CAA Men’s Basketball Has Gone Completely Insane

By Milton Posner

If you took a shot every time a CAA coach, player, or commentator said the word “parity,” you’d probably wake up the next morning with a raging hangover, an empty wallet, a lower-back butterfly tattoo, and no clue how you wound up two cities over.

It’s entirely justified. The Hofstra Pride, last year’s regular season champion, finished just one game ahead of the second-place Northeastern Huskies. The last-place UNCW Seahawks finished just one game below James Madison and Towson. The year before, Charleston and Northeastern tied for first, with four teams — Elon, Drexel, Delaware, and James Madison — tied for last.

This is the definition of parity: few outliers. In any given year, a handful of the CAA’s ten teams have a legitimate chance at the conference championship and the automatic March Madness berth that comes with it.

The conclusion of Saturday’s games marked the halfway point of the conference season. Each team has played every other team once, with the distribution of home and away games as even as possible. A cursory glance shows the parity we’ve come to expect; three teams boast 6–3 records and three more boast 5–4 records.

But a deeper dive reveals something completely different. This is not just parity; this is insanity.

Whether by pure chance or the interference of a few rogue basketball gods looking for a laugh, the Colonial Athletic Association’s men’s basketball teams have spent the last month setting, then destroying, the expectations of fans and analysts. By way of a midseason roundup, I’ll try to make sense of the ongoing tornado, beginning with . . .

Game-Winners

Let’s define “game-winner” as a field goal made within the last 10 seconds that gives a team a lead they don’t relinquish. The six game-winners in CAA play have produced two storylines.

The first, and the less interesting of the two, is how often Hofstra is involved. Four of their nine games have been decided by game-winners, with the Pride winning twice and losing twice.

The second, more interesting storyline is the convergence of Northeastern and Delaware.

The Huskies began conference play with wins over Towson, James Madison, and Elon by a combined margin of 41 points. Delaware stalled, losing four of their first six CAA contests in a surprising turnaround for a team that won the most non-conference games of any CAA squad. But game-winners would quickly swing each team’s fortunes.

For Northeastern, last-second shots proved fatal. The first one, a forced layup from William & Mary star Nathan Knight on January 4, handed the Huskies their first conference loss.

Five days later, Hofstra star Eli Pemberton decided that one Husky loss on a last-second lefty layup wasn’t enough, and did it to them again. This time a national television audience got to see it.

The following week, Delaware, by this point trending toward the conference cellar, found themselves in a dogfight with bottom-tier Elon. Ryan Allen drove, drew three defenders, and found infrequent three-point shooter Jacob Cushing atop the arc for the decider.

One game later, Kevin Anderson launched himself to the top of SportsCenter’s nightly top 10 when he fielded an inbounds pass, swerved around reigning Defensive Player of the Year Desure Buie, and drove the length of the court for the layup that gave his team a win. Tyus Edney was probably smiling somewhere.

So when the two teams met on Saturday, and when Delaware steadily closed the lead in the second half, you’d be forgiven for assuming a dramatic ending was in store. Would Delaware’s third consecutive game-winner hand Northeastern their third last-second loss in as many weeks? Would Northeastern flip the script on the Blue Hens (and the rest of the CAA) with their own season-defining moment?

Neither. Delaware finally tied the game at 67 with 3:55 remaining. Of the 16 points scored between then and the final buzzer, 10 came from the free-throw line. The last field goal splashed through with 1:53 still left on the clock. When Tyson Walker tried to drive for a game-tying basket with five seconds left, he stumbled and coughed up the ball. The final score — 76–74 in Delaware’s favor — was the product of a sluggish march toward an uncertain conclusion. A game ripe for fireworks fizzled instead.

It’s unreasonable to expect juicy, coherent, fulfilling storylines after just nine conference games. But these squads had polar opposite game-winner storylines. The way the first 35 minutes of Saturday’s game played out inspired hope that a dramatic finish was in order. When such a finish failed to materialize, it was easy to wonder whether the storyline was over. Or, just maybe, the narrative letdown was in itself a story.

