WASHINGTON — Before the swarming zone defense, before
the frantic scrambles for offensive rebounds, before the drives and the
kickouts and the one-on-one brilliance, Tuesday night’s game was about
The Northeastern Huskies knew it better than anybody. Two
years ago, after locking up a share of the CAA regular-season title, battling
their way to the conference championship, and building a 17-point lead in the
second half, the Huskies slowly collapsed as the Charleston Cougars clawed their
way to an overtime victory.
The Cougars went to the NCAA Tournament. The Huskies went home.
That loss stayed with the Huskies. It fueled them. As they
embarked on their 2018–19 season, they focused on a singular goal: returning to
the championship game and seizing the moment that had slipped through their
fingers. After exacting revenge on Charleston in the semifinal, the Huskies did
just that, knocking off the Hofstra Pride, 82–74, to win the March Madness
berth they’d dreamed of for a year. It was vengeance, and it felt fantastic.
The Huskies went to the NCAA Tournament. The Pride went
But on Tuesday night, in a rematch with the Pride, the
Huskies found out what the other end of vengeance feels like. In a remarkably
close, ludicrously energetic championship game, the Huskies fell to the Pride,
The Pride are going to the NCAA Tournament. The Huskies are
“It’s tough,” a visibly choked-up Max Boursiquot said after
the game. “It’s called March Madness for a reason.”
“That feeling of losing and then coming back the next year
and having another opportunity is a special feeling,” Bolden Brace added. “You
don’t get that unless you lose . . . They played with an edge and played with
that desire to win and I think they deserve it.”
Though Hofstra was coming off blowout wins over Drexel and
Delaware, it was Northeastern that struck first, running up an early lead thanks
to aggressive drives. Sometimes those drives yielded layups, other times they yielded
open threes off the catch for Husky guards who filled to the corner when
Hofstra shifted to protect the paint. With his team trailing 10–3, Hofstra head
coach Joe Mihalich called for time.
While the scoring came more evenly after that, the Huskies
continued to earn quality looks. Hofstra famously plays a matchup zone, a
combination of zone and man-to-man principles that allows for pressuring
ballhandlers on the perimeter without the draining effort of man defense. The
Huskies, who struggled against zone defenses in their other CAA Tournament
games against Towson and Elon, countered by repeatedly entering the ball to
small-ball center Max Boursiquot near the foul line, warping the zone and freeing
up cutting and kickout opportunities. The Huskies’ threes were finally falling,
they hustled to every rebound and loose ball, and held the Pride at bay.
But the squad with the best regular-season record couldn’t
be subdued indefinitely, and when Husky point guard Tyson Walker aggravated a
left shoulder injury and went to the bench, the Pride seized the momentum and
sent their fans into a frenzy. Walker returned but struggled, finishing with
just four points.
“When he started the second half he just didn’t look right
to me, just didn’t look his normal competitive self,” Northeastern head coach
Bill Coen noted. “I gotta give him a world of credit just for going out there
and trying. His competitiveness, his grit and determination, and his toughness are
really admirable . . . that was a physical game and he put himself out there
and put himself on the line for the team and the program.”
After a few minutes of hanging around and trading buckets,
Hofstra finally drew even. Three Jalen Ray free throws were bookended by two
eerily similar sequences in which a Hofstra guard drove into the paint and had
a layup blocked, only for his teammates to secure the rebound and nail a three
as the shot clock ran down. The upshot of these three mediocre possessions:
Guilien Smith, not to be outdone, let the Pride have the
lead for all of 18 seconds.
By this point the energy in the building was palpable. Each
team sensed the audible footsteps of the other and the gradual ticking of the
clock, and boosted their energy accordingly. It didn’t matter that their
workload — three playoff games in three days — was unprecedented in their
schedules this season; they played like their jerseys had been set ablaze.
“The way we summoned that energy was just playing together
and using each other and feeding off each other’s energy,” Brace said. “When
somebody was down, I think there was always someone there to pick them up, and
I think that just goes to show you how good of a team we were this year.”
A turnaround jumper from Shaq Walters afforded the Huskies a two-point halftime edge, far narrower than their double-digit halftime margins in their last two games. But that was the only real constant for much of the game: neither team could free itself from the other. For a 23-minute stretch spanning both halves, neither team built a lead greater than five points.
There was plenty for the Huskies to be happy about at the
break. Boursiquot, Walters, and Brace all had at least five points and three
rebounds, and all of them were shooting efficiently. On the opposite side of
the box score, Eli Pemberton decidedly wasn’t; he’d missed eight of his 11 shots
amid excellent pressure from Walters and Smith.
But there were also deficiencies that allowed the Pride to
close the gap. Roland, the conference’s leading scorer, had shot the ball just
three times. Hofstra pulled down six more offensive rebounds than Northeastern
and netted 10 second-chance points to the Huskies’ none. Isaac Kante, the lone
man in the middle on a team built around guards, snatched 10 rebounds.
The second half began with promise, as Brace knocked down a
catch-and-shoot three from the corner. Brace often played with hesitation this
season, opting for ball fakes, halfhearted drives, and slow-moving handoffs
instead of relying on his elite perimeter shooting. That version of him
completely vanished in the CAA Tournament, as he performed with the conviction,
determination, and leadership of a senior who didn’t want to play his last
Desure Buie didn’t want to play his last game either. While
his scoring buoyed the Pride all night, it was his passing that turned heads,
excited fans, and catalyzed the Hofstra run. He began with a quick first step
around Walker, which forced Walters to help off Pemberton. Without looking,
Buie wrapped a magnificent bounce pass around his head to a now-wide open
Pemberton in the corner, who finished off the play to retake the lead.
Just seconds later, Buie snuck up behind Boursiquot and
jabbed the ball loose. On the ensuing two-on-one, Walters planned his chase-down
block, timing his approach and jump to meet Buie at the rim. But with the level
of grace and smarts Buie has shown this year, he wasn’t about to be on anyone’s
highlight reel. Instead he added to his own and forced Coen to call timeout.
The Pride looked poised to pull away and the Huskies needed
an energy boost. And did Max Boursiquot ever respond.
Boursiquot has been anything and everything the Huskies needed to turn around a season marked by an unrealistic number of close, disappointing losses. He provides shooting, passing, positional versatility, perimeter and post defense, rebounding, and, most importantly, energy. He treats every rebound and loose ball as if it’s his birthright.
