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.”
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.