Wednesday, October 26, 2011

NBA Lockout Got You Down? How About Being A College Hoops Junkie?

With the lockout potentially canceling the entire season, NBA fans are looking for other avenues to fill their sports fix.  For those of you who want to see some quality hoops, it's time you joined the rest of us fans of the college hardwood (and I mean the sport, not my blog, though I certainly will gladly take more readers and followers on Twitter at gmoore21566).  Thus, for those of you pro basketball fans new to following college basketball, here are some suggestions for you.

  1. Pick a Team to Follow - I certainly have no problems with people who love college basketball in general.  And of course, I will drop whatever I am doing if there is a good game to watch.  But what makes college basketball more fun is if you pick a team/college to root for whether it's live or on TV.  Now for those of you living in many NBA cities, you often have a lot of choices (especially for us in New York, more on that in a second), but some NBA cities don't have that many college basketball team alternatives (hello, Orlando!).
  2. When Picking a Team, May I Suggest a Mid Major Team  - Now for many pro basketball fans in big market cities, many Lakers' and Clippers' fans likely will trend to USC or UCLA , while Knicks' fans will likely tend to veer towards St John's and Celtics' fans may go down the road to Chestnut Hill for Boston College.  However,  Bobcats' fans, you don't have to venture far to support the 49ers of Charlotte or Davidson, or even for those Bobcats' fans on the coast, UNCW over the more traditional staples of UNC and Duke.

    But if you are the supporter of a NBA team and have no particular allegiance to any big conference schools, there are plenty of mid major teams in your local area that you can support.   Pacers fans have Butler right down the road, or IUPUI, which is not the former mascot of the Expos, but the home of Michael Hadley's Jaguars of the Summit Conference.  Sixers' fans have plenty of choices besides Villanova.  There is Saint Joseph's, UPenn, Temple and my pick to win the CAA this season, Drexel.

    Nets' and Knicks fans have lots of mid major teams to choose from besides the usual duo of St John's and Seton Hall.   First, you have potentially the best mid major team in the country in New Rochelle in the Iona Gaels.   For those Nets' fans craving Brooklyn basketball, there are the entertaining Blackbirds of LIU- Brooklyn, the defending NEC champions who love to put the ball in the hoop.  If you are on Staten Island, the Hurley brothers are quickly turning Wagner into a contender. In the Bronx, there is Fordham and the underrated Rose Hill gym.  And out here on Long Island, you have two choices; Hofstra and Stony Brook, two programs definitely on the rise.

    And you have lots of other mid majors in NBA cities.  Detroit could be the favorite for the Horizon in Pistons' land, but UW Milwaukee might have a say about the Horizon in Bucks' land.  Jazz fans may finally have a chance to see the gem of a team Stu Morrill always has at Utah State.  Cavaliers' fans probably are glad to see the NBA lockout and now they can enjoy another good Xavier team this season.
  3. Go to Live College Basketball Games -  Yes, watching college basketball on TV is fun. But it seriously pales in comparison to live games.  Live games are so much more fun.  You get a better appreciation for the skill level of talented college basketball players.   You have lively,often creative student sections and animated coaches like Bruiser Flint that will entertain you for two non stop hours.  It's also one of the most inexpensive outings you can find, plus some tasty food selections (see further down for Delaware BBQ).  Thus I recommend...
  4. Bring a Friend or Better Yet, Bring Your Children to a Live Game -  There is never a better outing to hang out with a good friend or with your children than a college basketball game.  For almost ten years now, I have had Hofstra season tickets with my good friends Mal and Tony.  It's quality time with two longtime friends.  You can catch up on each other's lives, comment on the play of the game and throw in a good natured barbing of quality CAA officiating.

    But better yet, if you have a young son into sports, like my older son Matthew, college basketball is a very exciting sport to a child.  It also helps if your son's first game of the season with you is the game where Charles Jenkins ends up on SportsCenter....on your birthday no less.  There is no better bonding with father and son than a sporting event.  And a two hour college basketball game is the perfect sport for young children.  Matthew is now hooked on college basketball.
  5. Take a Road Trip to See a Game  - One of my favorite things the past several years is taking a road trip.  Whether it was a pre-season tournament in Charleston, South Carolina, or a weekend trip to Atlantic City, then Philly for some good food and a Drexel-Hofstra Basketball game with Bruiser Flint at his foot stomping finest, a jaunt down to Newark for some bball and barbecue, or a long road trip to Dayton for a BracketBuster game and a terrific national museum, college basketball road trips with a good friend in support of your team are memories that you will treasure for years to come. But for the best college basketball road trip...
  6. Go to a College Basketball Conference Tournament - Sans one year due to my younger son's surgery, I have been going to the CAA Tournament since the 2002-03 season.  Especially since 2005-06 when the Colonial became twelve teams, there is nothing better than seeing ten games in three days (alas, I have never been able to stay for the CAA Championship game).  I have also been to several Big East Conference Tournament games.

