Friday, February 4, 2011

Down the Stretch They Come in the CAA

Before I start my CAA article, last night was National #Pixelvision night at MidMajority.Com.  I volunteered to tweet updates during the live video feed for a game, and I got to cover the Butler - Youngstown State game.   The national runnerup was facing the last place team in the Horizon, who had one win all season in conference.  I figured I was going to cover a blowout.  But Youngstown State led most of the game.  But it looked like the clock had struck midnight for the home team Penguins, when it was 57-47 Bulldogs with about six minutes left in the game.  But then Youngstown State outscored Butler 15-3 the rest of the way for the stunning 62-60 win that left the Bulldogs out in the cold.  Amazing.

So we are two thirds of the way through the CAA season. Twelve games down, six games to play.  There seems to be one bye spot in play by three teams for fourth place.   But the next few days may provide significant upheaval in who is in the top three of the standings. Let's look at the teams in standings order (their conference record is listed in parentheses).

VCU (10-2) - The Rams had won nine straight in conference till they got woofed by the Huskies at Matthews Arena Wednesday night.  Northeastern has now won three out of their last four meetings with VCU.  Still, the Rams are playing awfully well.   Second in scoring offense, fifth in both FG and Three Point FG percentage, first in assists and turnover margin and second in assists.  In his last three games, Bradford Burgess is averaging 15 points, 9 rebounds and is 15 of 16 from the free throw line.

VCU does not have an easy schedule the rest of the way - at JMU, at Delaware, home to ODU.  Then they are at home to George Mason, then at Wichita State, then at Drexel, then home to JMU.   If they finish first in the CAA after that schedule, they will be hard to beat come CAA Tournament time.

George Mason (10-2) - After getting pummeled at Hofstra, then losing a tough game at Old Dominion, the Patriots have been scorching hot.  Mason is 17th in the country and first in the CAA in FG percentage at 48.3 percent, first in the CAA in scoring at 74.5 points per game.  GMU is also first in the CAA in three point FG percentage, first in assists to turnover ratio, second in assists and second in turnover margin.   Andre Cornelius has stepped up his offensive game.  In his last three games, Cornelius has averaged 17 points per game while shooting 11 of 22 from beyond the arc.

The Patriots next five games will be a difficult stretch.  Home to ODU, then at UNCW, home to JMU, at VCU and at Northern Iowa.  Then they finish at home with Northeastern and Georgia State.  They could finish very well in first but if not careful, could finish in fourth.

ODU (9-3) - Not too long ago, the Monarchs were 5-3 and in fifth place in the CAA.  Now they have won four straight and sit in third place.  Not that some of the games have been easy.  They had to rally late to win at Georgia State and rally at home to defeat Delaware.   Still, a win is a win for the number one scoring defense in the CAA and the number 14th ranked rebounding team in the country.  ODU is 8-0 when Frank Hassell has a double double.

Like VCU and George Mason, Old Dominion does not have an easy schedule remaining.  Three road games in a row - at Mason, at William and Mary and at VCU.  Then comes home tilts with Georgia State and Cleveland State.  The Monarchs end their regular season at JMU and then home to William and Mary.

Hofstra (8-4) - After nine games, Hofstra was 8-1 in conference after a thrilling two point overtime win vs. James Madison.  Then they were thoroughly beaten in road games vs. VCU and George Mason and were humbled at home in a close loss to Drexel.   Suddenly the Pride are 8-4 and only have a one game lead on JMU and Drexel for fourth.  It's all about defense and rebounding, or the lack of both.  In their last three games, Hofstra has given up an average of 78 points per game and been outrebounded on average 44-28.  But Charles Jenkins is still Charles Jenkins as he is averaging 23.3 points (1st in CAA, 6th in country), 5.2 assists (1st in CAA), 54% FG (4th in CAA) and 85.7% FT (4th in CAA).

What the Pride has left is a favorable schedule.  None of the remaining teams Hofstra plays in conference is above .500 - home to Northeastern, at Georgia State, at Delaware, home to William and Mary on my birthday (Feb 15),  Then at Wright State (road trip for my birthday), then at UNCW, then home to Delaware.   If the Pride win out in conference, fourth place is theirs.  If not...

