Delaware’s win over Virginia in the NIT Season Tip-Off gave the Blue Hens a chance to compete in the national spotlight with powerhouse programs Kansas State and Pittsburgh at the illustrious Madison Square Garden last week. In its semifinal game against the Kansas State Wildcats, the Blue Hens were a pair of ill-timed cramps away from pulling off a huge win over Bruce Weber’s new team. Considering that the Blue Hens played most of the second half without Jamelle Hagins, the 66-63 loss to the Wildcats is easily condonable.
Actually, it’s quite unfortunate – Hagins was dominant in the first half, accruing a double-double by halftime, and when Jarvis Threatt began to cramp for the third time in four games, Delaware was forced to play the final five minutes without two of its top three players. The Blue Hens were unable to overcome these personnel issues, despite a heroic effort by Devon Saddler, who put the team on his back in the second half, with 23 points, including a trio of clutch 3-pointers down the stretch.
The Blue Hens were thrashed by the Pittsburgh Panthers in the consolation game, losing 85-59. Dropping a game to Jamie Dixon and Pitt is hardly a reason to fret, especially after an emotional game like the one they plated the night before. Neither Hagins nor Threatt was particularly effective, and Threatt suffered an abdominal injury in the Pitt game. As a rising star in the CAA, his absence (along with senior forward Josh Brinkley’s) cost the Blue Hens dearly in their November 24th loss to the Temple Owls.
Despite a career-high 29 points from Hagins, the Blue Hens were unable to pull out the big road win in Philadelphia, as they fell to the Owls 80-75 last Saturday. Taking into account that Delaware shot 56.9% from the field, it was an incredibly frustrating game. The 11 3-pointers made by the Owls turned out to be the difference, and not having Threatt as a ball handler put added pressure on Saddler, who committed six turnovers. The three losses to Kansas State, Pittsburgh and Temple are hardly a reason to worry – missed opportunities, but those are three good teams, and given the injury situation, it’s understandable.
The reason for concern came Wednesday, November 28th, when the Blue Hens dropped a road game to the Lafayette Leopards, who picked up just their second win of the season. Despite the fact that Hagins pulled only just three fewer rebounds than the entire Leopards’ team (the man had 23 rebounds, 18 points and five blocks) Delaware was doomed by its poor shooting from the field. The injuries to Threatt and Brinkley forced Hagins, Saddler, and sophomore Kyle Anderson to play the entire 40-minute game, and the latter duo took more shots than John Daly at an open bar.
The road trip will finally come to an end Saturday, after one final stop in Durham, North Carolina. Unfortunately, Delaware will take on the hottest (best?) team in the country, and will once again be without the services of Threatt. The Duke Blue Devils are on an absolute tear, with three wins against Top-5 teams, including neutral court victories over 2012 National Champion Kentucky and runner-up Louisville. I never like to see a team drop from the top spot if they haven’t suffered a loss, but I think Duke’s most recent victory over Ohio State parlayed with the media’s eternal infatuation with the Blue Devils will give them a chance to overtake the Indiana Hoosiers for the number-one spot in the polls.
Regardless of the outcome of Saturday’s game with the Blue Devils, I’m still a huge fan of this Delaware team. It may be my Virginia bias, more specifically my Richmond bias (Threatt is a Springer, just like my father) but Monte Ross and staff have pulled found some gems from a state littered with solid mid-major teams. If they can get a healthy Threatt back AND keep the rest of the roster healthy, they’ll be as dangerous as any team in the CAA.
I’ll give you five reasons to believe in the Blue Hens:
1. They have the best inside-outside duo in the CAA.
-Saddler was phenomenal last week, as he averaged 28.3 points per game en route to CAA Player of the Week honors. He’s currently the leading scorer in the conference. Hagins is going straight Millsap/Fareid on the glass, evidenced by his 13.4 rebounds per game, which currently ranks third in the country. If he can have a big game against Duke, he should be this week’s CAA Player of the Week. One more note on Saddler: He’s doing 70.7% of his scoring in the second half, shooting 51.4% from the field in the second half (versus 30% in the first half). He proved last week versus Kansas State that he’s undaunted by the task of being “the man” down the stretch of a big game.
2. The brutal early schedule will set them up for future success.
-Yes, we all wish the Blue Hens could have picked up a few big non-conference wins, but playing tough opponents early in the season will get them ready for conference play. To see how this can help a mid-major, look at the Long Beach State 49ers. Every year they play one of the toughest non-conference slates in the entire country, and even though they lose a share of those games, they always come out ready for conference play. They’ve gone 29-3 in conference play over the past two seasons, which can be attributed to their willingness to play elite teams early in the season. While I don’t expect anyone will dominate conference play the way Drexel did last year, a 14-4/13-5 conference record isn’t out of the question for some these teams with strong backcourts. The win over UVA will become more significant as the year goes on, as the young Cavaliers are already starting to put it together. The Blue Hens have a chance to pick up another big win in a few weeks when they visit Villanova.
3. Heading into February last season, the Blue Hens were just 5-6 in conference play, and 9-12 overall.
-Delaware is no stranger to non-conference struggles, as it went 5-6 in the non-conference schedule last year. Starting February 1st, they rode an eight-game winning streak into the conference tournament, and this year it won’t even be possible for them to play in the Friday matchup.
