Saturday, January 9, 2010

Butler, Detroit and CAA Saturday

Before I get into a quick CAA preview, I wanted to review a little bit of last night's action. The big game was in the Horizon where first place #24 Butler traveled to Dayton to take on Wright State in the Nutter Center. Wright State of course features one of my favorite mid major coaches, Brad Brownell (former UNCW coach).

Most people would have expected a close game featuring two teams that in the three seasons prior to last season had split their regular season meetings. Last season was the first time since 2004-2005 that one team swept the season series from the other, as Butler won all three games from Wright State. But the Raiders last season were without Vaughan Duggins, their leading scorer from 2007-08. Duggins is back and the Raiders looked to end Butler's four game winning streak against them.

But often in life, events don't meet their expectations. And neither did this game. Shelvin Mack's three pointer with 11:11 left in the first half put Butler up 12-9 and the Bulldogs never trailed again as Butler defeated Wright State 77-65. The Bulldogs were up eleven at the half and were up by as many as 15 in the second half. The Raiders would get no closer than six points the rest of the way.

Shelvin Mack, listed in the AP story, I kid you not, as Mark Shelvin, scored 21 points and Gordon Hayward added 20 for Butler. The Bulldogs shot 51 percent from the field and 50 percent from beyond the arc (8 of 16). Todd Brown led Wright State with 18 points on 3 of 5 shooting from beyond the arc and 9 of 11 from the charity stripe. In fact, both teams were very solid from the line as Butler went 23 of 24 from the line while Wright State was 22 of 28.

Now the Bulldogs' main competition could be from Detroit, who was featured on ESPNU last night vs. Valpo. Detroit came back from a ten point halftime deficit at home by scoring 53 second half points to win 77-67 over the Crusaders. Eli Holman led four Titans' scorers in double figures with 18 points on 7 of 9 shooting. Holman had a double double as he also led the Titans with 12 rebounds.

The Titans are a great story. In each of the past two seasons, Detroit finished 7-23. Their Horizon conference records the last two seasons were 2-16 last season and 3-15 in the season prior. Their only claim to note was that last season they had a quick first round loss to eventual Horizon champion Cleveland State. In fact Detroit has not had a winning season since 2002-03 (19-11).

This season the Titans have already doubled their Horizon win total from last season as Detroit stands 4-1 tied for second in the Horizon. The Titans are on pace for their first winning season since 2002-03 with an 11-5 record. Just like their game against Valpo, Detroit does it with balance. The Titans have four scorers who average in double figures led by junior forward Xavier Keeling. What really bodes well for a solid future foundation for the Titans, is that of their four leading scorers, only one, forward Thomas Kennedy is a senior.

Now it may be early, but Detroit looks to be Butler's main competition in the Horizon. Detroit is first in FG percentage defense, three point FG percentage defense, second in scoring offense and FG percentage and second in steals. Simply put, their 11-5 record is not a fluke.

And it just so happens that this is all the perfect lead in for Butler vs. Detroit tomorrow at 1:00 PM at what should be a raucous Calihan Hall in Detroit (it sure sounded raucous last night watching the Detroit-Valpo game on ESPNU).

So, my CAA preview will be brief. If you want more of a CAA preview fix, Litos, as always, has a "weakend" preview as well.

CAA Saturday starts at noon with Northeastern (3-1 CAA) traveling down from Boston to face Georgia State in Atlanta two days after their blowout win over Mason in front of only 1148 people to tie for first place in the CAA (God, that's embarrassing).

It has all the makings of a trap game for the Huskies. A long road trip only two days after a big win. It's the day of the Great Baby Race today at Georgia State. Nothing whips up the frenzy of Panthers fans like racing babies (hey, it is a cute unique promotion). And Georgia State can play defense, second in CAA in scoring defense and third in three point FG percentage defense.

It may come down to how well GSU slows down Northeastern's Chaisson Allen from beyond the arc (14 of 22 from three in the last three games). Also Georgia State needs to get Trey Hampton involved more. After scoring in double figures in his three prior games on 21 of 25 shooting from the field, Hampton has scored a total of 11 points in his last two games on a total of 16 field goal attempts.

At 2:00 pm, Towson (0-4 CAA), in search of a defense, travels to James Madison (1-3 CAA) to take on the Dynamic Dukes Duo of Bowles and Wells. The matchup does not bode well for the Tigers. Two of the best frontcourt players in the CAA take on a weak Tigers post defense. Look at these numbers of big men vs Towson in the first four CAA games.

1) Hofstra 84 Towson 64 -Miklos Szabo 22 points, 11 of 14 shooting
2) Georgia State 70 Towson 61 - Trey Hampton 22 points, 9 of 10 shooting
3) ODU 87, Towson 71 - Frank Hassell, Gerald Lee, Keyon Carter, Ben Finney - 57 points, 22 of 37 shooting
4) Hofstra 77 Towson 61 - Halil Kanacevic 18 points, 8 of 14 shooting.

