men’s basketball takes on Towson in the quarterfinal of the CAA Tournament
Sunday at 8:30 PM EST. Michael Petillo, Matt Neiser, and Milton Posner will
have the call from Washington D.C., with coverage beginning fifteen minutes
WASHINGTON — The CAA Tournament kicked off Saturday with two
games featuring the CAA’s bottom four seeds, those that didn’t earn first-round
byes. No. 8 Drexel squared off with No. 9 UNCW, then No. 7 Elon battled No. 10
Drexel 66, UNCW 55
Despite a steady second-half advance from UNCW, Drexel held
on to win the tournament’s first game. Drexel will kick off the four-game
Sunday slate against the No. 1 Hofstra Pride.
As you might expect of two well-rested teams playing a
win-or-go-home game, the energy was sky-high from the opening tip. UNCW began
by applying full-court pressure, but the main defensive objective was to funnel
Drexel’s ballhandlers into the space between the midcourt line and the
three-point arc, force them to the sideline, and trap them with double teams.
The scheme required movement and energy, two qualities best exemplified by UNCW
interim head coach Rob Burke, whose emphatic, demonstrative, dramatic sideline
behavior was on full display.
The traps worked for a few possessions, but eventually the
Dragons got more comfortable. They made the Seahawks pay with accurate passes
for easy layups, enough to make the Seahawks relax the pressure a bit and
finally ramp down the game’s initial chaos.
After a war of inside shots and parallel scoring droughts
yielded a stalemate, Drexel’s Coltrane Washington and UNCW’s Ty Gadsden decided
a little back-and-forth was needed. Washington kicked things off with a deep
three from the left wing, Drexel’s first points in five minutes. Gadsden
responded with a three. Washington nailed another three from the same spot
after a pump fake and a slick sidestep. Gadsden nailed a tricky leaning midrange
jumper. By this point, UNCW’s defensive pressure, again with mixed results, had
refocused to swarming every time Drexel put the ball in the paint, so the
jumpers were available.
After a close first half, Drexel emerged from the locker
room and shot down the Seahawks. All-CAA Second Team guard Camren Wynter got
things going by hunting out a layup to open the half. He hit a three, as did
Mate Okros. After a pair of buckets from James Butler, the Dragons had built an
11-point lead. Though the Seahawks would steadily eat into the lead, even cutting
it to three multiple times, the Dragons would never give it up.
Led by Butler, who finished with 14 boards, the Dragons
snatched up most of the high-leverage rebounds and translated them into a
momentum advantage. Only Gadsden (13 points) and Martin Linssen (18) got much
going for the Seahawks, with Brian Tolefree, Jaylen Sims, and Mike Okauru making
just one shot apiece. Three-pointers from Wynter and Zach Walton down the stretch
put the game out of reach and ended the Seahawks’ season.
Elon 63, James Madison 61
If, someday, a movie is made of this game, there will be
only one logical name for it: The Sheffield Redemption.
For the first 39 minutes of the game, Marcus Sheffield II,
Elon’s top scorer, All-CAA Second Teamer, the focal point of their offense and
the man who breathed life into a program reeling from the graduation of every
volume scorer from last season, couldn’t score a basket to save his life. Long
shots or short, contested shots or not, moving shots or stationary ones, it
didn’t matter. Sheffield had tried 14 and made just two. He was sucking the
life out of Elon’s offense.
But with one shot, a twisting, fading, stepback midrange
jumper, Sheffield broke through. Elon’s first lead of the game was the only one
The Phoenix will face the No. 2 William & Mary Tribe
Sunday at 6 PM EST.
It was a fitting end to a game marked by profound weirdness.
That weirdness began when James Madison’s Deshon Parker, a 26 percent
three-point shooter this season, kicked off the scoring with a long-range swish.
It continued when JMU, unquestionably the worst team in conference play this
season, built on that shot until a 14–0 lead forced Elon to call timeout
three-and-a-half minutes after the opening tip.
But Elon quickly flipped the script, taking better care of
the ball and posting nine unanswered points of their own to make the game
The game featured poor outside shooting from both squads,
partly due to poor shot selection and partly due to missed open looks. JMU want
on a second-half run not because their offense clicked, but because Elon missed
11 consecutive shots. The only consistent offensive bright spot for Elon was sophomore
big man Federico Poser, who scored more points (14) than he ever had against a
Division I team.
If you had approached Elon head coach Mike Schrage before
the game and told him that his squad would allow 14 unanswered points to start
the game, that his best scorer would miss three-quarters of his shots, that his
team would shoot just 28 percent from downtown, and that they would go seven
minutes without scoring a bucket, he would have assumed disaster.
But that’s the kind of league the CAA has been this season.
The line between disaster and triumph is so narrow that you often can’t see it
until after the final buzzer sounds.
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
BOSTON — Coming off a tough
two-week stretch in which they lost four straight games, Northeastern returned
to Matthews Arena on Thursday and picked up a much needed win, defeating UNCW
71–63. The Huskies held the Seahawks to just 24 first half points and Jordan
Roland poured in 27 on the night to lead the Huskies.
Northeastern burst out of the
gates with a sense of urgency, holding UNCW scoreless for the first six-and-a-half
minutes. That set the tone for a strong defensive showing in which Northeastern
forced 11 first-half turnovers and led by 10 at the break.
The second half was more of the same for the first few minutes. Undersized forward Max Boursiquot brilliantly defended the Seahawk big men, using his active hands to create turnovers and easy buckets for the Huskies in transition.
“Defense is something I try to
bring every game; I think it’s my best attribute,” Boursiquot said. “I have a
long wingspan and I try to set the tone for other guys. Size doesn’t really
matter to me. I think I can guard one through five. I just have a dog mentality
Northeastern’s lead had stretched to 16 points before UNCW mounted their biggest run of the game. With 11:30 to play, freshman swingman Jake Boggs knocked down a triple, the first of five consecutive threes for the Seahawks. Guard Brian Tolefree contributed three of the five makes during that span. But Northeastern weathered the Seahawks’ hot stretch with sound offensive execution. The Husky lead never dipped below ten during the UNCW’s four-minute downtown deluge.
“I thought we had a good enough
cushion there, but they came back and every team’s going to make a run at you,”
head coach Bill Coen said. “You can’t take your foot off the gas and you have
to play buzzer to buzzer.”
The win was doubly important for Northeastern (12–13, 6–7 CAA), as it snaps their losing skid and, combined with a Drexel loss to William and Mary, moves them back into sixth place in the CAA. The league’s top six teams earns a first-round bye in next month’s conference tournament.
The win also moved Coen into a tie with former Drexel coach Bruiser Flint for the second-most career CAA wins with 158 wins, an accomplishment Coen, true to form, understated.
