— The green-and-gold-clad players leapt joyfully on the sidelines. The
similarly dressed fans erupted into deafening cheers. And the scoreboard, for
the final time on a frantic Thursday evening, changed its mind.
But Northeastern fans who were paying attention — and
perhaps even a few who weren’t — would have noticed something peculiar. Hadn’t
this happened before? Hadn’t Nathan Knight, William & Mary’s uber-talented,
hyper-versatile senior big man, done this to them in almost exactly the same
way about four weeks before?
For anyone who thought that the eerie similarities between Northeastern’s games against William & Mary and Hofstra reeked of basketball screenwriters too lazy to conjure up an alternate script, the Tribe’s 59–58 win over the Huskies re-opened every recently healed wound.
Once again, a superhuman defensive
effort by Max Boursiquot was wasted. Though Knight and fellow big man Andy Van
Vliet combined for 23 rebounds, they mustered just 24 points on seven-for-23
“Huge credit to Max,” Knight said. “He’s
deceptively strong . . . a lot stronger than he appears on paper. His
physicality and his quickness, being the size of a guard with the strength of a
big, really grants him some upside on the defensive end playing against guys
like me who play a little more inside out.
“He’s 212 [pounds], I’m 250, so I try
to take advantage of that size by getting the ball as close as I can to the
basket. He did a tremendous job today of pressuring our bigs, making us catch the
ball where we didn’t want it when there were plays drawn up for us to get on
But once again, after being locked down
by Boursiquot in the first half, Knight came alive in the second, this time
logging 13 points on four-of-five shooting from the field and five-of-six from
“The biggest thing was our guards
making themselves available when we got the ball in the post,” Knight said of
the second-half surge. “Backdoor cuts, getting into open spots for us to see
them and get them the ball. Also just being a little more aggressive when we got
the ball in the post.
“Being aggressive like that puts
a lot of pressure on the defense. It makes them decide: are they going to come
help or are they going to stay on the shooters? Applying that kind of pressure
was probably the biggest change from the first to the second half, when we
weren’t as aggressive getting to the rim, settling for long shots, jump hooks 15
feet away from the basket. But the biggest thing for us was getting into their
bodies and making them decide. And it paid off for us.”
And once again, Knight broke Husky hearts with a last-second
layup. The Tribe placed Van Vliet and Miguel Ayesa, both excellent three-point
shooters, in opposite corners, forcing Northeastern to respect their spacing.
“He gets the ball where he wants to get it and there’s not a
whole lot we can do,” Northeastern head coach Bill Coen remarked. “We thought
it was coming to him, but I didn’t think it was going to be off the dribble.
Max has a quickness advantage there, so I thought they’d post him and hunt a
But the Tribe had other plans,
inbounding to Knight 75 feet from the rim with 6.8 seconds to go. Boursiquot
stayed attached to Knight until the big man reached the lane, at which point
Boursiquot probably figured there was nothing left that he could do and that
his teammates would pressure Knight. But Bolden Brace stepped out of Knight’s
way, Shaq Walters’ rotation was too little too late, and the Huskies fell short
when (once again) a halfcourt heave from Tyson Walker didn’t fall.
“It was drawn up for me to go make
something happen,” Knight said of the play. “Seven seconds is a long time in
the grand scheme of things. They’re obviously not going to let you walk
the ball up the court and you don’t want to launch the ball down the court, so
someone has to go get it. We were expecting some pressure, so the best way to
get the ball in my hands was to go get it.”
But while the lasting image of Thursday’s
game will be Knight’s game-winner and the striking resemblance it bears to his
last game-winner against the Huskies, it would be disingenuous to pretend that
Knight’s layup is the reason the Huskies lost. After all, Northeastern limited
star center Andy Van Vliet to a meager seven points on two-for-11 shooting.
They plugged passing lanes, pressured ballhandlers, and denied post players the
chance to work in open space. The Tribe shot just 37 percent from the field and
a pathetic 12 percent from beyond the three-point arc; Northeastern outshot
them handily in both categories while limiting the CAA’s best offensive team to
one of its lowest outputs of the year. So how did they lose?
“It wasn’t a defensive loss,” Bill Coen
stated flatly. “It was a free throw loss.”
Free throws, as Coen pointed out, are
arguably the last way Northeastern would expect to lose. Entering Thursday, the
Huskies boasted a free-throw percentage of about 80 percent, the best mark in
the CAA and the third-best mark in the country. Yet the Huskies made just four
of their 11 free-throw attempts in the second half.
The free throw tallies were a function
of accuracy but also of each team’s volume of fouls. While the Tribe certainly
dealt with foul trouble — Bryce Barnes, Knight, and Van Vliet all picked up
four fouls, with Knight missing minutes he otherwise wouldn’t have — the bug
bit Northeastern hardest.
Greg Eboigbodin fouled out with nine
minutes still to play. Brace picked up his fourth foul with 18 minutes to go.
Boursiquot was whistled for his fourth down the stretch. Shaq Walters played
most of the second half with three. Because the fouls were so concentrated in
the Husky frontcourt — none of the guards had more than one — they further
wounded the Huskies. Northeastern was trying to contend with a surging Nathan
Knight — inarguably the most powerful post force in the conference — without
much minute-to-minute lineup consistency.