    There is nothing like a conference tournament live. The games are incredibly exciting, the atmosphere is often raucous and the level of play is tremendous.   I can't even begin to tell you the history I have seen at the Richmond Coliseum and MSG over the years.  You can not truly call yourself a college basketball fan if you have not gone to a conference tournament.

    And there are so many conference tournaments to choose from if you are a fan.  Especially for those in the Northeast/Atlantic in 2012, you have the MAAC Tournament in Springfield, Massachusetts, the CAA in Richmond, the Atlantic 10 in Atlantic City and yes of course, the Big East Tournament at the Garden.  You can't go wrong by attending any of those tournaments.
  7. Go to a Mid Major Conference Tournament Championship Game -  Now what I mean by this is that several mid major conferences have their tournament championship game at the highest remaining seed's home court.   The America East, the Patriot League, the NEC and the Horizon are several conferences that have this in effect.

    I have been fortunate to see two of these games.  In 2001, I saw Hofstra defeat Delaware in the Mack Center in Hempstead for the America East Championship (in what would also be the swan song for both teams in the America East).  And this year, I was fortunate to see LIU win at home over Robert Morris to win the NEC Championship.   Talk about an incredibly amazing atmosphere in front of sold out, mostly partisan crowds.  And of course, you have fans storming the court at the end of the game.  Now that's fun.  But if you really want an event to remember...
  8. Go to a NCAA Tournament Regional - In 2008, my friends Mal, Tony and I went to Raleigh for the first round regional.  It was the experience of a lifetime.  This was of course where Stephen Curry became a national star for his performances vs. Gonzaga and Georgetown.  You also had North Carolina basically playing home games as well in the same regional.  Talk about raucous. When the Wildcats made their historic comeback vs. the Hoyas, the place was rocking.   A NCAA Regional is definitely something a fan should see for themselves.
Now you have eight reasons to become a college basketball junkie. You can start by looking at various team's schedules.   The best place to go for that is Basketball State and click on Schools.  There you will find "Schedule/Results" on the left hand side.  And if you really want your fill of hoops, like me, you can plan out an entire year's schedule around several teams (that's my assignment for this weekend).

And if you follow my advice and pick a mid major team to follow, you can share your experiences by tweeting them.  You would be surprised on how few tweeters there are of mid major teams or of the CAA in general.  By tweeting some of the action, you will gain followers, trust me on this.

So NBA fans, do not despair.  You can get your fill of hoops by joining us in the world of the College Hardwood.  And yes, this time, that was a plug.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Miscellaneous Notes and Thoughts

I gave my RSVP for the Hofstra Men's Basketball Season Ticket Holder Practice and Reception on October 27th.   Can't wait for my first taste of college basketball season.  Last year's Hofstra Fanfest gave me a good first look at a much improved David Imes.  Looking forward to see who will surprise me in my first look at Hofstra for the 2011-12 season.

Today, the ESPN/USA Today Preseason Coaches Poll was announced.  North Carolina was voted the #1 team in the poll with 30 out of 31 first place votes.  Kentucky was ranked second.  If you are looking for a  mid major team in the poll, well depending on how you view Xavier and Gonzaga as mid majors, the Musketeers were picked 15th and the Zags were picked 23rd.

What I found most humorous was that the top rated CAA team in the Coaches Poll was George Mason who received 12 votes while Drexel received only 2 votes.  Anyone with significant knowledge of the CAA (Mike Litos, Brian Mull, John Templon, hell even dumb old me) has picked Drexel to finish first.  This is due to the fact that Drexel returns four starters, while Mason has lost three starters; Cam Long to graduation, Luke Hancock transferring to Louisville and Andre Cornelius due to suspension.  Goes to show you how much the Preseason Coaches Poll is really worth in the grand scheme of things .

For a while, I was wondering what was going to occur first, my younger son Jonathan's fourth birthday (November 17) or the NCAA's ruling on granting Momo Jones a waiver to play for Iona this season.  Well, it finally happened today, as the NCAA granted Jones a waiver to play for the Gaels this season.  Needless to say this makes the Gaels the prohibitive favorite in the MAAC.  But more importantly, the Gaels with Jones, Michael Glover and Scott Machado could possibly be one of the best mid major teams in the country.   Better get your tickets now for games at the Hynes Center.  I see lots of sellouts up in New Rochelle this season.  By the way, circle November 28th on your calendar.  Iona is home vs. LIU in what promises to be a very high scoring game.