“There are a lot of players that
have come through this program that have won a lot of games,” he noted. “It’s
been many years since I’ve scored a basket or grabbed a rebound . . . it’s
about the student athletes and we’ve had some great guys in the program.”
Next up for Northeastern is a
Saturday showdown with third-place Charleston. Milton Posner and Matt Neiser
will call that game, with coverage beginning at 11:45 AM EST.
If you took a shot every time a CAA coach, player, or
commentator said the word “parity,” you’d probably wake up the next morning
with a raging hangover, an empty wallet, a lower-back butterfly tattoo, and no
clue how you wound up two cities over.
It’s entirely justified. The Hofstra Pride, last year’s
regular season champion, finished just one game ahead of the second-place
Northeastern Huskies. The last-place UNCW Seahawks finished just one game below
James Madison and Towson. The year before, Charleston and Northeastern tied for
first, with four teams — Elon, Drexel, Delaware, and James Madison — tied for
This is the definition of parity: few outliers. In any given
year, a handful of the CAA’s ten teams have a legitimate chance at the conference
championship and the automatic March Madness berth that comes with it.
The conclusion of Saturday’s games marked the halfway point
of the conference season. Each team has played every other team once, with the
distribution of home and away games as even as possible. A cursory glance shows
the parity we’ve come to expect; three teams boast 6–3 records and three more
boast 5–4 records.
But a deeper dive reveals something completely different.
This is not just parity; this is insanity.
Whether by pure chance or the interference of a few rogue
basketball gods looking for a laugh, the Colonial Athletic Association’s men’s
basketball teams have spent the last month setting, then destroying, the
expectations of fans and analysts. By way of a midseason roundup, I’ll try to
make sense of the ongoing tornado, beginning with . . .
Let’s define “game-winner” as a field goal made within the
last 10 seconds that gives a team a lead they don’t relinquish. The six
game-winners in CAA play have produced two storylines.
The first, and the less interesting of the two, is how often
Hofstra is involved. Four of their nine games have been decided by game-winners,
with the Pride winning twice and losing twice.
The second, more interesting storyline is the convergence of
Northeastern and Delaware.
The Huskies began conference play with wins over Towson, James Madison, and Elon by a combined margin of 41 points. Delaware stalled, losing four of their first six CAA contests in a surprising turnaround for a team that won the most non-conference games of any CAA squad. But game-winners would quickly swing each team’s fortunes.
For Northeastern, last-second shots proved fatal. The first
one, a forced layup from William & Mary star Nathan Knight on January 4, handed
the Huskies their first conference loss.
Five days later, Hofstra star Eli Pemberton decided that one
Husky loss on a last-second lefty layup wasn’t enough, and did it to them again.
This time a national television audience got to see it.
The following week, Delaware, by this point trending toward
the conference cellar, found themselves in a dogfight with bottom-tier Elon.
Ryan Allen drove, drew three defenders, and found infrequent three-point
shooter Jacob Cushing atop the arc for the decider.
One game later, Kevin Anderson launched himself to the top
of SportsCenter’s nightly top 10 when he fielded an inbounds pass, swerved
around reigning Defensive Player of the Year Desure Buie, and drove the length
of the court for the layup that gave his team a win. Tyus Edney was probably smiling
So when the two teams met on Saturday,
and when Delaware steadily closed the lead in the second half, you’d be
forgiven for assuming a dramatic ending was in store. Would Delaware’s third
consecutive game-winner hand Northeastern their third last-second loss in as
many weeks? Would Northeastern flip the script on the Blue Hens (and the rest
of the CAA) with their own season-defining moment?
Neither. Delaware finally tied the game
at 67 with 3:55 remaining. Of the 16 points scored between then and the final
buzzer, 10 came from the free-throw line. The last field goal splashed through
with 1:53 still left on the clock. When Tyson Walker tried to drive for a
game-tying basket with five seconds left, he stumbled and coughed up the ball. The
final score — 76–74 in Delaware’s favor — was the product of a sluggish march toward
an uncertain conclusion. A game ripe for fireworks fizzled instead.
It’s unreasonable to expect juicy,
coherent, fulfilling storylines after just nine conference games. But these
squads had polar opposite game-winner storylines. The way the first 35 minutes
of Saturday’s game played out inspired hope that a dramatic finish was in
order. When such a finish failed to materialize, it was easy to wonder whether
the storyline was over. Or, just maybe, the narrative letdown was in itself a
But those who require a different sort
of absurdity are in luck because . . .
The CAA’s Blowouts Make No Sense
A blowout is defined here as a game
decided by a margin of 20 or more points. There were five blowouts in the first
half of CAA play.
As with the game-winners, there are two
we will ignore because they are of incidental concern. This is primarily
because both games — a 27-point Hofstra win on January 4 and a 22-point Drexel
win on January 16 — came against the Elon Phoenix, who sit in ninth place and
haven’t finished a season higher than seventh place in three years. Especially
given that they graduated most of their key players last year, it is
understandable that stronger teams can run up the score on them. It is the
other three blowouts that make no sense.
On January 2, William & Mary
stormed into Hofstra’s house and knocked off the reigning regular-season
champions 88–61. Eight Tribe players scored at least six points, and their five
starters nailed 25 of their 31 shots. The Tribe held the guard-heavy Pride to a
meager four-for-25 from beyond the arc.
The smashing of Hofstra looked to be the
crowning jewel in what became a six-game winning streak. But this is the CAA,
where all observations are eventually proven wrong.
On January 18, the undefeated Tribe
were flattened by the Drexel Dragons 84–57. Zach Walton, Camren Wynter, and
James Butler combined for 60 efficient points. Drexel shot the ball well inside
and out and limited Tribe center Andy Van Vliet on both ends. It was Drexel’s
third straight win, pushing them to 5–2 in conference play and putting everyone
And . . . yeah you see where this is going. Five days later Northeastern steamrolled Drexel off the floor 85–52, the largest margin of victory in CAA play this year. Even more remarkable was that Northeastern built a 32-point lead by halftime, responding to Drexel’s first bucket with 18 unanswered points and flooring the gas pedal for the rest of the half. Jordan Roland and Bolden Brace turned in stellar performances on both sides of the ball, and seven other Huskies scored at least five points.
Then Northeastern turned around and
lost their next game.
In a league with remarkable parity, you
wouldn’t expect consistent, overwhelming dominance from one or two teams. But
what do you make of swings this large? What do you make of it when the
literally cartoonish stereotype of one fish eating another fish, then being
eaten by a third larger fish comes to pass on the hardwood?
Even if the blowout train stops here, the
abject craziness of the conference slate still begs the question . . .
Who is Actually the Title Favorite?
The meaning of life and the existence of
god might be easier questions to answer than this one, so I’ll present the best
case I can for each team, starting from last place and working my way up.
