Sunday, July 1, 2018

Analyzing Hofstra's CAA schedule: Thoughts and games of interest

Reigning CAA Player of the Year Justin Wright-Foreman returns for senior campaign in which Hofstra is expected to be among contenders for conference championship. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)

The Colonial Athletic Association released its conference schedule for the 2018-19 season this past Thursday, revealing the second half of Hofstra's ledger in a year where the Pride will look to replace the rebounding prowess of Rokas Gustys and front line presence of Joel Angus III while returning all of its backcourt -- led by reigning CAA Player of the Year Justin Wright-Foreman -- to Hempstead for Joe Mihalich's sixth season at the helm.

Coming off a 19-win campaign last year in which Wright-Foreman led the way with an average of 24.4 points per game, good enough for fifth-best in the nation, Hofstra will follow up non-conference play -- the Pride will release its non-conference schedule two weeks from Monday -- with an 18-game CAA slate that begins on December 28, when former America East rival Delaware makes its way to the Mack Sports Complex as part of an opening weekend that also sees Drexel take the drive through Philadelphia and New Jersey to visit Long Island.

The CAA revamped its scheduling procedure this season, pairing up each school with a travel partner (Delaware-Drexel, Hofstra-Northeastern, James Madison-Towson, Elon-William & Mary, Charleston-UNC Wilmington) to set the foundation for a five-year rotation among league ledgers. With the exception of the opening Friday-Sunday weekend, the conference will employ a Thursday-Saturday layout similar to the Northeast Conference. In the event that two travel partners play one another, both of those teams will have a bye on Thursday before facing off on Saturday.

"The new travel partner schedule provides better balance and equality for all teams," CAA commissioner Joe D'Antonio said in a release. "We believe playing a full double round-robin format is the best way to begin the process of determining a true conference champion."

The CAA Tournament begins on Saturday, March 9 at the North Charleston Coliseum -- the final year of the three-year agreement between the league and arena before the tournament moves to Washington, D.C. -- and will culminate with the conference championship game on Tuesday, March 12.

  • Early home games.
    The Pride have their first three league games on their home floor in Hempstead, welcoming Delaware and Drexel -- likely to be projected among the second half of the conference -- before travel partner Northeastern comes to Long Island for the first of two games on January 5. All told, five of the first seven CAA contests for Hofstra will be in familiar territory, which sets the stage for a potentially strong start to league play.
  • On paper, an easy finish.
    Hofstra starts and ends with Drexel and Delaware this season, and will host James Madison in its home finale on February 23, with the Dukes also projected among the bottom tier of CAA teams. If the Pride can get past Towson on February 21, the potential to take a four-game win streak into the tournament is there.
  • A tough February.
    The schedule-makers may have done Hofstra a favor at the beginning and end of the CAA slate, but the middle of the journey is as arduous as it gets. Starting with a February 2 trip to Northeastern, the Pride embark upon a five-game span that features perennial thorn in its side William & Mary coming to Hempstead on February 9 in a game that is certain to be both a shootout and a thriller (see Daniel Dixon, Nathan Knight and Connor Burchfield stealing victories away from the Pride in the final minute each of the past two seasons) before a pivotal road trip to the Carolinas to battle Charleston and UNC Wilmington concludes what could be a make-or-break stretch as it relates to conference tournament seeding.
  • Northeastern (home January 5, away February 2): The Huskies, and senior Player of the Year candidate Vasa Pusica, could easily have been a National Invitation Tournament team last season, and perhaps even the CAA champion if not for Charleston's 17-point comeback. Head coach Bill Coen returns nearly everyone from last year's roster for what should be the league favorite this season.
  • William & Mary (away January 10, home February 9): The rivalry with the Tribe has taken on a life of its own over the past few seasons, thanks in large part to Daniel Dixon's heroics both in the CAA Tournament and at Hofstra in 2017, and starting with Charles Jenkins' double-buzzer-beater game in 2011. Both contests against Tony Shaver's program will not be for the faint of heart, and could very well be precursors to a third meeting in the postseason.
  • UNC Wilmington (home January 17, away February 16): The most recent team to break Hofstra's heart, doing so twice in the past three seasons, returns Devontae Cacok -- arguably the most efficient player in the nation and a mid-major version of Seton Hall legend Angel Delgado -- for his senior season, and without Gustys to defend him, the Seahawks portend to be a more formidable foe for the Pride this time around. UNCW's backcourt, which graduated Jordon Talley this past May, is going to be a work in progress, though.
  • Charleston (home January 19, away February 14): The defending CAA champion Cougars graduated Joe Chealey, but still possess a double dose of all-league talent in junior guard Grant Riller and senior forward Jarrell Brantley, who combined for nearly 36 points and 10 rebounds per game while shooting the three-pointer at an eye-popping 39 percent rate. Marquise Pointer, the backup point guard behind Chealey last season, will likely assume the reins as the primary floor general for Earl Grant, who returns five of his top seven scorers from last season.

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