CAA Wrap & Tourney PreviewPosted by Brian Goodman on March 4th, 2011
Nick Cammarota is the RTC correspondent for the Colonial Athletic Association. With the CAA Tournament tipping on Friday, get up to speed on the conference and gain a leg up on your Big Dance Cinderella candidate research.
A Look Ahead… Postseason Style
- First-Round Game to Watch: No. 8 UNC-Wilmington vs. No. 9 Georgia State. It’s not the sexiest matchup out there, but then again, what first-round game is? The teams split the season series and always seem to play one another close. This one should be pretty interesting, too, in that whichever team wins will have to turn around and face the team with the longest winning streak in the nation: George Mason.
- First-Round Player To Watch: Northeastern’s Chaisson Allen. One of the more underrated guards in the conference, Allen has a strong build doesn’t seem to break under pressure. There will be no greater pressure than this weekend, so look for Allen to have a decent showing.
- Team Most Likely to Pull an Upset: William & Mary. If only because they beat their first-round opponent, James Madison, during the regular season. That and junior Quinn McDowell is a threat from anywhere on the floor.
- Team Most Likely to be Upset: Virginia Commonwealth. The Rams are really struggling coming into the CAA Tournament and unlike years past, they don’t seem to have the right demeanor about them to turn it around and make a run. Then again, that’s what this time of year is all about.
- Team Most Likely to Win it All: George Mason. The Patriots have thoroughly dominated the league in the second half of the season and are playing their best basketball of the year at the perfect time. Look for this to be a two-bid conference, with both George Mason and Old Dominion capable of making some noise in the Big Dance.
A Look Back
It has been a banner year for the CAA on many levels, and still (barring some upsets in the conference tournament) it looks as though the league will be sending only two teams to the NCAA tournament. That said, the CAA can boast that it’s one of two leagues, along with the Big East, to have six 20-game winners. It also finished with one team ranked in the Top 25 (George Mason), has the nation’s fourth-leading scorer (Charles Jenkins). There’s a lot to get to in the check-in/postseason preview, so follow along as we recap the regular season that was and look ahead to the postseason that will be.
- Cam Long, G, George Mason: The 6’4 senior is one of the many pieces that makes George Mason go, and he’s enjoying his finest season this year. At the end of the regular campaign, Long is averaging 15.1 points per game, 3.0 assists per game, 4.8 rebounds per game and 1.5 steals per game. That’s not to mention the intangibles and leadership he brings to the court for a team that hasn’t lost since January 8.
- Chad Tomko, G, UNC-Wilmington: Granted, the Seahawks haven’t had the most spectacular season, but that doesn’t mean Tomko doesn’t deserve to be on this list. He’s exactly the type of player you’d love to have on your fantasy team because he fills that stat sheet. Through 30 games this season, the 5’11 Charlotte native has averaged 17.6 points per game, 4.3 assists per game, 5.9 rebounds per game and 1.9 steals per game. If that’s not first-team worthy, who knows what is?
- Frank Hassell, F, Old Dominion: There’s little doubt the Monarchs rank sixth in the nation in rebounding without the steadying presence of Hassell, who has been the model of consistence for Old Dominion this season. The 6’9 senior’s averages of 14.2 points per game and 9.8 rebounds per game are remarkable in such a deep league, with his finest performance being a 25-and-13 outburst against UNC-Wilmington.
- Denzel Bowles, F, James Madison: The senior forward has been remarkable in his final season and feel just shy of averaging a double-double for the regular season. He finished with totals of 18.2 points per game, 9.0 rebounds per game and 1.6 blocks per game, making him unbelievably valuable to the Dukes. His 40-point effort against Towson won’t soon be forgotten.
- Isaiah Philmore, F, Towson: The only underclassmen on the list, this spot was a tough one. In the end, Philmore ended up receiving the honor not only for the stats he put up, but because the imposing sophomore did so for a team that had four wins and went 0-18 in conference play. Philmore finished the regular season averaging 15.4 points per game, 7.1 rebounds per game, and ended with back-to-back double-doubles. The 6’7 Fallston, Maryland, native has plenty of room to grow, especially if he can get an even better supporting cast.
Player of the Year
Charles Jenkins, G, Hofstra: The senior guard is an obvious choice for Player of the Year in the conference. Not only is he the CAA’s leading scorer, but he’s the fourth leading scorer in the nation as of March 2, averaging 23.2 points per game. He also assists 4.8 baskets per game making him even more dangerous. His lowest point total in any game this season was 13, and beyond that 18. Simply put, the guy can shoot the basketball. He’s the CAA’s second all-time leading scorer and is converting buckets at a mind-boggling 52.8 percent clip this season. And no matter how the conference tournament shakes out, the 6’3 220-pounder from Queens has capped one heck of a career with a magnificent senior season.
