During the week that was in the CAA, a handful of upsets changed the landscape of the league and the outlook of the conference race entering the final month of the season. Delaware pulled the upset on the road at Northeastern, last-place Charleston took down league-leader William & Mary, and Drexel continued its hottest stretch of the season.
Flash back to November. Ask anyone their thoughts on the Colonial Athletic Association (Except Mike Francesa. Don’t ask him) and they would likely give you three main contenders: Northeastern, William & Mary, and Hofstra.
Northeastern came into the year with all the expectations of being a league favorite. Guided by a core of upperclassmen led by senior and leading scorer Scott Eatherton (14.7 ppg), the Huskies garnered the number one ranking in the CAA Preseason Poll. Northeastern’s formidable scoring attack boasts three other double-digit scorers to complement Eatherton. David Walker (11.9 ppg), T.J. Williams (10.3 ppg), and Quincy Ford (10.1 ppg) are all threats to put the ball through the hoop every night.
William & Mary is on a mission to get over the hump after falling just short of their NCAA tournament dreams by a single point last March. That dream of finally making the tournament may be closer than ever this year. The Tribe lead the CAA with a 9-3 conference record and have Preseason Player of the Year Marcus Thornton leading the way. Like Northeastern, William & Mary averages four players in double figures, making them incredibly difficult to match up against.
Hofstra was the trendy pick to make a jump in the Colonial standings this year. The high flying Pride started league play 4-0 and appeared to make their backers look like geniuses. However, a trip to Northeastern and a 91-83 loss knocked the train off the tracks. Hofstra lost five of their next six games including three at home before getting back on track with back to back wins over Delaware and Elon. Just like the above contenders, the Pride boast four players averaging double figures, led by the duo of Niagara transfers Ameen Tanksley (17.7 ppg) and Juan’ya Green (17.5 ppg).
A glance at the standings today will show you that that predicted three horse race has morphed into a crowded scramble atop the league. William & Mary stands alone at the top of the league, but Northeastern and the surprising UNCW are hot on their heels just a game back. Behind those three, Hofstra, James Madison, and Drexel are all knotted at 7-5.
“This is a tough league to evaluate,” Hofstra head coach Joe Mihalich said of the Colonial. “It’s hard to explain the league. It’s balanced. I don’t think there’s anybody that’s unbeatable, and I don’t think there’s anybody that can’t win a game. It’s fun.”
Under first year head coach Kevin Keatts, UNCW has been far and away the most surprising team in the league. The Seahawks finished in last place a year ago with just three conference wins, but under the former Louisville assistant the team has emerged as a legitimate contender. UNCW has already earned road wins over Hofstra and Northeastern, but were swept in the season series by William & Mary by a combined seven points.
What has made the league so wide open? A big reason has been those three preseason contenders’ inability to separate from the rest of the pack. Even though they lead the conference, William & Mary may be the biggest culprit. The Tribe have lost just three conference games, but those losses came to teams who are a combined 10-26 in league play.
James Madison has improved from last year and earned a key road victory over Hofstra during the Pride’s skid. While Hofstra went on its slide, Drexel snuck up on the rest of the league. The Dragons started the year just 3-13, but have won six of seven including five in a row to get back in the mix.
As they say, it’s anyone’s race from here.
Vincent Simone covers Quinnipiac, the MAAC, and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.