Jordan Roland’s performance also sheds
light on the game’s momentum swings. Roland’s respectable stat line is the
product of a high-octane first half (16 points on 10 attempts) and a near-invisible
second half (two points on four attempts).
“There was no change schematically,” Knight
said of his squad’s defense on Roland. “Huge credit to Luke Loewe —
probably one of the best on-ball defenders I’ve ever seen in my life. It was him
on top of a group of guys out there determined to stop him. Jordan Roland is a
dynamic scorer, scores the ball in a bunch of ways. One of the biggest things
for us was making him uncomfortable and having a crowded floor when he did get
the ball in space. Make him get the ball out, make the secondary guys beat us.”
That said, Roland’s effort was not without
While the win kept William & Mary
atop the conference standings with an 8–2 record (16–7 overall), the Huskies
dropped to 5–5 (11–11 overall). With Delaware and Drexel not playing Thursday, the
Huskies assumed sole possession of seventh place.
Some measures would indicate the Huskies are better than that. Their average margin (6.8 points) in conference play is still best in the CAA, and their five losses have come by a combined nine points (Thursday’s one-point loss follows four two-point losses). But even the admittedly small ten-game conference sample indicates that the Huskies are struggling to execute at the end of games, an issue they’ll need to resolve given the CAA’s preposterous parity this season.
“It’s frustrating to be this close,”
Coen said. “We’ve been around the block here and there’s nobody in this league
that we can’t compete with . . . it should have been more than a one-possession
The Huskies will travel a couple
hundred miles south for a Saturday tilt against the Elon Phoenix. Milton Posner
and Adam Doucette will call that game, with coverage beginning at 3:45 PM EST.
Entering Saturday’s games, three CAA men’s basketball teams boasted undefeated
records. Two of those teams, Northeastern and Charleston, were of no surprise
to most CAA followers. But you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who predicted
the third team would be where they are.
The William & Mary Tribe, with long-time head coach
Tony Shaver freshly fired and four of five starters from last year
transferring, were projected to finish seventh in the conference in the
preseason coaches and media poll. After an impressive non-conference run and a
2–0 start to the CAA slate — including a 27-point destruction of
preseason-favorite Hofstra — no one is picking them that low anymore.
Northeastern looked to leave a black mark on that résumé
while adding to their own as the two teams faced off in Matthews Arena Saturday
evening. In a back-and-forth affair that came right down to the final
possession, the Huskies — and Tyson Walker’s last-second half court heave —
came up just short as the Tribe came away with their second-straight statement
win over a conference heavyweight.
After a quick William & Mary (11–5, 3–0 CAA) burst to
begin the game, Northeastern (9–7, 3–1 CAA) found their groove and evened the
game at nine points apiece heading into the first media timeout. This theme
would persist for most of the first half, with the two sides trading runs.
Trailing 21–15 a little over halfway through the first frame, the Huskies went
on a 12–0 scoring spree to take a six-point lead.
Not to be
outdone, the Tribe answered with their own 12–0 burst to close the half,
spurred by seven points from seven-foot Wisconsin transfer Andy Van Vliet.
While Van Vliet scored 11 points in the first half,
his partner-in-crime on the low block — reigning All-CAA First Teamer Nathan
Knight — was relatively quiet, scoring just six points on two-for-five
Knight struggle, you may ask? Two words: Max Boursiquot. The 6’5”, 210-pound
redshirt junior gave up five inches and 25 pounds to Knight, but more than
matched the star forward’s strength. Boursiquot battled on the block all half,
keeping Knight in check and drawing a pair of fouls that kept Knight on the
bench for the final 5:32 of the frame. He got it done offensively as well,
pouring in a team-high eight points in the first half.
Husky head coach Bill Coen praised Boursiquot’s play,
saying, “Max is a strong, aggressive kid. He’s got a low center of gravity and
he’s a competitor. He’s not afraid to stick his nose in there, he’s not afraid
of contact. I thought he did an admirable job on him. It’s a tall task; Nathan
Knight could start for a lot of Power Five teams.”
The teams continued their tug-of-war in the second half,
with William & Mary taking advantage of their slight head start to keep
Northeastern at bay. A 14–2 Tribe run boosted their lead to 14 points,
threatening to blow the game wide open as they did against Hofstra.
Roland was struggling from the field and had just seven points, and it looked
like the Huskies were out of answers. Coen pulled Roland in favor of grad
transfer Guilien Smith, who has played sparingly this season.
“Guilien is an outstanding teammate. He’s one of the most
well-liked guys in our locker room, provides great energy every day in practice,”
Coen said of his decision. “We were a little flat. Nothing against Jordan, but
[Guilien plays] his position and I felt like we needed a spark, we needed to
change the energy on the floor.”
The move paid off, and the Huskies went on a 21–7 run over
the next eight minutes to tie the game at 64. The largest contributor was
Shaquille Walters, who scored 12 of those 21 points, including an and-one layup
with 13 seconds left to even the score and send Matthews Arena into a frenzy.
After running the clock down to five seconds and taking a
timeout, William & Mary gave the ball to Nathan Knight looking for the
game-winner. After losing the ball on a drive to the hoop, Knight regained
control, rose up, and nailed a tough, contested layup to take the lead with
just over a second left.
