Looking Forward: Elon

Elon (15-18, 6-12)

It would be natural to write off a team that lost twice as many games as it won in conference play, and is absent of more than half its scoring from those same 18 games. When considering that one of the departed was the CAA Rookie of the Year, this situation looks particularly disconcerting.

But it’s important to realize what Elon had working in its favor before January began.

Heading into a nonconference roadie with former SoCon rival UNC-Greensboro, Luke Eddy was pacing the Phoenix at 13.8 points per game. Elon’s sixth man was the reigning CAA Player of the Week, having dropped 21.5 points per game on Mizzou and Duke the week prior.

Right before the first half’s U12 timeout, Eddy took an outlet pass coast-to-coast and finished over two defenders before tumbling to the ground. It was his last bucket of the season, as the junior guard suffered a torn ACL on the play.

The Phoenix won in Greensboro, and commenced on a four-game winning streak that culminated in a 77-67 victory at The DAC (Elon’s inaugural conference game as a member of the CAA). A few days later, the Phoenix pushed to 10-6 overall and 2-1 in league play after an 85-79 home win over William & Mary.

But without Eddy, things went largely downhill thereafter.

Over the next six weeks, Elon dropped 11 of its 12 games. The Phoenix concluded league play allowing a league-worst 106.9 points per 100 possessions.

The Eddy injury forced head coach Matt Matheny, with a backcourt thin on ball handlers, to rely on playmaking freshman Elijah Bryant to pick up the slack. As the centerpiece of Elon’s offense, Bryant tallied gaudy numbers and garnered the CAA Rookie of the Year award.

Bryant used more possessions (35.5%) than all but two D-I players in ’14-’15. When factoring in his 110 turnovers (seventh most in D-I) and sub-par shooting percentages (apparently, a result of the necessity to hoist shots with the clock winding down for a team that finished top-30 nationally in both adjusted tempo and average length of possession), his numbers lose a bit of luster.

Although Bryant has taken his desire to be an academician/high-volume chucker to Brigham Young, there’s reason to believe that Elon can be better for it. Momentum created by a late-season four-game winning streak, now-healthy knees, and an otherwise positive offseason have the Phoenix faithful believing that this season could be special.

When Bryant announced his intention to transfer in June, Matheny was tasked with replacing three guards (Bryant, Austin Hamilton, and Kevin Blake) who played more than 40% of Elon’s minutes in league play. Despite the impending addition of touted shooting guard Steven Santa Ana, Elon’s backcourt was looking direly shallow.

Matheny landed two guard commitments over the summer, solidifying Elon’s backcourt and adding to a promising freshman class simultaneously.

Eddy was primed for an All-CAA caliber season, and could be poised to make a run for those accolades this season. Eddy’s 120.6 offensive rating would’ve topped the CAA, and while we can’t expect him to be full throttle come November, he should be rounding into form by the time league play rolls around.

Senior Tanner Samson (12.5 points per game) enters the season 58 points away from 1,000 for his career, and just 24 treys away from becoming Elon’s all-time leader in 3-pointers made. After shooting 43.4% from beyond the arc as a sophomore, Samson had slumped to 36.0% as a junior. Elon’s offensive attack will be more balanced this year, which should help Samson find more room to operate on the perimeter.

The three freshmen guards should find the court early and often. Santa Ana, a three-star prospect with flashy high school numbers, will compete for big-time minutes (potentially a starting role) from the get go. Sharpshooters Dainan Swoope and Sheldon Eberhardt were the two late additions to Elon’s five-man recruiting class, and should also get run. Swoope appears well-positioned to carve out a consistent role at point guard while Eddy works his way back from injury.

Injuries forced the Phoenix to play a lot of small ball in ’14-’15, as Matheny’s squad finished 305th nationally in effective height (the average height of players playing the center and power forward positions). Consequently, the Phoenix blocked fewer shots at the rim (3.0%) than any team in D-I, and allowed CAA foes to grab a league-high 32.6% of their missed shots.

The return of Brian Dawkins, a redshirt sophomore who was held out last season following a prolonged recovery from offseason knee surgery, and an influx of freshmen bigs will allow Elon to field stouter, more traditional lineups.

Athletic wings Christian Hairston and Dmitri Thompson will spend less time in the post banging with beefier opponents. Hairston shot 61.9% from the field, and needs more touches. Thompson is an offensively raw but promising wing who has the potential to be a true difference maker on both ends of the court. 6’6” swingman Collin Luther mixed in for a dozen minutes per game last season, notably dropping a career-high 11 points in Elon’s CAA Tournament victory over Towson.

