Depending upon how you choose to do the math, today begins the dreaded four-in-eight stretch for CAA teams. Or five-in-11.
For the uninitiated, because during his reign in the 1500s Pope Gregory XIII was unable to foresee Tom Yeager’s plan to expand the CAA to 12 teams–nor anticipate the scourge that is ESPNs Bracketbusters–our calendar has one fewer week than it needs in order for the 18-game CAA season to play out on a Wednesday-Saturday rhtythm.
That’s why we have the weird single game in early December, and that’s why there’s one week each season, if the calendar cooperates, the conference plops a Monday game in the middle of the normal flow. Hence, we get games on Wednesday, Saturday, Monday, Wednesday, Saturday.
Now, the way I choose to do the math is to include tonight’s games and next Saturday so that we play five-in-11. (Or five-in-10 days if you’re Shaka Smart or Tony Shaver.)
However you choose to do the math, fans love it but coaches hate it. I have the answer that would make everyone happy. But anyway, this stretch falls in a key moment for our six contenders for four spots.
Mason has the best/easiest road. Four of the five are at home, against Delaware, Towson, UNCW, and JMU. The one roadie is at Hofstra. I believe the Patriots are staring at 10-1. (Side note: we’re fans. We don’t have to take them one game at a time. Get over it.)
Drexel has three at home and the second easiest tour: Northeastern, Georgia State, and Delaware visit the DAC. The Dragons are on The Island tonight and head to Williamsburg on Monday. I can see 8-2 clearly, but 7-3 is no disaster.
Old Dominion is at Towson, at VCU, home to Northeastern, at UNCW, then home to William & Mary. No horrible road trips, unless you count the low mile, high octane VCU game. I think ODU hits the end of this month 8-2.
VCU bookends big games after tomorrow’s game with the Tribe. The Rams host ODU and Hofstra before traveling to Towson and finally to Georgia State. I can easily see 7-2 and a plane ride to Atlanta with a lot on the line.
The Panthers play ping pong after tonight’s Matthews visit: at Delaware, home JMU, at Drexel, home VCU. Interestingly, I think the Panthers drop one of the roadies with NU (spoiler alert???), YouDee, or DeeYou. They may also be 7-2 hosting VCU.
Northeastern is front loaded and has a brutal stretch–the Huskies host Georgia State, travel to Drexel, then to ODU, before coming home for Delaware and Hofstra. Icky-poo. Let’s say they win those last two homers and lose two of three of the first troika. That leaves an opportunity for a good vibrations 3-2 stretch. Not possible? We were saying the same kinds of things about Georgia State’s run through Virginia two weeks ago.
However tonight’s games (and we’ll co-opt W&M/VCU into the mix) have their own storylines. The top eye-catcher in my mind is the possibility that we’ll start to see some separation in the standings. Four of the six teams in the 5-1/4-2 donnybrook play four of the six teams in the 3-3/below scrumshackle.
The lone game of the contenders matches Georgia State and Northeastern, and that features the subplot of being a game that may be a race to 50 points. So let’s start there.
Georgia State (5-1) at Northeastern (4-2): I admit I’m still a little weirded out that NU is 1-2 at home and 3-0 on the road. The Huskies have traditionally struggled on the road and made life tough for the visitors.
The big question in my mind is whether or not someone not named Lee or Smith can lead NU to victory. Here’s what I mean: that Georgia State zone is death to perimeter attacks. The Panthers move very well and don’t get enough credit for their communication on defense–they do an outstanding job recovering to the point of attack.
However the zone can be exploited from the sides and baseline–the faster you can pass the ball side-to-side, the more openings you can create. The key for NU is getting Qunicy Ford the ball in the low perimeter, or Ryan Pierson’s ability to pass from the deep low block.
Lazy passes will doom NU. Also, neither team is exactly gifted offensively, and both play hard-nosed defense. Somebody finishes in the 40s.
Georgia State 54, Northeastern 49.
Delaware at George Mason: This game will be the most fun to watch take shape. Will it become a boxing match down low–Hagins and Brinkley versus Pearson and Morrison? Or will Devon Saddler and Andre Cornelius trade Barea Dashes up and down the court?