I know I didn't talk about this in my CAA preview, but if you held a gun to my head, my picks for All First Team CAA this season would be Bradford Burgess (VCU), Quinn McDowell (W&M), Samme Givens (Drexel), Kent Bazemore (ODU)  and Ryan Pearson (George Mason).   If Bazemore's foot doesn't heal properly, then pick one from the following; Devon Saddler (Delaware), Mike Moore (Hofstra) and Chris Fouch (Drexel).  

By the way, I am very upset at the CAA schedule makers this season.  How dare they have Hofstra playing at Delaware on a weeknight?!  I need my fill of Blue Hen Barbecue!!  I guess I will have to go to a different Delaware Saturday home game.  I am targeting January 14 when they host VCU.  VCU and barbecue.  That rhymes!

Speaking of Hofstra, there is a lovely road trip I plan to take Thanksgiving weekend up to Rhode Island to see the Pride play in the Legends Classic along with Rhode Island, Cleveland State and Boston University, three teams who also made the postseason last season.   It will be my first ever road trip alone with my six year old son, Matthew, the college basketball maven.  Father and son bonding while watching college basketball in Rhode Island.   Should be memorable.

Three weeks from tomorrow is Hofstra's first home game vs. LIU.   It's just around the corner.  Thank god!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The 2011-12 CAA Preview - What Will the Colonial Do for an Encore?

The 2010-11 Colonial Men's basketball season will go down as the most historic in conference history.  Three teams in the NCAA Tournament, its second team ever in the Final Four, the first team ever to go from First Four to Final Four and for the third year in a row, a CAA player taken in the NBA Draft.  It was an absolute pleasure seeing the seeds sown throughout the season and being at the CAA Tournament for the eighth time in the last nine years.  The CAA was truly "Fun for the crowd" last season.

So what's in store for the CAA in 2011-12?  Well, the top four teams lost significant starters from a year ago either due to graduation or transfer (or, sadly, were arrested).   It's going to be asking a lot for the Colonial to have a multiple bid NCAA Tournament season, let alone another three team bid season. 

Teams in Predicted Order of Finish

The Top Five (And Yes, I Know Full Well Only Four Can Get a First Round Bye in the CAA Tournament)

1) Drexel - Could this be finally the year that the Dragons break "The Curse of the America East"?   For those of you who don't know, no former America East team has won the CAA Tournament since the core four - Delaware, Drexel, Towson and Hofstra joined in the 2001-02 season (Northeastern joined in 2005-06).  Drexel should be the team to beat since it returns four starters from the fifth place conference team in 2011-12.

The Good - The Dragons return guards Chris Fouch, Frantz Massenat and Derrick Thomas.  Fouch is Drexel's top scorer and by far, their best outside shooter.  Thomas will probably be the third starting guard and should increase his productivity.  The Dragons' strength though lies in their frontcourt.  Double double machine Samme Givens, up and comer sophomore Dartaye Ruffin and mammoth Daryl McCoy provide scoring, but more importantly to Coach Bruiser Flint, great rebounding.  Drexel was sixth in the country in rebounds per game.   The Dragons' physical style of play tends to lead to low scoring games, often ugly.  But also often effective, as Louisville found out the hard way at the Yum Center, as Drexel upset the Cardinals early in the regular season.

The Bad - Drexel had little depth last year, playing a seven man rotation. Gerald Colds was the only player who graduated out of that seven man rotation.  However, the Dragons need to hope that Bruiser's Flint recruiting class of five freshmen step up to add a few players to the rotation.   If Drexel wants to go from fifth to first in the rugged CAA, increased depth is a must.   Another shooter besides Fouch would also be a big help.  Freshman Damion Lee could be that guy.

The Key Player -  Dartaye Ruffin - If Ruffin continues to blossom and becomes a starter, the Dragons will be really tough to beat. 

The Likely Outcome - Of all the teams in the conference, the Dragons have the most experienced and most talented players returning.  Ruffin is my sleeper player of the year in the CAA.  I think he is going to be terrific.  Add him with Fouch and Givens, and I believe Drexel finally ends the "Curse of the America East".  If they make the NCAA Tournament, the Dragons can definitely win a first round game. It would be great to see Bruiser at his foot stomping finest on national TV in March.

2) VCU - The Rams incredible run in the NCAA Tournament was due in large part to four players - Joey Rodriguez, Jamie Skeen, Brandon Rozzell and Ed Nixon.   All of those players are gone.  But "Big Time" Bradford Burgess and some talented players who were very important reserves a year ago are now likely starters.  The Rams went ten deep in their rotation last year and five of those players, including Burgess return.  Also, Shaka Smart is a terrific recruiter and has added some talented new freshmen.  