Tyler Seibring and Karolis Kundrotas are the big men filling out Elon’s freshman class. Seibring will be an asset as a versatile big who can stretch defenses with his shooting. Kundrotas was originally committed to Charlotte, but reopened his commitment after the coaching change. The 6’10” forward from Lithuania possesses a body ready for college ball, and the ability to step out and hit shots on the perimeter.

Seibring and Kundrotas will compete with senior Tony Sabato and sophomore Jack Anton for post minutes. Sabato and Anton ranked ninth and eleventh, respectively, in minutes played per outing. The two post players from Cincinatti’s Archbishop Moeller should benefit from the presences of other big-bodied post players, but will need to produce more in the minutes they receive to earn expanded roles.

Invited walk-on Jack George redshirted the ’14-’15 season with the goal of becoming physically ready for D-I basketball. We’ll see if George has progressed to the point of carving out a role in the frontcourt.

The common denominator for Elon’s five freshmen is the highly proficient shooting, and adding these five into the mix with Eddy and Samson will give Elon the potential to be one of the better three-point shooting teams in the CAA.

Despite Bryant’s exodus, there are positive things in motion here (including designs for a new convocation center). Even so, it would require a leap of faith to peg Elon in the upper half of the CAA. More than half of the team hasn’t ever suited up in a CAA game. That’s not damning by any means, but it does speak to the fact that this a relatively young team that hasn’t been through the conference rigors. That’s what made this summer’s voyage to Germany, Austria, and Italy so valuable.

Another challenging nonconference slate featuring college hoops blue bloods Duke, Syracuse, and Michigan will provide Elon with early proving grounds. Additionally, the Phoenix will play four of its first five conference games at home, which will give Matheny’s squad multiple opportunities to start the new year with a bang.

To be taken seriously as a contender, Elon will need to emerge from that early five-game conference stretch with (at minimum) a 3-2 record. While I think this team will make strides as the year progresses, I will be surprised if the Phoenix manages to escape one of the two opening-round games in Baltimore.

Summer School: Drexel

Drexel (11-19, 9-9)

“I’d trade numbers for wins.”

A seemingly harmless postgame statement spoken after Drexel’s seventh consecutive loss didn’t hold much weight at the time, but became ever-relevant some three months later.

When stud wing Damion Lee announced his intentions to play his fifth season outside of Philly, he instantaneously transformed the outlook of his former team’s upcoming season.

And now we’re left to ponder what’s next for Bruiser Flint’s squad.

Drexel is coming off a mercurial season that featured a seven-game losing streak (including…well…this) that was nearly forgotten amid a six-game stretch of CAA ascendancy that saw Lee dominate the best teams the league had to offer.

Drexel turned in its worst defensive performance (allowed 105.0 points per 100 possessions, 216th in D-I) since Flint’s first year in ’01-’02. Outside of Lee, the Dragons were downright poor offensively, posting an abysmal 0.59 points per possession in the worst single-game offensive performance (JMU home game) of the Flint Era.

This overall lackluster play can be recognized by the fact that the Dragons finished ninth in conference play in both offensive and defensive effective field goal percentages.

As has been the case in recent years, injuries played a massive roles. Flint was forced to rely heavily upon a five-man freshman class, causing Drexel to conclude the season as D-I’s 306th most experienced team. Flint will lean on that youthful experience and three redshirts to keep the post-Lee ship floating.

A quartet of sophomore guards enters the season in fierce competition for playing time.

After starting 14 games alongside Frantz Massenat and Chris Fouch in ’13-‘14, Major Canady was poised to step into a massive role last season. Canady fractured his ankle before the season, continuing an unfortunate recent trend in Flint’s snake-bitten tenure.

Now healthy, Canady will compete with rising sophomores Rashann London and Sammy Mojica for playing time.

London (7.0 points per game) started every game as a freshman. His 0.85 assist-to-turnover ratio was concerning (even for a freshman point guard). But London improved in that area as the season progressed, and would’ve registered higher assist totals on a better shooting team. Canady’s presence will allow London to play off the ball more frequently.

Mojica was a crucial sparkplug during Drexel’s midseason surge, averaging 10.5 points during the six-game winning streak. On a team lacking proven three-point shooters, Mojica (24-of-64, 37.5% from three) will have a claim to big-time minutes.

