TOWSON, MD — The coronation of Bill Coen as the winningest coach in Northeastern basketball history seemed almost inevitable entering Sunday.
His team was 8–1 in conference play, with their only loss coming to second-place James Madison. Their opponent, the eighth-place Towson Tigers, had only two conference wins, both against a team below them in the standings. And sophomore point guard Tyson Walker was coming off two straight 30-point games, including a career-high 36 in a win over Towson the day before.
That inevitability seemingly solidified before the game, when it became clear that Towson leading scorer Zane Martin, sitting on the bench with a walking boot on, would not join the day’s festivities. Nor would bench piece Cam Allen, usually good for 15 or 20 minutes of action.
And, as if it needed to get worse, third-leading scorer Jason Gibson drove to the rim six minutes in, took a foul from Jason Strong — replays showed that Strong stayed vertical — lost his balance midair, and crashed down hard on his back. The injury is not projected to be serious, but he did not return.
But despite these disadvantages, the Tigers’ trademark physicality and aggressiveness carried them to a 68–57 victory Sunday afternoon at SECU Arena. Coen’s coronation would have to wait.
The loss dropped Northeastern (9–7, 8–2 CAA) to second place in the conference standings, compounded by a James Madison (13–5, 8–1 CAA) win over Hofstra an hour later. With the next closest team to Northeastern sitting two games behind with two weeks to go, the Huskies and Dukes are in prime position to win the top two seeds.
“I thought we showed our youth and inexperience this afternoon,” Coen said. “I thought Towson came out with a lot of emotional energy. We did not match that to start the game; we dug ourselves a hole.”
The Huskies’ 57 points — their lowest in CAA play this year — pointed to two key issues. The first, which was apparent from the opening tip, was the large volume of missed open shots. One day after shooting a conference-play-best 56 percent, Northeastern shot a season-low 36 percent. Though they entered with a 37 percent mark from downtown (second-best in the CAA), they made just six of their 24 triples.
“Usually close to 50 percent of our shots are threes; that’s how our system is built and that’s how we recruit,” Coen said. “I am not sure you can effectively change your DNA at halftime . . . In the first half we had some very makeable catch-and-shoot threes that just didn’t go. Similar to how Towson has to rebound in order for them to be effective, we have to make shots and share the basketball in order to be effective. They did a better job playing to their identity than we did playing to ours.”
The second issue was the dialed-in Towson defense, replete with clogged driving lanes and rapid rotations. The Tigers held Walker to just four first-half points after he put up 18 in yesterday’s opening period. Northeastern’s other Saturday weapon, Greg Eboigbodin, was silenced as well, registering just four points all game and getting considerably less run time after halftime than before it.
“Chris [Doherty] wasn’t available for the game today,” Coen clarified. “With Greg they were doing some different things on the ball-screen coverage, forcing us to play through the high post and that’s not where he’s best at. We have a couple other guys who are more effective from there but that didn’t seem to work either.”
The Tigers did a terrific job adjusting from yesterday. They doubled Walker effectively off of screens while also blocking passes to his lob lover Eboigbodin. Though a second-half knee hit boosted his energy — after he was slow to get up — he finished with a relatively modest 16 points on six-of-16 shooting, including one-of-six from deep. Save for some late offensive bursts from Shaquille Walters and Jason Strong, Walker didn’t have much help.
On the defensive side, the Huskies had trouble with a couple of Boston-area natives. Reigning CAA Sixth Man of the Year Nicolas Timberlake exploited one-on-one chances and gaps in Northeastern’s pick-and-roll coverage to score a career-high 22 points. With the Tigers’ first- and third-leading scorers out, he played the entire game. Jakigh Dottin added 13 points of his own, and guided the Towson attack with sturdy, reliable ball handling.
“[Timberlake] played with alot of emotion,” Coen said. “He’s a Boston kid and I think there is always an extra bit of emotion when he and Jakigh Dottin — who played in Cambridge — play against Northeastern.They are very familiar with a lot of our guys.”
Dottin also showed that intensity after the whistle a couple of times. On one series, Walker collided hard with a Tiger, then was incensed by a foul call. When the referee hit Walker with a technical foul, Dottin got in Walker’s face and hissed at him, prompting Coen to engage Dottin in a back-and-forth.
“[Walker] had a terrific game yesterday and one way to combat that is to get more physical with him,” Coen explained. “They did that from the start and as a player you have to be able to play through that physicality. As a team we have to play through that physicality and still execute. I thought that they did a good job initiating contact and being the aggressor, and we didn’t absorb and process that well. It took us out of rhythm on offense. We only had six assists today; that right there tells you that we had more one-on-one play than we wanted.”
The Huskies closed the Tiger lead to four midway through the second half, then promptly let the lead balloon to 18. Though they knocked down three straight triples to draw closer, they never got within striking distance again.
“There is a tendency, once you lose a basketball game, to step in and fight,” Coen noted. “They were down Zane Martin and a couple other guys. In the short term there is a huge emotional lift that goes to them.”
Northeastern’s next scheduled games are a road doubleheader against William & Mary on February 27 and 28.
