Men’s Basketball Downs Elon, Advances to CAA Championship

Reminder: Northeastern faces Hofstra in the CAA Championship tonight at 7 PM. Michael Petillo, Matt Neiser, and Milton Posner will have the call from Washington D.C., with covering beginning around 15 minutes before tipoff.

By Matt Neiser

WASHINGTON — No. 6 seed vs. No. 7 seed in a ten-team tournament. It sounds like an early-round matchup that no one cares about because neither team will threaten for the title. Right?

Wrong. It’s actually a semifinal, and both teams beat top-three seeds to get there.

Confused? You must be new around here. Welcome to the CAA. 

Northeastern and Elon, two teams most onlookers probably did not expect to make deep postseason runs, found themselves face-to-face in the CAA Men’s Basketball Championship semifinals on Monday night after beating No. 3 Towson and No. 2 William & Mary, respectively, the night before. 

Despite similar postseason expectations, the teams’ seedings arose for different reasons. For Northeastern, it was mostly a lack of consistency and inability to close out tight games. For Elon, it was more a lack of depth and talent.

Things finally began to make a little more sense in the semifinal, as the deeper, higher-seeded team came out on top for once. Using an early-game run to thrust themselves in front, the Huskies never looked back as they put together a convincing, wire-to-wire 68–60 victory to advance to the championship game for the third year in a row.

Defense has been the Huskies’ calling card all season. They called on it once again on Monday, stifling the Phoenix offense throughout the night. Bill Coen’s squad was locked in, flying all over the court with the boundless ferocity of their canine namesake. It took nearly six minutes for the Phoenix to put a number on the board, by which time Northeastern had tallied nine points.

“Our defensive energy to start the game really set the tone for us, allowing us to get into transition a little bit, and get our confidence going,” remarked Coen.

Elon head coach Mike Schrage had plenty of praise for Coen’s defensive game plan.

“Give them credit. They had a lot of juice and a good game plan, a unique game plan in how they guard our offense [after] not even a one-day prep,” Schrage remarked. “Defensively, he’s a great coach. He did some really good things to exploit our defense.”

The biggest driver of Northeastern’s blistering two-way start? If you’ve followed this team at all the past few weeks, you probably guessed already: Max Boursiquot. By the time Elon scored their first basket, the redshirt junior had already accumulated four points, two rebounds, and two steals. His energy was infectious; his teammates followed suit as they stayed attached to bodies, contested shots, and secured rebounds to limit the Phoenix’s offensive opportunities.

While Boursiquot buoyed the Husky defense, Bolden Brace carried the offensive torch. Brace, who’s no stranger to big games against Elon — he dropped a career-high 40 points against the Phoenix his freshman year — splashed home three triples in a four-minute span partway through the first half to extend the Northeastern lead to 13. The senior added a layup to finish the first 20 minutes with a game-leading 11 points and push the Husky advantage to its peak: 35–15.

Junior Shaquille Walters, who Coen identified as one of the team’s most improved players this season, left his mark on the opening half as well. The London native drilled a shot-clock-beating three from all the way across the pond, then followed it up with a pair of free throws, a steal and gorgeous one-handed feed ahead to Brace for his aforementioned layup, and an assist on a Jordan Roland three-pointer. All told, Walters dished out a team-high four assists in the half.

It’s fortunate for the Huskies that many different players made a significant impact in the first half; Roland, who had a relatively quiet game against Towson the night before, struggled again to start the semifinal. Though he chipped in eight first-half points, it was on an inefficient 3–10 shooting. 

Roland did find other ways to impact the game; he finished the half with two rebounds, three assists, a block, and zero turnovers. However, he was nowhere near his usual lofty standards.

That’s been the biggest question for Northeastern this season: can they stay competitive when Roland isn’t on his game? In this tournament, the answer’s been yes. Boursiquot, Brace, Walters, and Co. have all stepped up, and that’s why the Huskies are playing in the championship game.

Despite chugging along for much of the half, the Huskies’ offense sputtered as they neared halftime. The Phoenix took advantage, mounting a quick 6–0 run that forced a timeout from Coen with 33 seconds remaining. Roland hit a baseline jumper right out of the huddle to bring the Northeastern lead back to 16 points, throwing a splash of water on Elon’s spark.

