INSIDERS REPORT: CAA Basketball

When Shaka Smart took over at Virginia Commonwealth and guided the Rams to the Final Four, followed by Jim Larranaga's announcement that he was leaving George Mason as the dean of Colonial Athletic Association coaches to coach at Miami, Fla., it signaled a changing of the guard in the conference.

The CAA had built itself into the most prestigious of the mid-major conferences, riding on the success of George Mason's run to the Final Four in 2006 and of Old Dominion under coach Blaine Taylor and, of course, VCU's NCAA run last year.

The change bubbled over into this season.

Georgia State had become a traditional also-ran after the exit of Lefty Driesell, but the Panthers brought in Ron Hunter this season and he turned the world upside down, turning an opening three-game losing streak into a seven-game winning streak, including a stunning 66-34 victory over William & Mary in the early-season conference opener.

So now you had Smart leading the way at VCU, going so far as to turn down a major college offer to remain at the school and guide its fortunes, with Paul Hewitt going from Georgia Tech to George Mason and even with Drexel, often a challenger but never a champion, picked pre-season to win the conference.

Along with that, a number of players have stepped up out of the shadows to become impact players this season.

As of Dec. 12, 13 of the 20 top scores in the CAA weren't even among the top 30 in scoring the previous season.

The only seven returnees to still be atop the list are Hofstra's Mike Moore, Mason's Ryan Pearson, VCU's Bradford Burgess, ODU's Kent Bazemore, UNCW's Keith Rendleman and Northeastern's Jonathan Lee and Joel Smith.

The leading scorer is sophomore Devon Saddler of Delaware, averaging 21.3 through Dec. 13, signifying the passing of the torch.

It also is appearing to be a strong freshman class that has been drawn into the conference, part of it due to VCU's success which built upon the shot the league got from George Mason's run a half dozen years back.

The perception certainly is that the CAA is as productive as many of the bigger, more prestigious conferences, making recruiting of better players easier.

A number of freshmen are seeing significant playing time around the CAA this season. All 12 CAA teams have at least one freshman on their team who is averaging better than 16 minutes per game and James Madison is the only team that hasn't had a freshman start at least one game.

Four freshmen are among the CAA's top 30 in scoring -- UNCW's Adam Smith, Drexel's Damion Lee, W&M's Marcus Thornton and Delaware's Kyle Anderson.

Four others -- Towson's Kris Walden, Mason's Corey Edwards, Delaware's Khalid Lewis and UNCW's Freddie Jackson -- are among the top 15 in assists, VCU's Briante Weber and ODU's Dimitri Batten are among the top 15 in steals and NU's Reggie Spencer is 17th in rebounding.

NOTES, QUOTES:

  • Delaware Junior F Jamelle Hagins was named co-Player of the Week on Dec. 12 after he averaged 15.5 points, 15.0 rebounds and 3.5 blocks in Delaware's two games last week. He posted career-highs of 21 points and 19 rebounds while blocking five shots in UD's 58-42 win at rival Delaware State and had 11 points and 10 boards in a loss at Penn. Hagins, who shot 68.4 percent (13-19) from the floor for the week, recorded double-doubles in five consecutive games.
  • Keith Rendleman of UNCW-Wilmington poured in a career-high 29 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in UNCW's 77-68 victory at Liberty last Tuesday to be named co-Player of the Week. The junior forward, who was 12-of-19 from the floor, also had three steals and two blocks. It was Rendleman's second straight double-double and third of the season.
  • Northeastern freshman F Quincy Ford was named Rookie of the Week after making the first start of his career and scoring a career-high 18 points and snaring a team-best seven rebounds in Northeastern's 79-68 loss at Bradley on Dec. 6. He was 8-of-15 from the floor, also made four steals, blocked two shots and dished out a pair of assists.
  • What home-team advantage? Road teams went 3-2 as 10 CAA teams played their conference openers on Dec. 3. George Mason won 65-53 at Towson, James Madison picked up a 62-60 victory at Hofstra and Old Dominion earned a 69-59 win at Northeastern. Getting victories at home were Delaware, which beat rival Drexel 71-60, and Georgia State, which cruised by William & Mary, 66-34. All 12 CAA teams play one league game in the month of December and then return to non-conference action until Jan. 2. UNCW and VCU will play their CAA opener this Saturday (Dec. 17).
  • There's no place like home for George Mason. The Patriots defeated Bucknell 61-57 on Nov. 30 to extend its home court winning streak to 18 dating back to the start of last year. Mason owns the 10th-longest active home court streak in the nation. The Patriots, who have won five of their last six games overall, are back at home on Dec. 21 against Duquesne. A victory would give Mason its longest home court winning streak in the history of the Patriot Center.
  • UNCW guard Adam Smith was tied for third in scoring among all freshmen in Division I with 17.9 ppg on Dec. 13. Smith trailed only Kyle Vinales of Central Connecticut (19.9 ppg) and Juan'ya Green of Niagara (19.7 ppg). He was tied with Justin Edwards of Maine (17.9 ppg). Smith has scored double figures in all seven UNCW games, including a 27-point effort at Toledo and 23 points at Maryland.
  • Around the nation: Delaware junior F Jamelle Hagins ranked fifth in the nation in rebounding at 11.5 rpg through Dec. 11. UNCW's Keith Rendleman was 23rd in rebounding with 10.0 rpg and ODU's Chris Cooper was 26th with 9.8 rpg at that point. In other statistical categories, UD's Devon Saddler was 13th in scoring (21.3 ppg), JMU's A.J. Davis was seventh in 3-point FG percentage (51.4 percent), GSU's Eric Buckner was ninth in blocks (3.4 bpg), ODU's Kent Bazemore was sixth in steals (2.9 spg) and NU's Joel Smith was third in FT percentage (95.5 percent).
  • In team categories, Drexel was ninth in the nation in 3-point FG defense (24.7 percent). James Madison was 16th in 3-point FG percentage (41.4 percent) and 10th in threes per game (9.3). Old Dominion was 12th in steals per game (9.8 spg). VCU was 11th in turnover margin (+5.4 tpg).
  • Seven CAA players have already recorded two or more double-doubles this season. ODU senior Chris Cooper led the league and ranked fifth in Division I with six double-doubles through Dec. 11, while Delaware's Jamelle Hagins recorded five consecutive double-doubles, which ranked 11th nationally. Towson's Robert Nwankwo had four double-doubles and George Mason's Ryan Pearson and UNCW's Keith Rendleman each had three. Eleven of the 12 CAA teams have a player with at least one double-double.
  • Starting Streaks: VCU senior Brad Ford Burgess made 119 consecutive starts through Dec. 13, which is the longest active streak in Division I basketball and just two away from the Rams' all-time record. James Madison senior Julius Wells started 107 straight games, which ranked second on the Dukes' career list. Wells also moved up to ninth on JMU's all-time scoring list last week with 1,378 points.
  • Northeastern junior G Joel Smith was a perfect 20-for-20 at the free throw line this season before missing one against ODU on Dec. 3. Smith was shooting 95.5 percent (21-of-22) for the season.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL:
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Missouri at Old Dominion, Dec. 19 -- The high-scoring outfit out of the Big 12 makes a rare road trip. It will be the first true road game of the year for the Tigers, who have a Top 10 national ranking. Missouri is a high-scoring team, having been as high as No. 5 in the nation, but it will run into one of the best defensive teams, in the Monarchs on its home floor. ODU's do-everything guard Kent Bazemore should offer some perplexing problems for the Tigers with his scoring, passing, rebounding and defense, but not as much as the Missouri offense will offer the Old Dominion defense. Missouri has not scored less than 81 points in a game this season.

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: James Madison has come on strong under coach Matt Brady, who has had a lot of success with transfer players. A.J. Davis came in from Wyoming and sat out last season but made a huge early impact right from the moment he debuted with 23 points.

Davis began shaping his footprint in that first game against Robert Morris when he hit five 3-point shots. What was stunning about this was that he had hit only five 3s while spending two full seasons at Wyoming.

He hadn't immediately let up, either. Through Dec. 11, Davis hit 51.4 percent of his 3-point shots while standing third in the conference in scoring with a 19.3 point a game average. He gives James Madison an outside threat unlike any other in the league.