Drexel (7-5) - The Dragons were at one point 3-4.  But Drexel has recovered to win four of their last five.  The win at Hofstra put them back in the hunt for fourth place and the last bye spot for the first round of the CAA Tournament.   It's defense and rebounding for the Dragons.  Drexel is 8th in the country in rebounding and 2nd in the CAA in scoring defense.   They also have got good play out of freshman Dartaye Ruffin, who off the benchhas averaged nearly 11 points and 9 rebounds in his last three games.

The Dragons have a relatively favorable schedule remaining.  Drexel is at Delaware, then home to James Madison and William and Mary.  Then at UNCW, home to Kent State, followed by a big home game vs. VCU, then a road game at Towson.   It's conceivable that Drexel could run the table.

Delaware (6-6) - The Blue Hens were this close to sweeping ODU this season, but the Monarchs rallied late to defeat UD.   It was the second tough loss in a row as the Blue Hens were up 19 on JMU before the Dukes rallied to win.  Delaware is at the bottom of most offensive categories in the CAA - last in scoring offense, last in FG percentage and assists as well.  However, the Blue Hens are 2nd in three point FG percentage defense and 5th overall in FG percentage defense.   In his last three games, Devon Saddler has averaged 16 points and 5 rebounds per game and shooting 20 of 39 from the field.

The Blue Hens have a very difficult remaining schedule.  Though they have three straight home games, they are against Drexel, VCU and Hofstra.   Then road games at Northeastern and Rider.  Then home to Towson before ending their regular season at Hofstra.

Northeastern (4-8)  - The Huskies started out 0-8 in conference, but have rallied to win four games in a row, including the impressive home win over first place VCU.  Three of the four wins though were at home (the only road win was at UNCW).  The Huskies are fourth in the CAA in FG percentage, second in three point FG percentage, and second in the CAA in FT percentage.  Chaisson Allen has been on fire for Northeastern.  In his last three games, Allen is averaging nearly 23 points, 5 assists while shooting 9 of 18 from beyond the arc.

The Huskies have a reasonable schedule the rest of the way.  They start at Hofstra, then home to Towson.  Then it's a road game vs. Georgia State, home to Delaware, then road games at UNC Asheville and at George Mason.  Noreaster finishes home to UNCW.

UNCW (4-8) - The Seahawks were at one time 4-4 in the CAA.  But after four straight losses, the Seahawks stand tied for eighth with Northeastern and Georgia State.   UNCW has struggled on offense as they are last in the CAA in scoring offense, last in assists to turnover ratio, and next to last in assists.  However UNCW has improved greatly on defense from a season ago - 5th in three point FG percentage defense, sixth in scoring defense.  Trevor Deloach has stepped it up in his last two games, averaging 22 points, 7 rebounds and shooting 15 of 27 from the field.

UNCW has a favorable schedule, with five of their seven remaining games at home.  It starts with two straight home games vs William and Mary and George Mason.  Then a road game vs. Towson, followed by three straight home games vs. Drexel, Charleston Southern, then Hofstra.  The Seahawks finish their regular season at Hofstra.

Georgia State (4-8) - The Panthers stopped a seven game slide defeating UNCW in overtime at home.  GSU has struggled on offense - next to last in FG percentage and FT percentage, next to last in assist to turnover ratio.  They are playing well on defense however - second in FG percentage defense, fourth in scoring defense and third in blocked shots.   Eric Buckner has got back on track.  In his last two games, he is averaging 15 points and 7 rebounds.

The Panthers start their final stretch with a road game at Towson.  Then they play Hofstra and Northeastern at home, followed by three road games with ODU, Louisiana Tech and William and Mary.  They end their regular season at home vs. George Mason.

William and Mary (3-9) - The Tribe scored a huge road upset over James Madison on Wednesday which ended a four game slide.  W&M is third in the CAA in FG percentage at 44.5%.   However they are dead last in the CAA in turnover margin.  Quinn McDowell had been the one constant for the Tribe.  McDowell averages 15 points, shoots 47 percent from the field and 86 percent from the line.  He has had six games where he has scored 22 or more points.

The Tribe start the final part of their schedule with a road game at UNCW.  Then it's home to ODU, followed by two road games with Drexel and Hofstra.  Then its home games with Radford and Georgia State and they end their regular season schedule at ODU.

Towson (0-11) - Not much more to say than if they are going to win a game in conference, the rest of their schedule gives them opportunities to do it.  Home to Georgia State, then at Northeastern.  Three straight home games follow with UNCW, James Madison and Loyola.  Then at Delaware, then home to Drexel.

The next three weeks will be very interesting.

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