The Phoenix kept striking that flint in the second stanza, but the Huskies were right there every time to stamp out the nascent flames. After the two sides traded a few baskets to begin the frame, freshman Hunter McIntosh knocked down a triple. Roland responded with a trey of his own, but the Phoenix came right back with an 8–0 run courtesy of a short-range McIntosh jumper and three straight interior makes from Federico Poser to cut the Husky lead to 11. 

All-CAA Second Team swingman Marcus Sheffield finally joined the party after that, pouring in 13 points in a six-minute span as Elon whittled the Northeastern lead to seven with just under three minutes remaining.

“He’s one of the hardest matchups in the league. Luckily we have a guy with Shaquille’s size and length who can kind of match it,” Coen remarked. “He’s quick enough to keep him off the dribble and long enough to get a hand in his shot pocket. That being said, I’m not sure anyone can guard him when he gets going.”

The Huskies were on their heels, but a familiar face burst back onto the scene to save the day.

“I just kind of felt like the game was getting close,” Roland explained. “I just wanted to do my part to help close out the game. I wanted to get a little more aggressive toward the end of the game even though I wasn’t shooting that well.”

Pull-up, triple, good.

Elon got two looks at a three-pointer on the other end, but McIntosh and Sheffield couldn’t connect. Rebound Northeastern.

Crossover, three-ball, money.

There’s the Jordan Roland Husky fans are accustomed to — the one who takes over games.

Elon was relegated to the foul game after that, and the Huskies knocked down enough shots at the charity stripe to close the game out.

Northeastern becomes just the fifth team in CAA history to reach three straight championship games, setting up a rematch of last year’s battle with the Hofstra Pride. The title-game rematch will be just the third since the league’s inception.

Coen started both Sunday and Monday’s press conferences by reiterating how grateful he is to still be playing this late into March, adding, “With everything that’s on the line, an NCAA bid and everything, there’s nothing else like it.”

Brace, a senior, is reveling in the pressure of his final season, remarking, “I’ve finally realized that every game could be my last and it’s made this tournament super awesome and I’m having a lot of fun with it. Hopefully we can get another one tomorrow.”

The Huskies have a tough task ahead of them, as No. 1 seeded Hofstra comes into the game blazing hot. Joe Mihalich’s squad won their previous two tournament games by an average of 16 points, including a 14-point drubbing of an impressive Delaware team in the other semifinal.

Said Coen of the impending matchup, “I think they’ve played with a chip. I think they’ve had great senior leadership. It’s going to be a difficult game for us, but that’s what you want if you’re a competitor. You want to go against the best, you want to try yourself against the best, and that’s what this time is all about.”

CAA Tournament Day Two

Reminder: Northeastern plays Elon in the semifinal of the CAA Tournament today at 8:30 PM EDT. Michael Petillo, Milton Posner, and Matt Neiser will call the game, with coverage beginning about 15 minutes before tipoff.

By Milton Posner

WASHINGTON — An atypical day for the CAA is, well, typical.

Sunday’s schedule saw four quarterfinal games, all of them bemusing to one degree or another.

Hofstra 61, Drexel 43

This contest was decided, more than anything else, by starkly contrasting star performances.

On one end, Hofstra senior guard Eli Pemberton rebounded from a decent but unremarkable first half to eviscerate the Dragons in the second. He began the half with a three-pointer, a driving layup, and a putback after snatching an offensive rebound in traffic. A three-point halftime lead had swelled to ten, Drexel called timeout to regroup, and Pemberton let out a primal scream as his teammates surrounded him.

Pemberton maintained the energy even as Hofstra built an insurmountable lead, diving for a loose rebound with seven minutes left and his team up 20. He finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Pride.

Pemberton’s exact opposite was fellow All-CAA Second Team guard Camren Wynter of Drexel, who had his worst college game at the worst possible time. Hofstra’s matchup zone defense made things difficult for the Drexel guards, who were left to pass aimlessly on the perimeter and toss up an array of tightly contested layups that trickled off the rim. Wynter took just eight shots, failed to score, and turned the ball over five times. Zach Walton (17 points and 10 rebounds) and James Butler (14 points and 14 rebounds) were left to shoulder almost all of the burden for a sputtering Drexel offense.

Drexel will be back. Barring transfers, they will return their three top scorers next year. But it is Hofstra that moves on to the next round.

