Below is my vote for this week's CAA Basketball Bloggers' Poll. First there are a couple house-cleaning items to address.
First, if you already haven't done so, you MUST read Defiantly Dutch's interview with some George Mason fans. It's worth several laugh-out-loud moments.
Second, yesterday's win by Towson over UNCW was not the only contest involving NCAA records I witnessed on campus the last few months. Back in October, I got to cover Richmond's Aaron Corp set an FCS record for highest completion percentage by a quarterback against the Tigers. You never know when history will be made, which is why I implored all my Towson friends to come out to the games! Well, not going yesterday was their loss. I've submitted my story on Towson's win for the CAAZone, and I'll share it when it gets published.
One thing that won't get posted in that story is a quick anecdote. I should have written down the exact time of when it happened, but it was midway through the first half. At a deadball whistle, I looked over at the Towson bench. The players were kind of just sitting there, so one of the assistant coaches tapped a couple players on the shoulder to get them into the game. (It wasn't anything like what Todd Bozeman was accused of doing recently; it was a simple patting. And in full disclosure, Bozeman was reinstated without being disciplined.) The players actually responded and cheered on their team.
While this probably wasn't the first time a Tiger coached attempted to get the bench players to support the team, it stuck out more as the game went on and Towson got confidence. Eventually the players were cheering more and more, not needing to be provoked. You might think it's normal for teammates to cheer each other on, but sthe losing streak had to have deflated the Tigers. Kudos to the coaching staff for keeping the players into the game mentally.
Robert Nwankwo threw down an alley-oop dunk to put Towson up four in the second half. It was at that point the fans and players genuinely began to expect to win. After the game, it was good to see students and other fans lined up to high-five the players as they ran to the locker room.
Lastly, Old Dominion hosts James Madison this Thursday. I hope to have a Q&A posted on gameday with someone who played in the very first contest between the schools. This will be quite an honor.
On now, on to the ballot.
1. Drexel (1st previous week) – The Dragons just keep winning, having lost only once since the first week of December. They won easily at William and Mary Monday; Wednesday they avenged an earlier season loss to Georgia State, while handling Delaware easily Saturday. Five of their last six wins have been by double-digits. If Fouch is 100% healthy by the end of February, this team can win the CAA Tournament. They already play intense defense, but the Fouch/Lee/Massenat scoring trio can be the difference.
2. George Mason (2nd previous week) – The Patriots lead the top-heavy CAA with a 10-1 conference record. This week the Patriots beat UNCW at home, won at Hofstra by five and defeated the Dukes by ten at home. I keep them behind Drexel because (1) Drexel has won 15 of their last 16, (2) Drexel beat them earlier in January, and (3) Drexel is playing better basketball right now. Mason does not play Drexel the rest of the way, so Drexel owns the tiebreaker. Ryan Pearson may be the CAA Player of the Year, especially after posting 29-15-3 against James Madison Saturday.
3. Virginia Commonwealth (3rd previous week) – Since losing two consecutive conference games early in January, the Rams have won seven straight. This past week the downed Hofstra at home, then defeated both Towson and Georgia State on the road. They’ve yet to play George Mason, the team with the best conference record, and they lost to Drexel this year. I cannot put them above either of those two teams at this time. Darius Theus had an outstanding game against Towson, posting ten assists without a turnover.
4. ODU (5th previous week) – The Monarchs bounced back well from their loss to the Rams last Saturday, beating Northeastern, UNCW and William and Mary over six days. Had Chris Cooper gotten one more rebounds against the Tribe, it would have been his third consecutive double-double. Old Dominion is 0-2 against the Patriots and the Rams, so they can’t be voted higher than either of them. Transfer Donte Hill clearly makes this team better; he doesn't do one thing great, but he does many things really, really well.
5. Northeastern (6th previous week) – Northeastern is the best team in the conference outside of the top four, but the gap between the Huskies and the top is significant. The team is 0-3 against Drexel and ODU, losing each game by double-digit points. But Jonathan Lee and Reggie Spencer are leading the team to a nice season; they are now 11-10 after starting off 3-7 in their first ten games this season.
6. Georgia State (4th previous week) – Two weeks ago, I had the Panthers as the top team in the conference. They had a 5-1 conference record, with the lone loss against George Mason on the road. Since then, though, the team has lost four of five games. Three of those losses were on the road (Northeastern, Delaware and Drexel) and the fourth was a one-point loss at home to Virginia Commonwealth. I said last week that the team may be tiring out at this point, as too many players were averaging more than 30 minutes per game. It doesn’t get easier for them, as they take on both UNCW and Hofstra on the road this week.
7. Delaware (7th last week) – The Blue Hens didn’t do anything to either rise or fall this week. They beat Towson and lost to Drexel, par for the CAA course this season. They were in position to defeat Northeastern, leading by five points with 57 seconds left. Somehow Delaware couldn’t hold the lead, and they lost by one point. One the one hand, it’s a deflating loss; on the other hand, they are good enough to keep Northeastern on the ropes in Boston until the very end. Jamelle Hagins is having an underrated year, averaging 12.7 points and 10.7 boards per outing.
8. JMU (10th last week) – The depleted Dukes got their first home conference win Thursday, beating William and Mary by twelve. But the win is sandwiched around losses at Georgia State (Monday) and George Mason (Saturday). Despite going 1-2 this week, I moved them up for a couple reasons. First, the final score (89-79) against the Patriots was not indicative of how well the Dukes played on the road. They were within two points at 74-72, but GMU pulled away from there. Second, they did win their head-to-head contest against UNCW. Factor that information in with UNCW and Hofstra going winless in six combined games since last week, and the Dukes move up in the ballot.
9. UNCW (8th last week) – The Seahawks lost to George Mason Monday in Fairfax by only six. They lost by only five at home Wednesday against Old Dominion. These are understandable outcomes. But the team was outplayed by Towson, a team that (in case you hadn’t heard) had an NCAA-record 41-game losing streak coming into Saturday’s game. Adding injury to the insult of three losses, the team’s leader in assists (Freddie Jackson) was injured against ODU and didn’t play at Towson. Buzz Peterson has talented players on this roster, but they are still learning to play as a unit.
10. Hofstra (9th last week) – The Pride have one win since 2012 started, a two-point win over James Madison. Monday they lost at Virginia Commonwealth, at home Wednesday to George Mason, and in Boston Saturday to Northeastern. This team is fighting hard for Coach Mo Cassara, but there have been several breaks go the wrong way. They have two home games this week, hosting Towson Wednesday and Georgia State Saturday. Can they right the ship this week?
11. TU (12th last week) – THE STREAK IS OVER! I had to move them up one spot. It’s partially emotional and partially based in reality. In addition to beating UNCW Saturday, they played well against Mason, Delaware and VCU the last eight days. They have out-rebounded their last five opponents, and you don’t do that without effort. Robert Nwankwo has five double-doubles in his last six games.
12. W&M (11th last week) – If Towson was moved up one spot, then last week’s 11th-placed team had to drop a spot. The Tribe have lost six games in a row, and this ranking won’t be permanent if Towson loses their scheduled games this week. Their average margin of loss this week was 17 points. They host Virginia Commonwealth Wednesday and travel to UNCW Saturday. Kudos to Quinn McDowell, who scored his 1,500th career point against ODU on Saturday.