CAA Tournament Day Two

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

By Milton Posner

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

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

Hofstra 61, Drexel 43

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

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

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

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

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

Delaware 79, Charleston 67

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

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

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

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

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

Elon 68, William & Mary 63

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

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

And now he’s done.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Northeastern 72, Towson 62

For detailed coverage of this game, click here.

Roland, Walker Win All-CAA Awards

By Milton Posner

Reminder: Northeastern begins their CAA Tournament play against Towson Sunday at 6:30 PM EST. Michael Petillo, Matt Neiser, and Milton Posner will have the call from Washington D.C., with coverage beginning at 6:15.

It was hard to know what to expect from Jordan Roland and Tyson Walker before the season started.

Everyone knew Roland could shoot. He spent all of last season sprinting around screens and letting shots fly from downtown en route to 99 three-pointers, a school record. But how would he adjust to being the focal point of the offense and having the ball in his hands more often?

Everyone knew Walker was quick, a good driver, and could handle the ball. But how would he adjust from his high school team to playing point guard for a Division I program?

Both spent the year exceeding expectations and were recognized for it. On Friday, the CAA announced its postseason awards, the results of voting by the league’s head coaches, media relations directors, and media members (including your favorite Northeastern student-run radio station).

First TeamDesure Buie, Hofstra
Nate Darling, Delaware
Nathan Knight, William & Mary (PoY)
Grant Riller, Charleston
Jordan Roland, Northeastern
Second TeamBrian Fobbs, Towson
Matt Lewis, James Madison
Eli Pemberton, Hofstra
Marcus Sheffield II, Elon
Camren Wynter, Drexel
Third TeamKevin Anderson, Delaware
Allen Betrand, Towson
James Butler, Drexel
Isaac Kante, Hofstra
Andy Van Vliet, William & Mary

Roland was tops in the conference — and seventh in the nation — with 22.7 points per game. His white-hot start — best encapsulated by a school-record 42-point explosion against Harvard — placed him atop the national scoring leaderboard to begin the season and garnered him national attention. His 87 three-pointers rank second in the CAA, with only Delaware’s Nate Darling making more.

Roland keyed the Husky offense all season with superb, often unbelievable shot making. His unorthodox shooting style, hesitation-heavy movement, and supreme concentration made him a nightmare for the conference’s best defensive guards and forced opposing coaches to gear up on him.

As expected, Nathan Knight took home the Player of the Year Award. Though Grant Riller was the preseason favorite for the trophy, Knight quickly established himself as the man to beat, averaging more than 20 points and 10 rebounds per game despite the arrival of star center Andy Van Vliet in the William & Mary frontcourt. Knight’s size, quickness, shooting touch, leaping ability, spatial awareness, and basketball IQ made him a terror to guard on the block.

They also made him a terror on the other side of the ball, as he led the league in blocks, defensive rebounds, and won Defensive Player of the Year as well. Only Knight and George Evans (1999, 2001) have ever won both awards in the same season.

William & Mary’s awards weren’t limited to Knight. Andy Van Vliet took home Third Team honors, Luke Loewe joined Knight on the All-Defensive Team, and first-year head coach Dane Fischer earned Coach of the Year recognition. The Tribe finished seventh in the preseason poll, and many expected this to be a rebuilding year for them after the firing of head coach Tony Shaver and the transfer of four of their top five scorers. But under Fischer, the Tribe won more regular season games than they had in 70 years and tied their record for conference wins with 13.

While Tyson Walker’s hot start to the season and numerous Rookie of the Week Awards appeared to establish him as the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, he ultimately lost to Elon’s Hunter McIntosh, who averaged 11.5 points per game and made 41 percent of his threes. McIntosh torched the Huskies in the teams’ meeting last month, dropping 24 points on near-perfect shooting.

All-Rookie TeamJason Gibson, Towson
Hunter McIntosh, Elon (RoY)
Shykeim Phillips, UNCW
Tyson Walker, Northeastern
Hunter Woods, Elon

Walker carved up defenses like a hot butter knife this season, using crossovers, hesitations, and raw speed and quickness to earn himself layups. After the graduation of All-CAA First Team point guard Vasa Pusica, when there were serious doubts about who would carry on the Huskies’ point guard tradition, Walker didn’t blink. He took the keys to the offense from the opening game and never looked back.

As the season progressed, Walker displayed an increasingly deft, alert, and creative passing touch, something he will undoubtedly build on next season after the graduations of Roland and Bolden Brace.

His best game was January 2 against Elon and eventual Rookie of the Year McIntosh. The Huskies as a team had a tough time getting their offense going, so Walker came to the rescue again and again, torching the Phoenix with a diverse array of moves and buckets.

All-Defensive TeamDesure Buie, Hofstra
Brevin Galloway, Charleston
Nathan Knight, William & Mary (DPoY)
Luke Loewe, William & Mary
Dennis Tunstall, Towson

Notably absent from the All-Defensive team was Northeastern forward Max Boursiquot, who started every conference game as an undersized center and held his own against the league’s best big men, including Nathan Knight. Perhaps it’s more a case of statistics; Boursiquot’s defense is best understood and appreciated through watching him every night, while the players on the Defensive Team have statistics like blocks and rebounds to back up their cases.

Sixth Man of the Year Nicolas Timberlake (Towson), Dean Ehlers Leadership Award winner Desure Buie (Hofstra), and Scholar-Athlete of the Year Tareq Coburn (Hofstra) rounded out the awards.

Northeastern’s Convoluted Playoff Scenarios

By Milton Posner

Claustrophobics beware.

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

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

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

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

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

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

If Northeastern loses both games . . .

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

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

If Northeastern wins one game . . .

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

If Northeastern wins both games . . .

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

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

***

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

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

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

Men’s Basketball and The Knight That Won’t End

By Milton Posner

WILLIAMSBURG, Virginia — The green-and-gold-clad players leapt joyfully on the sidelines. The similarly dressed fans erupted into deafening cheers. And the scoreboard, for the final time on a frantic Thursday evening, changed its mind.