Northeastern had to inbound the ball from full court, and Walker’s
65-foot heave hit both the front and back of the rim, but wouldn’t fall as the
Tribe escaped with the 66–64 victory.
Walters and Bolden Brace scored 15 points each to lead the
Huskies, combining for 14 rebounds, four assists, and three steals. Roland tied
his season low with seven points (3–14 FG, 1–5 3FG) and, for the first time all
season, ceded his position as the CAA’s top scorer. He now trails Charleston’s
Grant Riller, who scored 31 points against James Madison on Saturday and is
averaging 26 points across four conference games.
Knight recorded his nation-leading 12th double-double,
finishing with 23 points and 11 boards to lead all players in both categories.
Van Vliet chipped in 15 points and six rebounds of his own.
“It’s tough to say that you’re happy when they shoot 55
percent from the floor, but we generated 17 turnovers and we had to be in a
scramble mode because they had such a size advantage on us,” Coen said. “We had
to give help in the post, so we were constantly rotating. Those situations
either generated turnovers and runouts for us or baskets for them. They shot
the ball well from three, their high–low post attack is very effective, and
Nathan Knight’s a special player. He’s without a doubt one of the top five
players in our league.”
The Huskies will face more stiff competition when they play
the Hofstra Pride on Thursday. WRBB will call the game, with coverage beginning
at 7:45 PM EST.
With the CAA’s conference slate beginning today, WRBB examined the non-conference performances of all 10 CAA teams and ranked them from worst to best. The rankings are based on each team’s record and strength of schedule, with occasional deviations if a deep dive into a team’s schedule, margins of victory, or statistics warranted one.
CAA teams played 125 non-conference games and won 68 for a winning
percentage of .544. Their average opponent, as determined by KenPom’s strength
of schedule metric, was very slightly below the Division I average.
They also spent a sizeable chunk of the last six weeks bludgeoning Division II and III squads. Eight CAA teams won a game by 40 or more points, with three teams winning by 60 or more. The largest margin of victory went to the Towson Tigers, who flattened Division III Bryn Athyn by 69 points. Only Northeastern’s biggest blowout — a 57-point laugher against Holy Cross— came against a Division I team.
Though a comment or prediction is given for each team’s
upcoming schedule, the rankings reflect only how the teams performed in their
completed non-conference games. Each section is prefaced with the team’s record,
strength of schedule rank (compared to other CAA teams), head coach, and, just
for kicks, the player with the best name along with an explanation for why.
With that said . . .
#10: Elon Phoenix
Non-Conference Record: 4–9
Strength of Schedule Rank: Fourth
Head Coach: Mike Schrage (first season)
Best Player Name: Federico Poser — fun to say whether you
pronounce it correctly or not
This is not to say that Elon had no bright spots in the season’s first six weeks. Stanford grad transfer Marcus Sheffield emerged as a premier scorer, posting 17 points per game to go along with five rebounds and three assists.
Freshmen Hunter Woods and Hunter McIntosh were also pleasant
surprises for a team that lost its top five scorers from last year. Both are
averaging double figures in scoring and shooting more than 40 percent form
downtown. Woods also leads the team in rebounding.
The Phoenix even managed to hang with No. 5 UNC for the
first 20 minutes of their November 20 matchup, despite the Tar Heels entering
as 30 ½-point favorites. Though UNC pulled away at the start of the second
half, the Phoenix faithful could take some small comfort in Sheffield’s poster
slam over former CAA standout Justin Pierce.
But the good news ends there for Elon. The UNC loss was one piece
of a six-game losing streak. Of their four non-conference wins, two came
against Division II teams, one against a Division III squad, and one against a Kennesaw
State club ranked 342 out of 353 Division I teams.
The Phoenix are last in the CAA in offense and scoring
margin, and are the only squad shooting below 40 percent from the floor. They
are last in offensive rebounds and rebounding margin. Their sole saving grace
is their three-point shooting; they are the only CAA club making more than 10
threes per game and are fourth in three-point percentage. But even then there
is a downside; they are worst in the conference at defending the three.
The emergence of Woods and McIntosh as scoring threats is welcome news for first-year coach Mike Schrage. But Elon’s lack of depth and veteran talent is evident. Given that the team finished with the CAA’s worst non-conference record despite multiple players exceeding expectations, it’s hard to imagine they can pose a threat during conference play.
#9: UNCW Seahawks
Non-Conference Record: 5–8
Strength of Schedule Rank: Third
Head Coach: C.B. McGrath (third season)
Best Player Name: Brian Tolefree — you don’t have to pay for
If the William & Mary Tribe were the CAA program most ravaged in the offseason — four of their top five scorers fled to other schools after the dismissal of longtime head coach Tony Shaver — then UNCW was the program most ravaged in non-conference play.
Though the Seahawks weren’t expected to shine much after the
graduation of monster forward Devontae Cacok and the transfer of junior
standout Jeantal Cylla, they at least had a few exciting pieces to fuel coach
C.B. McGrath’s up-tempo offense.