Madison: The Dukes are 1–8 in non-conference
play and have the worst average margin of victory (–8.3) of any CAA team. That
said, they had the third-best non-conference record and are extremely young,
with their top six scorers comprising three juniors, a sophomore, and two
freshman who are still developing. Their precipitous plunge in the last month
is one of the biggest surprises of the year, and it isn’t unreasonable to think
they can rediscover their form in time for the CAA Tournament.
My mom always taught me that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say
anything at all.
Two weeks ago, the Seahawks’ entry would be the same as Elon’s.
They had just lost to Elon by 17 — Elon’s first conference win marked UNCW’s 11th
straight loss — and remained the last winless squad in the CAA.
Two days later, UNCW fired head coach
C.B. McGrath, who managed just 26 wins in two-and-a-half years at the helm. The
promotion of assistant coach Rob Burke to interim head coach didn’t cause much
buzz around the league. Why should it? It was mid-January and the Seahawks hadn’t
won since before Thanksgiving. Grad transfer Carter Skaggs and point guard of
the future Kai Toews had left the program, and junior guard Jay Estimé was done
for the year after knee surgery.
But Burke and the Seahawks were about
to put everyone on notice. After battling Hofstra to a two-point loss, they
faced off against Northeastern on January 18. Burke’s sideline demeanor was
just as captivating as the action on the court. His energy was limitless; he jumped
around and clapped and encouraged his players. He turned to the crowd,
encouraging them to get loud. At one point he started doing jumping jacks. When
Shykeim Philips nailed a shot to end the first half, Burke slammed his hand on
the scorer’s table.
His energy somehow increased during his
team’s second-half comeback. Sometimes he displayed a defensive stance, sometimes
he got down on one knee and pounded the floor with his open hand. Trask
Coliseum was electric, with fans and players alike feeding off Burke’s energy.
By game’s end, he was sweating as much as any of his players.
are still just 2–7 in conference play, and their seven straight losses might
keep them from a top seeding even if they run the table. But in three games
since Burke took over — against the preseason poll’s top three teams, mind you
— they’ve had a two-point loss and two two-point wins. They can’t be ignored
Northeastern: Spots two through seven on this
list are all within one game of each other, so that the CAA’s tiebreakers put
Northeastern seventh is hardly a matter of concern. But what’s curious about
the Huskies’ 5–4 record is that their average margin of victory (7.7) easily
outstrips every other CAA team.
of Northeastern’s five wins came by 16 or more points; when they win, they win
convincingly. But all four of their losses have come by two points. It’s disingenuous
to say that the Huskies are therefore eight points away from a 9–0 record, but
their loss margins indicate that their win–loss record could be just as
forward Tomas Murphy misses the rest of the season — something head coach Bill
Coen seems increasingly concerned about — the Huskies still have enough dynamic
scoring to contend for the CAA title. There isn’t a player in the CAA who can
match the shot-making of an on-fire Jordan Roland, and freshman point guard
Tyson Walker has shown flashes of stardom and established himself as the
favorite for CAA Rookie of the Year. Throw in Max Boursiquot’s versatile
defense, and the defending conference champions are in decent position to do
Drexel: The Dragons arguably have the
worst chances of any team outside the bottom tier, but their 27-point win
against William & Mary and the emergence of Camren Wynter as a bona fide
star mean that they can’t be completely written off. The continued development
of James Butler and Zach Walton gives Wynter some backup, though all three need
to click for the Dragons to have a shot at beating top teams.
Delaware: It’s tough to say where the
Blue Hens stand now. They began the season with nine straight wins, lost seven
of their next ten, and have now won three straight games by a combined four
said, they’re scary. None of their top five scorers are seniors and two are
transfers, so their development and chemistry progression throughout the rest
of conference play could make a difference come tournament time. Nate Darling
is a flamethrower, dropping 28 second-half points on Saturday against a
Northeastern team that had no answer for him. Kevin Anderson is shooting threes
at an elite level in addition to his usual all-around contributions, and
versatile forward Justyn Mutts’ play has bolstered the Blue Hens’ attack. Don’t
be shocked if things pick up for them soon, especially as Villanova transfer
Dylan Painter gets more comfortable in the rotation.
Towson: After losing their first three conference
games, the Tigers reeled off six straight victories, all of them by seven or
more points. The emergence of sophomore guard Allen Betrand as a backcourt
force alongside Brian Fobbs has upped the Tigers’ attack, and, as is typical
for a Pat Skerry team, they lead the league in scoring defense, field goal
defense, and rebounding margin. If their offense can take another step forward
in the next month, no team will feel comfortable against them.
Charleston: The Cougars won their first five,
and though they have lost three out of four, only the William & Mary loss
was by more than three points. That Grant Riller’s scoring volume hasn’t
increased from its non-conference level masks the fact that his three-point
shooting, long his biggest offensive weakness, has jumped from 26 percent in
non-conference play to 44 percent in conference play. Throw in slightly
increased offensive contributions from Brevin Galloway and Sam Miller, and the
Cougars are as threatening as they’ve been all season.
Hofstra: Desure Buie has established
himself as arguably the conference’s best two-way guard, and his shooting
efficiency is on par with Jordan Roland’s. Isaac Kante’s numbers are inflated —
unsurprising for a big man on a guard-heavy team — but his inside play has
helped cover up the team’s size weakness. Tareq Coburn’s 45 percent mark from
downtown in conference play has bolstered the Pride’s attack.
Pride haven’t always looked great this year, but they’re still a threat. If second-leading
scorer Eli Pemberton ever finds his shooting efficiency, watch out.
William & Mary: Though the Tribe have lost two
of their last three, their white-hot start laves them as the only CAA squad
with seven wins. Though some teams boast solid stretch fours, there are only
two genuine centers in the CAA who can protect the rim and score from anywhere
at an elite level. William & Mary has both of them.
is playing his usual elite basketball, Andy Van Vliet is just as scary when he
gets going, and Luke Loewe went from afterthought backup to elite perimeter
marksman. Throw in Thornton Scott and Bryce Barnes and you have a balanced team
on both sides of the ball. When they’re clicking, it’s hard to imagine another
CAA team keeping pace. So . . .
Does This Leave Us?
left to do when parity becomes absurdity? How do we predict? How do we analyze?
How do we set our expectations?
going to sit back, not take anyone’s predictions too seriously, and enjoy the
ride. The biggest gift of all this madness is the gift of the unknown — just
about any team can realistically beat any other team, in any place, by any margin.
I want to see whether Rob Burke’s energy makes UNCW into a contender despite a
talent deficiency. I want to see whether anyone can stifle William & Mary’s
twin towers. I want to see whether Northeastern’s performance rises and falls with
Roland — and Charleston’s with Riller — or whether their supporting casts will
back up the stars.
is no king in this conference. The throne is wide open. Let the crazy continue.
