We’re back for the eighth edition of the suds themed, swashbuckling CAA preview. Comments are welcomed below,on twitter, hurled at the faces of Dan when he travels to games (home or road, don’t hold back you DU fans). Here’s to a good and healthy season this year for all CAA players and teams from states 2 thru 49.
What a mess we have in 2020 CAA Men’s Basketball. A lot of talk going into the season is of the “Top Six”, but the lines may be blurred even more than that. Is the book out on W&M now? How real is JMU’s 7-4 record against a weak out of conference schedule? Northeastern only has one credible win, but they’ll be spoken of as a top team. Drexel may be the dark-horse that no one is talking about. Maybe it isn’t a top 6 but rather a top 8, where any of those can beat any of the others on any given night. And while the bottom two may not be at that level, the ardent CAA fan knows both of those teams will likely end up with at least a couple of shockers over the other eight as well. In short: It may not be a pretty year, but it should be a fun one. Keep your tiebreakers handy.
Without further ado, here are the annual beers of the CAA:
College of Charleston – Edmond’s Oast – Return to Thunderdome – It’s a testament to the program that C of C is picked at the top of the list for the third straight year now. The most shocking part of the offseason may have been Earl Grant being retained by the Cougars. It’s that win that kept the Cougars in this spot. They start three seniors, and have depth at almost every spot. The win against Providence may be the leagues best OOC victory, and they hung with VCU and Richmond as well. They challenged themselves to a tough schedule and maybe didn’t live up to that challenge, but in this years version of the CAA you don’t lose points for that. Grant Riller will be on list for Player of the Year, and Galloway and McManus provide solid two way players around him. It’s not an exciting team that plays a not an exciting style, but in a down CAA, this is the year to just go in, know what you do and do it well. Charleston does that.
Towson – Green Flash Brewing – West Coast IPA – IPA’s are all the rage – as long as they are juicy and hazy and New Englandy. No one gives a well done West Coast IPA it’s due anymore. But when it is done and done well, it’s still good! And so I give you Pat Skerry’s Towson Tigers. They do what they do. And this year they do it with Brian Fobbs, a potential First Team CAA player, running the show. Juwan Gray has been a key addition, providing some shooting prowess, and the Tigers will rebound and had the best defense among CAA teams in out of conference play (not that that is saying much). In short, stop sleeping on TU, a squad who beat the teams they should beat, and whose worst loss (neutral site versus Buffalo) was against a team that would be a top 3 CAA finisher.
Hofstra – Bell’s Brewing – Two Hearted Ale – Fans of the Boston Brave’s had a saying in the 1940’s: “Spahn and Sain and Pray for Rain”. Their pitching rotation had two studs, and the local reporter who coined the phrase knew the team wanted them out there as often as possible. See: Hofstra’s Desure Buie and Eli Pemberton. The senior duo runs a squad that trots out a starting lineup entirely comprised of juniors and seniors. In short, the Hofstra window may be wrapping up, but those two will lead them on one last run. Generally, in a near tie, one would normally take Bill Coen over Joe Mihalich, but this year the Hofstra defense seems more trustworthy. For CAA fans: Mihalich’s squad trots out four starters that shoot 80%+ from the charity stripe, and the common fan knows how CAA officiating works. That bodes well for both Hofstra (79% from the line) and this next team (82% from the line) as well.
Northeastern – Samuel Adams – New England IPA – This years edition of the Huskies doesn’t rank a Trillium or a Treehouse, but still comes from a solid coaching staff which may have the best offensive player in the league. Freshman Tyson Walker looks like the real thing and will end up on the All Rookie team. Bolden Brace will be his usual solid glue guy self, but that is about where it ends on a very thin squad for Coach Coen. The similarities to Hofstra are abundant, but the Huskies may be even weaker in the paint than their Long Island brethren, and certainly are the weaker defensive team. Winning road games in the CAA is hard enough, and when you don’t pack a defense it gets much harder. To date, this has been the third weakest defense that Northeastern has had under Coen, and while it challenges to not put seniors Roland and Brace near the top of this preview, that is how it runs this year.
William and Mary – Stone – Enjoy By IPA – Here’s the surprise of the year as Dane Fischer is driving it like he stole it down in Williamsburg. After faltering down the stretch a bit in out of conference play, the book may be out on W&M, but it doesn’t really matter, the offseason triage effort created due to Samantha Huge’s decision to not compete for a title this year has been a success. Andy Van Vliet has been a revelation for the Tribe, and the twin towers set spells trouble for a CAA that is near bereft of frontcourt talent. They are starting four seniors and a junior and everyone else transferred out, so this is likely a one year flash in the pan, but given what could be going on down there after this offseason, Dane Fischer is driving this thing just right.
