Friday, January 2, 2015

Crack a Brewski, It's Conference Play Time

It's back!  The Beers of the CAA Preview is here just in time for conference play.  The Association is back to the 10 teams it started with when Drexel moved in over a decade ago (welcome, Elon) and it is completely wide open for the 2015 conference season.  No CAA team walks into conference play ranked in the top or bottom 50 in the NCAA (Pomeroy), everyone lost at least 4 non-conference games and there are more flaws than strengths when you look around the league.  If that doesn't get you excited then, well, you're right.

This year the preview has been modified to largely include beers that are available in the schools area.  If of age, have at it.  This year I added a "Games that could be trouble" line that lists a couple of games where I expect the team to underperform vs expectations.  As always, feedback is encouraged.

1 - Northeastern - Boston Beer Company (Sam Adams) - Utopia  - The undisputed number 1, although not quite a utopia.  They have one of the top coaches in the league.  They have three guards that can shoot, along with the best big man in the league.  With Eatherton, Spencer, and redshirt Junior Quncy Ford, they have veteran leadership. What they don't have is a point guard or another big man to take some of the pressure of off Eatherton.  Bill Coen seems more of a Zach Stahl fan than most, which is causing Reggie Spencer to spend an inordinate amount of time riding pine.  More importantly, while the guards shoot well, it's all they do.  They don't drive and get to the line enough and they turn the ball over much too often.  While Eatherton is a skilled big man and a big body, he's not the most physical presence in the paint, and this team as currently constructed can be out-toughed in a rockight.  The Huskies have the skill to win a couple of league games by 25+, but they're going to lose a couple of games they shouldn't, like they did last year to JMU and the Dub.  NU also got no help at all from the schedulers, playing a Thurs/Sat back to back 4 times this season with the second game in all of those sets on the road.  Historically, CAA teams do not travel well at all on 1 day rest.

What to watch for:  Turnovers.  Coach Coen has to get his guard situation fixed, quickly.
Games that could be trouble:  Sat Jan 10 @ Towson, Wed Jan 28 @ Drexel

2 - William and Mary - Williamsburg Ale Works - Jubilee - The default number 2 gets a beer that you should drink by the shot.  Their win against Wofford stands as one of the best out of conference wins for the CAA this year (sad) and they can still shoot the lights out.  The Tribe has some skilled players in Tarpey, Dixon and Sheldon that can take some of the offensive pressure off of CAA Player of the Year candidate Marcus Thornton but their length doesn't make up for their lack of quickness on defense, like NU they turn the ball over too much, and they are badly missing Beasthoven's physical play.  They can't box out your grandmother, so they better make the first shot because they won't get a second.  A team that is this reliant on shooting makes their margin of error much too thin to be considered a favorite, and should struggle on the road where shooting percentages generally decline.  To wit, they went 1-4 on the road in out of conference play, with the sole win against a terrible Western Illinois squad.  W&M opens the CAA slate at home against College of Charleston but then has quick back to back roadies in Philly and Elon.  The rest of the schedule runs pretty favorable.  Mark em down for 8-1 at home, so if they can salvage 4-5 or better on the road (and they should) then they will finish towards the top of the table.

What to watch for:  Marcus' Thornton to stay healthy, can they outshoot their opponents 13+ times?
Games that could be trouble:  Thurs Jan 8 @ Elon, Sat Feb 7 @ UNCW

3 - Hofstra -Allagash Brewing Company - Allagash Tripel - Pomeroy likes this team a lot, projecting the Flying Dutchman to finish tied at the top of the league with Northeastern at 13-5.  There's a few reasons to doubt this, most relating to a very poor out of conference schedule.  Bernardi and Tanksley have both shot 51% from behind the arc, which is unsustainable, and they are extremely reliant on the three ball.  HU profiles a bit like Iona, but without a skilled big man like Laury.  They'll run and gun and if a team doesn't guard all five guys no matter how far away from the basket they are, Hofstra will make them pay due in large part to Juan'ya Green's role as an elite pass first point guard.  

The Elon game is a terrible spot for them, it's part of their only Thurs/Sat back to back, and it's right before the Northeastern matchup, but otherwise the schedule makers were generous to Mihalich in his second year on Long Island.  HU may not be ready to beat the big boys, but in a league without any big boys, they should contend.