Right out of the timeout, Boursiquot, under duress, threw a picture-perfect cross-court pass to Roland for a triple. When Roland missed a three the next trip down, Boursiquot bodied Kante — who outweighs him by about 30 pounds — to snatch the rebound, received a pass at the top of the arc, and beat Kante with a right-to-left crossover and first step so quick that he seemed to teleport from the perimeter to the block. Even when he stumbled and lost the ball on a drive, Boursiquot grabbed it from Kante and threw a spot-on pass to a teammate — all while sitting on the floor.
When Boursiquot’s offense forced Mihalich to call timeout, his
message to Kante in the huddle was simple: we need to defend Max Boursiquot
because he’s killing us.
That said, Kante had his way offensively with Boursiquot on
a handful of possessions. Kante would establish deep position, earning himself either
an easy layup off a feed or an offensive rebound when a perimeter shot clanged
off the iron. Though Boursiquot enjoyed slightly greater success when fronting
Kante to deny him the ball, the Pride forward still posted a preposterous nine
points and 15 rebounds. He had as many offensive rebounds (six) as the entire
But it was not Kante that governed play down the stretch. It
Buie had an admirable campaign a year ago, but was considered
the third offensive option behind Pemberton and two-time CAA Player of the Year
Justin Wright-Foreman. After Boursiquot and Roland each picked up their fourth
foul and headed to the bench with 5:23 to play, and with Hofstra’s other top
scorers — Pemberton and Jalen Ray — not shooting efficiently, Buie seized his
He began with a tough, drifting, pullup long two, a
difficult shot with low value. He made it anyway. As Northeastern’s offense
sputtered amid suffocating on-ball pressure from the Pride, Buie stretched the lead
to nine with a quick drive, a pump fake to get Guilien Smith in the air, and a
strong finish through contact.
With less than two minutes left and the shot clock ticking
down on a stagnant Hofstra possession, Buie sized up a top-notch defender in
Guilien Smith, threw him a few crossovers, and fired up a contested three when
the dribbles failed to earn him a sliver of separation.
Buie wound up on the floor. The ball wound up in the bucket.
Despite Roland’s impressive drifting three a short while
later, Buie’s bucket proved the dagger. The Huskies’ second-half fouling had
put the Pride in the double bonus, so the Huskies couldn’t get lucky with the
Pride missing the front end of one-and-ones. They could only watch as the Pride
made every one of their free throws.
The Pride had their first March Madness berth since 2001.
They also had their revenge.
“It is awfully sweet,” Mihalich said after the on-court
celebration, his undone blue tie still hanging from his neck. “Not just because
we won. It’s something to be really proud of. We beat a bunch of champions. The
championship went through them.”
“This feeling is everything,” Ray said. “This has been our
mission since day one . . . this time we completed our mission.”
“We came up about 20 minutes short,” Coen said. “I thought
we played a really strong first half, very competitive game overall, and these
guys played their hearts out. But in the end I thought it was a little bit too
much Desure Buie.”
With 19 seconds to play and the outcome no longer in doubt,
both coaches opted for a platoon swap. While the Hofstra players enjoyed the
applause, cheers, and adulation of a jubilant fan section, the Huskies filed
off the court and into the waiting embrace of Bill Coen. The moment was
especially poignant for Brace, Roland, and Smith, who ended their college
careers on a brutal loss.
“I thanked those guys for their unwavering commitment
to Northeastern University, to this program, all their hard work and
dedication,” Coen said, his voice breaking a bit. “So much goes unseen — the
long days in the weight room, long days of training, hours of practice, hours
of individual time, hours of watching tape. It’s a commitment, and that group
was a special group.
“Bo has played in three CAA Championship games in his four
years; he’s made an incredible mark on this program. Jordan has made an
incredible mark on this program. And I think if you asked every player on our
team, maybe the favorite teammate in the locker room is Guilien Smith. In a
short time he’s made an incredible impact in terms of relationships, and
ultimately that’s what this whole experience is all about.
“You’d love to win championships each and every year, but .
. . what lasts is the mutual respect that you earn by giving your best. And
when you do that, whether you win or lose, nobody can take that from you for
the rest of your life. These guys will share a bond because they know they gave
it up for each other, and that’s the real championship in my mind.”
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
William & Mary Tribe
Delaware Blue Hens
James Madison Dukes
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
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
HEMPSTEAD, NY — The
Northeastern men’s basketball team came into Saturday afternoon’s game against
Hofstra on a three-game losing streak, desperate for a win as William &
Mary, Charleston, and Hofstra have begun to separate themselves at the top of
Looking for revenge after Eli
Pemberton’s last-second game-winner in their last matchup, the Huskies came
rocketing out of the gate and built a sizable first-half lead. But
Northeastern’s demons followed them to Hempstead, as they succumbed to yet
another second-half comeback and lost 75–71.
The Huskies’ (11–13, 5–7 CAA)
defense stifled the Pride (18–7, 9–3, CAA) early on, keying an 8–0 run to start
the game and forcing a timeout from Hofstra head coach Joe Mihalich just two
minutes in. Shaquille Walters started the game matched up with Pemberton, who
dropped a team-high 24 points in the reverse fixture at Matthews earlier this
season. Walters defended his assignment exceptionally, using his size and
length to bother the 6’5” Pemberton, who is used to rising up over defenders
for shots. Clearly affected by Walters, Pemberton missed his first five shots
and seven of his first eight.
Likewise, freshman Tyson
Walker’s defense on Desure Buie — Hofstra’s leading scorer this season — was a
huge part of the Huskies’ early success. Buie clanked six shots to begin his
afternoon and struggled throughout the game to create separation from Walker.
While Walters and Walker kept
things in check defensively, Jordan Roland kept it rolling on the offensive
end. The redshirt senior poured in 19 efficient first-half points, going seven-for-12
from the field while knocking down a trio of triples. Fellow senior Bolden
Brace knocked down six free throws en route to eight points of his own in the
first 20 minutes.
Despite the great individual
efforts in the first half, a Buie buzzer-beating jumper cut Northeastern’s lead
to 10 heading into the break. With Hofstra’s league-best offense looking to
break free and the Huskies’ penchant for letting teams back into games, the
second half was bound to entertain.
And entertain it did. Well,
if you’re a Pride fan at least.
With Max Boursiquot
committing three fouls in the first half, Husky head coach Bill Coen went to
Jason Strong to start the second half. Equal to the task, the redshirt
sophomore compiled a quick six points over the first 3:14 of the frame — the
only Husky to score in that span.
“Jason’s got some ability . .
. he played with some energy today. We needed it,” Coen said. “I thought he
made some really nice plays for us.”
His last basket of the
stretch put the Huskies up 46–32, and they looked to be in the driver’s seat.
