2011-2012 CAA Preview: Is this Drexel’s year?

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AWARDS

Player of the Year: Bradford Burgess, Sr., VCU

Playing a role as the second — and, at times, the third or fourth — offensive option for VCU a season ago, Burgess still managed to average 14.3 ppg and 5.1 rpg. He also happened to be a guy that seemingly made every big play for the Rams. Whether it was a momentum-changing three, getting a late-game stop, slipping a screen for a game-winning bucket (hello Florida State) or calming his team down — Shaka Smart credited Burgess for bringing the team together after Smart was given a technical foul in the second half of VCU’s Elite 8 win over Kansas — Burgess has all the makings of a go-to player and a leader. And with so much talent leaving the Rams, Burgess will undoubtedly be the first option for VCU offensively. Now think about this stat: Burgess took 14 or more shots in five games last season. In those five games, he averaged 24.6 ppg and hit 17-26 from beyond the arc.

And a close second goes to…: Samme Givens, Sr., Drexel

This was tough, as the CAA has a number of very good upperclassmen this year. I’ll go with Givens simply because I think he is as valuable to the Dragons as any player in the country is to their team. I also love undersized players that aren’t afraid to mix it up in the paint, and there certainly isn’t a front court player that is, inch-for-inch, more effective than Givens. Standing just 6’5″, Givens averaged more than 10 rpg last season and was the biggest reason why Drexel led the country in defensive rebounding percentage. You see, Drexel’s ability to clean the glass is the reason they win games. Bruiser Flint’s teams don’t force turnovers. They play fundamental, physical and positional defense, forcing you into tough shots — they were seventh in the nation in defensive effective field goal percentage. By cleaning the defensive glass and limiting opponents to one shot per possession, the Dragons make it incredibly difficult to score against them. Givens is one of the major reasons why Drexel will be successful playing that style of basketball. Oh, and he’s probably going to average around 13 ppg.

Breakout Star: Devon Saddler, So., Delaware

In his first game as a Blue Hen, Saddler went for 19 points on 8-13 shooting while adding seven assists and six rebounds on the road against a team in Ohio that was coming off of a first-round upset of Georgetown in the NCAA Tournament. Not a bad way to introduce yourself to a fan base. And while he was a bit inconsistent throughout non-conference play, Saddler only got better during CAA play, something you don’t often see out of freshmen. He averaged 18.7 ppg over the last 12 regular season games, winning CAA Rookie of the Year. If his hot shooting continues — he was 20-40 from three over the last eight games of the season — and he can learn to protect the basketball — he averaged most turnovers than assists — Saddler has a chance to become a national name by the time he’s done at Delaware.

All-Conference First-Team:

POY: Bradford Burgess, Sr., VCU
G: Quinn McDowell, Sr., William & Mary
G: Devon Saddler, So., Delaware
G: Kent Bazemore, Sr., Old Dominion
F: Ryan Pearson, Sr., George Mason
F: Samme Givens, Sr., Drexel

All-Conference Second-Team:

G: Devon Moore, Jr., James Madison
G: Chris Fouch, Jr., Drexel
G: Mike Moore, Sr., Hofstra
F: Juvonte Reddic, So., VCU
F: Keith Rendlemen, Jr., UNC-Wilmington

Four summer storylines

– VCU’s training with Navy SEALs: I mean, its pretty self-explanatory. We wrote about it more here if you are interested, but I would recommend watching the video.

– Turnover at George Mason: Simply put, Jim Larranaga was not happy at George Mason. He wasn’t happy with his salary, he wasn’t happy with the salary his assistants received, he wasn’t happy with his athletic director, and he wasn’t happy when he saw Shaka Smart sign an extension worth more than double what he was making annually for accomplishing the same thing he did five years prior. So he left for a job that paid better, had a boss he got along with, and was located in South Florida. Not that tough of a decision. As a replacement, Mason brought in Georgia Tech’s Paul Hewitt, and while Hewitt could not hold keep Luke Hancock in the program, he was able to sign Roland Houston as an assistant and get him to bring along his nephew, top 100 center Eric Copes.

Larranaga was an icon at George Mason, a school he had built into a powerhouse in arguably the nation’s top mid-major conference with a better-than-you-think-it-is fan base. The program has momentum. Will Paul Hewitt — who was unable to capitalize on a run by his Georgia Tech team to the national title game — build on it?

– Blaine Taylor’s ‘stacheIts gone.

– Towson’s overhaul: When you go 4-26 on the season and 0-18 in conference play, changes have to be made. For Towson, those changes came in the form of a complete overhaul of the program. Out is head coach Pat Kennedy. Out were star forwards Isaiah Philmore and Braxton DuPree. Troy Franklin was out before the end of the first semester. With Pat Skerry, the Tigers bring in a completely new culture to their program. Even with Kelvin Amayo ineligible for this year, Skerry did a solid job recruiting, landing Georgetown transfer Jerelle Benimon. If he can tap into the fertile recruiting grounds of the Baltimore-DC corridor, Towson has the potential to be one of the best programs in the CAA.

Four storylines to follow this season

– Kent Bazemore’s foot: Bazemore, Old Dominion’s lone returning starter and a potential CAA Player of the Year in 2012, broke a bone in his left foot playing in a Hampton, VA, summer league. He underwent surgery in the beginning of August and initially expected to be healthy by the time the season finally rolls around. Now it appears as if the reigning defensive player of the year in the conference may be out until early December. If he is not at 100%, ODU is in trouble this season. Bazemore is one of the best perimeter defenders in the country, a guy that head coach Blaine Taylor can build a defense around. He’s also an athletic scorer that developed into a well-rounded offensive threat. It would be a shame to see him go out like this.

– George Mason’s back court: The biggest concern for the Patriots heading into the season has nothing to do with who their head coach is and everything to do with their back court. Cam Long and Luke Hancock were GMU’s two best playmakers, accounting for nearly 50% (240 out of 483) or their team’s assists a season ago, but both are now out of the program. Then in September, Andre Cornelius, a senior guard and returning starter, was arrested for credit card fraud, meaning that Vertrail Vaughns, who averaged a whopping 9.5 mpg, is the most experienced returnee in the back court that doesn’t have legal trouble hanging over their head.