After a strong third-place finish last year, the Tigers were eliminated in the CAA quarterfinals by a Northeastern team that had more talent than its record suggested. A respectable showing, but the team then lost its three top three scorers, with guard Brian Fobbs and forward Nakye Sanders graduating, as well as guard Allen Betrand transferring to Rhode Island.
This year, one name will be on everyone’s radar: Zane Martin. The redshirt senior started his college career with two seasons at Towson, averaging ranking third in the conference in scoring his second year. He transferred to New Mexico and averaged 10 points and three rebounds last season while only starting about half their games. With all the notable departures Towson has suffered, Martin’s senior leadership and ability to reacclimate to head coach Pat Skerry’s play style will be big influences on the team’s success.
Some of last year’s role players are also making convincing arguments to play larger roles this time around. Skerry confirmed CAA Sixth Man of the Year Nicolas Timberlake would “not come off the bench and that he’s been the team’s “most consistent performer in practice,” even going so far as to say he would have started last year if not for his injury. Timberlake and redshirt senior forward Juwan Gray, who put up seven points and four rebounds off the bench last year, will be expected to fill the gaps left by last year’s leaders.
Gray will be looked upon to fill the forward role abandoned by Sanders, as Towson’s only new forward is freshman Chris Biekeu. Junior guard Curtis Holland III, who transferred this year from High Point, could also factor into the team’s positional battles, having averaged 13 points per game in his sophomore year.
The presence of the Uyaelunmo brothers, Solomon and Victor, gives the Tigers a bit more depth this year, as Solomon, a 6’7” forward, was injured last year and Victor, a 7’0” center, could not play due to transfer rules. The two likely won’t revolutionize the squad, but they could give it a bit of bully ball potential down low, offering valuable minutes and rebounding.
The team will likely start slow, and the improvements expected of every player won’t be seen immediately, but their schedule is well-suited to their story this year, with most of their home games coming in the second half of the season, including four of their last six. If the new stars hit their strides at the right time, Towson could make a late push up the standings and put themselves in a good position for the playoffs.
Bottom Line: Towson has a talented team, and if everyone performs as Skerry expects and hopes, they could approach last season’s strong finish. But with so many notable departures, the returning Martin’s play early on will be a huge indicator of how they’ll end up. If their role players struggle to adapt to the steep learning curve of the starting lineup, we could see them slip right back down.
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
plays Elon at 8:30 PM EDT on Monday in the semifinal of the CAA Tournament.
Michael Petillo, Milton Posner, and Matt Neiser will be on the call from
Washington D.C., with coverage beginning about 15 minutes before tipoff.
WASHINGTON — The calling card of Northeastern’s conference
season was an infuriating one: they couldn’t figure out how to win close games.
They forfeited second-half leads large and small, going long stretches without
a bucket and letting other teams pillage them down low with little defensive
So when the Huskies went up 16 a few minutes into the second
half, and when Towson mounted a furious run to trim the lead to four, Husky
fans could be forgiven for fearing the worst.
But not tonight.
With their season on the line and the Tigers bearing down on
them, the Huskies found another gear, securing a 72–62 win and advancing to the
semifinals of the CAA Tournament. They will face No. 7 Elon on Monday night in
the first six–seven semifinal matchup since 1993.
The game began in a rather unexpected fashion. Pat Skerry’s
Towson squads are known for size, strength, and defensive intensity, all of
which manifest in fierce play around the basket. But the Huskies used a number
of lateral cuts and slides to earn strong position in the paint, and their
ballhandlers ably found the cutters for layups. Max Boursiquot set the tone for
this style of play, scoring Northeastern’s three buckets and finishing with 16
points (7–10 FG). Greg Eboigbodin also notched a pair of buckets off
penetration and drop-off passes from the Husky guards.
“We knew Towson was going to blitz on
ball screens, so we had a game plan to slip me to the mid-post and try to be
aggressive,” Boursiquot noted. “My teammates were doing a great job of finding
me and I was doing a good job of getting in and out of screens.”
Eventually the Huskies diversified their attack, with Bolden
Brace chipping in some outside shooting. His three triples keyed a 15-point,
eight-rebound performance that helped to negate several of Towson’s physical strengths.
In an odd scheduling quirk, Northeastern had played Towson a
week before in their last regular-season game. Northeastern head coach Bill Coen
attributed the Huskies’ three-point loss in that game primarily to Northeastern’s
excessive second-half fouling, which give the Tigers a hefty advantage from the
charity stripe and landed several key forwards in foul trouble.
Tonight there would be no repeat mistake. The Huskies played brilliant defense throughout the first half, limiting the Tigers to 23 points and fouling just five times. By holding their defensive positions on the low block and maintaining verticality when contesting shots, the Huskies turned the Tigers’ famous physicality against them, drawing offensive fouls that killed any chance Towson had at offensive momentum. It also placed nearly every Towson starter in foul trouble.
“We left our feet a lot when the ball came [inside],” Skerry
said. “We were a little bit all over the place.”
After a slow start, Husky point guard Tyson Walker turned on
the jets to boost Northeastern’s lead to 10 by halftime. Walker injured his
shoulder two weeks ago against Drexel, and until he emerged from the tunnel
before the game it was unclear if he would play. But he said the shoulder felt “perfectly
fine” and undoubtedly played like it, netting 14 points.