This is the sit back and enjoy matchup of the night, but we like the Patriots here for one reason–more depth at the guard spot. Plus, it feels like Vaughan Gray is getting better, and the YouDee freshmen (Kyle Anderson and Khalid Lewis) have tippy-toed up to the freshman wall.
Assuming the Mason guards don’t star firing passes to our loyal readers and hot dog vendors, the Patriots should slowly pull away.
Mason 69, Delaware 62.
Drexel at Hofstra: When we were plotting our one-week view of The Association last week, we saw this as the trap game for the Dragons. We’ve not changed our minds and if anything believe this to be a major trapper.
Hofstra has lost five of its six CAA games by a total of 19 points. I’m a believer that breaks eventually even out. Plus, the Dutchmen are not really desperate as much as they are hopeful. Even after the tough ODU loss on Saturday, the team had good body language.
You take that, plus Hofstra at home, plus HU being able to rebound with Drexel, plus Drexel feeling very good about themselves right now–and add Brusier Flint’s annual trepidation of his players back home playing in front of family and friends–and you have a great big Trap Stew.
My choice is just like when you catch the ball in the middle of a press–you have to look opposite.
Drexel 64, Hofstra 58.
JMU at UNCW: Buzz Peterson, suspended because he was double-t’d and tossed from Saturday’s JMU game, had the second best line of the week when he said that he wasn’t sure where he’d be during this game, that he may be at Ruth’s Chris eating dinner with his wife. Culinary tip–Wilmington has far better choices for dinner.
As for the game, it’s a matter of confidence. The Dubmen made just 10-35 threes in two double-digit losses last week and have struggled to defend five dead guys propped up. James Madison has lost five straight in the CAA and not topped 40 percent shooting from the field during its skid, hitting a combined 105-of-282 (37 percent).
We fall back on old habits for games like this: if the differentiator is how you’re feeling, give me the home team.
UNCW 80, JMU 72.
Old Dominion at Towson: This is the first of the rematch games in the Association. The Monarchs took down Towson 75-38 on January 7.
Really, its’ about progress for both teams. ODU needs to avoid the early hole it finds itself in every game, and Towson just needs to “play well.” This means fewer turnovers, hitting the glass, and 40 minutes of defense.
Old Dominion 65, Towson 45.
William & Mary at VCU: You can throw the records out when these two teams get together, and it isn’t because of a heated rivalry. Tony Shaver just always seems to be so prepared for VCU they confound the Rams. Last year VCU hung on at home 59-55 when Quinn McDowell inexplicably missed a late free throw.
These two programs have been linked in odd ways for years. Shaver’s son Austin was on Anthony Grants’s staff when the Tribe beat VCU in the 2008 CAA tournament. It produced one of the great alltime CAA anecdotes. After the upset win the younger Shaver was expectedly unsure how he should react. Grant put him at ease with a direct “Austin, you can be happy for your father; nobody is questioning your loyalty” handling of the situation.
Tonight, we have last year’s W&M assistant Jamion Christian–one of the great young minds in the CAA–now working this year for Shaka Smart. Without a single bit of negativity or untoward thoughts, this is an advantage for VCU. It’s just a fact.
For William & Mary to compete, they are going to need to grab those bloodhound rebounds–missed threes that bound away and are tracked down by a guard, or hustling big man. I’m looking at you, Kendrix Brown. Also, Marcus Thornton and Quinn McDowell need 15 shots. Each, not combined. We’ll get deeper into the importance of bloodhound rebounds in the coming days.
VCU 74, William & Mary 58.
Buzz Peterson’s line was the second best of the week. The best belongs to Shaka Smart (courtesy Tim Pearrell):
“The day after the Drexel (loss), we turned the clock off (in practice) and told the guys, ‘It doesn’t matter how long we’re here. We could be here forever. But we’re going to get this stuff right.’ That helped our guys realize it’s not a matter of getting through a drill or trying to get to the next thing. It’s a matter of doing what you’re doing at a high level.”