Saturday, February 7, 2009

It's all about the CAA

Ok, it's almost all about the CAA. I was probably one of the few people I know watching the Fairfield-Canisius game last night on ESPNU. Hey, I needed to scout the Stags for the Hofstra-Fairfield game on February 21. The Stags are an interesting story. They started off the season losing three of their first four. Then the Stags won seven in a row. Then in the month of January, the Stags first lost their fourth leading scorer Warren Edney for the season due to an injured achilles tendon. Then at the end of January, Anthony Johnson, their third leading scorer was lost for the season to an illness. Right around the same time as losing Johnson, second leading scorer, point guard Jonathan Han was suspended for a violation of team policy. So last night, the Stags only fielded eight players. Yet those eight players were more than enough to beat Canisius 65-51 last night. Yorel Hawkins, who coming into the game only averaged 7 points per game had 18 to lead the way. The Stags are now 15-9 overall, 8-5 in the MAAC.

By the the Chris Gadley Resurrection Watch is Still on. Gadley went an ugly 0 for 7 from the field, 0 for 2 from the line, for zero points. But he had eight rebounds. It reminded me of one of those efforts Gadley had while at Hofstra. A little too soft on the offensive end and he needed to go up strong on some attempts. He is coming back from back surgery and has come off the bench for the last few games (he was the starting center until he got hurt). Hopefully he rounds into shape.

One last thing to note about that game. It was nice to hear the announcers last night talk about Canisius' struggles shooting outside. Going into last night, the Golden Griffiths were dead last in the MAAC in scoring, due in large part to being dead last in three point field goal percentage at an unseemly 26.8 percent. The announcers talked about the fact that they needed to work the ball inside first, then kick it out for the open three. As one of them put it "then you will be shooting uncontested threes as opposed to contested threes". Simply and perfectly put. Maybe an aforementioned CAA team will take notes on that.

Just a word of warning, this is going to be one of my longest posts. But it's a good one, so get a cup of coffee and read on. :-)

So, if you are a fan of Kyle Whelliston's Mid Majority site, as I definitely am, you will have read this past Thursday's article about the CAA. It is a very interesting article about how the CAA has fallen on hard times as the league fares against Top 50 RPI teams. In 2005-06, the glory year of the CAA (with George Mason making it to the final four, UNC Wilmington also making the NCAA tournament, ODU and Hofstra winning five games in the NIT), the CAA had 17 Top 50 wins. In 2006-07, when the CAA again had two NCAA tournament teams in VCU and ODU, the number of Top 50 wins was 16. Last season, that dropped all the way to two, this year none. Also, what coincides is a significant drop off in home court wins in the CAA this season which is at only 55 percent compared to 69 percent in 2005-06.

Kyle talked about the reasons for the drop, specifically the lack of fans on these home courts. And i understand that fully, being a Hofstra season ticket holder. However Kyle did also say the following

"you can't fault a lack of talent -- not with Eric Maynor around, a player who might end up sticking in the NBA, and at least 20 quality players worthy of power-conference starting lineups sprinkled throughout the league."

Now for those of you that read my blog, all five of you (I'll get to that more in a second), you know how much I love Eric Maynor. And not only will he stick around the NBA, he will be very successful. Mark my words. However, I disagree with Kyle on the talent level in the CAA. So having occasionally conversed with Kyle over the years via e-mail (and yes Kyle is the first one to admit he is lousy when it comes to e-mail), I sent him an e-mail about the article. Let me note what I said.

....1) I have watched a good number of CAA games at Hofstra and on TV this season. And for the past several seasons, I have season tickets to Hofstra games, go on many road trips and have been to the CAA tournament since the 2002-03 season. Sorry to disagree with you, but the fact is the talent is not as good as the last several seasons. It's certainly not the only reason for the lack of quality home play and the play in general. But on the whole, the past several seasons, it was much more difficult to name a first team, second team and third team All CAA. This year you have Maynor, Matt Janning, Marc Egerson (the only player in the CAA averaging a double double), Gerald Lee and Larry Sanders probably as your first team. Then it's a struggle from there. Charles Jenkins started off the season really well, but has struggled mightily (due in fact that they have no one else who can score..what a shock with a team that shoots 37-38 percent regularly). Then you could go Jon Vaughan and Darryl Monroe, perhaps Manny Adako. But its a struggle to name the third team. I could rattle off ten players easily from 2005-06 CAA teams (Loughton,Stokes, James, Barea, Agudio,George, Neal, Courtney, Jai Lewis, Skinn, TJ Carter, Goldsberry etc), even 06-07 (Stokes, Agudio, Maynor, Courtney, Gary Neal, Frank Elegar, Valdus Vasilyus ) and last season in 07-08 you had Agudio, Maynor, Will Thomas, Folarin Campbell, Herb Courtney Jamal Shuler,and Frank Elegar ) But it's very hard now because there are not as many elite players.

