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December 24, 2012

CAA Power Rankings: Naughty And Nice

Here in the weekly power rankings, we're in the business of spreading Christmas cheer - but for everyone worthy of gifts under their tree, there are those who haven't been so deserving. So this week's list will include something naughty and something nice about each CAA team through the opening month and a half of the season.

1. George Mason:

Naughty: Vertrail Vaughns, a sweet-shooting southpaw who averaged 8.8 points per game as a sophomore, has been limited to just 3.7 in the scoring department this year. His minutes are down to 17 per game, and he's struggled from the floor, shooting just 28 percent from 3. He and freshman Patrick Holloway will continue to battle for minutes off the bench, and if Vaughns doesn't heat up, the youngster might grab the edge.

Nice: Tabbed in the preseason as a possible breakout star, Sherrod Wright has more than delivered. The only Patriot averaging double-figures, Wright (16.9 ppg) is a picture of efficiency, shooting 56 percent from the field and 47.5 percent from 3. The 6-foot-4 junior's numbers are up across the board, and he clearly still has a nose for the clutch - drilling a game-winner to beat Richmond. Wright, who's scored 20-plus in his last three games, will be a Player of the Year candidate, as long as Mason remains atop the league.

2. Drexel:

Naughty: Senior Derrick Thomas has been a mainstay in the Dragons' lineup for four years, but he's in the midst of his worst season thus far. Scoring a career-low 5.8 points per game, Thomas hasn't provided the extra offensive punch Drexel has needed with Chris Fouch injured for the season. His tight defense will always make him valuable (and allow him to continue playing 32 minutes per game), but the Dragons could use more buckets from the veteran. He's had three goose-eggs in the past six games.

Nice: Damion Lee, last season's CAA Rookie of the Year, isn't prone to a sophomore slump. The silky swingman has upped his scoring to 18.6 points per game while maintaining a fair shooting percentage (43.2 percent). He's the second-most used player in the conference, shouldering more in the absence of Fouch. He's hit multiple 3-pointers in every game but the season-opener. Lee also grabs 5.7 rebounds per game and isn't too turnover prone.

3. William & Mary:

Naughty: The rims have been naughty to senior Matt Rum. Always a player whose contributions are best measured without use of a box score, Rum's shooting numbers thus far are hard to ignore. On the top shooting team in the CAA, Rum has made roughly a quarter of his shots. He's been an active helper though, registering career-high rebounding (5.0), assist (3.2) and steal (3.2) numbers. He's hustling, so give Mr. Rum a break, Mr. Rim!

Nice: Apparently everybody else is on Santa's "Nice List." W&M's top four scorers - guards Marcus Thornton and Brandon Britt, and forwards Tim Rusthoven and Kyle Gaillard - are making shots at career-high accuracies. Gaillard, who missed all of last season with an injury, is hitting at an absurd 63.6 percent rate, which leads the conference. The 6-foot-8 forward is 26-for-31 in the last five games.

4. Delaware:

Naughty: The Blue Hens' willingness (or ability) to share has made them naughty. They average just 9.3 assists per game, which is inexcusable for a team with so many scoring options. Less than 40 percent of Delaware's hoops are assisted, meaning there's a lot of one-on-one play or misses that must be rebounded and put back up. Underclass guards have struggled and the school's 3-point percentage is near the bottom of the CAA, just like most years.

Nice: It must be nice playing with a guy who makes more than 57 percent of his shots and grabs more than a dozen rebounds per game. Forward Jamelle Hagins is doing just that in his senior season. He's averaging a career-high 13.2 points per game, and that number could be higher if Delaware played through him. Teammate Devon Saddler takes the bulk of the shots, but Hagins finds ways to be useful even without the ball in his hands.

5. James Madison:

Naughty: Senior A.J. Davis, a pre-season second team pick, was naughty enough for coach Matt Brady to suspend him one game in early December - simply because Davis wasn't playing hard and smart enough for Brady. Davis has had some nice performances since then, but it's tough to tell if he'll be receiving playing time or cole on any given night. Rendered a reserve, Davis is scoring 8.7 points per game after averaging close to 16 last year, but he's an integral part of the Dukes moving forward.

Nice: The kids have come bearing gifts. Freshmen Andre Nation, Ron Curry and Charles Cooke have all played significant roles in JMU victories. The talented trio gives JMU - a team with six seniors - some hope for the future. Nation has been one of the best box-score stuffers among rookies, Curry is coming on as a scorer and Cooke has showed a cool demeanor in a pressure spot already. The Dukes will only go as far as their seniors take them, but the freshmen can certainly help in stealing some wins.