The strength of this year’s George Mason team is going to be their front court, but there are some major question marks in the back court. Assuming Cornelius is able to play this season, he’s less of a playmaker than he is a spot-up shooter. Vaughns was efficient and productive in his limited minutes as a freshman, but how will he handle a larger role where he is going to be counted on as a playmaker? Can sophomore Byron Allen or freshman Corey Edwards take over the point guard duties? Whether or not Paul Hewitt can find a playmaker on his perimeter will likely determine just how good George Mason ends up being this season.

– Devon Moore’s status: As a sophomore, the 6’4″ Moore developed into one of the more exciting young guards in the conference to watch. He averaged 11.4 ppg and 4.2 apg on a team whose focal point was a slow-footed center. With Denzel Bowles gone, the Dukes had planned on becoming a more uptempo team. With talents like Julius Wells and Wyoming transfer AJ Davis — who could be a difference-maker for JMU this year — around Moore, there was reason fans to be excited heading into the season. But Moore has been ruled academically ineligible for the first semester. Its never easy to incorporate your point guard in at mid-season, especially when that point guard is the most important piece to a new offensive system. How will the Dukes respond to the change?

– Youngsters at Old Dominion and VCU: Old Dominion and VCU were two of the best teams in the conference last season, but combined, they graduated eight of their top ten players. The two guys that return — Kent Bazemore and Brad Burgess — are both near-locks to be first-team all-conference if they stay healthy, but how good those two teams end up being will be dependent on how well the youngsters on the roster develop. Are Juvonte Reddic and Rob Brandenburg primed for big sophomore years with the Rams? Is Darius Theus ready to be Joey Rodriguez’s replacement? Can ODU’s Trian Iliadis maintain his efficiency while playing an expanded role? Will Chris Cooper be able to control the paint the same way Frank Hassell did?

Power Rankings

1. Drexel: The Dragon’s 2010-2011 campaign could be considered a success based on the fact that they won 21 games (only the second time that he has crossed the 20-win plateau as the head man of the Dragons), knocked off Louisville in Louisville and finished fifth in the conference, behind three teams that made the NCAA Tournament and a fourth team that sent a player to the NBA. Doing all that despite losing two players, including their leading scorer, after an offseason armed robbery just makes it all the more impressive. But the season was also a disappointment in that the Dragons didn’t play in any postseason tournaments.

This season’s version of the Dragons is quite intriguing. They bring back six of the seven players in their rotation from a year ago and add a solid recruiting class to the mix. The crux of this team comes on the defensive end of the floor. I think it is safe to say that the Dragons play an ugly style of basketball. They defend and they rebound — they were seventh in the country in defensive effective field goal percentage and led the nation in defensive rebounding percentage — limiting their opponents to one shot per possession as well as anyone. That won’t change next season. Back is Sammie Givens — who led the CAA in rebounding at 10.3 rpg despite standing just 6’5″ — who will once again be joined up front by 6’9″ junior Darryl McCoy (7.8 rpg in 22.5 mpg) and 6’8″ sophomore Dartaye Ruffin (7.4 rpg in 23.3 mpg), who made the all-freshmen team a season ago. Returning in the back court is sophomore point guard Frantz Masserat, another all-freshmen team member, and 6’4″ senior Derrick Thomas. The key, however, will end up being leading scorer Chris Fouch. Fouch is a big-time shooter that can get as hot as anyone in the country, and while he finished the season with a 14.9 ppg average, the bulk of that damage was done early in the season. His shooting numbers dipped all the way to 33.3% from long range and 37.9% from the field by the end of the year as he battled injuries; he’s banged up to start the season again as well. He averaged just 12.7 ppg in league play. If Fouch, a junior, can get more consistent throughout the season and one or two of Flint’s five freshmen are able to provide solid rotational minutes, Drexel has a shot of winning the Colonial this season.

2. George Mason: As we mentioned, George Mason had as much turmoil and turnover this offseason as anyone in the country. It started with the change in leadership, as Paul Hewitt took over for Miami-bound Jim Larranaga. Then it was the transfer of Luke Hancock to Louisville, which — in addition to the loss of Cam Long — will hurt the Patriots more than people think. Finally, the addition of Roland Houston as an assistant coach brought in Top 100 freshman Eric Copes, one of the best centers in the 2011 recruiting class.

For the 2011-2012 season, the biggest key for George Mason will be finding a playmaker. With Cam Long graduating and Hancock heading to the Big East, the Patriots not only lose two of their three leading scorers, they lose their two best playmakers; those two combined for 50% of GMU’s assists a year ago. 5’10” senior Andre Cornelius was, technically, the Patriot’s point guard last season, but he’s more of a spot-up shooter than he is a creator, although its unclear when he’ll return from suspension for credit card fraud. There are minutes to be earned on the perimeter. Redshirt sophomore Vertrail Vaughns could be in line for a breakout season. He was the most efficient player on the George Mason roster last season and used a significant number of possessions (20.9%) despite playing a limited role (just 9.5 mpg). Sophomore Byron Allen was rated as one of the top 50 point guards coming out of high school while incoming freshman Corey Edwards is a playmaking point guard that had interest from a number of high-major programs, including Villanova and St. John’s. Also joining the mix on the perimeter will be freshman Vaughn Gray and redshirt sophomore Sherrod Wright, who average 5.5 ppg as a freshman before missing last season with a shoulder injury. Mason’s strength next season is going to be on the interior, however. 6’7″ face-up power forward Ryan Pearson, who was GMU’s second-leading scorer as a junior, is back for his senior year and will become the Patriot’s go-to scorer. He’ll be joined on the front-line by Mike Morrison, a long and athletic center, and the freshman Eric Copes, a burly and relentless post presence that will have an immediate impact on Mason’s rebounding totals. Copes has the potential to develop into a difference maker in the paint. There are a lot of question marks with this team, but the talent is there to compete for another CAA title. Will all the pieces come together?