From then on, those pesky
demons reared their ugly heads once again. From the 18:24 mark to 10:23,
Northeastern was whistled for 10 fouls to Hofstra’s one. When the dust settled,
Roland and Boursiquot each had four fouls, while Walker and Strong sat at three
apiece. The free throws awarded from those fouls helped the Pride rip off a 21–6
run over the next seven minutes after Strong’s bucket, capped off by a Jaylen
Ray three-pointer to give Hofstra their first lead of the game at 53–52 with
just over nine minutes to play.
Roland briefly regained the
lead for the Huskies with a jumper of his own, but Buie responded with a pair
of swagger-filled triples and a couple of free throws to push the Hofstra lead
back to seven points. Try as they might, Northeastern just couldn’t find the
juice to claw their way back.
Strong drilled a clutch
three-pointer with 33 seconds left to cut the deficit to three.
After Ray went one-for-two at
the charity stripe, Roland missed a trey on the other end. Guilien Smith came
up with an offensive rebound off the miss, and the ball found its way back to
Roland. The Huskies’ star proceeded to hit one of the most ridiculous shots
you’ll ever see — an off-balance, left-handed, Hail Mary of a prayer. Because
it’s Jordan Roland, it of course swished right through.
Now in a one-point game, the
Huskies tried their best to play the foul game. But six straight made free
throws from Buie and Ray held the Huskies at bay, as Northeastern fell to the
Pride for their fourth straight loss and fifth in six games.
“I don’t know if I have a
message [to the team]. You’ve gotta play winning basketball. Somebody’s gotta
make a winning play,” Coen lamented. “A defensive stop, a rebound, a shot . . .
obviously we’re not finding a way to win, we’re finding a way to lose.”
Roland finished with a
game-high 32 points while pulling down five rebounds. Strong, with 14, was the
only other Husky in double-digits. Walters chipped in nine points, nine boards,
and four assists of his own, while Brace contributed eight, eight, and three.
Ray and Buie ended with 22 points apiece to pace the Pride, while Pemberton
Northeastern will look to
break out of their funk on Thursday, when UNCW makes its way to Matthews Arena.
WRBB will provide live coverage, starting with pregame analysis at 6:45 p.m.
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
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 . . .
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
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
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
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.
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.
My mom always taught me that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say
anything at all.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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 . . .
Does This Leave Us?
left to do when parity becomes absurdity? How do we predict? How do we analyze?
How do we set our expectations?
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.
is no king in this conference. The throne is wide open. Let the crazy continue.
Thursday night’s ending was a test of just how much déjà vu
the college basketball gods can cram into one play.
Just like Saturday, Northeastern faced a top-tier CAA
opponent at Matthews Arena. Once again, the Huskies overcame first-half
struggles, closed the deficit with hot second-half shooting, and tied the score
in the game’s waning minutes with a clutch three.
But, unbelievably, and again, their opponent’s elite senior
scorer caught a pass above the arc, drove left, and hit an athletic lefty layup
with tenths of a second left on the clock, leaving Northeastern to miss a halfcourt
heave as the buzzer sounded.
The only difference: tonight’s victor was Hofstra, not
William & Mary. The final assassin was Eli Pemberton, not Nathan Knight.
But the result was the same: a two-point loss to a top-notch CAA foe in a game
Northeastern arguably should have won. It was like finding out your friend has
an identical twin they never mentioned.
The Huskies fell to the Pride, 74–72, losing their second
straight game and dropping to 9–8 (3–2 CAA) and fourth place in the CAA.
Hofstra (13–5, 4–1 CAA) is third.
After the 66–64 loss to William & Mary on Saturday, the
Huskies were left wondering if a few things going right — namely Roland shooting
better — would have yielded a victory. Tonight’s first-half culprit was . . .
well, how much time do you have?
It began with turnovers. Northeastern surrendered the ball
11 times in the first half, seven of which were Hofstra steals. Forfeiting possession
that many times will always hurt your prospects, but the harm is amplified when
so many of the giveaways are live-ball turnovers. Though Hofstra didn’t eviscerate
the Huskies on points off turnovers or the fastbreak, the Pride benefitted from
the extra possessions, took more shots than Northeastern, and retained their
momentum for most of the first half.
Northeastern also repeatedly missed uncontested layups. Besides
the obvious loss of two points, each miss ended with the shooter underneath the
Husky basket, allowing Hofstra to push the ball in transition and attack Northeastern’s
defense before it was set.
Northeastern struggled in navigating Hofstra’s matchup zone,
a defense that combines zone and man principles, prioritizes switching, and
employs quick perimeter defenders. The Pride pressured Husky guards along both sidelines,
and the Huskies struggled to circumvent the traps with quick passes. Even when
the passes found their targets, their lack of accuracy and zip meant that Northeastern
couldn’t make Hofstra pay for doubling.
“Their matchup zone is not the typical zone; it’s not like you run your zone offense and you get [shots],” Northeastern head coach Bill Coen explained. “You have to be able to move, manipulate the defense to be able to create some openings, and understand their slides and their movements. It gets you guarding yourself a little bit and you get timid.”
Coen also remarked that his team’s “ball screen coverage was
very soft,” which allowed Hofstra to invade the lane and grab rebounds. The
Pride also took advantage by screening to spring shooters loose on
out-of-bounds plays, which netted several baskets.
Roland followed up his poor showing Saturday — seven points
on woeful three-for-14 shooting — with just three points on five shots in the
“I think I’m just gonna have to play better for us to be
able to win games,” Roland said, one of several similar comments he made after
the game. “If I played [well] for 40 minutes I feel like we win today.”
It was shocking to see Roland be so hard on himself. True,
he was absent in the first half save for one made three, one of many reasons
why the Huskies trailed by 16 at the break. But his second half was a fireworks
display. Roland posted 25 second-half points, splashing home seven of his nine
threes to key the Northeastern comeback. His final stat line — 28 points on 17
shots — was patently ridiculous, and his final three tied the game with 21
There’s no disputing that Roland’s play in the last six
weeks has been inconsistent from game to game, and even within games. But when knocks
down a few shots, when he finds his rhythm and finds his range, he has a gear
most college players can’t reach with a stepladder. It almost doesn’t matter
how far he is from the basket or how close the defender is to him; he will rain
down three-point fire from above and make opposing guards look foolish for
trying to defend him.
The other key Husky performer was Bolden Brace, whose 18-point, 10-rebound effort was easily one of his best games all year. In the first half, he became the 39th player in Northeastern history — and the second player this season — to reach the 1,000-point plateau. He was the only Husky who played well throughout the first half, repeatedly sliding into open space, making intelligent passes, and using his gravity to bend the Hofstra zone.