But Northeastern fans who were paying attention — and perhaps even a few who weren’t — would have noticed something peculiar. Hadn’t this happened before? Hadn’t Nathan Knight, William & Mary’s uber-talented, hyper-versatile senior big man, done this to them in almost exactly the same way about four weeks before?

For anyone who thought that the eerie similarities between Northeastern’s games against William & Mary and Hofstra reeked of basketball screenwriters too lazy to conjure up an alternate script, the Tribe’s 59–58 win over the Huskies re-opened every recently healed wound.

Once again, a superhuman defensive effort by Max Boursiquot was wasted. Though Knight and fellow big man Andy Van Vliet combined for 23 rebounds, they mustered just 24 points on seven-for-23 shooting.

“Huge credit to Max,” Knight said. “He’s deceptively strong . . . a lot stronger than he appears on paper. His physicality and his quickness, being the size of a guard with the strength of a big, really grants him some upside on the defensive end playing against guys like me who play a little more inside out.

“He’s 212 [pounds], I’m 250, so I try to take advantage of that size by getting the ball as close as I can to the basket. He did a tremendous job today of pressuring our bigs, making us catch the ball where we didn’t want it when there were plays drawn up for us to get on the block.”

But once again, after being locked down by Boursiquot in the first half, Knight came alive in the second, this time logging 13 points on four-of-five shooting from the field and five-of-six from the line.

“The biggest thing was our guards making themselves available when we got the ball in the post,” Knight said of the second-half surge. “Backdoor cuts, getting into open spots for us to see them and get them the ball. Also just being a little more aggressive when we got the ball in the post.

“Being aggressive like that puts a lot of pressure on the defense. It makes them decide: are they going to come help or are they going to stay on the shooters? Applying that kind of pressure was probably the biggest change from the first to the second half, when we weren’t as aggressive getting to the rim, settling for long shots, jump hooks 15 feet away from the basket. But the biggest thing for us was getting into their bodies and making them decide. And it paid off for us.”

And once again, Knight broke Husky hearts with a last-second layup. The Tribe placed Van Vliet and Miguel Ayesa, both excellent three-point shooters, in opposite corners, forcing Northeastern to respect their spacing.

“He gets the ball where he wants to get it and there’s not a whole lot we can do,” Northeastern head coach Bill Coen remarked. “We thought it was coming to him, but I didn’t think it was going to be off the dribble. Max has a quickness advantage there, so I thought they’d post him and hunt a foul.”

But the Tribe had other plans, inbounding to Knight 75 feet from the rim with 6.8 seconds to go. Boursiquot stayed attached to Knight until the big man reached the lane, at which point Boursiquot probably figured there was nothing left that he could do and that his teammates would pressure Knight. But Bolden Brace stepped out of Knight’s way, Shaq Walters’ rotation was too little too late, and the Huskies fell short when (once again) a halfcourt heave from Tyson Walker didn’t fall.

“It was drawn up for me to go make something happen,” Knight said of the play. “Seven seconds is a long time in the grand scheme of things. They’re obviously not going to let you walk the ball up the court and you don’t want to launch the ball down the court, so someone has to go get it. We were expecting some pressure, so the best way to get the ball in my hands was to go get it.”

But while the lasting image of Thursday’s game will be Knight’s game-winner and the striking resemblance it bears to his last game-winner against the Huskies, it would be disingenuous to pretend that Knight’s layup is the reason the Huskies lost. After all, Northeastern limited star center Andy Van Vliet to a meager seven points on two-for-11 shooting. They plugged passing lanes, pressured ballhandlers, and denied post players the chance to work in open space. The Tribe shot just 37 percent from the field and a pathetic 12 percent from beyond the three-point arc; Northeastern outshot them handily in both categories while limiting the CAA’s best offensive team to one of its lowest outputs of the year. So how did they lose?

“It wasn’t a defensive loss,” Bill Coen stated flatly. “It was a free throw loss.”

Free throws, as Coen pointed out, are arguably the last way Northeastern would expect to lose. Entering Thursday, the Huskies boasted a free-throw percentage of about 80 percent, the best mark in the CAA and the third-best mark in the country. Yet the Huskies made just four of their 11 free-throw attempts in the second half.

The free throw tallies were a function of accuracy but also of each team’s volume of fouls. While the Tribe certainly dealt with foul trouble — Bryce Barnes, Knight, and Van Vliet all picked up four fouls, with Knight missing minutes he otherwise wouldn’t have — the bug bit Northeastern hardest.

Greg Eboigbodin fouled out with nine minutes still to play. Brace picked up his fourth foul with 18 minutes to go. Boursiquot was whistled for his fourth down the stretch. Shaq Walters played most of the second half with three. Because the fouls were so concentrated in the Husky frontcourt — none of the guards had more than one — they further wounded the Huskies. Northeastern was trying to contend with a surging Nathan Knight — inarguably the most powerful post force in the conference — without much minute-to-minute lineup consistency.

Jordan Roland’s performance also sheds light on the game’s momentum swings. Roland’s respectable stat line is the product of a high-octane first half (16 points on 10 attempts) and a near-invisible second half (two points on four attempts).

“There was no change schematically,” Knight said of his squad’s defense on Roland. “Huge credit to Luke Loewe — probably one of the best on-ball defenders I’ve ever seen in my life. It was him on top of a group of guys out there determined to stop him. Jordan Roland is a dynamic scorer, scores the ball in a bunch of ways. One of the biggest things for us was making him uncomfortable and having a crowded floor when he did get the ball in space. Make him get the ball out, make the secondary guys beat us.”

That said, Roland’s effort was not without larger meaning.

While the win kept William & Mary atop the conference standings with an 8–2 record (16–7 overall), the Huskies dropped to 5–5 (11–11 overall). With Delaware and Drexel not playing Thursday, the Huskies assumed sole possession of seventh place.

