Muddled Middle

Eight February games separate us from March Madness, and Selection Sunday is less than six weeks away. Cherish every moment, because it will all end too soon. The top of the conference is starting to take shape, but the middle is as muddled as ever. On Wednesday, some of those teams in the middle have chances to make big statements.

Hofstra (5-5) at Delaware (4-6) — Video Stream — 7:00

Despite the fact that KenPom still projects Hofstra to finish four games better than Delaware, the Hens can knot things up with their third consecutive home win. When two teams with offenses that can put up points also happen to carry the league’s worst scoring defenses (in CAA play), you’ve got the potential for high-scoring affair that suddenly has a big impact on the conference standings.

It’s obvious that Delaware was missing Kyle Anderson to start the season, but Marvin King-Davis, who missed six games after an suffering an injury in the season opener, is also rounding into form. King-Davis is averaging right around a dozen points in conference play, and blew up for 31 points last week in Harrisonburg.

But it’s a double-edged sword, as JMU’s ho-hum frontcourt balled out against Delaware. And in his first meeting with Delaware, Hofstra freshman Rokas Gustys scored 11 and hauled in 16 boards as part of the Pride’s 40.5% offensive rebounding mark. Delaware can’t allow Hofstra to get that many chances again.

The Hofstra Quartet of Green, Tanksley, Bernardi, and Nesmith has shot below 38.2% in conference play. Hofstra’s lack of a post threat has magnified its lackluster three-point shooting, and burdened a beleaguered defense that just let Towson score 50 points in the second half. Hofstra’s defense has been generally awful since a trip to Mathews. But a game that will be dominated by guards gives Hofstra a chance to right the ship.

If Bernardi can contain whichever guard he matches up with, Hofstra should be able to stop the skid.

Hofstra 72, Delaware 69

UNCW (7-3) at James Madison (6-4) — Video Stream — 7:00

The Dukes will host a team in the upper echelon for the second straight game. They need to close out their three-game homestand on a high note, as a three-game road swing awaits. JMU has the privilege of visiting UNCW on Senior Night, and needs to take care of business tonight to insure a series split.

UNCW is on the other side of that, looking to split the second leg of a pair of roadies. Kevin Keatts’ squad will host William & Mary and Northeastern on consecutive Saturdays and with the big dogs looming, the Hawks have a chance to head back to Trask on a high note. Keatts shortened the rotation at Drexel, and went with a seven-man rotation throughout the game. Malik Pugh managed only two minutes, which says a lot considering how much Freddie Jackson struggled.

The most troubling part of JMU’s game versus William & Mary was that the Dukes went scoreless for more than 10 minutes of the game. The Dukes racked up 19 turnovers, and I think that will be problematic against a UNCW group that’s forcing the highest percentage of defensive turnovers (20.9%) in league play. JMU’s young bucks have shown some promise of late, but UNCW has shown the ability to play well anywhere in the conference.

If the Seahawks can win in Boston and Long Island, I’ll bet they can do it in Harrisonburg, too.

UNCW 66, James Madison 63

Towson (4-6) at Northeastern (6-3) — Video Stream — 7:00

The final day of January was kind to these teams. Towson played its best offensive game of the season, and Northeastern had four players in double figures, and two more with at least eight points. Despite the offensive explosions from this past weekend, we know better than to expect that here. We got a rockfight when these guys met in Baltimore, and I expect that to be the case again in Boston.

Although the first matchup between these two produced “only” 22 turnovers, it’s fair to expect more from teams that are committing the highest percentage of turnovers in league play. To that point, I’ll also be watching to see how the CAA’s best offensive rebounding team (Towson) does against its best defensive rebounding team (Northeastern). The team that comes up with the most extra chances will be at a big advantage.

Towson has won three of four and is certainly playing better. John Davis is among the national leaders in double-doubles, Four McGlynn appears to have emerged from his shooting slump, and freshmen Mike Morsell and Byron Hawkins have made some big strides. But despite that, it’s difficult to go against the Huskies at home. In a rockfight, you just expect the elder team to make those winning plays and triumph.

Northeastern 66, Towson 61

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