Coach of the Year
Jim Larranaga, George Mason: Hard to argue with the nation’s longest current winning streak, the top seed in an ultra-competitive conference, a ranking in the Top 25, and the most suffocating defense in the CAA.
Game of the Year
Out of Conference: Drexel 52, No. 21 Louisville 46. This one will go down in Drexel history as a memorable victory and was the Dragons’ first win against a ranked opponent since 2006.
In-Conference: George Mason 75, James Madison 73. At the time, both teams entered this game 5-2 in the conference. Had the score been swung two points in the other direction, who knows what might have happened.
1. George Mason
(25-5, 16-2 CAA – RPI 24, SOS 87)
Last week: W 67-61 vs. Northeastern, W 65-58 vs. Georgia State
This week: No. 1 seed in the CAA Tournament. Will play UNC-Wilmington/Georgia State winner.
NCAA Tournament projection: No. 7 seed
We should all pause for a moment and recognize that kempom.com called this way back in January. Following a loss to Old Dominion on January 8, the website didn’t have the Patriots losing a game the rest of the way. Lo and behold, they didn’t. The hottest team in the league, and the hottest team in the country (in terms of length of winning streak), George Mason has itself primed not only for a major run in the conference tournament, but one in the NCAA Tournament as well. The top-ranked team in the Mid-Major Top 25, and the 25th-ranked team in the nation, the Patriots have won a school-record 15 games in a row and have only lost to one team with an RPI below 100 (Hofstra on Jan. 5). It looks like Cam Long and Ryan Pearson are ready to recreate the magic of that 2006 run, and if the Patriots continue to average a 47.6 shooting percentage from the field, there’s a decent chance they could.
2. Old Dominion
(24-6, 14-4 CAA – RPI 62, SOS 128)
Last week: W 75-59 @. James Madsion, W 77-58 vs. William & Mary
This week: No. 2 seed in the CAA Tournament. Will play Delaware/Northeastern winner
NCAA Tournament projection: No. 10 seed
It appears as though Old Dominion’s early-season success (wins against Clemson, Xavier, Richmond and a close loss to Georgetown) caught up with it a bit during the CAA slate. Just enough to strip them of what seemed like an obvious league crown two months ago. Still, the Monarchs are ranked second, right behind George Mason, in the Mid-Major Top 25 and appear poised for a run in the CAA Tournament. The dangerous aspect of Blaine Taylor’s squad is its ability to rebound, facilitate and play defense. According to kempom.com, the Monarchs are ranked first in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage (45.3) and are sixth overall in pure statistical rebounding, averaging 40.6 per game. That makes them a dangerous draw for anyone who meets them either in the CAA Tournament or the Big Dance.
(20-10, 14-4 CAA – RPI 82, SOS 125)
Last week: W 71-64 @ UNC-Wilmington, W 79-60 vs. Delaware
This week: No. 3 seed in the CAA Tournament. Will face James Madison/William & Mary winner
Here’s a team to watch in the tournament, and it’s pretty obvious why. His name begins with a “Charles” and ends with a “Jenkins.” The near-lock for CAA Player of the Year will take to the court with a chance to be a hero and possibly earn the conference a third NCAA Tournament berth if Hofstra manages to win the whole darn thing (Old Dominion and George Mason should have enough to get in on their own). The Pride winning everything isn’t too far-fetched, either, as their last conference loss was Feb. 2 and they’ve already beaten George Mason once this season.
4. Drexel Dragons
(20-9, 11-7 CAA – RPI 65, SOS 95)
Last week: W 60-60 vs. Virginia Commonwealth, W 66-63 vs. Towson
This week: No. 5 seed in the CAA Tournament. 3.04 vs. Towson
The Dragons sure can rebound like Old Dominion – Drexel is ninth in the nation at 40.4 boards per game – but unlike the Monarchs, they struggle doing other things well, especially facilitating and shooting the ball. It’s not that this has been a disappointing season, per se, for Bruiser Flint’s team, it’s just that expectations were set so high after the Dragons downed Louisville in Louisville that a loss to James Madison here and a loss to UNC-Wilmington there really stand out on the resume. Unless Drexel makes a sporty go at it in the CAA Tournament, don’t expect to see these Dragons breathing any fire come Selection Sunday.
5. James Madison
(21-10, 10-8 CAA – RPI 71, SOS 120)
Last week: L 75-59 vs. Old Dominion, W 72-69 @ Virginia Commonwealth
This week: No. 6 seed in the CAA Tournament. 3.04 vs. William & Mary
It appears as though this team will go as far as leading scorer Denzel Bowles (18.2 points per game) takes it. Bowles has recorded double digits in scoring in his last 16 games – including a 40-point outburst against Towson on Feb. 15 – and is they type of player who can carry a team in the postseason. Not to mention the fact that he averages 9.0 rebounds per game. That said, his teammates still must contribute in key ways if the Dukes hope to knock off some of the better teams in the league. Keep in mind James Madison hasn’t beaten Old Dominion or George Mason this season.
