Those who read my season preview realize it’s not eye-popping to see UNCW in first place with two weeks remaining in the regular season. I won’t pretend to have expected it, but Kevin Keatts’ pressing defensive style has proven to be even more effective when spearheaded by an offensively potent bunch.
Winners of 11 consecutive games, this year’s UNCW team has been a full tenth of a point better on the offensive end. That certainly adds up when you’re one of the 50 fastest teams in D-I. Chris Flemmings has played like an All-CAA First Teamer all year long, but it’s Denzel Ingram (14.6 points, 44.2% shooting from three in league play) who’s emerged as Flemmings’ Robin.
From a stylistic perspective, the team most capable of giving UNCW fits is the Towson Tigers. Winners of seven of its last 10, Pat Skerry’s squad sports the fourth highest free-throw rate (48.8%) in the country. For a UNCW team permitting a 55% free-throw rate (349th in D-I), that could be problematic. Towson handed UNCW its only loss by more than five points this season.
Of course, the Tigers have had a few stinkers in league play, including last Thursday’s 0.80 points per offensive possession showing against Northeastern. However, Mike Morsell played the game of his life (34 points) in Towson’s best offensive performance of the season in Saturday’s home win versus William & Mary. Towson has proven to be one of the CAA’s most volatile teams.
The Northeastern team that dropped eight (including six straight at home) of nine games played its two slowest games of the season last week, and came out on top in both. And while the Huskies wreak a bit of ’13-’14 Drexel, they’re still a team I’d want to avoid in the CAA Quarters. Of course, Northeastern is still fighting to avoid a Friday night bout.
The Huskies main adversary in that quest is Earl Grant’s Charleston Cougars. Winners of six of eight, the Cougars top five scorers (post Canyon Barry’s injury) are all freshmen and sophomores. Frosh Jarrell Brantley and Marquise Pointer have combined to tally more than 26 points per game in conference play.
If this is the product we get when Grant gets a full offseason to work with his guys, it’s going to be scary to see what happens when he has a roster full of players he recruited. Moderate contributions from Barry, Joe Chealey, Grant Riller, and Chevez Goodwin should make this a top three team in the CAA next season.
James Madison is fortunate to have built a solid record before injuries to Ron Curry and Dimitrije Cabarkapa, and it’ll be interesting to see how the Dukes fair in their final four conference games. They’re just 3-3 at home in league play, but I’ll still say it’s fortunate that they only have to venture outside of Harrisonburg once before Baltimore. Let’s just hope Curry can get back in time for Senior Day.
That Senior Day will feature a visit from a William & Mary team that’s 5-0 against Matt Brady’s squad in the last three seasons. Towson and Hofstra have given W&M hell, and we’ll learn a thing or two about the Tribe based on tonight’s bout with UNCW. Sophomores Greg Malinowski (7.4 points) and Connor Burchfield (5.8 points) have provided a boost to the best offense (1.14 points per possession) in league play. Of course, a defense permitting 1.08 points per possession proves to be an issue when the shots aren’t falling.
Hofstra bounced back from an incredibly frustrating week to score two road wins. With two All-CAA First Teamers on the roster, Hofstra is another team with a great chance to play into Sunday. Rokas Gustys, the CAA’s Andre Drummond, is averaging 16.9 points and 14.9 boards in conference play.
Elon has dropped three consecutive games, which is something that could be expected of the CAA’s youngest club at this point in the season. The Phoenix is looking like a strong bet for the 8-9 game in Baltimore, but could certainly pose a threat to the top team in Baltimore. This is a program to watch over the next couple years, and you can count on the Phoenix shooting better than 33.9% from three next season.
A Delaware team that finally snagged its first league win of the season last week should also be much improved next season. Kory Holden will only be a junior, and you can bet that Monté Ross will find a way to add more contributors to this roster.
If you’ve been paying attention at all this season, you don’t have to fathom much of a guess to figure out which team was on the opposite side of Delaware’s first league win. For the sake of their fans, they’ll remain nameless in this space.
All of Thursday night’s games start at 7 p.m. The CAA has a consolidated list of links for video streams and stats.
College of Charleston (8-6) at Delaware (1-13)
Charleston scored a big win at Elon Saturday, and started its road-heavy conference ending slate on a high note. The Cougars will likely be dogs in every game hereafter.
The silver lining to Delaware’s season has been the continued improvement of Holden. Evolving into a high-usage player on a team devoid of healthy bodies, Holden has made good on the promise he displayed last year by posting a 102.9 Offensive Rating.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see Delaware pick up a pair of wins next week, but think Charleston gets the job done here.
Charleston 70, Delaware 66
Elon (5-9) at Drexel (1-13)
Matt Matheny’s team has lost six of eight, but has a great chance to get straight here. Dan Crain has done some surveying of the recent DAC crowd, and points to signs of the wind of change in yesterday’s piece. With three of their four remaining games at home, the Dragons have a chance to build some momentum going into Baltimore.
Drexel 67, Elon 65
Northeastern (6-8) at James Madison (9-5)
It hasn’t been terribly convincing, but Northeastern appears to be taking steps to righting its season. The Huskies are hitting Harrisonburg at the right time, as David Walker and Quincy Ford will be the most talented players on the floor Thursday night in Harrisonburg. Assuming Ron Curry doesn’t suit up, I think the Huskies will continue to settle into the home stretch of the schedule, and start to build a bit of momentum heading into Baltimore.
Northeastern 69, JMU 65
Towson (9-5) at Hofstra (10-4)
On the second day of January, I trekked up to pristine SECU Arena expecting to see a heavyweight bout between these two schools. Instead, I saw the Pride outscore the Tigers by 0.47 points per possession en route to a domineering 90-58 win. So while I’m excited to see the team with the CAA’s top rebounding margin/metrics try to contain Rokas Gustys, I am a little wary that Hofstra is going to run Towson out of the gym all over again.
At the same time, that was Hofstra’s second best offensive game (1.33 points per possession) this season, and Towson’s propensity for getting to the charity stripe could prove problematic for a Hofstra team with nonexistent depth.
With that said, I like Juan’ya Green’s chance to help Hofstra get the job done. He’s hit some big shots on Thursday nights, and seems to be heading for CAA Player of the Year honors.
Hofstra 78, Towson 71
UNCW (12-2) at William & Mary (9-5)
After shooting 29.4% from three in nonconference play, UNCW looked like it might end the season as one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the country. That was before Ingram started banging home a trio of 3-pointers on a nightly basis. Flemmings and Craig Ponder have done their part in pushing UNCW to the second-best three-point shooting mark (37.5%) in conference play.
Sans Daniel Dixon, William & Mary was unable to throw its best punch at UNCW in Wilmington last month. Even so, those who watched know that was one of the best games of the season. William & Mary has committed the lowest percentage of turnovers (15.2%) in league play, while UNCW has forced the second highest percentage (20%). The turnover battle will hold extra importance, and Tony Shaver has a few guys (Daniel Dixon, Omar Prewitt) who can help ease David Cohn’s burden there.
This would be a huge win for W&M, a team that needs to prove to itself that it can handle the best teams the league has to offer. However, I’m expecting a confident UNCW team to keep it rolling in Kaplan.
UNCW 84, W&M 82