The Good - Burgess is now the man at VCU and he can certainly handle the leading role.  But he is not alone.  Darius Theus will take over the point after backing up Rodriguez, Rob Brandenberg will take over for Rozzell, while Juvonte Reddic and D.J Haley will take over the frontcourt roles.  The question will be who becomes the second and third scorers from this group.  Look to Brandenberg to become the sidekick to Burgess.   Also look for Teddy Okereafor, one of the top 50 incoming freshman point guards in the country, to become one of the key reserves.

The Bad - After Burgess and Brandenberg, scoring could be an issue for VCU.  The only experienced true forwards that are back are Reddic and D.J. Haley, though Burgess certainly can play forward.  The Rams have six freshmen in the mix.  Who pans out and provides important minutes remains to be seen.

The Key Player - Juvonte Reddic.  With the lack of depth in experienced forwards, Reddic will need to step up in his sophomore season.

The Likely Outcome - Coach Smart is a terrific motivator and the fact that he went ten deep with his rotation last season bodes well for the reserves who are now starters.  The Rams, with their aggressive defensive style of play, will be in the hunt in the CAA all season.  It may take them a little while to get used to all the new starters though, so they may struggle during the non conference schedule.  But look out in March.

3) George Mason - After the NCAA Tournament ended, the Patriots were originally my pick to finish first in the CAA this season.  Despite All First Team CAA Cam Long and sixth man Isaiah Tate graduating, Mason Nation was returning four other starters.   But suddenly, the roof on the Patriot Center caved in.  Jim Larranaga left Fairfax for the fun and the sun in Miami, Florida.  Then Luke Hancock transferred to Louisville.  Finally, Andre Cornelius was arrested on the charge of credit card fraud and suspended indefinitely.   Cornelius may never return to the team.  What was a first place team with four starters returning is maybe now a third place team with only two starters returning.

The Good - The Patriots have one of the best frontcourt tandems in seniors Ryan Pearson and Mike Morrison.  Pearson is a handful in the post with his unorthodox left handed post moves and can shoot the occasional three.   Mason does have some talented guards returning in sophomore Vertrail Vaughns and redshirt sophmore Sherrod Wright to fill the void.  Former Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt replaces Larranaga, so the Patriots will have a new scheme on offense. Highly touted freshman forward Erik Copes will provide defensive intensity off the bench.

The Bad - With Long and Tate graduated, Hancock's transfer, Cornelius' status up in the air, and reserve forward Johnny Williams likely redshirted due to a shoulder injury, depth is now suddenly a problem for the Patriots. Who fills the fifth and final starting spot for Mason?  How deep is Hewitt's rotation?  How good of a coach is Hewitt?

The Key Player - Sherrod Wright.  Wright showed some major flashes as a freshman before he was redshirted last season due to injury.   How he progresses early on in the non conference schedule may determine how successful Mason will be this season. Wright will need to fill a huge void at scoring guard.

The Outcome -  Something tells me that this is going one of two ways.  Either Hewitt rallies the troops, Vaughns and Wright prove to be more than adequate replacements for Long and Cornelius and Pearson is the big horse that rides Mason to at least the CAA Semifinals.  Or, due to lack of experienced depth, the likely loss of Cornelius and Vaughns and Wright not filling the void, this team will implode in a very big way and lose in the CAA Quarterfinals or even earlier. Your guess is as good as mine.

4) William and Mary - This is my sleeper team.  I love their Ghidorah guard trio (look up Ghidorah on Youtube) of Julian Boatner, Brandon Britt and my pick for CAA player of the Year, Quinn McDowell.  Plus they have one of the best coaches in the CAA in Tony Shaver.  No one gets more out of his players than Shaver.

The Good - As noted, McDowell is an elite player.  What he did vs. James Madison in the first round of the CAA Tournament was downright dominant.  He can shoot, he can drive and at 6 foot 7, he is a really tough matchup.  Boatner and Britt are only going to get better. Boatner scored in double figures in eight of his last twelve games last season and is deadly from three (37 of 79 from beyond the arc in those last twelve games).  Add shooting guard freshman Marcus Thornton, who is getting a lot of early publicity, and the Tribe frontcourt is dynamite.

The Bad - OK, who starts in the frontcourt?  Their best big man, Marcus Kitts, graduated.  Thus frontcourt minutes will be divided between Tim Rusthoven, Kyle Gaillard and JohnMark Ludwick.  At least one of those three needs to become a legitimate post scorer.  Tom Schalk, an incoming freshman who has the ability to hit the three as well as score inside, seems to fit well in Shaver's scheme.  He was highly recruited (Wichita State, Northern Iowa and Cornell also recruited him) and may see a lot of minutes

The Key Player - Julian Boatner.  Boatner was such a weapon for William and Mary in the second half of the season.  If he continues to progress in his three point shooting, it forces teams not to double team McDowell, who is a matchup nightmare (ask James Madison).