Davis left Wyoming under unknown circumstances with nothing more said than it was for personal reasons and with a short, one-sentence statement from the school that thanked him and wished him luck.

GAMES TO WATCH:
Dec. 18
Princeton at Northeastern
Princeton turned it around a little since losing five of its first six, but playing at Northeastern's historic gym will probably be only a good trip for the Ivy Leaguers interested in the past.

Dec. 20
Old Dominion at Richmond
Cross-town rivalry game.

Dec. 21
UNC-Wilmington at Wake Forest
Wake Forest did not exactly start off overpowering anyone this season, and a win over an ACC team would be a big feather in former North Carolina coach Buzz Peterson's cap.

Dec. 29
VCU at Akron
Akron is a team that probably is better than its record and at home the Zips present a dangerous opponent for an up-and-down VCU team.

AROUND THE LEAGUE:

DELAWARE

  • Junior 6-9 C Jamelle Hagins scored a career-high 21 points with 19 rebounds and five blocks to lead the Blue Hens past Route 1 rival Delaware State. It was Hagins' fifth straight double-double. It was the first time a Delaware player had recorded five straight double-doubles since Harding Nana in 2005-06.
  • When Delaware defeated rival Delaware State it was the Blue Hens' first road victory of the season, ending a streak of six in a row that stretched back to last year.
  • The 42 points by Delaware State was the lowest total allowed by the Hens away from home since posting a 59-39 win over Colgate on Dec. 27, 1985 at the Albright (Pa.) Invitational.
  • Sophomore G Devon Saddler scored 30 against Drexel in the conference opener and was the league's leading scorer, averaging more than 20 points a game, but Penn held him to a season-low of 6.
  • Many teams might object to being scheduled against the preseason conference favorite as the early opener two years in a row but not Delaware. When the Blue Hens defeated Drexel in the opener it was the second straight year it had upset the favorite, a year ago having downed Old Dominion.
  • The Threatt brothers were together on the floor for much of the second half of the Blue Hens' victory over Delaware State before a large group of family members and friends from Richmond, Va., who chartered a bus to the game. The two -- Jay of Delaware State and Jarvis of Delaware -- guarded each other on the perimeter. Jay was slowed by an ankle injury and played only 25 minutes, finishing with six points, three assists and three steals while Jarvis also had six points and three assists, in 21 minutes.

DREXEL

  • Drexel defeated Princeton, 64-60, in their home opener. It was Drexel's eighth straight home-opening win at the DAC.
  • Junior G Chris Fouch came off the bench to score a season-high 23 points in just his third game back following knee surgery. Fouch had only 8 points in the first two games.
  • Sophomore G Frantz Massenat scored double-figures in six of seven games, including 12 points vs. Princeton. Massenat was averaging a team-best 14.3 ppg and also topped the Dragons with 24 assists through Dec. 13.
  • Freshman F Damion Lee had 13 points and 8 rebounds vs. Princeton. Lee was 17th in the CAA in scoring (11.7ppg), 10th in rebounding (6.4 rpg) and 13th in assists (2.7 apg) at that point.
  • Senior F Samme Givens moved into fifth place on Drexel's career rebounding list with 820. He ranks 17th on the CAA's all-time rebounding chart.
  • Drexel, one of the worst free-throw shooting teams in the conference last season, was 20-of-24 at the free-throw line against Princeton, including 10-for-10 in the last 33 seconds.

GEORGE MASON

  • When George Mason defeated Bucknell, 61-57, it extended the team's home-court winning streak to 18, which tied the Patriot Center building record and the 10th-longest home winning streak in the nation.
  • Senior F Ryan Pearson may be the best combo player in the CAA. He is the only player in the conference to rank in the top 5 in scoring and rebounding, standing fifth in rebounding after the Radford game at 7.6 and fourth in scoring at 18.1 ppg. He had a nine-game streak of double-figure scoring end when he scored nine against Virginia.
  • Sophomore G Bryon Allen had 15 assists and just four turnovers in the past 138 minutes over four games through Dec. 13. Allen also contributed 11 points and six rebounds at Radford.

