CAA Breakdown: Four Teams Still Vying for Top Spot in Final Week

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 25th, 2015

The Colonial Athletic Association could just as easily be called the Chaotic Athletic Association this season, considering its level of parity and unpredictability. Currently, four of the league’s 10 teams – William & Mary, Northeastern, UNC Wilmington and James Madison – are tied atop the standings with just two games left on the schedule. And since only two of those squads play each other this week, the CAA’s top seed will likely be decided by tie-breakers. Let’s examine the four teams in contention, several possible scenarios from this week’s action, and why William & Mary is in the best position heading into next week’s conference tournament.

The Top Four

William & Mary has its sights set on the CAA's top seed. (

William & Mary has its sights set on the CAA’s top seed. (

  • William & Mary – 17-10 (11-5). The Tribe boasts the league most efficient offense and one of its most lethal offensive players in senior guard Marcus Thornton (19.3 PPG). He, along with do-everything forward Terry Tarpey (11.5 PPG, 8.2 RPG) and a cast of dangerous shooters, should handle both Towson and Drexel at home this week, which – as explained below – will be enough to earn the top seed in Baltimore.
  • Northeastern – 19-10 (11-5). The preseason conference favorite downed William & Mary at home last Wednesday before squeaking by Drexel over the weekend. It lacks depth – ranking 344th nationally in bench minutes – but is balanced offensively and possesses the CAA’s premier big man in Scott Eatherton (14.7 PPG, 6.7 RPG), a 6’8’’ center who has fouled out just once this season. The Huskies get the league’s two bottom units this week – Elon and College of Charleston – but both games are on the road and both opponents have proven peskier than their records show.
  • UNC Wilmington – 16-11 (11-5). First-year coach Kevin Keatts has done a remarkable job in Wilmington, taking the Seahawks from last place a year ago (3-13) to first place this season. All that stands between them and a share of the title is a home game against James Madison tonight and a trip to Elon on Saturday.
  • James Madison – 18-11 (11-5). Since dismissing embattled guard Andre Nation in mid-January, James Madison has gone 9-3 and put itself in contention for a share of the conference crown. Unfortunately, of the four contenders, the Dukes have the most difficult route: an elimination game at UNC Wilmington tonight and a tough home game against Hofstra (18-11 (9-7)) on Saturday.

Tie-Breaking Procedure – William & Mary in Control

According to the 2014-15 CAA Handbook, a two-way tie will be decided by head-to-head competition or (if that doesn’t do it) by winning percentage against the team occupying the next-highest position in the standings. A three-way tie will be decided “by winning percentage of games amongst the tied teams,” or – if they remain tied – continuing down through the standings until one gains an advantage. Either way, William & Mary is in the best situation heading down the stretch. Here is why:

UNC Wilmington is one of four teams currently tied for first. (AlanCradick/StarNews)

UNC Wilmington is one of four teams currently tied for first. (AlanCradick/StarNews)

Assuming William & Mary, Northeastern & UNC Wilmington/James Madison win out (three-way tie)…

  • If UNC Wilmington beats James Madison… Northeastern will have the worst record (1-3) and receive the #3 seed. William & Mary and UNC Wilmington will have equal records (3-1) but the Tribe will earn the top seed by virtue of sweeping Hofstra – the next-highest team in the standings able to break the tie (the Seahawks split with the Pride).
  • If James Madison beats UNC Wilmington… James Madison will have the worst record (0-4) and receive the #3 seed. William & Mary and Northeastern will have equal records (3-1) but the Tribe will earn the top seed by virtue of sweeping UNC Wilmington – the next-highest team in the standings able to break the tie (the Huskies were swept by the Seahawks).

Assuming William & Mary and Northeastern win out and the UNC Wilmington/James Madison winner loses its next game (two-way tie)…

  • Despite splitting in the regular season, William & Mary will earn the top seed over Northeastern by virtue of sweeping both UNC Wilmington and James Madison.

Assuming William & Mary and UNC Wilmington/James Madison Winner win out and Northeastern loses a game (two-way tie)…

  • Regardless of the UNC Wilmington/James Madison winner, William & Mary will earn the top seed by virtue of sweeping both the Seahawks and Dukes.

As you can see, all William & Mary needs to do is beat Towson and Drexel and it will be the #1 seed in next week’s CAA tournament – something KenPom gives it a 77 percent chance of doing. The only hope for Northeastern, UNC Wilmington and James Madison is to win out and hope the Tribe stumble. Likewise, Northeastern should be heavily rooting for James Madison tonight since UNC Wilmington would own a tie-breaker over the Huskies in any scenario, top seed or otherwise.

The Outlook

Assuming William & Mary takes care of business and one of the above scenarios plays out, the next question becomes – does it even really matter? After all, four of the league’s bottom five squads have proven capable of beating teams at the top of this league this season. Still, for the Tribe – in search of its first NCAA Tournament appearance in program history – I suspect the answer is “yes,” it does. Not only would the top seed provide a psychological boost, but it would ensure that Tony Shaver’s club avoids Delaware until the championship game (or altogether). The Blue Hens have been William & Mary’s kryptonite this decade, going 9-0 against the Tribe since 2011 and sweeping them in 2014-15 – accounting for a quarter of their current win total.

Another team to keep an eye on is Drexel, which just lost star Damion Lee (21.4 PPG, 6.1 RPG) for the season. Although the Dragons probably won’t be nearly the threat they could have been next week, they still remain in decent position to earn the #6 seed. In that scenario, the eventual #3 seed could have an easier path the conference semifinals than once thought. Pay close attention to Bruiser Flint’s shorthanded club over the next few days.

Tommy Lemoine (250 Posts)

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