CAA Tournament PreviewPosted by rtmsf on March 4th, 2010
Ryan Restivo of SienaSaintsBlog is the RTC correspondent for the CAA and an occasional contributor.
There is a lot at stake for what appears to be a one-bid league. BracketBusters did not help (3-9) and the CAA could not capitalize on TV games, winning just one of five. William & Mary used the non-conference slate, winning at Wake Forest and Maryland, to boost their chances as an at-large. Old Dominion won at Georgetown and crushed Charlotte as home to boost their at-large chances early. Northeastern and George Mason are likely to reach other postseason tournaments but have a good chance at making a run at the CAA automatic bid. Ken Pomeroy’s tournament odds give Old Dominion a 45.7% chance, followed by #5 seed VCU (24.4%). No team has ever won four games in four days to win the conference tournament in CAA history. If you are within the viewing area or able to watch on Sunday, the CAA semifinals of this tournament guarantee to be a great spectacle. However before eleven teams’ hopes are dashed Monday night, the themes that bring these teams together will dominate the tournament talk.
#1 Old Dominion would have to be considered the favorite. They are second in the CAA in offensive efficiency and first in defensive efficiency and have won five of their last six, their only loss in that span at Northern Iowa in the BracketBusters. Gerald Lee has been the focal point of their late season streak, shooting 54% from the field in the last six games. However, they will have a lot tougher path to the championship than ever because of a potential re-match with Virginia Commonwealth. The Monarchs escaped last Saturday with a three-point win at home and were beaten by VCU by 12 on the road earlier in February. There’s a chance the Monarchs’ semifinal game will be their toughest yet.
#2 Northeastern might appear to be a favorite to win but the veteran team is stumbling into this tournament. The Huskies have won just two of their last five and got help in their 50-48 win over George Mason via a controversial call on Saturday. For the team that ranked third in three-point field goal percentage, they have shot just 27% from the field in the last five games. Their schedule might prove to be difficult as well with a potential re-match with Hofstra, who beat the Huskies and expunged their chance at a conference title last Tuesday. However this is a team that put together an 11-game win streak in the middle of the season that included a sweep of VCU, so they are capable of getting hot at the right time. For this veteran team it is now or never to win the conference title, highly dependent on Matt Janning and his 15.1 ppg to secure their first NCAA berth since 1991.
There is no doubt that #3 William & Mary has enjoyed an amazing season. Tony Shaver has done a great job as the Tribe will finish over .500 and win 20+ games for the first time since the 1997-98 season. Winning at Wake Forest by ten and at Maryland by six helped to boost not only their profile but the conference’s as well. However they did not help themselves with letdown losses at Iona and a six-point loss to Towson late in the year. They will need senior David Schneider, who takes 30% of the teams shots and shoots just under 34% from long range, to keep up his scoring pace. Sophomore Quinn McDowell, who has shot just under 54% over the last four games and scored a season-high 28 points in their win over Maryland earlier this year, is just as important to the Tribe’s success this weekend. They are 3-1 against the potential quarterfinal opponents and beat Northeastern in their only meeting with the Huskies this year.
#4 George Mason has had the unluckiest stretch run, losing six of their last eight games. The Patriots lost their last three home games by a combined seven points and barely escaped on the road at Delaware last Wednesday. So far this year, the Patriots’ young core has been impressive but only won five conference games on the road. One other drawback is that the Patriots rank second to last in the CAA in free throw shooting at 64%. Even with a bye into the quarterfinals, they will likely play VCU and have a tough time handling the Rams’ tough defense. The one factor for this team might be their lack of experience, labeled the least experienced team in the CAA who plays just one senior sparingly, might factor in how far they go in the tournament. This is a team that has a great future and would benefit from any postseason tournament, even if they don’t win the conference tournament.
#5 VCU has been quietly impressive this year. Their tournament resume includes wins over Oklahoma by double digits, at Nevada by nine and over Richmond by eight. In 2010, they expanded on that and when they win, they tend to win big: their last 13 wins, which happen to include every conference win, have been by double digits. Their trademark has been their defense, which presses teams and forces turnovers. Their only conference losses came on the road and the CAA Tournament is not far from home in Richmond. Since they started 1-3 in conference, their quiet domination has gone slightly unnoticed. They have quietly led the conference in both two-point and three-point field goal percentage. If the Rams are to make it far in the tournament, they will do so on the backs of not only junior Joey Rodriguez and his 2.29 assist to turnover ratio but on junior and NBA prospect Larry Sanders’ shoulders. Sanders is capable of taking over a game as a 6’11 forward who has improved in every category since stepping on the floor at VCU. “If any team can win four games in the tournament, it’s us,” Rodriguez said last Saturday after their three point loss to Old Dominion. Except this time, believe his words because the Rams are fully capable of cutting down the nets Monday night.
