CAA BASKETBALL....THE SILENT ASSASSINS
In the past decade, the CAA has become a bit of an eye opener for the rest of college basketball. Over the years, coaches from power conferences saw putting a CAA team on your schedule as a guaranteed win early in the season as their teams tuned up for conference play. Ever since 2006, the CAA has caused us to take a second look at how dangerous this conference really is. During the NCAA tournament, George Mason crashed the big dance with wins over Michigan State, North Carolina, Wichita State, and Connecticut. In 2007, it was VCU's turn to make some noise with a big first round win over Duke. Then, in 2009 lightning would strike for a 3rd time with ODU upseting Notre Dame. This year, the CAA looks to be stronger than ever and could very well be a two to three bid conference. While the bottom 4 teams in this league may not be much to brag about, I want to address every team in this league fairly and recognize this seasons accomplishments on a case by case basis. So, with no further ado I give you the 2010-2011 Colonial Athletic Association in all it's glory!
Towson Tigers (3-7)
While there isn't a whole lot that can be said about this squad, Towson has kept most of their games interesting this season. Their best win of the season came at home against MAC opponent, Western Michigan 75-73. The Tigers are notably among the top 100 teams in the country for rebounding. While averaging 72.8 points per game, Towson is led by sophomore forward, Issiah Philmore who averages 14.6 points per game and 7.5 rebounds a game. He's complimented by his junior counterpart Braxton Dupree who averages 13.3 points per game and 10 rebounds. This is a very young team who has shown flashes of brilliance of what's to come.
Northeastern Huskies (3-6)
The Northeastern Huskies are struggling early, but seem to have gotten back on track with a 10 point win over East Tennessee State. They put up a solid fight in a five point loss to an up and coming Drexel squad and took down MVC foe Southern Illinois. The Huskies rely on the senior leadership of guard Chiasson Allen. Allen averages 16.7 points per game and 6 rebounds.
William and Mary Tribe (4-7)
While I feel that last years CAA runner up (22-11, notable wins over Maryland, Wake Forest, Richmond) William and Mary team was robbed of an NCAA Tournament at large bid, this years group has shown a lot of fight early. Early in the season, the Tribe came within 3 points of handing undefeated Syracuse a huge upset loss. Don't let their 4-7 record fool you. This team is dangerous. They opened up the season with three very challenging games against UVA, Richmond, and Syracuse. Their most recent loss came at the hands of a very fierce North Carolina team. While William and Mary has yet to secure a quality win, their tough non conference schedule is sure to make them a better team when they hit conference play. William and Mary is led by utility player, Quinn McDowell who averages 13.3 points per game and 5.7 rebounds a game. McDowell recorded a season high 24 points in the Tribes win over Howard.
North Carolina Wilmington (5-6)
This North Carolina Wilmington team is a mixed bag of tricks. They've got good wins over the likes of the Liberty Flames, Morehead State Eagles, and Wake Forest Demon Deacons. They also gained valuable experience against ranked foes Florida and Ohio State. But they also dropped a heart breaker in overtime to a less than impressive North Carolina A&T team. Take that loss out of the equation and you've got about a .500 team against quality competition. Chad Tomko provides senior leadership for the team with 13.9 points and 4.5 assists per game.
James Madison Dukes (9-3)
Probably one of the biggest surprises early, James Madison has shown that they are in a position to compete for a CAA tittle. I've actually seen this team play in person and they've got a big physical squad that has a nose for the basketball. The Dukes showed from day one that they are no pushover. They gave then No. 3 Kansas State all they could handle in a 75-61 loss. Since their season opener, James Madison rallied of seven wins in a row in impressive fashion. The Dukes have picked up quality wins over Princeton, Presbyterian, South Florida, and Marshall. They look poised to finish with 20 plus wins and a possible spot in the final four of the CAA Tournament. James Madison's bigs have led the way with 6'10 senior forward Denzel Bowles averaging 18.6 points per game and 8.8 rebounds a game. Bowles is complemented by junior forward Rayshawn Goins who averages 12.1 points and 8.5 rebounds a game.
Old Dominion Monarchs (9-2)
After a CAA title and a first round upset over Notre Dame in last years NCAA tournament, the Monarchs are back and looking better than ever. They are the preseason favorites to repeat as conference champs. However, this team looks strong enough to be this years Butler. ODU is off to a rip roaring start They've put together good wins over High Point, St. Peters, Clemson, Xavier, Richmond, East Carolina, Dayton, and Presbyterian. In the loss category, they were victims of a stunning upset on the road at Delaware. They also missed beating ranked Georgetown by a mere three points.With the exception of Georgetown's three point loss to Temple, Old Dominion easily gave the Hoyas their toughest gave of the season. The Monarch's have the No. 10 Mizzou Tigers up next on the schedule and it woudn't be out of the question to see ODU pull the upset. Old Dominion is extremely hard to defend with players that include Kent Bazemore (13.1 ppg), Frank Hassell (12.4 ppg), and Ben Finney (11 ppg) all averaging in double figures. The Monarchs have also proved to be one of the most physical teams in Division 1 basketball as they average a 7th leading 42.4 rebounds per game. Look for Old Dominion as a potential sweet sixteen sleeper in this years NCAA Tournament.
