Pre-NYE Festivities

We’re here to preview the last day of 2015, which will serve as a forecast for the next 2.5 months of hoops.

Delaware (5-6) at Hofstra (8-4) — 1:00 — Video Stream

Delaware has dropped three games in a row since overcoming remarkable odds to win at Marist on December 12th. The best thing we can say for an injury-riddled team with a defense challenging for the CAA’s worst is that small forward Devonne Pinkard should be back soon.

Hofstra enters conference play with an 8-4 record and a few nice wins, but has been largely underwhelming throughout the season’s first seven weeks. The Pride has played down to its competition, a notion best exemplified by Monday’s 80-73 struggle of a win against 1-10 Sacred Heart.

The Pride is as veteran as it is dependent upon its core, as the nation’s 13th most experienced team’s starting five is logging 81.2% of available minutes. Syracuse is the lone D-I team that’s more reliant on its starting five than Hofstra. Malik Nichols is the only reserve with legit D-I experience, and freshman Desure Buie is the only guard averaging more than five minutes per game off the bench.

Hofstra’s lack of depth should help Delaware keep this interesting, but I’m trying not to overthink this. I’m giving Hofstra the benefit of the doubt. Conference play should flip the switch for Joe Mihalich’s bunch, which should start to play to potential as the season wears on.

Pride 78, Hens 70

Drexel (2-9) at UNCW (8-3) — 1:00 — Video Stream

The first day of conference play pits tortoise against hare, and no one has to asked who’s who when Flint and Keatts are involved. Beyond tempo, it’s also one of the CAA’s best defensive teams versus its least potent offensive team. Both teams are sending their opponents to the foul line with great frequency, so this one could be painful on the eyes.

C.J. Bryce logged just 15 minutes when I saw UNCW play at Georgetown, but it was interesting to see the long-armed 6’5” guard give up seven inches and 100 pounds while trying to check Bradley Hayes (for a few possessions) in the post. Bryce is already an asset defensively, and if his recent three-point barrage was a sign of things to come, he’ll have a great chance to garner CAA Rookie of the Year honors.

Drexel’s struggles are well documented, as progress on the defensive end (since last year, anyway) can’t compensate for offensive impotence. The Dragons have enough talent to stay competitive, but will likely continue to face tough sledding until Ahmad Fields returns. Hopefully that occurs sooner rather than later.

UNCW will try to take the ball out of Terrell Allen’s hands, and force Rashann London and Sammy Mojica to handle the full court press. At home coming off a string of big victories, I’m guessing the Seahawks will be successful.

Seahawks 81, Dragons 67

Charleston (8-3) at James Madison (10-3) — 1:00 — Video Stream

JMU’s the home team here, but its fans should be nervous.  The Cougars come in having won five of six, and Earl Grant has his guys defending at a high level. Charleston is holding opponents to just 28.3% shooting from beyond the arc (14th in D-I), and is forcing turnovers on 20.6% of possessions.

That’s a bad mix for a JMU team that has been dependent upon the three ball, and somewhat turnover prone (committed 24 turnovers in 72 possessions Tuesday against Mount St. Mary’s) to this point. Facing a youthful Cougar frontcourt, Matt Brady would be wise to rely on his big men, as Yohanny Dalembert and Dimitrije Cabarkapa might be JMU’s best bet at producing efficient offense.

We won’t have to wait long to see how Charleston stacks up with a perceived contender. At least one of the home teams should go down today, and I like Charleston to get the job done in what should be a relatively empty Harrisonburg gym. The Cougars are entering conference play with confidence, and I think they’re primed to surprise.

Cougars 73, Dukes 72

Towson (9-4) at William & Mary (8-3) — 1:00 — Video Stream

If you’re looking for a reason to believe in William & Mary, look no further than the Tribe’s improvement on the defensive end. Statistically, this has been Tony Shaver’s best defensive team since ’08-’09, when the Tribe allowed 1.01 points per possession (147th in D-I). That was a nondescript year, most famous for being The Mighty Quinn’s freshman season. The Tribe is defending the perimeter like never before, as opponents are shooting 27.4% from three, good for the 8th lowest percentage in D-I.

