Now five weeks into conference play, there’s already some serious parity in this year’s CAA. Currently, there’s a mere two-game (or less) difference between the #1 and #7 teams in the CAA right now. If W&M were to fall into even a little slump, the Green and Gold could fall from #1 to #7 — in only a matter of weeks.
It appears that outside of JMU (sorry, Dukes fans), just about every CAA team is capable of upsetting another this season. Look no further than this last week: Delaware went on the road and won back to back games over both Hofstra and Northeastern. Or add in the fact that UNCW just defeated Charleston on the road…how did that even happen?
Suffice to say, the CAA has been far from predictable (what else is new); however, we expect it to get even more confusing and drama-ridden down the stretch.
This week, we present our CAA Power Rankings, analyzing where we think CAA teams currently stand heading into the 6th week of conference play. Roll Tribe Roll.
CAA POWER RANKINGS:
January 28, 2020
William & Mary (15-7, 7-2 CAA)
A team picked to finish 7th in the CAA after losing starters Justin Pierce, Matt Milon, Chase Audige, and L.J. Owens to transfer, William & Mary miraculously finds itself at the top of the CAA. Sitting at 7-2 in conference play, W&M still holds a one-game lead for first place (thanks to a recent UNCW upset of Charleston), and appears to be the top team in the CAA — at least for now.
However, there is certainly reason for caution. After starting CAA play 6-0 for the first time (ever), the Tribe has now dropped 2 of its last 3 games, including games to Drexel and Towson by an average of almost 20 points. The Drexel game was undoubtedly alarming (with the Tribe losing by 27 points) — but as we’ve seen so far this season, each “good” CAA team seems has a rough night every now and again (again, see Charleston vs. UNCW).
While the reason for concern is warranted, W&M is still the only team in the league to defeat the top-5 preseason teams in the CAA (Hofstra, Charleston, Northeastern, JMU, and Delaware); moreover, W&M defeated all but one of them (JMU) on the road. This Green and Gold team has the talent up and down the roster to beat any team, regardless of whether it is at home or on the road.
Moving forward, we will learn a lot about the Tribe over the next three games: vs. Northeastern, vs. Hofstra, and @ Charleston — all of which comprise the CAA’s preseason top-3. The Tribe can go a long way in distancing itself from these teams with wins. But if the Green and Gold go 1-2 or 0-3 over this stretch, the Tribe is likely looking at a middle-of-the-pack finish in the CAA.
Again, we can’t think of a more important stretch in recent memory; Coach Dane Fischer and company have a tall task in front of them if they want to remain #1 in these CAA Power Rankings. But it can certainly be done.
Charleston (12-9, 6-3 CAA)
Led by the Preseason CAA Player of the Year Grant Riller, Charleston was picked to finish #2 in the CAA at the beginning of the year; currently, that is where they find themselves in our power rankings through five weeks. If not for their recent upset at home against UNCW, the Cougars may very well be #1 in our rankings this week. And even with the loss, we came very close to slotting them #1 over the Tribe.
After a touch OOC schedule, the Cougars started CAA play 5-0 before playing W&M on the road in a battle of the “unbeatens.” W&M prevailed, 67-56, and the Cougars have remained in second place ever since.
Other than the W&M loss, Charleston overcame two very close contests at home against Northeastern (79-76) and UNCW (72-70) — showing perhaps that they can be beaten by just about any team in the CAA. At the same time, of course, they can also beat anyone in the CAA.
With Riller averaging 21.3 PPG, we truly believe that this team is capable of winning every single night; moving forward, we expect coach Earl Grant and co. to finish in the top-3 come regular season’s end. Watch out for the Cougars.
Hofstra (15-7, 6-3 CAA)
Hofstra was the preseason pick to win the entire CAA this season. Despite losing Justin Wright-Foreman to the NBA, Hofstra returned Desure Buie (18.4 PPG) and Eli Pemberton (15.1) — two players who lead an experienced group manned by veteran head coach Joe Mihalich.
Hofstra, as it so frequently does, leads the entire CAA in scoring offense (76 PPG); but after starting CAA play 5-1, the Pride has found itself in a W&M-type slump, winning just 1 of its previous 3 contests.
And despite being blown out at home by W&M (88-61) early on, and despite suffering losses to both Delaware and Charleston, Hofstra still boasts impressive victories over Towson (75-67) and Northeastern (74-72).
The Pride are well coached, experienced, and have the scoring needed to win the CAA. It’ll certainly be intriguing to see where the Pride end up, but one thing is for certain: no one wants to play them early on in the CAA Tournament.
Towson (12-9, 6-3 CAA)
After their impressive victory over W&M on Saturday, some may think that Towson should be placed higher in these rankings — and we honestly couldn’t blame them. Winners of 6-straight, Towson is currently the hottest team in the CAA.
But we dug into their run a bit deeper: before Towson’s 6-game win streak, Towson had lost three in a row to Northeastern, Hofstra, and College of Charleston — losing by an average of 12 points in those contests. Over the Tigers’ 6-game winning streak, their best win came against W&M (with other wins coming against the likes of Elon, JMU, Drexel, and Delaware).
This is not to say Towson is not a force to be reckoned with. The Tigers boast the top scoring defense in the CAA, holding teams to a meager 65.9 points per game; Brian Fobbs (16.2 PPG) and Allen Betrand (13.9) are legit scorers, and the Tigers are absolutely ferocious on the boards — both the offensive and defensive boards.