The first domino to fall was sharpshooting junior guard and
leading returning scorer Ty Gadsden, who began the season sidelined by injury,
played December 7 against Charlotte, and hasn’t played since. The team confirmed
he is out indefinitely, indicating that he may return sometime this season. The
same cannot be said for fellow junior guard Jay Estimé, who injured his knee,
went under the knife, and will miss the rest of the season. The injuries, when
combined with the departure of grad transfer Carter Skaggs in November, gutted
a Seahawks’ roster struggling for experience (the Seahawks are one of seven Division
I teams without a senior).
But the last and largest domino fell after the team’s
non-conference closer against Vanderbilt on December 21, when sophomore point
guard Kai Toews informed McGrath and his staff that he is leaving the program. McGrath
called the announcement a “total surprise.” The team said Toews planned to pursue
a professional basketball career in his native Japan; Toews announced on
Twitter that he was “thinking of going on a professional path or transferring.”
Toews said previously that he would like to compete for the Japanese national
team at the FIBA World Cup and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Though he was averaging just five points, four rebounds, and
three assists this year, Toews was a crucial component of the team’s future. Although
he wasn’t a major scoring threat, he was named to the CAA All-Rookie Team last
year after breaking the conference record with 253 assists.
In their stead, sophomore guard Jaylen Sims has picked up
some slack, leading the team in points (15) and rebounds (6) per game while
shooting a CAA-best 47 percent from behind the arc.
Sophomore forward Martin Linssen has also chipped in,
logging 10 points and four rebounds per game in his first season with the
Seahawks after transferring from Valparaiso. But the biggest surprise has been
six-foot freshman guard Shykeim Phillips, who is averaging nine points per
contest on 49 percent shooting. Though he isn’t scoring from the perimeter, he
uses a smorgasbord of quick hesitations, jukes, and handles to dart to the
basket for layups. Phillips began the season off the bench, but earned a
starting spot several weeks in.
But, like Elon’s, most of UNCW’s five wins have come against
Division III teams, with Campbell and FIU as the only DI victories. The four
departures and injuries are reflected in the CAA-worst five-game losing streak
they take into conference play. Their typically high-octane offense keeps their
scoring, field goal percentage, three-point percentage, and assists in the CAA’s
top five, but their field goal, three-point, and scoring defense all rank
Even if Ty Gadsden returns for a good chunk of conference play, enough damage has been done to put the Seahawks in contention with the Phoenix for the CAA’s bottom spot.
#8: Drexel Dragons
Non-Conference Record: 7–6
Strength of Schedule Rank: Sixth
Head Coach: Zach Spiker (fourth season)
Best Player Name: Coletrane Washington — greatest jazz name
of all time
Like Elon and UNCW, Drexel needed to replace a mix of graduates (Trevor John, Troy Harper) and transfers (Alihan Demir). The three combined to average more than half of the team’s points last season.
Unlike Elon and UNCW, Drexel has maintained enough healthy
talent to post a winning record in non-conference play.
The biggest component behind the Dragons’ success has been
the miraculous progression of senior guard/forward Zach Walton, who jumped to
Drexel from Edmonds Community College (not in the NCAA) and played just seven
games last year before an injury ended his season. Walton had a breakout night in
the team’s third game against Abilene Christian, dropping 22 points and sinking
the game-winning three after reigning CAA Rookie of the Year Camren Wynter was
denied the ball.
Ten days later, he dropped a season-high 32 points in a win
over Bryant. Though Walton’s 28 percent clip from downtown leaves much to be
desired, his 13 points per game are keying a Drexel offense badly in need of
scoring punch. His four boards per night and a steady series of highlights aren’t
too shabby either.
Wynter and James Butler sit right behind Walton in the
scoring column with 12 points per game. Both lead the CAA in a key category,
Butler in rebounds (11.5 a game) and Wynter in assists (5.8). Butler’s inside
presence is by far the biggest reason for Drexel’s strong rebounding margin,
the third-best in the CAA.
But Drexel lacks both an elite scorer and a deep, balanced roster of offensive options, which will likely spell trouble in conference play. Their offense and defense both ranked eighth in non-conference play, and though their assist and three-point defense stats led the conference, they need to find another gear to exceed preseason expectations. They also need to figure out how to win away from home; they won five of their six contests in Philadelphia but lost all five road games.
#7: Northeastern Huskies
Non-Conference Record: 6–6
Strength of Schedule Rank: Eighth
Head Coach: Bill Coen (14th season)
Best Player Name: Greg Eboigbodin — save for the word “boing,”
there’s no better way to describe the motion and feel of a trampoline
It’s surprising to see the Huskies this far down on the list, especially given that their scoring margin ranked third in the conference. But a .500 record and the third-weakest strength of schedule leaves them here.
That said, their bright spot was brighter than anyone else’s.
In the season’s first few games, senior guard Jordan Roland torched every
defense he saw, leading the nation in scoring and forcing his name into
national conversations, award watchlists, and ESPN segments. He infuriated
defenses with a flurry of difficult lefty floaters and overwhelmed them with
twisting, drifting, contested threes from distances where no one in their right
mind would think to shoot a basketball.
Roland’s best game came in an 84–79 win against Harvard on
November 8. He scored 11 points in the game’s first three minutes en route to a
42-point firestorm that shattered the single-game school record held by Husky
legends J.J. Barea and Reggie Lewis.