6. Northeastern:

Naughty: What's been most naughty for Northeastern is the team's interior defense. The only player on the roster that weighs more than 212 pounds (junior Dinko Marshavelski) barely plays, leaving Northeastern vulnerable in the paint. Opponents are shooting 53.4 percent on 2-point field goals, which ranks the Huskies 312th nationally.

Nice: Senior backcourt-mate Jonathan Lee missed the first nine games of this season, but Joel Smith helped carry the Huskies to wins without him. The Texan has scored 19 or better in seven of 11 games, and is averaging a career-best 17.8 points. He's had to be a rock for NU, logging a team-high 35.5 minutes per game. Even with more emphasis on him, Smith is shooting at a career-high clip and dishing out more than three assists a night.

7. UNC-Wilmington:

Naughty: The Seahawks' ball-handlers have not been careful, as UNCW coughs up the rock on more than 24 percent of its possessions. Junior Tanner Milson has actually been a pleasant surprise for UNCW, but the team's assist leader barely has a positive assist-to-turnover ratio, and isn't much of a creator. The other guards are extremely inexperienced, and are still learning how to protect the ball.

Nice: Keith Rendleman is as reliable as Santa Claus. Steadily awesome, he's again pacing UNCW and making the Seahawks a veritable challenge to compete against. The senior's numbers are almost identical to last season, which won't disappoint anyone. Rendleman was a first-team selection as a junior, despite playing on a struggling team. This year, if UNCW is merely middle of the pack, Rendleman will get plenty of looks for CAA Player of the Year.

8. Georgia State:

Naughty: The Panthers' rebounding has been naughty, and it's not difficult to see why. After losing Eric Buckner from last year's team, Georgia State lacks considerable size after senior center James Vincent. The guard-oriented team has a rebounding percentage of 48.7, which ranks last in the 11-squad CAA. The guards are asked to contribute on the glass, which they do, but it's still not enough to make up for the size deficiency.

Nice: R.J. Hunter, son of coach Ron Hunter, has been the best freshman in the league. Not only that, he's been GSU's top overall player. The Indiana native is scoring a team-best 15.6 points per game, which is also more than six points better than the CAA's next-best frosh. Hunter has notched 20-plus points in five of the last eight games, and adds 5.9 rebounds a contest.

9. Old Dominion:

Naughty: The Monarchs' defense has done a complete 180 - transforming from a dominant unit to one of the league's worst. That was the biggest culprit of the team's wretched 1-10 start. ODU is allowing more than 71 points per game and allowing teams to shoot 46.8 percent from the field. Both those numbers are next to last in the league. The Monarchs' 3-point defense (39.8 percent allowed) is worst. The team is young and inexperienced, but if they don't quickly learn to defend, the season will be a train wreck.

Nice: ODU's win over Virginia on Saturday was a rare positive moment in an otherwise catastrophic start. Granted, U.Va. is hardly an offensive juggernaut, but ODU looked good in limiting the Cavaliers to 61 points on 40 percent shooting. It was an old school ODU win that lets the Monarchs know what they can be capable of on their best nights.

10. Towson:

Naughty: The Tigers have not taken care of their most important toy - the basketball. They are averaging 15.5 turnovers per game and forcing just 11.6 - bad for a league-worst minus-3.92 turnover margin. Towson also has a league-low 8.7 assists per game (345th nationally). The team's point guard, Jerome Hairston, is just a freshman, and there aren't enough shooters for him to distribute to.

Nice: The gift of Jerelle Benimon has been like a 72-inch flat-screen given to a previously poor family. He's instantly made the Tigers a tough opponent, averaging 15.8 points and 10.8 rebounds after transferring from Georgetown. The 6-8, 245-pound junior is a bulldog in the paint and an early contender for POY.

11. Hofstra:

Naughty: The naughtiest of naughties goes to the four Hofstra players suspended and arrested for burglary last month. Hofstra, which appeared to have some potential early this season, has been in a tail-spin, losing each of its last seven games. Against Tulane last weekend the Pride turned a halftime tie into a 30-point deficit in roughly 12 minutes. To make matters worse, UConn transfer forward Jamal Coombs McDaniel has been ruled out for the rest of the season with knee problems.

Nice: Penn State transfer Taran Buie has become one of the league's top scorers. The 6-2 guard is averaging 15.3 points per game, and has a season high of 29. While he'll probably have to do too much for this team, Buie is just a sophomore, meaning the Pride can groom him to become the type of all-around player they'll need in the next couple of seasons.

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