The Likely Outcome - With so many teams having lost a lot of experienced talent, the playing field has leveled for the Tribe.  With such a good coach as Shaver, McDowell being such a terrific scorer and especially William and Mary being the Achilles heel for Drexel last season, I could see the Tribe finally breaking their NCAA curse this season.  The only thing that could keep them from it is a middling frontcourt.  Someone in that group of forwards needs to step up.

5) James Madison - There is a reason why I call the Dukes "The Enigma of the CAA".  They have so much talent and they can be an absolute handful, but then they disappoint in a huge way.  Take their first round CAA Tournament game against William and Mary.   I never saw a team with such talent come out so flat, and stay flat for an entire game.  Now Denzel Bowles has graduated and Coach Matt Brady has to try to re-energize his group.

The Good -  The Dukes have four returning starters (Devon Moore, Humpty Hitchens, Julius Wells and Rayshawn Goins, plus talented sixth man Andrey Semenov.  Moore has always been a personal favorite of mine (and not because we share the same last name). Returning from injury, Moore was the second leading scorer on the team and increased his assists to turnovers ratio significantly from his first season (4.2 assists per game vs. 2.3 turnovers per game).  Wells, Hitchens, Goins and Semenov should all average around double figures in scoring, which should give Madison very good balance. A.J Davis, a transfer from Wyoming, is getting a lot of love this preseason.

The Bad - Who replaces Bowles as JMU's size up front?  Goins is wide, but not very tall.  Former Hokie Gene Swindle, part of the Matt Brady Transfer machine, fits the bill at six foot eleven. He was highly recruited by several teams besides Virginia Tech (South Florida, Nebraska and Penn State), but played in only one game before transferring.  Freshman Enoch Hood is another potential solution.

The Key Player - Julius Wells.  This kid has a boatload of talent, but he is the E in the Enigma that is James Madison.  His scoring average dropped by nearly six points per game from the season before, though his FG percentage did improve. Wells can shoot 7 of 14 in one game (23 point effort vs Hofstra), then go 2 of 9 in the next game (13 points vs. Drexel).  Wells needs to be more consistent if Madison wants to finish in the top four of the conference.

The Likely Outcome - Flip a coin.  Then flip it again.  Then one more time.  And you still won't have the answer.  A lot of it depends on whether the Dukes play as a team, or everyone on their own tries to replace Bowles.  Also, Moore is out for the fall semester due to academic eligibility  issues.  Can Swindle and Hood provide size?  Does Davis live up to the hype?  Can Julius Wells be consistent night in and night out?  Tune in to "As the Dukes Turn" to find out.

Next Four, Or, Four Teams You Can Throw Into A Blender And See Which Order They Come Out In

6) Old Dominion - I love Blaine Taylor.  I really do.  But, I am sorry, I miss the Lou Brown/Evil Henchman Cowboy look.  Please bring back the stache. Now.  Taylor wishes he could bring back his four starters from his terrific team of last season.  But Frank Hassell, Ben Finney, Keyon Carter and Darius James all graduated.  That leaves Kent Bazemore as his lone starter.  The problem is that Bazemore is out until at least December as he recovers from foot surgery.  Ruh Roh.

The Good - When healthy, Bazemore is truly one of the elite players in the CAA.  Not only can he score, but he is terrific on defense.  Just a very talented player.   A lot of Taylor's key reserves are back.  Chris Cooper and Nick Wright are the returning big men for the Monarchs, while Trian Iliadis and Marquel DeLancey are the returning guards.   All four played significant minutes last season and are now likely starters.  There is no better game manager though than Blaine Taylor  His team will always play hard and especially physical.

The Bad -  For the first time I can ever remember, ODU has rotation depth concerns.  Clemson transfer Dante Hill and Richard Ross will eligible in the spring semester, so Blaine's boys will be without three vital players for a good part of the beginning of the season.  Taylor has to hope freshmen like Jason Pimentel step up.

The Key Player - Chris Cooper.  I talked about this in last season's CAA preview. Taylor's offense ALWAYS has a major inside scoring threat.  See Alex Loughton, Valdus Vasylius, Gerald Lee and last season, Frank Hassell.   Cooper has to step up and claim that as his own.  If Taylor doesn't have a frontcourt scoring option, it could be a long season for the Monarchs.

The Likely Outcome - This team will struggle in non-conference to start the season.  It would be expecting a lot for ODU to be successful without three significant contributors and just nine scholarship players for the fall semester.  But once Bazemore is back in December and Hill and Ross return in January, I look for this team to be much better.  How much better depends on Cooper becoming a legitimate post scoring presence.  If Blaine can coax 20+ wins out of this team, it will be his best coaching effort ever.  And that's saying something about someone who has four NCAA Tournament appearances and six 20+ win seasons since 2005.