But those who require a different sort of absurdity are in luck because . . .

The CAA’s Blowouts Make No Sense

A blowout is defined here as a game decided by a margin of 20 or more points. There were five blowouts in the first half of CAA play.

As with the game-winners, there are two we will ignore because they are of incidental concern. This is primarily because both games — a 27-point Hofstra win on January 4 and a 22-point Drexel win on January 16 — came against the Elon Phoenix, who sit in ninth place and haven’t finished a season higher than seventh place in three years. Especially given that they graduated most of their key players last year, it is understandable that stronger teams can run up the score on them. It is the other three blowouts that make no sense.

On January 2, William & Mary stormed into Hofstra’s house and knocked off the reigning regular-season champions 88–61. Eight Tribe players scored at least six points, and their five starters nailed 25 of their 31 shots. The Tribe held the guard-heavy Pride to a meager four-for-25 from beyond the arc.

The smashing of Hofstra looked to be the crowning jewel in what became a six-game winning streak. But this is the CAA, where all observations are eventually proven wrong.

On January 18, the undefeated Tribe were flattened by the Drexel Dragons 84–57. Zach Walton, Camren Wynter, and James Butler combined for 60 efficient points. Drexel shot the ball well inside and out and limited Tribe center Andy Van Vliet on both ends. It was Drexel’s third straight win, pushing them to 5–2 in conference play and putting everyone on notice.

And . . . yeah you see where this is going. Five days later Northeastern steamrolled Drexel off the floor 85–52, the largest margin of victory in CAA play this year. Even more remarkable was that Northeastern built a 32-point lead by halftime, responding to Drexel’s first bucket with 18 unanswered points and flooring the gas pedal for the rest of the half. Jordan Roland and Bolden Brace turned in stellar performances on both sides of the ball, and seven other Huskies scored at least five points.

Then Northeastern turned around and lost their next game.

In a league with remarkable parity, you wouldn’t expect consistent, overwhelming dominance from one or two teams. But what do you make of swings this large? What do you make of it when the literally cartoonish stereotype of one fish eating another fish, then being eaten by a third larger fish comes to pass on the hardwood?

Even if the blowout train stops here, the abject craziness of the conference slate still begs the question . . .

Who is Actually the Title Favorite?

The meaning of life and the existence of god might be easier questions to answer than this one, so I’ll present the best case I can for each team, starting from last place and working my way up.

James Madison: The Dukes are 1–8 in non-conference play and have the worst average margin of victory (–8.3) of any CAA team. That said, they had the third-best non-conference record and are extremely young, with their top six scorers comprising three juniors, a sophomore, and two freshman who are still developing. Their precipitous plunge in the last month is one of the biggest surprises of the year, and it isn’t unreasonable to think they can rediscover their form in time for the CAA Tournament.

Elon: My mom always taught me that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

UNCW: Two weeks ago, the Seahawks’ entry would be the same as Elon’s. They had just lost to Elon by 17 — Elon’s first conference win marked UNCW’s 11th straight loss — and remained the last winless squad in the CAA.

Two days later, UNCW fired head coach C.B. McGrath, who managed just 26 wins in two-and-a-half years at the helm. The promotion of assistant coach Rob Burke to interim head coach didn’t cause much buzz around the league. Why should it? It was mid-January and the Seahawks hadn’t won since before Thanksgiving. Grad transfer Carter Skaggs and point guard of the future Kai Toews had left the program, and junior guard Jay Estimé was done for the year after knee surgery.

But Burke and the Seahawks were about to put everyone on notice. After battling Hofstra to a two-point loss, they faced off against Northeastern on January 18. Burke’s sideline demeanor was just as captivating as the action on the court. His energy was limitless; he jumped around and clapped and encouraged his players. He turned to the crowd, encouraging them to get loud. At one point he started doing jumping jacks. When Shykeim Philips nailed a shot to end the first half, Burke slammed his hand on the scorer’s table.