3. VCU: I don’t think I need to tell you what kind of success the Rams had last season. Despite going just 12-6 in conference play, a run to the finals of the CAA Tournament was enough to get VCU an at-large invite to the Big Dance and, well, the rest is history. The Rams rolled through USC, Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and Kansas en route to the Final Four, the second time in five years that a team from the CAA made it that far as an 11 seed. But with four of their top five players graduating — and key reserve Toby Veal opting not to return to Richmond — the Rams will be in a bit of a rebuilding year this season.

That said, there is still quite a bit of talent on the VCU roster. It starts with Brad Burgess, who is a legitimate candidate to win the CAA Player of the Year award. Burgess is sharpshooting small forward that can score and rebound and always seems to hit a big shot when VCU needs it. But most importantly he’s going to be the veteran leader of this year’s team. After Burgess, the Rams are going to be relying on quite a bit of youth, but those youngsters are promising. Junior Darius Theus will likely takeover at the point for Joey Rodriguez while sophomore Rob Brandenburg will slide in alongside him. Brandenburg had a couple of big scoring outputs last year — 23 against William & Mary and 22 versus Georgia State — and is a prime candidate for a breakout season. Theus wasn’t as much of a scorer, but he’s a capable penetrator that notched four or more assists nine times as a sophomore. In the front court, the guy that will be looked at to replace Jamie Skeen’s production is Juvonte Reddic. A highly-regarded recruit coming out of high school, Reddic has a nice blend of length, athleticism, and touch and wil hopefully develop into a more productive player as a sophomore. DJ Haley, a seven-foot sophomore, will also be counted on for a boost. After that, VCU has a lot of minutes available off the bench and six freshmen — two of which redshirted — that will fight for those minutes. Redshirt freshman Reco McCarter, an athletic, 6’7″ lefty small forward, is probably the best out of that group.

4. James Madison: Matt Brady hasn’t done a bad job in making over the Dukes’ program since taking over in Harrisonburg, VA, three years ago. He’s won 20 games twice and reached a postseason tournament twice, both of which happened last season. But the real gauge for where this program is headed will be this season, as one of the biggest reasons for JMU’s success a year ago — their biggest player, Texas A&M transfer Denzel Bowles — graduates. How good was Bowles? After becoming eligible in December of the 2009-2010 season, Bowles still managed to score 1,000 points and grab 500 rebounds in his year and a half with the Dukes.

That kind of production is difficult to replace at any level of college hoops — let alone in the CAA — but the good news for James Madison is that they bring back a good amount of talent on the rest of their roster. Forward Julius Well, a 6’5″ senior, averaged 16.6 ppg as a sophomore when he and Bowles where the entire JMU offensive attack. While his number dipped this past season, it had quite a bit to do with the development of Devon Moore as a potential star in the back court. Moore averaged 11.7 ppg and 4.2 apg as a 6’4″ playmaker, coming on strong late in the season. Unfortunately, he’ll have to miss the first semester, which may end up being significant as Moore’s ability in transition is a reason Brady wants to play an uptempo styles next season. Rayshawn Goins is a 6’6″, 275 lb workhorse that will need to up his production with Bowles gone. The same can be said for Andrey Semenov, a face-up four man with a dangerous perimeter stroke that will see a bump in minutes this year. With Humpty Hitchens, a diminutive scorer with a terrific name, and AJ Davis, a Wyoming transfer (and Moore’s cousin) that averaged double figures as a 6’6″ wing at Wyoming who could end up being a difference maker, give the Dukes a very capable core. The question will be size. Their tallest returning player, Semenov, likes to float on the perimeter. Can junior Trevon Flores, Virginia Tech transfer Greg Swindle (who hasn’t played in three years thanks to a knee injury thought to be career ending), or freshmen Kenyan Pittman or Enoch Hood fill that role? If yes, JMU is a sleeper to win this conference.

5. William & Mary: The Tribe were the surprise of the 2009-2010 season, as Tony Shaver’s club used a tricky offense — think of it as a combination of the Princeton offense and something that John Beilein would run — and a number of experienced sharp-shooters to launch their way to 12 league wins and a near-upset of North Carolina in the NIT. Last season was tough, as the Tribe were forced to rebuild. Their record was not pretty — 10 wins and a 4-14 mark in league play — but they lost 10 games by five points or less and bring back just about everyone from a team that got heavy minutes from freshmen and sophomores.

The Tribe will be built around senior and potential CAA Player of the Year Quinn McDowell, a 15.5 ppg scorer that shoots the three at 45.5% and is the unquestioned leader of this team. He’s played in this system for four years and has been through the ups and downs. I’m not the only one that expects a terrific year out of McDowell. McDowell is joined on the perimeter by two sophomores that should be expected to have big seasons as well. both Brandon Britt (10.9 ppg as a frosh) and Julian Boatner (6.8 ppg) really came on strong late in CAA play as they earned more of Shaver’s trust. There’s an argument to be made that that three-man group will end up being the best perimeter in the conference. Veterans Matt Rum and Kendrix Brown and freshman Marcus Thornton will also see time in the perimeter rotation. Up front, senior JohnMark Ludwick and junior Kyle Gaillard give Shaver a couple of big men that can handle themselves on the perimeter and knock down a three, something that is key for his quirky offense. But the most important player on the front line may end up being Tim Rusthoven, a 6’9″, 230 lb sophomore. With Marcus Kitts graduating, the Tribe will need someone in the middle to do the dirty work — grab some rebounds, set some picks, block some shots. Rusthoven could end up being that guy.

6. Old Dominion: Last season was the year that the Monarchs were supposed to have their run. With an experienced and talented roster chock full of size and athleticism, Blaine Taylor had his ideal team. They played like it in the regular season, too, beating Clemson, Xavier and Richmond before finishing second in a strong CAA to George Mason. But after running through the CAA Tournament, Old Dominion lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to Butler on a buzzer beater.

