I always love the New Year as far as CAA play goes. God bless Tom Yeager and the folks at the Colonial Athletic Association. They give you a brief one game taste of conference play in December, then hit their fans with a full force smorgasbord of basketball the first week of January. Six days, three games (with one exception, VCU at Drexel Sunday night). Now that's starting off the new year right for legions of CAA basketball fans.
Gauntlet week can often be a springboard to a team's overall success in conference play. The most recent example of this is Hofstra from last season. The Pride had to play two games on the road, at Drexel and at Northeastern, with a sandwiched home game vs. George Mason in between. No easy task for an CAA team. But the Pride swept that first week and it played a part in Hofstra going 14-4 in conference play last season.
Let's take a look at the twelve teams' gauntlet schedules based on their overall rankings in my new COLOSSAL COLONIAL RATINGS, otherwise known as CCR. Why CCR? Well it also is the initials for one of my all time favorite bands, Credence Clearwater Revival. And I thought some John Fogerty "Travelin' Band" would be appropriate for the kickoff of these ratings, since all the teams will be "traveling" at some point during this gauntlet.
- VCU (10-3, 1-0 CAA) - The team that went to the Final Four last season struggled out of the gate this season, losing three of its first six games. But it just took a little while for the young reserves of last season to flourish as starters. The Rams have won their last seven games, including a drubbing of UNCW. And of course that's due in large part to their "havoc" style of play. They are ranked third in the country in Ken Pomeroy's defensive effective turnover percentage at 28.3 percent as they average over ten steals per game.
And "havoc" has helped in the second best scoring margin in the CAA at +8.7 (only Georgia State at a ridiculous +13.7 is better). The Rams have a tough schedule this week - at Hofstra tonight; home to an up and coming Georgia State team, then at Drexel next Sunday. No cupcake schedule for defending Final Four teams.
- Georgia State (9-3, 1-0 CAA) - By far, the biggest surprise in the CAA heading into gauntlet week. The Panthers have drunk the Ron Hunter Kool-aid. Winners of nine straight games, seven of the wins by sixteen points or more. It simply comes down to defense as William and Mary found out the hard way (66-34 loss to the Panthers) If you purchased a subscription to Pomeroy's ratings, you would see a solid wall of green for Georgia State in all defensive categories (and remember, green is good). The Panthers are best in defensive steal percentage, tenth, and defensive block percentage, eighteenth.
But Georgia State can score as well, first in the CAA in scoring offense at 72.6 points per game. We'll find out if they are for real as the Panthers host Drexel tonight, then they are at VCU on Wednesday, then finish at Georgia Mason on Saturday. Win two of those three games and Georgia State's bandwagon will start getting bigger.
- George Mason (9-4, 1-0 CAA) - The Patriots are coming off two impressive wins over the College of Charleston and Manhattan. They are second in the CAA in scoring offense and first in FG percentage defense. Still, George Mason has struggled at times and there is one reason why - turnovers. The Patriots' offensive turnover percentage is 22.2 percent, which is 240th in the country. Last season, their turnover percentage was 16.2 percent, which was 20th in the country. They basically commit as many turnovers as they force.
Mason starts off their schedule with a home game vs. William and Mary, then a road trip to Old Dominion, then a home game vs. Georgia State. We'll get to see quickly how Paul Hewitt's transition offense philosophy plays in the Colonial.
- Drexel (8-4, 0-1 CAA) - The Dragons struggled at the start of the season, losing four of their first six games, including a conference game at Delaware. But Bruiser's boys have "rebounded" winning their last six games. And that best describes how they are winning; sixth in the country in defensive offensive rebound percentage at 23.8 percent. They are also very good at defending the three, nineteenth in the country at 27.4 percent (tied with UNCW).
Still, they need offense to win. After only scoring more than sixty points in two of their first six games, they have scored at least sixty four points during their six game winning streak. The Dragons get tested early tonight at Georgia State, then two straight home games, hosting Towson Wednesday night, then VCU on Sunday.
- James Madison (7-4, 1-0 CAA) - The Dukes have won five of their last seven games, including a two point win at Hofstra. JMU loves to shoot three, as they are first in the CAA in three point FG percentage at 39.1 percent and only VCU has hit more three pointers in the Colonial.
The Dukes have struggled on the glass as they are next to last in the Colonial in rebounding margin at -2.5 (only William and Mary is worse). This is due to being tenth in the CAA in both in rebounding offense and rebounding defense. They will need to work on cleaning the glass quickly as they host Old Dominion tonight. Then JMU travels to William and Mary on Wednesday before it hosts Northeastern on Saturday.
- Old Dominion (6-7, 1-0 CAA) - After a 5-3 start, the Monarchs have struggled, losing three of their last four games. In fairness to ODU, two losses were on the road to 10-3 UCF and Richmond, while the other was a close loss at home to the undefeated #8 nationally ranked Missouri Tigers. When the Monarchs are successful, it's due to what else, their defense. ODU is 21st in the country in steal percentage and 26th in the country in turnover percentage defense.
