Strange season thus far in the Colonial Athletic Association. There’s an all-star team of injured and suspended players, though a couple of squads have compensated and adapted nicely.
The conference lost two of its marquee programs, Old Dominion and George Mason, as well as Georgia State, yet has performed better thus far and is rated higher than last season.
A light schedule this week, because of semester exams, permits easy viewing.
Start with those missing, since they are as notable as those active. Drexel guard Damion Lee and Northeastern’s Quincy Ford, both all-conference talents, are done for the season. Lee tore the ACL in his right knee Nov. 27 versus Arizona, while Ford had back issues that shelved him after just two games. Ford underwent surgery last week.
All-league guards Devon Saddler of Delaware and James Madison’s Andre Nation are serving suspensions, as are starters Brandon Britt of William and Mary and Jerome Hairston of preseason favorite Towson.
Saddler, who led the CAA in scoring last season (19.9 ppg), missed the Blue Hens’ first nine games and will return next week versus North Dakota State. Nation was suspended for the Dukes’ first 15 games and is scheduled to return Jan. 7 versus the College of Charleston.
Saddler, a strong safety in high-tops, will make the Blue Hens (5-4) better, but they’ve adjusted without him. Quality guards Jarvis Threatt and Kyle Anderson are among the top eight scorers in the conference, and Threatt leads the league in assists (6.2).
Delaware (5-4) still leads the CAA in scoring, at 83 points per game, and has two of the league’s better losses: 84-80 at Villanova and 80-75 at Notre Dame.
Likewise, Drexel (6-2) misses Lee, but his absence has translated to increased productivity from Chris Fouch. A 1,000-point career scorer, Fouch was sidelined almost all of last season with an ankle injury and received a rare sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA.
Fouch is third in the conference in scoring at 19.3 points per game and pairs well with lead guard Frantz Massenat, who averages 15.6 points and 5.4 assists per game.
Britt was suspended for William and Mary’s first nine games and will return Dec. 20 versus Division III Goucher. The senior point guard was one of three returning Tribe double-figure scorers.
All-league guard Marcus Thornton of W&M (5-4) has played the point much of the season and is second in the league in scoring (19.3 ppg). Britt’s return allows Thornton to move to shooting guard, where he is more suited, as well as provide backcourt depth for a team capable of challenging for the conference title.
Hairston, the Tigers’ sophomore point guard, was suspended indefinitely. Towson (6-4) has compensated with Mike Burwell and Four McGlynn, as well as all-conference Jerrelle Benimon, who often plays point forward.
Transfers also have impacted the league. Northeastern forward Scott Eatherton averages a double-double (16.9 ppg, 10.6 rpg) and leads the conference in field-goal percentage (.604).
Delaware wing Davon Usher (19.2 ppg) is fourth in scoring and also softened the blow of Saddler’s absence.
Hofstra transfers Zeke Upshaw and Dion Nesmith combine to average 33 points per game. Upshaw, from Illinois State, is the CAA’s top scorer at 19.6 points per game.
Overall, the CAA is 14th in the latest Ratings Percentage Index (according to Jerry Palm and CBS Sports), a significant jump from last season’s dismal 18th. The league is 35-45 against Division I competition, a .437 winning percentage. Last season, the conference was 48-83 in the regular season (.366) versus D-I opponents.
Drexel is the highest-rated team (37). The Dragons played a difficult schedule and have one of the league’s signature wins, an 85-83 triple-overtime affair against Alabama in the third-place game of the NIT Season Tip-Off. The Dragons also lost by five at UCLA and four to Arizona in the NIT semifinals.
Northeastern (2-7) has won only twice, but one was a 63-56 comeback against Georgetown. Towson has the conference’s other marquee win, 75-69 against Temple.
The RPI will undergo further shakeups — Massachusetts presently is No. 1, according to CBS Sports — as teams conclude their non-conference schedules through the holiday season. Teams and leagues will have a more accurate reflection of where they stand well into January.
Given the injuries and suspensions, that goes double for the CAA.
CAA basketball snapshot promising, if not fully focused yet
Conference's rating rises despite many injuries, suspensions
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