Next year, ODU is going to look different as they lose four players that have been starters/key rotational pieces for three and four years. The guy that they do return is Kent Bazemore, the CAA’s reigning defensive player of the year who will hopefully be healthy after getting surgery on his foot this summer.. At 6’5″, the senior Bazemore is a terrific athlete, a tremendously improved threat offensively, and one of the best perimeter defenders in the country. After Bazemore, however, only three players that were able to crack Taylor’s rotation return. Chris Cooper, who will be asked to replace Frank Hassell, is a 6’9″ senior that proved to be a monster on the glass in his limited minutes last season. Trian Iliadis is shooter that was efficient and effective off the bench a season ago. The development of those two this season will be critical to ODU’s success. Marquel De Lancey, a 6’0″ senior, will likely see minutes at the point. Beyond that, however, there are minutes to earn for the Monarchs and a number of young players at each position that are hungry to get playing time. There are few coaches in the country better than Taylor at ably moving around parts to better the whole. With a healthy Bazemore, ODU will be competitive, but there is no question they will also be rebuilding.

7. Delaware: The Blue Hens had a promising season in 2010-2011, one that has some folks believing that Monte Ross has finally turned a corner with the program. After knocking off Old Dominion in their opener, Delaware went on to finish with an 8-10 record in conference play, their best finish since 2008. And while the bad news is that the Fightin’ Blue Hens (which remains one of the best mascot nicknames in the country) will lose the majority of their back court to graduation — including Jawan Carter, their leading scorer and a third-team all-CAA performer — there is enough young talent returning that UD fans shouldn’t be concerned about too much of a dip this season.

It starts with sophomore Devon Saddler, last season’s Freshman of the Year in the CAA. Saddler will need to improve his shot selection and his ability to protect the ball (he had more turnovers than assists last season), but there is valid reason to believe that the 6’2″ combo-guard can develop into a star this season. Saddler came on strong late in the year, winning the rookie of the week award the last four weeks of the season and hitting for 20 points four of the last seven games. Also returning is 6’8″ junior Jamelle Hagins. Hagins was the conference’s leading shot-blocker as a sophomore and also averaged 7.3 rpg. Like Saddler, Hagins will be counted on for a bump in offensive production to make-up for the loss of Carter. Hagins isn’t the only returnee on the front line. Josh Brinkley, a 6’6″ junior, was having a solid sophomore campaign when he went down with a stress fracture in January. Hakim McCullar and Kelvin McNeil also return up front and will be joined by promising freshman Marvin King-Davis. The x-factor for this team will be how the new faces develop in the back court. Can sophomore Kaleb Clyburn take advantage of the available minutes? Will freshmen Jarvis Threat, Khalid Lewis, Larry Savage and Kyle Anderson be ready when they get thrown into the fire of CAA conference play in January? Those five players will likely determine whether Delaware again finishes below .500 in the league or moves up into the top half of the conference.

8. Hofstra: Its nice to be a first year coach at a mid-major program with an NBA player on your roster. Just ask Mo Cassarra, because that is the exact situation that he walked into with the Pride. As a senior, Charles Jenkins would go on to have one of the best seasons in recent, winning his second consecutive conference Player of the Year award and eventually getting picked in the second round of the NBA Draft. The question now becomes how do you rebuild from that? How does a team that relied so much on one player move on when that player leaves?

Its quite obvious that the Pride will have a different feel next season, as Jenkins was not only their leader on the court but off it as well. The role of go-to scorer will most likely be filled by Fordham transfer Mike Moore, who averaged 14.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg and 2.2 apg as Jenkins sidekick a year ago. The role of the playmaker will likely be filled by either Dwan McMillan, a senior that averaged 6.8 ppg and 3.3 apg playing alongside Jenkins last season, or Stephen Mejia, a junior transfer from Rhode Island. Its not out of the question that those three will be on the court at the same time. Sophomore Shemiye McLendon may be primed for a breakout year as well. Jenkins wasn’t the Pride’s only loss, center Greg Washington also graduated, leaving a weak Hofstra without a shotblocking presence. Junior David Imes, a the team’s leading rebounder a season ago, will be counted on to produce more, but beyond Imes there isn’t much in the way of proven players for Cassarra to choose from. Sophomore Stephen Nwaukoni was solid in limited minutes and Hofstra will have three newcomers on their front line, but unless they Cassarra found a diamond in the rough, the Pride will be overmatched in the paint in just about every game. Moore may end up being an all-CAA talent, but Hofstra will probably consider it a successful season if they finish in the top half of the league.

9. UNC-Wilmington: The 2010-2011 season was an introductory one for Buzz Peterson. He got to know the school, he got a chance to get a feel for his players, and he spent a season learning the CAA. And he did all that with one of the best player in UNCW history, Chad Tomko, leading his team. With Tomko’s graduation, the Peterson’s club is now in full-on rebuilding mode.

Its going to be a tough year for Peterson. That’s the way that it works when you have a roster with eight freshmen, four sophomores, and just three upper-classmen. But there is reason to be hopeful. For starters, the recruiting class that Peterson brought in is strong. Led by Chicago-native Luke Hager, a 6’7″ combo-forward, and Georgia-bred two-guard Adam Smith, Peterson brought in a group that should develop into solid players in the CAA, if not stars. The issue? The whole “over time” aspect of the class. Its tough to ask a group of freshmen to play important roles at any level. I do expect UNCW to be competitive and to win some game, however. Keith Rendlemen, an active and athletic 6’7″ power forward, had a solid sophomore season and should be ready to become more of a go-to option as a junior. Senior Trevor Deloach will be back to anchor the back court along with sophomore Tanner Milson and Dante Morales. Seven-footer Matt Wilson will be counted on to have a productive season as well. Expect a similar year to what William & Mary did in 2010-2011 — a record that doesn’t quite reflect how competitive the team was.