6’5” Ahmad Fields chose Utah over Colorado, Mississippi, and St. Joe’s out of high school. Adam Herrmann indicated that Fields has been a standout in intrasquad pickup games, and might start from the get go. Fields showed a propensity for getting buckets in limited action as a freshman, and the redshirt sophomore might be the player best suited to consume the bulk of Lee’s minutes.

The Dragons return a double-digit scorer in senior Tavon Allen. Allen is 157 points away from hitting 1,000 for his career, but last year’s 37.3 effective field goal percentage and Dan Crain’s research point to Allen as one of the least efficient scorers in D-I. Allen averaged 3.7 assists per game during Drexel’s six-game winning streak, which shows how the team thrived when he took on more of a facilitative role.

Drexel’s lone freshman, Terrell Allen, might be the only pure point guard on the roster. He’s a good bet to see the court for that reason.

Last season represented the third consecutive in which Flint had to replace his leading rebounder. Bru’s teams finished top-16 nationally in defensive rebounding percentage from 2011 through 2013 before slipping to 96th in 2014 and a middling 172nd last season.

I expect the fall to stop there.

Injuries forced Flint to roll with guard-heavy lineups, and we know damn well that four guards and one forward make Dan an angry man. Frontcourt depth should allow the Dragons to play to their strengths, and avoid guard-heavy lineups that are particularly problematic for the archetypal rock fighter.

In Rodney Williams and Mohamed Bah, Flint has two juniors with 30+ career starts to their names. Insert Kazembe Abif, who redshirted last season while recovering from a torn ACL, and this has the makings of one of the better frontcourts in the conference.

Williams was an All-CAA Rookie Teamer in ’13-’14, and brings a rare level of athleticism to the league. Williams put up numbers (8.2 points, 7.0 rebounds) despite missing the first eight conference games with a stress fracture. The team needs to prioritize getting Williams the ball.

Bah started every game last season, but averaged just over two field goal attempts per game in conference play. Bah spent his summer playing with the Malinese National Team, and is another guy with solid percentages (64.3% during conference play) who could use a few more touches.

Abif has 17 career starts to his name, and will be the most tenured big man on the squad. He’ll most likely start on the bench while he rounds into form.

Sophomores Tyshawn Miles and Austin Williams played spot minutes as freshmen. Miles posted a double-double versus Delaware in January, and mixes Daryl McCoy’s size with Samme Givens’ desire to be a true difference maker on the glass. Williams actually started a dozen times, but only played more than eight minutes in one of those starts.

Flint secured an intriguing midseason transfer who will redshirt the upcoming season. Miles Overton put up Tavon-esque (efficiency wise) numbers in 36 games at Wake Forest. It remains to be seen whether or not he was a product of Jeff Bzdelik’s trainwreck, or part of the quandary. We’ll have to wait until ’16-’17 to see Overton on the floor.

Without a Givens, Massenat, Fouch, or Lee in sight, Flint has to get this team back to the rugged underdog mentality that’s defined Drexel basketball for the majority of the last 14 years. Dominating the boards, defending the perimeter, and taking care of the basketball are three elements that had Drexel on the winning side of so many rock fights in the past decade, and we need to see the Dragons trend back in that direction.

This program has positively surprised us before, and returns three players who started 30-plus games last season. Ultimately, it just feels like the Dragons will be too reliant on unproven players. We’ve seen enough flashes from the sophomore guards and upperclassmen bigs to understand this team’s potential for growth, but even extreme optimists would have a hard time pegging Drexel as a contender.

If Bru turns in a throwback coaching job, this team could surprise and push for a .500 finish in conference play. Given what we know about the team right now, I think seventh or eighth place might be this team’s ceiling.

Summer School: Delaware

Delaware (10-20, 9-9)

When analyzing Delaware’s ’14-’15 season for prognosticative purposes, one notices distinctive splits. There was the injury-ravaged 1-13 start that almost cost Monté Ross his job, followed by the 9-7 finish that saw the youthful Hens come of age.

It’s best to use the 9-7 finish as the prophesy of what’s to come. That team went 4-2 against the CAA’s Top Three, gave CAA champion Northeastern its toughest bout in Baltimore, and looks primed to make moves in ’15-’16.

Ross saved his job coaching the 15th youngest roster in D-I. This came just one season after he’d guided the Hens to their first NCAA Tournament this century. Gone were UD’s all-time leading scorer (Devon Saddler) and stud transfers (Davon Usher, Carl Baptiste).

Ross entered last offseason thinking he’d have a potential CAA Player of the Year candidate in talented Jarvis Threatt, but the oft-knuckleheaded guard was dismissed from the program before his senior season.

