For the best-kept secret among conferences in college basketball this season, look no further than the Colonial Athletic Association, which also just so happens to have the very best conference race this year.
Perhaps the game of the night Thursday was in the CAA, where UNC Wilmington visited Hofstra with sole possession of first place on the line. The game lived up to all one could’ve hoped for, coming down to the wire before Denzel Ingram hit the winning three-pointer with four seconds left to give the Seahawks a 70-67 win.
The CAA has long done a very nice job with its regional television packages, but this message goes to the national networks: this game belonged on national television. UNCW rallied from a 20-point first-half deficit and from 14 down with 11:28 to play. The Seahawks continued to chip away and took the lead late, but then had to weather a tying triple by Juan’ya Green with 20 seconds left before winning their eighth straight game.
If you haven’t had a chance to check out the Seahawks the last two years under Kevin Keatts, you should. Keatts has received considerable acclaim for his quick rebuilding job at UNCW, turning around a program that had struggled since the end of the Brett Blizzard era in 2006, and it’s very easy to see why.
Much like the teams of his mentor Rick Pitino, the Seahawks under Keatts play exceptionally hard. They pressure defensively everywhere. They have one of the hottest players in the CAA in Chris Flemmings, an NCAA Division II transfer who has stepped in and become one of the league’s very best. They’re fun to watch.
The same goes for the CAA as a whole this year. Currently, the top five teams are separated by a combined two games-and that has actually reflected some separation, considering after one-third of the league schedule there were six teams tied for the top spot. The league as a whole is a solid ninth in the RPI, and entering Thursday half of its 10 teams were in the RPI top 100. It’s not inconceivable at all that any one (or two or three or four) of six teams could win the league race, which is all the more enjoyable because of its double round-robin format.
With the win, UNCW now holds a one-game lead in the CAA over both Hofstra and William & Mary. The Tribe kept the Seahawks in their sights with an 86-77 road win at Northeastern in a rematch of last year’s conference tourney final. The Huskies, by the way, may be the team that best defines the strength and craziness alike of this year’s CAA.
Northeastern currently sits eighth in the league standings, yet was good enough to beat Miami (Fla.) and Stony Brook out of conference. It truly would surprise few if they won the CAA Tournament in Baltimore again, but whether the Huskies do or not, this promises to be one of the most competitive conference tourneys of all in a month.
- Vanderbilt gave a glimpse of what so many expected regularly of it this year in a 77-60 whipping of Texas A&M. The Commodores shot 50.8% and hit 13 of 29 from three-point range, dictating this one throughout. Wade Baldwin, Luke Kornet and Damian Jones all were excellent; it was truly an impressive showing. We’ll find out soon of if this was one hot night at home or the start of a trend, but it should be noted Vandy was in a very similar position a year ago before finishing the regular season strong.
- BYU used a strong second half to defeat Saint Mary’s 70-59, splitting the season series between the two teams. The Gaels shot just 34.4%, far off their season percentages. The Cougars are firmly implanted on their annual place on the bubble for the NCAAs.
- Oregon continues to lead the Pac-12 after an easy 76-56 win over Colorado. Also, USC finished off a sweep of rival UCLA, pulling away late for an 80-61 win that is another in an season of impressive wins by the Trojans, and also in which the final score does not speak well of the Bruins.
- Temple got a three-pointer from Devin Coleman at the end of regulation to improbably send the game to overtime, and the Owls held off Tulsa 83-79 in a finish that perfectly captured two enigmatic teams. The Golden Hurricane led most of the way but missed the front end of two one-and-ones in the final seconds of regulation.
- Wisconsin won again, defeating Ohio State 79-68 in Madison despite the Buckeyes sporting awesome early 90s throwback uniforms that should not leave. Wisconsin itself wore 1976 throwbacks to the era of former coach Bill Cofield in honor of Black History Month. The Badgers get one more relative breather in the Big Ten (emphasis on relative) at home against Nebraska next week before entering the beef jerky section of the schedule, with road trips to Maryland, Michigan State, Iowa and Purdue all up ahead.
- Make it 20-2 now for Arkansas-Little Rock after an easy 72-49 win over Troy. Also, Tennessee-Chattanooga keeps rolling-the Mocs are 20-3 now after pulling away for a 79-63 win over Wofford.
- IPFW guard Max Landis put on a shooting clinic against South Dakota: 44 points, 15 of 21 from the field, 11 of 15 on three-pointers in the Mastodons’ 95-82 win. Landis is having one of the outstanding seasons few know about, averaging nearly four triples per game and shooting 49.7% from three-point range.
- One of the more stunning turnarounds this season is happening at Fairleigh Dickinson, which now leads the Northeast Conference after an 82-79 overtime win at Wagner. Earl Potts hit the game-winning triple with just over a second left in the extra session to give the Knights the win in a battle for first place. FDU went 8-21 a year ago and was picked to finish ninth in the NEC this year.
- First place in the WAC now belongs to New Mexico State after a convincing 70-50 win over Grand Canyon in Las Cruces. Pascal Siakam dominated with 17 points and 16 rebounds, and NMSU looks to be rounding into form again in time for the stretch run.
- Injury news: Central Florida will be without guard Adonys Henriquez for 2-3 weeks after suffering a mild MCL sprain. Henriquez had started 49 straight games before missing the Knights’ 70-62 win at Tulane Thursday. He is UCF’s No. 2 scorer, averaging 10.2 points per game.
- A good one in the MAC as surging Central Michigan travels to face Akron (8 p.m., CBSSN). The balanced Zips have been the league’s steadiest team, but CMU may be its most dangerous right now, riding a four-game winning streak while outscoring opponents by nearly 20 ppg. Watch this one if you love three-pointers: Akron ranks fourth nationally with 11.1 per game, while the Chippewas are 12th at 9.9.
- Ivy League play includes a biggie in the late afternoon with Columbia at Yale (5 p.m., FS1). Among other matchups, Harvard travels to Princeton (7 p.m., ESPNU).
- Finally, a rare TV opportunity for St. Peter’s as the Peacocks travel to face Siena (9 p.m., ESPNU).
Have a super Friday.