It was another interesting week in Mid Majors Basketball. Three teams separated themselves from the rest of the pack in the CAA. The Missouri Valley looks like a free-for-all. In the West Coast Conference, Gonzaga and Saint Mary's will not have as easy a run as they might have thought. And the Horizon looks to be very entertaining. And finally, Davidson runs into another Top Ten team.
I will get to the CAA in depth later. First, the Missouri Valley looks to be back to its wild wild self. In the span of a week, Illinois State went from an undefeated team to a two loss fourth place team, tied along with Creighton and Evansville at 3-2 in conference. The Redbirds first lost at Bradley 56-52 on Tuesday, then lost in overtime at Indiana State yesterday 75-70. Bradley, who entered yesterday's home game with Creighton undefeated in conference, left with a 4-1 record after the Blue Jays came away with a 73-64 road win. Meanwhile, Northern Iowa continues to fly under the radar with a 78-64 win over Missouri State. The Panthers have won four straight conference games after losing their first of the season to Indiana State, in no surprise with the Sycamores, in overtime. Drake tries to make it a three way tie for first when they host Wichita State this evening.
I was able to stay up late Friday night and after watching an entertaining overtime battle of Wisconsin in the Horizon on ESPNU (more on that later), I was treated to an absolute dandy. In the first WCC conference game of the season, St Mary's had to battle from behind to beat a pesky Santa Clara team, 63-62. Patty Mills drained a three with 2.6 seconds left to win the game for the Gaels. It was a battle between Mills and Broncos super freshman Kevin Foster, each of whom had 31 points. Foster, who hit big shot after big shot, had nailed his own three point shot with 12 seconds left to put the Broncos up 62-60 to setup the climatic ending.
The now 14-1 Gaels probably didn't expect such a battle from now 7-10 Santa Clara. But upon closer examination, the Broncos lost several close games to Arizona, Georgia, and UAB. The Broncos not only have super frosh Foster, who went 11 of 19 from the field including 5 of 9 from beyond the arc, but also all conference big man John Bryant who averages 17 points and 12 rebounds per game. However, Bryant ran into the Gaels' own terrific big man, Omar "Mr. Sandman" Samhan. Samhan held Bryant to only 8 points and 9 rebounds, both below his season averages. Samhan himself was held to 8 points but had 15 rebounds (seven of them offensive rebounds) and 4 blocks. Samhan was often double teamed by Bryant and another Bronco. Fellow Gael big man, Diamon Simpson again struggled, with only 9 points on 2 of 9 shooting, but Simpson did add 11 rebounds. Samhan and Simpson each now average double doubles on the season.
As I mentioned, prior to the Gaels/Broncos game, I got a chance to watch the second half of the battle of Horizon Wisconsin as Wisconsin Green Bay outlasted Wisconsin Milwaukee 77-75 in overtime. It was the first loss in conference for the Panthers who are now 5-1 in conference. In fairness to the Phoenix, the Panthers were lucky to even get to overtime. Wisc-Green Bay led for almost the entire game, often by double digits. In fact, when Wisconsin Milwaukee made an 11-1 run in the last 5 minutes capped by "Big Lumber" James Eayers three pointer with 13 seconds left, that was the first time all game that the Panthers had actually were even with the Phoenix. After the Panthers missed a chance to win the game in regulation, the teams traded the lead for the next four minutes until the Phoenix' hit the final four free throws to win the game. By the way, Eayers is 6 foot 7 340 pounds and can shoot the three (37.5 percent from three). He is huge! But he can shoot!
The Horizon looks to be a very competitive league with Butler atop in first and Wisconsin- Milwaukee, Wisconsin Green Bay and Cleveland State not far behind. Don't forget about Brad Brownell's Wright State who are 3-3 in conference but have won seven of their last eight. With five competitive teams, the Horizon tournament could be a real treat for the league's fans.