Though he tailed off somewhat as the season progressed, his
22.4 points per game still lead the CAA and rank seventh in the nation. His marks
of 51 percent from the floor, 43 percent from three, and 93 percent from the
foul line are all preposterous, and rank as the conference’s fourth-best, second-best,
and best, respectively. He is also second in the conference in minutes per game
(37.3) and has established himself as the clear favorite for CAA Player of the
Year ahead of Delaware’s Nate Darling and Charleston’s Grant Riller.
Tyson Walker, Max Boursiquot, and Shaq Walters have stepped
up at various times, giving hope that the Husky offense can become more
balanced. Walker in particular has exceeded expectations, starting every game and
taking the offensive keys from graduating guard Vasa Pusica.
But the consistency hasn’t been there. Senior guard/forward
Bolden Brace, who was expected to be the team’s second scoring option behind
Roland, has shot efficiently but hasn’t scored in volume, logging double
figures in just four of the team’s 12 games. Without reliable scoring from him,
Northeastern will be hard-pressed to remain a top-three CAA team.
The team also suffered from injuries to big men; 6’8” Tomas
Murphy has missed the last eight games with an ankle injury and 6’10” Greg
Eboigbodin has missed the last two. Though there have been some fine
performances in their stead — namely back-to-back double-doubles by 6’5”
utility man Max Boursiquot — the lack of size has presented problems for the
Huskies. Though their CAA-worst rebounding numbers are partially attributable
to their having the slowest pace in the conference, their challenges in
crashing the boards without Murphy and Eboigbodin have often hampered their
ability to build and maintain momentum in games.
The Huskies excelled from the outside, nailing a CAA-best 41
percent of their three-pointers, with their three most frequent perimeter
shooters all shooting between 42 and 44 percent. They also sank 82 percent of
their free throws, easily the best mark in the conference. But they allow the CAA’s
highest field goal percentage, in large part due to the shortcomings of their
The Huskies’ non-conference slate left plenty for coach Bill Coen to be optimistic about. But offensive inconsistency, namely from players not named Jordan Roland, left the Huskies with a .500 record when they could have fared much better.
#6: Towson Tigers
Non-Conference Record: 6–6
Strength of Schedule Rank: Second
Head Coach: Pat Skerry (ninth season)
Best Player Name: Demetrius Mims — m’s in all the right
Last year, Towson struggled mightily, winning less than a third of their games while trying to incorporate 11 new players. This year, with 90 percent of their scoring and 86 percent of their rebounding from last year returning, the Tigers have a much better chance to develop.
Towson finished with the same 6–6 record as Northeastern,
but Towson had a higher strength of schedule. Oddly enough, their most
encouraging moment was a loss. Despite entering a mid-November game against the
No. 15 Florida Gators as 18 ½-point underdogs, the Tigers kept the game close
throughout. The clubs were tied with 80 seconds left before Florida salvaged a
As expected, senior guard Brian Fobbs has keyed the Towson
attack, averaging 17 points and five boards a night. However, his relatively
low efficiency marks (41 percent from the field, 29 percent from three) will
have to rise before he can join the elite tier of CAA scorers.
Sophomore guard Allen Betrand and senior forwards Nakye
Sanders and Dennis Tunstall have continued their solid offensive production
from last year. But all three will need to up their production before Towson
can take the next step.
The Tigers’ reliably scrappy, energetic defense has shown up
this year; they allow a CAA-best 65.4 points per game and boast the second-best
rebounding margin and third-best steal total. But they don’t rank near the top
of the conference in any meaningful offensive category and only Fobbs qualifies
as any sort of offensive standout.
Their excellent defense can only take them so far, and if Towson wishes to capitalize on the senior seasons of Fobbs, Tunstall, and Sanders, the entire team needs to boost its scoring.
#5: Charleston Cougars
Non-Conference Record: 6–6
Strength of Schedule Rank: First
Head Coach: Earl Grant (sixth season)
Best Player Name: Zep Jasper — plenty of powerful plosives
Charleston is a general consensus top-three CAA team that finished 6–6 in non-conference play. At first glance, this might lead to comparisons with Northeastern, but Charleston had a decidedly superior non-conference slate.
Though they suffered blowout defeats at the hands of
Oklahoma State and Central Florida, their other four losses were by
single-digit margins to good teams: Central Florida again, Wake Forest,
Richmond, and VCU. The Cougars fought through the most difficult non-conference
schedule of any CAA team and emerged with plenty to be happy about.
They are led by senior guard and CAA Preseason Player of the
Year Grant Riller, who is logging 21 points, four rebounds, and four assists per
night. His scoring mark is good for third in the CAA (20th in the
nation) and his field goal and free throw percentages are both top five in the
conference. His scoring is coming in the same way it did last year: subpar
three-point shooting and a sky-high percentage around the rim.
On November 29, Riller keyed a win over Providence and
passed former teammate Jarrell Brantley for third on the school’s all-time
scoring list. Two weeks later, he notched his 2,000th collegiate point.
That said, there is room for Riller to improve, particularly
regarding his 26 percent mark from three-point land. He’s had a strong season,
but at his best he is the conference’s greatest scorer and arguably its top
player overall. He hasn’t hit his ceiling yet.