WILMINGTON, North Carolina — Fresh off a 15-point comeback win over CAA heavyweight Charleston, the Northeastern men’s basketball team was riding high as it made its way to Wilmington for a Saturday night matchup against the winless-in-conference UNCW Seahawks. The Seahawks pulled the Huskies back down to earth in Trask Coliseum, however, rallying from a 16-point deficit to take down the defending conference champs in overtime, 76–74.
Saturday’s game capped off an eventful week for UNCW (6–15, 1–7 CAA), which started with the Seahawks relieving head coach C.B. McGrath of his duties on Monday. The team went on to lose by just two to heavyweight Hofstra on Thursday, and finished with the victory against Northeastern (10–9, 4–3 CAA), their first in almost two months.
The two sides battled throughout
the first half, with neither team pulling away by a substantial margin. The
Seahawks took a 20–18 lead at the 6:16 mark, but a 17–8 run gave the Huskies a
35-28 advantage heading into the locker room.
UNCW held the Huskies
within range coming out of the break, but a 13-point unanswered run by the
visitors partway through the second half brought the deficit to a game-high 16
points with 10 minutes remaining.
The Northeastern lead
seemed insurmountable for the Seahawks, but slowly and surely they forced their
way back into the game. Ten points from Brian Tolefree and a six-point burst
from Ty Gadsden helped drag UNCW back from the depths as they took a two-point
lead. Back-to-back jumpers from Jordan Roland with a Seahawk turnover
sandwiched in between re-established the Husky lead, but a Mike Okauru dunk
with 2.5 seconds left evened the game. Jordan Roland’s half-court effort came
close but clanged off the rim, sending the game to overtime.
The Huskies jumped out to a
quick four-point lead to start the extra frame, but missed free throws from
Myles Franklin and Tyson Walker left the door open. UNCW burst through that
door, scoring eight unanswered as Northeastern went on a three-and-a-half-minute
drought. The Huskies were forced to play the foul game, and a pair of missed
free throws from Jaylen Sims a few possessions later gave Northeastern a chance
to respond, down two points, with 11 seconds remaining.
Roland stepped on the
sideline with less than three ticks on the clock, but Franklin forced the ball
off of Marten Linssen’s leg with .6 seconds left. The ensuing inbounds play
found Roland in the corner with a chance to win, but he couldn’t get the shot
off in time as the Seahawks came away with the victory.
“I thought UNCW played
harder than we did tonight and they earned the victory,” said Northeastern
head coach Bill Coen. “The team that plays harder usually wins. There
isn’t that much talent separation in this league where if you come in and you’re
playing at a six or a seven and the other team is playing at a nine or a ten
that you can feel comfortable.”
Interim head coach Rob
Burke took over head coaching duties from McGrath, injecting some much-needed
energy into his squad. Burke was animated throughout the game, imploring the
crowd to get loud and slamming his hand repeatedly on the floor as his team
fought their way back. The Trask crowd responded in kind, giving the Seahawks
the extra oomph needed to pull off the victory.
“It’s always a very
supportive fan base,” Coen said. “They’re worth five points with the energy
they bring to the building.”
Four players recorded
double-digit scoring for the Seahawks, led by Tolefree’s 17 and Okauru’s 16.
The latter recorded a double-double and even came close to a triple-double,
adding 10 rebounds and six assists.
Roland did everything he
could to keep his team in the game, logging 38 points (the most in the 43-year
history of Trask Coliseum) and a career-high seven rebounds.
Walker chipped in 17, and
Max Boursiquot and Greg Eboigbodin pulled down nine and seven rebounds,
Northeastern will look to rebound
on Thursday at home against Drexel. Mike Petillo and Adam Doucette will have
coverage of that one starting at 6:45 PM EST.
With the CAA’s conference slate beginning today, WRBB examined the non-conference performances of all 10 CAA teams and ranked them from worst to best. The rankings are based on each team’s record and strength of schedule, with occasional deviations if a deep dive into a team’s schedule, margins of victory, or statistics warranted one.
CAA teams played 125 non-conference games and won 68 for a winning
percentage of .544. Their average opponent, as determined by KenPom’s strength
of schedule metric, was very slightly below the Division I average.
They also spent a sizeable chunk of the last six weeks bludgeoning Division II and III squads. Eight CAA teams won a game by 40 or more points, with three teams winning by 60 or more. The largest margin of victory went to the Towson Tigers, who flattened Division III Bryn Athyn by 69 points. Only Northeastern’s biggest blowout — a 57-point laugher against Holy Cross— came against a Division I team.
Though a comment or prediction is given for each team’s
upcoming schedule, the rankings reflect only how the teams performed in their
completed non-conference games. Each section is prefaced with the team’s record,
strength of schedule rank (compared to other CAA teams), head coach, and, just
for kicks, the player with the best name along with an explanation for why.
With that said . . .
#10: Elon Phoenix
Non-Conference Record: 4–9
Strength of Schedule Rank: Fourth
Head Coach: Mike Schrage (first season)
Best Player Name: Federico Poser — fun to say whether you
pronounce it correctly or not
This is not to say that Elon had no bright spots in the season’s first six weeks. Stanford grad transfer Marcus Sheffield emerged as a premier scorer, posting 17 points per game to go along with five rebounds and three assists.
Freshmen Hunter Woods and Hunter McIntosh were also pleasant
surprises for a team that lost its top five scorers from last year. Both are
averaging double figures in scoring and shooting more than 40 percent form
downtown. Woods also leads the team in rebounding.
The Phoenix even managed to hang with No. 5 UNC for the
first 20 minutes of their November 20 matchup, despite the Tar Heels entering
as 30 ½-point favorites. Though UNC pulled away at the start of the second
half, the Phoenix faithful could take some small comfort in Sheffield’s poster
slam over former CAA standout Justin Pierce.
But the good news ends there for Elon. The UNC loss was one piece
of a six-game losing streak. Of their four non-conference wins, two came
against Division II teams, one against a Division III squad, and one against a Kennesaw
State club ranked 342 out of 353 Division I teams.
The Phoenix are last in the CAA in offense and scoring
margin, and are the only squad shooting below 40 percent from the floor. They
are last in offensive rebounds and rebounding margin. Their sole saving grace
is their three-point shooting; they are the only CAA club making more than 10
threes per game and are fourth in three-point percentage. But even then there
is a downside; they are worst in the conference at defending the three.
The emergence of Woods and McIntosh as scoring threats is welcome news for first-year coach Mike Schrage. But Elon’s lack of depth and veteran talent is evident. Given that the team finished with the CAA’s worst non-conference record despite multiple players exceeding expectations, it’s hard to imagine they can pose a threat during conference play.