Davidson met Duke this Wednesday in a nationally televised game. Duke held off Davidson 79-67. Stephen Curry, despite shooting 1 of 8 from beyond the arc, scored 29 points on 10 of 22 from the field and eight of nine from the line. That was the most points given up by Duke to a player this year. Curry almost singlehandedly brought the Wildcats back in the game. Down 57-31 with 14:34 left, Curry scored 14 points and had 4 assists in a ten minute stretch to bring the Wildcats back to within eight
The funny thing is that one of the analysts covering this game for ESPN actually questioned how successful Stephen Curry would be in the NBA. Even funnier, earlier in the day, that analyst, Jeff Van Gundy, was on ESPN 1050 in New York with Michael Kay. Van Gundy and Kay especially compared Curry to JJ Redding on Duke. JJ Redding? I watched Redding a lot while at Duke. He was a great long range three point shooter who could come off screens and hit a shot. But I rarely ever saw him drive the lane, create his own shot or handle the ball as a point guard. Curry can do all that. Curry can create his own shot, drive the lane and handle the point. I watched Curry perform the sickest crossover dribble against Gonzaga in the NCAA tournament that resulted in two Zags defenders colliding together. Redding could never do that. Curry will be a very successful NBA player and to compare him to JJ Redding is ludicrous. Then again, I shouldn't expect anything less from Michael Kay.
So finally, onto the CAA, my home base. It has been a very interesting week in the CAA. All the teams played four games in seven days. Those seven days turned out to be an excellent barometer of about all the teams. Right now in the CAA, you have the top three teams; George Mason, Northeastern and VCU and the rest of the CAA. Yes, there is a big difference. Let's take a look at all the teams.
The Top Three
1) George Mason (5-0 CAA, 12-3 overall) - A great week for the Patriots. It started with a 41 point home smoking of UNCW 101-60. Then Mason actually had to come back from a second half deficit to defeat pesky Georgia State 58-52. The Patriots then followed with a very solid 71-59 road win over Towson. Finally, George Mason held off ODU 61-53. The key player during this run - senior forward Darryl Monroe. Monroe had a double double in each of the last three games. For the season, Monroe averages nearly 11 points and 9 rebounds a game as well as shooting 64.6 percent from the field. The Patriots lead the CAA in scoring defense, limiting opponents to 59 points per game, second in FG defense at 39.9 percent and second in three point FG percentage defense at 30.9 percent.
2) Northeastern (5-0 CAA, 10-5 overall) - The Huskies were absolutely dominant this past week, winning all four games by double digit margins. It started with a 16 point win over William and Mary as Matt Janning hit five three pointers scoring 22 points. Then the Huskies absolutely pasted Hofstra 73-50 as Manny Adako scored 16 points. Northeastern forced 17 first half Pride turnovers. The Huskies followed that up with an impressive 14 point road win at Georgia State. Finally, the Huskies beat Towson 68-53 as Adako had 24 points and 12 rebounds. The key during this 4-0 week run was the Huskies starting frontcourt. In the last three games, Adako, Eugene Spates and Nkem Ojougboh scored half of the Huskies points in the three games combined, shooting 45 of 67 from the field (67 percent). Hofstra should take a page from Northeastern's notes. The Huskies no longer just rely on Matt Janning
and that makes them very dangerous.
3) VCU (4-1 CAA, 11-5 overall) - The week didn't start well for the Rams as Delaware scorched them from beyond the arc (Hens shot 10 of 18 from three) and the line (27 of 35 free throws). That loss woke up VCU as they blitzed UNCW 88-59 shooting 52 percent from the field including 10 of 19 from beyond the arc. The Rams then absolutely overwhelmed Drexel in the second half of their game, outscoring the Dragons 40-18 as Joey Rodriguez hit 4 of 5 from three. VCU won 75-46. Finally, Eric Maynor scored 21 points, 12 in the second half as VCU pulled away from Hofstra 68-60. The key during their three game win streak was the Rams balance. Larry Sanders, who is becoming a dangerous post presence averaged 15 points in the three wins, while Joey Rodriguez averaged 17 points during the three game stretch. So Eric Maynor now has help on the scoring end as the Rams lead the CAA in scoring offense and field goal percentage.