The true oddity for the Huskies was Roland,
who went scoreless in the first half amid foul trouble. When he finally stole a
pass and slammed home a breakaway dunk with 18:24 to go in the second half, he
immediately picked up his fourth foul and headed to the bench.
Coen deployed him in short bursts for the rest of the game, playing him for just 10 minutes in the second half when Roland would normally play all or almost all of it. He finished with just eight points after missing most of his shots and committing two turnovers. (The Huskies as a team were extraordinarily disciplined, turning the ball over just seven times to Towson’s 15.)
Northeastern wasn’t missing Roland,
though, and after a pair of bailout threes from Walker and Shaq Walters — plus
a layup form Guilien Smith — the Husky lead stood at a game-high 16 points.
But Towson finally tightened the
screws, switching to a 3-2 zone.
“They were findings guys for a lot of
layups . . . we couldn’t handle them off the dribble,” Skerry explained. “We
probably played a lot more zone tonight than we’ve played in 20, 25 games, but
we needed it to try to get back in the game.”
The zone threw Northeastern’s offense off the rhythm it had established from the opening tip. The Huskies started turning the ball over and forcing up contested long-range shots. Towson, normally the slowest-playing team in the CAA, used every defensive rebound as a chance to push in transition. Between their layups, foul drawing, perimeter shooting, and offensive rebounding, the Tigers went nine possessions without an empty trip. The zone threw Northeastern’s offense off the rhythm it had established from the opening tip. The Huskies started turning the ball over and forcing up contested long-range shots. Towson, normally the slowest-playing team in the CAA, used every defensive rebound as a chance to push in transition. Between their layups, foul drawing, perimeter shooting, and offensive rebounding, the Tigers went nine possessions without an empty trip. The run was keyed by Brian Fobbs — who finished with 21 points to lead all scorers — as well as Nakye Sanders and Dennis Tunstall, who each scored nine without missing a shot.
Combined with their rediscovered defensive restraint — they
didn’t commit a foul for the first ten minutes of the second half — it allowed the
Tigers to seize the momentum, with a resounding rejection by Sixth Man of the
Year Nicolas Timberlake prompting a Jakigh Dottin layup that trimmed the lead
But with Towson bearing down on them
like a bowling ball, the Huskies refused to fall. Brace hit a quick three off a
baseline inbounds to stem the tide, then Boursiquot threw down an basket-shaking
jam off a slick pick-and-roll feed from Walker.
But the final dagger would come with a
minute left when Walker stole an errant dribble and flew downcourt. With Towson
big man Nakye Sanders bearing down on him, Walker tossed a pass to Walters —
the man who filled in for him at point guard last week — who flushed home a
clean one-handed dunk to seal the game and end Towson’s season.
The Tigers truly had a commendable year, leaping several spots in the conference standings after posting one of the largest record improvements of any team in the country. But this is the CAA, where absurdity is the new normal and calling a team an underdog proves only that you’re about to lose the money you bet against them.
The Huskies’ next opponent is a perfect
example of that. After needing last-second heroics from Marcus Sheffield just
to squeak by the worst team in the conference, No. 7 Elon scrapped their way to
a win over No. 2 William & Mary and Nathan Knight, their newly crowned Player
of the Year. Northeastern and Elon will square off at 8:30, and god only knows
what happens then.
“We’re really, really excited to still be playing basketball
in March,” Coen said with a wide smile. “It’s the greatest month of the year,
and if you’re involved at all — as a player, as a fan, as a coach — the excitement
around these tournaments is just unbelievable.”
Save for the top six teams receiving a first-round bye —
which Northeastern has — there isn’t much advantage in being a one seed instead
of a six seed. This is especially true this season, in which the league’s
almost ludicrous parity limits the matchup advantages higher seeds would
With just a few days left before the Huskies depart for Washington D.C., WRBB Sports caught up with them during their Wednesday practice at Northeastern University’s Cabot Center to talk about their quarterfinal matchup, their preparation, and the mental challenges of a conference tournament.
Head Coach Bill Coen
What’s the prognosis [on
He’s working hard with our trainers. We’re hopeful he can he
can give us something, but nothing’s been decided yet. Obviously he’s an elite
competitor, he wants to get out there and help the team. But right now he
hasn’t practiced yet, hasn’t been cleared to practice five on five yet, so it’s
going to be day to day for him and probably a game-time decision.
Is he practicing today?
He’ll be conditioning and doing everything you could do,
everything short of playing basketball.
So what do you do to
try to flood the hole with that? Who has to step up?
Shaquille Walters finished the [Drexel] game, played really,
really well on the ball. Then he had a terrific game against JMU, played the
point against Towson last game, played 35 minutes on the ball and had nine
assists and one turnover. So he’s done an unbelievable job in Tyson’s absence.
We’ll need another great supporting effort from Shaq, I’m sure.
What went into the
decision to have Shaq slide in for Tyson at the point?