Some measures would indicate the Huskies are better than that. Their average margin (6.8 points) in conference play is still best in the CAA, and their five losses have come by a combined nine points (Thursday’s one-point loss follows four two-point losses). But even the admittedly small ten-game conference sample indicates that the Huskies are struggling to execute at the end of games, an issue they’ll need to resolve given the CAA’s preposterous parity this season.

“It’s frustrating to be this close,” Coen said. “We’ve been around the block here and there’s nobody in this league that we can’t compete with . . . it should have been more than a one-possession game.”

The Huskies will travel a couple hundred miles south for a Saturday tilt against the Elon Phoenix. Milton Posner and Adam Doucette will call that game, with coverage beginning at 3:45 PM EST.

CAA Men’s Basketball Has Gone Completely Insane

By Milton Posner

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

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

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

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

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

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

Game-Winners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The CAA’s Blowouts Make No Sense

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then Northeastern turned around and lost their next game.

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

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

Who is Actually the Title Favorite?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where Does This Leave Us?

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

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

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

Men’s Basketball Falls to Tribe on Knight’s Game-Winner

By Matt Neiser

BOSTON — Entering Saturday’s games, three CAA men’s basketball teams boasted undefeated records. Two of those teams, Northeastern and Charleston, were of no surprise to most CAA followers. But you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who predicted the third team would be where they are.

The William & Mary Tribe, with long-time head coach Tony Shaver freshly fired and four of five starters from last year transferring, were projected to finish seventh in the conference in the preseason coaches and media poll. After an impressive non-conference run and a 2–0 start to the CAA slate — including a 27-point destruction of preseason-favorite Hofstra — no one is picking them that low anymore.

Northeastern looked to leave a black mark on that résumé while adding to their own as the two teams faced off in Matthews Arena Saturday evening. In a back-and-forth affair that came right down to the final possession, the Huskies — and Tyson Walker’s last-second half court heave — came up just short as the Tribe came away with their second-straight statement win over a conference heavyweight.

After a quick William & Mary (11–5, 3–0 CAA) burst to begin the game, Northeastern (9–7, 3–1 CAA) found their groove and evened the game at nine points apiece heading into the first media timeout. This theme would persist for most of the first half, with the two sides trading runs. Trailing 21–15 a little over halfway through the first frame, the Huskies went on a 12–0 scoring spree to take a six-point lead.

Not to be outdone, the Tribe answered with their own 12–0 burst to close the half, spurred by seven points from seven-foot Wisconsin transfer Andy Van Vliet. While Van Vliet scored 11 points in the first half, his partner-in-crime on the low block — reigning All-CAA First Teamer Nathan Knight — was relatively quiet, scoring just six points on two-for-five shooting.

Why did Knight struggle, you may ask? Two words: Max Boursiquot. The 6’5”, 210-pound redshirt junior gave up five inches and 25 pounds to Knight, but more than matched the star forward’s strength. Boursiquot battled on the block all half, keeping Knight in check and drawing a pair of fouls that kept Knight on the bench for the final 5:32 of the frame. He got it done offensively as well, pouring in a team-high eight points in the first half.

Husky head coach Bill Coen praised Boursiquot’s play, saying, “Max is a strong, aggressive kid. He’s got a low center of gravity and he’s a competitor. He’s not afraid to stick his nose in there, he’s not afraid of contact. I thought he did an admirable job on him. It’s a tall task; Nathan Knight could start for a lot of Power Five teams.”

The teams continued their tug-of-war in the second half, with William & Mary taking advantage of their slight head start to keep Northeastern at bay. A 14–2 Tribe run boosted their lead to 14 points, threatening to blow the game wide open as they did against Hofstra.

Jordan Roland was struggling from the field and had just seven points, and it looked like the Huskies were out of answers. Coen pulled Roland in favor of grad transfer Guilien Smith, who has played sparingly this season.

“Guilien is an outstanding teammate. He’s one of the most well-liked guys in our locker room, provides great energy every day in practice,” Coen said of his decision. “We were a little flat. Nothing against Jordan, but [Guilien plays] his position and I felt like we needed a spark, we needed to change the energy on the floor.”

The move paid off, and the Huskies went on a 21–7 run over the next eight minutes to tie the game at 64. The largest contributor was Shaquille Walters, who scored 12 of those 21 points, including an and-one layup with 13 seconds left to even the score and send Matthews Arena into a frenzy.

After running the clock down to five seconds and taking a timeout, William & Mary gave the ball to Nathan Knight looking for the game-winner. After losing the ball on a drive to the hoop, Knight regained control, rose up, and nailed a tough, contested layup to take the lead with just over a second left.

Northeastern had to inbound the ball from full court, and Walker’s 65-foot heave hit both the front and back of the rim, but wouldn’t fall as the Tribe escaped with the 66–64 victory.

Walters and Bolden Brace scored 15 points each to lead the Huskies, combining for 14 rebounds, four assists, and three steals. Roland tied his season low with seven points (3–14 FG, 1–5 3FG) and, for the first time all season, ceded his position as the CAA’s top scorer. He now trails Charleston’s Grant Riller, who scored 31 points against James Madison on Saturday and is averaging 26 points across four conference games.

Knight recorded his nation-leading 12th double-double, finishing with 23 points and 11 boards to lead all players in both categories. Van Vliet chipped in 15 points and six rebounds of his own.

“It’s tough to say that you’re happy when they shoot 55 percent from the floor, but we generated 17 turnovers and we had to be in a scramble mode because they had such a size advantage on us,” Coen said. “We had to give help in the post, so we were constantly rotating. Those situations either generated turnovers and runouts for us or baskets for them. They shot the ball well from three, their high–low post attack is very effective, and Nathan Knight’s a special player. He’s without a doubt one of the top five players in our league.”

The Huskies will face more stiff competition when they play the Hofstra Pride on Thursday. WRBB will call the game, with coverage beginning at 7:45 PM EST.

