Wednesday, November 11, 2009

CAA Fun for the Crowd Preview - Part II

Well, this is what happens when you write a preview. One injury can change a lot of things. And Michael Litos has reported that we had one when James Madison guard Devon Moore tore his ACL the past weekend and is out for the season. Having seen Moore play, this is a devastating loss for the Dukes. I now have to temper expectations for “my sleeper” team.

Also for you Hofstra fans, since I am a Hofstra Pride fan club member, I received this e-mail yesterday

“Hofstra Basketball Fans - Join members of the athletics staff to “watch Hofstra take on #1 Kansas this Friday night at Miller ‘s Ale House in Levittown! The Pride will be facing a top-ranked team for the first time in program history….”

Now I have actually been to Miller’s Ale House several times and it’s a great place to see a game. But in my case, I am going to the best place to see the Hofstra-Kansas game…Allen Fieldhouse in Kansas. ☺

Now back to my second part of my CAA preview. I was very torn with who I was going to put seventh through ninth. Drexel, Georgia State or Towson all are pretty even. All three teams bring back their cores of their teams. So for seventh, I am going to go with the team whose coach is one of my all time favorites.

Drexel – I just love watching Bruiser Flint coach. It’s truly fun watching Bruiser work the refs, giving that classic “Bruiser Stomp” when a play doesn’t go his way. He even is a great interview.

Bruiser is not just a showman, but also a really good coach. Drexel last year was picked last in the preseason coach’s poll. But the Dragons bolted out to a 10-5 conference record and a sixth place finish. However, the Dragons would lose their last three games in conference and then were unceremoniously bounced in a major upset by Towson in the first round of the CAA tournament.

The Dragons lost their leading scorer and a terrific defender in Scott Rodgers. However Drexel returns their four other starters. Guards Gerald Colds and Jamie Harris combined for 17 points per game while forwards Leon Spencer and Evan Neisler combined for 14 points and nearly 12 rebounds a game.

The Dragons have also some bench strength in forwards Kenny Tribbett and Samme Givens who provide more rebounding and physical play off the bench. The key player though may be a redshirted freshman, Chris Fouch. Fouch a highly touted sharpshooter from Rice in NYC tore an ACL before last season. Drexel has sorely needed an outside shooting presence and Fouch may be that player.

One thing is for certain; the Dragons will be a physical defensive oriented team. It’s a trademark of a Bruiser Flint team. The Dragons love low scoring slobberknockers with the scores in the fifties. And considering how poorly they shot the ball last season (at the bottom of most CAA offensive categories), to finish 10-8 is a testament to Flint, who was named CAA coach of the year.

The Dragons have a lot of big tests the first two months of the season; at Niagara, at #6 Villanova and at #5 Kentucky. It will be interesting to see who picks up the scoring that was lost with Rodgers’ graduation. And I have a hunch who that might be.

Key Player – Chris Fouch. Fouch was a very highly touted recruit for Flint last season. Sitting out a year with the ACL injury has put him under the radar. But if he lives up to his high school reputation as a deadly three point shooter, he will bring the much needed outside shooting presence that Drexel sorely needs.

Georgia State – The Panthers were the hype of the CAA preseason in 2008-09. There was the much talked about ESPN article about how the five transfers who sat out the 07-08 season constantly beating the five regulars during practice, resulted in many picking Georgia State as their sleeper team. Unfortunately, the sleeper team slept for most of the season in the CAA. Then the Panthers before won five of their last eight games in conference and won their obligatory first round CAA matchup before losing to eventual CAA champ VCU in the quarters.

The Panthers are led by the entertaining senior Joe Dukes, who averaged nearly 13 points per game. He is joined by fellow seniors Trae Goldston, Xavier Hansboro and Trey Hampton. Goldston is the only other double digit scorer but Hansboro and Hampton showed some scoring potential in their preseason scrimmage win over Shorter.

The Panthers fifth starter most likely will be long range shooter, Dante Curry, who came off the bench last season. The most anticipated player though is Rashanti Harris, a 6 foot 10 monster who is considered one of the top 50 players in the country. Getting Harris is a coup for coach Rod Barnes. However, Harris won’t be on the team until at least December since he took his ACT test late (Hello McFly?!).

Surprisingly, the Panthers have a relatively weak schedule with their only major non conference test a road game at North Carolina State along with a tournament at South Alabama. If the Panthers win a few games early, then if Harris can provide a spark when he comes aboard, picking the Panthers eighth might be a little low.

Key Player – Joe Dukes. If Georgia State wants to finish in the upper half of the CAA standings, Dukes must elevate his game. It will be curious to see when Harris joins the Panthers how long it will take to get acclimated into the offense. The Panthers could be a late season CAA darling but expect them to struggle early.

Towson – The Tigers struggled for most of last season in conference, finishing eleventh. But then came the CAA Tournament and two major upset wins over Drexel then Northeastern. The Tigers would give Mason all they could handle before losing in the semifinals. Can the Tigers use this as momentum for the 09-10 CAA season.

The Tigers return several starters including guard Josh Thornton who hit 43 percent of his threes last season. Thornton came on late last season and his 15 points against George Mason in the CAA semifinals kept the Tigers close with the Patriots. Now with Junior Hairston having graduated, Thornton will be the main focus of the offense.

The Tigers also have point guard Troy Franklin, and capable forwards Brian Morris, Jerrel Smith, Calvin Lee and Robert Nwanko. Franklin was one of the main catalysts in the Tigers’ upset of Northeastern in the CAA Quarterfinals. Smith had 20 points and 11 rebounds vs. NC State. And Towson is expecting big things from Lee this season. In fact, Litos has called Lee “The Handful”. The talent is there.

The question with the Tigers is “Were the two wins in the CAA Tournament last season a glimpse to the Tigers future or was it an aberration?” Considering Towson finished 11th last season, you can only think they can move up in the standings this season. However, they must play better defense - they finished at the bottom of most CAA defensive categories. And when I saw them at Hofstra last season, their defense was quite weak.

The Tigers have a relatively soft non conference schedule with their toughest game being at #22 Dayton. So perhaps a few wins under their belt come CAA regular season time might give them the confidence they need.

Key Player - Josh Thornton. With Junior Hairston having graduated, Thornton must step up and be the main scoring threat for the Tigers. If Thornton can average 15-17 per night, that will open up things inside for "The Handful", Smith and others.

Due to time and length, I will have my final part of my CAA season preview tonight.

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