Bunched standings in CAA — except at the top

As the midpoint of the CAA season approaches, there’s still a lot to be learned about where most teams stand. After Saturday’s 70-57 win at Hofstra, Northeastern is in a pseudo-four-way tie for second place at 4-3 (it being a “pseudo-tie” because the other three — Towson, William & Mary and Hofstra — are each 3-2), and seven of the nine teams are within 1.5 games of each other in the standings.

But one thing is clear: Delaware is the conference favorite. At 6-0, the Blue Hens have a 2.5-game lead on the rest of the CAA. No team is as far ahead of its peers in any other league, despite the fact that the CAA started conference play later than many others.

Delaware didn’t come entirely out of nowhere as a contender — it was picked fourth in the preseason media poll — but if one team was to pull away from the pack, few would have picked the Blue Hens. Before the season, most humans liked Towson to win the CAA, while the computers favored Drexel. Though Delaware didn’t post a signature non-conference win, it proved its talent with road battles against good teams: a two-point loss at Richmond, a four-point loss at Villanova, and a five-point loss at Notre Dame.

The Blue Hens’ path to 6-0 hasn’t been a cakewalk; they were tested on consecutive Saturdays at James Madison and at Northeastern. But they put some distance between themselves and their closest competitor with an 83-76 victory over Towson this weekend, a quintessentially Delaware game — fast-paced and high-scoring.

In a league full of turtles, Delaware is the hare. Per KenPom.com, the Blue Hens rank ninth nationally with an adjusted tempo of 73 possessions per game; everyone else in the CAA is below the D-I average. And when that pace is combined with an efficient offense (and average defense), the result is a team that has both scored and allowed at least 70 points in every league game to date.

But Delaware gets its points differently than most other top offenses do: (Data from KenPom.com, through games of January 25)

Delaware_basketball_offense_assistsThe Blue Hens’ offense is heavily dependent on drives to the rim by leading scorers Devon Saddler and Jarvis Threatt, which tend to lead to one-on-one shots. (Only 20 percent of Threatt’s baskets this season have been assisted.) Passing isn’t absent from Delaware’s offensive game, but many of its assists — kick-outs to Kyle Anderson and Davon Usher, or duck-ins to Carl Baptiste — are initially set up by dribble penetration.

With a potent offense and a 2.5-game lead in the bank — including wins over every other contender — Delware is in good shape to win its first-ever CAA championship. The race for second, on the other hand, might come down to the wire. Northeastern got back into the race with a road sweep, edging Towson in a wild game Wednesday and beating Hofstra yesterday, but the maddeningly inconsistent Huskies have a tough remaining schedule. Pomeroy projects the Huskies to finish fourth at 9-7, a game behind William & Mary and Towson.

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