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

By Milton Posner

With the CAA’s conference slate beginning today, WRBB examined the non-conference performances of all 10 CAA teams and ranked them from worst to best. The rankings are based on each team’s record and strength of schedule, with occasional deviations if a deep dive into a team’s schedule, margins of victory, or statistics warranted one.

CAA teams played 125 non-conference games and won 68 for a winning percentage of .544. Their average opponent, as determined by KenPom’s strength of schedule metric, was very slightly below the Division I average.

They also spent a sizeable chunk of the last six weeks bludgeoning Division II and III squads. Eight CAA teams won a game by 40 or more points, with three teams winning by 60 or more. The largest margin of victory went to the Towson Tigers, who flattened Division III Bryn Athyn by 69 points. Only Northeastern’s biggest blowout — a 57-point laugher against Holy Cross — came against a Division I team.

Though a comment or prediction is given for each team’s upcoming schedule, the rankings reflect only how the teams performed in their completed non-conference games. Each section is prefaced with the team’s record, strength of schedule rank (compared to other CAA teams), head coach, and, just for kicks, the player with the best name along with an explanation for why.

With that said . . .

#10: Elon Phoenix

Non-Conference Record: 4–9

Strength of Schedule Rank: Fourth

Head Coach: Mike Schrage (first season)

Best Player Name: Federico Poser — fun to say whether you pronounce it correctly or not

This is not to say that Elon had no bright spots in the season’s first six weeks. Stanford grad transfer Marcus Sheffield emerged as a premier scorer, posting 17 points per game to go along with five rebounds and three assists.

Freshmen Hunter Woods and Hunter McIntosh were also pleasant surprises for a team that lost its top five scorers from last year. Both are averaging double figures in scoring and shooting more than 40 percent form downtown. Woods also leads the team in rebounding.

The Phoenix even managed to hang with No. 5 UNC for the first 20 minutes of their November 20 matchup, despite the Tar Heels entering as 30 ½-point favorites. Though UNC pulled away at the start of the second half, the Phoenix faithful could take some small comfort in Sheffield’s poster slam over former CAA standout Justin Pierce.

But the good news ends there for Elon. The UNC loss was one piece of a six-game losing streak. Of their four non-conference wins, two came against Division II teams, one against a Division III squad, and one against a Kennesaw State club ranked 342 out of 353 Division I teams.

The Phoenix are last in the CAA in offense and scoring margin, and are the only squad shooting below 40 percent from the floor. They are last in offensive rebounds and rebounding margin. Their sole saving grace is their three-point shooting; they are the only CAA club making more than 10 threes per game and are fourth in three-point percentage. But even then there is a downside; they are worst in the conference at defending the three.

The emergence of Woods and McIntosh as scoring threats is welcome news for first-year coach Mike Schrage. But Elon’s lack of depth and veteran talent is evident. Given that the team finished with the CAA’s worst non-conference record despite multiple players exceeding expectations, it’s hard to imagine they can pose a threat during conference play.

#9: UNCW Seahawks

Non-Conference Record: 5–8

Strength of Schedule Rank: Third

Head Coach: C.B. McGrath (third season)

Best Player Name: Brian Tolefree — you don’t have to pay for him

If the William & Mary Tribe were the CAA program most ravaged in the offseason — four of their top five scorers fled to other schools after the dismissal of longtime head coach Tony Shaver — then UNCW was the program most ravaged in non-conference play.

Though the Seahawks weren’t expected to shine much after the graduation of monster forward Devontae Cacok and the transfer of junior standout Jeantal Cylla, they at least had a few exciting pieces to fuel coach C.B. McGrath’s up-tempo offense.

The first domino to fall was sharpshooting junior guard and leading returning scorer Ty Gadsden, who began the season sidelined by injury, played December 7 against Charlotte, and hasn’t played since. The team confirmed he is out indefinitely, indicating that he may return sometime this season. The same cannot be said for fellow junior guard Jay Estimé, who injured his knee, went under the knife, and will miss the rest of the season. The injuries, when combined with the departure of grad transfer Carter Skaggs in November, gutted a Seahawks’ roster struggling for experience (the Seahawks are one of seven Division I teams without a senior).

But the last and largest domino fell after the team’s non-conference closer against Vanderbilt on December 21, when sophomore point guard Kai Toews informed McGrath and his staff that he is leaving the program. McGrath called the announcement a “total surprise.” The team said Toews planned to pursue a professional basketball career in his native Japan; Toews announced on Twitter that he was “thinking of going on a professional path or transferring.” Toews said previously that he would like to compete for the Japanese national team at the FIBA World Cup and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Though he was averaging just five points, four rebounds, and three assists this year, Toews was a crucial component of the team’s future. Although he wasn’t a major scoring threat, he was named to the CAA All-Rookie Team last year after breaking the conference record with 253 assists.

In their stead, sophomore guard Jaylen Sims has picked up some slack, leading the team in points (15) and rebounds (6) per game while shooting a CAA-best 47 percent from behind the arc.

Sophomore forward Martin Linssen has also chipped in, logging 10 points and four rebounds per game in his first season with the Seahawks after transferring from Valparaiso. But the biggest surprise has been six-foot freshman guard Shykeim Phillips, who is averaging nine points per contest on 49 percent shooting. Though he isn’t scoring from the perimeter, he uses a smorgasbord of quick hesitations, jukes, and handles to dart to the basket for layups. Phillips began the season off the bench, but earned a starting spot several weeks in.

But, like Elon’s, most of UNCW’s five wins have come against Division III teams, with Campbell and FIU as the only DI victories. The four departures and injuries are reflected in the CAA-worst five-game losing streak they take into conference play. Their typically high-octane offense keeps their scoring, field goal percentage, three-point percentage, and assists in the CAA’s top five, but their field goal, three-point, and scoring defense all rank ninth.

Even if Ty Gadsden returns for a good chunk of conference play, enough damage has been done to put the Seahawks in contention with the Phoenix for the CAA’s bottom spot.

