Ahh, semi-random chance. That silent, unaccounted for dagger that slinks in through the window in the middle of the night cuts off your point guard’s index fingers.
It’s not being talked about, but George Mason got what we cynics like to affectionately refer to as “the elevator shaft” when it comes to scheduling this season. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Five games into conference play, let’s break it down:
Each CAA school plays 18 regular season conference games. Since there are only 11 teams participating in CAA regular season play, after the departure of Lord Shaka and they-who-must-not-be-named, that means each school will play eight of the other 10 teams twice.
For a nice benchmark, let’s take a peek at JMU’s conference schedule. To start with, the Dukes get a shot at all of their Virginia neighbors twice. So that’s two games against Mason (3-2), two games against William & Mary (1-4), and two games against Old Dominion (0-5). Other second-date options include Towson (4-1), Georgia State (2-3), Delaware (3-1), and Drexel (1-3). Looks like we’ve got a nice mix there.
Now, let’s switch over to Mason’s schedule. The first thing I notice, looking at ESPN’s greened out 2013 George Mason Patriots page, is two big red and black “N’s.” Guess that means Northeastern is on the docket twice.
Towson. Yep. Delaware? Say hello to Joe Flacco. JMU? Weekend before my birthday. Hofstra? I bet New York is nice this time of year
In an 11-team conference, the fightin’ Sherrod Wrights managed to draw the top five teams in the conference not named George Mason, twice.
But it goes beyond that. Hope the Patriots enjoyed that blood feud win over JMU in the Battle of I-81, part one, because that kicks off a road trip that’s gonna make U2′s European tour look like a lazy college Sunday. They’ll get Hofstra at home on Saturday before playing at second-place Towson mid-next week and first-place Northeastern three days after that.
But it’s not over. Bruiser Flint’s preseason favorite squad comes to Fairfax after that, and Drexel might be just healed up enough by the end of January to make some noise. Two days later, the Patriots trek down for the Battle of I-81, part 2, to play a likely pissed off JMU team. If there’s still some semblance of a team left after all that, Mason goes to Old Dominion two days after that, in a game where the Patriots might be so exhausted, I think the Monarchs might outrebound them by 1000.
Oh yeah, and then there’s (currently) third-place Delaware.
Remember that thing about the elevator shaft? Now’s when it comes into play. Because by the time the Patriots have finished this run of games, it’s going to feel like they got the shaft. After having an elevator dropped on their heads.
Sherrod Wright has the inside track to a first-team all-conference selection, and he’s got a nice ensemble cast around him that can step up to do different things well each night. But where the Patriots are seeded in March, and whether or not they make it back to the NCAA tournament this season, will depend heavily on how the team navigates through the coming days.
Northeastern might be in prime condition to run away with the regular season if Towson can’t hold serve at home over the next week (JMU Saturday; Georgia State Monday; Mason Wednesday), but I’m not counting a sharpshooting team like Mason out just yet.
After all, a runaway conference winner in January?
The CAA is always more interesting than that.
If anyone was worried that Towson might come unraveled after its home loss to Northeastern, Pat Skerry and Company put those concerns to rest. On a night when Jamelle Hagins scored his 1000th career point, and became Delaware’s all-time leading rebounder, Towson left The Bob with a 69-66 win over the Blue Hens, and improved to 4-1 in the CAA.
The Blue Hens will look back on this game and cringe. Devon Saddler forced a steal with 11 seconds remaining, but two freshmen (Terrell Rogers and Marvin King-Davis) both missed good looks that would’ve give the Blue Hens a one-point lead. Rogers’s jumper came from about eight feet out, but he looked hesitant about taking the big shot. King-Davis’s miss hurt even more, and his putback from the right side of the rim was no good.
The heavyweight bout (for us anyway) featured 10 lead changes, and very poor three-point shooting, which can be expected from two of the least efficient three-point shooting teams in the league. They combined to make just one three in 17 attempts. It was the first time in 675 games the Blue Hens went without a three (0-of-8). That goes back to November 28th, 1990, before most of the players were even born.
That was one of the biggest anomalies in a game full of weird statistics. Jerrelle Benimon had eight turnovers by himself, which was two less than Delaware’s whole team. His five assists were a game-high, and his 19 points and 13 rebounds put him at two under par. He was the primary reason Towson outrebounded Delaware 37-30, and was probably the main benefactor to holding Hagins below double-digit rebounds for the third straight game.
We’ve harped on the fact that Devon Saddler needs to get his points efficiently, so you know how we feel about his 4-of-13 shooting performance. He was 8-of-8 from the foul line, where the typically solid Blue Hens made 24-of-27 attempts. But they continue to play a ton of one-on-one ball, evidenced by the fact that they know rank 331st in D-1 with 9.7 assists per game.
Towson shot 59.1% from the floor in the second half. Jerome Hairston didn’t have one of his best games, but he also didn’t turn the ball over. Rafriel Guthrie rose to the challenge of playing against Saddler and Jarvis Threatt. Guthrie scored 15 points, hit the game’s only three, and could have scored even more if not for four missed free throws.
Marcus Damas and Bilal Dixon were pivotal in the rebounding advantage, and both players finished in double figure scoring. Damas is quickly becoming one of my favorite players in this league. He was the only significant holdover from the 1-31 team (Kris Walden continues to be phased out) and after struggling to blend with the newcomers early in the season, he’s really coming into his own. He isn’t the most efficient scorer, but he’s getting crucial buckets when Towson needs them most.
