CAA Insiders Report: 1/17

The Colonial Athletic Association usually comes up with a pretty good race for the regular-season title, but a third of the way through this season, the only thing that's certain is that no one is certain which team will win.

Six games in, there were no undefeated teams, and six of the 12 teams were within a game of first place.

Through Jan. 16, three teams were tied on top with 5-1 records, and three were tied for second at 4-2 ... and it wasn't the same old names that are always there.

"It seems like in past years we had a few teams you said, 'Those teams are going to be tough to knock out,'" said Blaine Taylor, who has coached one of those teams for 11 years, Old Dominion.

Old Dominion, George Mason, VCU, you could count on them and then maybe an outsider, too.

But through Jan. 16, the three at the top are Old Dominion, George Mason and Georgia State, which has been revitalized by coach Ron Hunter.

Tied for second were VCU, which made the Final Four last year after finishing third in the conference, plus Drexel and Northeastern.

"We've always had someone come out of the pack like Georgia State," Taylor said. "This year, a lot of people returned so many starters like Drexel, who has four starters back and Chris Fouch (their leading scorer last year off the bench), and Northeastern had four starters back."

The result is a league that may not have the super team like VCU's NCAA semifinalist last year or George Mason's NCAA Final Four team of a half-decade ago, but it's got a number of strong, competitive teams kicking each other around.

"You look at someone like Hofstra which doesn't have a good record, obviously, and see how well they play. They could be 4-2 and are 0-6," Taylor said.

And it isn't only in the CAA, as noted by George Mason coach Paul Hewitt, who came into the league this year after coaching at Georgia Tech.

"Throughout college basketball, there's so much parity. I think if you are good in college basketball today, you will be recognized," he said.

GMU's Morrison works hard to keep his cool and his energy
--According to a story in the Washington Post, at a preseason meeting, first-year George Mason coach Paul Hewitt called F Mike Morrison to the front of the room, put his arm around him and told his team, "When he's in trouble, if you don't grab him and get between him, I'm coming after you. We need him.'"
It was a point he had to make because Morrison is not only one of the team's most valuable players, but also one of the most flammable. He sometimes has a problem with his temper, as a couple of technical fouls this season show.
"It's one of my biggest struggles," Morrison said of his self-control. "I know I need to be high energy to get my team riled up. I'm an energy guy. But sometimes I go overboard and get a tech. And sometimes when I keep my energy level low so I don't get in trouble, I can't get others up for it.
"It's sort of a tough place for me, but I've been trying."
He showed why it's so important to keep him on the floor in one of the season's key games, scoring 14 points, pulling down 15 rebounds and blocking four shots as the Patriots ended Georgia State's 11-game winning streak with a 61-58 victory.
"There are times where I still lose it," he said. "I'm not perfect, but I've definitely made a conscious effort to control myself. My best games are when I don't worry about anything. Nothing else is on my mind: Just do what I need to do."

--Georgia State coach Ron Hunter was barefoot Jan. 12 when his team beat UNC-Wilmington 75-61 before 2,698, the top crowd of the year at the GSU Sports Arena.
Hunter, in his first season at Georgia State, has coached a game in bare feet each of the past five seasons in support of Samaritan's Feet, an organization that provides shoes to underprivileged children around the world. The Panthers wore special orange uniforms symbolic of the orange in the Samaritan's Feet logo.
On Jan. 16, the Panthers were out in the community, giving away 100 pairs of shoes to needy children, washing their feet and praying with them.
"Some of our guys are quiet. To watch them sit there and talk to a 5- or 6-year-old and washing the feet of that child or asking them what they may need, it was priceless," Hunter said. "They know they made a child's life a little better today."

--Old Dominion coach Blaine Taylor has taken to calling his team "the Amazing Monarchs" because of the way they have come from behind and squeezed out victories in cliffhangers, five of which had gone to overtime through Jan. 16.
"Nothing has really come easy for us. We've really had to grind and play right to the end over and over," he said.
The team has faced a lot of adversity and overcome it.
"Four of our top seven players been unavailable on many nights," he said. "We've never really had our team. What's more, the schedule was unrelenting."
Yet they have survived.
"We don't panic. We have enough character and enough chemistry that we don't panic," Taylor said.

--When UNC-Wilmington plays James Madison on Jan. 18, it will do so without coach Buzz Peterson, who was ejected after receiving two technical fouls in the previous game.
Peterson was not happy about the circumstances surrounding the ejection, which carries a one-game suspension.
"I know it's Commissioner Tom Yeager's rule, but I disagree with it. I got two technical in four seconds. I was still on the same sentence," he said. "But that's what you get on a Saturday with a third-tier guy in the league."
Peterson said he would not fight the ruling.