6. Virginia Commonwealth
(21-10, 12-6 CAA – RPI 142, SOS 93)
Last week: W 73-64 vs. Northeastern, W 71-54 vs. Georgia State
This week: No. 4 seed in CAA Tournament. Will face Drexel/Towson winner.
That Rams are, unfortunately for VCU fans, the talented club that happens to be limping into the CAA Tournament. Virginia Commonwealth has lost four of its last five games and thought it has locked up the No. 4 seed, doesn’t appear ready to make a run. That all could change, however, if the Rams happen to click at the right time. There’s little doubt VCU is one of the more balanced teams in terms of scoring in the conference with four players who average double digits – Jamie Skeen, Bradford Burgess, Brandon Rozzell and Joey Rodriguez.
(13-16, 8-10 CAA – RPI 147, SOS 113)
Last week: W 80-70 vs. Towson, L 79-60 vs. Hofstra
This week: No. 7 seed in the CAA Tournament. 3.04 vs. Northeastern
After losing five in a row at the beginning of February, the Blue Hens were able to salvage their season with a turn-things-around win against Northeastern. Delaware will attempt to beat the Huskies with far more on the line this weekend in the first round of the CAA tournament. Senior Jawan Carter had been sporadic at times this season, but has turned things on lately, scoring 22, 25, 22, and 21 points in his last four games. If he can carry that effort into the tournament, the Blue Hens could turn some heads.
(13-17, 7-11 CAA – RPI 203, SOS 161)
Last week: L 71-64 vs. Hofstra, L 78-68 @ Northeastern
This week: No. 8 seed in the CAA Tournament. 3.04 vs. Georgia State
The Seahawks don’t rank above 250th nationally in scoring, rebounding or assist totals, so it’s hard to imagine them pulling an upset in the tournament. Their first-round matchup against Georgia State is a toss-up (the two split the season series), but beyond that it might be best for UNCW fans to focus on one heck of a recruiting class coming in next season. Maybe that’s being too harsh. After all, anything can happen this time of year, and with Chad Tomko (17.6 points per game, 4.3 assists per game) running the show, who knows what we might see.
(11-19, 6-12 CAA – RPI 161, SOS 67)
Last week: L 67-61 @ George Mason, W 78-68 vs. UNC-Wilmington
This week: No. 10 seed in the CAA Tournament. 3.04 vs. Delaware
Give credit to the Huskies for not packing things in after beginning conference play 0-8. Northeastern won four straight after that and salvaged what, at first, appeared to be a dismal season. Bill Coen’s squad will face the Blue Hens in the first round of the CAA Tournament, but appear to be a team that’s focus needs to be on the future. Perhaps the Huskies will give senior Chiasson Allen a proper sendoff with a couple wins, but don’t count on it.
10. William & Mary
(9-21, 4-14 CAA – RPI 239, SOS 103)
Last week: W 69-65 vs. Georgia State, L 77-58 @ Old Dominion
This week: No. 11 seed in the CAA Tournament. 3.04 vs. James Madison
The Tribe has two games it can look back on and think it has a shot this weekend. One was an 80-66 dismantling of Drexel (when the Dragons were on top of their game) and the other was a 73-67 victory against James Madison. And guess what? The Dukes just happen to be William & Mary’s first-round opponent in the CAA tournament. Quinn McDowell (15.2 points per game) will need to come up big, as he did last time, against James Madison, but it’s clear that all hope is not lost and the Tribe likely has the best chance of any lower seed to pull the upset based on matchup alone.
11. Georgia State
(11-18, 6-12 CAA – RPI 205, SOS 200)
Last week: L 69-65 @ William & Mary, L 65-58 vs. George Mason
This week: No. 9 seed in the CAA Tournament. 3.04 vs. UNC-Wilmington
In such a deep conference, you’re going to have your Georgia States – those teams that aren’t quite good enough to pull any upsets, but aren’t quite bad enough to be completely dismissed. The first-round matchup between the conference’s two southernmost teams should be interesting. The last time the Panthers faced the Seahawks, they won 63-58 in overtime. This time around, it’s anyone’s guess. What Georgia State has lacked all season is a true go-to scorer. No player on the team averages double digits in scoring. Without someone like that, it’s going to be hard to win the tournament with a bench full of 5- to 7-point contributors.
(4-25, 0-18 CAA – RPI 285, SOS 109)
Last week: L 80-70 @ Delaware, L 66-63 vs. Drexel
This week: No. 12 seed in the CAA Tournament. 3.04 vs. Drexel
Poor little Tigers. It seems unfathomable that a team with such respectable offensive statistics (really, they’re not that terrible) could have gone winless in the conference. That is, until you look at their defensive stats. Losers of 19 in a row, Towson will put all its eggs into the Drexel basket in hopes of pulling a miraculous upset. After all, there’d be no better time for the Tigers’ first victory against a conference opponent than in the tournament, right?
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