I tried to post this last night but something went awry. I'll make this a shorter version.
The good news is I'm almost done with Part II of my review of Old Dominion's 2011 season. It's completed but I haven't read it from start to finish with fresh eyes. We've got to make sure it flows as a document. You can hold yourself over with Part I in the meantime.
Below is our vote for this week's CAA basketball bloggers' poll. My criteria are a mixture of actual results, head-to-head results and guessing who'd win on a neutral court tomorrow. The rest I determine by just pulling names out of hats.
One of those last two sentences is sarcasm.
The way I see it, the top of the conference is some combination of teams 1-5; teams 6-8 are close; and teams 10-12 currently bring up the rear. That leaves the #9 team, who I can't understand is winless in conference. What more do the Pride have to do to win a conference game?
1. Georgia State (prior ranking: 2nd) - The Panthers have won 13 of their last 14 games, including wins over Drexel and at Virginia Commonwealth. The only loss was a three-point defeat at George Mason, a contest that came down to the last 90 seconds. Coach Hunter has the team playing at a high level because of the most dangerous weapon - belief. They believe they can play with anybody right now, and the difference in their collective body language compared to last year is telling. Talent can take you so far, but conviction pushes you over the top.
2. Drexel (prior ranking: 3rd) - Coach Flint has his team riding high with ten wins in their last eleven outings. That lone loss was at Georgia State. Anyone who saw Damion Lee play against Bradley knew the young man would be a force early in his CAA career. The trio of Lee, Frank Massenat and Chris Fouch can take team this to the CAA tournament final if they're all on the same page in March.
3. George Mason (prior ranking: 1st) - Falling from last week's #1 ranking were the Patriots, as Drexel defeated them by seven at home. I can't vote for GMU over the Dragons since they lost head-to-head, and I can't put Georgia State below Drexel since Coach Hunter has the Panthers on an incredible tear. But I think they'd defeat Virginia Commonwealth right now, so they're third. How good would this team be had Luke Hancock not transferred out? Copes and Allen are gonna be a good ones with just a bit more experience.
4. Virginia Commonwealth (prior ranking: 4th) - Speaking of the Rams, you know the top of the conference is pretty good when you vote a 13-5 team at fourth. Shaka Smart's team has lost to both teams I've got ranked at the very top, so they couldn't be higher than third. I just don't think they'd have an answer for Ryan Pearson. Assuming both Virginia Commonwealth and Old Dominion take care of their mid-week games the next two days, I'll have the winner Saturday voted higher than the other this time next week.
5. Old Dominion (prior ranking: 5th) - The Monarchs gave coach Blaine Taylor a 69-61 victory over Hofstra on his birthday. This team really could have used Donte Hill at the start of the season; his defensive presence makes it easier for Bazemore to play the passing lanes better. At 10-8 overall, it's difficult to put them ahead of the team the 13-win Rams, especially considering the Monarchs' continued struggle early in games. But this weekend will settle it...until it's time to vote again.
6. Northeastern (prior ranking: 9th) - The CAA's representatives from Boston have won four of their last five, three of which were road wins. That one loss during the time was to Wilmington (see below), but they've got a better overall record (8-8) and a better conference record (4-2) than the Seahawks. They host Georgia State Wednesday and travel to Drexel Saturday, so we'll find out how competitive they are against the conference's best. But if their recent reduction in turnovers becomes a season-long trend, they are better than the teams ranked below them.
7. UNCW (prior ranking: 6th) - Coach Buzz Peterson has a fantastic inside-outside combo in Keith Rendleman and Adam Smith. Double-digit losses to Georgia State and Drexel, even if they're the two of the three best teams in the conference, show that the talented-but-inexperienced roster is not quite there yet. While this year has yet to play out, I'm already looking forward to seeing what the 2012-2013 UNCW team will do - they've got an exciting future. How will the suspension of Coach Buzz Peterson impact their game against JMU Wednesday?
8. Delaware (prior ranking: 7th) - There's no question this team has talent, as a three-point loss to Temple indicates. The Hens also had Old Dominion on the ropes before Kent Bazemore forced overtime. But this 7-9 team also has yet to learn dominate inferior opponents consistently, as the loss to a 4-16 Howard squad indicates. Their last two wins are over 6-12 Hofstra and 4-14 William and Mary. Two home losses this week, even if they were games against ODU and VCU, require a drop in the rankings.
9. Hofstra (prior ranking: 8th) - Watching Hofstra Saturday, I was struck by how competitive the team can be. But they seemed to wear down against a defense-oriented team with a deeper bench. Still, four of the Pride's six conference losses are by a combined eleven points. They have a worse record than James Madison (8-9) and one fewer conference win (JMU's one CAA win was over Hofstra), but they seem to be more competitive than the Dukes right now. How hard are they playing for Coach Mo right now? They out-rebounded the Monarchs Saturday. A big part of rebounding is effort, and they're clearly giving their collective 100% right now.
10. James Madison (prior ranking: 10th) - Since starting out 6-3, Coach Matt Brady's JMU squad has won only two of their last six games. The Dukes are winless in their three home conference games this season, and playing on the road in the CAA isn't exactly easier than playing at home. The team travels to UNCW Wednesday and then hosts Hofstra Saturday; we'll learn of the team's mettle this week.
11. William and Mary (prior ranking: 11th) - Is it fair to rank the Tribe below James Madison, a squad they defeated on January 4? At the bottom of this poll, an 8-9 record > a 4-14 record. The College's first win was a one-point defeat of Liberty, and their second win was against a sub-D1 school (Wesley College). After beaing the Dukes, the Tribe's fourth win was over winless Towson. If JMU stumbles this week it might be time to move them down, but right now the Dukes' overall body of work is more impressive.
12. Towson (prior ranking: 12th) - Coach Skerry will have this team turned around shortly. By "shortly" I mean at least two seasons, and Towson's athletic director seems to be patient and long-term-focused enough to allow Skerry time. But right now, this team is not the best in the world of college basketball. We prefer to remain upbeat rather than kick others while they're down. We've got nothing but respect for what the new Athletic Director has done since taking over, and we're confident Pat Skerry's the man for this rebuilding job. Rob Ambrose started from scratch and won the regular season CAA football title in his third year; why can't Coach Skerry have similar results?