His energy somehow increased during his team’s second-half comeback. Sometimes he displayed a defensive stance, sometimes he got down on one knee and pounded the floor with his open hand. Trask Coliseum was electric, with fans and players alike feeding off Burke’s energy. By game’s end, he was sweating as much as any of his players.

The Seahawks are still just 2–7 in conference play, and their seven straight losses might keep them from a top seeding even if they run the table. But in three games since Burke took over — against the preseason poll’s top three teams, mind you — they’ve had a two-point loss and two two-point wins. They can’t be ignored any longer.

Northeastern: Spots two through seven on this list are all within one game of each other, so that the CAA’s tiebreakers put Northeastern seventh is hardly a matter of concern. But what’s curious about the Huskies’ 5–4 record is that their average margin of victory (7.7) easily outstrips every other CAA team.

Three of Northeastern’s five wins came by 16 or more points; when they win, they win convincingly. But all four of their losses have come by two points. It’s disingenuous to say that the Huskies are therefore eight points away from a 9–0 record, but their loss margins indicate that their win–loss record could be just as misleading.

Even if forward Tomas Murphy misses the rest of the season — something head coach Bill Coen seems increasingly concerned about — the Huskies still have enough dynamic scoring to contend for the CAA title. There isn’t a player in the CAA who can match the shot-making of an on-fire Jordan Roland, and freshman point guard Tyson Walker has shown flashes of stardom and established himself as the favorite for CAA Rookie of the Year. Throw in Max Boursiquot’s versatile defense, and the defending conference champions are in decent position to do just that.

Drexel: The Dragons arguably have the worst chances of any team outside the bottom tier, but their 27-point win against William & Mary and the emergence of Camren Wynter as a bona fide star mean that they can’t be completely written off. The continued development of James Butler and Zach Walton gives Wynter some backup, though all three need to click for the Dragons to have a shot at beating top teams.

Delaware: It’s tough to say where the Blue Hens stand now. They began the season with nine straight wins, lost seven of their next ten, and have now won three straight games by a combined four points.

That said, they’re scary. None of their top five scorers are seniors and two are transfers, so their development and chemistry progression throughout the rest of conference play could make a difference come tournament time. Nate Darling is a flamethrower, dropping 28 second-half points on Saturday against a Northeastern team that had no answer for him. Kevin Anderson is shooting threes at an elite level in addition to his usual all-around contributions, and versatile forward Justyn Mutts’ play has bolstered the Blue Hens’ attack. Don’t be shocked if things pick up for them soon, especially as Villanova transfer Dylan Painter gets more comfortable in the rotation.

Towson: After losing their first three conference games, the Tigers reeled off six straight victories, all of them by seven or more points. The emergence of sophomore guard Allen Betrand as a backcourt force alongside Brian Fobbs has upped the Tigers’ attack, and, as is typical for a Pat Skerry team, they lead the league in scoring defense, field goal defense, and rebounding margin. If their offense can take another step forward in the next month, no team will feel comfortable against them.

Charleston: The Cougars won their first five, and though they have lost three out of four, only the William & Mary loss was by more than three points. That Grant Riller’s scoring volume hasn’t increased from its non-conference level masks the fact that his three-point shooting, long his biggest offensive weakness, has jumped from 26 percent in non-conference play to 44 percent in conference play. Throw in slightly increased offensive contributions from Brevin Galloway and Sam Miller, and the Cougars are as threatening as they’ve been all season.

Hofstra: Desure Buie has established himself as arguably the conference’s best two-way guard, and his shooting efficiency is on par with Jordan Roland’s. Isaac Kante’s numbers are inflated — unsurprising for a big man on a guard-heavy team — but his inside play has helped cover up the team’s size weakness. Tareq Coburn’s 45 percent mark from downtown in conference play has bolstered the Pride’s attack.

The Pride haven’t always looked great this year, but they’re still a threat. If second-leading scorer Eli Pemberton ever finds his shooting efficiency, watch out.

William & Mary: Though the Tribe have lost two of their last three, their white-hot start laves them as the only CAA squad with seven wins. Though some teams boast solid stretch fours, there are only two genuine centers in the CAA who can protect the rim and score from anywhere at an elite level. William & Mary has both of them.

