RTC Championship Previews: Colonial Athletic AssociationPosted by CNguon on March 8th, 2013
CAA Tournament Matchups/Predictions
#4 George Mason vs. #5Drexel, Saturday, 3:30 p.m. — If you were to tell me last March that Mason and Drexel would meet in the first round of the CAA tournament, I would have said, “Really? What happened? Did four teams become ineligible for the tournament while the Patriots and Dragons underperformed?” And the March 2012 version of me would have been strangely prescient. But this is a heavyweight bout in Round 1, and the winner could certainly take the whole fruit basket. The teams split two regular season matchups, with each road team winning. Mason blew a 20-point first-half lead in its loss, but for the most part, both games came down to the final eight minutes, when the teams traded leads. This one should also go to the wire —and I’ve got Mason barely holding on in a thrilling opener to the weekend.
Pick: George Mason 62, Drexel 61
#2 Delaware vs. #7 Hofstra, Saturday, 6 p.m. — Hofstra, in this writer’s opinion, is the only team of the seven incapable of winning the tournament. Which means that Delaware, which hasn’t reached the semifinals since 2003, should finally make the final four. The Hens have weapons all over the court, while Hofstra counts on the same few players to log big minutes and try to make something happen. There won’t be many blowouts this weekend, but this game has a chance to be over quickly if Delaware shoots the ball well in the first half. Hofstra’s best gameplan is to limit possessions, remain within striking distance, and catch some second-half breaks. The Pride can hang around, but won’t seriously threaten.
Pick: Delaware 68, Hofstra 52
#3 James Madison vs. #6 William & Mary, Saturday, 8:30 p.m. — The Dukes and Tribe provided one of the most entertaining CAA games of the season last weekend, and after JMU came back from 19 points to win in Williamsburg, the teams will run it back. A.J. Davis and Marcus Thornton each caught fire for the second time in as many meetings. You can bet both teams will do everything in their power to keep the respective guards under wraps in this one. But JMU has one or two more playmakers than W&M, and that will be the difference in another tight game.
Pick: James Madison 74, William & Mary 71
SIDEBAR: Two of the three first-round matchups feature a team that swept the other in a pair of regular season games. They say it’s tough to beat a team three straight times, but in the CAA tournament, that’s not necessarily true. This chart shows the results of the 13 instances in the past five tournaments of a team trying for a three-game sweep. In the last 11 instances, that team was successful. According to STATS LLC., there have been 981 similar matchups across Division I college basketball over the past 10 seasons. The teams entering the third game 2-0 are a combined 710-271 (.724 winning percentage) in the third meeting. Obviously the initial winner was likely the stronger team — thus the two opening victories. But is it any harder to win a third time? The evidence says no.
#1 Northeastern (bye in round 1) vs. #4 George Mason, Saturday, 2 p.m. — Only three of Northeastern’s 18 CAA games ended in with a margin of 10 or more points. Two were wins over George Mason. For whatever reason, the Patriots are a nice matchup for the Huskies, who you’d think would have trouble with all of Mason’s size. Northeastern mitigated any height disadvantage with stellar shooting (53 percent from the field) in both games. The Huskies also made 16-of-31 combined 3-pointers. On a neutral court in what figures to be a half-empty arena, NU probably won’t shoot that well for a third time, but the veteran guards will find a way to pull out a close one — just as they have for much of the season.
Pick: Northeastern 71, George Mason 67
#2 Delaware vs. #3 James Madison, Saturday, 4:30 p.m. — JMU swept the season series against Delaware — just as it did against W&M — so the Dukes’ draw to the final couldn’t have been much more favorable. But Delaware, despite losing two to JMU, will be the favorites if the teams meet for a third time. Since falling at Madison on January 23, the Hens won nine of their final 11 CAA games. One of those losses was at home against JMU, when UD blew a big lead and allowed the Dukes to score the game-winning hoop on a last-second alley-oop from Devon Moore to Andre Nation. This game could be payback, and if JMU gets itself in another big hole — as it is wont to do — the Dukes might not crawl out of it again.
Pick: Delaware 66, James Madison 59
#1 Northeastern vs. #2 Delaware, Sunday, 7 p.m. — Analyzing this potential matchup seems foolish, because, well, I don’t have any confidence it will ever happen. The CAA tournament is more up-for-grabs this season than any. That I predicted chalk throughout the first two rounds is some sort of an illogical way of countering what could be pure bedlam. Six of the seven teams have a legitimate chance to win the tournament, and whichever does will probably be a #15 or #16 seed in the NCAA Tournament. It was a down year in the CAA, no doubt, but it can end in exciting fashion nonetheless.
