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