College Hoops Preview: The Colonial Athletic Association

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Unless something changes, this may be the last time anyone asks me to write a CAA preview for a national audience. With VCU gone to the A-10, and Old Dominion and Georgia State playing out the string as lame ducks before following their BCS football dreams, the league’s strength of schedule is on life support. A much bruited-about raid of the SoCon’s top teams never materialized this summer.

None of that matters. It’s still one of the most entertaining conferences in the nation. I’m here to tell you why – even now – you should never sleep on the CAA.

Five things to know

1. VCU is gone, off to wreak havoc on the Atlantic 10.

2. Old Dominion (C-USA) and Georgia State (Sun Belt) are on the way out, and have consequently been uninvited from the CAA’s postseason tournament.

3. Drexel last went to the NCAA tournament in 1996 and has never been there under 11th-year head coach Bruiser Flint.

4. UNC-Wilmington and Towson have been banned from postseason play due to poor performance in the Academic Progress Rate calculations.

5. Long-time league doormat Towson has brought in three Big East transfers and looks to be on the right track under second-year head coach Pat Skerry.

Impact newcomers:

R.J. Hunter – 6’8”, 180 lb. G, Georgia State: He’s the coach’s kid, but he won’t be mopping up blowouts and high-fiving from the end of the bench. The all-state performer from hoops-mad Indiana chose loyalty to dear old dad over offers from Iowa, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest.

Ron Curry – 6’3”, 175 lb. G, James Madison: The CAA cognoscenti have tabbed Curry as the likely freshman of the year, and recruiting analysts say the point guard from New Jersey has the raw talent to play in any league in the country. He’s an inside-out threat who distributes the ball and has the long arms of a top defender. Definitely one to watch.

Tavon Allen – 6’7”, 205 lb. G/F, Drexel: The redshirt freshman is big, ambidextrous, and can shoot it from anywhere on the floor. His ability to play multiple positions will make him a matchup nightmare.

Carl Baptiste – 6’8”, 240 lb. F, Delaware: The junior from New Jersey didn’t show much during his two seasons at St. Joe’s, but Blue Hens coach Monte’ Ross called him “the most skilled big man we have,” and looks to pair him with brick house senior Jamelle Hagins on the blocks.

Bilal Dixon – 6’9” 260lb. C, Towson: The latest athlete to take advantage of the graduate transfer rule, Dixon is a bit of a cipher. At Providence, he had his best season as a freshman, and declined thereafter. Bare minimum, he’ll be a defensive force; throw in a healthy diet of putbacks and tip-ins and he’s a star.

Breakout players:

Jarvis Threatt – 6’2” 170 lb. G, Delaware: Threatt was an All-Rookie honoree last season, coming on strong at the end of his freshman year and dropping 31 points on Butler in the postseason CBI. Scary thought: that was just the beginning.

Sherrod Wright – 6’4” 196 lb. G, GMU: Wright was a bit inconsistent last season, but he found his rhythm by February. He’s a crazy insanely ridiculous shooter, and if he takes care of the ball a little better as a junior, he’ll keep Mason in the league’s top echelon, where they’ve taken up permanent residence.

Andrey Semenov – 6’7” 205 lb. F, James Madison: The lanky Russian can drill them from downtown (44% last season), but he’s not afraid to step inside and battle for a putback, either. If he (and the rest of the Dukes) can stay healthy, he can be the floor-stretcher that makes everything easier.

Quincy Ford – 6’8” 212 lb. F, Northeastern: Ford averaged 11.5 points and 5 boards as a freshman, and was just as good on the defensive end. If he nudges his shooting percentage up from 43%, he’s the league’s next Kent Bazemore – the ODU standout now with the Golden State Warriors.

Tim Rusthoven – 6’9” 230 lb. F, William & Mary: Members of the CAA’s vibrant blogging community call him “Beasthoven”. Academic powerhouse W&M rarely sees a player this size, and Rusthoven showed the ability to score 10 and grab 6 when he was on the floor last season. If he can stay healthy, hit his charities and consistently gain position under the basket, his numbers can only go up.

Player of year: Frantz Massenat – 6’4” 185 lb. G, Drexel: Massenat featured prominently in the discussion for CAA POY last season (Mason’s Ryan Pearson won it), and he was just a sophomore. Granted, he was a sophomore who averaged 13.7 points, 3.3 boards, 4.8 assists and nearly a steal per game, so the attention was more than warranted. As the central gear on a loaded Drexel team, he’s ready to go supernova.