7) Hofstra - I have seen a couple of pre-season previews that have Hofstra tenth and eighth.  Both are too low.  Yes, Hofstra lost the two time CAA player of the year in Charles Jenkins, along with two other starters - guard Brad Kelleher and center Greg Washington.  However, the Pride got most of  of their minutes from their non seniors (and of that group, only reserve guard Yves Jules transferred). Highly regarded Rhode Island transfer Steve Mejia replaces Kelleher as the starting point guard.  Nathaniel Lester returns from being out for the 2010-11 season due to injury and will fill Jenkins spot.

The Good - Second leading scorer Mike Moore (14.9 points per game) returns as does junior forward David Imes.  A starting four of  Moore, Lester, Mejia and Imes is not bad at all.   The junior Mejia, who Coach Mo Cassara loves, is a talented point guard who averaged 3.5 assists and 1.3 turnovers in 18 minutes per game as a sophomore for the Rams.  Lester averaged 8.0 points per game off the bench as a junior.

The Bad - Can JUCO transfer Bryant Crowder provide quality minutes as the likely starter at forward/center for Hofstra?  After Crowder and Imes, the only other experienced forward is sophomore Stephen Nwaukoni.   It remains to be seen how freshmen Moussa Kone and Jordan Allen will contribute.  Also, will Moore, Lester and Imes make up for most of the scoring lost by the graduation of Jenkins?

The Key Player - Steve Mejia.   Yes, Jenkins was the main reason why Hofstra was so successful in conference last season.  He definitely improved his already excellent play as a senior.  But another important factor was better ball possession.  The Pride were one of the top teams in the CAA in assists to turnover ratio and turnover margin last season.  It starts with a good point guard and Mejia must live up to the hype.

The Likely Outcome -  Contrary to what some think, the Pride will do better than expected this season.  They have depth at guard as Dwan McMillan and Shemiye McLendon, both who saw significant minutes last season, will be coming off the bench.  Depth wise, the frontcourt is suspect.  Then again, it was last year as well.  If Mejia is as good as advertised, Crowder provides a presence in the middle and Moore, Lester and Imes all step up, which I think they will, this team will surprise.  For now, I am putting them here, but I think they might finish higher.

8) Delaware - This is another team that lost a good chunk of their rotation.  Leading scorer Jawan Carter and third leading scorer Alphonso Dawson are gone, plus two key bench contributors Brian Johnson and D.J. Boney.   However, CAA Rookie of the Year Devon Saddler returns as does the dominant inside presence of Jamelle Hagins.  The Blue Hens have talent and played ODU quite tough in the quarterfinals of the CAA Tournament before losing.

The Good - Saddler looks to be a star and Hagins is not far behind.  Josh Brinkley, Kelvin McNeil and Hakim McCullar round out a strong frontcourt.   Monte Ross brought in a group of five talented freshmen in Marvin King-Davis, Larry Savage, Khalid Lewis, Jarvis Threatt and Kyle Anderson.  Brinkley is now healthy and looks to resume his impressive play from January.

The Bad - The Blue Hens only experienced guard is Saddler.  So Lewis and Threatt will be thrown to the wolves early.   With the losses of Carter and Dawson, Hagins and Brinkley now have to step up and become consistent scoring options every night. We have been waiting for the Blue Hens' play to finally match their talent.  Is this the season?

The Key Player - Josh Brinkley.  Saddler and Hagins look to be a dynamic duo.  Brinkley needs to stay healthy and give them a third option.  The talent is there, ask George Mason and James Madison about Brinkley from last season.

The Likely Outcome -  Not sure if this team is as good as people think.  It's still a very young team and it now has to make up for the loss of four significant guards.  Saddler is terrific and the front court could be the second strongest in the CAA, outside of Drexel's front line.  But the rest of the guards are young and inexperienced.  This could be a team that suffers through a lot of sloppy play early on in the season.  Another team that will be better in February than it will be in November and December.  I think this team is a year away from being really good.

9) Northeastern -  The Huskies lost star guard Chaisson Allen and reserve forward Vinny Lima to graduation.  Talented freshman guard Alex Harris transferred to Cal State Fullerton.  However they return most of their main contributors from last season.   The starting five looks to be Joel Smith, Jonathan Lee, Alwayne Bigby, Ryan Pierson and Kauri Black.

The Good - Joel Smith and Jonathan Lee make a deadly combo from the outside.  Lee shot 47 percent from the beyond the arc while Smith was 42.5 percent from three. Black scored in double figures in four of his last eight games. Bigby and Pierson are talented frontcourt players who should get better.