Pick: Northeastern 100, Delaware 99 (6 OTs)
Final Regular Season Power Rankings
- Towson (18-13, 13-5): Picked 10th in the preseason poll, Towson has exceeded expectations. OK, let’s not downplay it. Coming off a 1-31 season, the Tigers finished 18-13 and broke the NCAA record for largest one-year improvement. It’s a shame that APR sanctions will keep this team out of the postseason, because the Tigers, led by likely Player of the Year Jerelle Benimon (leads the nation with 20 double-doubles), would be a popular pick to win the CAA. Towson won eight of its last nine games, including the final four. Next year, when Towson is eligible again, the Tigers will receive plenty of preseason publicity.
- Delaware (18-13, 13-5): The Hens have reeled off 10 wins in their last 12 games and are probably the favorites to win the CAA Tournament because they’re so much higher on the Scoville scale than top-seeded Northeastern right now. Devon Saddler has carried the offense, leading the team in scoring in 10 of those 12 games, while fellow guard Jarvis Threatt has become a consistent producer due to his knack for the charity stripe. UD could have been considered a disappointment for much of this season, but we’ll all forget that if the Hens cut down some nets. What might keep them from doing so is an inconsistent defense.
- Northeastern (19-11, 14-4): While the Huskies stumbled down the stretch, dropping three of their last five including a season-closing loss against Old Dominion, they get a free pass to the CAA semifinals after winning the regular-season title. What’s interesting about Northeastern is that it doesn’t fit the mold of a CAA champion at all. The Huskies’ defense is merely mediocre, and they are typically outrebounded. But NU is well-coached, and has two senior guards that create the best backcourt tandem in the league. Every game with NU is close, and all the Huskies have to do is win two more to go dancing for the first time since 1991.
- George Mason (17-13, 10-8): The Patriots dropped their final two games of the regular season, squandering an opportunity to finish as high as second place. The Patriots are a tough bunch to figure out: Some nights they appear to have the league’s best offense, some nights the best defense. Rarely do they put both sides together on the same night, but they’re obviously a scary tournament opponent, in case they do. Sherrod Wright led Mason in scoring in 17 of its first 22 games, but has only done so once in the final eight. That other players have stepped up might bode well for the Pats.
- James Madison (17-14, 11-7): Is this a tested veteran team (five seniors, including four fifth-year players) or one that’s too young (four freshmen play heavy minutes) to win in March? The answer will likely spell coach Matt Brady’s fate moving forward. Brady is in the final year of his contract, and needs a decent tournament run to be around in the future. The Dukes ended up about where everyone thought they would in the preseason, but their path certainly wasn’t expected. Loaded with offensive weapons, the team struggled to score when Andrey Semenov went down with a season-ending ankle injury, but JMU rode the league’s stingiest defense to an 11-7 record.
- Georgia State (15-16, 10-8): This is another team that would be very intriguing in the tournament — but their outgoing status (the Panthers are moving to the Sun Belt next year) denies us the opportunity to watch R.J. Hunter and company in Richmond. The rest of the CAA can be happy GSU is leaving; the Panthers will return everybody but big center James Vincent next year, and coach Ron Hunter appears to be one of the top sideline roamers, given what he’s done in two years in Atlanta. Plus, that son R.J. of his can be someone else’s handful for the next three seasons.
- Drexel (13-17, 9-9): The preseason favorites — and it really wasn’t even really close — Drexel turned out to be one of the biggest disappointments in the nation. The injury of guard Chris Fouch certainly hurt, but it was the Dragons’ defense that let them down. Sure the “D” was still one of the best in the CAA, but it didn’t quite smother teams on a consistent basis like last year. The team’s overall play just wasn’t as tight. Preseason Player of the Year Frantz Massenat felt like he had to do too much, and the point guard was more mistake prone as a junior than as a sophomore.
- William & Mary (13-16, 7-11): The Tribe are a couple of breaks away from a better finish, and while you can say that about any team, this one seemed to give away games late more than anybody. Still, with Marcus Thornton, Tim Rusthoven and Brandon Britt comprising the highest-scoring trio in the league, W&M is a feasible darkhorse to win a wide open CAA Tournament. In shooting 76 percent in the first half against JMU last weekend, W&M showed that it can get hot against even a top-notch defense. The team is simply missing an on-court leader to turn things around when they go south.
- UNC-Wilmington (10-20, 5-13): This went pretty much to script. Senior forward Keith Rendleman polished a fine season, but to no avail, as the Seahawks lost nine of the last 11 games, and were an afterthought all year because of their tournament ineligibility. Rendleman finished his career with more than 1,500 points and 1,000 rebounds, but never tasted success. UNCW doesn’t lose a whole lot else next season, but making up for their pogo-stick forward will be enough to keep them out of contention. A once-proud program again finds itself in a marsh.
