We’ve reached the first intermission of conference play, and it’s not difficult to pick out the perceived anomaly in the CAA standings.
We look at the top, and are unsurprised to see Northeastern and William & Mary leading the pack, just as they were picked to do some four months ago.
Moving down to third place we find a Hofstra group that, despite back-to-back losses, has met and exceeded expectations so far this season. James Madison is a bit of a surprise, but was picked to finish fifth in the league and might’ve been higher had we known that Drexel’s Major Canady would miss the entire season.
So atop the standings, things are going about as planned. But there’s one unexpect guest that seems intent on Vaughn-and-Wilsoning this happy wedding.
At 4-2, the UNCW Seahawks are firmly entrenched in the top half of the CAA. UNCW owns the best two wins in the league, having triumphed on the homecourts of Northeastern and Hofstra teams that have combined to go 9-1 in all other conference games.
Because of the fluid status of this blog’s platform, we didn’t vocalize on-the-record picks during the preseason. Had we done that, I would have been higher on UNCW than most. 40% of the CAA ranks among the 50 least experienced teams in D-I. The Colleges of William & Mary and Charleston, also sporting youthful looks, aren’t far off that mark.
Enter UNCW, with hot new coach Kevin Keatts and a chip on its shoulder. Keatts inherited a trio of four-year collegiate guards and a talented, experienced big man who defends. Coaching changes almost always result in multiple transfers, and I was pleasantly encouraged by the lack of attrition that ensued when Keatts was hired.
Luke Hager and Nate Anderson were unfortunate casualties, but Keatts’ ability to bring in proven and promising talents like Jarvis Haywood and Denzel Ingram indicated that players inside and outside the program recognized he was for real.
Can the Seahawks keep it up? Emerging from trips to Boston, Williamsburg, and Long Island with two wins certainly bodes well for the future. Additionally, scales of balance work in UNCW’s favor. Here’s a look at the next five games:
@CofC (1/21), Towson (1/24), Elon (1/28). @Drexel (1/31), @JMU (2/4)
Given what they’ve done over the past two weeks, we have every reason to believe the Seahawks can emerge from that stretch with a winning record. If they can go (at least) 3-2 in that stretch, the Dubmen will be 7-4 heading into a huge three-game homestand (W&M, CofC, Northeastern).
Like their NBA counterparts from Atlanta, the ‘Hawks have to be taken seriously. If you’re still sleeping on them, you better wake up.
Here are picks and previews for the midweek slate:
William & Mary (5-1) at Delaware (2-4) – Video – 7:00
Saddler, Usher and Co. downed the Tribe three times last season, with the final game serving as W&M’s painful finale to the 2014 Season. The aforementioned players’ basketball abilities have them cashing checks, while Monté Ross is guiding the Baby Hens through a full-fledged youth movement.
The young Fightins’ still have much to learn, and a Wednesday Night Seminar at the Bob Carpenter Center provides for a potentially great teaching moment. This seminar will be led by Marcus Thornton, stud senior guard for the William & Mary Tribe. As a former All-Rookie Team selection and two-time All-CAA player, Thornton is both a master of his craft and a model for young guards across America.
Watch closely, Kory Holden. You’ll be an All-CAA guy one day, and can learn a lot from the one you’ll guard tonight.
Tribe 73, Hens 62
Drexel (2-4) at Hofstra (4-2) – Video – 7:00
Poor three-point shooting isn’t to blame for Hofstra’s last two losses. The Pride’s 34% mark from downtown is essentially the median mark in Division I, and represents a slight improvement from Hofstra’s first four conference games.
But the Pride came into conference play shooting 42.1% from three, and for Joe Mihalich’s team to justify attempting 25 3-pointers each night, we need to see Hofstra get back to knocking down closer to 40% of its long-range attempts. Dion Nesmith and Brian Bernardi are the main culprits here, as both have seen their shooting percentages drop in conference play.
Drexel followed its worst offensive performance of the Flint Era with its best offensive game of the season. Despite letting the game get too close for comfort, Drexel showed some things in its trip to Newark. Tavon Allen played his best game since before Christmas, and freshman Tyshawn Myles (11 points, 11 rebounds) came out of nowhere to play the best game of his young career.
Despite Drexel’s developments, Hofstra is an entirely different beast. The Pride needs a win, and although I’m not as bearish as the more insightful Dan Crain, I’m not expecting this one to be particularly close.
Hofstra lets the frustrations out.
Pride 75, Dragons 60
College of Charleston (1-5) at UNCW (4-2) – Video – 7:00
You read all about the Dubmen up top, and understand that they’re taking momentum home with them to Trask. But leading scorer Freddie Jackson, whose morphed into more than just the name of a famous R&B singer who I’d never heard of before listening to Slow Jamz, is a game-time decision. And that makes things interesting.
As per Eric Detwiler’s preview, CofC’s Joe Chealey has stepped up in the absence of recovering senior Anthony Stitt. Chealey and Canyon Barry get buckets, and as Charleston continues to grow under Earl Grant, the two sophomores will grow out of the volume-dependent chucking that often occurs when the team is down.
The Cougars are playing better of late, as evidenced by the win at Elon and the close game at Mathews from this past weekend. But Northeastern’s missed free throws allowed Charleston to hang around. I think tempo will work in the favor of the Seahawks, who can push the ball and get easy buckets inside. The Cougars will try to keep pace with 3-pointers. Perhaps they can, but I’m not banking on it.
Remember when Wainwright and Brownell made Trask a feared place to play? These faithful fans are buying in, and are ready to party like it’s 2006.
Seahawks 67, Cougars 62
Thursday Previews still to come