Michael Litos is the RTC correspondent for the Colonial Athletic Association. You can follow him on Twitter at @caahoops.
CAA Tournament Glance
Without question, all eyes are on Drexel and VCU. Both squads finished the regular season in impressive fashion. After dropping its first two conference games, the Dragons won an unprecedented 16 straight to take the regular season title. The Rams are the second seed at 15-3 and have won 14 of 15 games. VCU is two buzzer-threes from 17-1 in conference. Troy Daniels missed a three at the buzzer and the Rams lost to Georgia State, and George Mason’s Sherrod Wright swished a 30-footer to beat VCU on Valentine’s Day.
Nobody really wants to face Old Dominion. Blaine Taylor, for the tenth time in his 10 seasons at ODU, has his team playing its best basketball in February. And the Monarchs grinding style fits perfectly with the slogging that will occur in the conference tournament. Though their path to a title is the most rigorous one, George Mason has both the most talent and most depth in the conference. Finally, Delaware has quietly won eight straight and can surprise.
But really, this tournament comes down the secret rooting interest of people who want the CAA to get an at-large bid. They want Drexel vs. VCU in the finals on Monday. The reason is clear: because the CAA didn’t have a stellar November, they don’t carry the sufficient resume bulk to make the field. However, you look at these two teams — the eye-test — and they clearly belong.
However, we’re very certain Paul Hewitt and Blaine Taylor have a little something to say in the matter. And while we’re at it — don’t count out Georgia State. Ron Hunter’s team plays outstanding defense, which will keep them in every game.
If the key to a mid-major conference obtaining at large bids into the NCAA tournament resides in separation—the top teams in the conference getting distance between themselves and the bottom of the conference—then the CAA accomplished the mission. Drexel (16-2), VCU (15-3), George Mason (14-4), and Old Dominion (13-5) fairly beat down the rest of the CAA. The top four teams did not lose to a bottom four team.
The Dragons lost their first two games but won 16 straight—an unprecedented feat. VCU lost two of its three games on last second three-point shots—the Rams’ Troy Daniels missed a bomb at the buzzer in a loss to Georgia State, and George Mason’s Sherrod Wright hit a 30-footer at the horn to beat VCU.
The season went remarkably according to plan. The top three teams (Drexel, VCU, Mason) finished in precisely the order expected, and Delaware (12-6) finished in the first division as predicted.
The differences reside with injuries. William & Mary was expected to rise, but a bevy of preseason and early season injuries sank the Tribe to 11th. James Madison finished the season with six healthy players and several phone calls to Hawkeye Pierce. Even head coach Matt Brady couldn’t avoid the big. Brady tore his Achilles tendon during practice when he ran scout team point guard duty. The Dukes fell to the #8 seed.
Georgia State, in its first season under Ron Hunter, surprised. The Panthers were expected to finished 11th but won 11 conference games and 20 overall.
- Coach of the Year: Ron Hunter, Georgia State – Opinions may vary based on what you value, but a very strong case can be made that Hunter made the most out of the least. Bruiser Flint was expected to win a tough conference and he did so. A 16-2 CAA record is worthy of acclaim. Shaka Smartlost four of his top five players, but coached VCU to second place and into the at-large conversation—this also merits acclaim. However, Hunter not only turned around the Georgia State ledger, he changed the culture in his first year. Georgia State was the definition of a moribund program, and there is a breath of life in Atlanta. Hunter won 11 CAA games with nothing going in his favor when he walked onto campus. Read the rest of this entry »