MATCHUP TO WATCH: Old Dominion at VCU, Jan. 21 -- These are two physical, defensive-minded teams, each with a different idea of how to play the game. Old Dominion tries to play it in the half-court. VCU wants it up-tempo if it can, forcing the pace with its defense. Old Dominion hits the boards hard to get the ball. VCU gets turnovers, and it enjoyed a couple of surprisingly strong defensive games lately. Being at home will be big edge for VCU, which has been on the road for the past couple of games. The game also matches up a pair of the league's top players: Old Dominion's Kent Bazemore, who was averaging 14.6 points a game to rank No. 8 in scoring through Jan. 16, and VCU's Bradford Burgess, who was averaging 14.2 to rank 10th.

Jan. 18
Delaware at George Mason
George Mason is always tough at home. A victory there for Delaware, which really can't afford a fourth loss, would stamp it as a team to reckon with.

Jan. 21
Georgia State at Delaware
Georgia State entered the week as one of the CAA leaders and has been the surprise team, but conference games are never easy on the road. The Blue Hens have lost two straight at home, but one was a tough two-point defeat in overtime to Old Dominion.

Jan. 21
Northeastern at Drexel -- Northeastern has been coming on with five wins in six outings, which would look really impressive were the Huskies not playing a Drexel team that is unbeaten at home. Drexel is the best defensive team in the conference, and it gets offensive firepower and rebounding from F Samme Givens.


--Freshman G Kyle Anderson is consistent if nothing else, proving it when he scored 17 points in a two-point overtime defeat to Old Dominion on Jan. 11. It was the third consecutive game in which he tied his career high with 17 points.
--Sophomore G Devon Saddler has been a sensation for the Blue Hens, ranking second in the conference in scoring at 18.6 points a game through Jan. 16. The last couple of games, he'd struggled, and coach Monte Ross said people have to remember Saddler is a sophomore.
"The biggest thing is the fact he is probably 45 or 46 games into his college career," Ross said. "We do forget that at times, and the adjustment he has to make being the focal point of everyone's defense. He's struggled lately, and that's when you get into the gym. He enjoys the work, though."

--Senior F Samme Givens became the 31st Dragon to reach 1,000 points when he made two free throws against UNC-Wilmington early in a 79-57 victory on Jan. 14. Givens finished the game with 1,013 career points, passing Robert Battle for 30th place in school history.
--Givens also pulled down six rebounds against UNC-Wilmington, giving him 899 for his career and vaulting him into 11th place in CAA history.
--Drexel continued its amazing turnaround in free-throw shooting. Last in foul shooting last season, they lead the conference this season through Jan. 16 and helped their 73.1 percentage by hitting 14 of 16 against UNC-Wilmington.

--James Vincent, a 6-foot-10 senior, came off the bench to score a game-high 18 points against Towson, hitting all seven of his shots from the floor and all four of his free throws.
--When Georgia State defeated Towson on Jan. 14, it extended its home winning streak to nine games, second longest in school history.
--Once again, Georgia State did it with defense against Towson, holding the Tigers to just 25 percent shooting from the field. The Panthers entered the game ranked 16th in the NCAA in field-goal defense at 37.5 percent.

--Freshman Vaughn Gray broke loose for a career-high 19 points in an 89-83 victory over rival James Madison on Jan. 14, the most points scored by a GMU freshman since Sherrod Wright had 24 on Dec. 12, 2008. Vaughn's nickname with his teammates is "The Future" because of his ability.
"He would be playing a lot more on any team, but he's behind Mike Morrison," coach Paul Hewitt said, referring to the team's senior star. Morrison has said that he believes Vaughn is the next Cam Long in the program, referring to last year's star player.
--Hewitt expects junior F/C Eric Copes back for the Delaware game on Jan. 18 after Copes missed the James Madison game with an injured neck. Copes was hurt when he hung on the rim Jan. 12 against Drexel and was unintentionally undercut and fell hard on his back. He had shown signs of improvement.

--Hofstra can't seem to figure out a way to beat Old Dominion, even though the Pride has had some of the league's top offensive players. Hofstra has lost five straight to the Monarchs, and it has not won at Old Dominion since 2005-06.
--Hofstra remained winless in conference play through Jan. 16 but easily could have won four games. Part of it is learning how to play without former scoring champion Charles Jenkins, now an NBA regular.
"We're not making enough winning plays," coach Mo Cassara said. "And it's not just making key shots, it's making key stops, too."
--With G Mike Moore leading the CAA in scoring through Jan. 16, Hofstra is in need of support players, and the most important one may be 6-foot-7 junior F David Imes.
"He's a key to our team," Cassara said of the player who had a big scoring game followed by a big rebounding game last week. "If he can put those two games together into one ... Down at ODU, he did a great job on the glass but was 2-for-9 from the field."