Nathan Knight is playing his usual elite basketball, Andy Van Vliet is just as scary when he gets going, and Luke Loewe went from afterthought backup to elite perimeter marksman. Throw in Thornton Scott and Bryce Barnes and you have a balanced team on both sides of the ball. When they’re clicking, it’s hard to imagine another CAA team keeping pace. So . . .

Where Does This Leave Us?

What is left to do when parity becomes absurdity? How do we predict? How do we analyze? How do we set our expectations?

I’m just going to sit back, not take anyone’s predictions too seriously, and enjoy the ride. The biggest gift of all this madness is the gift of the unknown — just about any team can realistically beat any other team, in any place, by any margin. I want to see whether Rob Burke’s energy makes UNCW into a contender despite a talent deficiency. I want to see whether anyone can stifle William & Mary’s twin towers. I want to see whether Northeastern’s performance rises and falls with Roland — and Charleston’s with Riller — or whether their supporting casts will back up the stars.

There is no king in this conference. The throne is wide open. Let the crazy continue.

Men’s Basketball Falls to Delaware, 76–74

By Milton Posner

BOSTON — At the close of CAA action on Saturday, the Northeastern Huskies’ average margin of victory in conference play rested at 7.7 points, nearly three points better than the next-best team. And yet they sat tied for sixth, owners of a 5–4 conference record, an anomaly possible only because each one of their losses has been by two points.

Four losses. Three of them in front of their home crowd. Two of them on last-second game-winners. Eight combined points.

The Huskies appeared to be in the driver’s seat for most of Saturday’s tilt against the Delaware Blue Hens. They took a 13-point lead into halftime, buoyed by Jordan Roland’s 14 points. Max Boursiquot and Myles Franklin each contributed eight points without missing a shot.

Northeastern picked up where it left off Thursday night against Drexel. Players moved constantly and the ball didn’t sit in one person’s hands for too long. Boursiquot, Bolden Brace, and Greg Eboigbodin sprung ballhandlers loose on screens; if the screens didn’t force switches or create separation, they would spread out and re-screen the ball. Roland earned a number of open perimeter looks by dashing around staggered pindown screens. The offense was efficient, precise, and energetic.

On defense, Boursiquot once again held fast against larger matchups, in this case 6’10” Villanova transfer Dylan Painter and 6’7” standout Justyn Mutts. The Huskies fought through and around screens, rotated swiftly, and swiped errant or lazy passes. Transfer guard Nate Darling, who nearly kept pace with Jordan Roland’s scoring in non-conference play, registered just six points on eight shots.

The first half mirrored Thursday’s game against Drexel; the second mirrored last week’s game at UNCW. Once again, a 16-point second-half lead steadily evaporated. Once again, Northeastern allowed the opponents’ guards easy access to the lane. Once again, the game ended in a 76–74 Husky loss.

“We just couldn’t get a stop in the second half,” Northeastern head coach Bill Coen remarked. “We just came out really, really flat . . . They made a couple shots, got their energy up, and decided to play attack basketball.”

On one level it was a team problem. Northeastern’s rotations weren’t as crisp in the second half as they’d been in the first, and sometimes close contests didn’t happen even when the rotations did. Perimeter defenders had a harder time keeping their assignments in front of them. The Blue Hens tried 12 second-half two-pointers and nailed 11 of them.

But the biggest post-halftime change was Darling, who poured in 28 points and missed just three shots all half. He established his perimeter shooting and his assertive driving simultaneously, leaving the Huskies wondering which way to force him. He finished with a game-high 34 points — his best total since November 10 — and catalyzed the Blue Hens’ 47-point second half.

Just like the UNCW game, the meltdown didn’t happen all at once. In the absence of speedy transition basketball (the squads combined for just 13 fastbreak points) or numerous turnovers, the lead shifted gradually.

The Huskies also suffered from factors outside their control. Junior forward Shaq Walters was not present at Matthews Arena, which Coen attributed to a “violent stomach bug.”