Moving forward, we would like to see them beat another one of the preseason top-3 (Charleston, Northeastern, Hofstra) before we move them up any higher in these rankings.
Regardless, the Towson Tigers are a tough team that will continue to be extremely difficult to beat; we expect the Tigers to eventually pull off one or two more upsets down the stretch, potentially vaulting them up these rankings in the near future.
Northeastern (11-10, 5-4 CAA)
Northeastern is a hard team to figure out at this point in the season. After starting 3-0 in CAA play, they have gone just 2-4 since. However, in all four of their losses, they lost by just two points each time. One basket was the difference between Northeastern starting 9-0 in CAA play vs. 5-4. But don’t let their record fool you: the Huskies are legit.
Northeastern is a balanced team that boasts the fourth-ranked scoring offense (73.2 PPG) and the second-ranked scoring defense (67.0 PPG). Jordan Roland is the leading scorer in the entire CAA, averaging an insane 23.4 PPG; they also have three scorers averaging double digits: Roland, Tyson Walker (11.6), and Bolden Brace (10.5).
With a little luck, Northeastern could easily finish as the top team in the CAA. And with plenty of basketball left to go, we expect the Huskies to climb up these rankings, maybe even finding their way to the very top. But in their current state, having recently lost to both Delaware and lowly UNCW, they’re going to have to re-earn the league’s respect.
Delaware (15-7, 5-4 CAA)
Delaware played a relatively vanilla OOC schedule before experiencing a rude awakening once conference games began. The Blue Hens started CAA play 2-4, with their only two wins coming against two of the bottom three teams in the league (JMU and UNCW). With that being said, the Blue Hens have recently rebounded (no pun intended), and quite impressively so.
The Hens have won 3 in a row, including back-to-back road victories over powerhouses Hofstra and Northeastern. The Hens, led by the stellar play of Nate Darling (19.7 PPG), currently boast the third-best scoring offense in the CAA.
Delaware is now staring at a crucial three-game home stretch (vs. Drexel, Towson, JMU); like we said for W&M above, we’ll learn a lot about this team over the three-game stretch. If all goes well for them, Delaware can absolutely catapult themselves further up these power rankings by getting the job done at home.
Drexel (12-10, 5-4 CAA)
Drexel is another hard team to figure out: one week they blow out undefeated W&M (84-57), and the next week they experience back-to-back blowout losses to Northeastern (losing by 33 points) and Hofstra (losing by 13 points).
Outside of defeating W&M, Drexel does not hold any other impressive victories so far this season, as they’ve lost to to Northeastern, Towson, Hofstra, and Charleston.
The trio of Camren Winter (14.9 PPG), James Butler (13.0 PPG, 11.8 RPG), and Zach Walton (12.8 PPG) have the ability to keep the Dragons in games, but we’d like to see more consistency in Drexel down the stretch before moving them up in our power rankings.
UNCW (7-15, 2-7 CAA)
Since firing C.B. McGrath as head coach three games ago, UNCW has been nothing short of spectacular. Don’t believe us? Before new “interim” head coach Rob Burke took over, UNCW was 5-14, and 0-6 in CAA play — firmly in the CAA cellar.
Burke’s first three opponents? Oh, they were just Hofstra, Northeastern, and Charleston. Just about every CAA fan would have predicted the Seahawks to lose all three, extending their losing streak to 0-9 in the CAA.
So what happened instead? UNCW won two out of three, knocking off Northeastern and Charleston in back-to-back contests. Heck, they could have gone 3-0 in that stretch, as they just barely lost to Hofstra, 63-61. The Seahawks are a completely different team under new coach Rob Burke, and we’re excited to see how the rest of the season plays out for this team.
And hey — want to give Burke a new contract now?
Elon (6-16, 2-7 CAA)
Elon was picked to finish last in the CAA at the beginning of the season; suffice to say, they are currently second-to-last in our power rankings. The Phoenix ranks dead last in scoring offense in the league, and 8th in scoring defense — certainly not a recipe for success.
They do have some talent though, as three scorers average double digits, including a CAA top-10 scorer in Marcus Sheffield (16.9 PPG). The other two double digit scorers, Hunter Woods (10.5) and Hunter McIntosh (10.3) are both freshman, so the future is bright for the Phoenix.
However, this will not be the year they make any noise (or at least, we don’t think).
JMU (8-12, 1-8 CAA)
JMU has far and away been the biggest disappointment so far this season. Picked 4th in the preseason poll, the Dukes find themselves alone at the bottom of the CAA through the first five weeks of conference play, leaving some to wonder how much time current head coach and JMU alum Louis Rowe has left in Harrisonburg.
The Dukes actually boast the second-highest scoring offense in the league, led by junior Matt Lewis (18.5 PPG), but they also boast a horrendous defense that is ranked as the worst in the league, at least statistically speaking. Perhaps it’s a new system that’s needed, but JMU’s demise does not seem to be related to the talent level of its players — as evidenced by their high preseason ranking.
Their lone CAA win came against UNCW, and seeing how great UNCW is playing under their new head coach, we doubt the Dukes will be able to pull out another victory against the Hawks.
Things look bleak in Harrisonburg, but hey, they did just make the National Championship in Football…so Dukes fans can take solace in that…hopefully.