So we’ve reached the halfway mark. The ball has dropped, resolutions have been made, and early-season tournaments have been played. We’ve reached the precipice of conference play in the Colonial Athletic Association. And one thing stands out to me when I try to order these teams in my head:

I have absolutely no idea where to start.
 
So I guess I’ll do what we all have done by now. I’ll try to label the CAA.
 
The Favorite
I guess you start with Drexel by default, simply because it’s the team with the best record and the best resume. Bruiser Flint, after getting snubbed for an NCAA at-large bid in 2012 and hamstrung by injuries in 2013, finally looks to have his Dragons back on track. They’re still without guard Damion Lee, who averaged 13 points per game before tearing his ACL against Arizona in late November. But if you’re into silver linings, Drexel almost won that game anyway. And if you haven’t checked recently, I’ve heard that Arizona team is pretty good.
 
Drexel has one of the best backcourts in the conference with Chris Fouch (16.8ppg, 4.1rpg) and Frantz Massenat (14.6ppg, 4.5apg). No top-4 scorers in the conference, but three inside the top 16. Throw in the 8-5 record with wins over Alabama, Cleveland State and Rutgers, and this is the clear-cut favorite.
 
The Bruiser
Towson is a classic case of a team who beat all the bad teams they played and lost to all the good ones. If you live in Baltimore, you’re probably of the ilk who think this 8-win team is the best in the CAA. If you live in, I don’t know, Philadelphia, you might be more in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately camp. Time will tell.
 
So let’s stay out of the gray matter for now and take a look at some facts. Stroll over to the CAA stats page and you will find a lot of new names pitching tents and taking up residence. Gone are the Rendlemans and the Goins of the 2013 season. But one name looks awfully familiar… Jerrelle BenimonLast year’s NCAA double-double machine returns for his final season and looks as lethal as ever. The Tigers led the conference in rebounding margin last year at +6.6; this year, they’ve pushed it to +7.5 through 14 games. Benimon himself was 4th in scoring (17.1ppg) and 1st in rebounding last season; this year, he continues to lead the conference in rebounding, and moves up to third in scoring (17.6ppg). He’s every definition of a banger that has ever existed.
 
Finesse teams beware. The Tigers don’t want to play games with you. They want Benimon to punch you in the mouth, and then they want to watch you bleed. And in a guard-centric CAA, that could be advantage: Tigers.

The Embarrassment of Riches
What do you do when you have to suspend the second-leading scorer in the history of your program for an entire month?

Plug in the next guy and act like nothing happened, obviously.
 
The Devon Saddler/Jarvis Threatt saga has been arguably the most interesting storylines to watch unfurl this season. The suspension of Saddler allowed Threatt to blossom (since the suspension, he’s scored 16+ points in nine of 12 games) into a legitimate go-to guy.
 
Of course, now that they’re both back on the court and the Blue Hens own what is almost certainly the most dynamic backcourt in the conference, things are different. Delaware is only 7-7, but they’ve got the highest-scoring offense in the CAA, and it’s not close.
 
If the object of the game is to outscore your opponent, Delaware has a great chance to play late into March.
 
The Firing Squad
William & Mary, a 7-win team through January 1! It probably has something to do with Marcus Thornton.
 
Thornton leads the conference* with a cool 19 points per game, one of the three Tribesmen (did I just make that up?) in the CAA’s top 14 scorers. They’ll spot up and blow the doors off you if you let them. Stats: 3rd in scoring offense, 1st in steals, 1st in assists, 1st in field goal percentage, 1st in 3-pt field goal percentage. They will light you up like a bad game of Call of Duty.
 
Unfortunately, the downside of being a streaky shooting team is, well, the streakiness. They lost by 11 to Richmond, by 17 to Wichita State, and, I’m not making this up, by 37 to West Virginia on a neutral court. Streaky shooting probably downgrades the Tribe to a second-tier candidate for the regular season title. But in the confines of a postseason tournament, they likely remain a top-three bet to win the CAA tournament in Richmond Baltimore.
 
*among qualified players. Devon Saddler actually has him beat with 20.1 ppg, but Saddler’s suspension keeps him out of the minutes-played qualification… for now.
 
The New Guy
We don’t know much about Charleston, and it’s not just because they’re the new guy. The Cougars eeked out a one-point, early-November home win over fellow Carolinian mid-major Charlotte. They’re 0-3 against high-majors (Miami, Arizona State and Louisville). They beat ODU. We’ll find out more when they host JMU on Tuesday in their first-ever CAA game.
 
For now, just remember their balance. They have no top-15 scorers, but own four players ranked 17-29. Willis Hall, their leading scorer, is a baller. He’s a handful of good games away from averaging a double-double, and shoots a nice 40% from downtown.
 
The ?????
I really have no idea what to do with JMU. There are 351 Division I basketball teams, and 349 are more experienced than the Dukes. They’ve had two home games through January 4, for a team comprised mostly of freshmen, a couple of sophomores and one sixth-year senior. Their best player hasn’t stepped on the hardwood yet. (Nation returns from suspension Tuesday in Charleston.)
 
Maybe JMU will defend its championship title. Maybe it’ll go 3-13 in conference play. If I was a teacher handing out grades, this one is an I for incomplete. Ask me again in February.
 
The Other Guys
Northeastern lost Quincy Ford for the season. UNC-Wilmington is reeling from the loss of Keith Rendleman, the best rebounder in the history of the program, to graduation (and Korea). Hofstra is up and coming, with a pretty strong emphasis on the coming.
 
These three teams are a combined 13-28. There are certainly bright spots, like Wilmington’s upset of ECU or Hofstra senior Zeke Upshaw’s 18.7ppg (2nd in the conference!). But for the most part, without major changes, these three teams are likely relegated to the cellar this season.
 
I’m reminded right now of a team who started 5-7 last season, and appeared by all metrics to be on pace for a middling, unforgettable year.
 
That team was the Northeastern Huskies. And all they did was coast to the CAA regular season title and make a conference championship game appearance in March.
 
Go ahead and label teams now. It’s normal. It’s healthy. It’s common.
 
But don’t think for a minute that a label will stop a team from winning it all.

One Response to “Interim Interrogation”

  1. Josh Says:

    Not arguing with the point that the nature of WM’s loss to WV was bad…but Charleston, WV is hardly neutral. It wasn’t Morgantown, but the court had an outline of the state of WV on it and said “Friends of Coal.”

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