Needless to say, Ross faced an unenviable situation.

Delaware strolled into Charleston on January 10th with the aforementioned 1-13 mark, and a coach that looked dead in the water. That day, the Hens played their slowest game of the season, which resulted in a season-low three turnovers and their second win of the season.

The resulting win initiated the rally that helped Ross earn a new contract. Although it came a year late, extending Ross was the right move. He pulls in as much talent as anyone in the CAA, and has had this program on the upswing since Saddler’s advent.

The graduated Kyle Anderson played a huge part in the turnaround. After spending much of his first three seasons third-wheeling in the Saddler-Threatt backcourts, Anderson rebounded from an early-season hand injury to garner Third Team All-CAA honors. His 14.4 points per game are gone, and the Hens will miss his play on both ends of the floor.

But four of five starters return, and have the YoUDees ready to improve upon last year’s performance.

In Kory Holden, Cazmon Hayes, and Marvin King-Davis, Delaware returns three players who averaged double figures in CAA play.

21 people thought Elon’s Elijah Bryant was the CAA’s best rookie, while 16 thought it was Delaware’s Holden. With Bryant transferring to BYU, the dynamic Holden is clearly the best returnee from last year’s crop of freshman.

Holden’s standout freshman season (12.4 points, 5.0 assists per game) was just Two Degrees of Ken Pomeroy away from Devon Saddler’s. Holden will be the most dynamic player on the court in a lot of games this season. ForFFor Holden to guide Delaware to the CAA’s upper echelon, he’ll need to improve upon his 23.1% turnover percentage from last season. Holden will play the most minutes on the team, and possibly more than anyone (Elon’s Luke Eddy comes to mind) in the CAA.

Junior Cazmon Hayes started every game last season, and will move back to the off guard. Hayes in his natural position should be a good thing, as his breakout was somewhat stunted by Anderson’s return. (Hayes averaged 9.4 shots on the season but just 7.4 during conference play.) If his three-point shot continues to develop, he’ll make good on the promise he showed last season.

The starting forwards can hang with any frontcourt in the league. Senior Marvin King-Davis averaged 10.5 points while posting the second-best defensive rebounding rate in conference play, and redshirt junior Mo Jeffers scored in double figures in six of Delaware’s final nine games. As is typical in the dribble-drive attack, they’re at risk for being under-utilized.

The final starting spot seems destined for Chivarsky Corbett, the 6’7” sophomore who shot 39% from downtown as a freshman. The CAA All-Rookie Team selection is a ready-made perimeter mismatch, and could be in for a special career in Newark.

Junior wing Devonne Pinkard hit 12-of-25 treys in league play, and is a good bet to log sixth man minutes. Forward Barnett Harris is Delaware’s sparkplug and number-one defender on inbounds plays. He should chip in around a dozen minutes per game.

The rest of the bench is unproven. Anthony “Champ” Mosley had a standout performance in a late-season home win versus UNCW, and should get plenty of run as Delaware’s backup ballhandler. Skye Johnson and Eric Carter accrued most of their minutes when King-Davis and Anderson were injured, and I’ll be curious to see if one of them can usurp Harris as the first big man off the bench.

The biggest casualty of the Monté Ross Indecision 2015 is obvious. Ross couldn’t get guys to commit to UD because he couldn’t guarantee he’d be there (and because he couldn’t offer much in the way of immediate playing time). Subsequently, UD didn’t bring in anyone from the Class of 2015, and notably lost out on talented guard Eli Cain, who Ross had snared from Memphis, Oklahoma, and Providence.

Ross did pull George Washington transfer Darian Bryant, but he’ll need to positively affect practices over the next season before he’ll be eligible to make things happen on the court.

At positions one through five, the Hens have the talent and athleticism to stack up with anyone in the CAA.  They’ll still be one of the youngest teams in the conference, and in order to take the next step, they’ll need to become a more disciplined bunch.

When Delaware visited the NCAA Tournament in ’13-‘14, the Hens were one of two D-I teams (VMI) to finish top-eight in both turnover percentage and adjusted tempo.

Last season, the Hens committed 2.7 more turnovers despite averaging 6.3 fewer possessions game. They weren’t a turnover-prone team by any stretch. But Ross will want to play faster this season, and controlling the ball will have extra importance as college hoops begins the 30-second shot clock era.

Delaware is on an obvious upswing, but I’m still finding it difficult to place them above the CAA’s middle tier. This is when you have to remember that four-way ties happen, and that the difference between 10-8 and 9-9 season might be a couple of places in the standings.