He’s played there all year long, since really the beginning
of the season. Part of our system [is] we like guys that play multiple
positions. We try to rotate around — whether it’s developing our offense or
defense — we’ll move guys around. Right from the beginning he played some point
guard. He has a natural ability because of his size and length, the way we play
in a ball-screen motion offense. He’s able to make passes with both hands,
handle the ball, and get into the lane. So he’s gotten better and better at it and
I think you’ve seen that over the last couple games. But still, you have to
give him credit for his mental toughness to be able to step up in that type of
situation and really try to help the team.
And for Guilien who’s
slid into the starting lineup for Tyson, how does his defense and offense compare
to what Tyson brings to the table?
Completely different player than Tyson. But he’s a very good
on-ball defender, gives you some athleticism and some rebounding and has shown
the ability to make shots. He’s gonna have to play at a high level in order for
us to be successful. He’s a mature kid, a fifth-year student athlete. He’s
played a lot of college basketball, so I know where his heart is and what he’d
like to do. If we’re going to be successful, it’ll come down to some of his
How does your team
change depending on whether Tyson plays?
With two different point guards you get two different styles
of play. Shaq has shown the ability in the half court to run offense and make
passes. Tyson can be more of an open-court player; he’s got a little bit more
quickness where he can get to the rim and penetrate and draw some fouls. Hopefully,
we’ll have both those guys available and that’ll give us a nice little option.
How is the health
overall of the team? How many cylinders are you firing on?
I think everybody this time of year is . . . a little banged
up, a little sore but really, really excited because it’s March and if you’re a
college basketball player or college basketball fan, you know what that month
means. Our guys are excited to get out there and compete. It’s kind of the
third portion of the season where you’re out there you’re in one-and-done
territory. So the urgency is at the utmost high and they’re excited to get
ready and get down to D.C.
What kind of a
challenge does Towson bring to you guys? What do you guys have to do well in
order to beat them?
They’re playing almost as well as anybody in the country.
They’ve been on kind of a hot streak since we played them the first time back
in late December. They’re a team that’s built on aggressive defense and
rebounding. What’s really allowed them to have great success during CAA play is
that their offense is highly efficient, both from the free-throw line and from
the three-point line. When you marry that type of offense with great defense
and rebounding, you’ve got a pretty good club.
Did you learn much
from the last game?
You’re certainly in the neighborhood, but you’ve got to
finish the game a little bit better. We had maybe a five-point lead with about
six minutes to go. We’ve got to do a better job of keeping them off the foul
line. I thought we gave them too many easy points and ultimately that was the
difference in the game. They outscored us by nine at the line. So we’ve got to
be a little bit more disciplined there and try to keep them off the line.
Why do you think you
guys are so highly considered in this tournament? You’re a six seed but the
oddsmakers are saying you’ve got a good shot here.
We’ve played competitively all year long. I think each and
every team and each and every game we’ve been competitive. Out of 18 league
games, we’ve had one game where it was kind of lopsided. In one-possession
games, everything comes down to maybe just get one possession better and that’s
what we’re trying to do this week is to improve in those areas.
So playoffs now —
what do you tell your guys?
They know that. It’s not too much explaining for me to do. It
comes down to execution in the moment. As John Wooden would say, “You have to
be best when your best is required.” That’s what makes March so special; guys
step up and you get some magical moments when guys really live out their dreams
in this type of environment under this type of spotlight.
Have you ever seen a
team lose so many close games and at the same time keep showing up?
I think it speaks to the resiliency of this group. Certainly
there’s a level of frustration. We’ve been in more close games and had
opportunities to win and opportunities to reverse the fortunes of the season,
but this group is coming to practice each and every day. That keep believing in
themselves and keep trusting in the system and in the coaching staff. We’re
hoping that resiliency will bear fruit in the tournament down in DC.
Who are one or two
guys that you’ve seen the most improvement from over the course of the season?
One guy we talked a lot about is Shaquille Walters. He’s a guy
who had shooting struggles early on and was more of a defensive-minded guy, now
he’s proven at the end of the year with a lot of his hard work that he’s a more-than-capable
point guard. He’s able to make plays, makes his free throws, and has learned to
attack the basket a little bit more and create some offense for us that way. So
I think he’s made the biggest improvement over the course of the year.
You have a few guys
from last year’s team in leadership positions. How helpful will they be [in the
You’re going to need that leadership and that tournament
experience. It’s an emotional time. You have to stay ready; the preparation
time is very, very quick in between games. And just keeping the guys focused
and keep everybody in it. We need that voice in the locker room and we have a
couple of guys who have been on championship teams and played in that
environment. That should help us.
Are there any Towson
players that you’re particularly looking to key in on after Sunday’s game?
They have a very balanced attack right now, but I think Brian
Fobbs and Allen Betrand are the two guys who have been most consistent
throughout the year. Freshman [Jason] Gibson played really well against us, had
a very efficient game. So, not so much keying in on, but you have to know everybody’s
tendencies and take try to take the best part of their game away from them. And
that’s hard to do against a talented group like Towson.
Is there a sense that
if you guys could just win one of these close games, it would be a breakthrough
that would get you going?
I thought we did that kind of towards the end the year. We
had some terrific outings against Charleston both times. We played well down
the stretch, had one very competitive game down at Drexel, and they’ve been
great at home. We’ve been close.
