Thursday, February 17, 2011

CAA Miscellaneous and Hofstra - Wright State Bracketbuster Preview

Tuesday night was a big night for the CAA and not just for Charles Jenkins adding to his legend.  As a result of one of the games, the four bye spots for the first round of the CAA Tournament are all set.  George Mason had already clinched due to last Saturday's action.  After Tuesday night, VCU, Old Dominion and Hofstra all clinched spots.  That was due to Drexel losing at UNC Wilmington.  How the four teams will be seeded still has to play out with two games left.  But with one more win, the Patriots will clinch the top spot.

Since the CAA expanded to twelve teams in the 2005-06 season, the winner of the CAA Tournament has come from a team that has had a bye in the first round.  When you dig deeper, since 2005-06 all but one of the top seeds in the CAA Tournament have gone on to win the CAA Tournament.  The only top seeded team that didn't win the CAA Tournament was VCU in the 2007-08 season when they lost to #5 William and Mary in the semis of the 2008 CAA Tournament.

As for the rest of the eight teams' seedings, only one is guaranteed. At 0-16, Towson has clinched last place in the conference and gets to play the #5-#12 game in the afternoon session on Friday March 4th at Richmond Coliseum.   At least it will be a quick exit.  William and Mary is likely the #11 seed at 3-13.  After that, seeds #5 through #10  have not been decided.  Drexel and James Madison are tied for fifth at 9-7.  Madison has the tiebreaker, having swept Drexel in their season series.  But Madison has to host ODU then play at VCU.  Meanwhile, Drexel hosts VCU then plays at Towson.  Likely the Dragons will finish no lower than sixth, though Drexel could finish seventh if they lose two and UNCW wins two due to tiebreaker (UNCW defeated Drexel in their only matchup).  Madison can finish no lower than sixth due to tiebreakers over UNCW and Delaware.

What's really up in the air is who will finish seventh through tenth.  UNCW and Delaware are tied for seventh, with Georgia State one game back in ninth and Northeastern in tenth.  The Seahawks have the tiebreaker on the Blue Hens having won their only matchup on the season.  The Huskies, depending on how the other teams' games play out, could jump up to seventh if they win both of their games. That means they will have beaten UNCW in the last game of the season.  If tied with the Seahawks,  the Huskies would have the tiebreaker having swept the series.

Here's probably the easiest thing to figure.  Mason, VCU, ODU and Hofstra all have byes.  Mason will beat Northeastern at home next week (sorry Huskies fans and Jerry Beach) and finish first.  Towson will finish last.  Wait till the end of next weekend to see how the rest of the seeds play out.

George Mason has been on a flat out roll.  Ever since they lost two straight at Hofstra and ODU, the Patriots have won twelve games in a row.  Their average margin of victory is just about 18 points.  During their streak, the only game they have not won by double digits was a two point win at James Madison in a nationally televised game.  

Now Mason is known for their offense, since they are 14th in the country in FG percentage at 48 percent.   But in seven of those twelve wins, the Patriots have held their opponents to under 39 percent or less shooting from the field.  Four of those came in the last five wins they have had (Hofstra, ODU, JMU, and VCU).  That's why Mason is third in FG percentage defense and scoring defense in the CAA.

John Hollinger is a NBA statistical guru.  He has a statistical rating called PER - Player Efficiency Ratings, which is a statistical breakdown of efficient a player is in various categories, scoring, assists, rebounds etc.   It basically shows which players are helping their teams the most.   Hollinger has developed a PER for college players as well, which you can find at the link below.

But BEFORE you click on the link, I want to tell you two about two of the CAA players that are in the top 22 of the ratings.  First, it's not surprising that Charles Jenkins is currently sixth in Hollinger's ratings, ahead of Jared Sullinger and Jimmer Fredette.   But the second player ranked currently 22nd is definitely surprising, though he is one of my favorite players in the CAA.  Can you guess who is 22nd in Hollinger's ratings?  Denzel Bowles?  Nope, he is 41st.  Jamie Skeen.  No, he is 75th.  Cam Long? Nope.  Quinn McDowell?  No.