“Just really, really bad timing for Shaq . . . it was a day that we could really use him,” Coen noted. “With his perimeter defense he would have been the perfect guy in this role.”

It was a significant loss for a Northeastern frontcourt already missing junior forward Tomas Murphy, who has been sidelined for more than two months with an ankle injury.

“Tomas hasn’t returned to practice yet,” Coen confirmed. “I’m not really sure where it’s gonna go but he hasn’t been healthy enough to get back and practice . . . The deeper it gets into the season I’m less hopeful.”

All the challenges aside, the Huskies had a chance to pull out a victory. Down two points with the shot clock turned off, they planned to feed Roland for their last shot, with an inside option for Boursiquot as well. But with 10 seconds left, Tyson Walker found himself with the ball out top, guarded by the larger, slower Jacob Cushing. Walker started his drive, but lost his balance on a crossover, fell, and couldn’t bet Cushing’s dive for the ball.

Roland finished with 27 points and is averaging 30 points per game across the team’s last five contests. Boursiquot chipped in a career-high 18 points, adding six rebounds and immeasurable defensive presence in the first half. Besides Darling, the only Blue Hen with a great stat line was junior guard Kevin Anderson, who notched an efficient 12 points, seven rebounds, and six assists.

The Huskies have shown brilliance at times in non-conference play, but the brilliance has been dulled by poor execution down the stretches of close games. They will try to get back on track Thursday night at William & Mary, the team that dealt them the first of their four two-point losses. Milton Posner and Adam Doucette will call the game, with coverage beginning at 6:45 PM EST.

Top 10: How CAA Teams Fared in Non-Conference Play

By Milton Posner

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 him

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 ninth.

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 interior defense.

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 places

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 six-point win.

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 is here

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 highlight reel.

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 century

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 for Hofstra.

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 schedules.

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 electric.

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 low.

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.

CAA Preview: Delaware Blue Hens

Last Season: 17–16 (8–10 CAA, fifth place), lost in CAA semifinal

Head Coach: Martin Ingelsby (fourth season)

CAA Preseason Poll Finish: Fifth

Losses

  • G Ryan Johnson
  • G Connor Rufo
  • G Curtis Lochner
  • G Ithiel Horton
  • G Darian Bryant
  • F Matt Veretto
  • F Eric Carter

Additions

  • G Nate Darling
  • G Reggie Gardner
  • G John McCoy
  • G Ebby Asamoah
  • F Dylan Painter

By Michael Petillo

The 2018–19 season was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Delaware, but the Blue Hens cobbled together a respectable 8–10 conference record and finished fifth. They pulled off a mild upset by knocking off William & Mary in the second round of the CAA Tournament before falling in a close game against Hofstra.

This year’s Blue Hens will have to overcome the graduation of forward Eric Carter and the transfer of standout freshman guard Ithiel Horton to the University of Pittsburgh. Despite those losses, Delaware has the talent to compete in the CAA.

The height of their ceiling largely depends on whether junior guard Ryan Allen takes the next step. Allen established himself as a player to watch as a freshman, averaging 15 ppg while knocking down 39 percent of his three-pointers. It was hoped he’d reach the next level as a sophomore, but his scoring average improved only slightly, to 16 ppg, as he missed the beginning of the season due to injury.

Allen’s backcourt running mate, Kevin Anderson, is another player to watch. A 6’5” guard, Anderson is a long, rangy defender who also dished out 3.8 apg as a sophomore last year. If his shooting improves a bit, he’ll become the second option for head coach Martin Ingelsby. He sat out summer activities — including the team’s trip to the Bahamas — with an injury, but he appears to be back at full strength.

Adding to the backcourt mix is highly touted junior transfer Nate Darling, who averaged 10 ppg in his last season at UAB. The 6’5” Canadian is a knockdown three-point shooter (41 percent as a sophomore) who sat out last year after transferring to Delaware. As with previous CAA transfers (see Pusica, Vasa), Darling could outperform his previous stats after having a year to work on his game and learn Ingelsby’s system. His impact could elevate an otherwise middling team to an elite one, making him one of the conference’s most pivotal players. Though his role at UAB was spotting up from the perimeter, Ingelsby says he has diversified, even playing point guard in practice.

