The CAA lost some of it’s charm when it got raided by bigger conference. VCU and George Mason were the league’s two Final Four programs whose battles on the court were always — Always!!!! — bested by the rivalry between Mason’s Doc Nix and the Green Machine and VCU’s Peppas. Old Dominion is also spending their first season away from the CAA.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some good teams in that conference. Delaware has been rolling through the conference despite spending a month without Devon Saddler and another month without Jarvis Threatt, arguably their two best players. Towson finished second in the league while riding the coattails of Jerelle Benimon, the best player in the conference. Drexel survived the loss of Damion Lee about as well as Dragon fans can hope. Marcus Thornton of William & Mary is as good as any of the great guards in the league.
The league may not be centered in Southern Virginia anymore, but there is still some fun basketball to be played.
Somehow, Devon Saddler is still playing college basketball in what feels like his 17th season at Delaware. He teams up with Jarvis Threatt and Davon Usher to give Monte’ Ross one of the best perimeter attacks at the mid-major level. Throw in Carl Baptiste, who has played well in the paint, and Delaware should be considered the favorite to bring home the CAA tournament title.
And if they lose?: Towson
Pat Skerry has done a terrific job building Towson into a power in the CAA. It helps when you’ve got a hoss like Jerelle Benimon, who might be the best player in all of mid-major basketball, monitoring the low-block. The Tigers enter the postseason having won six games in a row and 10 of their last 11.
William & Mary: The Tribe finished third in the CAA, winning six of their last night games. They’re led by Marcus Thornton, one of the best guards this side of Delaware and Drexel.
Drexel: The Dragons aren’t the same team without Damion Lee, but Chris Fouch, Frantz Massenat and Tavon Allen are as good as any top three in the league. Don’t count out Bruiser Flint.
Jerelle Benimon, Towson: Benimon averaged 18.9 points and 11.7 boards as the Tigers finished in second in the conference.
Devon Saddler, Delaware: Saddler missed time before league play started, but carried the Blue Hens when they were without Jarvis Threatt. He averaged 20.2 points and 3.4 assists.
Scott Eatherton, Northeastern: Eatherton was the only guy in the CAA to average a double-double other than Benimon, posting 15.5 points and 10.1 boards.
Zeke Upshaw, Hofstra: The second-leading scorer in the league, Upshaw went from being a no-name with Illinois State to one of the most-improved players in the country.
Throughout Tom Izzo’s tenure at Michigan State the team’s half-court man-to-man defense has been a staple, and the Spartans have generally proven difficult to have a high rate of offensive success against. The reliance on that defense is why Izzo’s conversations earlier this summer about using some token full-court pressure due to the shortening of the shot clock caught some people off-guard.
According to the Detroit Free Press there’s another wrinkle the Spartans may use, and it’s likely that this wrinkle will show up more often than the full-court press. During Friday’s opening practice the Spartans worked on a 2-3 zone, and Izzo wants his assistants to make sure the team works on the defense consistently throughout the season.
That’s also why zone in general isn’t going to get heavy play at MSU, but having it as a tool could be beneficial — especially in games with touch fouls on the perimeter called in droves.
“I told (my assistant coaches): ‘You hold me accountable to working on it every day some’ … I have a tendency to drift off on that, and I don’t want to drift off on it,” Izzo said of the 2-3 zone. “But we will be, rest assured, a 90-some percent man-to-man team still and hopefully take some of those principles to zone.”
As noted in the story one of the risks in using pressure is allowing quality shots, which is why it’s unlikely that Michigan State will go to it. But even with Izzo vowing that his team will work on the zone, that doesn’t mean they’ll be playing it as often as Syracuse does.
Man-to-man has been Michigan State’s staple and it will continue to be. But it doesn’t hurt to look for other ways to keep opponents from getting the looks they want, especially if teams have five fewer seconds to find those shots.
When the college basketball rules committee made the decision to trim the shot clock down to 30 second from 35, one reason for the switch was the desire to improve offensive production. With offensive numbers at their lowest point in years, proponents of the move see the shot clock change as a necessary move if scoring is to improve.
Whether or not that winds up being the case will be seen throughout the upcoming season, but teams are still having to make adjustments during the preseason.
Virginia, which has played at a snail’s pace (and with great success, mind you) in recent years, made some adjustments to their summer work in anticipation of playing with a 30-second shot clock. One adjustment was more games of 3-on-3 with a 15-second shot clock, which forced all involved to be more decisive in their offensive decision-making.
While the pack-line defense will always be a staple of Tony Bennett’s teams, the feeling in Charlottesville is that they’ve got the offensive firepower needed to both play faster and be more efficient offensively than they were in 2014-15 (29th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy). One of the players who will lead the way is senior guard Malcolm Brogdon, who led the team in scoring and was a first team All-ACC selection, and he discussed the team’s outlook with Mike Barber of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
And even though Anderson’s highlight-reel shot blocking was the thing that frequently fueled fast-breaks for U.Va. last season, Brogdon and [Anthony] Gill said they expect this year’s team to actually push the tempo even more.
“I think we’re going to be a team that gets out and runs more,” Brogdon said. “I think we’ll have three guards on the floor, most of the time, will be able to handle the ball as a point guard and get out in transition. I think we’ll play a lot faster.”
Brogdon and Gill are two of the team’s three returning starters with point guard London Perrantes being the other, and the Cavaliers also return most of their reserves from last year’s rotation. That experience will help them on both ends of the floor as they prepare for a run at a third straight ACC regular season title. And in theory it also allows them to extend themselves a bit more offensively than they did a season ago.