The midpoint of conference play has arrived for JMU women's basketball and the CAA. The Dukes remain in first place after fighting back at home to take down Towson on Sunday while Drexel has flown up the rankings. Here are the updated CAA power rankings with nine games to go in the regular season.
1. JMU (16-4, 8-1 CAA), previously No. 1
The Dukes remain in the CAA’s top spot as few serious threats to their position have emerged. JMU fell 66-63 to UNCW on the road Jan. 18 but have rebounded since and outscored opponents 309-187 in the past four games. Junior guard Kamiah Smalls continues to lead the team and is second in the conference in scoring (18.2 points per game) at an efficient field-goal percentage (50.7) that’s first in the conference.
JMU appears to be unmatched in the CAA in depth and offensive talent as Smalls is a high-volume scorer accompanied by junior guard Lexie Barrier and redshirt junior guard Jackie Benitez, who are 14th and 15th in the CAA in scoring, respectively. The Dukes are third in points per game (68.6) and second in points allowed per game (51.4). JMU looks to stay on pace for the No. 1 seed in the CAA tournament.
2. Drexel (15-5, 7-2 CAA), previously No. 5
As expected, Drexel has shot up the conference standings as winners of seven in a row after starting CAA play 0-2. The Dragons boast the CAA’s best defense in points allowed per game (48.5) along with the fewest points per game in the conference (57.3), which translates to a point margin that’s second in the conference (+8.8).
Drexel is a tough matchup for any team because of its slow-motion pace and relentless defensive effort. The Dragons won’t put up enough points to blow anyone out, but it’s clear — especially in the past few weeks — they don’t need to as long as they keep opponents on lockdown.
3. Towson (12-8, 6-3 CAA), previously No. 2
Towson’s turnaround has been impressive after the Tigers went 9-21 (4-14 CAA) last season. They have the conference’s second-best record thanks to big contributions on the offensive end from redshirt sophomore guard Kionna Jeter, who leads the CAA lead in scoring (19.7 points per game).
Despite an impressive record on paper, the Tigers have the CAA’s sixth-best point margin (+0), which suggests Towson will soon regress to the middle of the pack unless it improves. Towson has the conference’s second-best scoring attack in points per game (68.6) but needs to get more stops on defense, as it gives up the third-most points (68.6). The CAA’s most-improved team put up a strong fight against JMU, but couldn’t hold on to a nine-point fourth-quarter lead, which could have seed repercussions down the road.
4. UNCW (13-7, 6-3 CAA), previously No. 4
UNCW has won five of its past seven games and picked up an impressive home win over JMU in the process. Redshirt senior guard Shrita Parker has continued to impress and leads the Seahawks in scoring with 17.5 points per game and will make UNCW a tough out, especially in the postseason.
The Seahawks aim to improve consistency and look to prove they’re more than a middle-of-the-road team. UNCW is fourth in point margin (+3.5) and points per game (67.2) and fifth in points allowed per game (63.7). Upcoming games against Elon on Friday and William & Mary on Sunday are opportunities for UNCW to vault to the upper half of the conference.
5. Northeastern (14-6, 4-5 CAA), previously No. 3
Northeastern may be sixth in the conference standings now, but if point differential is any indication, the Huskies will be back near the top of the CAA soon. With the third-best point margin (+4.6) and a potent offense — Northeastern is first in the CAA at 70 points per game — the Huskies can compete with just about anyone in the conference, with JMU as a possible exception.
The Dukes blew out the Huskies 84-49 just as Northeastern appeared to be ready to challenge JMU for the conference’s top spot. If the Huskies can tighten up on defense — they’re sixth in points allowed per game (65.4) — and get more stops, they may have a shot to challenge the Dukes again in the postseason.
6. William & Mary (11-9, 4-5 CAA), previously No. 6
William & Mary is a candidate to rise as the regular season goes along and rounds out the tier of six competitive CAA teams. The Tribe are fifth in point margin (+0.6) but didn’t fare well against the conference’s top team, as JMU cruised to a 17-point win over the Tribe on Jan. 25.
Senior guard Bianca Boggs carries the CAA’s seventh-ranked offense in points per game (63.6) with a mark of 16.7 points per game, sixth-highest in the conference. William & Mary will take on the College of Charleston on Friday and UNCW on Sunday in hopes of snapping a two-game slide and improving in the conference standings.
7. Delaware (10-11, 5-4 CAA), previously No. 10
Delaware hasn’t impressed this season, but it’s clear so far that the Blue Hens are a notch above Elon, Hofstra and College of Charleston in terms of point differential. While the latter three have been outscored by an average of more than 5.5 points per game this year, Delaware has been more competitive with a point margin of -0.8.
Delaware hasn’t scored effectively (61.2 points per game) but has the CAA’s third-ranked defense (62.0 points allowed per game). After finishing fourth in the conference last season with a 19-13 (11-7) record, the Blue Hens have a lot of work to do to climb back to the top half of the CAA.
8. Elon (7-13, 2-7 CAA), previously No. 7
If this year’s Elon women’s basketball team didn’t wear the school’s maroon and gold jerseys, it would have next to nothing in common with the teams that won the CAA title the past two seasons. Head coach Charlotte Smith expressed her frustration after the team’s brutal 82-30 loss to JMU on Jan. 27, and for good reason — the team scored eight points in the first half.
The Phoenix hasn’t been the same after their four leading scorers from last season departed. Elon is fifth in scoring (64.8 points per game) but has allowed the most points per game in the conference (70.6). Elon has a solid structure in place but must reload with talent in the seasons to come.
9. College of Charleston (6-14, 2-7 CAA), previously No. 8
The College of Charleston knocked off Hofstra on Sunday to snap a five-game slide and attempt to stay ahead of the Pride and out of the cellar for the remainder of the season. The Cougars finished last season 7-24 (2-16 CAA) and will likely surpass that mark in the coming weeks, but it’s unlikely they’ll be competitive in the postseason.
The College of Charleston ranks sixth in points per game (63.7) and is ninth in points allowed per game (69.9), which are both improvements from 10th last season. The Cougars will continue to rebuild with hopes of competing for wins, not for a CAA title.
10. Hofstra (7-14, 1-8 CAA), previously No. 9
Hofstra started CAA play 0-6 before picking up a surprising and much-needed 78-61 win against Northeastern, but then dropped both its games last week. The Pride is ninth in offense (60.9 points per game) and seventh in defense (67.6 points allowed per game), which has led to a CAA-worst point margin of -6.7 this season.
Despite a nice win over the Huskies, it’s unlikely Hofstra will build enough momentum to get back into the mix ahead of the CAA tournament. The Pride can get back to 2017-18 form if they win four of their nine remaining regular-season games, though that would be a surprising turnaround based on the team’s results so far.
Contact James Faris at email@example.com. For more basketball coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.