The Cougars lack a clear second scoring option behind
Riller, but junior guard Brevin Galloway and senior forwards Jaylen McManus and
Sam Miller have all assumed larger roles in the offense. Miller in particular
has stood out, notching seven points and seven rebounds per contest thanks in
part to moderately efficient perimeter shooting.
The Cougars boast a strong defense, led by a combined four
steals per game from Riller and Galloway. Though their CAA-worst perimeter shooting
badly warrants improvement, many of their other low ranks in team stats
compared to other CAA squads can be explained away by their slow pace of play
and the tough competition they’ve faced so far.
Their record isn’t fantastic, and there is room for improvement up and down the roster. But don’t be fooled; this Cougars team is still dangerous.
#4: James Madison Dukes
Non-Conference Record: 7–4
Strength of Schedule Rank: Seventh
Head Coach: Louis Rowe (third season)
Best Player Name: Michael Christmas — because Christmas time
At the outset of the season, James Madison appeared poised to snap a streak of three consecutive losing seasons, and they haven’t disappointed so far.
Leading the way is junior guard Matt Lewis, who ranks fifth
in the conference in points (18), rebounds (7), and minutes (35) per game, and
adds a third-best five assists per game as well. He’s taken the lead on a team
with no seniors in the regular rotation.
His backcourt partner and fellow junior Darius Banks is
faring almost as well, averaging 14 points (on 41 percent from downtown) and
five boards a night. He has also continued his thievery from last year, swiping
the ball 1.6 times per contest.
And if that wasn’t enough junior talent, try 6’8”, 250-pound
junior forward Dwight Wilson, who missed the first four games of the season but
has averaged a double-double since. Or junior forward Zach Jacobs, who chips in
eight points and six boards a game.
But the performance nobody saw coming, especially with so
many returning offensive centerpieces, is freshman forward Michael Christmas,
who is putting up nine points and six rebounds per game, shooting a comical 46
percent from three on decent volume, and has established himself as a one-man
The Dukes’ team stats require a bit of context to decipher.
At first glance, their counting stats and percentage stats appear to tell
opposing stories. This is explained by the team’s pace of play, easily the
fastest in the conference. The Dukes have the 26th-fastest pace out
of 353 Division I teams; the next closest CAA team is Hofstra, nearly 100 spots
down the list.
More possessions mean that the Dukes score more and give up
more points, skewing their counting stats. The percentage stats tell a more accurate
story. James Madison is eighth in the CAA in field goal and three-point
percentage; save for Banks and Christmas, the regular three-point shooters are
converting less than a third of their tries. They also struggled from the
charity stripe, making just 65 percent of their free throws.
The Dukes shone on defense, limiting opponents to the lowest
field goal percentage and second-lowest three-point percentage of any CAA team.
They also led the conference in blocks.
The Dukes’ offense has a high ceiling and is likely to improve as the season progresses. But it is their defense that has turned heads, going from a middle-of-the-pack unit last year to — along with Towson — the conference’s best so far this year. If they can overcome the offensive hole left by the graduation of Stuckey Mosley, the Dukes can join the CAA’s top tier.
#3: Hofstra Pride
Non-Conference Record: 9–4
Strength of Schedule Rank: Tenth
Head Coach: Joe Mihalich (seventh season)
Best Player Name: Stafford Trueheart — no idea why he’s playing
basketball instead of commanding the English army in the 12th
Hofstra begin their non-conference schedule with a mandate (a first-place finish in the CAA Preseason Poll) and the question of how to replace the offense of graduating guard Justin Wright-Foreman, the two-time reigning CAA Player of the Year and arguably the best scorer the conference has seen in years?
But, as it turns out, you can lose Wright-Foreman and still
have the best and deepest backcourt in the conference. It begins with a pair of
seniors: Eli Pemberton and Desure Buie.
The pair have remarkably similar numbers. Pemberton averages
17.1 points per game, good for sixth in the conference; Buie’s 16.6 points rank
eighth. Pemberton is third in minutes per game with 35.6; Buie is right behind
him at 35.5. Pemberton averages six rebounds per contest; Buie notches six assists,
good for second in the conference. Buie has also retained the defensive
brilliance that won him CAA Defensive Player of the Year last year; he leads
the conference with 2.7 steals a night.
Junior guards Jalen Ray and Tareq Coburn round out the backcourt,
averaging a combined 18 points and 11 rebounds. Coburn’s seven rebounds per
contest lead the team, while Ray has been the most efficient scorer among the Hofstra
guards, shooting 41 percent from downtown.
Sophomore forward/center Isaac Kante, who sat out last
season after transferring from Georgia, has established himself on a squad short
on rebounding and defensive presence down low. He is averaging nine points on
61 percent shooting to go along with seven rebounds.
The Pride also scored the biggest win of any CAA team so far
this season. On November 21, they walked into Pauley Pavilion and toppled UCLA.
Keyed by 29 points from Buie and 27 from Ray, Hofstra came
back from a 13-point first-half deficit to take the game 88–78. It was the
Bruins’ first loss of the year and one of the biggest wins in program history
The Pride are the best-scoring offense in the CAA so far,
though their numbers are inflated by their relatively fast pace of play and
their strength of schedule, which was the weakest of any CAA team. Their four
main guards are all among the conference’s ten best free throw shooters, with
Buie’s 91 percent second only to Northeastern’s Jordan Roland. The team as a
whole knocks down 78 percent of their foul shots, second only to Northeastern’s
82 percent. The Pride have the most steals, most offensive rebounds, and best
assist-to-turnover ratio of any CAA team.