That doesn’t matter as much against a Towson team that won’t try to beat anyone from the perimeter. Towson has won eight of its last nine games, allowing just two opponents to score more than one point per possession in the process. Pat Skerry’s team is doing things you’d expect, ranking 26th nationally in rebounding margin (+8.2) and 25th in free-throw rate (45.8%). Arnaud William Adala Moto has been much more efficient since his one game expulsion from the starting lineup versus Bradley.

Towson’s rebounded from early season stumbles, but has been the benefactor of a friendly nonconference slate. If Sean Sheldon, Terry Tarpey, and crew can keep Adala Moto and John Davis from grabbing an inordinate amount of offensive boards, the Tribe should be able to get enough offense to take care of business at home.

Tribe 72, Tigers 65

Northeastern (8-5) at Elon (9-4) — 2:00 — Video Stream

It’s a program with a proven CAA track record visiting an upstart unknown. Yes, despite Elon’s promising start to the season, we’re still wondering how the Phoenix will hold up through the rigors of conference play. Remember, this team had some hype last year, but lost 11 of 12 games spanning January and February.

That won’t be the case this year, as depth is now a strength for Matt Matheny’s club. Elon has a plethora of talented offensive options, and keeps you guessing as to who’s going to tally the points on a given night. The key involves having a third scorer to supplement Tanner Samson and Dainan Swoope.

The question for the Phoenix concerns a defense permitting 1.05 points per possession, the worst mark in the CAA to date. Despite the early season success, a home win versus Northeastern would immediately become the best win of Elon’s young season.

Northeastern was unable to pick up another ACC victory on Tuesday night, but Red Gresham showed well in his first D-I game. The freshman guard shot 3-of-4 from three, and committed just one turnover in 20 minutes of playing time. With Devon Begley struggling and T.J. Williams injured, Gresham’s debut was promising for a team that desperately needs more options off the bench, especially in the backcourt.

This has the potential to be the most exciting game of the day, as both offenses have proven they can fill it up. I’m picking the Huskies under the assumption that an experienced team that played the CAA’s toughest nonconference slate (per KenPom) will be able to go blow-for-blow on the road, and still come out on top.

Huskies 83, Phoenix 81


Saturday Nonconference Blowout

We’ll soon be playing each other.

The uniform schedule will provide rhythm, and get us writing more regularly. Everyone will enter conference play with a clean slate, and that second set of parenthesized numbers (9-3, 0-0) will become the important one. The teams that have gotten off to ugly starts will once again be on level footing with the ones garnering the big wins. 

I thought we’d bust out the game day previews in January, but we just can’t wait any longer.

This monumental day seems like a perfect one to get ’em going.

Michigan State (11-0) at Northeastern (7-3) — 12:30 — NBC Sports Network

I’m not ready to talk about the marquee game of the day just yet…

UNC Greensboro (4-6) at Elon (7-3) — 1:00 — Video Stream

UNC Greensboro received bad news when former Delaware star Devon Saddler’s little brother Tevon Saddler opted to leave the program one week before the season began. But despite losing one of its lead guards at a less than optimal time, UNCG still boasts an impressive turnover margin (+3.1, 39th in D-I). It’ll be interesting to see if the young Phoenix guards can keep pace.

But Elon’s won four in a row, and sports a 5-1 record at home. Matt Matheny’s group is playing well, and I expect Tanner Samson and Co. to keep it rolling on Saturday.

Phoenix 83, Spartans 74

College of Charleston (7-2) at Miami (FL (8-1) — 2:00 — Fox Sports Net 

It’s unfortunate that Northeastern’s win at Coral Gables probably decreased the likelihood of another CAA upset. Even so, Charleston comes into this one with a five-game winning streak, and gets a Miami team that hasn’t played in a week and a half.

Charleston and Miami are on opposite ends of the experience spectrum, with Earl Grant’s Cougars slotting in as the 310th most experienced team in D-I, and Jim Larrañaga’s Hurricanes the 41st most experienced.

I like what the Cougars are doing, but am admittedly skeptical about their chances on Saturday. The good news, though, is that the Hurricanes are likely the worst matchup they’ll see this season.

