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3 Things: CAA pecking order taking shape

Northeastern couldn’t miss Thursday night.

NCAA Basketball: Northeastern at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

League play in the Colonial is front-loaded with four games over the first week of action.

Thursday’s record-breaking performances were just a preview of the next few months, but offered evidence that a few teams are rising to the top. UNC Wilmington remains the heavy favorite, but three other 3-0 teams in CAA play are making noise.

Here are some of takeaways.

Northeastern puts the league on notice

When the Huskies started the season 4-5 with several close losses, they looked like a team exceeding small expectations after the exodus of four key players. Then they ripped off three straight quality road wins against Vermont, Michigan State and Oakland.

In case there was any remaining doubt about Northeastern as a threat to return to the NCAA Tournament, the Huskies’ 90-54 dismantling of Delaware wiped it away. They started the game on a 27-2 run behind an assault of three-pointers, eventually working their way to a 40-point halftime lead.

The Huskies hit a ridiculous 21 shots from behind the arc (on 33 attempts) and were once again led by T.J. Williams. The senior point guard had 18 points and 11 assists in just 24 minutes of play. Delaware is in rebuilding mode under rookie head coach Martin Ingelsby, but had looked solid on defense against Hofstra and Charleston. Nonetheless, not many conference foes could have kept up with NU on Thursday night.

JMU pulled the ultimate rope-a-dope

James Madison had a grand total of two Div. I victories heading into CAA play. In three conference games, they have more than doubled that mark.

The Dukes field one of the most experienced teams in the country, and added a more offensively-minded coach to a team that won 21 games last year. However, they quickly nosedived to an 0-7 start and looked like the worst team in the league. Now they are tied atop the standings with a 3-0 CAA record and wins over Drexel, Towson and Hofstra.

The players appear to be adjusting to new head coach Louis Rowe’s up-tempo style, and have cut down on errant passes and other growing pains. Paulius Satkus is quietly putting together a marquee senior year and is surrounded by talented veterans. Next up for the Dukes is a match up against red-hot Northeastern.

Charleston’s defense makes it a contender

This year’s Cougar team has the resume and statistical evidence to merit the title of UNCW’s biggest challenger. The Charleston defense, engineered by longtime Gregg Marshall disciple Earl Grant, is one of the nation’s best and has yet to allow a conference team to cross the 60 point mark.

Joe Chealey and Jarrell Brantley are two all-league players who lead CofC on both ends of the court, but their entire team is designed to harass opponents into bad shots. The Cougars rank seventh in the country in scoring defense (59.3 ppg) and second in three-point field goal defense (26.5%).

That style is a sharp contrast to the rest of the CAA, but it’s led Charleston to a 12-4, 3-0 start. Grant still needs to find a third scorer, but for now his team is able to get by with their improving free throw percentage and ball security. They’ll need to be firing on all cylinders against the Seahawks.