Unfortunately, foul trouble put us in a position where we
couldn’t finish the game. We’ve just got to be better in certain areas. It’s
not always that; sometimes it comes down to making a shot, sometimes it’s
getting rebounds, sometimes it’s making a smarter play, better execution. But
we have to find a way to be one or two possessions better and then we’ll be
right in the mix.
When teams key in on
Jordan, what do you have to do?
You’ve seen that all year long. Teams will try to take him
out of what he does. He’s hard to deal with because he’s a prolific scorer. Two
things have to happen. He’s got to kind of give himself up a little bit and
pick his spots and not feel rushed at the end of the game that he’s got to do
it all by himself. And then somebody else has to step up and help carry the
So I think we’ve been much better at that as of late; we’ve had
a more balanced scoring attack, and Jordan’s been better in terms of
understanding he can be a little bit more of a playmaker and pick the spots
where he’s most aggressive.
What’s it going to be
like playing in this new venue?
It’s supposed to be a beautiful venue. I’ve never been in it, but it’s an NBA arena. The G League team from the [Washington] Wizards plays there. It’s fairly new so it’s going to be a first-class arena and I know our guys are excited going down in that area. I think having a tournament down in D.C. gives — at least for a northern school — more of a chance for our fans and alums and students to get there. It’s a little bit more accessible than some of the other venues we’ve competed at. So we’re hoping people come out and support the team.
How do you think your
experience will help you and the team heading into this tournament?
Personally, I think I feel a lot more comfortable than some
of these guys who haven’t been here. Jordan and I both — as well as some other
guys — won it. We also know the feeling of losing as we did like against
Charleston two years ago. But having experience kind of just calms you. You can
think back on that and use that to your advantage.
It’s amazing to look
back at the schedule and all the close games, all the close losses, and you
guys keep putting yourselves in that situation. Where do you fall whether to
take more bad out of it or more optimism?
I think that the theme this year has been trying to learn
from our losses, try to learn as much as we can, try to get better from that. But
the fact that we’re in with every team and we have a chance is good, and we can
beat anyone. The three-day tournament is awesome, because it’s hard. If you win,
it’s one of the most amazing feelings ever. So just knowing that we can stay
with any team, we’ll have a chance. We’ve just got to prepare and be ready.
What are some
takeaways from the game you just played against Towson that you could use for
this Sunday’s game?
The offense that they run isn’t really that difficult. In
terms of a scouting perspective, they just play really hard and they’re athletic,
and they rebound. So just knowing that we know what they’re going to do and
better preparing ourselves on the scout perspective is going to be big. And
just fighting on the glass and playing as hard as we can knowing it could be
our last game.
And what’s been the
difference just from your standpoint with Shaq running the offense versus
They’re different players. They both bring different things
to the table, and Shaq’s been playing really well at the point. He can pass well.
I think he if he can keep doing that, we the guys around him just have to play
better and help him succeed.
But Tyson’s great, hopefully we can get him back. He brings
another dimension to our offense and scoring, passing, and just doing a bunch
of little things. So no matter who we have, we just got to do our best and work
together as best we can.
You get to the
doldrums of February, then all of a sudden you’ve got to turn it on. It must
get you rejuvenated.
Yeah, Coach always says there’s three parts of the season:
the non-conference, the conference, and the conference tournament. It seems
like every year the conference goes by super fast; non-conference goes pretty
slow, but once we’re done it seems like it went fast. And then the conference tournament
is just a whole new beast.
Some guys have never been here before and preparing for that
three days in a row is tough. But I think just knowing what we’re getting
ourselves into and knowing that we can stay in the game with anyone and
hopefully beat anyone is going to be big for that.
How have you viewed
your role this year, your leadership position?
I think of my role this year as a little bit similar to last
year. I think going into the season, Coach told me that I’d have to have a
little bit more aggressive offensively and keep trying to play well defensively,
guard some of the best four men in the league.
It’s taken me a while to kind of assert myself offensively; I
haven’t played that style since high school. Last year we had great passers
like Vasa and a bunch of guys who could do different things, and we all worked
together well last year. So this has kind of been about figuring it out as we
go. And I think right now, I’m playing with more confidence than I have all
season just knowing my role and trusting the guys around me. I’m ready. I’m
ready to get it going.
You had an uptick in
the number of shots you were taking as conference play went on. Was that
Yeah. Coach was telling me to shoot the whole time but I had
to remind myself throughout the game: do the little things — rebound, defense —
and the shots will come. And that’s kind of how I’ve been trying to provide for
the team this year. It’s kind of hard for me to always remember to shoot but
once my shot gets going, I forget about it and just play my game.
Have you had to play
bigger this year because of injuries to big men?
Max has done a great job down low. He kind of took away some
of that pressure that we felt earlier when we lost Tom. And Greg’s played well.
I definitely have tried to rebound more in terms of playing big and guarding
other teams’ big men. But the way our offense works, I don’t really feel like
I’ve had to play bigger defensively.
Sometimes when defenses
set up stop you, you have to change your game and make the other players around
I think that’s definitely something I have to work on, passing
the ball to put the other guys in a situation where they could be successful. But
it’s something I’ve been running into all year. It’s a constant adjustment.
