Saturday, December 5, 2009

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

And no, I am not talking about the Christmas season. I am talking about the start of conference play in college basketball, specifically the CAA. Yes this week, many mid major conferences start conference play. Mind you it's only one game, then the rest of December teams play non-conference games. Then in January, the real conference season starts.

But for me, on one magical day in December, we get a whole slate of CAA conference games. That day is today!! Woohoo!

It starts off with a dandy at noon. Long time CAA conference power VCU goes on the road against the team I say right now is the best team in the CAA...wait for it....WILLIAM AND MARY! Yes, Tieff, the Mary! The Mary are outstanding right now,5-2 with huge wins over Richmond and Wake Forest. The Tribe are third in the CAA in scoring, third in field goal percentage at 45 percent and of course, first in three point shooting at 41.3 percent. In fact, the Mary have attempted 50 more three pointers than the next team in the CAA, VCU. The Mary average 11 three pointers made per game.

Speaking of 5-1 VCU, who have nice wins over Oklahoma and Nevada, they will present the ultimate challenge to the Mary Bombers, as they lead the CAA in three point FG percentage defense at 16.9 percent. Yes, teams have only shot 15 of 89 against the Rams. VCU is also first in steals and second in turnover margin in the CAA. Again, this will be another challenge to the Tribe as the Mary are first in the CAA in assists to turnover ratio.

At 2 pm, two teams trying to find their way, Georgia State and James Madison meet on the Dukes' home court. Georgia State has found its way back to .500 at 4-4 using stifling defense to keep them afloat. The Panthers are first in the CAA in FG percentage defense, second in three point FG percentage defense and second in rebounding margin. They need defense because their offense has struggled, last in the CAA in scoring offense, and next to last in assists and assist to turnover ratio.

Meanwhile the Dukes are starting to recover from the season ending injury to Devon Moore. They have won four in a row and that is due to defense as well as JMU is fourth in the CAA in scoring defense. But they have struggled on offense without Moore, next to last in the CAA in field goal percentage offense and they also have the worst rebounding margin in the CAA.

At 4 pm, a game I wish I could have made a road trip for occurs, 4-3 Hofstra at 2-3 Towson. This looks to be a high scoring game (take the over) with the fourth and fifth best scoring teams in the CAA. Towson also happens to be next to last in the CAA in scoring defense, giving up 77 points per game.

The Pride are a much different team from last season. Last's season Hofstra team was a very physical defensive team that struggled to score. This season the Pride are first in the free throw shooting percentage, third in assists and third in assists to turnover ratio. However, they give up 70 points per game on the defensive end and have allowed 80 or more points in three of their seven games.

The Tigers are pretty good themselves on the offensive end as they are second in the CAA in three pointers made at 8, fourth in FG percentage, second in assists to turnover ratio and second in turnover margin. Again though, the Tigers are weak on the defensive end, dead last in the CAA in FG percentage defense at 48 percent.

The other 4 pm game is the enigmatic Northeastern Huskies traveling to the DAC to face the Leon Spencer less Drexel Dragons. Spencer injured his wrist in a prior game and may not be back till January. The 2-3 Huskies have played five games, all of which have been decided by six points or less.

This looks to be another close game for the Huskies because 4-4 Drexel is playing typical Dragons' basketball that only Woody Hayes and Bruiser Flint would truly love; low scoring physical slobberknockers of games. Drexel is tenth in scoring offense, dead last in field goal shooting percentage. But the Dragons are third in scoring defense, third in field goal percentage defense, and second in rebounding defense.

However, if the game is close, the advantage at the line is clearly Northeastern's. Huskies are second in the CAA in free throw shooting. Drexel, dead last.

The Huskies have also struggled to score this season. They are ninth in scoring offense and dead last in the number of field goals attempted and made in the CAA. They are incredibly deliberent on offense and this might be due to them being dead last in the CAA in assists. They also tenth in the CAA in three point FG percentage at 29.3 percent, again taking the fewest three point shots in the league with 75 (the next lowest has 30 more). They quite possibly might be the most enigmatic team in the league. Having watched them often last season, it seems they are playing the same way this season. They look terrific at times and just well, downright ugly at others. They should be better than they are.

The CAA feature game of the week, which is being shown on ESPN Full Court and ESPN 360 today is the 5:00 PM matchup between George Mason and UNC Wilmington at the Trask Coliseum, one of the loudest arenas to play in the CAA (along with Siegel Center).

The 3-4 Patriots after playing so well at the Puerto Rico Tip Off have been a little disappointing lately, losing their last two road games including a 17 point drubbing at George Washington. This is what's going to occur with a talented young team that starts three sophomores and plays four freshmen off the bench. Mason is in the middle of the pack in most CAA statistical categories. However they are not shooting well from the field, tenth overall in the CAA. And only Drexel is worse from the free throw line.

The 3-4 Seahawks are a surprise team in the CAA so far this year, perhaps the second biggest surprise to William and Mary. They played very well in the Charleston Classic, upsetting NIT champ Penn State in the first round, then barely losing to both Miami and South Florida in the next two rounds. UNCW is still high scoring, averaging 78 plus points per game and 48.8 percent from the field, good for first in the CAA in both categories. The difference is theeir defense is definitely improved from last season. Though they are still low in the CAA at tenth at 73.7 points per game allowed, it's much better than the 83.5 points per game they allowed last year.

The last game might be the blowout game of the day. 1-5 Delaware travels to 4-3 Old Dominion. The Blue Hens, whose only win of the season is over a winless Penn team, is dead last in scoring defense in the CAA, giving up 81.8 points per game. Their FG percentage defense is next to last at 46 percent, which is what ODU shoots from the field (good for second in the CAA).

The Monarchs started out the season strong at 4-0. But that was due to the level of their competition, the Longwoods and Bethune Cookmans of the world (cupcakes to the CAA). They have lost their last three games to Missouri and Mississippi State in the South Padre Classic, then a road loss at Richmond.

ODU dominates the glass though with their terrific frontcourt as they outrebound their opponents by over 10 rebounds a game. Combine that with Delaware being dead last in the CAA in defensive rebounds and you have the makings of a ODU rout.

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