The Rest of the CAA
4) James Madison (3-2 CAA, 11-6 overall) - The week started off with a disappointment. Ahead 47-39 with 11:45 left, the Dukes went 4 of 9 from the free throw line as the Tigers outscored JMU 19-10 the rest of the way to eek out a one point win, 58-57. The Dukes righted the ship, winning their first CAA game over Drexel 66-60. It was the Dukes first win ever against Drexel. It almost didn't happen as JMU trailed for the entire game before rallying to go up to stay with 1:16 left. Then the Dukes won two impressive road games in a row. The first one was a solid 70-62 win over ODU as JMU shot 66.7 percent from the field with Juwann James leading the way with 24 points. Finally, the Dukes beat William and Mary in Williamsburg 74-65. Madison has been very balanced. They are second in FG percentage at 46.6 percent, first in free throw percentage at 75 percent, second in three point FG percentage, third in three point FG percentage defense and fourth overall in FG percentage defense. The defense is a marked improvement from last year's swiss cheese defense which was last in scoring defense and last in FG percentage defense.
5) Hofstra (2-3 CAA, 10-6 overall) - It was a disappointing week for the Pride as they lost 3 of 4 in the seven days. First Drexel led start to finish in a 63-56 win over Hofstra at Hofstra's Mack Arena. Then came the absolute drubbing by Northeastern 73-50. Then the Pride started playing with better effort, first in a 66-61 win over Delaware. Then despite losing 68-60 to VCU, the Pride stayed close for most of the game, trailing only by one at half and only by four with six minutes left. The Pride held the Rams, who lead the CAA in FG percentage at 47 percent, to 40 percent from the field. The Pride are very good defensively, leading the CAA in FG percentage defense at 38.5 percent and second in rebounding margin and first in blocks. The problem is scoring. The Pride are next to last in the CAA in FG percentage, assists, turnover margin and last in assists to turnover ratio. The Pride need to work the ball more inside, plain and simple.
6) ODU (2-3 CAA, 9-6 overall) - It was an equally disappointing week for the team picked to finish third in the CAA. The Monarchs lost three of four games, starting with a one point loss at Georgia State 55-54. Old Dominion came back to win at William and Mary 62-50. Then came that loss to JMU where the Monarchs were scorched by the Dukes shooting 66.7 percent from the field. Finally the Monarchs lost at Mason 61-53. ODU is first in assists, first in assist to turnover ratio, first in rebounding margin and second to last in free throw percentage. They are the middle of the pack in all other categories which might explain why they are in the middle of the pack. Gerald Lee however, is not in the middle of the pack. Lee averages 15 points per game on 59 percent shooting from the field which is second to Monroe on Mason. The funny thing is that Lee doesn't even average 10 FG attempts a game. Lee also is second in the CAA in free throw percentage. Lee needs to get more touches for ODU to be successful.
7) Drexel (2-3 CAA, 6-8 overall) - Drexel had an up and down seven days. Two wins, two losses. It started with a very solid 63-56 win over Hofstra as Scott Rodgers scored 25 points. Then the Dragons had a chance to make it two in a row vs. JMU. Drexel led the entire way until the very end and the Dukes won. Then came the beatdown at home at the hands of VCU, losing by 29 points. Then Drexel came back with a nice road win 53-50 over Georgia State. The good news for the Dragons is the coming out party of forward Evan Neisler. In the games vs. JMU and Georgia State, Neisler had double doubles and shot over 50 percent in the four games. The bad news is the Dragons can't score. Last in the CAA in scoring offense, FG percentage, three point FG percentage and next to last in free throw percentage. It's amazing they won two games this week. Well considering how Hofstra and Georgia State struggle to score, maybe its not.
8) Towson (2-3 CAA, 7-10 overall) - The Tigers had a good start to their week, winning their first two games, squeakers over JMU and Delaware. In both games, the Tigers came from behind to win. Against JMU, they trailed by as many as eight points in the second half, only to go on a 19-10 run to win the game. Against Delaware, they were also down eight midway through the second half only to come back and win. However, the Tigers would lose their last two games against the two best teams in the CAA, George Mason and Northeastern, by double digits. In fact, the Tigers never led in either game. Towson has one of the stranger stats. They are first in three point field goal percentage defense (30.9 percent) yet they are at the bottom in the field goal percentage defense at 44.2 percent. My guess is that their frontcourt defense is not very good. Also the shooting percentages of Junior Hairston and Josh Thornton are down significantly from last season. Not a good sign for Pat Kennedy and crew.
