This post started off as an e-mail between friends who have since been separated by time and conference. It ended up published on CAAHoops.com in December of 2011 and is now re-appearing, in an updated fashion, on this page. Thanks to all for the encouragement the first time around, and I hope you enjoy it again this time around. If you're interested in further reading on the upcoming conference slate, I recommend heading over to CAAHoops.com's preview of the conference season for some contrarian points to the below.
Without further ado, here are the pre-conference season CAA Rankings by yours truly, and by beer:
1 - Delaware - Surly Brewing Co - Abrasive Ale - With the recent plunge of the Drexel Dragons there's a nails on a chalkboard like sound in my head as I realize that UD now has to be the CAA favorite as we go into conference play. Many of their own fans seem to hate their coach, the statisticians think that suspending Devon Saddler was the best thing to ever happen to this team, their best win is probably a roadie at Charleston Southern... the list goes on. There is no way they should be a favorite in any self respecting conference, but hey, they're in the CAA so here we are. Both Kenpom and the RPI say there is no team nearly as good as them except for Drexel, which says a lot about the rest of the association, and as noted, Drexel seems to be in freefall while UD just got their best scorer back.
What to watch for: Devon Saddler has dropped from a consistant 18% turnover rate over his career down to 13% in limited minutes this season. If he continues to have some faith in his teammates and not force things, he becomes a much, much more valuable player and this team becomes legitimately dangerous.
2 - James Madison - Three Floyds - Alpha King - A kingly beer for the defending champs, who are sitting as a conference sleeper going into conference play. See if you have heard this before... They don't particularly like their coach in Harrisonburg, and they suspended their best player in the front half of the season. Their best win of the season is a neutral court win over Hampton? I guess? Does that count as a best win even if it is one? Getting Andre Nation back this week will be huge for them in filling their biggest holes, turnovers and shooting from long range and should bring them back into the discussion of relevant teams. If they are contending at all at the end of the season, there won't be a question as who the most valuable person in the league is, as they sure have been awful without him. They've only played two home games, they get Nation back, and hey, to be the champs you still gotta beat the champs, right? They've still got the crown right now.
Side note: Andrey Semenov seems to have more eligibility than Valdas Vasylius seemed to have. Dude's been there since Dartaye Ruffin was a boy, say 30 or 40 years ago.
What to watch for: Andre Nation, Andre Nation, and Andre Nation. Stay out of trouble young man.
3 - Drexel Dragons - Rouge/Voodoo - Doughnut Maple Bacon Ale - Look at those ingredients? Looks fun doesn't it? Open it, give it a sniff. Smells like some sweet breakfasty/beery goodness, right? Drink it. Yup, now you're pouring the rest of your glass down the drain. These Dragons looked great on paper. They opened up the season afire. Then the holidays came. They didn't even make it to the dog days of league play before it went off the rails. They get the three spot by virtue of having top level CAA talent, good depth for the league, even without Damion Lee, and because no other teams remaining would surprise me if they lost a home game to Buffalo. The CAA ladies and gentleman!
Lets just say there's not a ton of faith over here that Bruiser uses the conference season as a chance to try out new and innovative ideas to see what he hits home runs with and find a sweet spot for the team before Baltimore. The early season expectations may be shot, but a solid run through conference play will make them as much of a contender as anyone else come conference tourney time. They have two months to get right, and no one will be accusing them of peaking too early, so you're saying there's a chance.
What to watch for: Leadership. Heart. Effort. More synonyms for the same thing.
4 - College of Charleston - Mad Fox - Defender American Pale Ale - Doug Wojcik's Pomeroy profile looks an awful lot like that of Bruiser Flint. These guys understand that defense travels, and have used that well. William and Mary will beat you with shooting, and that's much less consistent then defending, so here is C of C, above the Politely Fighting Whatevertheyarenotivy's. As a coach, it's Wojcik's third conference in three years and there's a penalty with that lack of familiarity, even if it does go both ways. They have some legitimate guys with size in Hall and Baru, but the weakness around the guard spots is going to hold them back from title contention in a league that has always been all about its guards.
What to watch for: The second half of the season. What do the Cougars do once they see CAA teams for the second time, and can they parlay those adjustments into a run.
5 - Northeastern - Thunderhead Brewing Co - Cropduster Mid-American IPA - There are nine teams in this years edition of the CAA, and there was no chance that these guys weren't getting ranked right in the middle. They've got a historically very good home court, a good coach, and a lot of mediocrity around the perimeter in a style similar to the Cougars. The loss of Quincy Ford really hurt this team as he could have brought a perimeter prescence to open up the floor a bit for Eatherton and Spencer, and his leadership has been missing from the court. The good news for the Huskies is that they've got a bit of a youth movement as they are playing without any seniors, which should leave them as a team to be reckoned with next year when both of the bigs move into their final season.
Bill Coen has never finished worse then middle of the pack with his squad, and I don't think this is the year he starts. Credit to them for a strong out of conference schedule that probably makes things look a little worse in Husky land then they are. While the loss to Tulane is a black mark, I support anyone that supports the Green Wave, so we'll let it slide.