Canes 81, Cats 72

UNCW (5-2) at Radford (6-5) — 4:00 — Video Stream

My Radford friends are expressing legitimate interest in their hoops team for the first time since 2009. That’ll happen when your alma mater triumphs at Power Seven programs Georgetown and Penn State in the season’s first 11 days.

UNCW’s string of road games continues with another tough one. But this one sets up well for the Seahawks. More than 20% of Radford’s offensive possessions end in a turnover, and the Highlanders don’t appear to be capable of winning with outside shooting.

That’s a decent combination for a UNCW team that leads D-I in turnover margin (+8.1 turnovers per game), and also struggles with outside shooting.

It might be ugly at times, but I like UNCW’s chances to get it done in Virginia.

Seahawks 72, Highlanders 69

Delaware (5-3) at Boston College (4-6) — 7:00 — ESPN 3 

Delaware suffered as many key personnel losses (Chivarsky Corbett, Devonne Pinkard) as actual defeats in its first four games. We know this team had depth issues coming into the season, so it’s impressive that the Hens have managed to snag wins in three of four since Corbett went down.

A road game at Boston College, one of the youngest teams in the country, actually looks winnable. If Marvin King-Davis and the like continue to get easy points at the foul line to compensate for their shooting woes, there’s reason to believe Monté Ross’ squad has a shot in Chestnut Hill.

The optimism in the City of Boston extends to this prediction. The Hens come through with late magic on a second consecutive Saturday.

Hens 74, Eagles 73 

Penn State (7-3) vs. Drexel (1-7) — 7:00 – Video Stream

Penn State’s won five of its last six games, but that has little bearing on Saturday night’s bout at The Palestra. Five of Drexel’s seven losses have come by single-digit margins, and you can bet the Dragons will be itching to take it to the biggest brand-name school in the state.

The Dragons got off to a good start at South Carolina, but came unglued in the second half versus the undefeated Gamecocks. Drexel was (once again) doubled up in free-throw attempts, and that could be a problem against a Penn State team that’s in the top third of D-I teams in free-throw rate (39.6%, 113th).

Pat Chambers team embraces the rock fight, and this one will probably be ugly. I can’t bet on a Drexel win, but stranger things have happened. We’ll say Penn State by a field goal.

Nitty Lions 17, Dragons 14

#1 Michigan State (11-0) at Northeastern (7-3) — 12:30 — NBC Sports Network

Saturday’s headliner will be played in Beantown, where the illustrious Tom Izzo will lead his Michigan State Spartans into historic Mathews Arena. There isn’t a power conference basketball coach who impresses me more annually than Izzo, who’s led this program to seven Final Fours in his first 20 years, including six times this century. 

It’s highly commendable that Izzo agreed to play his team’s first road game at Northeastern. It’s a move K, Cal, and Self would never consider, and one that reportedly stunned former Northeastern and UConn coach Jim Calhoun. 

But Izzo is the kind of badass who goes onto The LeBatard Show and plays Christmas carols on the accordion. He doesn’t live off five-star recruits (though he’s had more success with them recently), instead taking guys a notch below the top tier who’re versatile and privied with high basketball IQs. 

Izzo’s got a Wooden Award frontrunner in senior wing DJ Valentine, a guy who can play positions one through four, and would get minutes at the five if coached by Kevin Keatts. Valentine’s per game season averages (18.6 points, 8.5 boards, and 7.2 assists) are insane enough to make Juan’ya Green jealous. 

Valentine will get his, and the key for Northeastern will be to prevent Michigan State’s secondary offensive options from winning the game.

We’ve thoroughly hyped Michigan State, but Northeastern possesses perhaps the nation’s most underrated coach-player combo in Bill Coen and David Walker.

After spending an exam-less week preparing for the Spartans, the Huskies will be anxious to get back on the floor. Fortunately, Coen has guys in Walker, Quincy Ford, and Zach Stahl who knows what it’s like to play in big games. They’ve defeated Miami, Florida State, and Georgetown away from Mathews over the last two-plus seasons, and showed well on a neutral floor versus Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament.

The Huskies will finally be rewarded with a home game against a top-notch nonconference foe.

Coen has undoubtedly preached that this one game will not define Northeastern’s year. We’re about a third of the way through the season, and it could be argued that 90% of the remaining games have more importance than this one.

