It’s the final Wednesday of January. Here’s where we stand:
Delaware (14-7, 6-0): Winners of eight in a row, the Blue Hens are the clear cream of the crop so far this season. And although most of us had them fourth in the preseason polls (and I fought the urge to put them behind W&M), we really shouldn’t be that surprised by their fast start to conference play. Yes, they lost their starting frontcourt from last season, but the guards have always dominated this team.
We all recognize how good Jamelle Hagins was, but we also knew he wasn’t as big of a part of the offense as he could’ve/should’ve been. We recognized the massive void he’d leave defensively, but when you can score rapidly while playing mistake-free basketball, you can keep teams from establishing their halfcourt offenses.
We also discounted the potential for improved play from the returning players. Devon Saddler and Jarvis Threatt spearhead an offense that is both fast (adjusted tempo of 73.4 possessions per game, ninth in D-I) and efficient (turnover rate of 14.5%, 11th in D-I). Saddler is shooting (eFG 58%) the ball better than ever before, and Davon Usher, Kyle Anderson and Devonne Pinkard have helped the Blue Hens evolve into an above-average shooting team.
Towson (13-8, 4-2): The Tigers went to Newark for a basketball game, and found themselves in a track meet — never something you want to do against Monte Ross’ squad. Sure enough, Delaware’s tempo won out, and the turnover-prone Tigers were just that (17 giveaways). Skerry’s squad rebounded in a big way Monday Night when it defeated visiting Hofstra by 18. Five Tigers scored in double figures, and the they enjoyed a hefty advantage at the foul line (31 attempts for Towson, just nine for Hofstra).
As we enter February and it really starts to dawn on the seniors that this is their last hurrah, expect more big games from Mike Burwell, Marcus Damas and Rafriel Guthrie. Benimon’s already playing a ridiculously high level, but maybe we’ll see a 30-20 game somewhere down the line.
William & Mary (12-7, 4-2): The Tribe picked up two huge wins. One, a road game at Drexel, was the type this team would not have closed out last season. But this year, Marcus Thornton looks ready to be the closer, as he hit the game-winning three, and got the Tribe on SportsCenter’s Top 10. Monday, the uber-efficient offense went back to Kaplan, scored 1.21 points per possession, and beat visiting Charleston by 11.
Needless to say, tonight’s game with Delaware is huge.
Northeastern (7-14, 4-3): The Huskies have won three of their last four games, with the three wins coming on the road. The most recent win was a 70-57 win at Hofstra, where Demetrius Pollard hit six 3-pointers and scored a game-high 25 points. Their road successes shouldn’t be a surprise because like Monté Ross, Bill Coen follows the Dan Monson model (or the anti-Boeheim model — I’m sure there are better examples throughout history, but in the Information Age it works), and will play any team anywhere at any time during the nonconference schedule. It’s not a coincidence Northeastern has played well within the conference in each of the last three seasons. With a home win tonight, the Huskies could put themselves in position to make some noise in the month of February.
Hofstra (7-14, 3-3): The Pride has dropped two in a row, but the scoring’s been a bit more balanced. Still, the Pride’s start has garnered some positive publicity.
Charleston (11-11, 3-4): A road trip to Virginia didn’t go well, as the Cougars dropped games in Harrisonburg and Williamsburg. This talented group just hasn’t gelled offensively. I think, for this team to play the style it wants to play, Adjehi Baru needs more touches. The Cougars had a lot of success pounding the ball inside against a smaller James Madison team. I realize he commits a lot of turnovers and isn’t a good free-throw shooter, but quick passes to the paint could cause defenses to be a step behind on the outlet passes back to the perimeter shooters. Even if those shots from outside don’t fall, Willis Hall will probably get the rebound.
Drexel (10-9, 2-4): The injured guys are back on the floor, but Dan Crain wonders if that’s a good thing. Crain also studies the effect of Frantz Massenat on Chris Fouch. In terms of team morale, tonight’s game at Hofstra is huge.
James Madison (7-13, 2-4): Gutsy win at home against Charleston. If Saturday was a preview of what Jackson Kent can give JMU, Matt Brady’s got a real player. You could see Kent brimming with confidence after his first 3-pointer rattled in, but I was more impressed to see him working down low and finishing through contact. I have to assume that Brady and Mike Deane give him a lot of flack because they love his potential, and a summer in the weight room will do wonders for this kid. I also thought Yohanny Dalembert put in some good minutes down low (showed nice poise, touch on his one basket, during which he faked two defenders into the air), and freshman Tom Vodanovich is a broke man’s Willis Hall.