4. They have yet to play a single game at the Bob Carpenter Center.
-On December 4th, they will FINALLY play their first home game against the Radford Highlanders. The Blue Hens have the 12th latest home opener in Division 1 this year.
5. No team in the CAA is running away with the conference.
-Delaware has as much talent as any team in the CAA, and I don’t see any one team running away with this conference, which works in Delaware’s favor for now.
Tune into ESPN3 at 2 this afternoon, to watch the Blue Hens take on the Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
It’s the first of December: the final month of the year, or possibly the final three weeks of universal existence, if you’re one of those superstitious locos.
Friday, November 30th was a monumental day for the CAA. I’ll adhere to the pleas of Hofstra’s most ardent supporter, and start with some very positive, very important news:
The College of Charleston’s decision to join the CAA in the summer of 2013 was certainly the bright spot of the final day of November. The Cougars will be a very welcome addition, as they’ve enjoyed some early season success, including a big win at Baylor last Saturday. Mark Selig points out that the current RPI suggests that the Cougars would be a threat to contend in the CAA this year.
And now for the terribly devastating part of Friday’s news. It was an unfortunately catastrophic day for the Hofstra Pride, who now must prepare to move on without sophomore Shaquille Stokes and three freshmen, including stud frosh Jimmy Hall. If they are kicked out of school, I bet Mark Turgeon could find a way to get them eligible in time for the spring semester…
Some quick thoughts from around the CAA:
Since we’ve covered the struggles of the two teams picked to finish at the top of the standings, it’s only fair to speculate which teams could rise up and take the crown. George Mason (5-2) currently sits in first place, and it’ll only get better as the players get more time to play together. This is a team replacing so many key cogs, most notably 2012 CAA Player of the Year Ryan Pearson. They’ll need someone other than Sherrod Wright to step up and join in the scoring. This will be a balanced, talented team that has as good of a chance as any to make a run at the conference championship.
ODU was picked to finish fourth in the conference, and their struggles should be expected for a team trying to replace its winningest senior class in school history. The Monarchs will improve, and they need a certain pair of ACC transfers to step up. They should be in a good position to play spoiler come conference play because they are still such a strong rebounding team.
I really want to believe that Northeastern can make the necessary jump to contend for the conference title, but losing at home to Maine hurt that notion. Still, this team had an impressive showing in the Great Alaskan Shootout, and when Jon Lee comes back, the Huskies will create a ton of matchup problems for their opponents, who will have to consider the scoring abilities of Lee, Quincy Ford, Joel Smith, and Reggie Spencer. The key for Northeastern will be bench play.
And now, my first attempt at predictions. It may be the only one for a long time, depending how it goes.
-Rider and Drexel kick it off in a noon game. Rider is 4-4 and winless in its two road games. Those road games were against tough opponents, and Drexel should be no different. I’m going Drexel here.
-Duke and Delaware play at 2. After all the nice things I just said about Delaware, I’m not so sure how this one will go. Duke is the pick here, but I’d love to be wrong.
-JMU hosts the 2-3 Winthrop Eagles at 4 p.m. JMU lost a heartbreaker to George Washington on Wednesday, 54-53. I think the JMU Dukes will rise up and pick up their first home win of the year.
-The opening tip for SMU and Hofstra is also set for 4 p.m. Hofstra’s suspensions have decimated its depth, and SMU is 7-1. SMU takes advantage of a Hofstra team that now must do some soul-searching.
-UNCW travels to Huntington to face the Marshall Thundering Herd. Marshall’s point guard DeAndre Kane is its best player, averaging 8.9 assists thus far, and the Seahawks’ backcourt woes are well-documented. I think Marshall stays undefeated at home.
-Towson plays another non-home game in Baltimore, as they take on the UMBC Terriers. UMBC had only four wins last year. Then again, Towson only had one. Both teams have suffered double-digit defeats to the Loyola (Md.) Greyhounds. I’ll take an improving Towson squad to win its first road game since a 93-90 overtime win against La Salle on December 29th, 2010.
And most importantly…
W&M will host ODU in the first CAA conference game at 7 p.m in the Kaplan Arena as part of the Optima Health Challenge.
Both teams have been somewhat disappointing to date. The Tribe probably aren’t sweating a 3-3 start, but they have to be a bit disappointed that they’ve dropped three games in a row, including games at Wake Forest and Richmond where they played well enough to win.
I guess if you have to look at ODU’s season objectively, things can only get better, right? The struggles continued last week, with a 76-71 loss to VMI. It was ODU’s first loss to the Keydets since the ’77-’78 season, as they snapped a 12-game losing streak to the Monarchs. They hung tough on the road against a good Murray State team in a 79-72 loss. It’s been a rough start for the Monarchs, but they’ve been just a few buckets and defensive stops away from a few more wins.
The Monarchs have won nine straight in this series. I’ll put some faith in the Tribe to get off the snide, but this battle for Tidewater supremacy should be great. Since it’s a conference game I’ll try my luck with a score: W&M 64, ODU 62
Enjoy a great day of college basketball and football!