What to watch for:  Can they keep up the three point barrage once they hit league play and teams that will be looking out for it?
Games that could be trouble:  Sat Jan 10 @ Elon, Wed Feb 4 @ Delaware

4 - UNC Wilmington -Hardywood Park Craft Brewery - The Great Return - How much has this league slipped?  The joke of the league for the last half a decade is back in the top half of the projections, largely due to wins against not exactly powerhouse East Carolina and VMI.  A couple of things to note before you laugh this preview out of the room:  Despite the difficulties, Trask never became transfer U.  The Seahawks start three seniors, include two 4 year players in Freddie Jackson and the very underrated Cedrick Williams, along with Juco transfer Addison Spruill.  New coach Kevin Keatts has challenged freshman point guard Jordon Talley to run an uptempo offense, and Talley is clearly learning on the job, but if he can start giving his upperclassman teammates a chance, there will be some uncomfortable visitors in Trask this year.

What to watch for:  Can Jordon Talley grow as quickly as his team needs him to?
Games that could be trouble:  Wed Feb 11, College of Charleston at home, Sat Feb 21 @ Towson

5 - Drexel - New Belgium Brewing - Shift - Look around, and find the dumbest guy in the room right now.  Shave a few IQ points off of him, make him Drexel's coach, and then give him four NEC level players and Damion Lee.  That team should be at least middle of the pack in this watered down CAA.  Despite their 2-8 out of conference record, they get some credit.  For one thing, they're the rare CAA team that actually played a decent out of conference schedule, and for now they still haven't lost to a team outside of the kenpom top 150.  Additionally, Tavon Allen goes into league play as healthy as he's been.  

Folks will point to the loss of Rodney Williams for most of the CAA season (and the need to review the training and conditioning staffs efforts at DU) and that will certainly hurt the Dragons defensive effort, but here is something else to note:  Statistically Rodney Williams has been having the worst offensive season of any Dragon big man in the Flint era.  The offensive output from the frontcourt of this Dragons team simply can't be worse than it has been, and the guards will be better, let that be due to Tavon Allen's returning health, Damion Lee shooting the ball more, Sammy Mojica suddenly being allowed on the court, or the improved point guard play of... brace yourself... Freddie Wilson, who has been very much eating into the minutes of Rashann London as the out of conference season came to a close.  

What to watch for:  Can Austin Williams fill Rodney Williams shoes on the defensive end?  Will they stop being as soft as Charmin?
Games that could be trouble:  Sat Jan 10 @ UNCW, Sat Feb 7 @ College of Charleston

6 - College of Charleston - Founders Brewing Company - Kentucky's Breakfast Stout - It was a pretty close toss up between the 4/5/6 teams on this list, but UNCW's seniority and Damion Lee is what pushed The College down.  Similar to Drexel, C of C played a challenging out of conference schedule and beat all of the bad teams and lost to all of the good ones.  After a brutal offseason of change, it's up to seniors Anthony Stitt and Adjehi Baru to lead this team to contention, and the problem with that is that Stitt hasn't been good this year.  C of C continues to put Canyon Barry on a pedestal whether its because of his last name or his free throw "prowess", but his numbers just don't justify how much he touches the ball in the Cougar attack.  Barry is a spot up shooter that is being asked to do much more than that, let it be because of faith in him or because the Cougars simply don't have other options.   If you're looking for an old school CAA rock fight, look towards Charleston, because they sure aren't winning with offense.

 What to watch for:  Will a guard step up and become a go to scorer for this team?
Games that could be trouble:  Wed Jan 21 home v UNCW, Sat Jan 31 @ Delaware

7 - Towson - Bear Republic - Apex - Until last week, this team also fit in with C of C and Drexel in that they hadn't lost a game that they should have won.  And then the final week of 2014 happened, with losses to Navy and Fairleigh Dickenson.  The Tigers are big and will outrebound you which will be problems for teams that don't shoot well (see: Drexel, C of C) but their offense has almost entirely been spot up perimeter shooting from Four McGlynn and Alex Gavrilovic foul shots.  They slash, they don't do it particularly well, they hope they end up at the line and then they don't shoot particularly well when they get there.  All while playing poor defense.  Proof in the pudding:  Every time that TU has won this year, they have at least a 50% free throw rate.  If that all wasn't enough, the schedulemaker gave them 3 Thursday/Saturday back to backs with 2 of those 3 Saturday games on the road.