9) Georgia State (2-3, 4-12 overall) - The Panthers are coming off a 1-3 week. It started off well with their one point win over ODU as Trae Goldston hit a three with 11 seconds left to win the game. It all went down hill after that as the Panthers lost a tough game at Mason by six, then lost two home games in a row to Northeastern and Drexel. The Panthers just struggle to score. The Panthers have not scored more than 68 points since a 80-73 loss to Jacksonville State, a span of eleven games. Their record in those games is 2-9. The Panthers, the chic pick in the CAA due to the article in ESPN touting their all transfer starting lineup, are last in the CAA in free throw percentage, next to last in scoring offense and next to last in three point field goal percentage.
10) William and Mary (1-4 CAA, 6-9 overall) - The Mary had a very tough 1-3 week. Three losses by nine or more points while their only solstice was a 14 point road win over the Denver Nuggets of the CAA, UNCW. The Mary lost by 16 at Northeastern, 12 at home to ODU and 9 at JMU. The Tribe are basically two players - guard David Schneider and forward Danny Sumner, who combined average 30 points per game. Unfortunately the rest of the team only scored 36 points per game. The Mary are in the middle of the road in every CAA category. That results in mediocrity, thus the 1-4 conference record. It doesn't get any easier for last season's darlings as they are home to first place Mason.
11) UNCW (1-4 CAA, 4-13 overall) - The Seahawks had a very rough first three games of the week. UNCW lost their first three games by 41, 29, and 14 points. The Seahawks allowed their opponents to shoot 52, 62 and 57 percent respectively in those three losses. UNCW is last in the CAA in scoring defense at 89 points per game, last in FG percentage defense at 51.8 percent, last in scoring margin at -14 points per game and last in three point FG percentage with 38.8 percent. The next three stats are the most telling however; last in rebounding margin, last in blocked shots and last in turnover margin. The reason they are telling is having watched UNCW vs. Mason, I can tell you the Seahawks have no post presence on defense and are very careless with the ball. Somehow despite all that, the Seahawks came from 12 points behind and beat Delaware at home yesterday 75-72. The reason for that is simple; Delaware has no post presence either. Thus UNCW matches up well with the Fighting Blue Hens. However, they don't match up well with any other team. It will be a long season for Seahawks fans.
12) Delaware (1-4 CAA, 7-10 overall) - The Fighting Blue Hens had the opposite week of the Seahawks. It started out with a great 81-79 win over VCU. Four players scored in double figures as Delaware shot 10 of 18 from beyond the arc and 27 of 35 from the line. Then it all went down hill from there. Three games with leads in all three, resulted in three losses. First was the letdown loss to Towson after winning most of the game. Then, against Hofstra, the Blue Hens won out in the battle of who could play worse, losing 66-61. Then the coup de gras, losing a 12 point lead and the game to the worst defensive team in the CAA, UNCW. The Blue Hens, who rank up with Georgia State as the biggest disappointment in the CAA simply do not have a inside presence. It showed against Hofstra and especially showed against UNCW. Against Hofstra, Delaware's only true post players Jim Ledsome and Adam Pegg had eight points and nine rebounds combined. Against UNCW, the worst team in rebounding, the Seahawks, outrebounded Delaware 33-31.
So it was an interesting week for the CAA. It's only going to get more interesting over the next few weeks. Will Mason, Northeastern and VCU continue to separate themselves from the rest of the CAA? Will JMU move up to the elite group or go back to the pack? Will Hofstra ever learn to work it inside? Will ODU get more guard production? Can the Mary get others to score besides Sumner and Schneider? Will Drexel learn how to shoot? Will Delaware get inside help? Can Georgia State score more than 70 points? Can UNCW give up less than 70 points (HA HA HA)? Tune in to find out.