Saturday, February 12, 2011

Five pregame thoughts: Delaware

Hi. I'm in Delaware.

1.) A little different opening thought: I meant to post this yesterday, but got carried away with conferences that used to be real but are now fake and clips of hair metal acts that ruled my car during my senior year of high school. Anyway, with the Flying Dutchmen firmly entrenched among the top four in the CAA with four games to play, I thought it’d be a good idea to look at the standings through 14 games since the league expanded to 12 teams in 2005-06 and where those teams eventually ended up.

The news is good for the Dutchmen: Eighteen of the 20 teams to be in the top four in the CAA through 14 games have earned a bye. The only exceptions: Fourth-place Drexel in 2008-09 and fourth-place William & Mary in 2007-08. However, each of those squads were 9-5 and just one game ahead of a trio of teams tied for fifth place at 8-6 (ironically, in that it’s not ironic at all, Old Dominion surged from that group of 8-6 teams to earn the fourth and final bye in both years).

The Dutchmen, of course, are 10-4 and two games ahead of Drexel and James Madison. That is the second-biggest lead a fourth-place team has had over its nearest rival since expansion. In 2006-07, Drexel (10-4) had a three-game lead over George Mason.

And just to prove your good friend and mine Like Mitos—err, Mike Litos—isn’t the only one who can come up with baseball analogies on the eve of spring training: Any combination of Dutchmen wins and James Madison losses equaling two will ensure the Dutchmen can’t be beaten out by the Dukes. The magic number to be clear of Drexel is likely three, since the Dragons still have to play VCU and can eke out a tiebreaker over the Dutchmen if they beat VCU and the Rams end up winning the league (convoluted, I know).

2.) As for the game today: Charles Jenkins got hot on Wednesday night in Atlanta, and the odds are very good he will be positively scorching this afternoon. Jenkins loves facing the Blue Hens, against whom he scored 57 points in two games last year and against whom he is averaging 22.8 points on 46.8 percent shooting in six career games. Remove from the equation one of the worst games of his career—the 4-for-24 shooting performance in a win over Delaware at the end of Jenkins’ epic slump in January 2009—and Jenkins is shooting 57.1 percent in the other five games. And he REALLY likes the rims at the Bob Carpenter Center: Jenkins is averaging 24 points on 55.3 percent shooting in three games in Delaware.

3.) The Dutchmen, more than most teams, need everyone to chip in to win—they’re 15-1 when three players score in double figures and unbeaten when anyone other than Jenkins and/or Mike Moore hits multiple 3-pointers—and I’m playing a pure hunch by forecasting that Shemiye McLendon will be the guy who steps up and becomes one of those key extra contributors. He’s looked like a freshman lately, playing just 23 minutes combined the last two games and committing three turnovers apiece in his last two road games, but he’s too unflappable to stay in a funk for long. He’s had multiple 3-pointers just twice in his last 14 games, but expect to see him drain at least a couple from beyond the arc today.

4.) This looks to be a good matchup for David Imes and Greg Washington, who will take on a Delaware front court that features 6-foot-7 sophomore Kelvin McNeil and 6-foot-8 sophomore Jamelle Hagins as starters. Hagins leads the CAA in blocked shots, so Washington’s outside shooting could come in handy. Washington hasn’t dominated Delaware like Jenkins, but he’s averaged 6.8 points (on 11-of-23 shooting), 5.3 rebounds and 2.3 rebounds in his last four games against the Blue Hens after going scoreless in both contests as a freshman. Imes has begun stirring the last four games, shooting an even 50 percent (13-of-26) while scoring at least eight points three times and displaying even more effort and aggression under the boards than usual.

5.) The Dutchmen and the Blue Hens are going in opposite directions, as so often seems to be the case since the programs exited an America East that had turned into their own playground, but don’t expect this game to be the rout the Dutchmen have been waiting to enjoy for weeks. Delaware has lost four in a row, but all have been by 10 or less and they took CAA co-leader VCU to double overtime Wednesday. In addition, 10 of the Blue Hens’ 14 CAA games have been decided by 10 or less. If this one is tight late, keep an eye on the performances at the free throw line. Delaware shot less than 65 percent from the line in its last three games while the Dutchmen have shot at least 70 percent from the line in 20 straight games.

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