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What we learned about the CAA on its opening day

Charleston makes an early statement while Nathan Knight and Justin Wright-Foreman shone

NCAA Basketball: William & Mary at Texas Christian Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Per tradition, the Colonial kicked off the start of league play with all 10 teams in action Saturday night. This begins a four-games-in-eight-days stretch for all CAA teams before the schedule shifts to its usual Thursday-Saturday schedule.

Opening night featured five intriguing matchups that should help clarify the pecking order in a deep conference. Here are the takeaways:

Charleston makes an early statement

Charleston and Towson were the projected top two seeds in the preseason, and both have lived up to expectations. In a game for early pole position in the CAA standings, the Cougars protected home court, 73-62.

All-CAA forward Jarrell Brantley, making his first start after missing the team’s first ten games, had a game-high 24 points and injected the Cougar offense with much-needed versatility. Although Towson got a career-high 20 points from senior forward Eddie Keith, Charleston’s defense held leading scorers Zane Martin and Mike Morsell to just 20 combined points on 15 shots.

For the Cougars, they finally picked up a win against a solid opponent and (at least temporarily) wrestle away “team to beat” status from the Tigers. Towson lost its third straight after a 10 game win streak, and plays at preseason No. 3 Elon on Tuesday. The Tigers will get another shot at CofC next Sunday as they host the Cougars for a rematch.

William & Mary/Hofstra delivers again

There have been many memorable Tribe vs. Pride moments over the years. William & Mary’s Daniel Dixon hit daggers over Hofstra in 2015 and 2017, while the top-seeded Pride defeated W&M in the 2016 CAA Tournament semifinals.

This year’s game was not short on drama either, and had two Player of the Year contenders go at each other all night. W&M sophomore big man Nathan Knight finished with a career-high 31 points, 11 rebounds and 8 blocks to lead the Tribe to a 90-87 comeback victory in Williamsburg.

Current CAA scoring leader Justin Wright-Foreman paced Hofstra with a career-high 36 points, and had the Pride up three with 53 seconds to play. Then Connor Burchfield, a 53 percent shooter from behind the arc, hit back-to-back treys to give W&M the lead. Wright-Foreman would hit two free throws in between, but Knight ultimately kept the Pride from regaining the advantage late.

The Tribe are a ridiculously efficient machine on offense, and look like the class of the Colonial’s muddled middle tier. If his team keeps winning, Knight will be in contention for Player of the Year honors. The same goes for Wright-Foreman.

Northeastern wins big on the road

Sandwiched between the elite defenses of Towson and Charleston, and elite offenses of W&M and Hofstra, Northeastern has quietly carved out its place as the third best team in the CAA. In their opener, a matinee in Harrisonburg, the Huskies topped James Madison 81-70.

Junior guard Vasa Pusica had a career-high 31 points playing within Bill Coen’s offense, and Northeastern methodically picked apart the Dukes wire to wire. JMU is not expected to be in the top half of the CAA standings, but the young team played Florida close in their final non-conference contest. The Huskies could easily string together a 4-0 start in CAA play with three upcoming home games. That could finally put the rest of the contenders on notice.