A quick glance at Michigan State’s KenPom profile reveals many shades of green. The Spartans pose problems on both ends of the court, ranking ninth in offensive efficiency and 16th in defensive efficiency. You’re truly grasping for straws to find an area where the Spartans don’t excel. 

A positive for Northeastern is that Michigan State’s elite defense doesn’t force a high percentage of turnovers. That’s good news for a Northeastern bunch that’s coughing it up on 20% of its possessions so far this season.

Getting offensive production from guards other than Walker is a necessity for Northeastern.

TJ Williams is still struggling from the field, but has found other ways to contribute of late. Devon Begley has been a non factor the past three games, and this could provide the perfect platform for the sophomore to get off the schneid. And you know a few Caleb Donnelly 3-pointers would get the crowd at Mathews roaring.

We praised freshman Jeremy Miller in our most recent post, and he responded by pouring in a career-high 18 points in 27 minutes last Saturday. He’s averaging 11.5 points over his last four games, but it’s his rebounding that will be needed most today.

The Spartans have eight guys averaging double-digit minutes and a ninth, Marvin Clark Jr., gaining steam while recovering from a preseason injury. I am worried that one of the non starters — be it Clark Jr., Eron Harris, or Deyonta Davis — will come off the bench to spark a run that gets the Spartans going.

This hoops-hoops-hockey triple header is a praiseworthy event conjured up by ADs Peter Roby and Mark Hollis. It would take a lot of faith to pick an upset.

What kind of blogger would I be to throw a wet blanket on it?

The pundits have seen Walker’s prolific box scores, and witnessed Ford’s game winners after the fact. After Saturday, they’ll have a much better understanding that Coen’s Huskies are for real.

Huskies 77, Spartans 76

The First Four

I started following CAA Hoops in the fall of 2012, when I arrived on Drexel’s campus. It was a cold and bitter winter in University City; Chris Fouch broke his ankle, and the Dragons’ tournament aspirations were quashed before Thanksgiving.

The league, I quickly discovered, was on the downturn. VCU had recently departed. George Mason, Georgia State and Old Dominion were each on the way out. The remaining teams were not the superstars but the had-runs. UNCW was past its prime; so, it was becoming apparent, was Drexel.

Fast forward three years, and the CAA is off to a red-hot start. The conference has compiled a combined 52-29 record through a month of nonconference play. UNCW remains undefeated and impressive. Northeastern toppled then-No. 15 Miami (FL). Hofstra earned a neutral-floor victory over Florida State.

Projected basement dwellers Elon and College of Charleston, the two newest members of the league who struggled to find footing in their inaugural seasons, are off to impressive starts to the year. Charleston already has seven wins, including a victory over future lottery pick Ben Simmons and LSU.

Drexel aside, these teams have inspired a level of play not seen in the CAA in years. One can only hope the momentum carries into the conference slate, where parity becomes king.

Let’s dive in…

Charleston (6-2) 

Something Positive: Earl Grant has a bunch of young kids who can play, and given where this program was 15 months ago, that’s all we can really ask for. Cam Johnson is one of the most promising sophomores in the league. Freshman Marquise Pointer looks like a player. Frosh big man Jarrell Brantley is the team’s leading rebounder, and has scored in double figures in three of Charleston’s past four.

For me, Nick Harris has been a truly pleasant surprise. After garnering attention for his play in a career-high 25 minutes versus LSU, the redshirt freshman has averaged 11 points per game in Charleston’s last two wins. He didn’t stand out when I saw Charleston play at Navy, and logged a DNP against Davidson in the following game. But he was working his way back from injury then, and now looks like a building block in Charleston’s frontcourt.

Needs Work: Canyon Barry is using 30.9% of Charleston’s possessions and taking 34.8% (13th in D-I) of the team’s shots. Considering that he’s a redshirt junior on the 310th most experienced team in the country, the Cougars are likely to continue riding their leader. For such an inexperienced team, I’d say the Cougars have done a relatively good job closing out games, and proving they can rally when necessary. Barry, one of the best free-throw shooters in the country (86.8%), is a huge part of that.

But one has to wonder if being so dependent upon Barry will take its toll come conference play.

