wynter, Drexel
Desure Buie, Hofstra
Darius Banks, James Madison
Bolden Brace, Northeastern
Kai Toews, UNCW
Kevin Anderson, Delaware
James Butler, Drexel
Marcus Sheffield II, Elon
Charleston, and Northeastern, the top three finishers in the poll, were the top
three finishers in the regular season last year, albeit in a different order.
All three lost major contributors — Justin Wright-Foreman, Jarrell Brantley,
and Vasa Pusica, respectively — to graduation. They, along with fellow
first-teamer Devontae Cacok of UNCW, signed
pro contracts. This was a familiar theme during the CAA offseason; many of
the conference’s most talented players graduated or transferred, including
William & Mary’s Justin Pierce, Drexel’s Alihan Demir, and Northeastern’s
will look to defend its regular-season crown behind a trio of guards: second-teamer
Eli Pemberton, third-teamer and Defensive Player of the Year Desure Buie, and the
sweet-shooting Tareq Coburn. Charleston will lean heavily on Riller and hope
for increased contributions from their maturing role players, namely Brevin
Galloway. Northeastern, the defending CAA champion, offers second-teamer Jordan
Roland, versatile guard/forward Bolden Brace, and a mix of returning role
players and freshman recruits. James Madison and Delaware look to rebound from
losing years behind star guards and, in Delaware’s case, two high-powered
transfers in Dylan Painter and Nate Darling.
post detailed previews for each CAA team the week before Northeastern’s
November 5 opening again Boston University. Michael Petillo and Milton Posner
will be on the call; coverage begins at 6:45 PM ET.