Georgia State Panthers (4-5)
While the more exciting story around Georgia State athletics this year is the arrival of their Division 1-AA Football team, the mens basketball team also brings reason for excitement. The Panthers have proved that they are going to fight for the right to represent the CAA in the NCAA tournament with a big win at home over the high flying James Madison Dukes. The Panthers ability to stay in games this season can be credited in large part to their rebounding. Georgia State is ranked 85th in the country with 38 rebounds per game. Forward Brandon McGee has been critical in the Panthers success. Currently he leads the Panthers with 10.3 points per game and 5.8 rebounds a game. He has also shown a great ability to hit the three ball with great accuracy when needed. While the Panthers may not be the biggest favorite to win the conference title, they could very well play a spoiler role down the stretch.
Delaware Fightin Blue Hens (5-4)
They don't call these guys the Fightin Blue Hen's for nothing. These birds have shown early in the season that they are going to fight till the buzzer sounds in every game this season. Deleware recently picked up two huge wins over Old Dominion and Hampton. The Blue Hens look to prove early that they are a force to be reckoned with. This is not the Delaware team of the old that the best teams in the conference could count on for a guaranteed win. This team has shown that it means business. Senior guard, Jawan Carter leads the team in scoring with 16.3 points a game. Sophomore Jamelle Hagins is second on the team in points with 9.9 points per game but leads the team in rebounds with 7.8.
Virginia Commonwealth Rams (7-4)
VCU is easily could return to the throne as the top team in the CAA with the way their season has panned out early on. The Rams own big wins over Wake Forest, UCLA, VMI, and Tulane. They also came within five points of knocking off No. 24 Tennessee. VCU ranks in the top 100 in points per game (83), assists per game (40), and field goal percentage (97). Given their past NCAA tournament success, this team is far from being off the radar. However, they looked poised to run the table in the CAA. The Rams have four players that average double figures in scoring. These include Jamie Skeen (15 ppg), Bradford Burgess (13.8 ppg), and Joey Rodriguez (10.8 ppg). The Rams have a tough game against Wofford before entering what looks to be a very challenging conference schedule.
Hofstra Pride (7-4)
On the verge of success.....For so many years, this has been the theme of Hofstra's seasons. Year after year, they have been on the outside looking in to the NCAA Tournament. This year proves to be equally tough as last year but Hofstra looks to be in the thick of things. Hofstra's only quality win thus far is over Rider. However, they gained great experience playing at North Carolina early on. The Pride rely heavily on senior guard Charles Jenkins for 23.8 points per game. While I don't think this will be the year that Hofstra cracks the field of 68, they certainly will give fellow conference teams all they can handle.
Drexel Dragons (8-2)
The best kept secret in the CAA is no more. After upsetting the No. 21 Louisville Cardinals, Drexel is now on everyone's radar. Drexel also owns solid wins over Pennsylvania and Rider. After upsetting Louisville, the Dragons skyrocketed onto the national stage before being humbled by No. 5 Syracuse. A great deal of the Dragon's success can be attributed to their ability to pull down rebounds in bunches. Drexel currently sits at 16th in the nation in rebounding. Drexel is making sure that their conference knows just how dangerous they are. They've already opened conference play with a big win on the road against Northeastern. The Dragons offense is paced by three players in double figures that include Chris Fouch (19.1 ppg), Samme Givens (11.4 ppg), and Gerald Colds (11.3 ppg). Givens has been especially impressive, averaging a double double with 11.4 rebounds a game as well. Drexel could very easily sneak into the tournament as an at large bid if they win a majority of their conference games and at least finish as the CAA Tournament runner up.
George Mason Patriots (9-2)
Amazingly enough the team that might be the next George Mason, may actually be George Mason. This team has been silently dominating teams off the radar. Mason is 93rd in the country in points per game with 73.6 and 30th in the country in fied goal percentage. After returning all five of last years starters, Mason was picked to finish second in the CAA. However, with the way they've been playing, they could very easily be looking at securing the leagues automatic bid to the big dance. Mason holds big wins over Harvard, Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, George Washington, Liberty, and Duquesne. However, the Patriots arn't just beating teams, they are defensively dominating them. In nine of their 11 games, Mason has held the opposition to less than 60 points. They've won eight of nine times that they have managed this feat. Offensively the Patriots are led by a trio of scorers that includes Cam Long (12.9 ppg), Ryan Pearson (12.7 ppg), and Luke Hancock (12 ppg). Offensively these three players have helped them to outscore their opponents by an average of 13.8 ppg. Mason has put together a very impressive non conference resume, but if they don't win their conference they may have to rely on a win over a bracket buster team to be named later to help convince the selection committee to give them an at large bid.