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January 21, 2013

CAA Power Poll 10.0

1. Northeastern (11-7 overall, 6-0 in the CAA): All right Huskies, I'll cave. After starting CAA play with six wins, there's no disputing that Northeastern earns the top spot in the power rankings. Last week I expressed concerns about their rebounding, but the Huskies outboarded Delaware on Saturday en route to a 74-70 road victory. Northeastern has now defeated the preseason's Nos. 1, 2 and 3 teams, and has also beaten upstart Towson. The Huskies aren't a fluke, and they're getting contributions from both veterans and youngsters. Sophomore Quincy Ford is coming on too: the rangy swingman scored a combined 41 points in two wins last week.

2. Towson (10-9, 5-1): The culture is changing at Towson. The Tigers beat Delaware and James Madison to move over .500. It's the first time the Tigers have a winning record this late in the season since 1999-2000. Obligatory Gas Price Check: Roughly $1.20 back then. After a mutually patchy first half against JMU, Towson blew the Dukes out of the building in the final 20 minutes. Freshman point guard Jerome Hairston, who matched two teammates with a game-high 13 points, said it was the first time he felt the Tigers put their feet on the gas to put a team away. He suspects they'll be better at that now that they've done it once. Watch out CAA.

3. George Mason (11-7, 4-2): The Patriots' come-and-go defense had an on week, holding JMU to 57 and Hofstra to 46 in a pair of home wins. The offense remains the same: Sherrod Wright will get his 20-or-so points and everything else is a wild card. Freshman forward Marko Gujanicic hit a pair of big 3-pointers in the second half against JMU, finishing with 10 points and giving Mason the secondary threat it needed. Against Hofstra, no one joined Wright in double-figures, but that doesn't matter when you hold an opponent below 50. Hofstra shot just 23 percent for the game, and Mason deserves some credit for that.

4. Delaware (8-10, 3-2 in the CAA): An 0-2 week drops the Hens a few of notches from the top spot they held last week. While the losses came against Northeastern and Towson - a combined 11-1 in the CAA this year - both were in Delaware's own Bob Carpenter Center. Losing at home is a good way to squander prime seeding for the CAA tournament. Now the Hens need to go on the road and steal one from James Madison or Drexel to make up for it. Both are winnable games, but winning on another's team court is always more difficult. The Blue Hens' defense is not at an elite level, and that's what usually wins the Colonial. Even with all their scoring options, it's tough to see them winning three straight in Richmond if they don't start to defend.

5. Drexel (6-11, 2-3): The Dragons won at William & Mary to stop a three-game losing skid, and have winnable games at Hofstra and vs. Georgia State this week. Still without top scorer Damion Lee to a leg injury, Drexel hasn't hit 60 points in three games. But defense alone can win against the lower-level CAA teams. The Dragons have to keep grinding away until they're healthy and in rhythm. It's tough to say if Drexel is still a viable candidate to win this league like everyone projected it to in the preseason. The Dragons are inconsistent, they lack depth, and it's clear that other Colonial teams are simply playing better. But if you're going to draw a line at where legitimate championship contenders ends, draw it after Drexel, not before.

6. Georgia State (8-11, 3-3): Two wins moves Georgia State up to the fulcrum point of the power poll, but the Panthers are not a threat to contend for the league title. For one, the Panthers are ineligible because they are leaving the CAA for the Sun Belt next year. They probably wouldn't be a serious contender anyway, but they're showing the type of improvement that this column predicted last week. GSU made 23 of 25 free throws in a win against William & Mary and then a solid if unspectacular 16-of-22 at Old Dominion. Virginia Tech transfer Manny Atkins has hit his stride, scoring 20-plus points in the last three games. He's now averaging close to 14 per game this season.

7. James Madison (9-11, 3-3): JMU lost at George Mason in a game that was close for 36 minutes and then lost at Towson in a game that was close for only 20. Coach Matt Brady's mantra this year has been to fight for 40 minutes, but JMU seems inherently unable to do so. Their efforts vary from half to half; they've only played well in both halves of a game twice this season. The Dukes, who are 1-7 in true road games, play five of their next six in the comfy Convocation Center, where they are 5-2 (the two losses by one point apiece against George Washington and Richmond, both of the Atlantic 10).

8. Hofstra (5-13, 2-3): Hofstra stays in the eighth spot by merely not getting blown out last week. The Pride lost at Northeastern and at Mason, and scored just 106 points combined. We mentioned in this space last week that the Pride has reinvented itself by playing ugly, muck-it-up basketball. So even when the offensive numbers are that unsightly, it isn't far from the plan.

9. UNC-Wilmington (7-10, 2-3): The Seahawks have won consecutive CAA games for the first time in over a year, beating George Mason two weekends ago and then Old Dominion in their only game last week. UNCW beating Mason and ODU? Is it the Brad Brownell era again? Not quite. We know the Patriots are inconsistent and the Monarchs are now weaklings. Now comes a brutal stretch in which UNCW is on the road for five straight games. This is a team that hasn't won a road game all season, so things could get ugly.

10. William & Mary (7-10, 1-5): The losing streak has reached seven, and W&M's only win within the CAA has been against Old Dominion - the one team ranked lower than the Tribe. It seems like a distant memory when W&M was in the top three of these power rankings, feasting on weak a schedule and scoring in a multitude of ways. The Tribe hasn't touched 60 points in any of its last three games, and it gets Northeastern, Towson and Delaware - three upper-echelon teams - next.

11. Old Dominion (2-16, 0-6): What more is there to write about Old Dominion? The Monarchs' last win came three days before Christmas against, surprisingly enough, Virginia. It's been a whole batch of bad since then. The team is ineligible for the CAA tournament, and not worth over-analyzing at this point.

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