#9: UNCW Seahawks
Non-Conference Record: 5–8
Strength of Schedule Rank: Third
Head Coach: C.B. McGrath (third season)
Best Player Name: Brian Tolefree — you don’t have to pay for
If the William & Mary Tribe were the CAA program most ravaged in the offseason — four of their top five scorers fled to other schools after the dismissal of longtime head coach Tony Shaver — then UNCW was the program most ravaged in non-conference play.
Though the Seahawks weren’t expected to shine much after the
graduation of monster forward Devontae Cacok and the transfer of junior
standout Jeantal Cylla, they at least had a few exciting pieces to fuel coach
C.B. McGrath’s up-tempo offense.
The first domino to fall was sharpshooting junior guard and
leading returning scorer Ty Gadsden, who began the season sidelined by injury,
played December 7 against Charlotte, and hasn’t played since. The team confirmed
he is out indefinitely, indicating that he may return sometime this season. The
same cannot be said for fellow junior guard Jay Estimé, who injured his knee,
went under the knife, and will miss the rest of the season. The injuries, when
combined with the departure of grad transfer Carter Skaggs in November, gutted
a Seahawks’ roster struggling for experience (the Seahawks are one of seven Division
I teams without a senior).
But the last and largest domino fell after the team’s
non-conference closer against Vanderbilt on December 21, when sophomore point
guard Kai Toews informed McGrath and his staff that he is leaving the program. McGrath
called the announcement a “total surprise.” The team said Toews planned to pursue
a professional basketball career in his native Japan; Toews announced on
Twitter that he was “thinking of going on a professional path or transferring.”
Toews said previously that he would like to compete for the Japanese national
team at the FIBA World Cup and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Though he was averaging just five points, four rebounds, and
three assists this year, Toews was a crucial component of the team’s future. Although
he wasn’t a major scoring threat, he was named to the CAA All-Rookie Team last
year after breaking the conference record with 253 assists.
In their stead, sophomore guard Jaylen Sims has picked up
some slack, leading the team in points (15) and rebounds (6) per game while
shooting a CAA-best 47 percent from behind the arc.
Sophomore forward Martin Linssen has also chipped in,
logging 10 points and four rebounds per game in his first season with the
Seahawks after transferring from Valparaiso. But the biggest surprise has been
six-foot freshman guard Shykeim Phillips, who is averaging nine points per
contest on 49 percent shooting. Though he isn’t scoring from the perimeter, he
uses a smorgasbord of quick hesitations, jukes, and handles to dart to the
basket for layups. Phillips began the season off the bench, but earned a
starting spot several weeks in.
But, like Elon’s, most of UNCW’s five wins have come against
Division III teams, with Campbell and FIU as the only DI victories. The four
departures and injuries are reflected in the CAA-worst five-game losing streak
they take into conference play. Their typically high-octane offense keeps their
scoring, field goal percentage, three-point percentage, and assists in the CAA’s
top five, but their field goal, three-point, and scoring defense all rank
Even if Ty Gadsden returns for a good chunk of conference play, enough damage has been done to put the Seahawks in contention with the Phoenix for the CAA’s bottom spot.
#8: Drexel Dragons
Non-Conference Record: 7–6
Strength of Schedule Rank: Sixth
Head Coach: Zach Spiker (fourth season)
Best Player Name: Coletrane Washington — greatest jazz name
of all time
Like Elon and UNCW, Drexel needed to replace a mix of graduates (Trevor John, Troy Harper) and transfers (Alihan Demir). The three combined to average more than half of the team’s points last season.
Unlike Elon and UNCW, Drexel has maintained enough healthy
talent to post a winning record in non-conference play.
The biggest component behind the Dragons’ success has been
the miraculous progression of senior guard/forward Zach Walton, who jumped to
Drexel from Edmonds Community College (not in the NCAA) and played just seven
games last year before an injury ended his season. Walton had a breakout night in
the team’s third game against Abilene Christian, dropping 22 points and sinking
the game-winning three after reigning CAA Rookie of the Year Camren Wynter was
denied the ball.
Ten days later, he dropped a season-high 32 points in a win
over Bryant. Though Walton’s 28 percent clip from downtown leaves much to be
desired, his 13 points per game are keying a Drexel offense badly in need of
scoring punch. His four boards per night and a steady series of highlights aren’t
too shabby either.
Wynter and James Butler sit right behind Walton in the
scoring column with 12 points per game. Both lead the CAA in a key category,
Butler in rebounds (11.5 a game) and Wynter in assists (5.8). Butler’s inside
presence is by far the biggest reason for Drexel’s strong rebounding margin,
the third-best in the CAA.
But Drexel lacks both an elite scorer and a deep, balanced roster of offensive options, which will likely spell trouble in conference play. Their offense and defense both ranked eighth in non-conference play, and though their assist and three-point defense stats led the conference, they need to find another gear to exceed preseason expectations. They also need to figure out how to win away from home; they won five of their six contests in Philadelphia but lost all five road games.
#7: Northeastern Huskies
Non-Conference Record: 6–6
Strength of Schedule Rank: Eighth
Head Coach: Bill Coen (14th season)
Best Player Name: Greg Eboigbodin — save for the word “boing,”
there’s no better way to describe the motion and feel of a trampoline
It’s surprising to see the Huskies this far down on the list, especially given that their scoring margin ranked third in the conference. But a .500 record and the third-weakest strength of schedule leaves them here.
That said, their bright spot was brighter than anyone else’s.
In the season’s first few games, senior guard Jordan Roland torched every
defense he saw, leading the nation in scoring and forcing his name into
national conversations, award watchlists, and ESPN segments. He infuriated
defenses with a flurry of difficult lefty floaters and overwhelmed them with
twisting, drifting, contested threes from distances where no one in their right
mind would think to shoot a basketball.
Roland’s best game came in an 84–79 win against Harvard on
November 8. He scored 11 points in the game’s first three minutes en route to a
42-point firestorm that shattered the single-game school record held by Husky
legends J.J. Barea and Reggie Lewis.
Though he tailed off somewhat as the season progressed, his
22.4 points per game still lead the CAA and rank seventh in the nation. His marks
of 51 percent from the floor, 43 percent from three, and 93 percent from the
foul line are all preposterous, and rank as the conference’s fourth-best, second-best,
and best, respectively. He is also second in the conference in minutes per game
(37.3) and has established himself as the clear favorite for CAA Player of the
Year ahead of Delaware’s Nate Darling and Charleston’s Grant Riller.
Tyson Walker, Max Boursiquot, and Shaq Walters have stepped
up at various times, giving hope that the Husky offense can become more
balanced. Walker in particular has exceeded expectations, starting every game and
taking the offensive keys from graduating guard Vasa Pusica.