GEORGIA STATE

  • Georgia State stretched its winning streak to seven in a row by beating Rhode Island by 32 points, leaving the Panthers one shy of the school record heading into the break. The Panthers have has won as many as seven in a row five other times, most recently twice during the 2003-04 season. The school record is an eight-game streak by the Panthers' 2001 NCAA Tournament team, coached by Lefty Driesell.
  • Georgia State's 7-3 start under first-year head coach Ron Hunter is the team's best since that 2000-01 team started 11-1.
  • Georgia State's 96 points against Rhode Island were the most by a Panther team since a 99-72 win over Delaware to open the 2005-06 season.
  • The Panthers allowed only 49.4 points a game while scoring 73.7 during their seven-game winning streak. GSU held five foes under 50 points.
  • Playing his 100th game at Georgia State, James Field tied his career-best with nine assists to go along with 15 points against Rhode Island.
  • The move to bringing senior G Jihad Ali off the bench the past six games has paid dividends, with Ali averaging 13.3 points and 4.8 rebounds a game over that span.
  • Senior F Eric Buckner blocked a career-high eight shots against Florida International and added two more blocks against Rhode Island, giving him 83 for his career, which was one short of moving into the all-time top five at the Atlanta school.
  • In consecutive games, the Panthers held William and Mary to just 34 points then came back in the next game and scored 96 points against Rhode Island.

HOFSTRA

  • The league season got off to a difficult start for Hofstra as the Pride dropped a tough two-point decision to James Madison, a team it had dominated over the years. The loss ended a 12-game winning streak against JMU.
  • Hofstra G Mike Moore opened the year with seven 20-point performances in his team's first 10 games and was standing second in scoring in the CAA to Delaware's Devon Saddler with a 19.8 points a game average.
  • Head coach Mo Cassera's Pride continued to do well defensively against long-range shooting opponents. JMU ranked third in the nation with a 46.9 percentage on threes and seventh in three-pointers attempted (10.6) before playing the Pride, but Hofstra held the Dukes to just 28.6 percent (6-for-21) beyond the arc.
  • Senior PG Stevie Mejia missed three games with a hamstring injury through Dec. 13. Dwan McMillian has assumed the role of point guard.

JAMES MADISON

  • Freshman G Arman Marks had the first double-figure scoring game of his career when he hit four of five shots for 10 points in a loss to Kent State.
  • Senior F Julius Wells was the leading active scorer in the CAA with 1,378 points but has consistently been less of a scorer in his career. He averaged 16.3 as a sophomore, 10.6 as a junior and 9.7 this year.
  • Senior Humpty Hitchens has taken over the scoring duties for the Dukes. He ranks sixth in the CAA in scoring with a 17.0 average but more impressive he is doing that leading the conference in assists at 5.0 per game. Hitchens is doing much of his scoring from 3-point range as he ranked second with a 46.3 percent mark shooting threes, second in the conference, through Dec. 12.
  • Junior G A.J. Davis is the first player in James Madison history to begin his career with four consecutive 20-point games.

UNC-WILMINGTON

  • Freshman Adam Smith has opened his career by scoring in double figures in the Seahawks' first seven games. He scored a career-high 27 against Toledo and is ranked among the conference's scoring leaders.
  • Freshman Adam Smith and senior Keith Rendleman are the only players to start all seven games for UNC-Wilmington as coach Buzz Peterson experiments with combinations.
  • Senior Keith Rendeleman had a huge double-double against Liberty, scoring a career-high 29 points to go with 11 rebounds, helping Coach Buzz Peterson to his sixth straight victory over Liberty. Rendleman has scored in double-figures in six straight games while averaging 16.7 point and 10.2 rebounds over that stretch.
  • Rebuilding means that youth has to play and more than half of UNC-Wilmington's points have been scored by freshmen.

NORTHEASTERN

  • Young teams set a lot of marks for career-highs but what's going on at Northeastern is ridiculous. Against Bradley, freshman Quincy Ford came off the bench to score a career-high 16 points. That was a game after he established a new career-high with 16 against Old Dominion. That was after Kashief Edwards set a career-high of 11 points against St. John's and built on it with 10 points against LaSalle in his Philadelphia homecoming.
  • One of the goals this year was to improve the rebounding and that seems to have been accomplished, Northeastern billing down 40 or more rebounds in three of the first seven games after accomplishing it only once last year. Through seven games the Huskies were third in the CAA in rebounding margin.
  • Northeastern is also learning to play together, setting a season-high with 21 assists against Bradley, a figure that was diminished no small amount by a season-high 23 turnovers in the same game, the team's most in three years.
  • Northeastern hit only one 3-point shot in its loss to LaSalle and attempted 28, the most it had attempted in two years while losing to Bradley.