All-CAA: Massenat; Devon Saddler, G, Delaware; Jamelle Hagins, F, Delaware; Keith Rendleman, G/F, UNCW; Rayshawn Goins, F, JMU

Coach under pressure: Matt Brady, JMU: Brady has had some pretty good teams, and some pretty bad luck. Any semblance of chemistry for the Dukes has been disrupted by a plague of injuries to Brady’s best players. The former Marist head coach has alternated 20+ win seasons with disappointments, so if the pattern holds, he’ll be back up on top of the peak. If it’s a second straight valley, he’s done.

Predicted finish (with bonus blog links)

1. Drexel – Big and mean up front, tenacious and experienced in the backcourt. Even when the offense droops, the defense comes up big. Bruiser Flint has seen his strong teams repeatedly snubbed by the NCAA selection committee, and he’ll be gunning hard for the auto-bid.

2. Delaware – First of all, head coach Monte’ Ross just has “it”, the intangible thing that radiates from coaches on the rise. He’s also got a complete team, with Devon Saddler and Jamelle Hagins looking like all-league selections, and Jarvis Threatt as the spark plug.

3. George Mason – Mason is league royalty for a reason, and now that in-state rivals ODU and VCU are leaving, they’re the CAA’s top dog in the Commonwealth. Not quite as talented as the big D’s at the top of our list, but always a threat to cut down nets in Richmond.

4. Northeastern – The Huskies have a talented core, but lack a proven post presence and depth. Smart coaching (a given) and a couple of players stepping up (a crapshoot) and these guys are dangerous.

5. James Madison – Good players, questionable chemistry, constant looming threat of injuries. If Curry is as good as he can be, and everyone stays relatively healthy, they can vault into the top four.

6. Old Dominion* – Not to be crass, but Blaine Taylor knows his team isn’t eligible for the auto-bid, and he has a young squad. Expect him to tinker a lot in search of the rotation that will serve him best in C-USA next season.

7. William & Mary – The Wrens (not their real mascot) are the CAA’s hard-luck story. With Ivy-caliber academics and uninspiring sports facilities, they’re always just a touch off the pace. Beasthoven, hyperactive sophomore Marcus Thornton and streaky shooter Julian Boatner could play spoiler on any given night.

8. Georgia State* – Ron Hunter barely had a chance to get used to the CAA and he’s already on his way out. His team lost a lot of production, and will struggle to get everybody on the same page in a time of upheaval.

9. Towson* – In the past, Towson was bad with no hope. With Pat Skerry in charge, the sun’s starting to peek over the horizon. Loads of Big East transfers make up the core of this year’s team.

10. Wilmington* – It pains me to put the Seahawks this low, because Keith Rendleman is such a great player. He stuck with the team even though he knows he can’t go to the postseason in his senior year. Love him. Don’t love their chances.

11. Hofstra – Mo Cassara and the Pride gambled on transfers Jamal Coombs-McDaniel (UConn) and Taran Buie (Penn State). The two BCS wash-outs are already in the doghouse, serving suspensions to start the season. Not a good sign.

*not eligible for CAA postseason tournament

Eric Angevine has covered the Colonial Athletic Association for nearly a decade. He recommends CAA Hoops and CAAZone for all your pressing CAA basketball needs.

Point man: Can Nick Weiler-Babb’s move to PG put Iowa State back in the tourney?

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AMES, Ia. — It was clear Iowa State needed a change. The Cyclones stood 0-2 with an 18-point home loss to Milwaukee already on the resume. It was clear they were due for a reboot this season after losing four starters – including All-American point guard Monte Morris – but getting trounced at Hilton Coliseum by a team picked to finish eighth in the Horizon League constitutes an emergency.

The Cyclones didn’t panic, though. They adjusted. 

After that disastrous start to the season, coach Steve Prohm moved Nick Weiler-Babb from small forward to point guard while slotting the two players who had been manning the point –  sharpshooter Donovan Jackson and five-star freshman Lindell Wigginton – off the ball.

All Iowa State done since is win.

The Cyclones have rattled off seven-straight with Weiler-Babb flirting with triple-doubles, Jackson shooting 41.6 percent from deep and Wigginton looking like a future star.

“Good we moved him over there,” Prohm said.

It certainly has been good for the Cyclones. Iowa State was 9 of 34 (26.5 percent) from 3-point range, shot 38.8 percent overall and failed to reach 60 points in its opening two losses. In the seven games since, they’re converting at a 46.4 percent clip overall, 39.4 percent from distance and averaging 83.6 points per game. They’ve seemingly become a different team with Weiler-Babb at the helm.

“It’s taking a whole new role,” Weiler-Babb said. “Coach just told me whatever I have to do to win, I have to do it. That’s what I’ve tried to do. Take the ball out of the guys’ hands and give it to the scorers.”