#8: Drexel Dragons

Non-Conference Record: 7–6

Strength of Schedule Rank: Sixth

Head Coach: Zach Spiker (fourth season)

Best Player Name: Coletrane Washington — greatest jazz name of all time

Like Elon and UNCW, Drexel needed to replace a mix of graduates (Trevor John, Troy Harper) and transfers (Alihan Demir). The three combined to average more than half of the team’s points last season.

Unlike Elon and UNCW, Drexel has maintained enough healthy talent to post a winning record in non-conference play.

The biggest component behind the Dragons’ success has been the miraculous progression of senior guard/forward Zach Walton, who jumped to Drexel from Edmonds Community College (not in the NCAA) and played just seven games last year before an injury ended his season. Walton had a breakout night in the team’s third game against Abilene Christian, dropping 22 points and sinking the game-winning three after reigning CAA Rookie of the Year Camren Wynter was denied the ball.

Ten days later, he dropped a season-high 32 points in a win over Bryant. Though Walton’s 28 percent clip from downtown leaves much to be desired, his 13 points per game are keying a Drexel offense badly in need of scoring punch. His four boards per night and a steady series of highlights aren’t too shabby either.

Wynter and James Butler sit right behind Walton in the scoring column with 12 points per game. Both lead the CAA in a key category, Butler in rebounds (11.5 a game) and Wynter in assists (5.8). Butler’s inside presence is by far the biggest reason for Drexel’s strong rebounding margin, the third-best in the CAA.

But Drexel lacks both an elite scorer and a deep, balanced roster of offensive options, which will likely spell trouble in conference play. Their offense and defense both ranked eighth in non-conference play, and though their assist and three-point defense stats led the conference, they need to find another gear to exceed preseason expectations. They also need to figure out how to win away from home; they won five of their six contests in Philadelphia but lost all five road games.

#7: Northeastern Huskies

Non-Conference Record: 6–6

Strength of Schedule Rank: Eighth

Head Coach: Bill Coen (14th season)

Best Player Name: Greg Eboigbodin — save for the word “boing,” there’s no better way to describe the motion and feel of a trampoline

It’s surprising to see the Huskies this far down on the list, especially given that their scoring margin ranked third in the conference. But a .500 record and the third-weakest strength of schedule leaves them here.

That said, their bright spot was brighter than anyone else’s. In the season’s first few games, senior guard Jordan Roland torched every defense he saw, leading the nation in scoring and forcing his name into national conversations, award watchlists, and ESPN segments. He infuriated defenses with a flurry of difficult lefty floaters and overwhelmed them with twisting, drifting, contested threes from distances where no one in their right mind would think to shoot a basketball.

Roland’s best game came in an 84–79 win against Harvard on November 8. He scored 11 points in the game’s first three minutes en route to a 42-point firestorm that shattered the single-game school record held by Husky legends J.J. Barea and Reggie Lewis.

Though he tailed off somewhat as the season progressed, his 22.4 points per game still lead the CAA and rank seventh in the nation. His marks of 51 percent from the floor, 43 percent from three, and 93 percent from the foul line are all preposterous, and rank as the conference’s fourth-best, second-best, and best, respectively. He is also second in the conference in minutes per game (37.3) and has established himself as the clear favorite for CAA Player of the Year ahead of Delaware’s Nate Darling and Charleston’s Grant Riller.

Tyson Walker, Max Boursiquot, and Shaq Walters have stepped up at various times, giving hope that the Husky offense can become more balanced. Walker in particular has exceeded expectations, starting every game and taking the offensive keys from graduating guard Vasa Pusica.

But the consistency hasn’t been there. Senior guard/forward Bolden Brace, who was expected to be the team’s second scoring option behind Roland, has shot efficiently but hasn’t scored in volume, logging double figures in just four of the team’s 12 games. Without reliable scoring from him, Northeastern will be hard-pressed to remain a top-three CAA team.

The team also suffered from injuries to big men; 6’8” Tomas Murphy has missed the last eight games with an ankle injury and 6’10” Greg Eboigbodin has missed the last two. Though there have been some fine performances in their stead — namely back-to-back double-doubles by 6’5” utility man Max Boursiquot — the lack of size has presented problems for the Huskies. Though their CAA-worst rebounding numbers are partially attributable to their having the slowest pace in the conference, their challenges in crashing the boards without Murphy and Eboigbodin have often hampered their ability to build and maintain momentum in games.

The Huskies excelled from the outside, nailing a CAA-best 41 percent of their three-pointers, with their three most frequent perimeter shooters all shooting between 42 and 44 percent. They also sank 82 percent of their free throws, easily the best mark in the conference. But they allow the CAA’s highest field goal percentage, in large part due to the shortcomings of their interior defense.

The Huskies’ non-conference slate left plenty for coach Bill Coen to be optimistic about. But offensive inconsistency, namely from players not named Jordan Roland, left the Huskies with a .500 record when they could have fared much better.

#6: Towson Tigers

Non-Conference Record: 6–6

Strength of Schedule Rank: Second

Head Coach: Pat Skerry (ninth season)

Best Player Name: Demetrius Mims — m’s in all the right places

Last year, Towson struggled mightily, winning less than a third of their games while trying to incorporate 11 new players. This year, with 90 percent of their scoring and 86 percent of their rebounding from last year returning, the Tigers have a much better chance to develop.

Towson finished with the same 6–6 record as Northeastern, but Towson had a higher strength of schedule. Oddly enough, their most encouraging moment was a loss. Despite entering a mid-November game against the No. 15 Florida Gators as 18 ½-point underdogs, the Tigers kept the game close throughout. The clubs were tied with 80 seconds left before Florida salvaged a six-point win.

As expected, senior guard Brian Fobbs has keyed the Towson attack, averaging 17 points and five boards a night. However, his relatively low efficiency marks (41 percent from the field, 29 percent from three) will have to rise before he can join the elite tier of CAA scorers.

Sophomore guard Allen Betrand and senior forwards Nakye Sanders and Dennis Tunstall have continued their solid offensive production from last year. But all three will need to up their production before Towson can take the next step.