The answer is Frank Hassell.  Hassell, ODU's near double double machine, averages 14 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, nearly shoots 54 percent from the field and shoots 73 percent from the line.  His Hollinger PER rating is currently higher than Kentucky's Terrence Jones or Duke's Nolan Smith.  That's how good Frank Hassell has been for the Monarchs.

When the CAA Coach of the Year voting is done, certainly George Mason's Jim Larranaga is going to get votes for how dominant George Mason has been.  And certainly, Hofstra's Mo Cassara deserves a good amount of consideration for taking a Hofstra team to a top four finish despite losing two all CAA freshmen in Chaz Williams and Halil Kanacevic to transfer and their sixth man, Nathaniel Lester to injury.

But another coach also deserves a lot of recognition for the job he has done.  UNCW's Buzz Peterson took over a team that was 9-22 and 5-13 in conference last season and lost several players due to transfter.   The Seahawks are currently 13-14 and 7-11 in conference.  They have a decent chance of finishing over .500 overall and finishing .500 in conference.  Many people, including yours truly predicted a lot worse.   Good job, Buzz!

Finally, here's a BracketBuster Preview of Hofstra vs. Wright State.   I will be heading out early tomorrow morning for the road trip to Dayton, Ohio  to see the nationally televised game Saturday morning at the Nutter Center on the campus of WSU.

Hofstra comes into the game 18-9 overall, tied for second at 12-4 in the CAA.  The Pride have won four games in a row and have clinched a top four seed and first round bye for the CAA Tournament.  Wright State enters the game 17-12 overall, in fifth place at 10-7 in the Horizon.  The Raiders have lost three in a row.

The Pride of course have Charles Jenkins, the CAA's leading scorer at 23.5 ppg and reigning CAA Player of the Year.  Hofstra is fourth in the CAA in scoring offense at 71 points per game, fifth in FG and three point FG percentage, second in blocked shots and third in assist to turnover ratio.  The Raiders have Vaughn Duggins, the Horizon's second leading scorer at 18.5 ppg, and are first in the Horizon in scoring defense at 62.7 points per game and first in three point FG percentage defense at 30.9 percent.  They are also sixth in the Horizon in FG percentage at 44.2 percent, the same exact percentage as Hofstra.

Now both teams excel at certain categories.  Wright State is first in the Horizon in turnover margin at +3.5.  Hofstra is third in the CAA at +2.22.   The Raiders are first in the Horizon in FT shooting at 75.1 percent while Hofstra is first in the CAA at 76.2 percent.  However, both teams do not rebound well.  Wright State is next to last in the Horizon at -5.9.  Hofstra is dead last in the CAA in rebounding margin at -4.7.   Finally, despite leading the Horizon in scoring defense, the Raiders are dead in last in FG percentage defense at 46.4 percent.

So what does this all mean?  Well based on watching Wright State's game vs. Cleveland State last night (a 74-72 loss for the Raiders at the Nutter Center), WSU loves to shoot the three as they shot 10 of 20 from beyond the arc.   Since Wright State lacks size, I expect Hofstra to play a lot more man to guard against the three.  Also, Duggins likes to post up smaller guards as he did often vs. Norris Cole last night.  Look for Hofstra to play Mike Moore on Duggins.  Like the Pride has in Mike Moore (15.1 ppg), the Raiders have a second scoring threat in N'gai Evans, who averages 15.5 points per game and is quite quick   You may see Hofstra use their defensive stopper Yves Jules on him.

As for Hofstra on offense, Wright State guards the three so well but doesn't have much size.  So look for Jenkins and Moore to drive the lane a lot.  And look for Greg Washington and David Imes to be a large part of the Pride offense inside.  Cleveland State's forwards Aaron Poque and Tim Kamczyc combined to shoot 12 of 14 from the field last night and that probably explains why Wright State's FG percentage defense is last in the Horizon.

Hofstra's weakness, rebounding, is not Wright State's strength.  However, watching the Raiders last night, I can see they play the passing lanes really well and thus why they are first in the Horizon in turnover margin.  Jenkins and Brad Kelleher must be very careful with their passes Saturday morning.

Look for a close game with both teams who can shoot free throws well.  I expect a three to four point margin at most.   Who's going to win?  I gave up BracketBuster predictions after last season. Just turn on ESPNU at 11:00 AM Saturday and find out.  And maybe you will see me sitting in the crowd.

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