Tyson Walker, fresh off his second straight and fourth
overall CAA Rookie of the Year win, scored 10 points but made just five of his
15 shots. He did notch a couple of gorgeous layups, though, showing impressive driving
strength and body control for a six-foot, 162-pound player.
For Hofstra, it was Pemberton and Desure Buie, both senior guards, who led the way. The pair finished with similar stat lines — 20+ points, efficient shooting inside and out, and four rebounds — but Pemberton, courtesy of his game-winner, walked away the center of attention. He made the most of his time on national television, chatting with a CBS reporter as the Huskies trudged off the court. Isaac Kante also made his mark, logging 15 points, making all seven of his shots, and snagging 12 rebounds.
Buie’s efficiency has been remarkable this season, trailing
only Roland in shooting efficiency among CAA guards. He has been on fire in
conference play, and entered Thursday’s game fresh off a 44-point explosion
against Elon. His performance was expected. Pemberton’s was much more in doubt,
as his efficiency has been relatively low and his scoring inconsistent. But he
showed the Huskies why preseason expectations pegged him as the best player on
the conference’s best team.
“He just made a really, really athletic play to his left hand
off the glass,” Coen said. “We had a little bit of a sloppy closeout, he’s a
terrific athlete, and he’s been a very good player in this league for a long,
It’s hard to know where the Huskies stand after five
conference games. They won their first three conference games by 16, 16, and
nine points, then lost the next two on game-winners. They’ve seen stellar performances
and season-lows from Roland. They’ve protected the ball brilliantly — just five
turnovers against William & Mary — and tossed it around carelessly,
committing 11 first-half turnovers tonight. They were outrebounded cleanly by bottom-dwelling
Elon, then held their own down low against William & Mary’s twin tower
lineup of Knight and Andy Van Vliet.
Sometimes they’ve looked like a first-place team.
And sometimes they’ve been overpowered.
“We got two losses in this league by a total of four points,”
Coen lamented. “It’s not where we want to be, but we know we’re not that far
“What I do like about both these losses is the character of
this team. We got down in both games, came back, and narrowly missed salvaging
both games. It’s in these guys, they know it. The standard in this program has
been pretty high, it’s a championship-level standard, and their efforts and
expectations are the same.
“It’s all about where the teachable moments are . . . and
getting to the point where these guys can learn from it and get better. I know
the desire is there.”
After Thursday’s games, there are three teams ahead of
Northeastern in the conference standings. They just lost to two of them in
heartbreaking fashion, making next Thursday’s game against the undefeated Charleston
Cougars all the more essential.
Losing will lower their overall and conference records to
.500, likely move them to the middle of the standings, and cast serious doubts on
the team’s ability to repeat as CAA champions. A win would prove their talent,
their execution, and their resilience after a pair of tough losses.
Michael Petillo and Matt Neiser will call that game, with
coverage beginning at 6:45 PM EST.
With the CAA’s conference slate beginning today, WRBB examined the non-conference performances of all 10 CAA teams and ranked them from worst to best. The rankings are based on each team’s record and strength of schedule, with occasional deviations if a deep dive into a team’s schedule, margins of victory, or statistics warranted one.
CAA teams played 125 non-conference games and won 68 for a winning
percentage of .544. Their average opponent, as determined by KenPom’s strength
of schedule metric, was very slightly below the Division I average.
They also spent a sizeable chunk of the last six weeks bludgeoning Division II and III squads. Eight CAA teams won a game by 40 or more points, with three teams winning by 60 or more. The largest margin of victory went to the Towson Tigers, who flattened Division III Bryn Athyn by 69 points. Only Northeastern’s biggest blowout — a 57-point laugher against Holy Cross— came against a Division I team.
Though a comment or prediction is given for each team’s
upcoming schedule, the rankings reflect only how the teams performed in their
completed non-conference games. Each section is prefaced with the team’s record,
strength of schedule rank (compared to other CAA teams), head coach, and, just
for kicks, the player with the best name along with an explanation for why.
With that said . . .
#10: Elon Phoenix
Non-Conference Record: 4–9
Strength of Schedule Rank: Fourth
Head Coach: Mike Schrage (first season)
Best Player Name: Federico Poser — fun to say whether you
pronounce it correctly or not
This is not to say that Elon had no bright spots in the season’s first six weeks. Stanford grad transfer Marcus Sheffield emerged as a premier scorer, posting 17 points per game to go along with five rebounds and three assists.
Freshmen Hunter Woods and Hunter McIntosh were also pleasant
surprises for a team that lost its top five scorers from last year. Both are
averaging double figures in scoring and shooting more than 40 percent form
downtown. Woods also leads the team in rebounding.
The Phoenix even managed to hang with No. 5 UNC for the
first 20 minutes of their November 20 matchup, despite the Tar Heels entering
as 30 ½-point favorites. Though UNC pulled away at the start of the second
half, the Phoenix faithful could take some small comfort in Sheffield’s poster
slam over former CAA standout Justin Pierce.
But the good news ends there for Elon. The UNC loss was one piece
of a six-game losing streak. Of their four non-conference wins, two came
against Division II teams, one against a Division III squad, and one against a Kennesaw
State club ranked 342 out of 353 Division I teams.
The Phoenix are last in the CAA in offense and scoring
margin, and are the only squad shooting below 40 percent from the floor. They
are last in offensive rebounds and rebounding margin. Their sole saving grace
is their three-point shooting; they are the only CAA club making more than 10
threes per game and are fourth in three-point percentage. But even then there
is a downside; they are worst in the conference at defending the three.
The emergence of Woods and McIntosh as scoring threats is welcome news for first-year coach Mike Schrage. But Elon’s lack of depth and veteran talent is evident. Given that the team finished with the CAA’s worst non-conference record despite multiple players exceeding expectations, it’s hard to imagine they can pose a threat during conference play.
#9: UNCW Seahawks
Non-Conference Record: 5–8
Strength of Schedule Rank: Third
Head Coach: C.B. McGrath (third season)
Best Player Name: Brian Tolefree — you don’t have to pay for
If the William & Mary Tribe were the CAA program most ravaged in the offseason — four of their top five scorers fled to other schools after the dismissal of longtime head coach Tony Shaver — then UNCW was the program most ravaged in non-conference play.
Though the Seahawks weren’t expected to shine much after the
graduation of monster forward Devontae Cacok and the transfer of junior
standout Jeantal Cylla, they at least had a few exciting pieces to fuel coach
C.B. McGrath’s up-tempo offense.