In three of those games, Szabo, Hampton and Kanacevic all had career highs in points. Notice a pattern. Now you have the Tigers facing a twosome averaging 40 points per game in Bowles and Wells. Not good if you're a Towson fan. You have to hope that Robert Nwankwo (coming off a double double and six blocks vs Hofstra) and Calvin Lee score enough to somewhat neutralize Bowles and Wells. JMU could still use Darren White or Pierre Curtis to step up to help out the Dukes' on the scoring front. Something tells me one of them will.

The other 2pm start has Delaware traveling to VCU to face a Larry Sanders less Rams team. Sanders was suspended one game for an incident in Wednesday's game at Drexel where Sanders swung his elbow at Evan Neisler. The Rams are desperately trying to end a two game losing streak which has the defending CAA champs 1-3 in the conference. Bradford Burgess looks to continue his torrid shooting against Drexel, where he had a career high 30 points. Prior to the breakout vs the Dragons, Burgess only had one double digit scoring game in his past six games.

Delaware is coming off an absolutely heartbreaking loss at home 74-73 to the Mary in overtime. The Blue Hens were up seven points with 20 seconds left before the miraculous Tribe comeback. Jawan Carter is making a serious push to be first team All CAA this season as he averages 17 points, 5 assists and 3 rebounds per game. Guard Alphonso Dawson is second in the team in scoring averaging nearly 13 points per game and also an incredible 6 rebounds per game. This game could be ugly where you have a disheartened team traveling to face a team angry and desperate for a win.

One of the best rivalries in the CAA is renewed on Saturday as Hofstra (2-2) travels to the Constant Center to take on Old Dominion (3-1). Beach has a GREAT preview of this game, but I will try my take on it. The teams have traded blows since the 2004-05 season and the games are usually close and very exciting. Case in point is Old Dominion's one point win over Hofstra, 52-51 in the CAA Tournament Quarterfinals last year which made up for the earlier season Hofstra win 60-51 in Hempstead. Gerald Lee's tip in won the game for the Monarchs as Lee barely outdueled Charles Jenkins. I am convinced that all the CAA coaches decided after that game that Lee and Jenkins should be preseason co -CAA players of the year for this season.

The key will be how the Hofstra bigs match up against the ODU Law firm of Hassell, Finney and Lee. I am sure Kanacevic will be up to the test. But I am not sure about Greg Washington or Szabo. Beach accurately describes Washington as invisible, while Szabo is a fouling machine.

The game is on MSG and if you see Nathaniel Lester playing the four a lot today, it won't be good for Beach or the Pride fans. But if the Pride can keep the bigs in the game and get Charles Jenkins out of his shooting funk, they have a good chance to keep it close, which Hofstra does well.

Another 4pm intriguing matchup is the darlings of the CAA, William and Mary (3-1 CAA) traveling to a somewhat surprising bunch themselves in Drexel (3-1 CAA). All of the Mary's four CAA games have been decided by one point, which is unreal. Equally unreal was the comeback by the Mary at Delaware. Down seven points with 20 seconds left and the Tribe hit three 3 pointer. Amazing. David Schneider is Litos' early choice for CAA player of the year.

But Drexel has found a shooting touch lately, which is amazing in itself for the next to last in scoring offense in the CAA. Jamie Harris has been terrific lately shooting exactly 50 percent in his last four games (31 of 62). But he has got help from Chris Fouch (19 of 35 in his last four games including 11 of 21 from beyond the arc) and Samme Givens (16 of 29 in his last four games and is averaging nearly 54 percent shooting for the field on the season). Should be a very entertaining game.

Finally ESPN360 has the UNCW (2-2) at George Mason (3-1) tussle at 4:00 pm. The Seahawks are on a roll winning two CAA conference games in a row..and doing it with defense! Wilmington, who is tenth in the CAA in scoring defense, has only allowed an average of 55 points in their last two games. They are doing it with rebounding as the Seahawks, led by John Fields, are first in the CAA in rebounding offense and second in rebounding margin. Combine that with being first in the CAA in three point FG percentage defense and this isn't your 2008-09 swiss cheese D Seahawks.

George Mason is coming off a thumping at Northeastern that thankfully not too many people saw live. Ryan Pearson is coming into his own for the Patriots. In his last six games, Pearson is averaging 16 points and 8 rebounds per game. GMU needs Cam Long to step it up though. In his last four games, Long is 10 of 35 including a dismal 1 of 8 from beyond the arc. Long is only shooting 27.7 percent from beyond the arc this season as opposed to 40.4 percent from beyond the arc last season.

Should be another entertaining day in the CAA.

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