10. Georgia State: The Panthers are in a tough position. Located in the heart of SEC country, in a city that houses four professional sports teams and a state with two other major universities, Georgia State is a tough place to earn recognition. From fans, from recruits, from anyone. Eventually it did in Rod Barnes, who was fired as the head coach prior to the team’s trip to the CAA Tournament. Georgia State did make a solid hire, however, luring Ron Hunter from IUPUI to continue the rebuilding job. He inherits a team that was stout defensively but, simply put, could not score the basketball.

Hunter will be in a tough position in his first year in Atlanta. While he returns a team that will have quite a bit of experience — seven of the 11 players that averaged double-figures in minutes last season return and Florida State transfer Jordan DeMercy will be eligible — that team’s only experience at the collegiate level is the struggle to finish tied for ninth in the CAA last season. The biggest issue Hunter will have is on the offensive end of the floor. The Panthers didn’t have a single player average more than 9.4 ppg last season and finished 294th in offensive efficiency as a team. Throw in the fact that they lost their two best shooters to transfers, and what you get is a team that is going to have to win games 50-48. Seniors Eric Buckner, Brandon McGee and Josh Micheaux will anchor the front line with 6’10” junior James Vincent playing a role off the bench. Jihad Ali is the leading returning scorer on the perimeter, with James Fields and Devonta White likely joining him in the rotation. DeMercy, an athletic 6’7″ small forward, should have an impact as a defensive playmaker, but he’s never been known as a big time scorer. Freshmen guards Kevin Shaw and Tony Kimbro, Jr, should also get a chance to play. It will be difficult for Hunter to get his team out of the bottom half of the conference.

11. Northeastern: After taking over the Husky program in 2006, Coen almost immediately built Northeastern into a team that could compete at the top of the CAA. In his first four seasons, the Huskies never finished below .500 in the league, earning a third-place finish in 2009 and second-lace in 2010. Unfortunately, much of that success was built on Northeastern’s 2006 recruiting class, one headlined by Matt Janning. The Huskies struggled last season, starting out the year 4-15, before finally finding a rhythm midway through the season. They reeled off four straight wins — including an upset of VCU — before ending the year at 11-20, 6-12 in conference play.

It will be tough for Northeastern to avoid taking another step back this season with the graduation of their point guard and star player Chaisson Allen, but its certainly doable as the Huskies have a couple of solid pieces coming back. Junior guards Jonathan Lee and Joel Smith both developed into deadly shooters and capable all-around players by the end of their sophomore seasons and will be expected to provide increased production and leadership this season. Alwayne Bigby, who missed all but seven games a season ago with injury, is back. 6’8″ freshman Quincy Ford should combine with Bigby to give Northeastern some versatility on the wing. 6’10” center Ryan Pierson made the all-rookie team last season, but he’ll need to improve a great deal on his strength in the paint and ability on the glass. Juniors Kauri Black and Dinka Marshavelski are also back in the front court and should get a boost from freshman Reggie Spencer. But is going to be replacing Allen. And with Alex Harris transferring out, that means Northeastern is either going to have to rely on a freshman to run the point or hope Lee or Smith can take over the ball-handling duties. Neither are ideal. Expect another finish in the bottom half of the league.

12. Towson: The Tigers, frankly, were horrible last season. They won just four games, losing their last 19, including all 18 in the CAA. It was enough to cost head coach Pat Kennedy his job. New head coach Pat Skerry won’t have it easy his first season, either. Towson’s talented forward duo of Isaiah Philmore and Braxton Dupree both left school — Philmore transferred to Xavier, Dupree went pro — after the season while Troy Franklin transferred midway through the year. Josh Brown graduated at the end of last season while talented recruit Kelvin Amayo was found ineligible by the NCAA. That’s a lot to lose for a new head coach.

Essentially, the Tigers are going to be a brand new team next season, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. Kennedy’s club didn’t lack talent last year, but there was something missing that did not allow that talent to come together on the court. Skerry’s club will be a defensive-minded group that is anchored by former walk-on Robert Nwankwo, a 6’8″ senior that redshirted last year after averaging 9.2 rpg and 3.2 bpg, both of which led the CAA, as a junior. RaShawn Polk is also back. He averaged 11.6 ppg as a junior last season. After that? Its a whole bunch of new faces. After losing their two best players from a four-win team, its difficult to picture Towson anywhere but the bottom of the CAA next season. But with the culture change of a new head coach, the ship at least looks to be pointed in the right direction.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

Three Things To Know: Shaka’s seat heats up, Baylor survives, Virginia doesn’t

AP Photo/Kathleen Batten
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It was a slow night for college hoops on Monday, but there is still plenty to talk about after some weird results.

Here are the three things you need to know:

1. SHAKA’S SEAT IS HEATING UP

The Shaka Smart era at Texas feels like it has hit an inflection point.

On Monday night, the Longhorns went into Morgantown, W.V., and found themselves wishing Country Roads would take them home before the first half came to a close. No. 14 West Virginia, coming off of blowout loss at Kansas State on Saturday, used a 28-2 run over a 10 minute stretch in the first half to turn a 15-13 lead into a 43-15 blowout. They would go on to win 97-59.

The loss dropped Texas to 12-6 on the season and 2-4 in the Big 12. The Longhorns certainly are not out of it just yet — three of their four Big 12 losses came against teams that currently rank in the top six at KenPom — but it’s getting harder and harder to defend the situation that’s brewing in Austin. Texas has now lost four of their last six and five of their last eight. They are in danger of missing the NCAA tournament for the second straight season and for the third time in four years.

But perhaps the biggest concern is that the Longhorns just don’t seem to be growing as a program. Last year, while Texas ended up missing the tournament, they finished as a top 25 team on KenPom and made a run all the way to the NIT title. It’s worth noting that before the tournament started, they were already a top 30 team on KenPom; their ranking wasn’t skewed by getting hot for three weeks in a tournament no one cares about.