The first domino to fall was sharpshooting junior guard and
leading returning scorer Ty Gadsden, who began the season sidelined by injury,
played December 7 against Charlotte, and hasn’t played since. The team confirmed
he is out indefinitely, indicating that he may return sometime this season. The
same cannot be said for fellow junior guard Jay Estimé, who injured his knee,
went under the knife, and will miss the rest of the season. The injuries, when
combined with the departure of grad transfer Carter Skaggs in November, gutted
a Seahawks’ roster struggling for experience (the Seahawks are one of seven Division
I teams without a senior).
But the last and largest domino fell after the team’s
non-conference closer against Vanderbilt on December 21, when sophomore point
guard Kai Toews informed McGrath and his staff that he is leaving the program. McGrath
called the announcement a “total surprise.” The team said Toews planned to pursue
a professional basketball career in his native Japan; Toews announced on
Twitter that he was “thinking of going on a professional path or transferring.”
Toews said previously that he would like to compete for the Japanese national
team at the FIBA World Cup and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Though he was averaging just five points, four rebounds, and
three assists this year, Toews was a crucial component of the team’s future. Although
he wasn’t a major scoring threat, he was named to the CAA All-Rookie Team last
year after breaking the conference record with 253 assists.
In their stead, sophomore guard Jaylen Sims has picked up
some slack, leading the team in points (15) and rebounds (6) per game while
shooting a CAA-best 47 percent from behind the arc.
Sophomore forward Martin Linssen has also chipped in,
logging 10 points and four rebounds per game in his first season with the
Seahawks after transferring from Valparaiso. But the biggest surprise has been
six-foot freshman guard Shykeim Phillips, who is averaging nine points per
contest on 49 percent shooting. Though he isn’t scoring from the perimeter, he
uses a smorgasbord of quick hesitations, jukes, and handles to dart to the
basket for layups. Phillips began the season off the bench, but earned a
starting spot several weeks in.
But, like Elon’s, most of UNCW’s five wins have come against
Division III teams, with Campbell and FIU as the only DI victories. The four
departures and injuries are reflected in the CAA-worst five-game losing streak
they take into conference play. Their typically high-octane offense keeps their
scoring, field goal percentage, three-point percentage, and assists in the CAA’s
top five, but their field goal, three-point, and scoring defense all rank
Even if Ty Gadsden returns for a good chunk of conference play, enough damage has been done to put the Seahawks in contention with the Phoenix for the CAA’s bottom spot.
#8: Drexel Dragons
Non-Conference Record: 7–6
Strength of Schedule Rank: Sixth
Head Coach: Zach Spiker (fourth season)
Best Player Name: Coletrane Washington — greatest jazz name
of all time
Like Elon and UNCW, Drexel needed to replace a mix of graduates (Trevor John, Troy Harper) and transfers (Alihan Demir). The three combined to average more than half of the team’s points last season.
Unlike Elon and UNCW, Drexel has maintained enough healthy
talent to post a winning record in non-conference play.
The biggest component behind the Dragons’ success has been
the miraculous progression of senior guard/forward Zach Walton, who jumped to
Drexel from Edmonds Community College (not in the NCAA) and played just seven
games last year before an injury ended his season. Walton had a breakout night in
the team’s third game against Abilene Christian, dropping 22 points and sinking
the game-winning three after reigning CAA Rookie of the Year Camren Wynter was
denied the ball.
Ten days later, he dropped a season-high 32 points in a win
over Bryant. Though Walton’s 28 percent clip from downtown leaves much to be
desired, his 13 points per game are keying a Drexel offense badly in need of
scoring punch. His four boards per night and a steady series of highlights aren’t
too shabby either.
Wynter and James Butler sit right behind Walton in the
scoring column with 12 points per game. Both lead the CAA in a key category,
Butler in rebounds (11.5 a game) and Wynter in assists (5.8). Butler’s inside
presence is by far the biggest reason for Drexel’s strong rebounding margin,
the third-best in the CAA.
But Drexel lacks both an elite scorer and a deep, balanced roster of offensive options, which will likely spell trouble in conference play. Their offense and defense both ranked eighth in non-conference play, and though their assist and three-point defense stats led the conference, they need to find another gear to exceed preseason expectations. They also need to figure out how to win away from home; they won five of their six contests in Philadelphia but lost all five road games.
#7: Northeastern Huskies
Non-Conference Record: 6–6
Strength of Schedule Rank: Eighth
Head Coach: Bill Coen (14th season)
Best Player Name: Greg Eboigbodin — save for the word “boing,”
there’s no better way to describe the motion and feel of a trampoline
It’s surprising to see the Huskies this far down on the list, especially given that their scoring margin ranked third in the conference. But a .500 record and the third-weakest strength of schedule leaves them here.
That said, their bright spot was brighter than anyone else’s.
In the season’s first few games, senior guard Jordan Roland torched every
defense he saw, leading the nation in scoring and forcing his name into
national conversations, award watchlists, and ESPN segments. He infuriated
defenses with a flurry of difficult lefty floaters and overwhelmed them with
twisting, drifting, contested threes from distances where no one in their right
mind would think to shoot a basketball.
Roland’s best game came in an 84–79 win against Harvard on
November 8. He scored 11 points in the game’s first three minutes en route to a
42-point firestorm that shattered the single-game school record held by Husky
legends J.J. Barea and Reggie Lewis.
Though he tailed off somewhat as the season progressed, his
22.4 points per game still lead the CAA and rank seventh in the nation. His marks
of 51 percent from the floor, 43 percent from three, and 93 percent from the
foul line are all preposterous, and rank as the conference’s fourth-best, second-best,
and best, respectively. He is also second in the conference in minutes per game
(37.3) and has established himself as the clear favorite for CAA Player of the
Year ahead of Delaware’s Nate Darling and Charleston’s Grant Riller.
Tyson Walker, Max Boursiquot, and Shaq Walters have stepped
up at various times, giving hope that the Husky offense can become more
balanced. Walker in particular has exceeded expectations, starting every game and
taking the offensive keys from graduating guard Vasa Pusica.
But the consistency hasn’t been there. Senior guard/forward
Bolden Brace, who was expected to be the team’s second scoring option behind
Roland, has shot efficiently but hasn’t scored in volume, logging double
figures in just four of the team’s 12 games. Without reliable scoring from him,
Northeastern will be hard-pressed to remain a top-three CAA team.