Delaware 79, Charleston 67

It’s a testament to how insane the CAA has been this year that these teams were the fourth and fifth seeds in a ten-team tournament. You’d be forgiven for thinking each was a top-three team. In Grant Riller and Nate Darling, each team had one of the league’s most dynamic, talented scorers. Each boasted a strong, versatile, athletic frontcourt that makes life difficult for their opponents on both sides of the ball.

But ultimately it was Delaware — a team flush with high-powered transfers and homegrown juniors maturing at the perfect time — that looked the elite team.

The Blue Hens built a slim first-half lead largely thanks to two strong points. The first was Darling, who rained down consistent fire on the Cougars from all over the floor, including a couple of difficult one-on-one shots the Cougars couldn’t do much about. The other was a strong defensive game plan similar to the one Northeastern used against Charleston last month: keep Grant Riller out of the paint.

This is a tall order, but the Blue Hens largely succeeded in the first half. Riller tried a number of tough shots around the basket and grew frustrated when his attempts to draw fouls didn’t succeed. After the game, Darling pinned the defensive success on the decision to have Justyn Mutts guard Sam Miller, allowing Delaware’s guards to switch on screens without worrying about the sweet-shooting Miller pick and popping to the three-point line. Riller got hot in the second half, but by then the Blue Hens were in the driver’s seat. Delaware scored 47 second-half points to advance to the next round, where they will face No. 1 Hofstra.

It also marked the last college game for one of the best players the CAA has ever seen. Riller overcame a season-ending injury during his freshman year to make three All-CAA First Teams and score 2,474 points, trailing only David Robinson and Charles Jenkins on the conference’s all-time list.

Elon 68, William & Mary 63

At first it seemed improbable, then mildly unlikely, then reasonable, then likely, then certain.

This year, William & Mary had their best regular season in seven decades. They were stacked and versatile, best exemplified by senior forward Nathan Knight, who was crowned CAA Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year two days earlier. By any measure, Knight is one of the best players the conference has ever seen.

And now he’s done.

The Phoenix sledgehammered the Tribe from the opening tip. By the time Tribe head coach Dane Fischer called for time with three-and-a-half minutes gone, Marcus Sheffield II had led Elon to a 13–2 lead.

Though Sheffield would soon drop off and wind up with a merely solid if inefficient stat line, Elon forwards Hunter Woods and Federico Poser picked up the slack. Poser posted his second straight good game, nailing a number of short shots. Woods dropped 20 points and 15 rebounds, playing the entire game and expending so much effort that his sweat-laden jersey was distinguishable in color from his teammates’. He nailed five of seven tries from beyond the arc.

The Tribe eventually fought their way back, buoyed by thousands of fans who traveled the relatively short distance from Williamsburg to Washington D.C. Those fans, easily the loudest of any crowd in the tournament thus far, boosted the Tribe during their steady second-half run.

The energy in the last 10 minutes was on an entirely different level, peaking when Van Vliet’s titanic rejection of a layup led to a momentum-building three by Quinn Blair down the other end. Blair, soon joined by the William & Mary bench, motioned repeatedly to the crowd to get loud, which they happily did.

When Bryce Barnes’ three-pointer cut the lead to two, the crowd was so loud that it drowned out the Elon marching band.

But Elon’s starters took turns hitting shots at opportune moments, and the Tribe would never quite catch them. A No. 7 team that few gave much of a chance is now in the semifinals, where they will play No. 6 Northeastern.

Northeastern 72, Towson 62

For detailed coverage of this game, click here.

2020 CAA Tournament Day One

By Milton Posner

Reminder: Northeastern men’s basketball takes on Towson in the quarterfinal of the CAA Tournament Sunday at 8:30 PM EST. Michael Petillo, Matt Neiser, and Milton Posner will have the call from Washington D.C., with coverage beginning fifteen minutes before tip-off.

WASHINGTON — The CAA Tournament kicked off Saturday with two games featuring the CAA’s bottom four seeds, those that didn’t earn first-round byes. No. 8 Drexel squared off with No. 9 UNCW, then No. 7 Elon battled No. 10 James Madison.

Drexel 66, UNCW 55

Despite a steady second-half advance from UNCW, Drexel held on to win the tournament’s first game. Drexel will kick off the four-game Sunday slate against the No. 1 Hofstra Pride.