But the consistency hasn’t been there. Senior guard/forward
Bolden Brace, who was expected to be the team’s second scoring option behind
Roland, has shot efficiently but hasn’t scored in volume, logging double
figures in just four of the team’s 12 games. Without reliable scoring from him,
Northeastern will be hard-pressed to remain a top-three CAA team.
The team also suffered from injuries to big men; 6’8” Tomas
Murphy has missed the last eight games with an ankle injury and 6’10” Greg
Eboigbodin has missed the last two. Though there have been some fine
performances in their stead — namely back-to-back double-doubles by 6’5”
utility man Max Boursiquot — the lack of size has presented problems for the
Huskies. Though their CAA-worst rebounding numbers are partially attributable
to their having the slowest pace in the conference, their challenges in
crashing the boards without Murphy and Eboigbodin have often hampered their
ability to build and maintain momentum in games.
The Huskies excelled from the outside, nailing a CAA-best 41
percent of their three-pointers, with their three most frequent perimeter
shooters all shooting between 42 and 44 percent. They also sank 82 percent of
their free throws, easily the best mark in the conference. But they allow the CAA’s
highest field goal percentage, in large part due to the shortcomings of their
The Huskies’ non-conference slate left plenty for coach Bill Coen to be optimistic about. But offensive inconsistency, namely from players not named Jordan Roland, left the Huskies with a .500 record when they could have fared much better.
#6: Towson Tigers
Non-Conference Record: 6–6
Strength of Schedule Rank: Second
Head Coach: Pat Skerry (ninth season)
Best Player Name: Demetrius Mims — m’s in all the right
Last year, Towson struggled mightily, winning less than a third of their games while trying to incorporate 11 new players. This year, with 90 percent of their scoring and 86 percent of their rebounding from last year returning, the Tigers have a much better chance to develop.
Towson finished with the same 6–6 record as Northeastern,
but Towson had a higher strength of schedule. Oddly enough, their most
encouraging moment was a loss. Despite entering a mid-November game against the
No. 15 Florida Gators as 18 ½-point underdogs, the Tigers kept the game close
throughout. The clubs were tied with 80 seconds left before Florida salvaged a
As expected, senior guard Brian Fobbs has keyed the Towson
attack, averaging 17 points and five boards a night. However, his relatively
low efficiency marks (41 percent from the field, 29 percent from three) will
have to rise before he can join the elite tier of CAA scorers.
Sophomore guard Allen Betrand and senior forwards Nakye
Sanders and Dennis Tunstall have continued their solid offensive production
from last year. But all three will need to up their production before Towson
can take the next step.
The Tigers’ reliably scrappy, energetic defense has shown up
this year; they allow a CAA-best 65.4 points per game and boast the second-best
rebounding margin and third-best steal total. But they don’t rank near the top
of the conference in any meaningful offensive category and only Fobbs qualifies
as any sort of offensive standout.
Their excellent defense can only take them so far, and if Towson wishes to capitalize on the senior seasons of Fobbs, Tunstall, and Sanders, the entire team needs to boost its scoring.
#5: Charleston Cougars
Non-Conference Record: 6–6
Strength of Schedule Rank: First
Head Coach: Earl Grant (sixth season)
Best Player Name: Zep Jasper — plenty of powerful plosives
Charleston is a general consensus top-three CAA team that finished 6–6 in non-conference play. At first glance, this might lead to comparisons with Northeastern, but Charleston had a decidedly superior non-conference slate.
Though they suffered blowout defeats at the hands of
Oklahoma State and Central Florida, their other four losses were by
single-digit margins to good teams: Central Florida again, Wake Forest,
Richmond, and VCU. The Cougars fought through the most difficult non-conference
schedule of any CAA team and emerged with plenty to be happy about.
They are led by senior guard and CAA Preseason Player of the
Year Grant Riller, who is logging 21 points, four rebounds, and four assists per
night. His scoring mark is good for third in the CAA (20th in the
nation) and his field goal and free throw percentages are both top five in the
conference. His scoring is coming in the same way it did last year: subpar
three-point shooting and a sky-high percentage around the rim.
On November 29, Riller keyed a win over Providence and
passed former teammate Jarrell Brantley for third on the school’s all-time
scoring list. Two weeks later, he notched his 2,000th collegiate point.
That said, there is room for Riller to improve, particularly
regarding his 26 percent mark from three-point land. He’s had a strong season,
but at his best he is the conference’s greatest scorer and arguably its top
player overall. He hasn’t hit his ceiling yet.
The Cougars lack a clear second scoring option behind
Riller, but junior guard Brevin Galloway and senior forwards Jaylen McManus and
Sam Miller have all assumed larger roles in the offense. Miller in particular
has stood out, notching seven points and seven rebounds per contest thanks in
part to moderately efficient perimeter shooting.
The Cougars boast a strong defense, led by a combined four
steals per game from Riller and Galloway. Though their CAA-worst perimeter shooting
badly warrants improvement, many of their other low ranks in team stats
compared to other CAA squads can be explained away by their slow pace of play
and the tough competition they’ve faced so far.
Their record isn’t fantastic, and there is room for improvement up and down the roster. But don’t be fooled; this Cougars team is still dangerous.
#4: James Madison Dukes
Non-Conference Record: 7–4
Strength of Schedule Rank: Seventh
Head Coach: Louis Rowe (third season)
Best Player Name: Michael Christmas — because Christmas time
At the outset of the season, James Madison appeared poised to snap a streak of three consecutive losing seasons, and they haven’t disappointed so far.
Leading the way is junior guard Matt Lewis, who ranks fifth
in the conference in points (18), rebounds (7), and minutes (35) per game, and
adds a third-best five assists per game as well. He’s taken the lead on a team
with no seniors in the regular rotation.
His backcourt partner and fellow junior Darius Banks is
faring almost as well, averaging 14 points (on 41 percent from downtown) and
five boards a night. He has also continued his thievery from last year, swiping
the ball 1.6 times per contest.
And if that wasn’t enough junior talent, try 6’8”, 250-pound
junior forward Dwight Wilson, who missed the first four games of the season but
has averaged a double-double since. Or junior forward Zach Jacobs, who chips in
eight points and six boards a game.
But the performance nobody saw coming, especially with so
many returning offensive centerpieces, is freshman forward Michael Christmas,
who is putting up nine points and six rebounds per game, shooting a comical 46
percent from three on decent volume, and has established himself as a one-man
The Dukes’ team stats require a bit of context to decipher.
At first glance, their counting stats and percentage stats appear to tell
opposing stories. This is explained by the team’s pace of play, easily the
fastest in the conference. The Dukes have the 26th-fastest pace out
of 353 Division I teams; the next closest CAA team is Hofstra, nearly 100 spots
down the list.