2) Some of the teams just aren't as good all around as last season, partially due to losses of key players and partially due to teams that are very young. VCU truly misses Jamal Shuler not for just his scoring ability but also for his defensive ability. I've watched VCU several times against Oklahoma, Hofstra, Northeastern and UNCW. They do not have as successful a press as they used to, and they do not get the same stops on the defensive end that they did when they had Shuler. Plus Larry Sanders often gets in foul trouble. Also, early on in the season, the Rams were too reliant on Maynor and didn't have a true second or third scoring option and thus they struggled non-conference. They did play well against Oklahoma but they just couldn't hold them on the defensive end.

ODU is very dependent on their young guards being able to shoot the three to offset teams collapsing on Lee. If the guards are on, they are in good shape, if not, then you see the losses at home to James Madison for example.

Northeastern is a very Mid American type team. Good defensively, and they slug their way through. However, they can have off shooting days from the outside, sometimes become too dependent on Janning and that explains their losses to William and Mary and Hofstra.

Hofstra and Drexel are two teams that can play defense, rebound and play hard, but can't shoot a lick and can't hold onto the ball to save their lives (see their assists and turnover to assists ratio). They beat teams they are supposed to beat but they can not beat teams with superior records in conference (Hofstra is 1-6 vs. teams above them in conference and Drexel is 0-3..the Dragons have had an easy first half CAA schedule). Plus, the way Hofstra runs their offense the past few seasons, they will never be consistent.

Of all the teams, Mason has probably been the most consistent. Their three CAA losses were at Northeastern at VCU and at ODU - all three very close losses. If you look, they had Dayton on the ropes but lost at the end. Likewise with Liberty. They are very balanced and they have three terrific freshmen who will only get better.

3) Some of the teams that usually draw great home crowds, such as UNCW, aren't very good this year. It was obviously early on to the hardcore fan, or the casual mid major observer that UNCW was so defensively challenged (I call them the Denver Nuggets of the CAA). So the casual student fan at UNCW is just not interested this season. In the past, I have listened to games on the WRHU radio internet feed and the Trask Center was loud..really loud. Drexel was always sold out especially for Hofstra games. But last season, I could tell that there was not much of a crowd. I don't know about this season but my guess is that it is still down. Even the Mason-Hofstra game on the U, I was surprised by the number of empty seats at Mason. And this was a team that went to the Final Four (three years ago). They still are good this year, so I have no explanation for that.

4) Some teams will never draw good crowds unless they are really, really good. Case in point, Hofstra. I have stated on my site and always said to friends who don't know college basketball that in the Long Island NY area there is no better value than a Hofstra game. Unfortunately, Hofstra has never been a place where they have a consistent fan base. Apparently there is either too much to do being close to the city, other sporting events with the Islanders literally across the street, the Knicks, Rangers etc and you have an apathetic student population. That's the way Hofstra has been unfortunately. Hofstra never really drew a large contingent to the CAA tournament until 2005-06 (2004-05 wasn't bad either) but it has dropped off substantially the last two seasons. Likewise their home games. Thus Hofstra in particular doesn't have that much of a home court advantage anymore and if you remember, one time Hofstra had the longest home court home streak in the nation until ODU beat them in 05-06.

Likewise Northeastern never draws much of a contingent, even when they were good in 05-06. I have a friend who went to Northeastern during this time, and she said she was never interested in basketball there (though football and hockey were big there). I am worried that the current first place team in the CAA will have no one there at tournament time. EEK.

Just my two cents on it, but I am glad you brought it up. I don't know what next season will bring but the CAA simply isn't as good as certainly the really good seasons of 05-06 and 06-07 and not even last season when you had two veteran teams in Mason and VCU. Right now you won't here me screaming about the lack of love for the CAA. Right now, it's not deserved...."

Now I know that some of that seems a little harsh about the CAA, but it is all true. I know the CAA very well from all the Hofstra home games, the road trips I have done, and I plan my free time around watching nationally televised CAA games (and thank you ESPNU for making the CAA pretty well known now). It's not the same as three years ago. Whelliston's stats prove my point.

Kyle was kind enough to respond on this and I appreciate his thoughts and his kind words about my blog. So now I know six people read my blog. :-)

I just want to end on this note. I really hope that those two CAA seasons 2005-06 and 2006-07 were not simply a blip in time. I would love to see the CAA have two teams in the dance every year. And perhaps a year from now we might see Mason and ODU for an example be in the dance together. But right now, we have to be patient and we also need to see teams in the CAA schedule stronger non conference competition. It's the only way the CAA will be taken seriously come selection time.

See you at Hofstra today at noon vs. Towson (also on MSG+ and probably CAA network too). First 1000 fans I believe get a free backpack. Like I said, it's the best entertainment value on Long Island. Come on out. I sit in section 111 Row D, aisle seat. I will always gladly talk hoops. :-)

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