OLD DOMINIOIN

  • Senior Kent Bazemore had a wonderful conference opener against Northeastern, scoring 21 points and grabbing nine rebounds. He ranks fourth on ODU's all-time steal list with 200 and led the conference this year with 2.9 per game through Dec. 12. Bazemore had 976 career points at that point to go with joining the 200-steal club of Frank Smith (295, 1988) Brandon Johnson (238, 2008) and Drew Williamson (215, 2007).
  • Speaking of steals, freshman G Dimitri Batten had a career-high five at Northeastern while setting career-highs for points with 18 and rebounds with nine against East Carolina.
  • Senior F Chris Cooper is becoming a double-double machine, leading the CAA with five of them through Dec. 12 as he averaged 11.0 points a game and 9.6 rebounds at that point.
  • Old Dominion is really ball-hawking, having a season-high of 15 steals against East Carolina and averaging 10 a game through Dec. 13.
  • ODU redshirt freshman Dimitri Batten scored a career-high 18 points and hauled down a career-high nine rebounds along with two clutch free throws in the final nine seconds of the game to lift the Monarchs to a 63-58 victory over East Carolina.

TOWSON

  • Towson has a keeper in sophomore Marcus Damas, who scored 25 points, a career-high, and pulled down five rebounds against George Mason. For the season, he has averaged 12.4 points a game to rank 15th in the CAA while his 64 rebounds stand second on the Tigers.
  • Towson wasn't ready for it, but the Tigers played one of the nation's toughest early-season schedules with five of their first seven opponents either ranked or receiving votes in the national polls.
  • Senior Robert Nwankwo, back after sitting out last season, had his third double-double of the season against UMass with 19 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks. He also had double-doubles against Kansas (14 points, 10 boards) and Michigan (16 points, 10 boards. He now has 12 double-doubles in his career.
  • Towson is leading the CAA in offensive rebounding at 5.6 per game, but before they start crowing about it they should understand it comes from having the worst shooting percentage in the conference.
  • Freshman Deon Jones posted his first career double-double against Maryland-Baltimore County, joining Rober Nwankwo with a double-double in the game. It was the first time two Towson players had recorded a double-double in the same game since Dec. 1, 2010.

VCU

  • Senior F Bradford Burgess has always played well in NBA arenas. The last time he did so was against Purdue in the second round of last year's NCAA Tournament and he responded with 23 points on 8 of 12 shooting. So he was happy to face George Washington in the Verizon Center, scoring a season-high 24 points. When Burgess scored 14 points against Richmond, it was his eighth consecutive double-figure scoring game. Sophomore Ron Brandenberg had his fifth straight in the same game.
  • VCU's defense held three of its last six opponents going into the break to 51 or fewer points. The Rams were 39-2 under coach Shaka Smart when giving up 65 or fewer points at that point. They were allowing opponents just 60.8 points per game this year.

WILLIAM & MARY

  • Senior G Quinn McDowell has pushed his way into 15th place on the William & Mary all-time scoring list with better than 1,315 points but was averaging only 10.4 points a game to lead the team, and shooting just 32.9 percent from the floor and 31.1 percent from 3-point range through Dec. 13.
  • Within four days, William and Mary in-state rival Richmond beat the Tribe by 31 points and then managed to score only 34 points in losing by 32 in the CAA opener against Georgia State.
  • Sophomore G Brandon Britt has led the Tribe in scoring in four of its last six games through the Georgia State game, in which he had eight of the team's 34 points.
  • Sophomore G Matt Rum made his first start of the year against Richmond and scored 13 on four of five shooting as Coach Tony Shaver tried to discover some answer to his problems.
  • Sophomore F Tim Rusthoven, who missed the season's first six games due to injury, is averaging 9.7 points and a team-leading 7.0 rebounds since his return.

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