Dub v. Duke

UNCW (25-7) versus Duke (23-10) – 12:15, CBS – Providence, Rhode Island

The basketball gods have chosen CAAHoops to kickstart the madness for a second consecutive season, as the Round of 64 will open with the upstart UNCW Seahawks dueling with the fabled Duke Blue Devils.

You know the Blue Devils, but we’ll pretend you don’t know much about this year’s team. They’ve got one of the best combo guards (and overall players) in the country in sophomore Grayson Allen, a stretch four who could be the NBA Draft’s first pick in Wiz Khalifa lookalike Brandon Ingram, and (per usual) a man named Plumlee.

And while you might be unaware, you’re supposed to lament for the Blue Devils on account of their lack of depth. Coach K gets 21.2% of minutes from his bench, and while Joe Mihalich would kill for such a luxury, Duke ranks a lowly 346th in bench minutes.

It’s noteworthy that, like every other D-I hoops team (sans the few penalized), Duke has the ability to offer 13 scholarships.

Much has been written about how UNCW’s depth and style of play could eventually wear on the Blue Devils’ six-man rotation. However, UNCW’s style is one side of a double-edged sword, as the Seahawks’ physical defensive brand has allowed opponents to tally the second-highest free-throw rate (54.3%) in the country. A Duke team that frequently receives the benefit of the doubt from referees gets to the charity stripe at a solid clip (40.2% free-throw rate, 88th in D-I), and deploys a defensive strategy that has resulted in the 10th lowest defensive free-throw rate (25.4%) in the country.

Knowing these stats, that K berates refs like no other, and that Gray Tripper has proven to be perhaps the least virtuous player (dude gets away with everything) in the country, you realize that UNCW has to post strong field goal percentages to have a chance. We all recognize that the Seahawks are at their best when they can set up their press, and Kevin Keatts’ club might also need to compensate for a large free throw disparity.

While Duke has the star power, I consider UNCW to be better-rounded. They don’t have a Grayson Allen/Brandon Ingram-level superstar duo, but instead possess an intriguing backcourt quartet featuring Jordon Talley, Craig Ponder, Denzel Ingram, and Chris Flemmings. Flemmings will be tasked with guarding Ingram, so one of the smaller guards will need to do his best on Allen. Freshman C.J. Bryce is a good bet to spend time on both players.

Key battles will take place in the post, as C.J. Gettys and Marcus Bryan will need to keep Marshall Plumlee off the offensive glass, and create a few second-chance opportunities for the Seahawks. Both guys have shown the ability to block some shots, and a couple big swats could lead to some easy runouts for the Seahawks.

Although Duke will be running on a full week’s rest, UNCW has the talent and intangibles to create a particularly enticing matchup. And while Duke’s hot three-point shooting often leads to big runs, Keatts has expressed confidence that his team can fight back from deficits when needed.

Nine years ago, the Greg Paulus-led Blue Devils ran into another CAA squad with a great group of guards. It resulted in a game-winning play known as “The Dagger”.

I’m hoping this one will come to be known as Denzel’s Dagger.

Dubmen 79, Dukies 77

Northeastern 71, Towson 60

The Northeastern Huskies’ late-season revival continued in Baltimore, as Bill Coen’s bunch won for the sixth time in seven games. Seniors David Walker and Quincy Ford combined for 38 points, as Northeastern shot 61.9% (13-of-21) in the second half to down Towson by a final score of 71-60.

Reserves Jimmy Marshall and T.J. Williams paced the Huskies in the first half, as both had seven points at halftime. Walker and Ford took over after intermission, with the duo pouring in 30 points in aggregate after halftime.

Pat Skerry’s squad entered the game as a top 10 team in free-throw rate. The Tigers didn’t get to the foul line at all in the first half, and attempted just four free throws before the final minute of play. Northeastern came into the contest ranked 27th in defensive free-throw rate, and effectively took away Towson’s primary means of offense.

William Adala Moto posted an 18-12 double-double, but did not get to the foul line for the first time all season. Sophomore Mike Morsell finished with 16 points, and hit a number of threes to keep Towson close in the second half.