Hofstra’s biggest causes for concern inside depth (as
evidenced by their middle-of-the-pack rebounding numbers) and efficiency — they
ranked seventh in field goal percentage and three-point percentage.
The Pride enter conference play riding a three-game winning streak. They have a quartet of guards that can outpace anyone. If they can find the efficiency and inside play buttons, they will be an imposing bunch.
#2: William & Mary Tribe
Non-Conference Record: 8–5
Strength of Schedule Rank: Fifth
Head Coach: Dane Fischer (first season)
Best Player Name: Thatcher Stone — if people were once again
named after their professions, you’d hire him to build you a sturdy house
This one was a surprise.
A month after their CAA Tournament exit last season, the
Tribe looked like a bomb had hit them. Tony Shaver, their coach of 16 years, had
been fired. Justin Pierce, Matt Milon, Chase Audige, and LJ Owens — four of the
team’s five leading scorers who had a combined eight years of eligibility
remaining — had transferred. Leading scorer Nathan Knight was thinking about
bailing on his senior season and declaring for the NBA draft.
New head coach Dane Fischer walked into this mess and pulled
everything together. The Tribe posted the CAA’s fourth-best winning percentage
in non-conference play; the three teams ahead of them had considerably weaker
It begins, as any William & Mary conversation inevitably
does, with Knight. When he decided to return for his senior season, the Tribe
retained the conference’s best big man and, along with Charleston’s Grant
Riller, a solid candidate for Player of the Year. He hasn’t disappointed,
posting nightly averages of 20 points and 10 rebounds, with his 56 percent mark
from the field and 1.5 blocks per game leading the conference. Along with
Northeastern’s Jordan Roland, Knight was named to the watchlist for the Oscar
Robertson Trophy, given annually to college basketball’s best player.
As spectacular as Knight has been, his elite play was
expected. What wasn’t as expected was the establishment of senior center Andy
Van Vliet as an elite two-way player. The seven-foot Wisconsin transfer is
averaging 15 points and 10 rebounds a night, the latter tied with the 6’10” Knight
for second-best in the conference. His is sixth in the conference in field goal
percentage and blocks.
Good shooters are not hard to come by in the CAA; good
shooters who are seven feet tall are rare. Both Knight and Van Vliet can space
the floor, nailing 35 and 39 percent of their threes, respectively. This allows
Fischer to play a twin towers lineup without sacrificing perimeter shooting,
creating matchup and switching nightmares even for well-balanced defenses.
The Tribe also have benefitted from a pair of guards: grad
transfer Bryce Barnes and junior Luke Loewe. Barnes is averaging eight points,
three rebounds, and four assists a night in his first and only season for the
Tribe after three years playing for Milwaukee. Loewe has taken a gigantic step
forward, upping his production and efficiency across the board. He’s averaging
11 points a night on a hyper-efficient 53 percent shooting from the floor and
47 percent from downtown.
Sophomore guard Thornton Scott has missed nine straight games
with a lower leg injury. In the four games he played — all of which the Tribe
won — he showed tremendous progress from last year, averaging 13 points, five
rebounds, and four assists with an absurd 52 percent clip from downtown. If he
returns soon, it will add another weapon to an already well-stocked arsenal.
The Tribe won their first four games out of the gate, three
of which came on the road. One of those wins came against Wofford, courtesy of
a game-winning layup by Barnes. Before Barnes’s shot dropped, Wofford had won
its last 17 home games in a row.
Fischer has picked up his predecessor’s tendency for a
relatively even distribution of minutes. Van Vliet leads the team with just 30
per game, trailed closely by Knight and Loewe. It begs the question of what
happens if Fischer decides to up their minutes, leaving opponents to face his
twin towers for longer stretches.
William & Mary’s team stats reveal no obvious weaknesses
so far. Their scoring, assist rate, points allowed, margin of victory, field
goal percentage, field goal defense, and three-point percentage all fall
between third and fifth. They rank second in defensive rebounds and blocks, and
first in rebounding margin. Even their bottom-half offensive rebounding and
three-point defense aren’t far off from respectable levels.
Entering the season, the Tribe were a question mark, with Knight projected to dominate but nothing else assured. With non-conference play complete, the Tribe have joined the CAA’s top tier and have as good a shot at the CAA title as anyone.
#1: Delaware Blue Hens
Non-Conference Record: 10–3
Strength of Schedule Rank: Ninth
Head Coach: Martin Inglesby (fourth season)
Best Player Name: Nate Darling — any Delaware fans who think
he’s cute have an easy poster idea waiting for them
December 3, 2019. Hofstra, the winner of the CAA Preseason Poll, was 6–3. Northeastern, the defending conference champion, was 4–4.
The Delaware Blue Hens, who most preseason observers had
placed outside the CAA’s top tier, were undefeated, winners of nine straight
games. And though they fell to earth by losing three of their next four to
close non-conference play, the statement had been made: Delaware is the team to
beat in the CAA.