The Tigers’ reliably scrappy, energetic defense has shown up this year; they allow a CAA-best 65.4 points per game and boast the second-best rebounding margin and third-best steal total. But they don’t rank near the top of the conference in any meaningful offensive category and only Fobbs qualifies as any sort of offensive standout.

Their excellent defense can only take them so far, and if Towson wishes to capitalize on the senior seasons of Fobbs, Tunstall, and Sanders, the entire team needs to boost its scoring.

#5: Charleston Cougars

Non-Conference Record: 6–6

Strength of Schedule Rank: First

Head Coach: Earl Grant (sixth season)

Best Player Name: Zep Jasper — plenty of powerful plosives

Charleston is a general consensus top-three CAA team that finished 6–6 in non-conference play. At first glance, this might lead to comparisons with Northeastern, but Charleston had a decidedly superior non-conference slate.

Though they suffered blowout defeats at the hands of Oklahoma State and Central Florida, their other four losses were by single-digit margins to good teams: Central Florida again, Wake Forest, Richmond, and VCU. The Cougars fought through the most difficult non-conference schedule of any CAA team and emerged with plenty to be happy about.

They are led by senior guard and CAA Preseason Player of the Year Grant Riller, who is logging 21 points, four rebounds, and four assists per night. His scoring mark is good for third in the CAA (20th in the nation) and his field goal and free throw percentages are both top five in the conference. His scoring is coming in the same way it did last year: subpar three-point shooting and a sky-high percentage around the rim.

On November 29, Riller keyed a win over Providence and passed former teammate Jarrell Brantley for third on the school’s all-time scoring list. Two weeks later, he notched his 2,000th collegiate point.

That said, there is room for Riller to improve, particularly regarding his 26 percent mark from three-point land. He’s had a strong season, but at his best he is the conference’s greatest scorer and arguably its top player overall. He hasn’t hit his ceiling yet.

The Cougars lack a clear second scoring option behind Riller, but junior guard Brevin Galloway and senior forwards Jaylen McManus and Sam Miller have all assumed larger roles in the offense. Miller in particular has stood out, notching seven points and seven rebounds per contest thanks in part to moderately efficient perimeter shooting.

The Cougars boast a strong defense, led by a combined four steals per game from Riller and Galloway. Though their CAA-worst perimeter shooting badly warrants improvement, many of their other low ranks in team stats compared to other CAA squads can be explained away by their slow pace of play and the tough competition they’ve faced so far.

Their record isn’t fantastic, and there is room for improvement up and down the roster. But don’t be fooled; this Cougars team is still dangerous.

#4: James Madison Dukes

Non-Conference Record: 7–4

Strength of Schedule Rank: Seventh

Head Coach: Louis Rowe (third season)

Best Player Name: Michael Christmas — because Christmas time is here

At the outset of the season, James Madison appeared poised to snap a streak of three consecutive losing seasons, and they haven’t disappointed so far.

Leading the way is junior guard Matt Lewis, who ranks fifth in the conference in points (18), rebounds (7), and minutes (35) per game, and adds a third-best five assists per game as well. He’s taken the lead on a team with no seniors in the regular rotation.

His backcourt partner and fellow junior Darius Banks is faring almost as well, averaging 14 points (on 41 percent from downtown) and five boards a night. He has also continued his thievery from last year, swiping the ball 1.6 times per contest.

And if that wasn’t enough junior talent, try 6’8”, 250-pound junior forward Dwight Wilson, who missed the first four games of the season but has averaged a double-double since. Or junior forward Zach Jacobs, who chips in eight points and six boards a game.

But the performance nobody saw coming, especially with so many returning offensive centerpieces, is freshman forward Michael Christmas, who is putting up nine points and six rebounds per game, shooting a comical 46 percent from three on decent volume, and has established himself as a one-man highlight reel.

The Dukes’ team stats require a bit of context to decipher. At first glance, their counting stats and percentage stats appear to tell opposing stories. This is explained by the team’s pace of play, easily the fastest in the conference. The Dukes have the 26th-fastest pace out of 353 Division I teams; the next closest CAA team is Hofstra, nearly 100 spots down the list.

More possessions mean that the Dukes score more and give up more points, skewing their counting stats. The percentage stats tell a more accurate story. James Madison is eighth in the CAA in field goal and three-point percentage; save for Banks and Christmas, the regular three-point shooters are converting less than a third of their tries. They also struggled from the charity stripe, making just 65 percent of their free throws.

The Dukes shone on defense, limiting opponents to the lowest field goal percentage and second-lowest three-point percentage of any CAA team. They also led the conference in blocks.

The Dukes’ offense has a high ceiling and is likely to improve as the season progresses. But it is their defense that has turned heads, going from a middle-of-the-pack unit last year to — along with Towson — the conference’s best so far this year. If they can overcome the offensive hole left by the graduation of Stuckey Mosley, the Dukes can join the CAA’s top tier.

#3: Hofstra Pride

Non-Conference Record: 9–4

Strength of Schedule Rank: Tenth

Head Coach: Joe Mihalich (seventh season)

Best Player Name: Stafford Trueheart — no idea why he’s playing basketball instead of commanding the English army in the 12th century

Hofstra begin their non-conference schedule with a mandate (a first-place finish in the CAA Preseason Poll) and the question of how to replace the offense of graduating guard Justin Wright-Foreman, the two-time reigning CAA Player of the Year and arguably the best scorer the conference has seen in years?

But, as it turns out, you can lose Wright-Foreman and still have the best and deepest backcourt in the conference. It begins with a pair of seniors: Eli Pemberton and Desure Buie.

The pair have remarkably similar numbers. Pemberton averages 17.1 points per game, good for sixth in the conference; Buie’s 16.6 points rank eighth. Pemberton is third in minutes per game with 35.6; Buie is right behind him at 35.5. Pemberton averages six rebounds per contest; Buie notches six assists, good for second in the conference. Buie has also retained the defensive brilliance that won him CAA Defensive Player of the Year last year; he leads the conference with 2.7 steals a night.

