The next two nights mark the midway point of conference play. With half the conference merely one game out of first place, it feels like we’re no closer to picking a champion than we were three months ago. Although the top of the conference is very unsettled, it’s very interesting to look at the potential seeds in the bottom half.
Right now, we’re wondering which teams from the Delaware/Drexel/Elon Trio can do enough to avoid playing on that first Friday in Baltimore. The bottom four teams will play on Friday, and theoretically have the toughest paths to Monday’s Championship. Towson and Charleston have work to do to get back in the hunt for sixth place, and that just makes Thursday’s impending rockfight all the more intriguing.
I won’t be surprised if every one of these picks is wrong. If that’s the sacrifice I’ve got make for an exciting night of hoops, I’m all for it.
Delaware (3-5) at James Madison (5-3) — Video Stream — 7:00
Monté Ross and Matt Brady will face off in a game where the aggregate total of underclassmen (22) is equal to the total number of games in the all-time series. Kyle Anderson and Ron Curry are the elder statesmen guiding the two youngest teams in the CAA. Curry shared CAA Player of the Week honors with Damion Lee last week, but could’ve just as easily been usurped by Anderson, who averaged 24 points in Delaware’s 1-1 week.
Maybe those in the Richmond Office were just trying to spread the awards around the conference, as UD frosh Kory Holden was undeniably the best youngster in the league last week. Holden averaged 18 points and seven dimes last week, and is now just one Rookie of the Week award away from matching Devon Saddler’s mark (four) from the 2010-2011 season. Though they’re comparable in the immense ways in which they can impact a game, Holden is a much better facilitator than Saddler was in his younger years.
Curry averaged 23 points per game last week, and that’s a very welcome sign for the Purple and Gold faithful. The Dukes need their most experienced player, the only guy who’s played in an NCAA Tournament, to set the tone. Curry’s game is built on getting in the lane, and if his three-point shooting (8-of-11) in the past two games represents positive regression to the mean, it’ll go a long way towards keeping JMU in the top half of the conference.
Although I’m hardly thrilled about picking against a Blue Hen group coming off its two best shooting performances of the season, the task becomes easier when you realize they’ve allowed one opposing player to go for 30+ in back-to-back games.
The Dukes’ zone continues to make life difficult for the CAA, and Curry’s hot shooting is just enough to put his guys on top.
JMU 66, UD 65
Northeastern (6-2) at Drexel (3-5) — Video Stream — 7:00
The Dragons will try to keep this three-game homestand going in the right direction, after Damion Lee shot Drexel to victory this past Saturday against Charleston. Tonight’s opponent finds itself at the top of the conference standings, and presents a much tougher task. So although Bruiser Flint might have the best player on the court, Bill Coen probably has the next five.
Northeastern’s coming off a tough shooting performance at William & Mary, where a series of empty possessions allowed a close game to spiral out of control in the waning minutes. The Huskies won’t shoot 2-of-20 from three again, but if they commit turnovers on 21.5% of possessions again, the Dragons just might hang around. Drexel’s forcing the highest percentage of turnovers in league play, and this game projects as the kind of rockfight Flint’s team wants to play.
I’ve got two intriguing stats (courtesy of Northeastern’s pregame notes): since Coen took over in 2006, Northeastern is 6-1 when holding Drexel to 60 or fewer points. On the opposite end, Northeastern is just 1-10 when allowing Drexel to score 61+. Obviously Drexel’s had the upper hand in most years, but this year and this game will be different.
The second relevant stat is that Northeastern is 6-0 following a loss this season. Coming off a big one in Williamsburg, the Huskies need to right the ship heading into a three-game stint at Mathews. 60 points appears to be the magic number, but if Flint has it his way, neither team will get there.
Still, I think the Huskies’ balanced attack will make the most of their limited possessions.
NU 59, DU 56
Elon (3-5) at UNCW (6-2) — Video Stream — 7:00
The Seahawks have survived some close calls of late, and probably deserved to lose at Charleston Wednesday. Cedrick Williams stepped up in a big way on Saturday, posting a 22 and 14 double-double in the home win versus Towson. The forwards are just role players in Kevin Keatts’ guard-centric offense, but I think it would be wise to get the big guys more touches. There’s been a lot of pressure on Jackson and Spruill to carry the load, but Williams, Gettys, and crew are capable of easing the burden.
Elon’s Austin Hamilton has reached double figures in three consecutive games, including a 31-point outburst in Elon’s 92-84 win against Delaware. As is often the case with guys nearing the end of their college careers, Hamilton’s emergence is key for an Elon team that’s struggled to find consistent offense.
Elon and UNCW have joined Hofstra in the campaign to ban rockfights from the CAA. Both are among the 50 fastest teams in D-I, but rely on defense to set the tone. We’ll tune in expecting offensive fireworks, but might just be in for a defense showdown a la NU-DU.
Another interesting note from one of the CAA’s spectacular SIDs: Elon is 11-1 when it shoots above 40%, and 0-9 when it’s above that mark. The Phoenix is shooting right at 40.1% during conference play.
That’s enough to make me go against UNCW and its raucous home crowd.
EU 67, UNCW 64
Hofstra (5-3) at William & Mary (6-2) – Video Stream – 7:00
Alas, the premiere matchup of the night pits two of the CAA’s best offenses against each other. But at this point, you’re well aware that those offenses are trending in opposite directions. The Pride came into conference play looking like it could challenge the Tribe as the best deep-shooting team in the league, but has been merely average from three-point land (33.7%) thus far.
Hofstra’s recent slide represents a somewhat predictable bump in the road. The hot shooting that spanned from December into January seemed a bit unsustainable, and now Joe Mihalich’s team has to do a little soul searching. There’s so much talent on this team that it’s just a matter of manipulating certain variables to see what works. Senior big man Moussa Kone has helped fill the void, having scored 10+ in three of his last four. Perhaps Kone can be part of the equation, as working the ball inside could allow Hofstra to get better looks outside the arc.
The one player in this league who we haven’t mentioned enough is the Tribe’s Terry Tarpey. There isn’t just one stat that summarizes everything he brings to the table, but the fact that he’s leading the conference in Win Shares per 40 Minutes should give you an idea of the immense impact he has when he’s on the court. Also contributing to the Tribe’s offensive surge is sophomore Omar Prewitt, who’s now averaging 16 points and shooting 45.7% from three in conference play after a stellar four-game sequence.
With Tarpey and Prewitt alleviating the stresses on Thornton, I’m finding it hard to go against a Tribe team that’s 9-0 at home this season.
W&M 73, HU 71