This is the first time Towson has won four straight on the road since 2005-2006. Road Warriors?
Hofstra finally got a more-balanced scoring effort, as four players finished in double figures. David Imes produced his best game of the season, and lit it from deep with five three-pointers. Stephen Nwaukoni finished with 11 points and eight rebounds, and you probably already know who the other two double-figure scorers were.
The Pride played pretty evenly with the Huskies, and rallied back from a double-digit deficit in the second half to make things interesting. The main difference was the 17 turnovers, and Northeastern made Hofstra pay double for its karaoke sessions, to the tune of a 28-8 margin in points off turnovers.
Despite the sloppy play, the Pride had a chance to tie with 12 seconds remaining, Matt Grogan’s three-pointer from the wing caromed off the side of the backboard. Stevie Mejia probably didn’t realize how much time was on the clock, and rushed another three-point shot that was off the mark (in his defense, it was a much better attempt than Grogan’s.)
Imes’s season-best output came while he was guarding a guy who was even hotter. Quincy Ford scored a game-high 24 points on 11-of-17 shooting. Jon Lee and Joel Smith both finished in double figures, and Dinko Marshavelski and Demetrius Pollard both scored eight points off the bench. Marshavelski is one of the most crucial players on this team. If he can provide some energy off the bench, as well as some good defense, it’ll help the Huskies tremendously.
Northeastern is now 5-0 in conference, with a trip to Delaware looming tomorrow. A win against the Blue Hens would give them a two-game lead over all teams eligible for the CAA Tournament.
With a 14-point lead in the first half, solid defense in place, and a stellar start from #Beasthoven, William and Mary seemed well on its way to ending its losing streak.
And then the second half started.
That might not be the best way to put it, because Georgia State managed to slice the Tribe’s lead to just five before the half. But the second half was all Panthers, as they outscored the Tribe 46-25 in the second half en route to a 74-58 win. Manny Atkins led the onslaught, as the junior finished with 21 points in the Second Annual “Barefoot for Bare Feet” game.
RJ Hunter’s injury (assuming no future flare-ups) might end up as a positive for the Panthers. RJ was largely ineffective on Wednesday night, as he made just 1-of-7 shots. He did pull in seven rebounds, but his scoring struggles showed the Panthers that they can win (easily) without a big contribution from their leading scorer. Devonta White and Rashaad Richardson both finished in double figures, and freshmen David Travers and Markus Crider gave solid contributions on a night when the Panthers played with a short bench.
The struggles continued for the Tribe, who has now dropped six-straight contests. William and Mary will face a struggling Drexel team, although the Dragons had all week to get healthy and prepare for their trip to Williamsburg. If the Tribe is unsuccessful tomorrow, I worry that the losing streak may run into February, as the final three games in January are at Northeastern, home against Towson, and at Delaware.
The Panthers dropped some winnable game earlier in the season, but they’re showing marked improvement. This team has a chance to be something special next year, as James Vincent is the only guy graduating. Next year’s senior class, combined with the growth of this year’s freshmen, will produce a team talented enough to win the Sun Belt next year. It’s only a matter of time before RJ Hunter becomes a nationally-recognized entity.
If you’ve never seen someone coach barefooted, this is your chance.
Blaine Taylor opened his post-game press conference with a summary of Old Dominion’s season:
“We’ve been pretty doggone competitive, but can’t outcompete the opponent”.
He was clearly frustrated by ODU’s latest showing, a 65-60 loss at UNCW, which was the Monarchs’ first loss to the Seahawks in their last seven meetings.
UNCW continues to be an excellent home team. The Seahawks are now 7-1. The Dubmen are now 2-3 in conference and feel much better than they did a week ago, when they headed back to Wilmington 0-3 following a blowout loss in Harrisonburg.
In Norfolk, the misery just continues. ODU was voted 4th in the preseason poll (out of respect) but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who thinks the Monarchs won’t finish last. Injuries have certainly been a hidrance, but for a program that is used to finishing near the top, this final season in the CAA has been painful.
After picking up two quick fouls, Keith Rendleman sat for over 16 minutes in the first half. At halftime he was scoreless with one rebound. He played all 20 minutes of the second half, and recorded 13 points and 12 boards. After his coming out party against George Mason (okay, that may have been his second coming out party) Chris Dixon chipped in 14 points, which marked the first time he has scored in double figures in back-to-back games.
DeShawn Painter finished with a game-high 18 points, but it took 21 shots to get them. Painter knocks down shots that many players would be benched for taking, but he has the touch and sense to make enough of them. The defensive attention paid to Painter was split between Shane Reybold, a former walk-on who is on scholarship this year (and deserves one next year as well), and Cedrick Williams, who was credited with six blocks on the night.
Richard Ross also played well for the Monarchs, before tweaking a knee in the middle of the second half, and subsequently getting into foul trouble. Ross finished with 11 points and five rebounds, and did an excellent job providing quality minutes off the bench for a depleted ODU team.
The Dubmen won consecutive conference games for the first time since this time last year. They have built momentum at home, and it will be essential to carry some of this success onto the road, where they’ve lost nine of their 10 games. They’ve got four of their next five away from Trask, and have a chance to put the road sorrows behind them. The team feels good, and things may be looking up, but that can all change quickly if the road continues to deny the Dubmen wins.
ODU is now firmly entrenched in the basement of the CAA. At 0-5 the team needs to regroup, and focus on playing one game at a time. It’s up to Coach Taylor to find a way to motivate his team, as they need to focus on showing a pride in their last hurrah through the CAA.