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A head-to-head clash of the lone remaining undefeated teams in Colonial Athletic Association play lived up to its billing. Now, William & Mary sits atop the conference standings early into the campaign.
Might destiny now, finally, await the Tribe?
Talking March in mid-January might be presumptive, but it’s hard not to see the historic potential of the 2019-20 Tribe when viewed in the Big Picture.
Their defeat of Charleston on Saturday set off a landscape-shaking few days in the Colonial.
Tribe On Top
William & Mary center Nathan Knight rightly noted following the Tribe’s 67-56 defeat of Charleston that “hype around it” precipitated the showdown of undefeated CAA teams.
“With the excitement can come a little bit of anxiousness,” Knight admitted. “The biggest thing for us as the first team was relaxing and really get into the game plan.”
William & Mary got into its defensive game plan against one of the CAA’s three top 100 adjusted efficiency offenses. With the dynamic scoring duo of Grant Riller and Brevin Galloway held to 10 and eight points, and Charleston as a team shooting 5-of-20 from behind the 3-point line, the Tribe dictated the pace.
Such has been their MO in this first season under coach Dane Fischer: William & Mary boasts the best adjusted defensive efficiency numbers in the CAA, hold opponents to 32 percent shooting from behind the arc and 46.9 percent inside of it, and limit teams’ second-chance opportunities.
The Tribe rank 33rd in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage allowed.
William & Mary’s defensive numbers are in part the byproduct of the outstanding frontcourt pairing of Knight and Andy Van Vliet. Indeed, the 6-foot-10 and 7-footer combine to form one of the more difficult matchup issues.
But Bryce Barnes’ work on the perimeter generating steals adds an extra layer to William & Mary’s defensive prowess. All told, defense is the Tribe’s defining trait. And it’s working quite well.
Along the way to a 5-0 CAA start, William & Mary has wins over Hofstra, in which it allowed 61 points; Northeastern, giving up 64 points; and Charleston, surrendering just 56.
Big Changes For UNC Wilmington
The UNC Wilmington athletic department announced the exit of coach C.B. McGrath on Monday. Rob Burke will lead the Seahawks the remainder of the season.
McGrath last week touted the youthfulness of the 2019-20 UNCW roster still forging its identity while playmakers Jay Estime and Ty Gadsden prepared to reintegrate into the lineup. However, with a bevy of departures ahead of the 11-game losing streak and winless CAA start, university brass opted to move in another direction.
The recruiting potential UNC Wilmington has with local pools should make this a desirable opening once the coaching carousel begins turning in earnest. Two of the program’s last four head coaches parlayed successful tenures with the Seahawks into ACC jobs, with Brad Brownell at Clemson and Kevin Keatts at NC State.
Watch out for Towson heading into the frenzy that is February.
Since opening conference play against the gauntlet of Northeastern, Hofstra and Charleston, the Tigers ripped off three straight Colonial wins, including a pair of 16-points wins over Drexel and Delaware last weekend.
What’s more, the 89-73 and 84-68 performances were the best back-to-back games Towson’s played offensively all season. The Tigers found success with unselfish play, resulting in 35 assists in the two wins.
“That's big time,” said Tigers coach Pat Skerry. “When we're sharing the ball and everybody is eating and it gets everybody excited. The bench gets happy when somebody makes a 3-pointer off of an assist. It just shows how special of a team we can be when everybody is playing together.”
Towson hosts James Madison on Saturday. The Dukes come in on the opposite trajectory with three straight conference losses, albeit the last two to Delaware and Drexel by four and seven points.
“This one felt like it was there for us and we didn't execute at a handful of crucial moments,” Dukes coach Louis Rowe said following the Drexel loss.
Stat Sheet Stuffers
Three of college basketball’s Top 25 scorers represent the CAA, with the regular season just about halfway complete.
Grant Riller and Northeastern’s Jordan Roland remain in the nation’s top 10 at 21.9 and 21.6 points per game. Roland scored 28 points his last time out in a thriller against Hofstra (more on that in a moment).
Nathan Knight sits at No. 24 nationally, bumping his average up to 20 points per game with his play of late.
Delaware’s Nate Darling and Hofstra’s Desure Buie also rank in the top 50. Buie’s 44-point game against Elon on Jan. 4 is arguably the individual performance of the year in the CAA.
A March Preview?
While Buie delivered what could be the top individual game thus far in Colonial play, Hofstra won the conference’s best game thus far in 2019-20.
It wasn’t exactly revenge for Northeastern snagging the NCAA Tournament that seemed like Hofstra’s destiny a season ago, but the Pride beating the Huskies at the buzzer on Eli Pemberton’s did at least give Hofstra the early-season head-to-head advantage.
Pemberton’s game-winner came almost a year to the day that Justin Wright-Foreman sank the Huskies on a buzzer beater.