Especially going to tournament time this will be the third time that we’ve seen
teams, so going in and knowing what their scheme will be [is important] and I’m
trying to make that adjustment for those guys.
You got off to a
great start, teams started reacting. How did you learn to adapt to the defenses
that you saw?
I came on the scene pretty quickly. Just a matter of trying
to keep my composure. I was getting a lot of attention, and just like I was
saying earlier, I’m just trying to make those adjustments. Try to figure out what
kind of looks teams are going to give me before the game. The biggest thing is
trying to keep my composure.
What’s the excitement
of tournament time been like?
This is the best time of the year for almost all sports. I
feel like the brackets are super fun, especially us getting to be a part of
last year, winning the championship. So we kind of have a taste of what that
feels like. I think that experience will definitely help us. Me, Bo, and a
bunch of guys have been in this situation already. It’s a super fun time for
It is weird playing a
team in the first round of the tournament that you played so recently? Is it an
Yeah, it’s definitely kind of weird, I don’t think a lot of
teams are in the situation where they’re playing the team that that they just
played. But I don’t think it’s necessarily an advantage or disadvantage.
Whoever we play we would have played twice already. So it’s definitely a weird
coincidence, but I don’t I don’t really look at it any different.
How was it for you
against Towson’s defense on Sunday, and how do you think that factors into the
game plan for this Sunday?
They’re a good defensive team with how they how they attack
you off the ball screens and everything. They’re a team that you’ve got to be
able to move the ball against and we have a whole week to prepare in practice, so
we’ll definitely be ready for them.
How much do you think
your experience will help you?
I think it’ll be huge. I think experience is huge in college
basketball. Senior teams are usually the teams that do well. We don’t
necessarily have a lot of seniors, but we have a lot of guys who have been
around. Max played in the conference championship two years ago. Bo has won a
conference championship, as I have. Shaq has been around in college basketball
for three years. So I think experiences is one of the biggest examples, it’ll
definitely be able to help us.
Your record wasn’t
what you would have hoped, but you were [close] in every game. Do you think
there’s a lot of respect for your team heading into this tournament?
I would think so. I’m not sure what other teams are thinking
about us. But I don’t think that really matters. I think we’re really confident
that we can beat any team in this league. I think that we’ve shown that. I
think any team that we haven’t beat we’ve been within one possession and if you
can play with a team you can beat them. So even though we’re a six seed I think
we’re going in with the mindset that we have as good a chance as anybody to win
the whole thing.
Last year the
pressure was all on you guys. This year you’re a little bit of an underdog. Do
you feel that makes things a little bit easier?
I wouldn’t say it makes anything easier or harder. It’s
definitely a different situation. Last year I feel like we were in a situation
where the tournament was kind of ours to lose. I think the league is also so
much more open this year. I think we have as good a chance as anybody, but
there’s seven or eight teams that are thinking the same thing. You’ve got to
win three games in three days regardless of what your mindset is, so I’ve just
got to be ready to play every day.
How do you guys
manage your energy and the fatigue of playing three games in three days?
Just trying to be smart with this week. You don’t want to go
too hard but you want to make sure you’re in shape. These guys have been there
before. The biggest thing, I think, is the quick turnarounds and just getting
ready, coming off of the game and going through scout the next morning and just
getting the game plan in a short time, more than the fatigue.
BOSTON — Playing the Towson Tigers is like fighting an
actual tiger. They’re fierce, they’re territorial, and the longer you’re locked
in with them the more fatigued you get.
So if you’re the Northeastern Huskies, and you have an extra day to prep for a Sunday showdown with Pat Skerry’s squad, you know exactly what kind of foe lies in wait. Any hope of topping them depends on mustering enough rebounding and physical play to beat a team that, per their account of their Thursday win over first-place Hofstra, “cleaned the glass better than Windex.”
But despite an even rebounding battle, Jordan Roland’s usual
scoring heroics, and a scintillating show from a stand-in point guard, the
Huskies fell just short, falling to Towson, 75–72, in their last regular-season
The Huskies’ prize? Another bout with Towson. While Northeastern (15–15, 9–9 CAA) would have finished sixth regardless of Sunday’s result, the Husky loss ensured that Towson (19–12, 12–6 CAA) finished third, setting up a rematch this coming Sunday at 8:30 PM EST in the CAA quarterfinal. WRBB will have live coverage of that game from the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Washington D.C., with Michael Petillo, Matt Neiser, and Milton Posner on the call.
“We’re going to be more familiar,” Roland remarked on the
impending rematch. “We’ve got a whole week to scheme for them.”
While Sunday’s game was by no means critical for either club
since both had already clinched first-round byes, it is perhaps more
instructive as a preview of their win-or-go-home quarterfinal matchup next
week. While the Huskies’ persistent defensive pressure did silence the Tigers,
61–45, in the teams’ first meeting in December, both teams have evolved plenty
So what does Sunday’s game tell us?
First, and most importantly, the Huskies need to improve their defense and inside play. The problem is not rebounding, as the Huskies hung with the self-proclaimed “glass act” all game and even doubled up the Tigers in second-chance points.