What to watch for: Will someone step up into the leadership role prior to Baltimore and next year?
6 - Towson - Burley Oak Brewing Company - Bulletproof Tiger - The indefinite loss of Jerome Hairston hurts this team pretty badly, and if he comes back it would help greatly. In the meantime they better be bulletproof, since they have as little depth as anyone in the league, which is a challenge in the new foulfest environment. They have a stud in Jerrelle Benimon and a heck of a compliment to him with Vermont transfer and sharpshooter (warning, warning, sweet name following) Four McGlynn, but asking Mike Burwell to play the point is necessary, but borderline unfair to him and the team. Marcus Damas is a nice player for this level and Guthrie defines "useful" but after that the cupboard is completely bare. Count me in as someone who thinks that you can't win in even this off a year for the CAA without a point guard, a defense or a bench. Throw your vests on Tiger fans, it doesn't look like it'll be the season we all thought it would be in November.
What to watch for: Hairston sightings or Burwell adjusting into his role (only four turnovers in the last three games going into the CAA slate).
EDIT: Per Jeff Goodman today (1/7/14) , Hairston's Towson career is over. So all the coin is now banking on Burwell.
7 - William and Mary - Shorebilly Brewing Co - Sun's Out Guns Stout - After directing his team to the basket early in the season, perhaps a nod to the rule changes for this year, Tony Shaver's squad has dropped back into old habits and they're firing it up from long range again. And why not? The 38% that the team has shot from three this year is the best ever in Shaver's William and Mary tenure. Thornton does what he does and has filled up the basket at an elite rate, especially considering that opposing defenses can key on him. He's flanked by Boatner (44% from 3) and freshman Omar Prewitt, who looks like the real deal, shooting lights out in his young college career. Beasthoven is still there underneath, although he's missed the last couple of games due to illness (both W&M wins).
There are red flags too, and one big one: Despite playing a very soft out of conference schedule, this team is 303rd in defensive efficiency to date this year. With apologies to the State University of New Jersey, they ain't stopped nobody. I mean no one. Howard put up 79 points in only 70 possessions. Its tough to believe in a team that needs the threeball to win to go on the road in league play and pull down more than a couple of wins. It's tougher when you don't play D.
What to watch for: Can they go on the road and at least slow some offenses down?
8 - UNC Wilmington - Wicked Weed Brewing - Freak of Nature - Full disclosure: I was one of many to apply for the job Buzz Peterson obtained in 2010, and its easy to say that people who want that gig should start polishing their resumes again. The Seahawks have won 4 games this year against D1 competition, lost over double that number, and this isn't much different than anything else we've seen the prior three seasons in Buzzville. Fear not Dub fans, it's not as bad as it looks. Pomeroy shows the Dub as having played a top 40 strength of schedule, and while the ODU loss doesn't look great, it's not in the category of "Good Lord the season is over" either. The only really bad team that UNCW has played this year was Campbell, who the Seahawks walked over with ease. And then there is this little tidbit: UNCW is last, dead last, in the entire country in three point shooting. Presumably that's only counting D1 schools and not 4th grade rec league teams, but it might just include those, miscellaneous AAU teams, the staff team from a bad student/staff charity game, and Mike Litos' "too good for the CAA Senior Citizens League" squad. I'm not saying Chris Dixon has had a bad season, I'm saying that the guy from the ESPN commercial who hit the half court shot and got tackled by Lebron is looking at Chris Dixon this year and going "wow, that guy can't shoot".
UNCW folk, let me introduce you to your new best friend, Regression to the Mean. Had the Seahawks shot 32% from downtown this year, which would still be the worst percentage of the Buzz era, they would be averaging 5 points a game more than they have thus far. An extra 5 points a game for them and they're competing against most teams in this conference. Chris Dixon isn't a 19% shooter, I promise. Things will improve, they will do so during the conference season, and they're going to surprise a couple of teams that sleep on them at the wrong time (I'm looking at the Dragons and Blue Hens right now). All is not lost in Dubland.
What to watch for: Chris Dixon's ability to hit water from a boat.
9 - Hofstra - Michelob - Michelob Ultra - When you're leading your team with grad student transfers from Monmouth and Illinois State, it does scream rebuilding year. And it is, and Hofstra is doing it with a coach who will bring with him as much entertainment value as you'll get in the CAA once he gets his guys in there. They'll run and gun, fast breaks and dunks, Havoc Ultra Light if you will. When Mihalich gets his guys.
For this year? It doesn't look good. A hat tip to Hofstra as well for giving my good friends at Tulane a dub on their recent visit to Nola, and they worked an out of conference split (??) with Fairleigh Dickenson, so they got that going for em, which is nice. On a more serious note, it's great to see Moussa Kone, who has endured three trying years on Long Island, still giving a gamer effort nightly. That guy is a man.
What to watch for: The calendar flipping pages and hopefully a sneaky handful of wins for the home fans