Revised Outlook: The Cougars were picked to finish ninth in the CAA, and we’ve since learned that no freebies will be had at TD Arena. I still think this team plays in Friday night’s opening round in Baltimore, but that seems way less certain now than it did four weeks ago.

Delaware (4-3)

Something Positive: It’s unfair to judge this team on what’s happened so far this season, because Delaware has faced as much attrition as any team in the league since practices began. There’s so much in flux, with guys having to ascend to new roles in short manner. Still, there have been some small positives to date.

For a guy who wasn’t even sure he’d be in Newark this year, Marvin King-Davis sure is making a Senior Surge. He’s tallied four double-doubles, and is the lone Blue Hen to have scored in double figures every game. Team manager turned walk-on turned scholarship starter Curtis McRoy has proved that he can be a contributor. Kevin Tresolini penned McRoy’s story here.

Needs Work: Injuries to Eric Carter, Chivarsky Corbett, and Devonne Pinkard have stripped a thin team down to the bone. Those ailments have put a lot of pressure on the other Hens to shoulder the load.

And so far, no one’s providing offense with much efficiency.

Sophomore Anthony Mosley is the only healthy rotation regular shooting above 43% from the field, and he was just recently inserted into the starting lineup as a result of the injury to Corbett. Of course, we know that Monté Ross’ dribble-drive offense never features a bunch of sharpshooters, and is built to produce easy looks at the rim or from the free-throw line. But this team has to find a way to put the ball in the hoop more effectively to make its defensive improvements matter.

Revised Outlook: Delaware was picked to finish fifth in this league, and given how the first few weeks have unfolded, you’d be hardpressed to maintain those expectations. This team still has talent, but is just so direly shorthanded. Fortunately, Pinkard will be back for the heart of conference play, and they’ll need him to pick up some of the outside shooting left behind by Corbett.

Drexel (1-6)

Something Positive: It’s tough to find many positives for a 1-6 team that seems poorly outfitted for its challenging nonconference schedule. One thing the Dragons can lean on is the fact that their best scorers inside and outside, guard Tavon Allen and forward Rodney Williams, are playing the best basketball of their respective careers. Allen is still launching plenty of deep threes, but he’s shooting with an accuracy that he lacked in his first three seasons, hitting at a 41% clip from beyond the arc through seven games. And Williams, an ultra-athletic forward with all-conference potential, has looked dominating in the paint when he manages to stay out of foul trouble, averaging 11.5 points and 9.3 rebounds in games where he plays at least 25 minutes.

Needs Work: Continuing a trend of the past few years, Bruiser Flint’s typically staunch defense is in shambles. For just the second time in his 15-year tenure, Drexel has allowed more than 500 points in its first seven games. With young guards getting a lot of playing time, defensive improvement needs to come fast, or else the Dragons will be losing a lot of shootouts this year.

A reason for optimism? Opponents averaged 81 points per game in Drexel’s first four games, but 62 points per game in its last three.

Revised Outlook: The Dragons were picked to finish eighth in the conference before the season started, but after an impressive nonconference performance by the rest of the league, Flint’s crew could be behind the eight ball against a surprisingly talented crop of teams. If Ahmad Fields returns in time for league play, Drexel can still make noise. But for now, the Dragons are near the bottom of the red-hot CAA.

Elon (5-3)

Something Positive: Depth is this team’s biggest attribute. On average, eight players are contributing at least six points each night while playing 15+ minutes per game. Dainan Swoope in particular has been a revelation, as the late summer addition to Elon’s 2015 recruiting class is the only player who’s reached double figures in all eight games.

Swoope’s production is correlated with high volume a la a certain Elon freshman who posted gaudy numbers last season. But Swoope’s playing within the team, not turning the ball over, and keeping Luke Eddy from having too much on his plate too soon.

Needs Work: The Phoenix sported the league’s worst defense in conference play last year, and appears to be headed for a similar honor this year. Elon’s 1.06 points per possession allowed ranks 283rd in D-I and last in the CAA so far. After holding four of its first five opponents below 0.96 points per possession, each of the Phoenix’s last three opponents (Texas A&M CC, Kennesaw State, and Florida International) have tallied at least 1.01 points per possession.