The problem this season is that there has been no progression. Texas has been a program under Shaka that has hung their hat on defense, but this is the worst defensive team he has had in his tenure. That becomes even more of an issue when you factor in that they cannot score. They’re 111th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, which is what happens when your offense is, essentially, a spread ball-screen into a contested three.

KenPom has Texas favored to win just three more games the rest of the season. They’re projected to finish 17-14 overall and 7-11 in the Big 12.

That’s not good.

2. NO. 1 BAYLOR SURVIVES

It looked like Baylor was going to cruise to a pretty easy win at home against Oklahoma, but the Sooners had other ideas. They hung around long enough in the second half to make things interesting late. Oklahoma hit back-to-back threes in a 40 second span to cut a 59-51 lead to 59-57 with 41 seconds left, and after Baylor couldn’t find a way to score on their next possession, Austin Reaves cut off a 3-on-1 break to flare to the corner and fire up a wide-open, go-ahead three with less than five seconds left.

He missed.

Baylor won.

And No. 1 lived to fight another day.

3. VIRGINIA LOSES AGAIN

The reigning national champions lost for the fourth time in their last five games on Monday night, this time falling at home against N.C. State, 53-51.

Like Oklahoma, Virginia had a shot to win the game at the buzzer, as N.C. State fouled up three and then missed free throws of their own at the other end. But Virginia is the 346th-best three-point shooting team in the country for a reason, and Casey Morsell missed the game-winner as time expired.

At this point, it’s getting harder to see how Virginia is going to find a way to play their way into the NCAA tournament.

Chris Mack: David Johnson’s shoulder ‘is fine’

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The biggest concern coming out of Louisville’s win at Duke on Saturday evening was the status of David Johnson’s shoulder.

Johnson was the best player on the floor for Louisville, finishing with 19 points, seven assists, four boards, three steals and two blocks as the Cardinals landed a much-needed win in Cameron. But with three minutes left in the game, he landed on his surgically-repaired left shoulder and had to leave the game. He returned to the bench, but he did not return to the game.

Head coach Chris Mack did not seem overly concerned about the injury after the game, and he confirmed as much in a conference call on Monday.

“The shoulder is fine,” Mack said. “He’s just a little sore, but he’ll practice the next couple of days and we fully expect him to play on Wednesday.”

Bracketology: Welcome to the top line, San Diego State

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Here is the latest NCAA tournament bracketology projection.

Welcome to the top line, San Diego State.  The Aztecs join Baylor, Gonzaga, and Kansas as No. 1 seeds in our latest bracket update.  SDSU remains the only unbeaten team in college hoops, buoyed by wins over tournament teams Iowa, Creighton and BYU.

The West-leaning geographical slate of top seeds means someone has to go East.  As SDSU is the fourth overall seed, that adventure belongs to them.  Several additional power conference teams are pushing for the top line, too – including Florida State, Michigan State and surging Seton Hall.  And let’s not forget about Louisville, a preseason top seed.  The Cardinals put together an impressive road win at Duke on Saturday.

The latest look at where our NCAA tournament bracketology projection stands …

UPDATED: January 20, 2020

FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
EAST REGION Virginia Tech vs. Georgetown
WEST REGION NC State vs. VCU
SOUTH REGION  PR VIEW-AM vs. NORFOLK ST
WEST REGION MONMOUTH vs. ST. FRANCIS (PA)

SOUTH Houston                           WEST – Los Angeles
Omaha Spokane
1) BAYLOR 1) GONZAGA
16) PV-AM / NORFOLK ST 16) MONMOUTH / ST. FRANCIS (PA)
8) Arkansas 8) Illinois
9) Memphis 9) HOUSTON
Tampa Sacramento
5) Colorado 5) Arizona
12) EAST TENNESSEE ST 12) NC State / VCU
4) Maryland 4) Iowa
13) S.F. AUSTIN 13) NEW MEXICO ST
St. Louis Greensboro
6) Marquette 6) Michigan
11) NORTHERN IOWA 11) Saint Mary’s
3) LOUISVILLE 3) Duke
14) NORTH TEXAS 14) LITTLE ROCK
Albany Spokane
7) Wisconsin 7) LSU
10) USC 10) Oklahoma
2) SETON HALL 2) Oregon
15) WILLIAM-MARY 15) UC-IRVINE
EAST – New York MIDWEST – Indianapolis
Sacramento Omaha
1) SAN DIEGO STATE 1) Kansas
16) RADFORD 16) MONTANA
8) Rutgers 8) Indiana
9) STANFORD 9) Florida
Albany Cleveland
5) Kentucky 5) Creighton
12) LIBERTY 12) YALE
4) Villanova 4) DAYTON
13) AKRON 13) VERMONT
Greensboro St. Louis
6) Penn State 6) Auburn
11) Virginia Tech / Georgetown 11) BYU
3) West Virginia 3) Butler
14) COLGATE 14) WRIGHT STATE
Tampa Cleveland
7) Ohio State 7) Wichita State
10) DePaul 10) Texas Tech
2) Florida State 2) MICHIGAN STATE
15) AUSTIN PEAY 15) NORTH DAKOTA ST

BUBBLE NOTES
Last 4 Byes Last 4 IN      First 4 OUT Next 4 OUT
USC Virginia Tech Purdue Washington
DePaul NC State Minnesota Saint Louis
Saint Mary’s Georgetown Arizona State St. John’s
BYU VCU Xavier Richmond

Top Seed Line
Baylor, Gonzaga, Kansas, San Diego State
Seed List

Breakdown by Conference …
Big Ten (10)
Big East (7)
ACC (5)
SEC (5)

Big 12 (5)
Pac 12 (5)
American (3)

West Coast (3)
Atlantic 10 (2)
Mountain West (1)

AP Poll: Baylor leapfrogs Gonzaga, seventh No. 1 team this season

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Here is the latest college basketball AP Poll.

For those interested, here is the NBC Sports Top 25.

Baylor and Gonzaga were the only two teams in the top five that took care of business last week.

That doesn’t mean they didn’t move around, too.