What to watch for:  Will anyone step up and hold onto the ball at the point?
Games that could be trouble:  Thursday Jan 8 home vs Drexel, Wed Feb 25 @ W&M

8 - James Madison - 3 Floyds Brewing and Surly Brewing (Collaboration) - Urine Trouble - They've got some guys.  Nation, Curry and Dalembert are a good core, and Kent and Grays are solid pieces.  What they don't have is any seniors, any awareness of when Nation gets suspended next, or guys who want to commit to great defense.  The Dukes disappointed last year, and we know what they are: a team that can beat anyone on any given night, and lose to anyone on any given night.  If Brady gets those core guys clicking and limits the turnovers, the Dukes have the talent and depth to end up right at the top of the league.  A front loaded schedule means things could be looking worse then they actually are at the midpoint of the season, and if guys don't buy in down there, things could get out of hand before the soft part of the schedule comes in February.  I bought in to the talent last year, and won't be fooled twice, so peg em 8th.

What to watch for:  Can they keep their guys on the court and create a winning environment
Games that could be trouble:  Thurs Jan 10 @ Drexel, Sat Feb 14 @ Elon 

9 - Elon - Sam Smith's Old Brewery - Winter Welcome Ale - Another team with a problem with guards handling the ball.  They just lost Luke Eddy for the season and while he didn't get a ton of minutes, he's been their best shooter by far this year.  They have a nice piece in Tanner Samson who is their answer to Four McGlynn, but that's offset by freshman Elijah Bryant thinking that he is Kobe Bryant, taking all of their shots and being brutally inefficient doing it.  The dude has scored 140 points on 123 shots this year, which would be fine except he's turned it over 45 times while doing it.  Like Drexel, this is a team that doesn't want to get their frontcourt involved in the offense so the alternatives to Bryant are limited and he's going to keep shooting.  His opponents will keep letting him.

What to watch for:  Can their defense keep them in games?
Games that could be trouble:  Mon Jan 5 @ Towson, Sat Feb 7 @ Hofstra

10 - Delaware - Lagunitas Brewing Company - Lagunitas Sucks - After graduating - or at least running out of eligibility - their two transfers, Suspendee of the Year Devon Saddler, and umm, terminating Jarvis Threatt's enrollment, UD enters the season undermanned.  Only one time suspendee Marvin King-Davis and Guy No One Noticed Kyle Anderson are left to lead Monte Ross's edition of the Blue Hens this year.  No one thought it would go well.  It is not going well.  Good news for Coach Ross and the Blue Hens though: If any Head Coach needs an assistant next year, Delaware is unlikely to mind if you contact him while he is still under contract.

What to watch for:  Will last years league title have to be vacated?
Games that could be trouble:  All of them

Assorted notes:

-- There's a lot of teams that have a mess at point guard this year.  Create pressure in the back court, collect free points in this league

--Drexel Dragons:  Worst game scheduled by the powers that be: A Thurs/Sat set with the second game on the road at William and Mary for Marcus Thornton's senior night

--With 3 uptempo teams in conference (Hofstra, Elon, UNCW) the era of Rock Fight U may be over, a blessing on all of our houses

--Outside of the first week of the season when every team must play 4 games in 8 days (necessary evil to get every team to 18 games) there are 10 times this season that teams play on both Thursday and Saturday.  In those 20 instances (10 games x 2 teams per game) 15 times the teams are playing the Saturday game on the road.  We've seen over and over again that teams traveling on one days rest underperform.  By having those teams play on the road so often, the league schedulers (outsourced by the league office, the CAA offices will refuse responsibility for this even though they could have intervened) have changed the competitive balance of the league.  Northeastern is particularly hurt by this with 3 short rest road games, while William and Mary only has 1.  If W&M wins the league by a game, they should send flowers to the league offices.

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