Bill Coen credited the use of smaller lineups against a Towson team that frequently plays lineups featuring five players that are 6’5″ or taller. This helped the Huskies space the floor, and hit 8-of-17 from three on the evening.

Walker and Zach Stahl will play in their fourth CAA Semifinal game in as many seasons.





UNCW 66, Charleston 64

The Charleston Cougars came into their Quarterfinal matchup averaging just under 6.6 3-pointers per game on 34.1% shooting. Thus, things were going as well as could be hoped for when the Cougars shot 7-of-9 from three in the first half, and opened up a 40-27 halftime lead.

In that same first half, a UNCW team that was the second-best three-point shooting team (36%) in league play shot 0-of-6 from distance. It didn’t take long for things to flip around in the second half, as UNCW hit six 3-pointers as part of a 22-3 run that gave the Seahawks the lead.

Of course, the drama was just starting there. The resilient young Cougars went blow-for-blow wit the Seahawks, and had two chances to win within the final minute.

CAA Rookie of the Year Jarrell Brantley (15 points) had the ball stripped from his hands on the first attempt. Following a UNCW free throw, Brantley received the ball and managed to get a running look from the foul line.

The shot bounced off the front of the rim, and allowed UNCW to advance with the 66-64 victory.

Marcus Bryan kept UNCW within striking distance early, converting 7-of-8 from the field in the first half. The sophomore forward finished the game with a career-high 16 points.

Chris Flemmings (13 points) was the key cog in UNCW’s second half heatwave, as the All-CAA First Teamer connected on three treys in the opening minutes of the second half. Frosh C.J. Bryce proceeded to have his own mini run, finishing the game with nine points.

Brantley and Cam Johnson (21 points) combined to tally 18 of Charleston’s 24 second-half points.

UNCW will get the winner of Towson/Northeastern at 3:30 tomorrow.

William & Mary 79, James Madison 64

William & Mary used a dominant 30-9 first-half run to build a double-digit lead, and hit 17-of-18 free throws in the second half to subdue a flurry of JMU 3-pointers. When it was all said and done, the Tribe was on the right side of a 79-64 bout, and positioned for a Sunday Semis rematch with the Hofstra Pride.

The Tribe shot 63.3% (19-of-30) from inside the arc, as Omar Prewitt (25 points) and Co. successfully finished a bevy of backdoor cuts. Prewitt found himself matched up with smaller defenders on switches, and did a great job of taking advantage of the mismatches.

Sean Sheldon (11 points) and David Cohn (10 points) chipped in efficient offense. The bench, particularly Connor Burchfield and Jack Whitman, provided a huge spark. Burchfield connected on all four of his attempts from the field, including three 3-pointers, and Whitman hit a few buckets in the Tribe’s first half run.

JMU made things interesting in the second half, as Joey McLean (13 points) hit a trio of threes, including two back-to-back buckets that got JMU within seven with 5:45 to play. JMU managed to pull within five with 1:36 to go, but was seemingly sapped of all momentum when McLean was whistled for his fifth foul on an inbounds play thereafter.

JMU senior Ron Curry tallied 20 points, but needed 19 shots and 10 free-throw attempts to get there.

Sean Sheldon indicated in the presser that playing JMU the week prior gave the Tribe a good idea of what JMU would try to do defensively. The Tribe shredded the JMU defense en route to 1.16 points per possession.

W&M will look advance to the CAA Finals for the third consecutive season.

Hofstra 80, Drexel 67

Hofstra’s potential Achilles heel in Baltimore is its lack of depth, which is why it was crucial to see the Pride come out on top after having its reserves tested early. Hofstra fought through foul trouble (bigs Rokas Gustys and Andre Walker alternated court time following each accrued foul) in an 80-67 win that proved Hofstra could get the job done in less than optimal circumstances.

CAA Player of the Year Juan’ya Green posted 22 points, six boards, and four assists, and hit a 3-pointer that capped 14-4 second-half run that quelled a Drexel rally. Gustys tallied a 16-11 double-double in 20 minutes of playing time, and Ameen Tanksley and Brian Bernardi combined for 27 points. Walker, Desire Buie, and Justin Foreman-Wright accounted for 17% of the minutes — a noteworthy mark for the team that averaged the fewest percentage of bench minutes (14.3%) of any team in Division I.