The team also suffered from injuries to big men; 6’8” Tomas
Murphy has missed the last eight games with an ankle injury and 6’10” Greg
Eboigbodin has missed the last two. Though there have been some fine
performances in their stead — namely back-to-back double-doubles by 6’5”
utility man Max Boursiquot — the lack of size has presented problems for the
Huskies. Though their CAA-worst rebounding numbers are partially attributable
to their having the slowest pace in the conference, their challenges in
crashing the boards without Murphy and Eboigbodin have often hampered their
ability to build and maintain momentum in games.
The Huskies excelled from the outside, nailing a CAA-best 41
percent of their three-pointers, with their three most frequent perimeter
shooters all shooting between 42 and 44 percent. They also sank 82 percent of
their free throws, easily the best mark in the conference. But they allow the CAA’s
highest field goal percentage, in large part due to the shortcomings of their
The Huskies’ non-conference slate left plenty for coach Bill Coen to be optimistic about. But offensive inconsistency, namely from players not named Jordan Roland, left the Huskies with a .500 record when they could have fared much better.
#6: Towson Tigers
Non-Conference Record: 6–6
Strength of Schedule Rank: Second
Head Coach: Pat Skerry (ninth season)
Best Player Name: Demetrius Mims — m’s in all the right
Last year, Towson struggled mightily, winning less than a third of their games while trying to incorporate 11 new players. This year, with 90 percent of their scoring and 86 percent of their rebounding from last year returning, the Tigers have a much better chance to develop.
Towson finished with the same 6–6 record as Northeastern,
but Towson had a higher strength of schedule. Oddly enough, their most
encouraging moment was a loss. Despite entering a mid-November game against the
No. 15 Florida Gators as 18 ½-point underdogs, the Tigers kept the game close
throughout. The clubs were tied with 80 seconds left before Florida salvaged a
As expected, senior guard Brian Fobbs has keyed the Towson
attack, averaging 17 points and five boards a night. However, his relatively
low efficiency marks (41 percent from the field, 29 percent from three) will
have to rise before he can join the elite tier of CAA scorers.
Sophomore guard Allen Betrand and senior forwards Nakye
Sanders and Dennis Tunstall have continued their solid offensive production
from last year. But all three will need to up their production before Towson
can take the next step.
The Tigers’ reliably scrappy, energetic defense has shown up
this year; they allow a CAA-best 65.4 points per game and boast the second-best
rebounding margin and third-best steal total. But they don’t rank near the top
of the conference in any meaningful offensive category and only Fobbs qualifies
as any sort of offensive standout.
Their excellent defense can only take them so far, and if Towson wishes to capitalize on the senior seasons of Fobbs, Tunstall, and Sanders, the entire team needs to boost its scoring.
#5: Charleston Cougars
Non-Conference Record: 6–6
Strength of Schedule Rank: First
Head Coach: Earl Grant (sixth season)
Best Player Name: Zep Jasper — plenty of powerful plosives
Charleston is a general consensus top-three CAA team that finished 6–6 in non-conference play. At first glance, this might lead to comparisons with Northeastern, but Charleston had a decidedly superior non-conference slate.
Though they suffered blowout defeats at the hands of
Oklahoma State and Central Florida, their other four losses were by
single-digit margins to good teams: Central Florida again, Wake Forest,
Richmond, and VCU. The Cougars fought through the most difficult non-conference
schedule of any CAA team and emerged with plenty to be happy about.
They are led by senior guard and CAA Preseason Player of the
Year Grant Riller, who is logging 21 points, four rebounds, and four assists per
night. His scoring mark is good for third in the CAA (20th in the
nation) and his field goal and free throw percentages are both top five in the
conference. His scoring is coming in the same way it did last year: subpar
three-point shooting and a sky-high percentage around the rim.
On November 29, Riller keyed a win over Providence and
passed former teammate Jarrell Brantley for third on the school’s all-time
scoring list. Two weeks later, he notched his 2,000th collegiate point.
That said, there is room for Riller to improve, particularly
regarding his 26 percent mark from three-point land. He’s had a strong season,
but at his best he is the conference’s greatest scorer and arguably its top
player overall. He hasn’t hit his ceiling yet.
The Cougars lack a clear second scoring option behind
Riller, but junior guard Brevin Galloway and senior forwards Jaylen McManus and
Sam Miller have all assumed larger roles in the offense. Miller in particular
has stood out, notching seven points and seven rebounds per contest thanks in
part to moderately efficient perimeter shooting.
The Cougars boast a strong defense, led by a combined four
steals per game from Riller and Galloway. Though their CAA-worst perimeter shooting
badly warrants improvement, many of their other low ranks in team stats
compared to other CAA squads can be explained away by their slow pace of play
and the tough competition they’ve faced so far.
Their record isn’t fantastic, and there is room for improvement up and down the roster. But don’t be fooled; this Cougars team is still dangerous.
#4: James Madison Dukes
Non-Conference Record: 7–4
Strength of Schedule Rank: Seventh
Head Coach: Louis Rowe (third season)
Best Player Name: Michael Christmas — because Christmas time
At the outset of the season, James Madison appeared poised to snap a streak of three consecutive losing seasons, and they haven’t disappointed so far.
Leading the way is junior guard Matt Lewis, who ranks fifth
in the conference in points (18), rebounds (7), and minutes (35) per game, and
adds a third-best five assists per game as well. He’s taken the lead on a team
with no seniors in the regular rotation.
His backcourt partner and fellow junior Darius Banks is
faring almost as well, averaging 14 points (on 41 percent from downtown) and
five boards a night. He has also continued his thievery from last year, swiping
the ball 1.6 times per contest.
And if that wasn’t enough junior talent, try 6’8”, 250-pound
junior forward Dwight Wilson, who missed the first four games of the season but
has averaged a double-double since. Or junior forward Zach Jacobs, who chips in
eight points and six boards a game.
But the performance nobody saw coming, especially with so
many returning offensive centerpieces, is freshman forward Michael Christmas,
who is putting up nine points and six rebounds per game, shooting a comical 46
percent from three on decent volume, and has established himself as a one-man
The Dukes’ team stats require a bit of context to decipher.
At first glance, their counting stats and percentage stats appear to tell
opposing stories. This is explained by the team’s pace of play, easily the
fastest in the conference. The Dukes have the 26th-fastest pace out
of 353 Division I teams; the next closest CAA team is Hofstra, nearly 100 spots
down the list.
More possessions mean that the Dukes score more and give up
more points, skewing their counting stats. The percentage stats tell a more accurate
story. James Madison is eighth in the CAA in field goal and three-point
percentage; save for Banks and Christmas, the regular three-point shooters are
converting less than a third of their tries. They also struggled from the
charity stripe, making just 65 percent of their free throws.