More possessions mean that the Dukes score more and give up
more points, skewing their counting stats. The percentage stats tell a more accurate
story. James Madison is eighth in the CAA in field goal and three-point
percentage; save for Banks and Christmas, the regular three-point shooters are
converting less than a third of their tries. They also struggled from the
charity stripe, making just 65 percent of their free throws.
The Dukes shone on defense, limiting opponents to the lowest
field goal percentage and second-lowest three-point percentage of any CAA team.
They also led the conference in blocks.
The Dukes’ offense has a high ceiling and is likely to improve as the season progresses. But it is their defense that has turned heads, going from a middle-of-the-pack unit last year to — along with Towson — the conference’s best so far this year. If they can overcome the offensive hole left by the graduation of Stuckey Mosley, the Dukes can join the CAA’s top tier.
#3: Hofstra Pride
Non-Conference Record: 9–4
Strength of Schedule Rank: Tenth
Head Coach: Joe Mihalich (seventh season)
Best Player Name: Stafford Trueheart — no idea why he’s playing
basketball instead of commanding the English army in the 12th
Hofstra begin their non-conference schedule with a mandate (a first-place finish in the CAA Preseason Poll) and the question of how to replace the offense of graduating guard Justin Wright-Foreman, the two-time reigning CAA Player of the Year and arguably the best scorer the conference has seen in years?
But, as it turns out, you can lose Wright-Foreman and still
have the best and deepest backcourt in the conference. It begins with a pair of
seniors: Eli Pemberton and Desure Buie.
The pair have remarkably similar numbers. Pemberton averages
17.1 points per game, good for sixth in the conference; Buie’s 16.6 points rank
eighth. Pemberton is third in minutes per game with 35.6; Buie is right behind
him at 35.5. Pemberton averages six rebounds per contest; Buie notches six assists,
good for second in the conference. Buie has also retained the defensive
brilliance that won him CAA Defensive Player of the Year last year; he leads
the conference with 2.7 steals a night.
Junior guards Jalen Ray and Tareq Coburn round out the backcourt,
averaging a combined 18 points and 11 rebounds. Coburn’s seven rebounds per
contest lead the team, while Ray has been the most efficient scorer among the Hofstra
guards, shooting 41 percent from downtown.
Sophomore forward/center Isaac Kante, who sat out last
season after transferring from Georgia, has established himself on a squad short
on rebounding and defensive presence down low. He is averaging nine points on
61 percent shooting to go along with seven rebounds.
The Pride also scored the biggest win of any CAA team so far
this season. On November 21, they walked into Pauley Pavilion and toppled UCLA.
Keyed by 29 points from Buie and 27 from Ray, Hofstra came
back from a 13-point first-half deficit to take the game 88–78. It was the
Bruins’ first loss of the year and one of the biggest wins in program history
The Pride are the best-scoring offense in the CAA so far,
though their numbers are inflated by their relatively fast pace of play and
their strength of schedule, which was the weakest of any CAA team. Their four
main guards are all among the conference’s ten best free throw shooters, with
Buie’s 91 percent second only to Northeastern’s Jordan Roland. The team as a
whole knocks down 78 percent of their foul shots, second only to Northeastern’s
82 percent. The Pride have the most steals, most offensive rebounds, and best
assist-to-turnover ratio of any CAA team.
Hofstra’s biggest causes for concern inside depth (as
evidenced by their middle-of-the-pack rebounding numbers) and efficiency — they
ranked seventh in field goal percentage and three-point percentage.
The Pride enter conference play riding a three-game winning streak. They have a quartet of guards that can outpace anyone. If they can find the efficiency and inside play buttons, they will be an imposing bunch.
#2: William & Mary Tribe
Non-Conference Record: 8–5
Strength of Schedule Rank: Fifth
Head Coach: Dane Fischer (first season)
Best Player Name: Thatcher Stone — if people were once again
named after their professions, you’d hire him to build you a sturdy house
This one was a surprise.
A month after their CAA Tournament exit last season, the
Tribe looked like a bomb had hit them. Tony Shaver, their coach of 16 years, had
been fired. Justin Pierce, Matt Milon, Chase Audige, and LJ Owens — four of the
team’s five leading scorers who had a combined eight years of eligibility
remaining — had transferred. Leading scorer Nathan Knight was thinking about
bailing on his senior season and declaring for the NBA draft.
New head coach Dane Fischer walked into this mess and pulled
everything together. The Tribe posted the CAA’s fourth-best winning percentage
in non-conference play; the three teams ahead of them had considerably weaker
It begins, as any William & Mary conversation inevitably
does, with Knight. When he decided to return for his senior season, the Tribe
retained the conference’s best big man and, along with Charleston’s Grant
Riller, a solid candidate for Player of the Year. He hasn’t disappointed,
posting nightly averages of 20 points and 10 rebounds, with his 56 percent mark
from the field and 1.5 blocks per game leading the conference. Along with
Northeastern’s Jordan Roland, Knight was named to the watchlist for the Oscar
Robertson Trophy, given annually to college basketball’s best player.
As spectacular as Knight has been, his elite play was
expected. What wasn’t as expected was the establishment of senior center Andy
Van Vliet as an elite two-way player. The seven-foot Wisconsin transfer is
averaging 15 points and 10 rebounds a night, the latter tied with the 6’10” Knight
for second-best in the conference. His is sixth in the conference in field goal
percentage and blocks.
Good shooters are not hard to come by in the CAA; good
shooters who are seven feet tall are rare. Both Knight and Van Vliet can space
the floor, nailing 35 and 39 percent of their threes, respectively. This allows
Fischer to play a twin towers lineup without sacrificing perimeter shooting,
creating matchup and switching nightmares even for well-balanced defenses.
The Tribe also have benefitted from a pair of guards: grad
transfer Bryce Barnes and junior Luke Loewe. Barnes is averaging eight points,
three rebounds, and four assists a night in his first and only season for the
Tribe after three years playing for Milwaukee. Loewe has taken a gigantic step
forward, upping his production and efficiency across the board. He’s averaging
11 points a night on a hyper-efficient 53 percent shooting from the floor and
47 percent from downtown.
Sophomore guard Thornton Scott has missed nine straight games
with a lower leg injury. In the four games he played — all of which the Tribe
won — he showed tremendous progress from last year, averaging 13 points, five
rebounds, and four assists with an absurd 52 percent clip from downtown. If he
returns soon, it will add another weapon to an already well-stocked arsenal.
The Tribe won their first four games out of the gate, three
of which came on the road. One of those wins came against Wofford, courtesy of
a game-winning layup by Barnes. Before Barnes’s shot dropped, Wofford had won
its last 17 home games in a row.
Fischer has picked up his predecessor’s tendency for a
relatively even distribution of minutes. Van Vliet leads the team with just 30
per game, trailed closely by Knight and Loewe. It begs the question of what
happens if Fischer decides to up their minutes, leaving opponents to face his
twin towers for longer stretches.