Drexel forwards Rodney Williams and Kaz Abif were the Dragons main sources of offense, with Abif hitting numerous mid-range jumpers every time the Pride threatened to break the game open. Sophomore Sammy Mojica (10 points) got off to a hot start to the game, but that dissipated as he too struggled with fouls. Mojica, Williams, and Abif were three of the five Dragons to finish the game with four fouls each.

Drexel trailed by as many as 20 in the second half, but managed to get within nine following Tavon Allen’s corner three with 9:40 to play. Following a flurry of three throws, Hofstra embarked on the aforementioned 14-4 run that essentially put the game away.

Hofstra awaits the winner of the William & Mary-James Madison game.

Taking Stock

Those who read my season preview realize it’s not eye-popping to see UNCW in first place with two weeks remaining in the regular season. I won’t pretend to have expected it, but Kevin Keatts’ pressing defensive style has proven to be even more effective when spearheaded by an offensively potent bunch.

Winners of 11 consecutive games, this year’s UNCW team has been a full tenth of a point better on the offensive end. That certainly adds up when you’re one of the 50 fastest teams in D-I. Chris Flemmings has played like an All-CAA First Teamer all year long, but it’s Denzel Ingram (14.6 points, 44.2% shooting from three in league play) who’s emerged as Flemmings’ Robin.

From a stylistic perspective, the team most capable of giving UNCW fits is the Towson Tigers. Winners of seven of its last 10, Pat Skerry’s squad sports the fourth highest free-throw rate (48.8%) in the country. For a UNCW team permitting a 55% free-throw rate (349th in D-I), that could be problematic. Towson handed UNCW its only loss by more than five points this season.

Of course, the Tigers have had a few stinkers in league play, including last Thursday’s 0.80 points per offensive possession showing against Northeastern. However, Mike Morsell played the game of his life (34 points) in Towson’s best offensive performance of the season in Saturday’s home win versus William & Mary. Towson has proven to be one of the CAA’s most volatile teams.

The Northeastern team that dropped eight (including six straight at home) of nine games played its two slowest games of the season last week, and came out on top in both. And while the Huskies wreak a bit of ’13-’14 Drexel, they’re still a team I’d want to avoid in the CAA Quarters. Of course, Northeastern is still fighting to avoid a Friday night bout.

The Huskies main adversary in that quest is Earl Grant’s Charleston Cougars. Winners of six of eight, the Cougars top five scorers (post Canyon Barry’s injury) are all freshmen and sophomores. Frosh Jarrell Brantley and Marquise Pointer have combined to tally more than 26 points per game in conference play.

If this is the product we get when Grant gets a full offseason to work with his guys, it’s going to be scary to see what happens when he has a roster full of players he recruited. Moderate contributions from Barry, Joe Chealey, Grant Riller, and Chevez Goodwin should make this a top three team in the CAA next season.

James Madison is fortunate to have built a solid record before injuries to Ron Curry and Dimitrije Cabarkapa, and it’ll be interesting to see how the Dukes fair in their final four conference games. They’re just 3-3 at home in league play, but I’ll still say it’s fortunate that they only have to venture outside of Harrisonburg once before Baltimore. Let’s just hope Curry can get back in time for Senior Day.

That Senior Day will feature a visit from a William & Mary team that’s 5-0 against Matt Brady’s squad in the last three seasons. Towson and Hofstra have given W&M hell, and we’ll learn a thing or two about the Tribe based on tonight’s bout with UNCW. Sophomores Greg Malinowski (7.4 points) and Connor Burchfield (5.8 points) have provided a boost to the best offense (1.14 points per possession) in league play. Of course, a defense permitting 1.08 points per possession proves to be an issue when the shots aren’t falling.

Hofstra bounced back from an incredibly frustrating week to score two road wins. With two All-CAA First Teamers on the roster, Hofstra is another team with a great chance to play into Sunday. Rokas Gustys, the CAA’s Andre Drummond, is averaging 16.9 points and 14.9 boards in conference play.