The Bad - The Huskies defense was swiss cheese for a lot of last season.  The frontcourt did a very bad job in rebounding as they ranked 338th in the country in rebounds (that's pretty bad).  After the likely starting five, the Huskies have no experience on the bench.  Coach Billy Coen has brought in four freshmen, the best being forwards Quincy Ford and Reggie Spencer.

The Key Player - Ryan Pierson.  Pierson was a highly thought of recruit when he came in last season.  He showed flashes of it at times during the season.  Now is the time where he shows improvement on the defensive end. 3.7 rebounds per game will not cut it this season against the likes of Drexel, ODU and Delaware.

The Likely Outcome - The Huskies will be competitive in a lot of ball games due to Lee and Smith.  But Black, Pierson and Bigby have to give them other options and more importantly better defense in the frontcourt.  How it all works out, well it remains to be seen.

The Final Three Teams or Some Teams Have To Finish At the Bottom of The Conference

10) UNCW - The Seahawks lost their best player, Chad Tomko due to graduation.  The Wilmington Tasmanian Devil was Mr. Everything - first in scoring, first in assists and second in rebounding.  UNCW also lost fourth leading scorer Ahmad Grant and reserve Darryl Felder to graduation.   However, second leading scorer Keith Rendleman, another Moore favorite, returns along with eight talented freshmen.

The Good - Rendleman is on the verge of being a star. He can jump out of the gym, brings endless amounts of energy and is a handful underneath.  Trevor DeLoach, Tanner Milson, Donte Morales and Matt Wilson all return as well.  The key is the highly recruited freshmen class.  Based on Brian Mull's always insightful nuggets, Cedrick Williams has been the most impressive of the freshmen so far during workouts. Luke Hager was the most highly thought of recruit.  The Seahawks won't lack for size anymore. Hager and Williams are among the four freshmen who are 6 foot 7 or bigger to go along with Rendleman and the seven footer Wilson.

The Bad - Well, eight freshmen means eight freshmen.  In other words, this is a very young team and it's going to take time to mesh.  Coach Buzz Peterson will have to find a couple of scorers in his highly recruited group to go with Rendleman.  Who replaces Tomko as point guard?

The Key Player - Keith Rendleman.  With Tomko gone, this is his opportunity to step forward and become an All CAA caliber player.  Down the stretch last season, Rendleman scored in double figures in seven of his last eight games, along with grabbing at least eight rebounds in half those games.  He has the ability to average a double double on the season. Now is the time to do it.

The Likely Outcome - Another team that will be much better in February than in November.  It's going to take a good part of the season for this team to gel.  But if all reports are correct about this Great Eight group of freshman, this team will be a tough out come tournament time.  And a year from now, this will be an upper echelon team.  Just be patient Seahawks fans.

11) Georgia State - Ron Hunter left the friendly confines of IUPUI for the farthest most southern outpost in the CAA.  Since joining the CAA in the 2005-06 season, the Panthers have had only one season where they won more than six regular season games in conference (2008-09, the Panthers were 8-10).  Rod Barnes and his band of JUCOs could not turn around Georgia State's fortunes.  Now it's Hunter's turn to try to repeat his success at IUPUI.

The Good - Well at least Hunter was able to bring in his highly recruited son, R.J. But that's for next season.  But Hunter brought in for this season Tony Kimbro Jr., one of the top shooting guard recruits in the country.  The Panthers four leading scorers, Eric Buckner, Brandon McGee, Jihad Ali and Josh Micheaux all return.

The Bad - None of the leading scorers averaged in double figures last season.  Simply put, you can't win, if you can't score.  And you can't score, if you can't hit free throws.  Of the top five returning scorers, the highest free throw percentage was 62.9 percent (James Fields).

The Key Player - Tony Kimbro Jr.  It's asking a hell of a lot for a freshman to take the reins early. But considering there are not many scoring options, Hunter may give Kimbro Jr the opportunity to become the main scoring option for Georgia State.

The Likely Outcome - Hunter's team will play hard and they will be tough on the defensive end. Kimbro is a legitimate talent and my pick for CAA Rookie of the Year.  But unless Buckner steps up and this team learns to hit free throws, scoring will still be a struggle for the Panthers.  As I said earlier, you can't win, if you can't score.  Hunter needs a couple of seasons to bring his own talent in.  Give him two years and I think the Panthers will be on the right track.

12) Towson - New coach Pat Skerry takes over for what's left of the Tigers after Pat Kennedy decimated the program.  Towson went 0 for the season in 2011-12.  So things would have to be looking up, right?  Well, the Tigers' two leading scorers from last season, Isaiah Philmore and Braxton Dupree have transferred.  Two other Tigers' starters, Josh Brown and Brian Morris graduated.  However, Towson still has RaShawn Polk and welcome back Robert Nwankwo, who sat out last season due to academic issues.