As you might expect of two well-rested teams playing a win-or-go-home game, the energy was sky-high from the opening tip. UNCW began by applying full-court pressure, but the main defensive objective was to funnel Drexel’s ballhandlers into the space between the midcourt line and the three-point arc, force them to the sideline, and trap them with double teams. The scheme required movement and energy, two qualities best exemplified by UNCW interim head coach Rob Burke, whose emphatic, demonstrative, dramatic sideline behavior was on full display.

The traps worked for a few possessions, but eventually the Dragons got more comfortable. They made the Seahawks pay with accurate passes for easy layups, enough to make the Seahawks relax the pressure a bit and finally ramp down the game’s initial chaos.

After a war of inside shots and parallel scoring droughts yielded a stalemate, Drexel’s Coltrane Washington and UNCW’s Ty Gadsden decided a little back-and-forth was needed. Washington kicked things off with a deep three from the left wing, Drexel’s first points in five minutes. Gadsden responded with a three. Washington nailed another three from the same spot after a pump fake and a slick sidestep. Gadsden nailed a tricky leaning midrange jumper. By this point, UNCW’s defensive pressure, again with mixed results, had refocused to swarming every time Drexel put the ball in the paint, so the jumpers were available.

After a close first half, Drexel emerged from the locker room and shot down the Seahawks. All-CAA Second Team guard Camren Wynter got things going by hunting out a layup to open the half. He hit a three, as did Mate Okros. After a pair of buckets from James Butler, the Dragons had built an 11-point lead. Though the Seahawks would steadily eat into the lead, even cutting it to three multiple times, the Dragons would never give it up.

Led by Butler, who finished with 14 boards, the Dragons snatched up most of the high-leverage rebounds and translated them into a momentum advantage. Only Gadsden (13 points) and Martin Linssen (18) got much going for the Seahawks, with Brian Tolefree, Jaylen Sims, and Mike Okauru making just one shot apiece. Three-pointers from Wynter and Zach Walton down the stretch put the game out of reach and ended the Seahawks’ season.

Elon 63, James Madison 61

If, someday, a movie is made of this game, there will be only one logical name for it: The Sheffield Redemption.

For the first 39 minutes of the game, Marcus Sheffield II, Elon’s top scorer, All-CAA Second Teamer, the focal point of their offense and the man who breathed life into a program reeling from the graduation of every volume scorer from last season, couldn’t score a basket to save his life. Long shots or short, contested shots or not, moving shots or stationary ones, it didn’t matter. Sheffield had tried 14 and made just two. He was sucking the life out of Elon’s offense.

But with one shot, a twisting, fading, stepback midrange jumper, Sheffield broke through. Elon’s first lead of the game was the only one they’d need.

The Phoenix will face the No. 2 William & Mary Tribe Sunday at 6 PM EST.

It was a fitting end to a game marked by profound weirdness. That weirdness began when James Madison’s Deshon Parker, a 26 percent three-point shooter this season, kicked off the scoring with a long-range swish. It continued when JMU, unquestionably the worst team in conference play this season, built on that shot until a 14–0 lead forced Elon to call timeout three-and-a-half minutes after the opening tip.

But Elon quickly flipped the script, taking better care of the ball and posting nine unanswered points of their own to make the game competitive.

The game featured poor outside shooting from both squads, partly due to poor shot selection and partly due to missed open looks. JMU want on a second-half run not because their offense clicked, but because Elon missed 11 consecutive shots. The only consistent offensive bright spot for Elon was sophomore big man Federico Poser, who scored more points (14) than he ever had against a Division I team.

If you had approached Elon head coach Mike Schrage before the game and told him that his squad would allow 14 unanswered points to start the game, that his best scorer would miss three-quarters of his shots, that his team would shoot just 28 percent from downtown, and that they would go seven minutes without scoring a bucket, he would have assumed disaster.

But that’s the kind of league the CAA has been this season. The line between disaster and triumph is so narrow that you often can’t see it until after the final buzzer sounds.

Northeastern’s Convoluted Playoff Scenarios

By Milton Posner

Claustrophobics beware.

With one week remaining in the CAA’s men’s basketball regular season, just four games separate third and eight place, and just two games separate third and sixth.