- Hofstra (7-24, 4-14): This season couldn’t have gone much worse for Hofstra, but at least it’s eligible for the CAA tournament. The Pride actually might have been decent if not for the quad-suspensions in November. Coach Mo Cassara had little to work with, and that his team remained competitive is worth applause. Hofstra is in a tough spot moving forward, after losing four players to arrests. The team figures to be at or near the bottom of the league once again next year.
- Old Dominion (5-25, 3-15): To finish one of the most dysfunctional seasons in program history, Old Dominion ended its run in the CAA by beating the league’s top team. Go figure. Picked fourth in the preseason, the Monarchs were the league’s biggest underachievers, winning just three league games and five overall. They never had top-end talent — the preseason pick was a mistake on the voters’ parts — but they could have been a .500 CAA club with the type of focus they displayed after Blaine Taylor’s firing. Did interim coach Jim Corrigan do enough in his audition to be back next year? ODU has plenty of money to spend, so it will probably look outside the program, but the longtime assistant did an admirable job for the Narchs.
My CAA Ballot
Here is how I voted for All-CAA awards, along with my explanations for each choice:
- Jerrelle Benimon, Towson, forward (Player of the Year): It would be inaccurate to imply that Benimon single-handedly boosted Towson to its big season, but he was certainly the most important player in the historic turnaround. Coach Pat Skerry knew the Georgetown transfer would be huge for his team when Benimon dominated practices last season in his sit-out year. The 6’8″, 245-pounder has truly been the “Benimonster” that Tigers fans like to call him. Towson, ineligible for the postseason because of academics, might just be the best team in the league; Benimon is league’s best player. He ranks fourth in scoring (17.1 points per game), fourth in field goal percentage (.533), first in rebounding (11.1) and third in blocks (1.9).
- Sherrod Wright, George Mason, guard: Size, strength, body control, shooting ability – the 6’4″ guard has it all. In his first year as a starter, he did it all for Mason. “He’s carried us most of the year,” coach Paul Hewitt said. “What he’s done this year is really diversify his game. He’s always been an outstanding shooter – now he does it in a lot of different ways. His rebounding numbers are up … He’s posting up to score. We chart deflections every game: He’s gone from a guy who got one or two or three deflections; now he’s got eight to nine deflections a game, forcing turnovers.”
- Devon Saddler, Delaware, guard: The burly guard led the league in scoring (20.2 ppg) after finishing second in that category last year. He also improved his rebounding and assist numbers, and shooting percentages across the board. “Devon is a guy that, whenever we need a bucket, he goes out and gets it,” coach Monte Ross said. “He’s not afraid of failure. … He’s such a competitor and he bring it every day, which is good.”
- R.J. Hunter, Georgia State, guard: What more is there to say about R.J. Hunter’s magical freshman season, aside from, it’s a shame we won’t get to see him as a sophomore, junior or senior. He’s a one-and-done in the CAA because Georgia State is leaving for the Sun Belt this summer. We’ll miss Hunter’s soft touch, deft use of the backboard and long, passing-lane-obstructing arms. Hunter’s 38 points against Old Dominion on February 2 remained the highest output for any player all season.
- Joel Smith, Northeastern, guard: The first-place team deserves a member on the CAA’s First Team; it’s just a tad surprising that it’s Smith. Heading into the season, backcourt mate Jonathan Lee was viewed more as the Huskies’ alpha dog, but with Lee sidelined to start the season, Smith raised his level of play. Even when Lee returned, Smith never let down. He scored 19-plus points in 13 of NU’s 29 games and ended with a whopping 48.6/87.0/42.5 shooting line (fg%/ft/%3pt%).
- Keith Rendleman, UNCW, forward: Business as usual for Rendleman, who averaged 10.5 rebounds and 17 points on 53.9 percent shooting. “He’s kept everybody together and done a tremendous job,” coach Buzz Peterson said. “Set school career rebounding record, double-double in 13 of first 16 games. I hope one day we can honor his jersey. He’s been fun to coach.”
- Damion Lee, Drexel, guard: Banged up and at times sick, Lee was a tad inconsistent this season, but he was scary-good when on. Along with Benimon and Saddler, he’s the only player to score 29-plus at least three times. There’s no tougher player to stop than a hot Damion Lee.
- Jonathan Lee, Northeastern, guard: It’s no coincidence that three games after Lee returned from injury, the Huskies ran off eight straight CAA wins. Once they had time to jell with their senior floor leader, they took off. Lee is a point guard by name, but does just about everything . He’s the only CAA player to average more than four rebounds and four assists per game.
- Devon Moore, James Madison, guard: Maybe the one guy in the league who’s stats tell the least about the impact on his team (though maybe I’m biased because I watched him 30 times this year), more is an elite perimeter defender and the point man in JMU’s offense. He led the league with 4.8 assists per game, but in the final minute of a nail-biter, it’s Moore’s responsibility to create for himself and take the Dukes home to victory.
