Friday, March 4, 2011

CAA Tournament Preview

  It’s that time of year again; March, which means only one thing to me: March Madness! Last year was particularly mad, as Northern Iowa, St. Mary’s, Cornell, and the CAA’s own Old Dominion made names for themselves on the largest stage in college basketball.
This year, the Colonial Athletic Conference has been as strong as it’s ever been. Early in nonconference, VCU took down Wake Forest and UCLA, while Old Dominion handled Clemson and Xavier at the Paradise Jam tournament, then defeated two more A-10 team in Richmond and Dayton. When our Drexel Dragons went down to Loserv—ahem, Louisville—and handed the Cardinals their first loss in the new KFC Yum Center, 52-46, the hype was on. Just recently, the CAA went 7-5, including a spectacular 4-1 record on national television, in ESPN Bracketbusters.
For the first time since 2007 (and only the fourth time ever), the CAA looks like they can get multiple bids to the Big Dance. ODU and George Mason ought to be locks to make the field of 68, and if another team can pull the upset in this weekend’s CAA Tournament in Richmond, the CAA could have three bids for the first time ever.
The tournament starts Friday at noon at the Richmond Coliseum. Here is my $0.02 on the first round games for Friday:
(8) UNCW—13-17 ( 7-11) v. (9) Georgia State—11-18 (6-12)                        12:00pm
This should be an interesting game. UNCW’s been lead by the Chad Tomko-Keith Rendleman duo this year; they’re 1-2 in minutes per game, points per game, rebounds per game, and steals per game for the young Seahawks. Since Feb 12, Tomko was held under 20 points only once: the season finale at Northeastern (where he ONLY scored 19). If Buzz Peterson’s squad has a chance, it’ll be on Tomko’s 5’11” shoulders.
On the other bench, head coach Rod Barnes was fired this weekend after losing on senior day to George Mason, the fourth straight loss for the Panthers. Assistant Paul Graham will be coaching this game. Nine players are averaging more than 15 minutes per game, with not a single one averaging more than Erik Buckner’s 9.2 points a game. The Panthers win when they find a way to outrebound their opponents. The propensity to throw fresh legs on the court helps in that regard. That being said, this team struggles without a go-to scorer. If Buckner can take over the game, GSU has a shot. UNCW is not a great rebounding team.
Prediction: Buzz Peterson gets his young team ready to prove their worth. It goes down to the wire, but Tomko makes a big play late and the Seahawks pull off the win, 61-59, and take on George Mason.
(5) Drexel—20-9 (11-7) v. Towson—4-25 (0-18)                                           2:30pm
In the third meeting (and the second in less than a week), the Dragons and Tigers face off. The 0-18 Tigers will come into the game, looking to end the season of futility with a win. This has all the makings of a trap game for the Dragons, who have lost on Friday in Richmond three straight years. Isaiah Philmore gives the Tigers a consistent threat both inside and out. The Tigers have shot well from beyond the arc against Drexel this season, going 13-25 (52%) in two games. On Senior Night, guard Josh Brown finished with 21 points.
Drexel, one of the early picks for a NCAA Tournament dark horse, started strong, then lost some steam at the season’s midpoint. With big wins at Louisville, at home against VCU, ODU, and Kent State during Bracketbusters, Drexel looks strong based on strong team defense. They are 9th in the nation for rebounds per game, with 40.4. Lead by senior Gerald Colds (9.9 ppg), redshirt sophomore Chris Fouch (14.7 ppg), and junior forward Samme Givens (11.8 ppg, 10.0 rpg), this young Drexel team was able to pull together a very strong season under Bruiser Flint, going 6-2 in the month of February. If they play strong defense and dig deep, this team could make a run.
Prediction: Senior captain Gerald Colds has never played in the postseason—potentially the only player to play for Flint for four years and hold that distinction. Friday, he and his teammates will take another step towards changing that, dropping the Tigers for a third time this season, 56-50.
(7) Delaware—13-16 (8-10) v. (10) Northeastern—11-19 (6-12)                    6:00pm
Delaware won both games against Northeasternthis season, lead by the fearsome Jawan Carter (15.7 ppg, good for 5th in the CAA this season). Nine players average 15 minutes or more for the Hens this season. Freshman Devon Saddler is second on the team with 13.4 points per game, while sophomore Jamelle Hagins lead the CAA with 3.0 blocks a game. Delaware limped down the stretch after a five game losing streak to the top half of the CAA.
Senior everything-man Chase Allen lead the young Huskies in minutes per game (37.1), points (16.8 per game, the 4th highest in the CAA), rebounds (6.0 per game), assists (3.8), and steals (2.1). Sophomores Joel Smith (12.3 ppg) and Jonathan Lee (11.6 ppg) round out the major offensive threats for  Bill Coen’s squad. After a nine game losing streak, ending with a 72-58 defeat at the DAC, the Huskies went 7-4 down the stretch. During a 4-game winning streak in the CAA, Northeastern defeated VCU 91-80 at home.
Prediction: This will be a tight game, but try as they might, the experience of Delaware’s five seniors will be too much for Chase Allen and the Huskies, 59-56. Old Dominion looms.
(6) James Madison 21-10 (10-8) v. (11) William & Mary—9-21 (4-14)             8:30pm
In the nightcap, a very scary William & Mary team takes on the James Madison Dukes, lead by potential first team All-CAA selection, Denzel Bowles. Bowles (arguably the most dominant player I saw live this season, along with Charles Jenkins), ranks second in the CAA in scoring (18.2 ppg) and third in rebounding (9.0 per game).
Another likely All-CAA player leads the young Tribe. Junior wing Quinn McDowell leads his team in scoring at 15.2 a game (good for 7th in the CAA), a close second in rebounding (5.4 per game), tied for third in assists (2.1, one of four players averaging more than 2 per game), and first with 1.2 steals a game. Better yet, he’s been at his best in big games: in their 73-68 victory at JMU, McDowell scored 23 points and pulled down 8 rebounds for W&M. Joined by senior forward Marcus Kitts, McDowell is the face of a very young team who will return six of their seven major contributors next season.
Prediction: I’ve been going back and forth on this one, but have a gut feeling the Tribe will pull it out. This is the third straight year the Tribe has faced the Dukes in their first game of the CAA. The game will come down to rebounding—if JMU can’t dominate the boards, W&M has a shot. McDowell’s going to come up huge, especially from three. W&M 66, JMU 61.

By: Ryan Pratt

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