The Northeastern Huskies sit in sixth place with an 8–8 record. There are four games on Thursday, four on Saturday, and one on Sunday (moved to accommodate the CBS Sports Network). Nine games to determine playoff seeding. All 10 teams make the CAA Tournament, but only the bottom four seeds play in the first round on Saturday, March 7. The top six teams receive a first-round bye. Because of the league’s higher-than-usual parity — and because the top six teams will play, at most, three games in three days instead of four games in four days — securing the bye is critical.

TeamCAA RecordGames Back
Hofstra Pride13–3
William & Mary Tribe12–51.5
Delaware Blue Hens10–63
Towson Tigers10–63
Charleston Cougars9–74
Northeastern Huskies8–85
Elon Phoenix7–106.5
Drexel Dragons6–107
UNCW Seahawks4–129
James Madison Dukes2–1411

The top and bottom of the standings have more or less hardened. James Madison can move from tenth to ninth if they win both of their games and UNCW loses both of theirs, but James Madison’s recent play and the quality of their opponents this week makes that highly unlikely. Same goes for UNCW, which will remain in ninth barring two UNCW wins and two Drexel losses.

At the top of the standings, Hofstra has clinched a share of the regular season title and can claim sole possession with a split or sweep this week, highly likely given that they play last-place James Madison. William & Mary owns the tiebreaker over Delaware, and therefore cannot fall lower than second.

But the other six teams are in flux. Dissecting every possible outcome and ripple effect would take hours, so ahead of Northeastern’s games against James Madison and Towson this week, here are the Huskies’ possible outcomes from worst to best.

If Northeastern loses both games . . .

They will drop to 8–10. An Elon win over William & Mary would bring Northeastern and Elon into a tie. Because the pair have split their season series, it would trigger the next tiebreaker, record against the top team in the CAA. Both teams have lost twice to Hofstra, so Elon’s season split against William & Mary would give them the sixth seed and a first-round bye.

This is the only way the Huskies could possibly fall out of the top six. It would require them to lose to a solid team in Towson and the CAA’s worst team in James Madison, and it would also require a middling Elon team to beat William & Mary. This outcome is possible, but highly unlikely.

If Northeastern wins one game . . .

They will finish at 9–9 and guarantee a first-round bye regardless of which game they win. If Charleston loses both its games — unlikely but not impossible given their current four-game losing streak — the Huskies will vault over them for fifth place due to their season sweep of the Cougars. If Charleston win one or both of their games, the Huskies will finish sixth.

If Northeastern wins both games . . .

They will finish at 10–8 and guarantee a first-round bye. They finish fifth unless Charleston wins both of its games. If Towson loses to Hofstra on Thursday, Northeastern and Towson will finish with the same record, and Northeastern holds the season series tiebreaker.

Thus, a 2–0 record this week could put Northeastern anywhere between fourth and sixth. Rising from fifth to fourth helps with optics and bragging rights but is strategically and competitively useless because the fourth and fifth seeds play each other in the quarterfinal anyway.

***

Assuming the Huskies avoid the worst-case scenario and finish in the top six, they will face either Delaware, Charleston, or Towson. If this season’s games are any indication of how a CAA Tournament matchup will go, Northeastern would prefer Charleston, who they swept, over Delaware, who swept them. Northeastern is 1–0 against Towson, who they play on Sunday.

Two wins this week would also provide a massive momentum boost for the Huskies, who haven’t strung three wins together since the beginning of conference play.

The Huskies’ game against James Madison begins at 8 PM EST; WRBB’s live coverage from Matthews Arena begins about 15 minutes before tip-off.

Men’s Basketball Loses Third Straight, Drops Below .500

By Milton Posner and Adam Doucette

ELON, North Carolina — The last name the Northeastern Huskies visited the Elon Phoenix, dominant overtime play gave the Huskies an 11-point win and moved them to 2–2 in CAA play.

That was January 10, 2019. It was also the last time the Huskies would possess a losing conference record. Until Saturday.

The Huskies entered the Schar Center having lost their last two and three of their last four. In a game that, at least for standings and momentum purposes, was a must-win, the Huskies faltered down the stretch and let Elon slip past, 74–69. Northeastern is now 11–12 and 5–6 in conference play. They are alone in seventh place.

