By Chris Molicki
By now, you may think you’re an expert on the Colonial Athletic Association. The Brunch has done interviews with Towson head coach Pat Skerry and College of Charleston head coach Earl Grant. But there’s a lot more to learn about one of the most underrated conferences in college basketball.
The league has a bunch of explosive teams, especially on the offensive end. KenPom has five ranked in the top 150 in terms of Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, while the game scores routinely travel to the 70s, 80s, and beyond.
So if all of these teams are jacking up shots and such a high rate, how can you tell which one will emerge from the CAA tournament? Even more importantly, who’s got the best chance to make noise in March? Let’s dive in.
NOTE: From a gambling perspective, there have been many games this season that a road favorite in the Colonial can’t seem to cover. In fact, covering big spreads in general has been tough to do in this league. Something to keep in mind when you’re placing your bets.
The Top Dogs
Northeastern: There are a few teams that have a claim for best team in the Colonial, and it looked like Northeastern was emerging as the true favorite. Since then, they’ve been playing with fire, losing to Drexel and Charleston and needing overtime to get a home win over UNC Wilmington, arguably the worst team in the league. For now, we’ll have them up here. Bill Coen’s team is led by Vasa Pusica, a Serbian floor general averaging 5.2 assists per game and shooting nearly 40% from three. The Huskies shoot the ball very well as a whole, but their inability to take care of the ball and rebound on the offensive glass has hindered their offense. They have improved their defense in conference play, but I’d like to see a little more consistency out of Northeastern before I make them my Colonial pick.
College of Charleston: You know the College of Charleston. You’ve already heard head coach Earl Grant on the Brunch, and it’s important to recognize that the Cougars have won three straight since Earl appeared on the show. We spoke to Earl about the team’s defense, and true to his word, they’ve been steadily improving. Joe Healy, Jarrell Brantley, and Grant Riller all average over 15 points per game and form a tough senior-junior-sophomore trio on one of the most experienced squads in the nation. The Cougars have won six in a row, although none by double digits, and the only one over a top team was at Northeastern (a very impressive win). These two teams are so close, and it may come down to what Coach Grant told us–who peaks at the right time.
Towson: On the contrary, the Colonial’s other Brunch coach, Pat Skerry, has struggled. We talked Towson up as the best team in the conference, and they have yet to reward our confidence, losing two of three, both to lesser teams, and barely escaping undermanned Delaware with a win. The Tigers are very balanced, excelling on both sides of the ball, but it’s turnovers that have plagued them against their Colonial counterparts. Zane Martin may win conference player of the year, and he’s come up huge for Towson many times. But in order for Skerry’s team to reach their full potential, they’ll need to play more focused and less sloppy. We trust that a team coached by Pat Skerry will put it all together, but for now, they sit in third on our preview.
William & Mary: The ultimate Jekyll and Hyde team: The Tribe are 39th in offense according to kenpom.com… but they’re also 336th in defense. It’s hard to trust a team that struggles holding teams under 80 points, except when you remember they routinely score 90 themselves. In William & Mary’s defense (ha ha), their defense has improved in conference play. But that doesn’t mean it can’t fall off at any moment, like when they gave up 91 to Drexel on Saturday. This team has the ability to beat anyone and lose to anyone, and it’ll be fascinating to see how they close the season. I want to be a believer, but they’re 0-3 against the teams above them. Let’s wait and see.
In the Mix
Hofstra: Hofstra, like William & Mary, does just about everything right on the offensive side of the ball and everything wrong on the defensive end. Their offense just isn’t as potent, but they still find themselves above .500 in league play. Joe Mihalich’s biggest weapon has been the fourth leading scorer in the nation, Justin Wright-Foreman. The junior from Queens is averaging 25 points per game and has totals of 35 points at Towson, 36 against Elon, and 39 at William & Mary. If the Pride can work on their defense, then perhaps they belong in the tier above.
Elon: Like I said, there’s a theme here, folks. Elon’s offense has been pretty good this year, as evidence by their five scorers averaging double figures. But their defense leaves a lot to be desired. They don’t force any turnovers and they’re doing a poor job rebounding the ball. This has, to no surprise, led to major inconsistency: the Phoenix haven’t won back-to-back games in over a month. Matt Matheny’s squad is running out of time, and they still have a three-game road trip on the dockett.
Not Dead Yet
Drexel: Left for dead at 1-7 in CAA play, the Dragons have won four straight to get right back in the race, including wins over Northeastern and William & Mary. This is a relatively experienced unit that rides Tramaine Isabell to the tune of 19.4 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 1.4 steals per game. He’s 6’ 1” and averaging 7.5 rebounds! Some may think they’re lucky, Zach Spiker’s team has barely outperformed teams in each of those wins, and three of them were very close games. They’ve got one of the worst defenses in college basketball and that simply will not fly if they want to keep this streak going
James Madison: You might think a team in the bottom-150 in both offense and defense according to kenpom.com that sits at the bottom of the conference is dead in the water, but I want to see how the Dukes finish the season. JMU has been faced with two three-game road trips earlier this season in which they went 0-6. But there were two overtime losses and two losses by three points or less. Along with games against Florida, Northern Kentucky, and Old Dominion, their schedule has been brutal this year, so let’s see if they can piece it together. They aren’t winning the regular season conference title, but if they protect the ball, get to the free throw line, and end the season on a tear, they will not be an easy out in the CAA tournament. Stuckey Mosley’s 20 points per game might give them a shot. Unfortunately, the next two JMU games have been postponed due to a suspected measles outbreak, so we’ll have to wait a little longer to get a better look at the Dukes.
Start the Buses
UNC Wilmington: Wilmington had a feisty stretch in January, knocking off Elon and Towson in overtime and taking Northeastern and Charleston to the brink. They’re very good at rebounding the ball and blocking shots, and Devontae Cacok is a walking double-double. But the Seahawks, maybe more than any team in this conference, are an atrocity on defense. They’re 327th in the nation in defense according to kenpom.com, and they are the SECOND-WORST team in all of college basketball at defending the three. With that shot becoming more and more important, teams are going to make it rain on C.B. McGrath’s players more often than not, making them an afterthought in the CAA race.
Delaware: The Blue Hens have been better than they were last year, but they’ll be missing their best player, Ryan Daly for nearly a month. This news broke on the heels of some close losses and a season-ending injury to third-leading scorer Kevin Anderson. Delaware was never really able to make much noise against the conference’s elite this year, and these injuries all but cement their spot in the basement. After winning four of their first six conference games, they’ve lost six straight.