Remember the CAA of your misspent younger days? The one where points felt precious, games regularly ended in the 60s and the sludgy style of play was oddly honorable? Well, it’s back!
Half of the 20 league games played thus far have featured both teams scoring fewer than 70 points. Last season, just 20 of the 99 CAA games ended with the victor scoring under 70 points.
Hofstra, the defending CAA champions, has scored fewer than 70 points in three straight games, its longest such streak since December 2015. Northeastern, the 2019 champion, has scored below 70 points eight times in 12 games this season after doing so just 13 times last year. Charleston, the 2018 winner, has scored below 70 points eight times in 13 games this season after doing so 11 times last year.
The now-and-then numbers are especially jarring at KenPom.com. Per his metrics, CAA teams are averaging 100.4 points per 100 possessions in league games, which ranks 20th among the 31 Division I conferences. Last season, the CAA ranked second at 105.7 points per 100 possessions. The 5.3 point drop is the largest in Division I.
One seemingly obvious explanation for the dip in offense is the lack of practice time and constant in-season pauses caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Teams didn’t gather in the spring and summer as usual and only three schools — Northeastern, Hofstra and Charleston — were able to play their first six conference games as scheduled. (And Charleston went into a two-week pause on Tuesday due to a positive test within its Tier 1 personnel.)
“I don’t think we can discredit the missed skill evaluations for these guys — April, May, June, July, end of spring semester and summer when we would have had them, into the fall,” Hofstra acting head coach Mike Farrelly said. “Our offense is a little bit more basic not having all the wrinkles and things like that because you had less practice time.”
But there’s another less 2021-specific explanation for the reduced offense — one that might have resulted in a less explosive CAA season even if it were played in something approaching normalcy.
Only five of the 15 players to earn All-CAA honors last season returned this season. Eight graduated while Delaware’s Nate Darling, the only underclassman on the first team, turned pro and Towson’s Allen Betrand transferred to Rhode Island.
“The entire first-team from last year is gone,” said William & Mary head coach Dane Fischer, who had to replace CAA Player of the Year Nathan Knight. “The turnover in rosters is probably a pretty big factor.”
The only teams not to lose their leading scorers were James Madison, Drexel and UNC Wilmington. Five teams — Northeastern, Delaware, Hofstra, Towson and William & Mary — lost their top two scorers while Charleston lost Brevin Galloway, the Cougars’ second-leading scorer behind NBA draftee Grant Riller, to a season-ending knee injury after just four games this season.
“When you lose Elijah Pemberton and Desure Buie, everything gets harder on the offensive end,” Farrelly said. “You lose Nathan Knight and Grant Riller, Elijah and Desure and Jordan Roland, you’re talking about a lot of firepower.”
Especially from long distance. Due to graduation, transfer or injury, 13 of the top 21 players in 3-points made last season are not in the league this season. The CAA is shooting 31.2 percent from 3-point land, the lowest mark among Division I conferences. The league ranked fifth at 34.8 percent last season, was tied for third at 36.2 percent in 2018-19 and was tied for fourth at 36.2 percent in 2017-18.
The struggles from deep don’t seem to be a matter of playing back-to-back games against the same opponent instead of the usual Thursday-Saturday games against different foes. There have been nine sets of back-to-back games thus far and the teams combined to shoot better from long distance in the back end in five of those doubleheaders.
Nor does the reduced offense appear to be a stylistic change within the CAA, whose recent proficiency was remarkable for the efficiency with which it was generated.
Per KenPom.com, there was an average of 67.1 possessions per league game last season, which ranked 27th among the 32 Division I conferences. The disparity was even greater in 2018-19, when the CAA led the nation with an average efficiency of 109.2 in league games while ranking 29th in tempo at 66.3. In 2017-18, the CAA led the nation at 110.1 points per 100 possessions while ranking 18th in tempo at 68.6.
This season, CAA teams are averaging 66.9 possessions per league game, 30th in Division I. Basically, teams are getting just as many looks, they’re just not falling as often, which makes scouting doubly challenging for coaches who have to resist the urge to pay more attention to the smaller sample size of 2020-21.
“When I’m watching tape, I don’t see it,” Towson head coach Pat Skerry said. “For instance, Hofstra and (Jalen) Ray and (Tareq) Coburn — I don’t want those guys to ever take a shot because everything they shoot looks like it’s going in.”
Coburn and Ray, who ranked eighth and 14th in the CAA in 3-pointers made last season, enter this weekend ranked first and tied for third in 3-pointers made. But they have combined to shoot 34.5 percent (58-of-168) from beyond the arc, down from the 38.7 percent (116-of-300) they shot last season.
It will likely take until next season for the CAA’s raw numbers to correct themselves and for the scoreboards to once again regularly flash numbers in the 70s, 80s and 90s. The adjustment period just isn’t there this season for freshmen, as well as for players who need to get used to handle a bigger share of the scoring load.
And most teams aren’t still looking to find their identity with the Super Bowl on the horizon, nor uncertain when or where their next games will take place. Towson played two games in the 49 days between Nov. 28 and Jan. 15 playing three games in four days between last Saturday and Tuesday. The Tigers played 11 games between Nov. 28, 2019, and Jan. 15, 2020.
William & Mary and Drexel, which split a series in Philadelphia last weekend, agreed on Thursday to play Saturday in Virginia. The Tribe (Elon) and Dragons (Charleston) were each otherwise going to remain idle this weekend due to coronavirus pauses for their scheduled opponents.
“I would say that this is probably going to continue, only because I think it’s going to be really hard to think the next six-to-eight weeks are going to go off without a hitch,” Fischer said. “I would guess it would be similar to what we’ve seen to this point.”
Jerry Beach has covered Hofstra sports since arriving on campus in the fall of 1993, when Wayne Chrebet was a junior wide receiver wearing No. 3, Butch van Breda Kolff was the men’s basketball coach for the East Coast Conference champions and Jay Wright was a little-known yet surely well-dressed UNLV assistant coach. Check out Jerry’s book about the 2000 World Series here and follow him on Twitter at @JerryBeach73.