- Marcus Thornton, William & Mary, guard: Heading into the season, Thornton was a prime candidate to make “the leap” from promising freshman to star sophomore. Consider it done. The 6’4″ guard who averaged 18.6 ppg is the type of dynamic player W&M rarely claims. “He’s been a really consistent and sometimes dominant player for us,” coach Tony Shaver said. “So good, people are changing the way they’re defending him.”
- Devonta White, Georgia State, guard: White is the most under-appreciated player in the league. Maybe he’s too consistent. The 5’10” jitterbug reached double-figures in 29 of GSU’s 31 games, and tallied four-plus assists 18 times.
- Frantz Massenat, Drexel, guard: The preseason Player of the Year, Massenat’s 2012-13 campaign was a bit disappointing, but he’s still an elite player in this league. Second in assists and 10th in scoring, the left-handed point guard just wasn’t as efficient as he was last year, when he was runner-up for the final POY award. Still, consider him a leading candidate to vie for next year’s crown as a senior.
- Tim Rusthoven, William & Mary, forward: Along with Thornton, Rusthoven helped W&M have one of the best inside-out combinations in the CAA. We know he can score on the block and rebound, but his passing was just as crucial. Benimon was the only big man with more assists than Rusthoven, who just needs to stay in the game more (100 fouls and five foul-outs) to take the next step.
- Jamelle Hagins, Delaware, forward: The Blue Hens’ all-time leading rebounder didn’t improve on his stellar junior year, but remaining steady is good enough for him to receive postseason honors. Hagins isn’t the type of post player to demand the ball and have a team play through him, but he got his numbers by crashing the glass and generating his own touches on a team with plenty of punch already on the perimeter.
- Jarvis Threatt, Delaware, guard: A late addition on this ballot, Threatt wiped away memories of a slow start with a strong finish, scoring 30-plus points in four of UD’s final eight games. He weighs just 165-pounds, but uses that to his advantage, attacking the rim and flailing (understandably) at contact. His 140 made free-throws are second among CAA players, behind only Saddler, his teammate.
- R.J. Hunter, Georgia State, guard, (Rookie of the Year): See above. Hunter is a no-brainer for this award, even with strong candidates behind him.
- Andre Nation, James Madison, guard: Style, substance – Nation brings it all with his flashy offensive game and consistent lock-down defense.
- Jerome Hairston, Towson, guard: Asked to run a high-powered engine as a rookie, Hairston was more than adequate for what turned out to be a loaded Towson offense. The kid has no fear, either.
- Craig Ponder, UNCW, guard: Ponder got to re-do his freshman year after an injury wiped out all but four games the first time. He was good, and at times special, scoring as many as 26 in a game.
- Keenan Palmore, Old Dominion, guard: There aren’t a ton of positives to take from ODU’s season, but Palmore (and fellow freshman Aaron Bacote, who just missed the cut) are solid building blocks for a team moving up to Conference-USA.
- Devon Moore, James Madison, guard (Defensive Player of the Year): Again, maybe bias on my part (for what it’s worth, I’ve never voted for a JMU player on the all-defensive team in the past three years), but in watching Moore play every day, you see just how good he is defensively. He rarely makes mistakes, and on top of that, he senses a weak ball-handler like a shark smelling blood, and pounces to help create turnovers. At 6″4″, he’s long enough to disrupt passing lanes, and he’s the rock on what was the stingiest scoring “D” in the CAA this year.
- Jamelle Hagins, Delaware, forward: Hagins was a near-winner of the DPOY award two straight years, but was edged by Old Dominion’s Kent Bazemore each time. In terms of blocking shots, nobody has been more consistent in his career.
- Jerrelle Benimon, Towson, forward: The likely POY’s defense is often overlooked, but he’s quick on his feet, athletic enough to challenge shots, and grabs plenty of defensive rebounds, which obviously end possessions for opponents.
- Corey Edwards, George Mason, guard: The little point guard entered my radar when he straight ripped the sure-handed Moore in the open court last month. Watching him more and more, you see that Edwards is probably the best on-the-ball defender the CAA has to offer.
- Andre Nation, James Madison, guard: The long and quick rookie blocks shots, racks up steals, and still plays the type of sound defense that isn’t rewarded in the statistics.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Bill Coen, Northeastern: It’s a tough call choosing Coen over Towson’s Pat Skerry, who will generate plenty of National Coach of the Year hype. But Coen squeezed a regular season title out of a team that many figured to be too short and too shallow to seriously compete. The Huskies were beaten on the boards consistently, and gave up plenty of points (usually a recipe for disaster in the CAA), but Coen and his veteran guards helped otherwise young NU become the most efficient offense in the league. Of their 14 CAA victories, 11 came by seven or fewer points. So while the Huskies weren’t dominant, they were well-coached enough to pull out most of the tight ones.