The Dukes shone on defense, limiting opponents to the lowest
field goal percentage and second-lowest three-point percentage of any CAA team.
They also led the conference in blocks.
The Dukes’ offense has a high ceiling and is likely to improve as the season progresses. But it is their defense that has turned heads, going from a middle-of-the-pack unit last year to — along with Towson — the conference’s best so far this year. If they can overcome the offensive hole left by the graduation of Stuckey Mosley, the Dukes can join the CAA’s top tier.
#3: Hofstra Pride
Non-Conference Record: 9–4
Strength of Schedule Rank: Tenth
Head Coach: Joe Mihalich (seventh season)
Best Player Name: Stafford Trueheart — no idea why he’s playing
basketball instead of commanding the English army in the 12th
Hofstra begin their non-conference schedule with a mandate (a first-place finish in the CAA Preseason Poll) and the question of how to replace the offense of graduating guard Justin Wright-Foreman, the two-time reigning CAA Player of the Year and arguably the best scorer the conference has seen in years?
But, as it turns out, you can lose Wright-Foreman and still
have the best and deepest backcourt in the conference. It begins with a pair of
seniors: Eli Pemberton and Desure Buie.
The pair have remarkably similar numbers. Pemberton averages
17.1 points per game, good for sixth in the conference; Buie’s 16.6 points rank
eighth. Pemberton is third in minutes per game with 35.6; Buie is right behind
him at 35.5. Pemberton averages six rebounds per contest; Buie notches six assists,
good for second in the conference. Buie has also retained the defensive
brilliance that won him CAA Defensive Player of the Year last year; he leads
the conference with 2.7 steals a night.
Junior guards Jalen Ray and Tareq Coburn round out the backcourt,
averaging a combined 18 points and 11 rebounds. Coburn’s seven rebounds per
contest lead the team, while Ray has been the most efficient scorer among the Hofstra
guards, shooting 41 percent from downtown.
Sophomore forward/center Isaac Kante, who sat out last
season after transferring from Georgia, has established himself on a squad short
on rebounding and defensive presence down low. He is averaging nine points on
61 percent shooting to go along with seven rebounds.
The Pride also scored the biggest win of any CAA team so far
this season. On November 21, they walked into Pauley Pavilion and toppled UCLA.
Keyed by 29 points from Buie and 27 from Ray, Hofstra came
back from a 13-point first-half deficit to take the game 88–78. It was the
Bruins’ first loss of the year and one of the biggest wins in program history
The Pride are the best-scoring offense in the CAA so far,
though their numbers are inflated by their relatively fast pace of play and
their strength of schedule, which was the weakest of any CAA team. Their four
main guards are all among the conference’s ten best free throw shooters, with
Buie’s 91 percent second only to Northeastern’s Jordan Roland. The team as a
whole knocks down 78 percent of their foul shots, second only to Northeastern’s
82 percent. The Pride have the most steals, most offensive rebounds, and best
assist-to-turnover ratio of any CAA team.
Hofstra’s biggest causes for concern inside depth (as
evidenced by their middle-of-the-pack rebounding numbers) and efficiency — they
ranked seventh in field goal percentage and three-point percentage.
The Pride enter conference play riding a three-game winning streak. They have a quartet of guards that can outpace anyone. If they can find the efficiency and inside play buttons, they will be an imposing bunch.
#2: William & Mary Tribe
Non-Conference Record: 8–5
Strength of Schedule Rank: Fifth
Head Coach: Dane Fischer (first season)
Best Player Name: Thatcher Stone — if people were once again
named after their professions, you’d hire him to build you a sturdy house
This one was a surprise.
A month after their CAA Tournament exit last season, the
Tribe looked like a bomb had hit them. Tony Shaver, their coach of 16 years, had
been fired. Justin Pierce, Matt Milon, Chase Audige, and LJ Owens — four of the
team’s five leading scorers who had a combined eight years of eligibility
remaining — had transferred. Leading scorer Nathan Knight was thinking about
bailing on his senior season and declaring for the NBA draft.
New head coach Dane Fischer walked into this mess and pulled
everything together. The Tribe posted the CAA’s fourth-best winning percentage
in non-conference play; the three teams ahead of them had considerably weaker
It begins, as any William & Mary conversation inevitably
does, with Knight. When he decided to return for his senior season, the Tribe
retained the conference’s best big man and, along with Charleston’s Grant
Riller, a solid candidate for Player of the Year. He hasn’t disappointed,
posting nightly averages of 20 points and 10 rebounds, with his 56 percent mark
from the field and 1.5 blocks per game leading the conference. Along with
Northeastern’s Jordan Roland, Knight was named to the watchlist for the Oscar
Robertson Trophy, given annually to college basketball’s best player.
As spectacular as Knight has been, his elite play was
expected. What wasn’t as expected was the establishment of senior center Andy
Van Vliet as an elite two-way player. The seven-foot Wisconsin transfer is
averaging 15 points and 10 rebounds a night, the latter tied with the 6’10” Knight
for second-best in the conference. His is sixth in the conference in field goal
percentage and blocks.
Good shooters are not hard to come by in the CAA; good
shooters who are seven feet tall are rare. Both Knight and Van Vliet can space
the floor, nailing 35 and 39 percent of their threes, respectively. This allows
Fischer to play a twin towers lineup without sacrificing perimeter shooting,
creating matchup and switching nightmares even for well-balanced defenses.
The Tribe also have benefitted from a pair of guards: grad
transfer Bryce Barnes and junior Luke Loewe. Barnes is averaging eight points,
three rebounds, and four assists a night in his first and only season for the
Tribe after three years playing for Milwaukee. Loewe has taken a gigantic step
forward, upping his production and efficiency across the board. He’s averaging
11 points a night on a hyper-efficient 53 percent shooting from the floor and
47 percent from downtown.
Sophomore guard Thornton Scott has missed nine straight games
with a lower leg injury. In the four games he played — all of which the Tribe
won — he showed tremendous progress from last year, averaging 13 points, five
rebounds, and four assists with an absurd 52 percent clip from downtown. If he
returns soon, it will add another weapon to an already well-stocked arsenal.
The Tribe won their first four games out of the gate, three
of which came on the road. One of those wins came against Wofford, courtesy of
a game-winning layup by Barnes. Before Barnes’s shot dropped, Wofford had won
its last 17 home games in a row.