Revised Outlook: Elon certainly doesn’t look like a tenth place team, having emerged on the right side of a number of 50-50 games. Even so, it’s hard to imagine the Phoenix avoiding the CAA Tournament’s opening round without defensive improvement. Matt Matheny’s team seems destined to produce some thrilling barnburners in league play, but you’ve got to wonder how the Phoenix will fair against other offensively potent teams with talented, established veterans.

Hofstra (6-3)

Something Positive: We knew the backcourt trio would be great, so we were intently watching to see if Rokas Gustys could become the consistent pain in the arse he was for JMU and William & Mary in Baltimore. The sophomore big man is making good on the flashes he showed last season, averaging 9.2 points and 8.6 boards per game.

Perhaps the most notable thing about Gustys’ improvement is that he isn’t fouling as much. Gustys has averaged only 5.6 fouls per 40 minutes after averaging 7.4 per 40 as a freshman. His size will be a problem for the majority of the teams in the CAA, but he’s got to stay on the court for that to matter.

Needs Work: Could Hofstra be the slowest starting team in America? Let’s take a closer look at the first nine games of the season, where Hofstra was…

  • Doubled up by Canisius (36-18) less than 12 minutes into its season opener
  • Trailing Indiana State by 17 points before a second-half rally
  • Trailing St. Bonaventure by 10 in the first half
  • Trailing Siena by 15 in the first half

Now, Hofstra went 2-2 in those games, and should’ve beaten Indiana State. We know Joe Mihalich’s team has an offense capable of digging itself out of holes, but we certainly can’t count on the Pride to get stops on defense. The Siena game was a perfect example of that, as the Pride made a 6-0 run out of halftime to cut the Saints’ lead to single digits.

But on a rare off shooting night for Green, Bernardi, and Co., Hofstra never got the defensive stops necessary to make it a one-possession game.

Revised Outlook: The Pride has done its job in validating its status as the preseason conference favorite, but has to find a way to come out of the gates more quickly. This still has the makings of a season to remember, but it only takes one lackluster performance in Baltimore to squander it all away.

James Madison (7-3)

Something Positive: I keep waiting for Shakir Brown to slow down, but it’s not happening. The JUCO transfer showed immediate poise upon stepping onto the floor in his first D-I game, and is JMU’s leading scorer (15 points), rebounder (7.4 boards), and three-point shooter (51.9%, 28-of-54 from three). I certainly didn’t think there’d be enough basketball for anyone other than Ron Curry or Yohanny Dalembert to tally those sorts of numbers.

Matt Brady’s still rounding out his rotation, but boasts perhaps the deepest roster in the league. Nine different players are averaging at least 13 minutes per game, and that doesn’t include Devontae Morgan.

Needs Work: As has been the case with many of Brady’s team, we need to see some consistency here. After playing well in those first two games against Richmond and West Virginia, I expected the Dukes to take care of business on their home court against Florida International, Oral Roberts, and Tennessee Martin. So it was clearly disappointing that JMU was lucky to come out of that stretch with just one win.

One thing the Dukes did so well last year was win the games they were supposed to win. It’ll be interesting to see if they can do it again this year.

JMU is currently permitting 1.05 points per possession, one of the worst marks in the league. As Brady continues to hammer out his rotation, expect the advantage to go to the players who show a little extra on the defensive end.

Revised Outlook: Probably fallen a notch below Northeastern, but still a high-ceiling team that’s a good bet to contend.

UNCW (5-0)

Something Positive: This is a deep, deep team, and the Seahawks can score from pretty much anywhere. Six players are averaging at least eight points per game, and nine players are averaging at least six points per game. The numbers are clearly skewed by the fact that UNCW has played two D-II schools, but five of its top seven scorers are shooting at least 50% from the field, a luxury CAA teams don’t normally have at their disposal. I really like what junior Chris Flemmings has brought to the team. He’s scored 58 points on 57% shooting in his last three games, and is averaging 4.4 rebounds per game as a 6’5” guard.

Needs Work: Kevin Keatts’ team needs to be better from the charity stripe. It’s a bit of nitpicky considering the Seahawks’ top three scorers — Craig Ponder, Chris Flemmings, and Denzel Ingram – have combined to shoot a solid 74.5% from the line. But as a team, UNCW is shooting 66.4%. In a season dominated by fouls, free-throw shooting is at even more of a premium.

