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January 8, 2013

CAA Power Poll 8.0

The CAA schedule is now underway, which means that power rankings take a back seat to pure conference standings. That won't prevent us from continuing to make our own distinctions between the league's 11 teams.

1. George Mason: It seems the Patriots are just looking to give away the top spot in the power poll, but no one is there to seize it. Mason lost its CAA opener at home to Northeastern, a team that had dropped six of its previous seven. The Patriots got back on track with a road victory over William & Mary. Sherrod Wright's streak of four straight games with 20-plus points snapped against Northeastern, when he tallied 19. He made up for it with a career-best 28 against W&M. Mason is likely still the favorite to win the CAA, but at this rate, the Patriots (or whoever wins the conference tournament) would probably be a No. 15 or 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The CAA has never sent a team that was slotted as a 16-seed, and none of its entrants have been worse than a 12-seed since 2004.

2. Delaware: Quietly, Delaware has run off three straight wins, and is finally starting to resemble the team that most prognosticators picked to finish near the top of the CAA. In victories against Penn and Rider, Delaware struggled shooting but averaged a crazy-high 23 offensive boards. Then, against Old Dominion, the Hens won their CAA opener with just five offensive rebounds and a much more accurate day from the field. Jamelle Hagins recorded a double-double in all three contests, and five of the last six. His 12.7 rebounding average leads the nation (meanwhile Towson's Jerrelle Benimon ranks fourth with 11.7).

3. Towson:The Tigers No. 3??? Why not? Towson is the hottest team in the league, and, like mentioned above, it's not as if anyone else is worthy of the top spots. After its historic win over Oregon State last week, Towson notched two more road wins - both in CAA play. It's the first time since 1993 that Towson is on a three-game road win streak. The Tigers' most recent scalp is perhaps most impressive: they grew a large first half lead at Drexel, which had won 17 straight CAA games, and held onto that lead to break the Dragons' streak. If Towson beats William & Mary at home on Wednesday, it will be the Tigers' first four-game win streak since 2000-01.

4. Drexel: The Dragons have alternated losses and wins in their last seven games, which isn't quite what's expected from the league's preseason favorite. Consistency is a word that is absent from Drexel's vocabulary this season. Bruiser Flint's group pounded Georgia State in Atlanta, leading some to believe that maybe the Dragons would find their stride in CAA play, but they followed that game with a startling home loss against Towson. The Dragons were beaten on the boards 37-31 in that game, whereas last year their rebounding overwhelmed Towson. Frantz Massenat coughed up six turnovers - his sixth game this season with four or more.

5. Northeastern: A true statement win, Northeastern won its CAA opener at George Mason by outscoring the Patriots 54-37 in the second half. For the total game, the Huskies shot 53 percent from the field, 56 percent from 3-point range and 86 percent from the free throw line. Those are winning numbers against pretty much anybody. The Huskies, who later nipped UNCW, are now 4-0 this year when they score average more than 1.1 points per possession.

6. William & Mary: Once owners of the nation's softest schedule, W&M saw its road get a bit bumpier recently. The result was three straight losses to Purdue, Vanderbilt and George Mason. The Tribe failed to score more than 66 points in any of those games, and turned the ball over 13 times in each affair. The Tribe's next three games are on the road (at Towson, Hofstra and Georgia State), so this upcoming stretch could be vital for it.

7. James Madison: The Dukes' 69-65 loss at Hampton (the nation's penultimate team in RPI heading into Monday's game) continued to prove how important senior forward Andrey Semenov is to JMU. Madison is 1-7 in games in which Semenov plays less than two minutes. The Russian missed the early part of the season with a groin injury and is now out after a sprained left ankle. Without him, JMU's offense runs less smoothly, its defense lacks an energetic man in the paint, and the overall continuity seems to vanish. JMU's four-game win streak looks like a thing of the past after losses at Georgia State and Hampton, and the Dukes need to find a way to cope without their versatile veteran.

8. Georgia State: The Panthers came out blazing against James Madison last weekend, but Monday's 52-50 loss at Hofstra shows that the hot shooting against the Dukes was just an outlier. Georgia State made just two of 20 3-pointers against Hofstra, two days after going 10-of-21 from long range. If James Vincent can be a more consistent inside force, it will help balance the perimeter-oriented Panthers. "Big Oak" registered 10 points, eight blocks and five rebounds against JMU, but was a relative non-factor at Hofstra. The 6-10, 260-pounder will prove vital against the Rendlemans, Benimons and Hagins of the CAA.

9. UNC-Wilmington: The Seahawks have lost three in a row and five of six. It's going to come down to defense for Buzz Peterson's group. When UNCW won three of four in late November/early December, they allowed an average of 44 points. In the last half-dozen games, UNCW has allowed close to 74 on average. Offensively, the story remains the same: Pencil Keith Rendleman in for a double-double and hope the surrounding pieces do enough to bolster is output.

10. Old Dominion: Over the years, Old Dominion typically isn't brimming with offensive stars, but they have one or two guys who can carry the load on that end, while the defense stifles opponents. This year, there's nobody on the perimeter who can create, and the defense is below average. This has been a recipe for failure. The Monarchs are so stagnant on offense that they had three shot-clock violations in the first half of their home loss to James Madison last week. While DeShawn Painter has developed into a solid go-to option, reaching double-figures in seven straight battles, the team cannot capitalize when he's double-teamed.

11. Hofstra: Hofstra hadn't won since Nov. 18 - Week 11 of the NFL season, for some perspective - before edging Georgia State 52-50 on Monday night. That was the Pride's first CAA game, and as Mo Cassara mentioned on his conference call Tuesday morning, Hofstra can now toss aside its struggles and be proud to be 1-0. For the second straight game, Hofstra limited a team to 36 percent shooting from the field, so maybe a defensive identity is starting to form for a group that will certainly struggle on the offensive end after losing nearly half its roster to suspensions/injury. The Pride's backcourt of Steve Mejia and Taran Buie is above average in the CAA, and it will have to perform well for the Pride to win games.

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