Elon entered the game shooting more threes than any other CAA team, but averaging only 33 percent on those attempts. They shot plenty of threes on Saturday, but unfortunately for Northeastern they made 53 percent of them, including six makes on eight attempts in the first half. Unlike Thursday against William & Mary, the Huskies struggled to close out the three-point line, giving Elon a number of great looks. Freshman guard Hunter McIntosh’s 12 first-half points led his team to a 36–30 halftime lead. (McIntosh finished with 24 points and missed just one shot all game.)

Elon also came up big on defense. From the beginning, Northeastern guard Jordan Roland struggled to find his rhythm and didn’t score until the three-minute mark of the first half. He finished with 19 points but made just four of his 16 shots. Elon head coach Mike Schrage credited the 6’6” McIntosh whose “positional length” allowed him to tightly contest Roland’s shots.

“The job we did on Jordan Roland and Tyson Walker — big difference in the game,” Schrage noted. “Our guards were better today.”

Northeastern coach Bill Coen seemed to agree, saying of Roland, “He’s got to be aggressive, he’s got to be our leader, no one’s denying that. But I think everybody in the gym knows that at the end of the game he’s going to get it. So he’s got to use that to his advantage and maybe create easy baskets for his teammates . . . He’s a little bit frustrated right now because he can’t get quality looks.”

Elon also stifled the Northeastern offense by neutralizing its screening actions. When the teams met last month, Northeastern did an excellent job making contact on its screens, getting Elon into the habit of switching them. Elon refused to switch this time, double teaming the ballhandler — often Roland — to deny a shot or pass.

“If you’re coming off the screen with the sole intent to score, you’re gonna miss the window when that guy’s open,” Coen said. He also agreed that the Huskies need “better spacing on offense and better play and player movement.”

“The ball’s sticking right now,” he noted. “We’re dribbling the ball too much and not passing and cutting enough. When you hold the ball . . . the defense loads up on all the good players and you end up not getting as good a shot as you would like.”

One of the bright spots for Northeastern was Shaquille Walters, who kicked off Northeastern’s scoring with an and-one layup and stayed aggressive throughout the first half. He notched nine points on five shots to lead the team at halftime.

Though a massive Marcus Sheffield block on Tyson Walker — and Sheffield’s subsequent three-pointer — made it seem as though Elon would control the second half too, Northeastern reversed the tides. The Huskies pushed the ball inside, sometimes earning layups but more often earning free throws. After missing seven of their 11 tries from the line against William & Mary last night — a clip Coen cited as the largest reason for the loss — the Huskies made all 19 free throws tonight.

“We came into practice yesterday and made sure got our rhythm from the line,” Coen said. “Free throws are about routine and confidence. We’re a good free-throw-shooting team.”

The Huskies’ impeccable foul shooting somewhat mitigated a subpar effort from the field, which saw them shoot 39 percent from the floor and 29 percent from beyond the arc. Northeastern also displayed active hands the entire game, forcing a season-high 14 steals and generating 26 points off turnovers.

“We were trying to fit really close passes,” Schrage explained. “They ramped up their pressure even more . . . Pick six turnovers are the worst and we gave up too many of those. That’s where the lead swung in their direction really quickly.”

With 4:26 to go in the game, Northeastern had outscored Elon by 14 points in the second half, led by eight, and appeared to have the game in hand. But Sheffield, Elon’s top scorer this year, scored 14 points to power an 18–5 run. He hit big shot after big shot, none more important than the huge three pointer he nailed with 1:25 left to go that gave Elon a two-point lead. Sheffield ended the night with 28 points on 10–15 shooting including three-for-six from three-point land. Elon made five of its last six shots; Northeastern made one of its last 10.

“He can get his shot any time,” Schrage said of Sheffield. “You could always use or two guys like that.”

“It felt like their either scored a bucket or got fouled,” Coen said. “We didn’t get stops in the last three minutes . . . Our defense let us down today.”

When the Huskies first started dropping conference games by close margins, the problem wasn’t exclusively their execution down the stretch. Against William & Mary it could be Roland’s seven points, against Hofstra it could be the Huskies’ innumerable first-half turnovers, and against UNCW it could be the sudden surge of energy interim head coach Rob Burke brought to his squad.

But after another second-half lead fizzled out, this time against an eighth-place team that had won just two games since Christmas, it has become clear that crunch time failings are this team’s most glaring weakness.