--Injuries have decimated James Madison since coach Matt Brady arrived at the school and he's frustrated.
"The buzzards are flying," he said.
Asked how he keeps his team motivated, he answered: "It's easier for me to keep them positive than it is for me to stay positive. I get very frustrated with the injuries. I don't know if any program in this league the past 10 years has lost three double-digit returning scorers in two years."
Senior F Julius Wells, who averaged 10.7 points a game, is now injured, joining C Rayshawn Goins, who averaged 9.7 last year.
"No one feels bad for James Madison basketball. That's the nature of what we're doing. We're all highly competitive coaches," Brady said. "I tell the team, the CAA doesn't care. We have to fight."
--As a result of the injuries, players such as junior F Alioune Diouf and freshman G Arman Marks have seen extra time, making life difficult for the Dukes.
"It's inconsistency," Brady said. "We don't rebound great at either end. We are perimeter-oriented and don't get a lot of easy baskets. We need to stay positive with our guys because we have scoring ability, but we have not had one game where we've played together this season."
--JMU had not yet won a home conference game through Jan. 16.

--UNC-Wilmington coach Buzz Peterson was ejected from his team's 79-57 loss to Drexel on Jan. 14.
--UNC-W senior F Keith Rendleman is having a season to remember. Through Jan. 16, he ranked sixth in scoring in the CAA at 16.1 per game, second in rebounding at 10.4 a game, second in field-goal percentage at 57.8 percent, and second in both offensive and defensive rebounds.
He was last in 3-point shooting, however, having missed his one attempt this season.

--Northeastern's defense is coming of age. Through Jan. 16, the Huskies had held three of their last five opponents to 56 or fewer points.
--Junior F Jonathan Lee has been the most consistent of the Huskies, scoring in double figures in 25 of his last 28 games through Jan. 16. His coach, Bill Coen, said, "He just refuses to be mediocre. If you put a challenge in front of him, he does all he can to meet that challenge and be successful."
--Freshman F Quincy Ford recorded his first career double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds.

--Coach Blaine Taylor celebrated his 54th birthday the best way any coach can, scoring a 69-61 victory over Hofstra to run his team's winning streak to three in a row while grabbing a share of the conference lead.
--G Kent Bazemore, the pre-season CAA Player of the year, had a key miss that worked out for the Monarchs in their 68-66 overtime win over Delaware on Jan. 11.
Bazemore had scored a career-high 27 points without missing a shot at the Bob Carpenter Center, and he sent the game into overtime by hitting a pair of free throws with 2.4 seconds left. He even added nine points in the extra period, but he missed his final shot, only to have teammate Chris Cooper rebound it and put it back for the win.
--Old Dominion will be battle tested-come playoff time, thanks to five overtime games this season through Jan. 16.

--Senior F Robert Nwankwo had a huge game against league-leading Georgia State on Jan. 14, finishing with 17 points, 13 rebounds, six blocks and four steals. However, he got no help as Towson lost again, falling to 0-18 on the season. The overall losing streak swelled to 37 games.
--Nwankwo had his 14th career double-double, and he passed former Tiger Junior Hairston for sixth all-time in career rebounds at the school with 630.
--The 10 blocks Towson recorded against Georgia State were the second most by any CAA team this season.

--Defense was the name of the game when VCU defeated Delaware 68-55 on Jan. 14, as the Rams limited all-CAA guard Devon Saddler to a 3-for-19 shooting night and 10 points. Saddler was second in the conference in scoring with an 18.6-point average.
--Sophomore G Rob Brandenberg was assigned to cover Saddler. "You are dealing with one of best players in league. What we need from you is not scoring, we need 40 minutes of you making it tough on him," were the directions coach Shaka Smart game him.
--When VCU pounded James Madison 65-45 on Jan. 12, the game was significant for more than just being the record-setting 11th consecutive sellout in the Verizon Wireless Arena in the Stuart C. Siegel Center. The Rams owned a 44-30 advantage on the glass with both Brad Ford Burgess (12) and Juvvonte Reddic (11) grabbing double-digit rebounds. The plus-14 rebounding margin was the largest for the Rams since Feb. 16, 2009, when VCU outrebounded Drexel by 19. In the previous two seasons, the Rams had two players with 10-plus rebounds a total of three times. Reddic and Burgess had done it twice within eight days.

--Senior G/F Quinn McDowell, who had some trouble getting rolling this year, had a season-high 26 points in leading William & Mary to a 66-49 victory over winless Towson on Jan. 11. He had 17 second-half points making nine of 13 shots after intermission.
--McDowell came back to lead the Tribe with 13 points in a loss at Northeastern.
--William & Mary can trace many of its problems to its inability on the boards, as it was bringing down only 30.0 per game and being outrebounded by almost four boards a game, both the worst figures in the conference through Jan. 16.
--According to coach Tony Shaver, nothing has changed on the leg injury to senior F JohnMark Ludwick. "He's out of the cast and allowed to jog, but on the fourth day of jogging, he experienced a lot of pain. That's not a good sign," Shaver said. "He's back on the underwater treadmill, I don't see him playing in the near future."

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