Fischer has picked up his predecessor’s tendency for a
relatively even distribution of minutes. Van Vliet leads the team with just 30
per game, trailed closely by Knight and Loewe. It begs the question of what
happens if Fischer decides to up their minutes, leaving opponents to face his
twin towers for longer stretches.
William & Mary’s team stats reveal no obvious weaknesses
so far. Their scoring, assist rate, points allowed, margin of victory, field
goal percentage, field goal defense, and three-point percentage all fall
between third and fifth. They rank second in defensive rebounds and blocks, and
first in rebounding margin. Even their bottom-half offensive rebounding and
three-point defense aren’t far off from respectable levels.
Entering the season, the Tribe were a question mark, with Knight projected to dominate but nothing else assured. With non-conference play complete, the Tribe have joined the CAA’s top tier and have as good a shot at the CAA title as anyone.
#1: Delaware Blue Hens
Non-Conference Record: 10–3
Strength of Schedule Rank: Ninth
Head Coach: Martin Inglesby (fourth season)
Best Player Name: Nate Darling — any Delaware fans who think
he’s cute have an easy poster idea waiting for them
December 3, 2019. Hofstra, the winner of the CAA Preseason Poll, was 6–3. Northeastern, the defending conference champion, was 4–4.
The Delaware Blue Hens, who most preseason observers had
placed outside the CAA’s top tier, were undefeated, winners of nine straight
games. And though they fell to earth by losing three of their next four to
close non-conference play, the statement had been made: Delaware is the team to
beat in the CAA.
Although many had high expectations for junior guard and UAB
transfer Nate Darling, he has outplayed those expectations and then some. His
21.4 points per game are second only to Northeastern’s Jordan Roland and rank
16th in the nation. He has played more minutes and made more threes
than anyone in the CAA, and his stellar three-point percentage of 42 ranks
third. Throw in his four rebounds and three assists per contest, and Delaware has
the best CAA transfer since Northeastern nabbed Vasa Pusica from San Diego.
But because one excellent transfer isn’t enough, the Blue
Hens have another: sophomore forward Justyn Mutts. In his first season with
Delaware after leaving High Point, Mutts is logging 14 points per game on 53
percent shooting (second in the conference to Nathan Knight) and 9.6 rebounds
(fourth in the conference). As if that weren’t enough, his highlights are
Now, for the returning play . . . what? They have another transfer?
He’s from Villanova? He’s 6’10”? He dropped 19 points in his Delaware debut?
Sure, why not? This might as well happen.
Dylan Painter is a midseason transfer, so he only recently
became eligible, playing in Delaware’s final two non-conference games. The Blue
Hens won nine games in a row, then added a major piece to compliment Mutts down
And finally we turn our attention to returning junior guards
Ryan Allen and Kevin Anderson. Both have long been ticketed for CAA stardom but
have seen serious injuries impede their progress. They’re healthy now, and at
the perfect time. They have similar numbers: double-digit scoring, a field goal
percentage in the high 40s, and a three-point percentage around 40 percent.
The Blue Hens are third in scoring, points allowed, field goal and three-point defense, and defensive rebounds. They lead the conference in scoring margin, field goal percentage, and assist-to-turnover ratio. Though they ultimately fell 78–70 to No. 20 Villanova, they proved they could hang around against a superior team. In the season’s fourth game, Painter and Anderson combined for 69 points.
Last year, Delaware finished with a losing conference record
and lost in the semifinal round of the CAA Tournament. Now they’re stacked, and
the road to the conference’s March Madness bid goes through them.
Led by Justin Wright-Foreman and his second-straight CAA Player of the Year season, the Hofstra Pride were a force to be reckoned with in 2018–19. A 16-game winning streak — the longest in the nation before Northeastern ended it on February 2 — helped Hofstra secure the CAA regular season crown before a loss to the Huskies in the CAA Championship game ended their season.
Wright-Foreman has carried the
Pride the past few seasons, but he’s gone — off to compete in the NBA and
G-League on a two-way contract after being drafted 53rd overall by the Utah
Jazz. Now, reigning CAA Coach of the Year Joe Mihalich faces the challenge of
replacing 27 ppg (second in the nation) of scoring and the bevy of other
contributions the lethal lefty brought to his squad. Hofstra is also losing
grad transfer Jacquil Taylor, their starting center and defensive anchor.
Despite the major losses, the
Pride still have plenty of talent. Headlining their 2019–20 crew is All-CAA second
team senior guard Eli Pemberton, who averaged 15 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 2.3
assists per game on 45 percent shooting (35 percent from three) last season.
The 6’5” guard has been a consistent scoring option behind Wright-Foreman
throughout his career and finally has the chance to be top dog. An all-around
scorer with playmaking upside, Pemberton will be the key to Hofstra’s success.
Also returning is senior guard
Desure Buie, the reigning CAA Defensive Player of the Year. Buie’s 82 steals
last season led the CAA, and it wasn’t even close; the next highest in the
conference was JMU’s Darius Banks with 56. His defense will be invaluable for
the Pride in a conference full of dynamic guards.
Other notable returnees include senior
Tareq Coburn and junior Jalen Ray, a pair of sharpshooting guards. Coburn
started 25 games last season and shot 43 percent from behind the arc on 3.4
attempts per game, while Ray came off the bench and contributed his own 39
percent from three on 3.7 attempts. The two combined for 16 points per game and
are poised to build on those numbers with Wright-Foreman’s departure.
The big question mark for the Pride is their frontcourt. After losing Taylor (6’10”), Dan Dwyer (6’8”), and Matija Radovic (6’7”), they’re left with little experience at the four and five spots. Of the four players on their current roster over 6’6” tall, 6’8” Stafford Trueheart’s 11 minutes per game in 2018 lead the way.
Bottom Line: Losing Wright-Foreman is going to hurt. It’ll take some time for Hofstra to adjust, but the Pride still have more than enough talent to compete in the CAA. If Pemberton rises to the challenge as their primary option and they can scavenge serviceable minutes from their big men, there’s no reason to think Hofstra won’t be back in the title hunt this season.
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.
Points (First-Place Votes
James Madison Dukes
Delaware Blue Hens
William & Mary Tribe
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.
Grant Riller, Charleston
Nathan Knight, William & Mary
Brian Fobbs, Towson
Eli Pemberton, Hofstra
Matt Lewis, James Madison
Jordan Roland, Northeastern
Ryan Allen, Delaware
Camren Wynter, Drexel
Desure Buie, Hofstra
Darius Banks, James Madison
Bolden Brace, Northeastern
Kai Toews, UNCW
Kevin Anderson, Delaware
James Butler, Drexel
Marcus Sheffield II, Elon
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
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.
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.