The Bears (15-1) leaped over the Bulldogs and into the No. 1 spot in college basketball AP poll on Monday, using wins over Iowa State and Oklahoma State to give the Top 25 its seventh team on top this season. That matches the record set in 1983 for the most No. 1s in the history of the poll, which dates to the 1948-49 season.

Gonzaga (20-1) was merely a victim of its conference schedule. The Bulldogs blew out Santa Clara and BYU, but just enough voters considered those wins to be less impressive than the Bears’ perfect Big 12 start. Baylor received 33 first-place votes and had 1,591 points from the 65-member media panel while Gonzaga received 31 first-place votes for 1,588 points.

“It takes a team to win,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew, whose team also reached the top of the poll two years ago. “As a coach, you’re just really proud when different people step up, especially guys that have been working hard.”

The rest of the top five looks a whole lot different after Duke, Auburn and Butler all lost both of their games last week.

Kansas (14-3) rose three spots to No. 3 in the college basketball AP poll after victories over Oklahoma and Texas, the latter requiring a big comeback in Austin. San Diego State (19-0) remained perfect with wins over Fresno State and Nevada, and Florida State (16-2) barged into the fifth spot after it beat reigning national champion Virginia and survived overtime to best Miami.

The Seminoles haven’t lost since playing Indiana in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge the first week of December.

Louisville, which tasted the top spot earlier this season, jumped five spots to sixth after beating Pittsburgh in overtime and handling the Blue Devils. Dayton was next, followed by Duke, Villanova and Seton Hall to round out the top 10.

Duke also lost to Clemson earlier in the week, sending coach Mike Krzyzewski’s team tumbling five spots.

“We just have to get older,” he said after the Blue Devils’ 79-73 loss to the Cardinals on Saturday at Cameron Indoor Stadium. “I’m really up on my team. It’s a long journey. I’ve never told you that we’re great. It’s a process for us, playing these two teams. Getting beat, we have to learn from it and move on. It’s a long journey.”

Krzyzewski’s team wasn’t alone in getting a tough lesson last week. Fourth-ranked Auburn fell all the way to No. 16 after losing a pair of blowouts to Alabama and Florida, and fifth-ranked Butler was bounced all the way to 13th after the Bulldogs followed up a loss to Seton Hall by getting soundly beaten by DePaul.

“It’s the time of the year when we should be trying to elevate our play, and we’re not,” said Tigers coach Bruce Pearl, whose team had won its first 15 games. “Obviously, there’s a pretty big price on our head being ranked fourth in the country. And so I think we have to respond to the step-up that we saw this week from both Alabama and Florida.”

Here is the full college basketball AP poll:

1. Baylor (33 first-place votes)
2. Gonzaga (31)
3. Kansas (1)
4. San Diego State
5. Florida State
6. Louisville
7. Dayton
8. Duke
9. Villanova
10. Seton Hall
11. Michigan State
12. Oregon
13. Butler
14. West Virginia
15. Kentucky
16. Auburn
17. Maryland
18. Texas Tech
19. Iowa
20. Memphis
21. Illinois
22. Arizona
23. Colorado
24. Rutgers
25. Houston

Others receiving votes: Wichita St. 94, LSU 83, Michigan 73, N Iowa 42, Ohio St. 36, Stanford 28, Wisconsin 28, Penn St. 24, Liberty 21, Florida 21, Arkansas 19, Virginia 13, Creighton 13, Duquesne 13, Purdue 9, ETSU 6, Indiana 6, Southern Cal 4, Marquette 2, BYU 2, Harvard 1.

Here’s a closer look at the other big news in another fresh Top 25:

RUTGERS ON THE RISE

The Scarlet Knights bounced back from a loss to Illinois by beating Indiana and Minnesota at home, running their record at the RAC to 13-0 this season — the best start in school history. That was enough to get Rutgers (14-4) into the poll at No. 24 for the first time since the final poll of the 1978-79 season. And with Seton Hall at No. 10, the state of New Jersey has two teams ranked for the first time since the Pirates were joined by Princeton in the last poll of the 1990-91 season.

OTHER NEWCOMERS

Iowa, which has been in and out of the poll all season, made the biggest jump back in at No. 19 after its win over then-No. 19 Michigan. The Hawkeyes were joined by No. 22 Arizona — which beat a ranked team in Colorado — and No. 25 Houston, which romped through SMU and then-No. 16 Wichita State last week.

ON THE WAY OUT

The Shockers dropped all the way out after losing to Houston and Temple. The Wolverines also fell out, along with Big Ten rival Ohio State and Creighton, whose one-week stay ended with a loss early last week to Georgetown.

BUCKEYES BUMMER

No team has been falling as steadily as Ohio State, which was 9-0, was ranked in the top five and received first-place votes just six weeks ago. The Buckeyes have lost six of their last nine games, and five of their last six, to complete their tumble from the poll. Their lone victory in the last few weeks was against lowly Nebraska.

___

More AP college basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_Top25

Monday’s Overreaction: Myles Powell, Payton Pritchard, David Johnson and the two worst chokes of the year

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Myles Powell, Seton Hall

Seton Hall improved to 6-0 in Big East play this season with wins over Butler and St. John’s, but that doesn’t come anywhere close to telling the whose story here.

The Pirates trailed by double-figures at halftime of both of those games. Both of those games were on the road. They were down 40-30 at the break at No. 5 Butler, but Myles Powell came to the rescue, scoring 19 of his 29 points after the break to lead the Pirates to a 78-70 win.

Then on Saturday, Seton Hall trailed St. John’s 43-30 at the Garden at halftime, but Powell — again — took over, scoring 23 of his 29 points in the second half as Seton Hall remained perfect in the Big East.

It took him a while to get fully healthy, but now that he is, Powell is showing everyone why he is a favorite to win National Player of the Year.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Rutgers Scarlet Knights

What Steve Pikiell has done with this Rutgers program should never, ever be overlooked.