The main reason ODU has struggled this season is putting the biscuit in the basket. The Monarchs are next to last in the CAA in field goal percentage at 39.1 percent and next to last in free throw percentage at 63.2 percent. Old Dominion gets three opportunities to improve on those percentages when they travel to JMU tonight, then host Mason on Wednesday then another game at the Ted on Saturday as they host Towson.
- Hofstra (6-7, 0-1 CAA) - The Pride started out the season 3-3, then lost four straight, including a two point loss at home to JMU. Then they won three in a row in convincing fashion, though all three games were at home. Outside of Mason's road win at Charleston, the Pride have the two other best non conference wins, neutral site vs. Cleveland State and home to Iona. Hofstra is strongest shooting the three, second in the CAA at 37.9 percent, though they have shot the second least three pointers in the CAA (only Towson has shot less three pointers than the Pride). They are also second in rebounding defense at 33.2 rebounds allowed per game and fourth in free throw percentage at 70.9 percent.
Other than those three categories, Hofstra is basically in the middle of the pack in the CAA in all other categories such as field goal percentage, field goal percentage defense, turnover margin, assist to turnover ratio etc. They get three chances to improve on all those categories as they host VCU tonight, then take a two game road trip, first to Delaware on Wednesday, then UNCW Saturday.
- Delaware (5-6, 1-0 CAA) - The Fightin Blue Hens have been very up and down this season. Lose two, win two. Lose two out of three, then win two in a row, then lose two in a row. It might have something to do with turnovers and specifically, the inability to create them. Delaware is tenth in the CAA in turnover margin at -3.55. Even worse, the Blue Hens are dead last in the country in defensive steal percentage at 4.8 percent as they average only 3.3. steals per game.
The Blue Hens are very good in rebounding, first in the CAA in rebounding offense at 39 rebounds per game and are third in the Colonial at three point field goal percentage at 43.1 percent. This week starts out with an afternoon tilt today at UNCW, then a home game with Hofstra on Wednesday, then finishes in Williamsburg against William and Mary.
- Northeastern (4-7, 0-1 CAA) - Noreaster came out strong winning three of its first four games. Then they lost six in a row before a tough win at Vermont last week. The Huskies have no problem creating turnovers. The problem is they create them on the offensive end as they are 341st in the country in offensive steal percentage at fourteen percent, thus a turnover margin of -3.0, good for ninth in the CAA (imagine, there are three WORSE teams than that in the Colonial).
The good news for Noreaster fans is that the Huskies are capable of big wins, such as their road wins over St John's and Vermont. That's because they can play defense; fourth in the CAA in rebounding margin, fourth in blocks and fourth in steals. Northeastern will try to improve on their record as they travel to Towson today, then host UNCW Wednesday night before traveling to JMU on Saturday.
(4-7, 0-1 CAA) - The Seahawks are a very young team with seven freshmen playing in their rotation. So it's no surprise that they lost their first five games. However, UNCW has grown up a lot having won four of its last six games, with their only losses at VCU and at Wake Forest, no shame in either loss.
The Seahawks guard the three very well, first in the CAA in three point field goal percentage defense. And they are pretty good offensively, fifth in the CAA in field goal percentage and fifth in assists. They actually have a favorable schedule - home to Delaware this afternoon, at Northeastern on Wednesday, then home to Hofstra on Saturday.
- William and Mary (2-11, 0-1 CAA) - There's not much to write home about if you are a Tribe fan. W&M has one Division I win on this season, a one point road win at Liberty. Other than that, it's been ugly for the Tribe. How ugly? Well outside of free throw percentage, William and Mary's Ken Pomeroy statistics are all red. In fact, they are dead last in defensive turnover percentage at 13.3 percent.
The Tribe are next to last in the CAA in scoring offense (59 points per game), scoring defense (73 points per game), turnover margin (-5.69), steals (4.2), tenth in assist to turnover ratio, and dead last in offensive rebounds (the only team under ten offensive rebounds per game). The bright side is that the only way is up as they travel to Mason today, then host JMU on Wednesday and Delaware on Saturday.
- Towson (0-13, 0-1 CAA) - Where to begin with the Tigers. How about last in the country in assists per game (7.5)? How about last in the country in offensive turnover percentage (30.3 percent)? Does last in the country in free throw percentage, 55.5 percent work for you? How about last in offensive steal percentage at 16.5 percent? I won't even get into details on how Towson is dead last in most CAA categories.
The bright side is that sooner or later Towson will get a win in large part to their heroic effort at #24 UVA, which was close the entire game. The Tigers lost 57-50 to the Cavaliers, a definite moral victory. They'll try to finally get a real victory this week as they host Northeastern tonight, then travel to Drexel on Wednesday and then onto the Ted for ODU on Saturday.
The holidays may have passed. But for CAA fans, this is the most wonderful time of the year. The gauntlet starts today. Enjoy and Happy New Year!