Delaware – Three Floyds Brewing – Space Station Middle Finger – This team reminds the author of some JMU teams past. A bunch of transfers supplement some homegrowns, giving them great talent on the outside, but will they be able to put it together? Martin Inglesby seems to be a bit more gifted at melding his talent than Lou Rowe does, and UD rolled through their out of conference until they hit a let down before playing Nova, and then, well, had to play Villanova. The suspect loss to LIU to end OOC play has everyone questioning the teams schedule, more than celebrating their wins. In the CAA, if you are throwing out three guards with the talent of Nate Darling, Ryan Allen, and Kevin Anderson you are going to compete. And UD will score the ball: they may be the top shooting team in the Association. However, against the 315th best defensive strength of schedule, they still didn’t defend well, at all. It’s tough to get behind “Transfer University” teams, and while every team in front of them is flawed, these are the reasons why UD can’t be any higher.
Drexel – Troegs Brewing – Blizzard of Hops – Wynter is here. Entering the season as the focal point, with a younger cast around him this year as well, regression was expected. So naturally, he went from averaging 11 and 5 a game to 12 and 6. In the last five games, those numbers jumped to 18 and 6. The concern has been the turnovers, but here’s some quick stats that should have Dragon fans looking forward to conference play: In the out of conference schedule, 9 of 12 opponents were in the top half of the NCAA at creating turnovers. Three of those opponents were top 20 nationally. In the CAA, only one opponent is in the top half of the country (or even in the top 200!) at turning people over, and that is Hofstra at 116th. And when they are not turning over the ball, they aren’t bad. The Dragons effective shooting percentage is fourth in the CAA and they are first on the offensive glass thanks to double double machine James Butler. And while their transition defense remains terrible (see, pick six turnovers), their defense when in the half court is in the 62nd percentile nationally, which is very good for this league. In short, if they cleanup the turnovers, and the schedule will help with that, it is not difficult at all to see the Dragons make a run to a top four finish. That seems a more likely scenario then them finishing below this spot in the standings.
James Madison – Sierra Nevada – Celebration Fresh Hop IPA – If Cam Wynter is surrounded by a young team, then what is Matt Lewis surrounded by? Not a senior plays, and while the junior class of Lewis, Banks, Jacobs and Wilson can run, there’s just not much else to talk about. Freshman Michael Christmas has shot the ball well from the perimeter but probably still isn’t ready for the speed of the game, and Louis Rowe can’t hide him and break him in gently like Zach Spiker can with TJ Bickerstaff, when there are three other freshman seeing minutes as well. Home wins against CAA level teams Charlotte and ODU show that JMU is still one of the top eight in this conference, and like Drexel, they would be moved up this list before they would be moved down, but here is why they are eighth: In Matt Brady’s final season, JMU had the 77th ranked defense in the country. Since that time, they have gone (in order), 162, 221, 302, 311. That is a trend that doesn’t win games, especially on the road. Related, JMU has gone 2-7 on the road in the CAA every season under Louis Rowe. Why would one expect that to improve this year? So, an eighth place prediction.
Elon – Russian River Brewing – Blind Pig – Stop. Name a player on this roster. It’s a challenge, isn’t it? That is where Elon is these days. And an out of conference schedule with three non-D I games doesn’t help get those names out, or inspire confidence. Alas, with coaching changes this happens. And Elon did close out the OOC by playing a tight game against a decent Winthrop team. That said, this is a “where’s the beef?” team. No real big guys, and no post presence, and even in a weak crop of CAA big men, that will be exploited. Starting the season against William and Mary’s twin towers will be finding that out the hard way one would think. McIntosh and Woods look like guys who could start together for four years and be projects. Find a big to go with them and the team could start moving in the right direction in the next couple of seasons. In the meantime, while the cupboard is bare, there is a sense of purpose that comes with a fresh start, which puts them in front of…
UNCW – Anheuser Busch – Natural Light – In college, sometimes kids want to drink with the sole point of being intoxicated. There is a beer for that, and this is that beer. UNCW fans, well, this is your beer. The Kenpom 307th best team in the country just had their point guard walk out on them as conference play comes, and this doesn’t look like an addition by subtraction situation for a head coach whose team came in last this past season despite having that same point guard on the roster with an NBA level center. The Dub, with Toews, was 300th in turnover percentage in the country, 298th in offensive rebounding and when they actually did take shots, 326th in two point shooting. Defensively they grade out at: worst in the conference. Do give CB credit for scheduling, while the three non-D I games get the attention, the rest of the schedule was quite difficult, so the national rankings noted above may be a bit soft. The Dub is also one of the youngest teams in all of Division I, with no one older than a sophomore playing. You could argue that bodes well for the future, but with McGrath’s contract coming due, this feels on its way to a rebuild more than on its way towards growth.