Elon has dropped three consecutive games, which is something that could be expected of the CAA’s youngest club at this point in the season. The Phoenix is looking like a strong bet for the 8-9 game in Baltimore, but could certainly pose a threat to the top team in Baltimore. This is a program to watch over the next couple years, and you can count on the Phoenix shooting better than 33.9% from three next season.

A Delaware team that finally snagged its first league win of the season last week should also be much improved next season. Kory Holden will only be a junior, and you can bet that Monté Ross will find a way to add more contributors to this roster.

If you’ve been paying attention at all this season, you don’t have to fathom much of a guess to figure out which team was on the opposite side of Delaware’s first league win. For the sake of their fans, they’ll remain nameless in this space.


All of Thursday night’s games start at 7 p.m. The CAA has a consolidated list of links for video streams and stats.

College of Charleston (8-6) at Delaware (1-13)

Charleston scored a big win at Elon Saturday, and started its road-heavy conference ending slate on a high note. The Cougars will likely be dogs in every game hereafter.

The silver lining to Delaware’s season has been the continued improvement of Holden. Evolving into a high-usage player on a team devoid of healthy bodies, Holden has made good on the promise he displayed last year by posting a 102.9 Offensive Rating.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Delaware pick up a pair of wins next week, but think Charleston gets the job done here.

Charleston 70, Delaware 66

Elon (5-9) at Drexel (1-13)

Matt Matheny’s team has lost six of eight, but has a great chance to get straight here. Dan Crain has done some surveying of the recent DAC crowd, and points to signs of the wind of change in yesterday’s piece. With three of their four remaining games at home, the Dragons have a chance to build some momentum going into Baltimore.

Drexel 67, Elon 65

Northeastern (6-8) at James Madison (9-5)

It hasn’t been terribly convincing, but Northeastern appears to be taking steps to righting its season. The Huskies are hitting Harrisonburg at the right time, as David Walker and Quincy Ford will be the most talented players on the floor Thursday night in Harrisonburg. Assuming Ron Curry doesn’t suit up, I think the Huskies will continue to settle into the home stretch of the schedule, and start to build a bit of momentum heading into Baltimore.

Northeastern 69, JMU 65

Towson (9-5) at Hofstra (10-4)

On the second day of January, I trekked up to pristine SECU Arena expecting to see a heavyweight bout between these two schools. Instead, I saw the Pride outscore the Tigers by 0.47 points per possession en route to a domineering 90-58 win. So while I’m excited to see the team with the CAA’s top rebounding margin/metrics try to contain Rokas Gustys, I am a little wary that Hofstra is going to run Towson out of the gym all over again.

At the same time, that was Hofstra’s second best offensive game (1.33 points per possession) this season, and Towson’s propensity for getting to the charity stripe could prove problematic for a Hofstra team with nonexistent depth.

With that said, I like Juan’ya Green’s chance to help Hofstra get the job done. He’s hit some big shots on Thursday nights, and seems to be heading for CAA Player of the Year honors.

Hofstra 78, Towson 71

UNCW (12-2) at William & Mary (9-5)

After shooting 29.4% from three in nonconference play, UNCW looked like it might end the season as one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the country. That was before Ingram started banging home a trio of 3-pointers on a nightly basis. Flemmings and Craig Ponder have done their part in pushing UNCW to the second-best three-point shooting mark (37.5%) in conference play.

Sans Daniel Dixon, William & Mary was unable to throw its best punch at UNCW in Wilmington last month. Even so, those who watched know that was one of the best games of the season. William & Mary has committed the lowest percentage of turnovers (15.2%) in league play, while UNCW has forced the second highest percentage (20%). The turnover battle will hold extra importance, and Tony Shaver has a few guys (Daniel Dixon, Omar Prewitt) who can help ease David Cohn’s burden there.

This would be a huge win for W&M, a team that needs to prove to itself that it can handle the best teams the league has to offer. However, I’m expecting a confident UNCW team to keep it rolling in Kaplan.

