Just to be clear, this is CAA: The HorseRACE, not ESPN: The HorseFACE, which would simply be a story about New York Yankee “legend” Mark Teixeira, or Yankeeography: Horseface, which would totally ignore Teixeira in order to give Andy Pettite his due.
As we pass through the three week mark of the CAA regular season, we’re officially at the one third complete marker. And as we look back on our preseason predictions and mix them into the results, schedules and injuries a picture begins to emerge. Friends, here is a State of our Imperfect Union:
Sinatra (Fly Me to the Moon)
Hofstra has gone 5-0, and as such, has to be the first to be mentioned. And with Justin Wright-Foreman having an early stranglehold on the CAA Player of the Year honors there’s plenty of reason to buy in. I’m still selling (some will say hating) the Dutchmen here. For one thing, last year they started the CAA season 5-2, but went 7-5 the rest of the way including a one and done appearance in Charleston. Pemberton and Buie have made strides this season, but they are still insanely reliant on JWF and Mihalich doesn’t seem to have restraint there (he played 55 minutes at William and Mary, and even a hefty 29 minutes in Hofstra’s 45 point blowout over Delaware) which will lead to late season concerns. Coach Mihalich needs to recognize that a win in January simply isn’t equivalent to a win in March. Alan Boston noted a similar issue when speaking of last years UVA team. Hofstra has also played the softest schedule in the league, with three of their five games at home, and only one matchup against top competition. Are they the favorites at this point? Yes. Will they be running the table? Unlikely.
If I was buying stock somewhere, it would be in Boston. Shawn Occeus and Vasa Pusica are finally back to playing full time minutes, and they gave Hofstra a run for their money on the Island. The Huskies have played a soft schedule as well, but three of five have been on the road. Now 9th in the country in effective field goal percentage, the Huskies are running Bill Coen’s offense to a “T” and their defense is coming together now that they have their full rotation back. They will pay down the stretch for their home loss to UD, a loss that could very well effect the end of year seeding, but this is a team that should be better in February then it is now – and it’s not bad today.
Charleston is now a deep third among the big three. While they have played three games on the road, none of the five games making up their 3-2 record were against frontline teams. The loss at JMU seemed like a doozy until they followed it up with a home loss to Drexel. For a team that has been fairly healthy during CAA play and was projected to defend its title, that’s a body blow, and a body blow without good reason. Now they enter a two game road swing against Hofstra and Northeastern, a swing that could very well define their season. They didn’t come out angry after the JMU loss, and if they continue to carry the character and charisma of a piece of multigrain toast, then home court in the tourney may not be enough.
Jimmy Eat World (The Middle):
William and Mary sit 3-3, with their home weekend series against Hofstra and Northeastern behind them. A loss to Delaware stains their record against non-top teams, and they’ve played four home games to just two roadies. As such, all is not well in the Burg, but one thinks that when the bat signal goes up, Knight and Pierce’s Batman and Robin act will be there. They have a bye this week going into their Saturday matchup against Elon, which quite honestly gives Shaver and staff the full two weeks to prepare for a weekend set at UNCW and Charleston. Yes, Elon seems that bad. Last year 11-7 was good enough for a fourth place finish for the Tribe, this year that’s likely the high side unless Shaver can work a miracle at the point guard position, where they have really been struggling.
Delaware sits 4-2 against the toughest schedule in the conference. That’s very impressive and would usually get then bumped to the top tier, but I’m a seller all day long for a few reasons. The team is all of 7 players deep. They rely on the three too much to be consistent (they shot more threes than twos on last weekends road trip to the Dub and Charleston) and two of the three three point shooters that they are relying on are freshman Horton and Veretto. While the times are a changing and freshman are walking into schools more experienced then ever given year around AAU schedules, freshman still hit walls. So while UD outkicks the coverage with Eric Carter becoming a statistical heavyweight in his senior season, the market sees them outkicking the coverage inside, outshooting the coverage outside and one injury away from being much too thin to compete at years end. Their early record against a tough schedule may be enough to keep them out of playing on Saturday come tourney time in Charleston, which has to be considered a big win for third year coach Martin Inglesby.
Lil Jon (Get Low)
Wilmington and Drexel make for strange but similar bedfellows. The Seahawks have a marketing staff that thought #HawkYeah! was a good idea, along with a 3-2 record while playing three home games in the early season. Drexel’s marketing team seems to have ignored hashtags altogether, and on the court they are 2-4 while playing (tied with UD) the toughest schedule in the conference to date. Wilmington regained the services of Ty Gadsden a game into the conference season, while Kurk Lee returned to the Drexel lineup this weekend. With a win over Charleston in the books and a much softer second half of the season in front of them, the market says to buy the Dragons, but since the Dub is a game up and won the head to head, these two seem pretty tough to sort out at the moment. With the leagues six seed the difference between playing on Saturday or a bye come tourney time, the February 7th game between these two at the DAC looms larger than Jai Lewis at a buffet. The key for Drexel, as Brian Mull noted, is to simply make their defense mediocre, as they have had a top three offense in the CAA even prior to Lee’s return. The key for the Dub will be the development of Kai Toews, who needs to be asked for a bit less, in return to holding onto the ball much more.
JMU is also going to get a mention in this section as they seem to have arrested their early season free fall with back to back wins this weekend. They join Drexel in having a big win against Charleston (albeit the Duke’s was at home) and the recent wins have set them up for a big weekend on the road at Drexel and Delaware. That trip could end anywhere between a disastrous 0-2 and a right back into the thick of things 2-0. Keep an eye on Dwight Wilson, as he was in a walking boot last game and would be a big frontcourt loss for the Dukes.
Jay-Z (99 Problems)
Towson, you shouldn’t be here. A team that is playing a senior and four juniors in the lineup, with an established Coach who has had his share of time to implement his system to go along with gorgeous on campus facilities, the Tigers have no excuses. A rebuilding year after an 8-10 season? Ouch. Pat Skerry took an 0-18 team and turned them into a 13-3 team in just three years. He deserves a ton of credit from Tiger fans, but it appears he’s facing cultural issues there, as evidenced by their one seed team playing the conference tourney in Baltimore in front of small crowds. Now the empty seats in the SECU arena need to see a team with a refreshed focus, and there’s no reason to believe that will happen during this campaign.
Elon is in the 10th year of Coach Matheny’s oversight, and opened the gorgeous new Schar Center. Matheny made this program a contender and guided their jump to the CAA level, and like Skerry has earned the respect that he is given on campus. However, a disastrous season with three senior starters has things looking glum. The loss of senior point guard Dainan Swoope really set the Phoenix back and the offense, ranked 293rd in college basketball and last in the CAA, has never recovered. With that offense being joined by the 332nd ranked defense (9th in the CAA) it may be time to get the kids some minutes as they look towards their future seasons, and hopefully expanding the fanbase that can then fill the Schar.