UNCW (6-15, 0-6): For a team that’s lost 10 games in a row, huge gaps between games can only help, right?
As the conference season nears its halfway point, every game matters. Wednesday’s slate is no different, as all three games contain various levels of intrigue.
James Madison (2-4) at Northeastern (4-3) — 7 p.m.
The Dukes are riding a bit of momentum, having protected their shiny new home floor against College of Charleston and snapped a four-game conference losing streak Saturday with a nice 58-56 win.
Freshman guard Jackson Kent had a breakout game against the Cougs, leading JMU with a career-high 17 points. Kent, who shot 50% from long range, provided a nice supplement to the always entertaining Andre Nation, who knotted 15 points. Ron Curry hit a free throw with 27 seconds left to put JMU up by two, and the Dukes held on for a much-needed win.
The question is, can JMU keep the streak alive against a confusingly good Northeastern squad?
The Huskies come in with a bit of momentum of their own — wins over conference heavyweight Towson, up-and-comer Hofstra and a close loss against the ever-persistent Delaware Blue Hens. In Northeastern’s most recent outing, Demetrius Pollard was as hot as you can get from beyond the arc (6-of-8), and his 25 points slightly eclipsed the Scott Eatherton Show (18 points), for the night at least.
A few weeks ago, the Huskies edged JMU at the Convo in what (one can only assume) was an ugly 56-52 game. Neither team shot particularly well, and both benches managed a measly seven points each.
If JMU’s youth movement can put together a nice game, I’ll give the Dukes a chance, but otherwise, give me the Huskies.
Northeastern 66, JMU 59
Drexel (2-4) at Hofstra (3-3)
Bru’s Crew hasn’t had it easy the last two times out — a 90-77 drubbing at the hands of the Blue Hens and Marcus Thornton’s icy three-point buzzer beater — but things might be starting to look up for the Dragons.
The Dragons are slowly starting to regain their health, and in the wide open CAA, they’ve still got a shot. When you’ve got Chris Fouch (who had an out-of-his-mind 31 points against the Tribe) and Frantz Massenat (19 points against W&M), you’ve always got a chance. When you combine Fouch and Massenat with the return of Dartaye Ruffin and Kazembe Abif, you’ve got a dangerous team with plenty of time left to make a statement. Drexel’s got a relatively manageable schedule down the stretch, but badly needs a win in order to get back in the race.
On the other side, Hofstra has basically won the games it was supposed to win (C of C, UNCW, and a nice win over W&M) and lost the games it was supposed to lose (Delaware, Northeastern, Towson), all by convincing margins. I’m going to stick with that trend, and as much as I like the scrappy Pride, I have a hard time believing that Drexel is going to let this one slip away.
Drexel 72, Hofstra 61
Delaware at William & Mary
Ah, here we go. The marquee matchup of the day.
For the Tribe, the stakes are high. William & Mary is arguably the hottest team in the league (besides Delaware of course, but we’ll get to that). Thornton’s SportsCenter-worthy buzzer beater against Drexel (yes, we are still talking about that) and a gutsy come-from-behind win over Charleston (the “other” College) have the Tribe sitting at 4-2 and tied for second place in the conference.
The stakes aren’t quite as high for YouDee, but it’s still a big game. The Blue Hens are undefeated in league play, and eked out a 76-71 win over the College in Newark earlier in the year. Delaware has been good all year, but its safe to say that Monte Ross’ group has found its groove as of late.
Of course Devon Saddler is really good, but the other guys can play too. Jarvis Threatt, Davon Usher and Kyle Anderson are all proven scorers, and give Delaware plenty of different options on offense. Interestingly, the Hens haven’t done much damage from beyond the arc as of late, but I wouldn’t count on that for too long.
This game will be a classic strength-on-strength type of game. Both offenses are difficult to stop when firing on all cylinders, and if both squads are shooting well, it’s going to come down to which defense can get more stops. Thornton was held in check against Delaware the first time around, it will be interesting to see if that’s the case Wednesday in Williamsburg.
If the Tribe wins this game, it will send a pretty big signal to the rest of the league. But as good as Tony’s team has looked lately, Delaware has been playing lights-out lately against the conference’s best, and doesn’t look to be slowing down. The tide may turn at some point this season, but right now, the Hens are too good to pick against.
Delaware 81, William & Mary 77
– Mike Barnes