UNCW 84, W&M 82

First Intermission

47 days into the ’15-’16 college basketball season, Star-News’ Dan Spears took notice of a sign from the basketball gods. It was the day before CAA conference play was set to begin, and KenPom’s algorithms had aligned in such a way that forecasted a season that would end with yet another four-way first place tie featuring James Madison, Northeastern, UNCW, and William & Mary.

Astute observers saw the slippage present in the quartet’s projected 11-7 conference record – a record that was a full win less than the 12-6 mark that won the league last season. The computers recognized the impressive nonconference play from last year’s regular season champs, but acknowledged that Hofstra, College of Charleston, Elon, and Towson had improved enough to close the gap.

Fast forward a few weeks, and we’ve got more parity than anyone could’ve predicted.

Following a weekend that featured two overtime cliffhangers and a last-minute game-winning 3-pointer, we are officially one third of the way through conference play. And at the first intermission, six teams sit knotted atop the CAA standings with 4-2 records. That’s bound to change, but sure makes things interesting for the time being.

Here are a few thoughts, stats, and articles from the first three weeks of league play:


College of Charleston emerged from the first three league games with wins over preseason favorites Hofstra and JMU. But the Cougars’ lone loss in that trio of contests proved costly in the worst way.

Canyon Barry, the CAA’s leading scorer (19.7 points per game) suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in Charleston’s loss at William & Mary on January 2nd. We were openly nervous about how much the young Cougars were leaning on Barry, so this is an undeniably enormous blow.

Charleston’s growth is one of the best stories in the league to date, and while we’re not about to write the Cougars off (C of C did best Hofstra sans Barry), we are tempering expectations for the remainder of the season. Charleston has lost three straight, including back-to-back one-possession home games versus William & Mary and Elon.

While Earl Grant’s club will likely fall out of contention, the silver lining is the opportunity to get more reps for the young guns comprising the nation’s 317th youngest team. This squad is littered with promise, and when you remember that elder statesmen Barry and Joe Chealey will join a talented freshmen class (the injured Grant Riller was supposed to be an impact player for this team, and recruit Chevez Goodwin is said to be a steal), it’s easy to understand why optimism abounds in the Low Country.


Delaware has lost nine in a row since scoring an improbable win at Marist on December 12th. The Hens have talent, but the Thursday-Saturday format is especially hostile on a team receiving just 22.4% of minutes from its bench (342nd fewest in D-I). They’ll win some league games, but the injuries have taken their toll. This is shaping up as a lost season, and exemplar of why leaving a coach in a lame-duck situation is a horrible idea.


Here’s Dan Crain’s recap from Drexel’s win versus College of Charleston. The Dragons are 3-14 this year, so we must savor the flavor when possible.


With seven players averaging 20+ minutes per game in league play, well-roundedness continues to be a strength for Elon. Matt Matheny has five players averaging double-figure scoring in conference play, and three freshmen averaging more than eight points per game. The young Phoenix showed uncommon poise during Saturday’s win at Charleston, rallying from a double-digit lead and getting the win on Dainan Swoope’s 3-pointer with 20 seconds to play.

Freshman Tyler Seibring has been lights out in league play, averaging 13.2 points per game on 56.9% shooting. He’s hit multiple 3-pointers in every game in 2016, and at least three treys in four of five games. Seibring has (deservedly) earned CAA Rookie of the Week honors in consecutive weeks, and is the only freshman in the league to have earned the award three times this season.


Hofstra’s bench accounted for 18 minutes in Saturday’s overtime loss to JMU. Hofstra’s starting five has the talent to compensate, but it is fair to question how the Pride will hold up if playing three games in three days in Baltimore. Four starters (Juan’ya Green, Brian Bernardi, Ameen Tanksley, and Denton Koon) are all logging more than 33 minutes per game. Joe Mihalich has accounted for his team’s lack of depth by pulling the reins back on a team that finished top 20 in tempo last season.

Rokas Gustys tallied double-doubles in both Hofstra’s games last week, including a monstrous 25-point 20-rebound effort Saturday versus JMU. His standout performances earned him a share of the CAA Player of the Week award.