The Huskies will have a week off before their matchup with the tied-for-first Hofstra Pride. Michael Petillo and Matt Neiser will call that game, with coverage beginning at 3:45 PM EST on February 8.

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 Eclipses Elon

By Milton Posner

BOSTON — On December 31, 13 hours before the clock hit midnight and the year reset, Tyson Walker was named CAA Rookie of the Week for the third time this season; no other player has won it more than once. The main reason the league cited was his scoring; Walker notched a combined 32 points in the Huskies’ double-digit wins over Towson and James Madison on Saturday and Monday.

But apparently three awards weren’t enough. Tyson Walker wants a fourth.

Think 32 points in two games isn’t impressive? How about 32 in one game? Walker’s performance — remarkable for anyone but astonishing for a freshman — buoyed Northeastern throughout a 77–68 victory over the Phoenix. It was the fourth straight win for Northeastern (9–6) and their third straight to begin conference play.

“He’s got the ability to score the ball. He’s got the ability to distribute the ball,” Northeastern head coach Bill Coen said. “He’s got great feel, he’s got great confidence, and he’s got great presence.

“The hardest position in college basketball to transition into is the point guard position. You’re growing into your own game, trying to get a feel for how the coaches would like you to play, get a feel for how your teammates play. But Tyson has been unbelievable. It’s been a seamless transition to the position.”

Much of the offensive success that Walker and the Huskies found could be attributed to Elon’s strategy of — or, at the very least, resignation to — switching on Northeastern’s ball screens.

“When they kept switching,” Walker remarked, “and it was a mismatch where the big man’s guarding me, I recognize that I’m pretty fast and it’s hard to guard me.”

“It gets teams to slow down their pace,” Coen added. “Tyson’s a hard guy to switch on. A lot of teams have tried it, but he’s able — with his quickness — to get to the rim and use his shooting ability to create shots from the perimeter.”

In case his driving layups weren’t sufficient, Walker also splashed home four of his seven three-point attempts, raising his season three-point mark to a blazing 46 percent.

Walker was aided by Northeastern’s constant offensive activity. Players moved well without the ball, cutting to the basket and popping into open perimeter space. When a player completed an action, be it a dribble, pass, or screen, he immediately looked for the next one. Particularly essential was 6’5” Max Boursiquot, who started his fifth consecutive game as an undersized center. His effort has boosted the Huskies’ inside presence and floor balance in the absence of injured forward Tomas Murphy, who Coen confirmed has not been cleared to return to practice.

“When we gang-rebound it really helps our transition game,” Coen explained. “Max can really run the floor; he can rebound and run and push the ball. So it makes us a little bit more deadly in transition. Obviously we give away a little bit of size and girth down underneath, but Max is a tough, physical competitor and he’s battled through that.”

Elon jumped out to a 10–2 lead before Northeastern’s shooters found their rhythm. The teams traded buckets — yielding eight lead changes and four ties — until Walker got hot, with Elon’s last lead of the evening coming with 7:21 to play in the first half.

Walker had 14 points at halftime, then dropped another eight in the first two-and-a-half minutes of the second half. When Walker went to the bench and the Phoenix made a run, Jordan Roland was there to slow them down with a series of midrange jumpers. Roland finished with 17 points and four rebounds.

But when Elon closed the gap down the stretch, even trimming the lead to two points three separate times in the game’s waning minutes, it was Walker who held them at bay.

The Phoenix (4–11, 0–2 CAA), who have struggled all year after graduating or losing last year’s top five scorers, were led by freshman guard Hunter McIntosh and grad transfer guard Marcus Sheffield II. Both scored 17 points, though McIntosh was markedly more efficient, making six of his 11 shots and four of his six triples. Freshman guard Hunter Woods contributed 12 points and eight assists.

The Huskies were extremely disciplined, committing a season-low five turnovers and scoring 15 points off 11 Elon giveaways; nine of the 11 came off Northeastern steals. Though Walker’s superhuman scoring allowed the Huskies to weather it, they did lose the rebounding battle, 37–24, to a team that entered the game with the conference’s worst rebounding margin. The Phoenix pulled down nine offensive rebounds to the Huskies’ two and scored 14 second-chance points to the Huskies’ three. Things worked out against Elon, but such a deficit could prove more costly against a great rebounding team like William & Mary.