The problem is one of fouls. The fouling pattern closely
mirrored that of the Huskies’ dogfight with Drexel last Saturday, in which neither
team entered the bonus in the first half, but both teams found the double bonus
in the second as the game grew more physical. But this time Northeastern was on
the wrong end, putting Towson in the double bonus with more than six minutes to
The foul disparity did two things. First, it gave Towson — the
CAA’s best free-throw-shooting team in conference play at 81 percent — 23
tries from the charity stripe. They converted 18 of those tries, earning nine
more points at the line than Northeastern.
But just as essential was its effect on Northeastern’s
rotation. While no Towson player accumulated more than three fouls, multiple
Huskies did. Chief among them was Max Boursiquot, who fouled out after jostling
nonstop with Towson’s towering frontcourt. Northeastern had lost its defensive stopper.
“When you’re in foul trouble you tend to be a little more
tentative on the defensive end, a little bit softer,” Northeastern head coach
Bill Coen observed. “The next time we play, the emphasis will be on playing
defense without fouling. We’ve got to make sure we keep them off the line.”
On a much brighter note for the Huskies: Shaquille Walters.
When Tyson Walker injured his left shoulder last week against Drexel, it wasn’t
immediately apparent who would fill his shoes. Roland’s ballhandling and
driving prowess would suggest him, but he already dominates the ball with
Walker in the lineup, and giving him more touches could take other players out
of the offense and allow the defense to gear up on Roland. Myles Franklin usually
runs point when he plays, but can’t punish defenses the way the Husky starting
guards can. Guilien Smith drives occasionally, but hasn’t proved that he can
run point for the Huskies.
And so Walters, the lanky 6’6” junior forward, took the
wheel. Though his 15-point, six-assist showing on Thursday was excellent, it
was difficult to know how much stock to put in it given that it came against
James Madison’s league-worst defense.
But against one of the best defensive teams in the
conference, the newly minted point guard didn’t blink. He posted 12 points,
four rebounds, and a career-high nine assists courtesy of outstanding passing patience,
discipline, awareness, and accuracy. He has 15 assists in his two games running
the offense and has turned the ball over just twice.
“Adversity hits everybody . . . injuries happen. Some people
just have a way of responding to that, and I think he’s responded in a big, big
way,” Coen said. “His effort this afternoon was just terrific. He’s playing a
little bit out of position [but] really controlled the game. [He had a] little
bit of foul trouble — my staff was telling me to take him out, but I had to
leave him in, he was just playing too well.”
Walters’ steadying presence will likely serve the Huskies
well next week — especially if Walker, who Coen described as day-to-day, is
unavailable — but neither his offensive contributions, nor Jordan Roland’s 25
points, nor the 14 apiece that Brace and Boursiquot contributed, could account
for Towson’s strengths.
There was Brian Fobbs, who rebounded from an invisible
performance against the Huskies in December to drop 18 points. There was
freshman guard Jason Gibson, who notched 18 points of his own on just eight
shots as the Huskies consistently left him alone from behind the arc. There was
Dennis Tunstall, who obliterated several Husky shots in the paint. There was
Charles Thompson, who threw down two one-handed dunks to swing the momentum
Towson’s way in the first half, then took a charge on Roland and screamed with
such intensity that his neck veins were visible from the media center.
upshot was Northeastern’s sixth one-possession conference loss, and their eighth
by five points or fewer.
The game was also the final home game for seniors Jordan
Roland, Bolden Brace, and Guilien Smith, all of whom were honored at midcourt
before the game. Smith, who transferred from Dartmouth for his final season, professed
appreciation for the group’s quick acceptance of him at a time when he didn’t
know many people. Brace and Roland identified last year’s CAA Championship as a
“I was sitting out the year that they lost to Charleston in
the CAA final,” Roland said. “Being able to come back after a hard loss and
contribute to that was really special for me.”
“I was very, very fortunate that they, at one time, took a chance
on this program,” Coen said. “Their families trusted us to give them the
experience not only of playing basketball, but trying to become better men, good
people, and good students.”
Coen was also optimistic that the week between now and the
rematch with Towson — which coincides with Northeastern’s spring break — will
benefit his squad.
“It allows you to invest a little bit more time in your
rehab, your rest, your recovery, fine tuning, individual meetings along with
practice. Nobody’s under the dual obligation of being a student and an athlete.
Now you can be more athlete than student.
“It’s a long week; it’s an exciting week. It’s a complete
restart for every team in the league. Whether you finish first or last,
everybody has a chance.”
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
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.
For years now, anyone who has strolled into SECU Arena to
face Pat Skerry’s Towson Tigers has known exactly what they’re up against. The
Tigers are tough, scrappy, and energetic on defense, and every point scored
against them is a point well-earned. They lived up to that reputation in
non-conference play this year, riding their CAA-best scoring defense to a
So when the Northeastern Huskies — who made their
non-conference living by sinking a CAA-best 41 percent of their three-pointers
— squared off with the Tigers on Saturday afternoon, the billing was
straightforward: Northeastern’s high-powered offense against Towson’s
The billing was wrong. Northeastern out-Towsoned Towson, stifling the Tigers’ attack all game en route to a 61–45 win. It was the Huskies’ eighth straight victory in a conference opener, their best defensive showing since crushing Holy Cross into the ground on November 19, and their best defensive showing in conference play since they topped Towson 47–44 almost four years ago.