The stretch has not treated the #6 Drexel Dragons well, since they have lost four of their last six games and three by double digits. Over that stretch they have shot just under 26% from behind the arc. Freshman Chris Fouch has rebounded from nagging injuries, scoring 13 points per game over the last three games after a two game respite. The Dragons will likely be at the mercy of junior Jamie Harris who has shot 41% from the field this year. If they are to beat the Dukes for a third straight time, they will face William & Mary who beat them twice this year. This team will be a lot better next year, but this year is likely not their year.
#7 Hofstra has quietly won six straight and nine of their last ten. Erasing a 2-7 start, the Pride appear to be peaking at the right time behind junior star scorer Charles Jenkins. Jenkins has averaged 27.3 points per game and shot 43% from the field over the last six games. The real reason for the hot streak might be because of the play of senior Cornelius Vines who has shot 40% from the field during the six-game win streak. For the first time in his career, Vines has put together five straight games scoring double-digit points. Freshman Chaz Williams has worked on his game and improved his assist to turnover ratio, dishing out 10 assists for the second time this season last Saturday in a win over Georgia State. One reason Hofstra will have a chance this weekend is they split with #2 seed Northeastern, holding the third best three-point shooting team in conference to 3-15 from behind the arc.
Don’t look now but #8 Towson won two straight games for the first time this year, recording a home win over William & Mary. Could this be a prelude to an upset run? Maybe. Coach Pat Kennedy’s teams have fared well in the CAA Tournament, winning a game in the last three tournaments and two games last year to advance to the semifinals. The shooting has been better, as the Tigers shot better than 45% from behind the arc and better than 50% from inside the arc. The Tigers will need senior Josh Thornton (36% FG), the Georgetown transfer who has raised his game as of late, to keep his game at a high level to advance this weekend.
#9 UNC Wilmington will likely be without junior John Fields with a dislocated kneecap for the duration of the tournament. Fields, who has taken 21.8% of the teams shots and the best field goal percentage shooter on the team, will be a huge loss for the Seahawks. The Seahawks unveiled a Princeton-style system late in the year to win at Drexel but could not hold the Tribe down in their last game Saturday. They have a good shot to advance past Towson but would be bound to face conference favorite Old Dominion Saturday.
Following a 13-point loss to Hofstra last Saturday, #10 Georgia State will follow it up by facing Hofstra again Friday night with its season on the line. The Panthers recorded only one of their five conference wins on the road. Georgia State generates just under 61% of its scoring from inside the arc, yet they rank ninth in two-point field goal percentage. Senior and Wake Forest transfer Joe Dukes will be key to the Panthers’ chances. Dukes leads the team in scoring and has scored 22 points in each of the last two games, making 8-15 three pointers. He and fellow senior Trey Goldson, whose 39% three-point field goal percentage leads the team, will need to play outstanding basketball to continue their careers into the weekend.
#11 James Madison has been led by star power. Coach Matt Brady let Texas A&M transfer Denzel Bowles go off on the league, scoring 20.9 points per game and shooting just under 59% from the field this year. Sophomore Julius Wells has become a scorer capable of dominating games. Problem is the Dukes have not won a road game since December and failed to win one in conference play. In fact, the Dukes lost by an average of just under eight points per game. Not only that, the Dukes have shot just 31% from behind the arc which is good for 11th. Their Friday game will be against Drexel who swept them, beating them by 21 earlier in the year and by three last Saturday.
Saturday will likely be the last game for #12 Delaware. The Blue Hens have finished under .500 in each of the last six seasons. However three of their seven wins on the season came in overtime games. The Blue Hens also failed to win a conference road game this year and have not won a conference road game since February 13, 2008. Junior Juwan Carter will have to take the game into his hands for the Blue Hens to extend their season. The St. Joe’s transfer has scored double-digit points in every game this season and grabbed 100 rebounds for the first time in his career this season. Carter will need to carry the offense, which ranks last in scoring in the CAA, in order to have a chance against Virginia Commonwealth.