Delaware’s obvious weakness is the frontcourt, where they lack a top-end talent to replace Carter. Senior role players Jacob Cushing and Collin Goss will likely see a big uptick in playing time. Both are serviceable big men who can stretch the floor, which should open driving lanes for the guards. They will look to hold the fort down for the first half of the season, at which point Villanova mid-year transfer Dylan Painter will be eligible to play. Painter, a 6’10” redshirt junior, struggled to find playing time for the Wildcats but will look to find his niche with the Blue Hens; he could boost the team at the beginning of conference play.

Bottom Line: Delaware is a talented veteran team, but there are too many question marks to pencil them in now among the CAA’s elite. That could all change by conference season if Darling shines and Allen becomes a first-team all-conference type of player. Until that happens, however, the Blue Hens are a second-tier CAA team with first-tier potential.

Men’s Basketball Finishes Third in Preseason Poll

Image credit: nuhuskies.com

By Milton Posner

Ahh, the CAA Preseason Poll. That wonderful time of year when the conference’s coaches, media relations directors, and media members (including a few from your favorite Northeastern student radio station) gaze deep into their crystal balls and relay the results of the upcoming season. The results of this annual divination ritual, released Wednesday, were among the closest ever, with five teams receiving first-place votes.

TeamPoints (First-Place Votes
Hofstra Pride331 (14)
Charleston Cougars323 (18)
Northeastern Huskies291 (4)
James Madison Dukes253 (3)
Delaware Blue Hens241 (2)
Towson Tigers194
William & Mary Tribe131
Drexel Dragons125
UNCW Seahawks118
Elon Phoenix48

Hofstra, the defending regular-season titleholder, narrowly topped Charleston despite receiving fewer first-place votes. Northeastern finished third without immediate neighbors, and James Madison squeaked ahead of Delaware.

Charleston senior guard Grant Riller took home Preseason Player of the Year Honors and headlined the All-CAA First Team.

First TeamGrant Riller, Charleston
Nathan Knight, William & Mary
Brian Fobbs, Towson
Eli Pemberton, Hofstra
Matt Lewis, James Madison
Second TeamJordan Roland, Northeastern
Ryan Allen, Delaware
Camren Wynter, Drexel
Desure Buie, Hofstra
Darius Banks, James Madison
Honorable MentionBolden Brace, Northeastern
Kai Toews, UNCW
Kevin Anderson, Delaware
James Butler, Drexel
Marcus Sheffield II, Elon

Hofstra, Charleston, and Northeastern, the top three finishers in the poll, were the top three finishers in the regular season last year, albeit in a different order. All three lost major contributors — Justin Wright-Foreman, Jarrell Brantley, and Vasa Pusica, respectively — to graduation. They, along with fellow first-teamer Devontae Cacok of UNCW, signed pro contracts. This was a familiar theme during the CAA offseason; many of the conference’s most talented players graduated or transferred, including William & Mary’s Justin Pierce, Drexel’s Alihan Demir, and Northeastern’s Shawn Occeus.

Hofstra will look to defend its regular-season crown behind a trio of guards: second-teamer Eli Pemberton, third-teamer and Defensive Player of the Year Desure Buie, and the sweet-shooting Tareq Coburn. Charleston will lean heavily on Riller and hope for increased contributions from their maturing role players, namely Brevin Galloway. Northeastern, the defending CAA champion, offers second-teamer Jordan Roland, versatile guard/forward Bolden Brace, and a mix of returning role players and freshman recruits. James Madison and Delaware look to rebound from losing years behind star guards and, in Delaware’s case, two high-powered transfers in Dylan Painter and Nate Darling.

WRBB will post detailed previews for each CAA team the week before Northeastern’s November 5 opening again Boston University. Michael Petillo and Milton Posner will be on the call; coverage begins at 6:45 PM ET.