Brian Fobbs is Towson’s only elite offensive threat, and
Northeastern suffocated him the entire game. Shaq Walters and Quirin Emanga,
both long-limbed guard/forwards, stayed attached to Fobbs whether he had the
ball or not, and left him precious little breathing room to get comfortable. It
took Fobbs completely out of any kind of offensive rhythm; he missed the first
shot of the game, didn’t shoot for about 12 minutes, then was stifled by Emanga
into a bad airball from close range. Fobbs finished with nine points on eight
shots — a far cry from his averages of 17 points on 13 shots — and committed three
But Fobbs wasn’t the only one struggling. Save for sophomore
guard Allen Betrand — who notched 16 points on 15 shots — and Nicolas
Timberlake and Jason Gibson (six points apiece), the Towson box score is a
zero-laden wasteland. Even Betrand, the best-performing Tiger by any standard,
committed three turnovers.
The Huskies took advantage of spotty Tiger spacing to clog
the middle, denying the Tigers easy looks at the rim. They shut off driving and
passing lanes. Towson, deprived of any consistent offensive rhythm, stopped
setting hard screens, allowing Husky defenders to remain attached to ballhandlers
Greg Eboigbodin was central to limiting the Tigers in the
paint, returning after missing both games on the Huskies’ Michigan trip. The
team said that fellow big man Tomas Murphy’s ankle — which had sidelined him
for seven games — was good to go, but he was ultimately a game-time scratch due
to flu symptoms. He is questionable for Monday’s game.
The Huskies’ defensive effort was never more apparent than
it was four minutes from the end of the first half. Freshman Tiger Charles
Thompson snagged a rebound and, with just himself and fellow freshman Jason
Gibson in the backcourt, fired a pass ahead of Gibson out of bounds. As the
whistle blew and the other eight players returned to the Husky frontcourt,
Thompson and Gibson stood facing each other, hands raised in exasperation, trying
to figure out who had messed up. The Husky defense was so successful in denying
the Tigers any offensive momentum that they were making unforced errors.
The Huskies’ 61-point offensive effort was among their
lowest-scoring of the season, but was sufficient in a game where the defense
led the way. Junior Max Boursiquot scored eight quick points in the first half,
starting as a small-ball center for the third straight game despite the return
of Eboigbodin. He finished with 12 points on seven shots to go along with five
Jordan Roland finished with 14 points and six rebounds, and
though he was active on both sides of the ball throughout the game, he never
quite got a rhythm going on offense, missing two-thirds of his shots and all
five of his threes. Many of the misses were quality looks that simply didn’t
But Roland wasn’t exactly unique in this regard. At the end
of the first half, the teams combined for one made three-pointer in 15 tries. Given
the strength of Towson’s defense and Northeastern’s reliance on perimeter shooting
this season, one would expect the Huskies to be trailing.
They were up 12. And while Towson nearly abandoned the three
altogether in the second half, the Huskies found their shooting touch and blew
the game open. Bolden Brace got things going with a swish from the wing a
minute into the half.
After Tyson Walker threw the ball away, then recovered to
pressure Towson’s Nakye Sanders into a missed layup, Northeastern had a five-on-four
the other way. Brace swished another three.
Then Walker took the baton. He would finish with a game-high
17 points, 12 of which came after the intermission. He began with a pull-up
three in semi-transition.
Then he popped the balloon of a brilliant Towson defensive
effort by draining a rainbow three over a close contest by Sanders as the shot clock
By this point, Walker was feeling himself. So when Towson
big man Dennis Tunstall switched onto him, Walker deployed a blistering series
of crossovers to set up a slick reverse layup.
Walker capped off his electric second half by throwing
another few crossovers, pulling up for three, and splashing it through. Walker
also added five rebounds and four assists to his stat line, emerging as the
game’s best performer despite playing just 23 minutes.
Amid Walker’s brilliance came a play that won’t be credited
to him on a stat sheet, but is the sort that makes coaches proud. Greg
Eboigbodin slid over to help on a drive, swatting the ball out of the air and
sending it bouncing toward the corner by the Towson bench. Walker leaped from
the edge of the court and, while in midair behind the baseline, caught the
ball, turned, and threw an accurate pass to Emanga. Emanga found Roland leaking
the other way, and Roland had just one man to beat as he earned himself an easy
layup. Northeastern led by 20 and the game was effectively over.
Northeastern didn’t just outshoot Towson; they outrebounded
them on the offensive and defensive glass. Besides Walker, Boursiquot, and
Roland, who all scored in double figures and pulled down five or more boards,
the rebounding catalyst was Brace, who secured eight. Many of his boards came
in the second half, which ensured the Huskies could burn clock and preserve
their lead. Though the turnover counts eventually evened out, Northeastern’s
13–0 first-half advantage in points off turnovers gave them a double-digit lead
they wouldn’t relinquish.
The Huskies will travel south to Harrisonburg, Virginia for
a Monday evening matchup with the up-and-coming James Madison Dukes. WRBB will
not broadcast the game — the last Northeastern sporting event of the 2010s —
but will upload written coverage to the website.
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.