I expect the Hens to hang around, but ultimately be a year away from developing the consistency to truly contend. They were a nice surprise last season, but I expect this year’s league to be a bit tougher on the whole. For perspective, Towson should be much improved this year, but still seems likely to slot into seventh place in the preseason polls.

Then again, I might look like a fool for sleeping on them. The Hens didn’t lose as many key pieces as last year’s Top Three, and certainly have the upside to go three-for-three in Baltimore.

And when you hear Holden talk, you realize that the Fightins’ fear no one.

“We’re going to be really good. It’s scary.”

Summer School: College of Charleston

Two weeks ago, the Golden State Warriors brought Oakland its first NBA Championship in 40 years. The man who brought the Warriors that 1975 NBA Championship? Ricky Barry.

For worse or for worse, Barry’s greatness is lost on most millenials. We ’90s babies are limited to admiring his stats on BR, and gawking at his YouTube highlights. We’re more familiar with Jackie Moon that college kid who honors his father by shooting “granny-style” free throws.

Basketball goes full circle, and it brings us back to CAA Hoops.

We’ve made it almost halfway through the offseason, and I’m here to make the trek to November slightly more tolerable.

After Damion Lee and Four McGlynn’s initial fireworks, hoops life went into a multi-week lull. There were (thankfully) no coaching changes, and the total number of transfers paled in comparison to years’ past.

But things have ramped up in June.

  • Marcus Thornton, the ’14-’15 CAA Player of the Year and William & Mary’s all-time leading scorer, was selected 45th overall in the NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics. It’s gratifying to see four-year studs get picked ahead of guys whose career peaks came in the McDonald’s All-American Game, and the pot’s sweetened when the guy is one of our own.
  • Elijah Bryant, the ’14-’15 Freshman of the Year, announced he’s transferring from Elon.

These are the precursors to another fascinating season that will be just as wild and erratic as the last.

Lace up, everyone. We’re officially counting down to November.


College of Charleston (9-24, 3-15)

On September 2nd, 2014, the College of Charleston men’s basketball program, coming off its second losing season in 23 years as a D-I team, hired its fourth head coach since January 2012.

I hope Earl Grant got some rest that Labor Day Weekend, because the first-time head coach had his work cut out for him.

Grant had 10-and-a-half weeks to get his new squad, one whose previous coach was let go amid allegations of verbal abuse, ready for a November 14th Season Opener.

Compare that to the surprising UNCW team that eventually ended Charleston’s season. By the time March rolled around, UNCW rookie head man Kevin Keatts’d (hired March 27th, 2014) had nearly twice as much time to develop his Seahawks as Grant’d had with his Cougars.

It goes without saying, but is still worth reiterating: Grant coached the ‘14-‘15 season under severely unfavorable circumstances. The tragic death of sophomore guard Chad Cooke, the previously stormy offseason, a demanding nonconference schedule, and an ill-timed injury to senior Anthony Stitt combined to create an everlasting uphill battle.

A promising 5-4 start dissipated into a 9-24 finish, and the College’s first ever 20-loss season.

Despite the fact that the Cougars have gone 23-42 overall and 9-25 in league play during their first two CAA seasons, there are reasons to believe that Grant can be the man to turn things around. The program’s prosperous hoops history is not lost on the Charleston native, who recognizes that losing seasons are uncommon occurrences in Chucktown.

So what can we expect in ’15-’16? Charleston finished the season as KenPom’s 50th youngest team, and graduated its two most experienced players (Stitt and Adjehi Baru). With the number of new players matching the number of returnees (six), this year’s youthful team will have a much different look.

Led by a trio of experienced juniors, the backcourt will be Grant’s rock.

When we watched Canyon Barry and Joe Chealey in their first collegiate action at KFC Yum!, we saw glaring potential that was over the hills and far away (totals of 18 points, 14 turnovers). After combining to tally nearly 25 points per game as sophomores, it’s time for these guys to cash in on the extensive experience they’ve gained the last two seasons.

The other junior guard is 6’5” transfer Payton Hulsey, who started eight games as a freshman at Western Kentucky before going JUCO. Hulsey’s JUCO coach praised him for a versatility evident in his line (9.0 points, 7.2 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 2.5 steals per game).

Three underclassmen guards have the skills to threaten the hierarchy of seniority.