The 6-foot-5 junior is averaging 7.9 assists along with 12.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. He’s become indispensable for the Cyclones a year after being a bit player on the Big 12 tournament championship team.

“He went through some tough times last year,” Prohm said. “But that’s what everybody’s got to understand. Freshmen, sophomore, you’ve got to put your time in a little bit to have success and earn success. He’s doing that.”

The immediate returns have been spectacular for Iowa State, but a question still lingers as they eye Big 12 play later this month.

Is it real?

Or, rather, will it be real against an unforgiving Big 12 schedule? Given Iowa State’s non-conference slate, whether it is or not will determine the postseason fate of a team sitting on a program-best six-straight NCAA tournament appearances.

As good as Weiler-Babb and the Cyclones have been during their seven-game winning streak, the competition can’t be ignored. Iowa State’s best win during this stretch is either Boise State, which only got 8 minutes from Chandler Hutchison after a head injury, or Iowa, which is 5-6 with losses to Louisiana Lafayette and South Dakota State. The wins haven’t all come easy for Iowa State, either. They narrowly defeated Appalachian State and Tulsa while initially struggling against Northern Illinois and Alcorn State before pulling away.

Things have been good for the Cyclones, but they haven’t been perfect.

Iowa State is a mediocre shooting team overall and could have serious spacing issues going forward given the roster forces Prohm to play two non-shooting bigs together for major minutes. Wigginton has been excellent, scoring 20-plus in three of the last four games, but his level of athleticism is something the likes of Western Illinois can’t counter. Texas, Kansas and West Virginia can. Big swaths of the roster, which features eight newcomers, haven’t faced Big 12 caliber competition ever in their careers. Weiler-Babb’s size and skill at the point guard position makes him a major problem for mid-majors, but can he keep up this pace when he faces length and physicality similar to his own?

Those questions, though, have to be welcomed by the Cyclones. If there were answers to them for a team with so much youth and so many unproven players in new positions in mid-December, it probably would register in the negative.

That they’re unknown means there is possibility, opportunity and promise. That exists in no small part because Prohm made Weiler-Babb a point guard.

“The challenge is, what do we really want to be?” Prohm said. “But he spearheads everything we do.”

Texas’ Jones out with a broken wrist

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Texas may be without its leading scorer heading into conference play.

Longhorns coach Shaka Smart announced Monday that sophomore Andrew Jones suffered a hairline fracture in his right wrist and will be sidelined for the foreseeable future.

“Fortunately it’s not one of those injuries where he should be out for an extended long period of time,” Smart said at his news conference Monday, “but he’s going to miss at least the next few games before Christmas. They decided not to put it in a cast, which is good news.”

Jones suffered the injury last week against VCU when he took a number of tumbles to the floor. He’s averaging 15.3 points while shooting 52.4 percent from the floor and 43.2 percent from 3-point range.

“It’s a tough injury for us because he’s our leading scorer and has done a phenomenal job for us this year,” Smart said. “We’re going to need everyone on our team, not just guards, but everyone on our team to step up and take a little more responsibility.

“Your margin for error is a little smaller.”

The Longhorns, who are 6-2 with losses to Duke and Gonzaga, face Michigan on Tuesday, Louisiana Tech on Saturday and Alabama next week. Jones is certainly out for those games, and his availability for Texas’ first Big 12 games – Dec. 29 vs. Kansas and Jan. 1 at Iowa State – would seem to be in question.

“We don’t have an exact timeframe,” Smart said. “It’s really good news they didn’t put it in a cast.

“We’re hopeful that we can get him back in three, four weeks, but that’s not a set timetable.”

 

Coaches Poll: Villanova climbs to the No. 1 spot

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The new top 25 coaches poll is out, and the No. 1 team in college basketball is now Villanova.

Michigan State, who received 10 of a possible 32 first-place votes, came in at No. 2 while Duke, last week’s No. 1 team, fell to No. 4 with a loss to Boston College.

After winning at Kansas this week, Arizona State vaulted up to the No. 6 spot, while the Jayhawks fell to No. 12.

Here is the full coaches poll.

1. Villanova (22 first-place votes)
2. Michigan State (10)
3. Wichita State
4. Duke
5. Kentucky
6. Arizona State
7. North Carolina
8. Miami
9. Xavier
10. Texas A&M
11. West Virginia
12. Kansas
13. Gonzaga
14. TCU
15. Seton Hall
16. Virginia
17. Purdue
18. Notre Dame
19. Florida State
20. Tennessee
21. Baylor
22. Florida
23. Arizona
24. Oklahoma
25. Creighton

Villanova hops over Michigan State for No. 1 in AP Top 25

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Villanova’s unbeaten start now includes a No. 1 ranking in the AP Top 25 , while Arizona State is making a rapid rise into the top 10 under third-year coach Bobby Hurley.