Revised Outlook: So far, the Seahawks are who we thought they were. The co-champions from the ‘14-‘15 regular season look like one of the more formidable threats in the CAA this season. They have two kids, CJ Bryce and Devontae Cacok, who look capable of getting in the conversation for CAA Rookie of the Year. With seasoned guards in Craig Ponder and Jordon Talley, and one of the best coaches in the conference, UNCW is right where it wants to be through five nonconference games.

Northeastern (6-3)

Something Positive: Last season, Northeastern was Bill Coen’s best defensive rebounding team ever (74.7%, 10th in D-I). Quincy Ford and Zach Stahl have helped Northeastern stay elite there, as the Huskies are hauling in 76.7% of defensive boards (20th in D-I) so far this season.

That’s a perfect segue into freshman Jeremy Miller, the young big man who’s grabbed at least five boards in three of Northeastern’s last four games. The 6’10” forward has scored 1.29 points per possession so far this season, and is seeing the floor more and more as the season goes on. He’s also connected on 7-of-14 shots from three, and I’m guessing offensive freedom was a big-time selling point for the most highly rated recruit to enter the CAA this season.

And in case you didn’t know David Walker is a really good basketball player. Like, dude just debuted on DraftExpress’ 2016 NBA Mock Draft.

Needs Work: This one’s obvious, but Bill Coen has to find a way to get TJ Williams on track. After starting all 35 games and averaging 11.1 points per game in conference play as a sophomore, Williams is at 4.2 points per game on 34.2% shooting so far this season. Williams doesn’t have to be a double-digit scorer, as his main job is to facilitate on offense. Even so, he’s too talented to be contributing so little. I expect that the added time off around exams will do him some good.

Revised Outlook: I saw a lot of preseason chatter on the Twittersphere indicating that the Huskies were every bit of Hofstra’s equal. Hofstra’s taken care of business thus far, but the Miami win indicated that Northeastern might indeed be the Pride’s biggest adversary. Walker, Ford, and Stahl are as good a trio as you’ll find in this league.

Towson (7-3)

Something Positive: Apologies in advanced for this obvious one. But for a Towson team desperately needing a steady point guard and consistent deep threat, Byron Hawkins has been nothing short of spectacular. When considering that he plays on a poor shooting team, Hawkins’ 2.09 assist-to-turnover Ratio is impressive. Hawkins has banged home 21-of-53 three-point attempts (39.6%).

Needs Work: We mentioned that Towson was a threat to be one of the worst three-point shooting teams in D-I, and Hawkins is the only thing keeping Pat Skerry’s squad short of that designation. Hawkins has 23 of Towson’s 49 3-pointers, and no one else on the team has more than eight 3-pointers. Arnaud William Adala Moto and Mike Morsell have combined to shoot 11-of-54 (20.3%) from downtown.

After going 1-of-14 from three in Towson’s first four games, Adala Moto has hit 2-of-7 over Towson’s last six. He’s been a much more effective player since focusing on scoring in the paint.

Revised Outlook: As expected, the Tigers are posting highly efficient offensive rebounding (39.2%, 17th in D-I) and free-throw rates (47.0%, 24th in D-I). Small sample sizes abound, but this team is defending (allowing 1.02 points per possession, 162nd in D-I) better than any Skerry team we’ve seen to date. This all foreshadows many frustrating games for future CAA foes.

Things have started to come together during this current six-game winning streak, and we’ve seen progress on the offensive side of the ball. Picked to finish seventh, I’m cautiously optimistic about Towson’s chances to outperform expectations.

William & Mary (5-3)

Something Positive: You know what to expect from Tony Shaver’s group, and you’re getting it so far this season. Despite the fact that Daniel Dixon (22-of-50, 44%) is the only Tribe player really connecting from outside, William & Mary still ranks 79th in D-I with a 37.1% mark from three.

While it isn’t the nationally elite marksmanship we’re used to see from W&M, there’s room for growth here. Omar Prewitt, Terry Tarpey, and David Cohn should all improve upon their early season percentages.

Of course, the team’s three-point clip is buoyed by sophomore Connor Burchfield’s 9-of-12 mark from three. That guy needs to see the floor for more than 10 minutes each game.