After a week in which the Scarlet Knights beat both Indiana and Minnesota at the RAC, They are now sitting at 14-4 over and 5-2 in the Big Ten, good for second in the toughest conference in college basketball. They are 24th in KenPom, which is the highest that this program has ever ranked in the metric we all use the most when evaluating teams. They are 18th in the NET with a 2-3 mark against Quad 1 opponents and five Quad 1 and Quad 2 wins combined.

Put another way, Rutgers is very much in a position where missing the NCAA tournament this season would be something of a disappointment.

Now, it should be noted that this is when their schedule gets tough. They play at Iowa on Wednesday and still face off with Michigan twice, Maryland twice, Purdue twice and play at Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State. A home game against No. 24 Illinois is about their sixth-toughest game left on the schedule.

It won’t be easy.

But getting to 14-4 wasn’t easy in the first place.

MONDAY’S OVERREACTIONS

1. DAVID JOHNSON MAKES LOUISVILLE GREAT AGAIN

Louisville may have finally found an answer to their point guard problems.

David Johnson, a freshman from Louisville that has spent the season to date trying to get back up to speed after offseason shoulder surgery, had his coming out party in a big way on Saturday, going for 19 points and seven assists as Louisville went into Cameron and knocked off Duke.

That is incredibly important news for a Louisville team that has desperately been searching for a guy to do all of the things that Johnson did on Saturday night.

The way he scored those points is the most significant part of the equation. He broke down defenses. He dribbled right past Jordan Goldwire and drove the lane for a dunk. He created out of ball-screens. He handled Duke’s ball-pressure like he was playing against high school opponents.

And then there was the passing (see below):

 

This is what the Cardinals have been waiting for. It’s been a talking point all season long, and every time I have mentioned it, I have also mentioned that Louisville was just waiting to see if Johnson would ever get healthy. That staff believed he was a pro after getting him on campus, and anyone that watched him play on Saturday night would be inclined to agree.

If he can remain healthy and play somewhere close to this level for the rest of the season, then this Louisville team is much, much more dangerous.

2. PAYTON PRITCHARD IS A KILLER

The reason Payton Pritchard is one of the frontrunners for National Player of the Year is the fact that he is putting up terrific numbers this season for a top ten team and doing so while putting together some incredibly impressive performances in crunchtime.

Saturday might have been his statement game.

Oregon erased a 13-point second half deficit thanks in large part to Pritchard, who hit a huge three with a minute left to tie the game. In overtime, he hit a floater to give the Ducks the lead before burying this insane three to win the game with 3.2 seconds left:

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Payton Pritchard called game!!!!!!

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No. 8 Oregon avoided going 0-2 on the Washington road trip with a 64-61 win. Pritchard finished with 22 points. The Ducks are now 3-0 in overtime games this season largely due to the fact that Pritchard is arguably the most clutch player in college basketball.

Is there anyone that you would want taking a big shot in a big game more than him?

3. BAYLOR IS A KILLER, TOO

I talked about this in depth at the 19:00 mark of the podcast, but with the exception of an early season loss against Washington — I’ll get to that — the Bears have been arguably the best team in college basketball down the stretch of close games.

Whether it’s wins at Texas Tech, or Kansas, or Oklahoma State, Baylor has consistently been able to execute in situations where teams like Duke have not been able to execute. That is why they are sitting at No. 1 in the country right now and Duke has three losses to their name.

And as far as the Washington game is concerned, the Huskies play zone. Baylor was totally lost against that zone down the stretch. Oklahoma State played zone as well, and Baylor discovered the answer in the second half: Matthew Mayer. They plugged him in at the high post, and it launched a comeback.

So now they have an answer for that, too.

4. WE ALL SHOULD HAVE SEEN THIS WEEK COMING FOR AUBURN

Auburn entered this seek as one of just two undefeated teams left in college basketball, but there were question marks.

The Tigers don’t have a single win over a team ranked in the top 40 on KenPom. They have only played three Quad 1 games this season. Their only Quad 1 win is barely a Quad 1 win: It came at Mississippi State, who currently ranks 70th in the NET; the cutoff for Quad 1 road wins is top 75.

The other two Quad 1 games that Auburn has played this season?

They were both this week.

And they were both ugly losses.

On Tuesday, it was Alabama that ran over Auburn in the basketball version of the Iron Bowl, 83-64. On Saturday, it was Florida doing the damage, as they held Auburn to 25.5 percent shooting from the field, 4-for-23 shooting from three (17.4%) and to just a single point during an eight-minute stretch late in the second half that saw the Gators push their lead from 47-43 to 69-44. They won 69-47.

Suddenly, those concerns look prescient.

The truth is this: Auburn is dangerous. They are a team that can make a lot of threes, that can force turnovers and play in transition and has the ability to play big (with Austin Wiley) or small (without Austin Wiley). They have a lottery pick in Isaac Okoro and they have a couple of guards on their roster capable of taking games over in J’Von McCormick and Samir Doughty.

But they haven’t consistently played up to the level of a top five team, and their 15-0 record was inflated by feasting on teams that are just good enough to make us believe.

Auburn is still good.

They’re just not a top five team.

5. STANFORD AND UTAH STATE, WHO CHOKED WORSE?

Stanford was up 46-25 in the second half of their loss at USC on Saturday evening. They led by 15 points with less than 10 minutes left. They were up by five points with 15 seconds left and the ball out of bounds underneath USC’s basket, and not only did they find a way to lose that game in overtime, but they got lucky to actually get to OT. USC missed a free throw that could have won the game in regulation.

According to KenPom, USC had a 3.8% chance to win this game at the half, a 3.6% chance to win the game with 10 minutes left and just a 0.7% chance to win with 15 seconds left.

But that’s not as bad as what happened to Utah State.

The Aggies led 66-48 with less than 4:10 remaining. Boise State had a 0.3% chance of winning this game with five minutes left. Turnovers, fouls, missed threes. Utah State did it all, but they still led 73-67 with 15 seconds left, 75-70 with eight seconds left and 75-73 with three seconds left and the ball.

And they lost.

That just does not seem possible.