Grant offered Marquise Pointer while still at Clemson, and eventually beat out Wichita State, Louisiana Tech, and Ole’ Dirty for the guard’s services. Pointer is a crafty passer, and while his path to immediate playing time is a bit jumbled, he’s the lead guard of the future and will learn a lot from the veterans.

6’3” guard Grant Riller’s high school tapes are full of high-elevation jams, and the chatter in Charleston indicates he’s a step faster than his new teammates. Riller averaged 28.1 points per game and was Player of the Year in the Florida Athletic Coaches Association — honors he garnered over LSU-bound Burger Boy Antonio Blakeney. Riller will have a chance to prove he earned it when LSU visits TD Arena in November.

From January 10th onward, sophomore Cameron Johnson started every game but Senior Day. Johnson hit the second-most 3-pointers (35) on the team, and with more slashers on this year’s club, he’ll be needed to space the floor.

Grant told Andrew Miller he’d like to keep his guards around 26-27 minutes per game. Rostering six capable guards will enhance practice competition and allow for more breathers. It’ll also be interesting to see if the added depth will entice Grant to quicken Charleston’s snail’s pace from a season ago.

The frontcourt is less settled, but there are some intriguing options.

Charleston’s lone senior is a newcomer. 6’8” Winthrop transfer James Bourne brings 51 career starts and a much-needed big body to the Cougar frontcourt. Those attributes might make him an early season starter.

Sophomore Donovan Gilmore started 21 games last season. If he’s bulked up enough to handle more minutes this season, he’ll be a good bet to start. Despite starting 15 fewer games, sophomore forward Evan Bailey actually logged more minutes than Gilmore, and could be in for an expanded role if he shoots the rock with consistency. I’m interested to see if junior Terrance O’Donohue improves upon his dozen minutes per outing.

The other newbies are freshmen. 6’10” redshirt Nick Harris has a chance to carve out immediate playing time. 6’7” power forward Jarrell Brantley was a late signee, and brings a college-ready body and winner’s mentality to the Cougar frontcourt.

The frontcourt is light on experience, which is part of the reason I think we’ll see Grant play stretches with Barry/Hulsey/Bailey at the four (expect small-ball lineups to be prominent throughout the CAA all season).

While it’s difficult to predict how the rotation will shake out, it’s abundantly clear that this team is in desperate need of some bucket getters. Grant comes from a defensively strong Clemson program (Brad Brownell, y’all), but isn’t in position to sit a player who can provide instant offense.

So if Riller can come in and fill it up on Day One, he’ll play.

Grant has a revamped roster, and the benefit of coaching his guys up over the offseason. The team defense should make a jump, and with a little regression to the mean (KenPom’s 26th unluckiest team had 13 single-digit losses), it’s easy to see where this team can make strides. With just one senior on the roster, this year is about bettering the team for a ’16-’17 season in which it could make noise.

Despite the roster upheaval, it would be optimistic peg this team higher than about eighth place in the 10-team CAA. Still, it’s a fresh rotation with dudes who don’t know their limitations together. They will be a pain to play, and have enough talent to beat any team in the league when the shots are falling.

At the very least, this team should be competitive enough to get King Kresse writing again.

Husky Magic

You know about The Great Wall in front of Northeastern. Any team that downs Larrañaga, Duke, and North Carolina in consecutive days is special, and Notre Dame is no exception. And while Northeastern’s task will be extremely trying, the Huskies can make things interesting if they play just their game. 14 seeds win these games 15% of the time, a stat that’s been affirmed three times in the past five years.

Here’s what we know about Notre Dame: Mike Brey’s team boasts one of the nation’s most explosive offenses. The Fighting Irish scores 1.22 points per possession, trailing only Wisconsin in adjusted offensive efficiency. The staples of this excellence come in the form of a nation-leading 58.6% effective field goal percentage and a 14.4% turnover rate, good for third in D-I. Notre Dame is 18-0 when scoring at least 1.18 points per possession.

Now, the roll call.

Senior Jerian Grant spearheads the offense. The All-American guard has rebounded from a season curtailed by academic shortcomings to average 16.8 points and 6.6 assists per game. He’s a big strong guard who’s an absolute force in the lane. Pat Connaughton, Demetrius Jackson, Steve Vasturia, and V.J. Beachem can absolutely stroke it from three, with the first pair scoring over 11 points per game.

Zach Auguste is Notre Dame’s skillfully efficient center, and if you watched any Notre Dame games over the last three weeks, you’re probably familiar with the undersized big man frosh Bonzie Colson. 

This is the part where I tell you how I think Northeastern can keep pace with the Irish.

