We’re at the exact halfway point of the eighteen game CAA slate, and to say its Hofstra’s to lose is a massive understatement. For all practical purposes, they play Northeastern on Saturday night to clinch the conference. If the Huskies can defend Matthews, it becomes a two game lead for Hofstra with no decisive tiebreaker yet, and the Huskies will be alive. A loss by Northeastern, and you can put the regular season in the books, and award that Player of the Year trophy to Justin Wright-Foreman. Simple as that. On Saturday, all eyes should be on Huntington Avenue.
If Northeastern should drop their home game, then things get interesting. Every team in the league besides Delaware would have at least four losses (UD plays at Elon on Thursday). So lets talk about UD. Tied for second at 6-3, they have well exceeded expectations, and if Hofstra were to cool off at all in the second half, Martin Inglesby will be at least in the conversation for Coach of the Year. Are they for real?
No, no they aren’t for real. Despite their surprising winning record, they have actually dropped ground in the Kenpom rankings, entering league play at 236th in the country and currently standing at 243rd. Don’t get suckered in by the record, what with all its wins, says Ken Pomeroy as well. With their win over Drexel on Saturday, the Blue Hens have put themselves in a position to not need much to avoid the play in games come tourney time, so they have a leg up, but they have been outplaying their metrics and the live by the three die by the three lifestyle will come calling eventually. If they keep up their torrid pace and finish in the top three, Inglesby would have my (mythical) Coach of the Year vote over Mihalich. I’m not concerned about having to make that decision, both because I don’t have a vote and that they won’t finish in the top three.
Charleston rounds out the top “bunch” and is interesting. The four losses at the halfway point put them in perilous position, and a lot of that revolves around Jarrell Brantley not looking like Jarrell Brantley, either in the box scores or via the eye test. The Cougars had a get right weekend last weekend, and have another one in front of them this weekend, hosting Towson and JMU. They can still finish top two or three, or quite frankly, fall further. The loss at JMU, the home loss to Drexel… These don’t inspire confidence.
And then there’s the sludge. Drexel has the opportunity to really cause a rift down here this weekend as they travel to William and Mary and Elon. It’s tough to see them going 2-0, as a revenge win against W&M would put them in a bad letdown spot against Elon on the back end of the weekend road swing. If the Dragons were to rise to the occasion, then they will have officially put distance between them and what would then be the dregs, with their 6 wins to the other teams 3 or 4, and the tiebreaker against at least Elon. And 5 of the Dragons final 7 will be on their home floor. Basically, a road sweep here puts them in a position paralleling Hofstra. They could afford some misteps the rest of the way and still call it a succesful season. And that’s ignoring a potential return date for Kurk Lee.
That’s the upside for the Dragons. The downside is being swept, which means being tied or worse with both W&M and Elon and losing the tiebreaker to W&M. That turns things into a doomsday scenario where they’re basically praying for Kurk Lee’s return and the March goal will simply be to be playing on Sunday. So for all three teams involved, this weekend is simply huge.
Tied with Drexel is Wilmington. They have one more road game than Drexel in the second half, and a defense that has actually rated out so bad, it’s worse than the Dragons. Kai Toews is a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate, and Devontae Cacok is who we thought he was, but that team turns the ball over and isn’t motivated on the defensive end. That they are 4-5 right now seems more a testament to their combined talent then it is strong team play. They have a point guard who can distribute, perhaps the leagues best big man (I’ll take Nathan Knight, but it’s not that far apart) and Ty Gasden sports the nations top three point percentage. They’re 4-5 and haven’t looked good doing it despite all those weapons. Life is a mystery.
That leaves James Madison and Towson. JMU is a home win against Charleston away from being totally buried, which is crazy in and of itself. The trio of Banks, Mosely and Lewis have talent, but they need Dwight Wilson to stay healthy and play with desperation. With three straight road games coming up, and no road wins since November, they have a foot in the grave already.
Towson has more of a case to climb out, with three wins in the books and only four road games in the second half of the season. However, the Tigers also stink out loud, and wins against UD and Northeastern by a combined four points aren’t enough of a case to make me think this team has more than three wins left in it. I’ve seen the words “rebuilding year” come out of the Baltimore area, but they’re playing four juniors and a senior. It’s W&M and JMU that are playing the youngest lineups in the conference, two teams that are legitimately rebuilding, although it’s painful to see the Tribe doing it during Nathan Knight and Justin Pierce’s prime.
A top, a defined upper middle with a heavy favorite in Northeastern for second place, and then a total shitshow. The 2019 Colonial Athletic Association! Charleston is shaping up to be a bloodbath, especially if there’s an upset come Sunday. I know some will ask about Hofstra’s at large chances, but the advice from these pages is simple: Don’t ask. Take the eighth most experienced team in the country and cash in. There’s only going to be one shot at this, it’s a one year window and the Selection Committee has never been known to reward that. So don’t you dare fade late.