In A League Packed With Scoring Punch, Defending Is The X-Factor In The CAA

Drexel head coach Zach Spiker posited an interesting question. 

“Is there any conference that has more players in the nation in the top 40 [than the Colonial Athletic Association]?” 

The answer? Nope. Not the SEC nor ACC, not the Pac-12 or Big 12. From the American East to the Western Athletic, the CAA has the highest concentration of top-tier scorers. 

With two in the top 12, the Colonial matches the Big East for most. It’s also the only league with three in the top 20. 

Here’s a snapshot at the midway point of CAA play, through Jan. 25: 

Jordan Roland, Northeastern: 23.4 points per game, No. 3

Grant Riller, Charleston: 21.3 points per game, No. 12

Nathan Knight, William & Mary: 20.5 points per game, No. 18 

Nate Darling, Delaware: 19.7 points per game, No. 34 

Add James Madison’s Matt Lewis and Hofstra’s Desure Buie, and the CAA accounts for six of the nation’s top 65 scorers. Considering there are 32 Div. I basketball conferences, the CAA featuring almost 10 percent is a ridiculous statistic. 

Now imagine having to defend against that, night in and night out. What goes into the preparation?

“A lot, to be honest. It’s scary,” Spiker said. 

How does a team not get drained against that kind of grind? Brian Fobbs of Towson, the CAA’s best defensive team per adjusted efficiency, explained how the Tigers maintain their edge. 

“Our head coach,” Fobbs said with a laugh. “He gets on us every day about defense. Every possession down the floor, we can hear him scream and that just gives us that edge to keep defending.” 

Towson’s Pat Skerry said the Tigers strive to build their identity as a “tough, defensive-minded team.” That can be a differentiating quality in a conference with so many explosive scorers. 

“You’ve got a lot of really well-coached teams with schemes, and then you’ve got how many good players there are,” Skerry said. “What our guys have done, and what they need to continue to do, is understand that if our defense is consistent, we’re going to be in games every night.” 

Towson offers an appropriate reflection of how the Colonial’s elite scorers, and the way opponents defend them, swings games. The Tigers are on a six-game winning streak, in which they held Lewis, Darling and Knight all below their season averages. 

Before the streak, however, Towson went 0-3. Those games included a defeat to Charleston in which Riller hit for 28, and to Hofstra with Buie dropping 35. 

Meanwhile, the inverse proves true for those teams with elite scorers. Riller has hit above his average in 12 games this season; the Cougars are 10-2 when he does so. Eight of Northeastern’s 11 wins have come in games Roland has scored 24 points or more. Delaware is 8-2 when Darling hits for 20 or more. 

So not only does the CAA have an abundance of prolific scorers, but their presences are especially important to team success.

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