Early-season trends indicate that Matt Brady should be thankful the CAA Tournament is played outside of Harrisonburg. James Madison is 6-0 in true road games and 8-4 at the Convocation Center. Heading into their recent northeast road trip, the Dukes were in a precarious situation. They’d dropped two of their first three conference home games against teams (Charleston and Elon) that were not expected to contend.

After scoring road victories at Northeastern and Hofstra, Brady’s bunch has eased some of the initial concerns. We’re wary of the small sample size, but can’t help but note the fact that JMU ranks first in defensive efficiency (98.3 points allowed per 100 possessions) through six league games.

The most notable development for the Dukes has been the play of a trio of juniors – Shakir Brown, Yohanny Dalembert, and Jackson Kent – that scored in double figures in both road games.

Brown has dropped 20+ in six games, but scored less than six points in each of JMU’s first three conference games. Brown tallied 22 points at Hofstra, which was far and away his best effort of the young conference season.

Dalembert’s disappointing season had cratered in JMU’s previous three games, a stretch in which the junior tallied eight points on 1-of-16 shooting. Thus, it was extremely encouraging to see the Preseason All-CAA Second Teamer score in double figures in consecutive games for the first time all season.

With Brown assuming a bigger role than expected (from my perspective, anyway), Kent struggled to find his spot in the early portion of the season. Kent has been a double-figure scorer in three of JMU’s past five games, and it’s promising to see a guy who shot 42% from beyond the arc in ’14-‘15 start to come around.


UNCW couldn’t afford another home loss versus a shorthanded contender, and got the job done Saturday against Daniel Dixon-less W&M. Denzel Ingram got the scoring going Saturday, and hit eight 3-pointers en route to a career-high 30 points. UNCW’s white-hot offensive play has resulted in wins in seven of the team’s last nine games, and Ingram’s been a huge part of Kevin Keatts’ team’s success.

After not playing in UNCW’s first nine games, C.J. Gettys has started all six of UNCW’s conference outings. Averaging 3.7 blocks per game in the conference slate, Gettys has the highest block rate (18.3%) in the CAA.

Junior wing Chris Flemmings is up to 17.8 points per game in league play, and is shooting an otherworldly 69.7% on 2-pointers. One of the biggest surprises in the league to date, Flemmings just earned his first CAA Player of the Week award.


Before shooting an aggregate 10-of-49 from three-point range in losses to W&M and JMU, Northeastern was looking like the cream of the CAA crop. The Huskies were able to withstand another subpar outside shooting effort (9-of-30 from three) in Saturday’s win versus Delaware, but it further confirmed that this team is slumping offensively.

I think Northeastern’s offensive struggles are (at least partially) the product of a fluctuating rotation.

Frosh Donnell Gresham is a starter now, and has averaged 22.3 minutes per game since debuting on December 29th. Battling a hip injury, Zach Stahl has been in and out of the starting lineup, having averaged just 7.5 points per game in January. T.J. Williams missed a few games due to injury, but has shown signs of getting over his nonconference scuffles.

These are significant occurrences for a team that started the same starting five in all but one game last season.

Despite the recent shooting woes, the upcoming schedule will provide Northeastern with a chance to get right. The Huskies play five of their next six games at Mathews, and will only leave Boston for a Thursday night road bout in Charleston.

Ultimately, you can trust that Bill Coen will figure out the best way to utilize these pieces.


If we’re scoping our preseason predictions, Towson is the most surprising member of the six-way tie atop the CAA. KenPom’s system still doesn’t love Pat Skerry’s team (pegged to finish in a sixth place tie), but at least the Tigers are starting to produce consistently on the offensive end. The Tigers top five scorers in league play are all shooting above 73.7% from the foul line – an essential development for the team ranked ninth nationally in free-throw rate (47.6%).


David Cohn was inconsistent in the early portion of nonconference slate, but has posted an offensive rating above 110 in eight straight, including a 14-point, 11-assist effort Saturday at Trask. Sean Sheldon also poured in a career-high 20 points in Wilmington, and has made 27-of-37 (73%) field goal attempts thus far in conference play.

If William & Mary continues to get high quality play from its secondary offensive options (especially from positions one and five), the Tribe might be the team to beat in Baltimore.