Needs Work: It’s baffling to see a team with so many good shooters struggling from the foul line (67.1%, 225th in D-I). If the Tribe shoots better than an aggregate 19-of-33 (57.6%) from the stripe against Dayton and Howard, it would likely be 7-1 right now.

Revised Outlook: The early season goal involved cohesively ascending as a unit to make up for the loss of Marcus Thornton. William & Mary won at NC State, but lost at Howard. A team so reliant on its offense’s potency will be prone to such peaks and valleys, and seems to indicate that William & Mary will likely sneak some conference road games it shouldn’t, and drop some games to lower-tier teams.

This team hasn’t touched its offensive ceiling, and we can expect to see improvements. Tarpey in particular seems to be feeling the pressures of shouldering more of the offensive load. David Cohn has done some nice things as the point guard, but still seems to be finding his own offensive groove. I think those guys will only improve as the season progresses, and we’ll see William & Mary emerge as a viable contender in conference play.

Keep On Keeping On

There’s a sparsely recognized fact that hasn’t received enough acknowledgment outside of our Twitter community. The coaches, athletic departments, and fans surely see it, and while some may be confused about which conference these schools represent, our 10 teams are playing well enough to make it known.

The CAA is playing some damn good basketball.

Our league is 12-0 in the past five days, and is currently slotted as the 12th best conference on KenPom. That’s big time progress for a conference that hasn’t finished better than 17th in any of the last three years.

We keep piling wins, and the only thing surprising about it is just how decisive some of these victories have been. While big media hot shots seem shocked, there isn’t anything outrageous about seeing a talented, well-coached team like William & Mary outplay an assemblage of former AAU All Stars.

Although those squads might have loftier preseason expectations, it all comes down to on-court performance. And our guys are executing in high visibility spots.

I’ve seen continuous admiration for Ben Simmons, but not enough acclaim for the College of Charleston team that forced him into seven turnovers and 26.6% shooting on 15 shots on Monday night.

Miami was the nation’s early-season darling, but Jim Larrañaga’s old guys couldn’t even handle Northeastern’s elder statesmen David Walker and Quincy Ford (and of course, Bill Coen) in Coral Gables.

Hofstra has done plenty to validate its standing as the preseason conference favorite. This deep group bested Florida State on a neutral floor, and just won back-to-back road games against teams from the oft-praised A10. Joe Mihalich’s bunch has had six players score in double figures in two different games this season. That is absolutely absurd.

And while not everyone has grabbed a P5 win, almost everyone’s chipped in one way or another.

JMU has been up and down, but showed its potential when it went down 64 East and (sans Yohanny Dalembert) roughhoused a buzzy Richmond team on opening night.

After losing Chivarsky Corbett to a season-ending ACL tear, Delaware has shown resolve by downing Bradley and South Florida with ease. Marvin King-Davis has continued to play at an All-CAA level, and Champ Mosley has made a seamless transition into the starting five.

Towson and George Mason had contrasting outings two weeks ago in the Charleston Classic, but anyone who watched them play Wednesday would’ve thought the Tigers were the ones who beat Ole Miss and Oklahoma State en route to a championship appearance. Towson has won four in a row, and has an upcoming schedule with plenty of plum matchups.

Elon just registered back-to-back wins for the first time this season, and Monday night’s came in rather amazing fashion.

The league has put in great work over the season’s first three weeks, but the next four are every bit as important, and doubly as challenging with the uneven schedules caused by exams.

Hofstra sandwiches its toughest remaining nonconference roadies around Winter Break, and we’re hoping the Pride can maintain focus. Northeastern’s amped about hosting Michigan State in two weeks, and it should be. But the Huskies have three stiff tests between now and then. William & Mary will face possibly the sternest test any team in the CAA has faced this season when it takes the court at UVA today.

While it’s hard to say what this’ll all mean in March, we can hazard a guess that the CAA won’t have a team seeded 14th in the NCAA Tournament for a third consecutive year.

It’s way too early to entertain the notion that this could be a multi-bid league, and the truth is that this league is probably still too balanced to have a team go 17-1 or 16-2 in conference play and garner serious at-large attention.

It’s still early in the season, but our 10 teams have proven one thing.

We are the CAA, and we play damn good basketball.