Notre Dame is largely average defensively, and such disparities between offense and defense can be a death sentence in March. The Irish do a decent job defending the three-point line. Last Friday, the Irish let Jahlil Okafor do whatever he wanted in the paint, but refused to relinquish open outside shots to Quinn, Tyus, and Co.

Northeastern doesn’t have any future NBA Lotto picks, but I’d expect Mike Brey to once again sell out to guard the perimeter against a Northeastern team that’s shot 38.8% (24th in D-I) from three this season.

So I’m thinking this will be a Reggie Spencer game, because Northeastern needs to attack the heart of a Notre Dame defense that frequently plays small lineups featuring the 6’5” Connaughton at the four. Perhaps if Northeastern’s bigs can get things flowing towards the hoop, they can get a few early fouls on Auguste, and get into a shallow Notre Dame bench.

I say a shallow Notre Dame bench because (like Northeastern) Notre Dame is bottom five in D-I in percentage of minutes played by bench players. Okay, so we might need to send Lucas Goodwin to a data center to find what Litos wrote about the (in)significance of that same subject once upon a time. And given how good Vasturia is and how well Colson has played, you could say Notre Dame has an advantage here.

But we saw how well Spencer, Caleb Donnelly, and Devon Begley played in Baltimore. If that trio can carry some of that success to Pittsburgh, Northeastern might have an advantage here.

To summarize: I want to see Northeastern attacking the lane, crashing the boards, and forcing Mike Brey to rely on his depth-less frontcourt. These things are all much easier said than done — many have tried and failed this season. There’s a reason the Fighting Irish is 29-5.

But Bill Coen has dragged this team on holiday roadies to New Orleans, San Juan, and California over the past 18 months, and it’s all been in preparation for this exact moment. The game won’t be too big for a Northeastern squad playing with house money.

And for a Notre Dame program that’s only won two Tournament games since a 2003 Sweet 16 run, there’s a bit of pressure to perform.

Can the CAA force another high-powered Notre Dame team into the wrong side of a rockfight like it did in 2010?

The head and the heart disagree, but you’ve got to keep the faith.

Northeastern 70, Notre Dame 68

NU Territory

I spent the first few moments of the CAA Championship sitting in traffic. It’s not uncommon for me to miss the beginning of 7:00 games, as I routinely find myself stuck in the I-66/Route 7 merge around that time.

But this past Monday’s commute was more enjoyable than most. After Chad Dukes instructed listening ears to roll out the trashcans, the Westwood One broadcast switched to a certain Baltimore venue that I had visited less than 24 hours before. Suddenly, I wasn’t so worried about being stuck in traffic.

I hit my exit as starting fives were announced, and the game tipped off when I was just one turn away from my house. But stoplights kept me from pushing the gas pedal.

And all that short while, Northeastern was pressing its pedal to the floor.

Northeastern went up two, then four, and had taken a 10-0 lead just two minutes and 15 seconds into the game.

And all the while I was still sitting in my car.

Of course, there’s nothing damning about falling 10 points behind in the first three minutes of a college basketball game. That’s like heading into the bottom of the first inning in a 2-0 hole. But going into the weekend, the big question concerned which Northeastern would show up: the team that picked up the CAA’s best pair of road wins at Richmond and Florida State, or the team that was stomped out at UMass the day before Thanksgiving.

The consistently promising group that flashed major potential in Puerto Rico last year, or the guys who couldn’t make big free throws in nearly every game thereafter.

The squad that so easily dispatched of William & Mary and Hofstra in the regular season, or the the one that looked uninspired against Delaware and Elon.

When you saw the Huskies show up in full force like they did on Monday, you weren’t the least bit surprised to witness them guide the program to its first-ever CAA Championship and its first NCAA Tournament berth since 1991 just two hours later.

It wasn’t quite so cut and dry — William & Mary had moments where it knotted the game up. And despite an abysmal showing for most of the second half, William & Mary still made a late 16-0 charge to make things interesting in the final 90 seconds.

But the Huskies set the tone early, and never trailed.

Quincy Ford delivered his best game on the season’s biggest stage, and reminded us of something we may have forgotten during his redshirt year: that he’s one of the league’s most uniquely talented players.

Scott Eatherton continued to prove that less is more, having sacrificed his formerly voluminous and gaudy numbers for efficiency and subsequent championships.

Juniors David Walker and Zach Stahl, who got small but sour tastes of championship life in their freshman years, had spectacular moments throughout the weekend.