Although many had high expectations for junior guard and UAB
transfer Nate Darling, he has outplayed those expectations and then some. His
21.4 points per game are second only to Northeastern’s Jordan Roland and rank
16th in the nation. He has played more minutes and made more threes
than anyone in the CAA, and his stellar three-point percentage of 42 ranks
third. Throw in his four rebounds and three assists per contest, and Delaware has
the best CAA transfer since Northeastern nabbed Vasa Pusica from San Diego.
But because one excellent transfer isn’t enough, the Blue
Hens have another: sophomore forward Justyn Mutts. In his first season with
Delaware after leaving High Point, Mutts is logging 14 points per game on 53
percent shooting (second in the conference to Nathan Knight) and 9.6 rebounds
(fourth in the conference). As if that weren’t enough, his highlights are
Now, for the returning play . . . what? They have another transfer?
He’s from Villanova? He’s 6’10”? He dropped 19 points in his Delaware debut?
Sure, why not? This might as well happen.
Dylan Painter is a midseason transfer, so he only recently
became eligible, playing in Delaware’s final two non-conference games. The Blue
Hens won nine games in a row, then added a major piece to compliment Mutts down
And finally we turn our attention to returning junior guards
Ryan Allen and Kevin Anderson. Both have long been ticketed for CAA stardom but
have seen serious injuries impede their progress. They’re healthy now, and at
the perfect time. They have similar numbers: double-digit scoring, a field goal
percentage in the high 40s, and a three-point percentage around 40 percent.
The Blue Hens are third in scoring, points allowed, field goal and three-point defense, and defensive rebounds. They lead the conference in scoring margin, field goal percentage, and assist-to-turnover ratio. Though they ultimately fell 78–70 to No. 20 Villanova, they proved they could hang around against a superior team. In the season’s fourth game, Painter and Anderson combined for 69 points.
Last year, Delaware finished with a losing conference record
and lost in the semifinal round of the CAA Tournament. Now they’re stacked, and
the road to the conference’s March Madness bid goes through them.
On March 10, 2019, the College of William & Mary let a
16-point lead slip through their fingers in the CAA Tournament quarterfinal.
The Delaware Blue Hens went to the next round; the Tribe went home.
But the future was bright. The Tribe had a versatile lineup
with good shooters and a strong inside presence. They were CAA title contenders.
Three days later, it all began to unravel. The team
announced that Tony Shaver, the Tribe’s head coach for 16 years, had been
When she was hired two years ago, Athletic Director Samantha
Huge conducted an internal review of the team. She declined to elaborate on why
Shaver was dismissed, instead alluding to “concerns on and off the court” and
not liking how the program was “trending.” She did cite a lack of NCAA
Tournament appearances (W&M is one of four original Division I teams to
never appear in the NCAA Tournament).
Shaver is the winningest coach in program history despite
his losing record (226–268). He won CAA Coach of the Year in 2008 and 2010 and
took the Tribe to four CAA Finals, but a championship eluded him. Shaver
enjoyed regular season success in recent years; from 2013 to 2018 he posted
five consecutive winning seasons, the first such streak in program history.
W&M’s 64–42 record over the last six seasons is tied with Northeastern for
best in the CAA.
The fallout from the firing was swift. Though CAA first teamer
Nathan Knight likely would have explored the NBA Draft regardless, Shaver’s
firing undoubtedly motivated Justin Pierce, Matt Milon, Chase Audige, and LJ
Owens — the Tribe’s second, third, fourth, and fifth-leading scorers,
respectively — to transfer. The quartet accounted for 59 percent of the team’s
points and 49 percent of its rebounds and assists last year. New coach Dane
Fischer tried to keep the team together but could only watch as his core
Knight forgoing the NBA draft is the only thing keeping
W&M from rock bottom. Last year, he posted 21 points, nine rebounds, and
four assists per game, and blocked twice as many shots as all but one CAA
player. He was second in the conference in field goal percentage. He was the
conference’s third-leading scorer and sixth-leading rebounder despite playing
fewer minutes per game (30) than most other CAA stars.
Given the graduation of four of last season’s six CAA first teamers,
and given the increased touches he’ll likely see after his teammates’ exodus,
Knight — along with Charleston’s Grant Riller — is a favorite to win CAA Player
of the Year.
Andy Van Vliet, a 7’0” senior transfer from the University
of Wisconsin, will pair with Knight in the frontcourt. Though Van Vliet has a
perimeter scoring touch, his and Knight’s play down low is the only area where
the Tribe are likely to outplay opponents.
The rest of the squad is lacking in most important respects. After Knight, the most statistically significant returning player is junior guard Luke Loewe, who squeezed out four points, two rebounds, and two assists per game last year as a starter. The new recruits — four freshmen and two grad transfers — will have to overperform just for W&M to match their performance from last season, when they hovered around the CAA average in most stat categories.
Bottom Line: Nathan Knight is a likely 2020 NBA draft choice, and it will be fun to watch him wail on CAA big men for another season. But with the bulk of their 2018–19 offense now playing elsewhere — and the increased defensive pressure on Knight as teams swarm him down low — the Tribe’s benchwarmers and freshmen will have to pick up major slack. W&M is unlikely to escape the depths of the conference standings.