Junior guards Jalen Ray and Tareq Coburn round out the backcourt, averaging a combined 18 points and 11 rebounds. Coburn’s seven rebounds per contest lead the team, while Ray has been the most efficient scorer among the Hofstra guards, shooting 41 percent from downtown.

Sophomore forward/center Isaac Kante, who sat out last season after transferring from Georgia, has established himself on a squad short on rebounding and defensive presence down low. He is averaging nine points on 61 percent shooting to go along with seven rebounds.

The Pride also scored the biggest win of any CAA team so far this season. On November 21, they walked into Pauley Pavilion and toppled UCLA.

Keyed by 29 points from Buie and 27 from Ray, Hofstra came back from a 13-point first-half deficit to take the game 88–78. It was the Bruins’ first loss of the year and one of the biggest wins in program history for Hofstra.

The Pride are the best-scoring offense in the CAA so far, though their numbers are inflated by their relatively fast pace of play and their strength of schedule, which was the weakest of any CAA team. Their four main guards are all among the conference’s ten best free throw shooters, with Buie’s 91 percent second only to Northeastern’s Jordan Roland. The team as a whole knocks down 78 percent of their foul shots, second only to Northeastern’s 82 percent. The Pride have the most steals, most offensive rebounds, and best assist-to-turnover ratio of any CAA team.

Hofstra’s biggest causes for concern inside depth (as evidenced by their middle-of-the-pack rebounding numbers) and efficiency — they ranked seventh in field goal percentage and three-point percentage.

The Pride enter conference play riding a three-game winning streak. They have a quartet of guards that can outpace anyone. If they can find the efficiency and inside play buttons, they will be an imposing bunch.

#2: William & Mary Tribe

Non-Conference Record: 8–5

Strength of Schedule Rank: Fifth

Head Coach: Dane Fischer (first season)

Best Player Name: Thatcher Stone — if people were once again named after their professions, you’d hire him to build you a sturdy house

This one was a surprise.

A month after their CAA Tournament exit last season, the Tribe looked like a bomb had hit them. Tony Shaver, their coach of 16 years, had been fired. Justin Pierce, Matt Milon, Chase Audige, and LJ Owens — four of the team’s five leading scorers who had a combined eight years of eligibility remaining — had transferred. Leading scorer Nathan Knight was thinking about bailing on his senior season and declaring for the NBA draft.

New head coach Dane Fischer walked into this mess and pulled everything together. The Tribe posted the CAA’s fourth-best winning percentage in non-conference play; the three teams ahead of them had considerably weaker schedules.

It begins, as any William & Mary conversation inevitably does, with Knight. When he decided to return for his senior season, the Tribe retained the conference’s best big man and, along with Charleston’s Grant Riller, a solid candidate for Player of the Year. He hasn’t disappointed, posting nightly averages of 20 points and 10 rebounds, with his 56 percent mark from the field and 1.5 blocks per game leading the conference. Along with Northeastern’s Jordan Roland, Knight was named to the watchlist for the Oscar Robertson Trophy, given annually to college basketball’s best player.

As spectacular as Knight has been, his elite play was expected. What wasn’t as expected was the establishment of senior center Andy Van Vliet as an elite two-way player. The seven-foot Wisconsin transfer is averaging 15 points and 10 rebounds a night, the latter tied with the 6’10” Knight for second-best in the conference. His is sixth in the conference in field goal percentage and blocks.

Good shooters are not hard to come by in the CAA; good shooters who are seven feet tall are rare. Both Knight and Van Vliet can space the floor, nailing 35 and 39 percent of their threes, respectively. This allows Fischer to play a twin towers lineup without sacrificing perimeter shooting, creating matchup and switching nightmares even for well-balanced defenses.

The Tribe also have benefitted from a pair of guards: grad transfer Bryce Barnes and junior Luke Loewe. Barnes is averaging eight points, three rebounds, and four assists a night in his first and only season for the Tribe after three years playing for Milwaukee. Loewe has taken a gigantic step forward, upping his production and efficiency across the board. He’s averaging 11 points a night on a hyper-efficient 53 percent shooting from the floor and 47 percent from downtown.

Sophomore guard Thornton Scott has missed nine straight games with a lower leg injury. In the four games he played — all of which the Tribe won — he showed tremendous progress from last year, averaging 13 points, five rebounds, and four assists with an absurd 52 percent clip from downtown. If he returns soon, it will add another weapon to an already well-stocked arsenal.

The Tribe won their first four games out of the gate, three of which came on the road. One of those wins came against Wofford, courtesy of a game-winning layup by Barnes. Before Barnes’s shot dropped, Wofford had won its last 17 home games in a row.

Fischer has picked up his predecessor’s tendency for a relatively even distribution of minutes. Van Vliet leads the team with just 30 per game, trailed closely by Knight and Loewe. It begs the question of what happens if Fischer decides to up their minutes, leaving opponents to face his twin towers for longer stretches.

William & Mary’s team stats reveal no obvious weaknesses so far. Their scoring, assist rate, points allowed, margin of victory, field goal percentage, field goal defense, and three-point percentage all fall between third and fifth. They rank second in defensive rebounds and blocks, and first in rebounding margin. Even their bottom-half offensive rebounding and three-point defense aren’t far off from respectable levels.

Entering the season, the Tribe were a question mark, with Knight projected to dominate but nothing else assured. With non-conference play complete, the Tribe have joined the CAA’s top tier and have as good a shot at the CAA title as anyone.

#1: Delaware Blue Hens

Non-Conference Record: 10–3

Strength of Schedule Rank: Ninth

Head Coach: Martin Inglesby (fourth season)

Best Player Name: Nate Darling — any Delaware fans who think he’s cute have an easy poster idea waiting for them

December 3, 2019. Hofstra, the winner of the CAA Preseason Poll, was 6–3. Northeastern, the defending conference champion, was 4–4.