After a tumultuous week in which unanimous No. 1 Duke and No. 2 Kansas lost, the Wildcats (10-0) earned 41 of 65 first-place votes to hop over Michigan State and reach the top for the third straight season.

Villanova and Michigan State were the favorites to take over at the top after the Blue Devils’ weekend loss at Boston College, though there was far less certainty for voters about who was now the nation’s top team. The Spartans (9-1) earned 19 first-place votes to climb from third to second, while the other five first-place votes went to the Sun Devils — who leapt 11 spots to No. 5 after Sunday’s win at Kansas.

Arizona State (9-0) is off to its best start since the 1974-75 season. Now the Sun Devils — who also have a win against Xavier this season — have their highest ranking since reaching third during the 1980-81 season.

Wichita State climbed three spots to No. 3, followed by Duke and Arizona State. Unbeaten Miami climbed four spots to No. 6, followed by North Carolina, Kentucky, Texas A&M and Xavier to round out the top 10.

Villanova helped itself with an impressive win against No. 12 Gonzaga last week in New York, though the Wildcats had to fight to the final minute Sunday to close out a La Salle team that entered at 5-5.

“It’s always an honor to be ranked No. 1,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said in a statement. “It’s great for the Nova Nation and we appreciate the respect of the writers. We know it’s early, though, and we need to get a lot better.”

KANSAS’ FALL

The Jayhawks (7-2) slid 11 spots to No. 13 after two losses last week, the first coming against Washington in Kansas City, Missouri, before losing to the Sun Devils in Allen Fieldhouse.

SHUFFLE UP

Only two teams — No. 8 Kentucky and No. 12 Gonzaga — stayed in the same spot. Thirteen teams rose in the poll, while four of the seven teams that fell slid at least eight spots.

TOP RISERS

Arizona State’s leap was the biggest, though No. 11 West Virginia (9-1) moved up seven spots after beating then-No. 15 Virginia. No. 14 TCU (10-0) climbed six spots after a win against a then-ranked Nevada team.

Miami, UNC, No. 15 Seton Hall, No. 17 Purdue and No. 20 Tennessee all climbed four spots.

LONGEST SLIDES

While Kansas’ losses stood out, No. 22 Florida had the biggest fall of the week.

The Gators (6-3) slid 17 spots after home losses to Florida State and to Loyola Chicago — a game in which they led for all of 93 seconds. Florida salvaged a win against Cincinnati in the Never Forget Tribute Classic in Newark, New Jersey, to avoid a four-game skid.

No. 18 Notre Dame (8-2) fell nine spots after an upset loss to Ball State, while the No. 25 Bearcats (7-2) slid eight spots.

NEWCOMERS

There were three newcomers to this week’s poll, though one is more of a welcome back.

The list included No. 19 Florida State (9-0) and No. 24 Texas Tech (7-1), while Arizona returned to the rankings at No. 23.

Arizona’s 0-3 showing at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas made the Wildcats the first team in three decades to go from No. 2 in the AP Top 25 to unranked in a week. But four straight wins have the preseason Final Four favorite back in the poll.

SLIDING OUT

Minnesota (No. 14 last week), Nevada (No. 22) and Southern California (No. 25) all fell out of the poll.

1. Villanova (41 first-place votes)
2. Michigan State (19)
3. Wichita State
4. Duke
5. Arizona State (5)
6. Miami
7. North Carolina
8. Kentucky
9. Texas A&M
10. Xavier
11. West Virginia
12. Gonzaga
13. Kansas
14. TCU
15. Seton Hall
16. Virginia
17. Purdue
18. Notre Dame
19. Florida State
20. Tennessee
21. Baylor
22. Florida
23. Arizona
24. Texas Tech
25. Cincinnati

Expelled Yale captain has enrolled at Belmont University

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NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — Former Yale basketball captain Jack Montague, who was expelled from the Ivy League school in 2016 for sexual misconduct, has enrolled at Belmont University in Tennessee.

Montague, who is still suing to be readmitted to Yale, complained in a court deposition last spring that he was unable to apply to other schools. He said Yale would not release his transcript until he paid a disputed tuition bill.

Karen Schwartzman, a spokeswoman for Montague, says Yale later released the transcript, allowing Montague to enroll at Belmont this fall. She says not all of his credits transferred and he will need two semesters to graduate.

He exhausted his basketball eligibility at Yale.

Montague denies the sexual misconduct allegations. No criminal charges were ever sought.

Yale’s attorneys have said the school and its officials acted appropriately.

The lawsuit, which also seeks monetary damages, is expected to go to trial next year.