Caleb Donnelly tied a career-high with 13 points, capping off a spectacularly productive weekend in which he averaged nine points per game on 72.7% shooting and hit 7-of-10 from downtown.

Ford’s championship blowup notwithstanding, the Huskies’ success hasn’t come on the back of individual dominant performances. It’s about balance, and having four guys in double figures on the reg.

Phil Kasiecki vividly recounted Northeastern’s path to its first conference championship in Coen’s ninth year at the helm.

I only feel qualified to speak of NU’s more recent history.

But this is something we could see coming. Northeastern flashed this potential in ’12-’13. The Huskies had to find new lynchpins in ’13-’14 after Jon Lee and Joel Smith graduated. Then seniors Lee and Smith had declared themselves “the head(s)” of the program, but were quick to render Ford as “the neck.”

Last year was a growing year, but the signs of future success were present. With Eatherton finally eligible after transferring in from St. Francis (PA) and Reggie Spencer already in tow, Coen had assembled his best frontcourt to date.

Thus, I’ve been mentally preparing to write this article for 16 months, after watching Eatherton and Spencer take it to Georgetown in San Juan. We lauded Coen’s willingness to push his team to outside of its comfort zones then, and notice how it’s paying off now.

We’re a day away from finding out whether the Huskies will be going to Seattle or Charlotte, or Jacksonville, Pittsburgh, or Louisville. Coen and the Huskies have done their jobs, and are now at the whims of the Selection Committee.

If they floor it like they did Monday Night, they’ll be ready to make moves wherever they end up.

W&M, Northeastern to Tango

It took 90 conference games to set the table for Baltimore, and eight fallen chefs to prepare the feast.

Tonight, Northeastern and William & Mary get to eat the entrée. We know only one of them will be invited for dessert.

In the clashes that determined who would cook and who would dine, we saw a paradigm of the passion that goes into the prep work, and the validation of our adoration for college basketball.

The Tribe’s last two quests for an NCAA Tournament berth ended when Marcus Thornton’s 3-pointers rimmed out. On Sunday afternoon, it was the three-point shot he didn’t take that allowed William & Mary to give it another go.

Thornton passed up a well-contested jumper and kicked the ball to Daniel Dixon. The sophomore guard with the gimpy hamstring coolly knocked down a corner 3-pointer with 0.8 seconds left to complete William & Mary’s electrifying 92-91 double overtime victory.

We hear coaches say it all the time, but these close games always comes down to someone making a winning play. For a contest with two overtimes, nine ties, and 12 lead changes, that certainly held true.

On Sunday afternoon, Dixon hit the biggest shot of his life to do just that.

The nonpartisan can’t help but lament for the Pride, just as they would’ve felt for the Tribe had Dixon’s shot missed the mark.

We feel for Juan’ya Green and Brian Bernardi, who were largely magnificent in their abilities to quell the pro-Tribe crowd with big shot after big shot.

We feel for seniors Moussa Kone and Dion Nesmith, just as we feel for Freddie Jackson, Adjehi Baru, and every other player whose NCAA Tournament dreams perished in Baltimore.

And tonight, we’ll be feeling for Thornton or Scott Eatherton, just how we felt for Britt, Beasthoven, Boatner, and Gaillard 364 days ago.

It’s difficult to crystallize such an exhilarating event with words. There’s a reason why guys like Dave Fairbank get paid to do it.

As for me, I’ll let the video and this graph speak for itself.


Northeastern’s 78-71 win against UNCW didn’t come down to last-second heroics, but the game wasn’t lacking in star performances.

Craig Ponder made several big plays throughout the game, and Jordon Talley still got the rim at will. Bill Coen will have summer nightmares when he realizes he’s got to face that kid for three more seasons.

But the Huskies didn’t let Addison Spruill and Freddie Jackson get anything easy, and Scott Eatherton and David Walker spearheaded a Husky offense that scored 1.2 points per possession while committing just two turnovers in the second half.

Again and again, NU role players Devon Begley, Caleb Donnelly, and Reggie Spencer interjected with timely buckets to spur the squad along. The Husky bench tallied 33 points, and helped alleviate Quincy Ford and Zach Stahl’s struggles.

The tumultuous weekend left us with a Monday might rubber match between Northeastern and William & Mary. The cool thing about the new-look CAA is that most of these schools haven’t danced for many years. Northeastern hasn’t boogied since 1991. None of the players on the team were alive then.

And you know William & Mary’s been taking dancing lessons for the past decade in preparation.

Hope everyone left room for dessert.