Northeastern closed the 2019 calendar year with a win on Monday at James Madison, then opened 2020 with a win at home. After a sporadic start to the season leading to a 6–6 record in non-conference play, the Huskies appear to have hit their stride.

“We’ve gained valuable experience,” Coen observed. “Tyson’s not the same player he was [in the season opener] at BU. He’s grown. Shaq had a whole year off; now he’s 15 games into it and getting a little bit of rhythm. Max was out with an injury for a year; he’s getting a rhythm. Greg was out for a whole year. It takes time to blend in those new pieces.”

The Huskies will remain in Boston awaiting the William & Mary Tribe, who will visit Matthews Arena on Saturday afternoon. WRBB will call the game, with coverage beginning at 3:45 EST. It will be the Huskies’ first major test in conference play, but the Huskies are up to the challenge, especially if Walker can carry Thursday night’s momentum into Saturday’s matchup.

“We’ve had a lot of really good point guards here,” Coen said. “I think Tyson, when everything’s said and done, will be one of the best ones we’ve had.”

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: Elon Phoenix

Last Season: 11–21 (7–11 CAA, eighth place), lost in CAA first round

Coach: Mike Schrage (first season)

CAA Preseason Poll Finish: Tenth

Losses

  • G Dainan Swoope
  • G Sheldon Eberhardt
  • G Steven Santa Ana
  • G Nathan Priddy
  • F Tyler Seibring
  • F/C Karolis Kundrotas

Additions

  • G Hunter McIntosh
  • G/F Zac Ervin
  • G/F Hunter Woods
  • G/F Jerald Gillens-Butler
  • G/F Marcus Sheffield II

By Gabe Bibliowicz

A disappointing 2018–19 season sent Elon head coach Matt Matheny from the hot seat to unemployed. In his 10 years as Elon’s head coach (151–169 record) Matheny suffered through five losing seasons, last year’s being his worse since his inaugural. A disappointing CAA finish and three players entering the transfer portal was enough to end Matheny’s tenure.

Director of Athletics Dave Blank took only a month to replace Matheny, settling on Mike Schrage (SHRAW–gee). The Atlanta native spent the last two seasons as an assistant coach at Ohio State under Chris Holtmann and worked under college basketball legends Mike Krzyzewski (nine seasons) and Bob Knight (four seasons).

Along with a new coaching perspective, Schrage will look to improve Elon’s recruiting. Over his years as an assistant, he helped recruit multiple nationally ranked classes, including a top-25 class at Ohio State in 2018 and a top-10 class in 2019.

In May, Schrage announced the addition of the 6’5” forward Zac Ervin to Elon’s 2019 recruiting class. Ervin was awarded the 2018–19 Mountain 7 District Player of the Year after averaging 33 points, eight rebounds, and three assists. He was a three-time First-Team All-State selection.

The Phoenix graduated their top four scorers from last season, including Tyler Seibring, a perennial all-conference forward who led the team in points and minutes. The 6’9” forward was an efficient scorer and a deft passer, and his departure leaves a gaping hole in Elon’s offense. Sheldon Eberhardt snagged the CAA’s Sixth Man of the Year award last year and finished ninth in the CAA in assists. Steven Santa Ana, Elon’s second-leading scorer, won Player of the Week on March 4th after averaging 27 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists that week. Elon was a bottom-tier team with them, and now they’re gone.

Guard Nathan Priddy (seven ppg last year) was expected to be the Phoenix’s top returning scorer. But Priddy has decided to leave school and work for his brother, per Brian Mull.

The only returning rotation players are sophomores Chuck Hannah and Kris Wooten. The 6’6”, 230-pound Hannah is a defensive asset and rebounds well, but lacks Ervin’s offensive upside. Guard Kris Wooten was fourth on the team last year with 43 three-pointers, though he shot just 34 percent from beyond the arc. Guard Marcus Sheffield II, a grad transfer who averaged six points per game in three years at Stanford, is perhaps their best hope for a consistent top scorer.

Bottom Line: Schrage’s hiring is a move in the right direction, and his recruiting skill means the program is primed for a speedy rebuild. But this year’s team is short on talent and experience. Anything besides a last-place finish would be a surprise.