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New Year Brings Fresh Start For #CAAHoops Teams

Jan 1, 2013, 3:20 PM EDT

Mason's Sherrod Wright

Happy New Year from the CAA!

For many people, the start of a new year means a clean slate and the opportunity to leave the past behind and focus on goals ahead. Such is the case in CAA men’s basketball. While results in the non-conference portion of the schedule have not met expectations for many teams, the opening of league play this week presents a chance to start over and begin the quest to claim a CAA title. The race could be one of the most competitive and balanced in recent memory and should provide plenty of excitement on the road to March Madness.

Let’s take a quick look at all 11 teams as we begin 2013:

Delaware (5-8) – The Blue Hens come into CAA play on a two-game winning streak after topping Rider 73-66 on Monday. Senior Jamelle Hagins has recorded double-doubles in nine of his 13 games and ranks second in the nation in rebounding (12.5 rpg). Junior Devon Saddler tops the league in scoring (19.2 ppg). Sophomore Jarvis Threatt and senior Josh Brinkley have been slowed by injuries, but both appear to be rounding into form. Threatt is averaging 15.0 ppg over his last three contests while Brinkley poured in a season-high 17 points in 18 minutes against Rider.

Drexel (4-8) –  Injuries have hindered Drexel as senior Chris Fouch was lost for the year in mid-November and starters Damion Lee and Dartaye Ruffin have also missed time. However, the Dragons have been playing better in recent weeks with a road win at Princeton and a 69-58 triumph over Davidson on Dec. 22. Lee has been on of the CAA’s best players, averaging 18.8 ppg with nine consecutive games scoring 15 or more points. Backcourt mate Frantz Massenat is adding 12.6 ppg and 4.5 apg. The preseason league favorites have won 16 straight CAA contests and are just three victories shy of breaking George Mason’s mark of 18 set last season.

George Mason (7-5) – The Patriots have posted solid non-conference wins over Virginia and Richmond and all five losses have come against teams ranked in the top 108 of the RPI by seven points or less. Junior guard Sherrod Wright has been sensational, ranking among the league’s top five in scoring (17.3 ppg), field goal percentage (54.1%) and 3-point FG percentage (45.5%). He has poured in 20 or more points in four straight games. Johnny Williams has added 7.7 ppg in his return from a should injury that caused him to miss last season. Mason has also been strong defensively, allowing a league-low 61.1 ppg.

Georgia State (5-8) – No team has had more tough luck in recent weeks than the Panthers, losing four straight games by a total of 12 points. However, they also have three victories by two points or less this season. GSU features three of the CAA’s top 15 scorers. Guard R.J. Hunter has been the league’s top freshman, averaging 15.5 ppg with five 20+-point outings and grabbing 5.8 rpg. Backcourt mate Devonta White is scoring 14.6 ppg and leads the league in steals (2.2 spg). Virginia Tech transfer Manny Atkins has tallied double figures in nine consecutive games is contributing 13.0 ppg and a team-high 6.6 rpg.

Hofstra (3-9) – The Pride has dropped seven straight games since the suspension of four players in mid-November, but three of their past four contests have been decided by eight points or less. Hofstra’s top player has been sophomore guard Taran Buie, who ranks ninth in the league in scoring (15.3 ppg) and has reached double digits in seven straight games and nine of his last 10. The Penn State transfer has drained 19 three-pointers. Hofstra has also gotten a solid contributions from junior Stephen Nwaukoni, who is 8th in the league in rebounding (7.2 rpg), and point guard Stevie Mejia (9.8 ppg/4.2 apg).

James Madison (6-6) – The Dukes are the CAA’s hottest team, having won five of their last six after starting 1-5. Much of the team’s resurgence can be traced to the improved play of senior point guard Devon Moore, who is averaging 16.5 ppg over his last four games and is leading the conference in assists (4.6 apg). Senior Rayshawn Goins (14.3 ppg/7.2 rpg) has been JMU’s most consistent player and senior A.J. Davis has also contributed lately. Those veterans, combined with promising freshmen Andre Nation and Ron Curry, could have the Dukes contending for a title.

UNCW (5-7) – The Seahawks are a perfect 5-0 at home this season, but winless (0-7) on the road. Senior forward Keith Rendleman is putting together another excellent season (16.2 ppg/9.7 rpg) despite being the focus of opposing defenses. Sophomore Cedrick Williams is among the league’s top 10 in rebounding (7.4 rpg) and blocked shots, and has shown flashes of being able to take some of the scoring load off Rendleman. Redshirt freshman Craig Ponder (8.3 ppg) is averaging 15.5 ppg over his last two games and had a career-best 26-point effort in a narrow road loss at Marshall.

Northeastern (5-7) – After getting off to a 4-1 start, which included making the championship game of the Great Alaska Shootout, the Huskies have dropped six of their last seven. Senior guard Joel Smith ranks fifth in the CAA in scoring (16.7 ppg) and leads the league with 32 three-pointers. After missing the first nine games with a foot injury, All-CAA guard Jonathan Lee has returned to action and is averaging 15.0 ppg through three contests. NU is also getting solid seasons from sophomore forwards Reggie Spencer (11.9 ppg/6.7 rpg) and Quincy Ford (12.6 ppg/7.3 rpg). The Huskies just need to shore up a defense that is allowing opponents to shoot 47.3%.

Old Dominion (2-11) – With an influx of new players the Monarchs have struggled thus far, but showed their potential by beating Virginia on Dec. 22 and playing tight games against Murray State and UCF. ODU’s top player has been N.C. State transfer DeShawn Painter (11.3 ppg/7.9 rpg), who has recorded four double-doubles and is averaging 16.2 ppg and 8.8 rpg over his last five games. Junior Donte Hill (9.9 ppg) has also been solid. The Monarchs have a talented freshmen class led by guards Keenan Palmore (7.8 ppg/4.8 rpg) and Aaron Bacote (8.1 ppg/2.5 rpg), and as they grow and improve, so will ODU.

Towson (5-8) – The Tigers head into CAA play with momentum after rallying for a 67-66 victory at Oregon State last Saturday. Five of Towson’s top six scorers are newcomers, and nobody has made a bigger impact than Georgetown transfer Jerrelle Benimon, who has posted eight double-doubles and is among the CAA’s top 10 in scoring (16.2 ppg) and rebounding (11.6 rpg). Freshman Jerome Hairston (8.5 ppg/32 assists) and USF transfer Mike Burwell (8.2 ppg) have upgraded the Tigers’ backcourt and junior Marcus Damas (9.6 ppg) is having another good year. Towson is also leading the CAA in FG percentage defense (38.4%).

William & Mary (7-4) – The Tribe has already eclipsed its win total from a year ago and has captured four of its last five heading into a game at Vanderbilt on Wednesday. W&M has three of the CAA’s top 13 scorers with sophomore guard Marcus Thornton (18.3 ppg), junior guard Brandon Britt (14.6 ppg) and junior forward Tim Rusthoven (14.3 ppg/7.0 rpg). W&M has also gotten a lift from junior forward Kyle Gaillard, who is contributing 12.2 ppg and shooting 73.7% from the floor over his last six contests. The Tribe is leading the league in several offensive categories and is in the top three of the defensive statistics.

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