The Delaware Blue Hens, who most preseason observers had placed outside the CAA’s top tier, were undefeated, winners of nine straight games. And though they fell to earth by losing three of their next four to close non-conference play, the statement had been made: Delaware is the team to beat in the CAA.

Although many had high expectations for junior guard and UAB transfer Nate Darling, he has outplayed those expectations and then some. His 21.4 points per game are second only to Northeastern’s Jordan Roland and rank 16th in the nation. He has played more minutes and made more threes than anyone in the CAA, and his stellar three-point percentage of 42 ranks third. Throw in his four rebounds and three assists per contest, and Delaware has the best CAA transfer since Northeastern nabbed Vasa Pusica from San Diego.

But because one excellent transfer isn’t enough, the Blue Hens have another: sophomore forward Justyn Mutts. In his first season with Delaware after leaving High Point, Mutts is logging 14 points per game on 53 percent shooting (second in the conference to Nathan Knight) and 9.6 rebounds (fourth in the conference). As if that weren’t enough, his highlights are electric.

Now, for the returning play . . . what? They have another transfer? He’s from Villanova? He’s 6’10”? He dropped 19 points in his Delaware debut? Sure, why not? This might as well happen.

Dylan Painter is a midseason transfer, so he only recently became eligible, playing in Delaware’s final two non-conference games. The Blue Hens won nine games in a row, then added a major piece to compliment Mutts down low.

And finally we turn our attention to returning junior guards Ryan Allen and Kevin Anderson. Both have long been ticketed for CAA stardom but have seen serious injuries impede their progress. They’re healthy now, and at the perfect time. They have similar numbers: double-digit scoring, a field goal percentage in the high 40s, and a three-point percentage around 40 percent.

The Blue Hens are third in scoring, points allowed, field goal and three-point defense, and defensive rebounds. They lead the conference in scoring margin, field goal percentage, and assist-to-turnover ratio. Though they ultimately fell 78–70 to No. 20 Villanova, they proved they could hang around against a superior team. In the season’s fourth game, Painter and Anderson combined for 69 points.

Last year, Delaware finished with a losing conference record and lost in the semifinal round of the CAA Tournament. Now they’re stacked, and the road to the conference’s March Madness bid goes through them.

CAA Preview: William & Mary

Last season: 14–17 (10–8 CAA), lost in CAA quarterfinals

Head coach: Dane Fischer (first season)

CAA Preseason Poll Finish: Seventh

Losses

  • G LJ Owens
  • G Chase Audige
  • G Matt Milon
  • G/F Justin Pierce
  • F Paul Rowley
  • F Chris Clark

Additions

  • G Tyler Hamilton
  • G Bryce Barnes
  • G Rainers Hermanovskis
  • G Miguel Ayesa
  • G/F Thatcher Stone
  • F Ben Wight
  • F/C Andy Van Vliet

By Milton Posner

On March 10, 2019, the College of William & Mary let a 16-point lead slip through their fingers in the CAA Tournament quarterfinal. The Delaware Blue Hens went to the next round; the Tribe went home.

But the future was bright. The Tribe had a versatile lineup with good shooters and a strong inside presence. They were CAA title contenders.

Three days later, it all began to unravel. The team announced that Tony Shaver, the Tribe’s head coach for 16 years, had been fired.

When she was hired two years ago, Athletic Director Samantha Huge conducted an internal review of the team. She declined to elaborate on why Shaver was dismissed, instead alluding to “concerns on and off the court” and not liking how the program was “trending.” She did cite a lack of NCAA Tournament appearances (W&M is one of four original Division I teams to never appear in the NCAA Tournament).

Shaver is the winningest coach in program history despite his losing record (226–268). He won CAA Coach of the Year in 2008 and 2010 and took the Tribe to four CAA Finals, but a championship eluded him. Shaver enjoyed regular season success in recent years; from 2013 to 2018 he posted five consecutive winning seasons, the first such streak in program history. W&M’s 64–42 record over the last six seasons is tied with Northeastern for best in the CAA.

The fallout from the firing was swift. Though CAA first teamer Nathan Knight likely would have explored the NBA Draft regardless, Shaver’s firing undoubtedly motivated Justin Pierce, Matt Milon, Chase Audige, and LJ Owens — the Tribe’s second, third, fourth, and fifth-leading scorers, respectively — to transfer. The quartet accounted for 59 percent of the team’s points and 49 percent of its rebounds and assists last year. New coach Dane Fischer tried to keep the team together but could only watch as his core vanished.

Knight forgoing the NBA draft is the only thing keeping W&M from rock bottom. Last year, he posted 21 points, nine rebounds, and four assists per game, and blocked twice as many shots as all but one CAA player. He was second in the conference in field goal percentage. He was the conference’s third-leading scorer and sixth-leading rebounder despite playing fewer minutes per game (30) than most other CAA stars.

Given the graduation of four of last season’s six CAA first teamers, and given the increased touches he’ll likely see after his teammates’ exodus, Knight — along with Charleston’s Grant Riller — is a favorite to win CAA Player of the Year.

Andy Van Vliet, a 7’0” senior transfer from the University of Wisconsin, will pair with Knight in the frontcourt. Though Van Vliet has a perimeter scoring touch, his and Knight’s play down low is the only area where the Tribe are likely to outplay opponents.

The rest of the squad is lacking in most important respects. After Knight, the most statistically significant returning player is junior guard Luke Loewe, who squeezed out four points, two rebounds, and two assists per game last year as a starter. The new recruits — four freshmen and two grad transfers — will have to overperform just for W&M to match their performance from last season, when they hovered around the CAA average in most stat categories.

Bottom Line: Nathan Knight is a likely 2020 NBA draft choice, and it will be fun to watch him wail on CAA big men for another season. But with the bulk of their 2018–19 offense now playing elsewhere — and the increased defensive pressure on Knight as teams swarm him down low — the Tribe’s benchwarmers and freshmen will have to pick up major slack. W&M is unlikely to escape the depths of the conference standings.