The Good -  Polk is a solid scorer and a legitimate threat from three.  In 2009-10, Nwankwo averaged about 10 points and 9 rebounds per game and had eight double doubles.  He could average a double double this season.  Not bad for someone who was a walk-on for the Tigers.  Deon Jones is a top recruit who can help immediately.

The Bad - Well, Skerry has to replace four starters.  Getting Nwankwo back helps.  But with only two other players who saw any playing time returning (Polk and Enrique Gumbs), Skerry has to rely on six freshmen.

The Key Player - Robert Nwankwo.  If he can average a double double per night, then the Tigers will at least have a legitimate threat inside.

The Likely Outcome - It's a shame Philmore and Dupree didn't stick around.  They would have been a part of a terrific foursome.  The six freshmen will see significant time and they can't be any worse than last year's team that had Philmore and Dupree.  Or can they?  Skerry already has four top recruits coming in next season, so things will get much better.  It just won't be getting much better this season.

So there you have it.  Another season.  Another CAA preview.  In less than a month, the season starts.

Can't Wait!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

BracketBusters Make a Difference for Mid Major Teams

Last week, ESPN announced the pool of 142 teams for the 2012 BracketBusters.  It's the largest pool of teams in the history of the series that started in 2006.   Whether you like the concept or not, the BracketBusters series has helped mid major teams make a significant impact in the NCAA Tournament the past six years.

You can make a significant case that if it wasn't for the BracketBusters, neither George Mason in 2006 or VCU in 2011 would have made the NCAA Tournament and thus not make their Final Four runs.  It was those BracketBuster national TV spotlight games, George Mason winning at Wichita State and VCU also winning at Wichita State, that gave both teams signature non conference road wins that the NCAA Tournament committee really likes to see.

Furthermore, you could also make a case that the BracketBusters have helped in seeding mid major teams in the NCAA Tournament.  I truly believe that Davidson's road win at Winthrop in 2008 helped get them a #10 seed in the NCAA Tournament, which was quite high for a mid major conference champion.  Yes, the Wildcats had a tough non conference schedule in 2007-08, but they hadn't won any of their marquee non conference games until they won at Winthrop.  The win at Winthrop had some clout, because in the 2007 NCAA Tournament, the Eagles stunned Notre Dame in the first round and they would again make the NCAA Tournament in 2008.  Of course, we all know what happened with Davidson in 2008.  In fact, some of us were fortunate to be there to see that regional in Raleigh.

I think the BracketBusters also played a part in other seedings as well.  I don't think George Mason gets a #8 seed in the 2011 NCAA Tournament without their road win at Northern Iowa.  The Patriots would eventually knock off Villanova in the first round.  #15 Southern Illinois' nationally televised 68-64 road win over #12 Butler in 2007, broke the Bulldogs' 22 game home winning streak.  It also was the Salukis' first road win over a ranked opponent in over thirty years. It helped give Southern Illinois a #4 seed, which they used to propel themselves to a Sweet 16 run.  Butler would get a #5 seed and also got to the Sweet Sixteen that year as well.

The 2006 BracketBusters showcased 19 eventual NCAA Tournament teams that year, which is the most for any of that series.  The 2006 Bracketbusters also had the most wins by teams in the NCAA Tournament, twelve.  Yes, most of the wins were due to George Mason's Final Four run.  But the Missouri Valley teams did a lot of damage too, as Bradley and Wichita State each went to the Sweet Sixteen.  The 2010 series finished second with ten, due in large part to the National Championship run of Butler and the Sweet 16 run of  Northern Iowa.

Now the 2010 edition would have tied the 2006 edition had St Mary's played that year.  The Gaels, a usual member of the BracketBuster series, decided not to be a part of the BracketBusters that season.   Likewise, the 2011 edition would have broken the 2006 edition's record had Butler, another usual member of the BracketBusters, played last year.  The Bulldogs had become the darling of the national media and played a lot of high visibility games on national TV, so they didn't need the BracketBuster exposure.

But curiously enough, for the 2012 BracketBusters, both Butler and St Mary's are there.  One team that I wished was there, LIU, who lost to North Carolina in the first round of this year's NCAA Tournament, will not be a part of it.  In fact, no NEC teams will be a part of the BracketBusters, due to their demanding conference schedule.  

It's a shame because, like it or not, based on the evidence I have shown above, the BracketBusters has made a difference to mid major teams.  And for the Blackbirds, a team that I think will be a repeat champion in the NEC, a little national exposure and a big non conference win can go a long way.  Ask George Mason, VCU, Davidson and Southern Illinois.