William & Mary’s team stats reveal no obvious weaknesses
so far. Their scoring, assist rate, points allowed, margin of victory, field
goal percentage, field goal defense, and three-point percentage all fall
between third and fifth. They rank second in defensive rebounds and blocks, and
first in rebounding margin. Even their bottom-half offensive rebounding and
three-point defense aren’t far off from respectable levels.
Entering the season, the Tribe were a question mark, with Knight projected to dominate but nothing else assured. With non-conference play complete, the Tribe have joined the CAA’s top tier and have as good a shot at the CAA title as anyone.
#1: Delaware Blue Hens
Non-Conference Record: 10–3
Strength of Schedule Rank: Ninth
Head Coach: Martin Inglesby (fourth season)
Best Player Name: Nate Darling — any Delaware fans who think
he’s cute have an easy poster idea waiting for them
December 3, 2019. Hofstra, the winner of the CAA Preseason Poll, was 6–3. Northeastern, the defending conference champion, was 4–4.
The Delaware Blue Hens, who most preseason observers had
placed outside the CAA’s top tier, were undefeated, winners of nine straight
games. And though they fell to earth by losing three of their next four to
close non-conference play, the statement had been made: Delaware is the team to
beat in the CAA.
Although many had high expectations for junior guard and UAB
transfer Nate Darling, he has outplayed those expectations and then some. His
21.4 points per game are second only to Northeastern’s Jordan Roland and rank
16th in the nation. He has played more minutes and made more threes
than anyone in the CAA, and his stellar three-point percentage of 42 ranks
third. Throw in his four rebounds and three assists per contest, and Delaware has
the best CAA transfer since Northeastern nabbed Vasa Pusica from San Diego.
But because one excellent transfer isn’t enough, the Blue
Hens have another: sophomore forward Justyn Mutts. In his first season with
Delaware after leaving High Point, Mutts is logging 14 points per game on 53
percent shooting (second in the conference to Nathan Knight) and 9.6 rebounds
(fourth in the conference). As if that weren’t enough, his highlights are
Now, for the returning play . . . what? They have another transfer?
He’s from Villanova? He’s 6’10”? He dropped 19 points in his Delaware debut?
Sure, why not? This might as well happen.
Dylan Painter is a midseason transfer, so he only recently
became eligible, playing in Delaware’s final two non-conference games. The Blue
Hens won nine games in a row, then added a major piece to compliment Mutts down
And finally we turn our attention to returning junior guards
Ryan Allen and Kevin Anderson. Both have long been ticketed for CAA stardom but
have seen serious injuries impede their progress. They’re healthy now, and at
the perfect time. They have similar numbers: double-digit scoring, a field goal
percentage in the high 40s, and a three-point percentage around 40 percent.
The Blue Hens are third in scoring, points allowed, field goal and three-point defense, and defensive rebounds. They lead the conference in scoring margin, field goal percentage, and assist-to-turnover ratio. Though they ultimately fell 78–70 to No. 20 Villanova, they proved they could hang around against a superior team. In the season’s fourth game, Painter and Anderson combined for 69 points.
Last year, Delaware finished with a losing conference record
and lost in the semifinal round of the CAA Tournament. Now they’re stacked, and
the road to the conference’s March Madness bid goes through them.
After a trip to the CAA semifinals in C.B. McGrath’s first
year as head coach, UNCW looked to build upon their success in 2018–19.
Projected to finish fifth in the conference, the Seahawks had the makings of a CAA
dark horse. But looks can be deceiving.
UNCW had one of their worst seasons in recent memory, finishing dead last in the CAA regular season standings. In an attempt to show their season wasn’t a total disaster, the Seahawks pulled off a tournament win against seventh-seeded Elon before fizzling out in the quarterfinals with a 80–59 drubbing from Northeastern. For a once-top-tier team in the CAA, there were far more questions than answers, and the bad news continued during the offseason.
While everyone knew the day would come, it was still
difficult for many to say goodbye to senior forward Devontae Cacok. The
talented forward and fan-favorite had become the face of the program, and UNCW
will have to adjust to life without Cacok on and off the court.
Cacok went undrafted but signed an Exhibit 10 contract with
the Los Angeles Lakers in June. Though the team cut him in October before the
start of the regular season, his performance in Summer League and preseason was
outstanding. He is now on the training roster for the South Bay Lakers, the
team’s G-League affiliate.
Three other offseason losses for the Seahawks came as a
complete surprise. On the same day, junior guards Jaylen Fornes and Ty Taylor
II both announced they would be transferring from UNCW. Although neither were
elite players, they provided valuable bench minutes and would have contributed
a veteran presence for a team now missing their leader.
But the offseason’s biggest shock came a few days later,
when junior forward Jeantal Cylla announced he would be transferring — he
eventually landed at the University of Arkansas. Cylla was a key player for the
Seahawks last season, averaging 13.7 points and 4.6 rebounds as part of the
formidable frontcourt with Cacok.
Despite the losses, the offseason was not all doom and
gloom. The Seahawks are bringing in two transfer guards: grad Carter Skaggs
from Washington State and junior Mike Okauru from Florida. Both players provide
much-needed experience for a team losing several leaders.
Skaggs enjoyed a nice two-year career at Washington State,
averaging 7.2 points in 56 career games. Okauru will be the more interesting of
the two, as he never quite found his groove at Florida, averaging just 2.6
points in 69 career games. Despite his poor numbers, Okauru has the talent and
athleticism to succeed alongside returning point guard Kai Toews, who averaged
an astonishing 7.7 assists during this freshman campaign.
Junior guard Ty Gadsden averaged 12 ppg last year on a
ridiculous 48 percent from three. He will likely miss the first month of the
season after surgery on both hips and for a sports hernia, per Brian Mull.
Joining Okauru and Skaggs this season is a solid freshman
class. Among the newcomers are forwards Imajae Dodd and Jake Boggs and guard
Shykeim Phillips. While Phillips’ minutes will likely be limited, the Seahawks
are likely to ask a lot from Dodd and Boggs. The duo, along with returning
forwards John Bowen and Martin Linssen, look to fill the massive shoes left by
Cacok and Cylla.
Rebounding is another concern. Cacok pulled down a CAA-best 12.3 boards per contest last year and was the nation’s top rebounder the year before. Cylla, at 4.6 rebounds a night, was second on the team. Without them, the rebounding will likely be done by committee.
Bottom Line: Expectations are low for the Seahawks this season, as they probably can’t replace Cacok and Cylla in one year. Gadsden and Toews bring intelligence and athleticism to the backcourt, but if the newcomers can’t pick up the pace on the boards, it’ll be a long season for the Seahawks.