We all know that a team's conference record is important, but often a quality win over a non-conference opponent means life or death come Selection Sunday.
In mid-major land, those games mean the world, and the top teams in the CAA will have to focus on these games to boost their postseason prospects. They're listed by order of appearance rather order of importance.
Nov. 9th: Georgia State at Duke. Here, Duke will begin life after Nolan Smith and Austin Rivers. I’ll be interested to see how Krzyzewski’s squad will handle what has the potential to be a down year (by Duke’s standards.) Also: can Georgia State can improve on a successful ‘11-’12 campaign that saw the Panthers finish with 21 wins? GSU graduated leading scorer Jihad Ali, but they’re returning junior Devonta White who averaged just 0.3 points fewer than Ali, as well as bringing in two big recruits in forward Markus Crider and guard R.J. Hunter.
Nov. 12th: Penn at Delaware. It’ll be an interesting season for Penn, who enters the season losing 30.4 points per game from last season’s two top scorers, Zack Rosen and Tyler Bernardini. Junior Miles Cartwright has a gigantic hole to fill in the offense on a team that ranked 236th in the country in scoring last season. On the Delaware side of the ball, the Blue Hens are returning their top three scorers in Devon Saddler, Jamelle Hagins, and Jarvis Threatt. The majority of Delaware’s non-conference games are going to be tough matches, so it’d be ideal for them to start the season with a win here.
Nov. 13th: George Mason at Bucknell. This game should provide an early-season view into what is expected of these two teams. Bucknell is coming off of a season spent atop the Patriot League’s standings before losing to Lehigh in the conference championship. The Bison are returning their top three scorers which should aid their 2012-13 year, while George Mason will look at this game as a potential statement game for their revamped starting lineup. This matchup could have huge implications further on down the road come a certain Sunday in March when mid-majors are squeezing into a certain bracket.
Nov. 15th: Illinois State at Drexel. Illinois State put up a solid 21-14 record last year, with six players averaging 7.3 points per game or better, and they’re returning their two top scorers from 2011-12 in senior guard Tyler Brown and senior forward Jackie Carmichael. After being snubbed from the tournament in 2012, Drexel should look to capitalize on a quality matchup against a fellow mid-major. These are the games that will come up in March when the selection committee looks for quality wins, and a victory over a top-flight MVC member like ISU will look good on the Dragons’ resume.
Nov. 16th: South Dakota State at Hofstra. If you’re looking for a competitive game on November 16th turn your attention elsewhere. But if you’re a fan of an elite CAA team and want to know what mid-major teams you’re up against, South Dakota State is prime material. The perennial 16-seeds from the Summit League will probably be jockeying for a spot at the bottom of the bracket’s 68 teams as the Jackrabbits return nearly their entire core from an impressive 27-8 campaign last year. Senior Nate Wolters will see this game as an early-season chance to showcase his skills in front of a CAA audience.
Nov 19th: Duquesne at James Madison. Duquesne belongs to the Atlantic 10, the same conference that poached the vaunted VCU Rams from the CAA, dealing a blow to the conference’s credibility. Any and all CAA teams should want to show up the A-10 right now, and a James Madison team hoping for a stronger season than last year, with two of its three top scorers returning, should pose a problem for a Duquesne team that lost a number of key pieces since last season. Duquesne's first-year coach Jim Ferry, who coached LIU-Brooklyn to a first-round upset of Michigan State last year in the NCAA Tournament, should have his hands full
Nov. 24th: Murray State at Old Dominion. This will give CAA fans a chance to watch the Murray State Racers one year after their 30-1 regular season and check out Isaiah Canaan’s development as the leader of the Racers. In losing Kent Bazemore to the Golden State Warriors, Old Dominion might backpedal in their final CAA season, but the Monarchs can still try to build on last year’s impressive 22-win season. The main problem for ODU will be containing a Murray State offense that averaged nearly 10 more points per game than the Monarchs did last year after graduating Bazemore and Chris Cooper, their top two rebounders.
Dec. 2nd: Maryland at George Mason. Call it the roster turnover showdown. With both teams losing their top two scorers to graduation, Maryland is losing 31.8 points per game from Terrell Stoglin and Sean Mosley, while George Mason is losing 26.8 points per game from Ryan Pearson and Mike Morrison. By December 2nd, it’ll be interesting to see if these teams have found their offensive identities. Patriots’ guards Sherrod Wright and Vertrail Vaughns will have to make their new regime work, while the Terps will look to sophomore guard Nick Faust and senior forward James Padgett to develop an offensive rapport to keep pace with a potent George Mason offense.
Dec. 14th: Central Florida at Old Dominion. Despite their postseason ban and the departure of a hooped-out Marcus Jordan, Central Florida should be an interesting team to watch this year. Senior Keith Clanton’s decision to stay at UCF will be a huge help as he and Isaiah Sykes try to hold the Bulls up. The lack of Kent Bazemore’s rebounding for Old Dominion paired with Clanton’s board skills might lead to an overwhelming rebound advantage, but this should be a good matchup for two teams trying to discover what kind of season 2012-13 will hold.
Dec. 22nd: Davidson at Drexel. A matchup of two teams that went a combined 56-14 during last season, this will be a good barometer showdown to see exactly where the two squads are at this point in the season. Davidson is returning its top five scorers from last season, all five of whom averaged over 10 points per game. However, Drexel will be returning four of its five starters from the team’s most successful season in a long time, with sophomore Damion Lee looking to capitalize on his breakout freshman season. By the end of December, I see the winner of this game among the top five mid-major teams in the country.