Come Selection Sunday, the CAA will be one of the more interesting storylines to follow that night. Unlike last year, when the CAA was widely considered the strongest mid-major conference in the country, it has been a somewhat down year for the conference. No team took the bull by the horns in non-conference play, but Drexel and VCU have both been on fire the last two months and have gotten themselves into the at-large bid discussion. The easiest way for either of those teams to be waiting nervously on Selection Sunday is to win the CAA Conference Tournament that begins tomorrow in Richmond. For those that follow me on Twitter (@cbhsportsblog), you know how I feel about the supposed disadvantage teams besides VCU face with the tournament in Richmond. If you are good enough, you can win this tournament, whether its in Richmond or Timbuktu. Six of the twelve teams in the CAA have a realistic chance of cutting the nets down Monday night but who will ultimately be the winners?
1. Drexel (25-5, 16-2)
The Dragons have won 17 straight games, with their last loss coming January 2nd against Georgia State. Drexel is far from an offensive powerhouse, choosing instead to overwhelm their opponents with defensive pressure. The straw that stirs the drink is sophomore guard Frantz Massenat. Massenat is earning consideration for CAA Player of the Year and with good reason. He led Drexel in scoring at 13.5 ppg, assists with 4.5 per game, and tied for the team lead in steals, averaging almost a steal a game. They have another young talent in freshman guard Damion Lee. Lee was second on the Dragons in scoring and is coming off a 25 point performance at Old Dominion. Chris Fouch was the Dragons leading scorer last season, but has seen his minutes decrease this year. However, he can still light it up at times, as evidenced by the 25 points he put up against Hofstra. Their rebounding numbers are both down from last season, but teams still have to contend with Samme Givens and Darly McCoy down low. The Dragons will be without starter Derrick Thomas in this tournament as he was suspended.
2. Virginia Commonwealth (25-6, 15-3)
VCU will likely not make the run they did last year to the Final Four but this year's team is actually better. They have won 14 of their last 15 games, with the loss being on a buzzer beater at George Mason. Senior Bradford Burgess has picked up the slack left by departing players like Jamie Skeen and Joey Rodriguez. He leads the Rams in scoring and is second on the team in rebounding. Sophomore Juvonte Reddic has taken a huge leap this season. Last season he only played 11 minutes a game, but with spots opening up, he now plays 27 minutes per game and is an all around player that can score, rebound, and play tough defense. Guard Darius Theus is another player who saw his role increase and has responded well. With their pressure defense and ability to cause havoc, VCU would be dangerous in this tournament no matter where it was held.
3. George Mason (23-8, 14-4)
The Patriots come into the tournament reeling, losing their final two games of the season to drop to third in the conference. Unlike VCU and Drexel they can't hold on to any hopes of an at-large, so its win or bust for the Patriots. If things go according to plan they would meet VCU in the Semi-Finals for the second straight season and will finally try to beat the Rams in Richmond. However, there is no guarantee of that happening, because their potential Quarter-Final draw against Georgia State will be a tough test. Senior Ryan Pearson is another CAA Player of the Year candidate, averaging 17.8 ppg and 8.5 rebounds per game. Fellow senior Mike Morrison is also a relatively strong rebounder and can be an added weapon on the offensive end if he gets going early. The biggest question mark for Mason is their young point guards, Bryon Allen and Corey Edwards. Their inexperience has led to the Patriots becoming one of the most turnover plagued teams in the country. Mason has mostly been able to overcome those turnovers due to their offensive prowess, but they did come back to bite them in their last two losses. Another guard that has struggled is senior Andre Cornelius. Cornelius was suspended the first 10 games of the season and has never really found his footing under Paul Hewitt. He has fouled out of his last three games, scoring just 15 points in the process. It would be a huge boost to Mason if Cornelius can get on track. Vertrail Vaughns is not shooting the three nearly as well as last season, but still is someone that can get hot. Another great scoring threat coming off the bench is Sherrod Wright.
4. Old Dominion (19-12, 13-5)
The Monarchs have won the last two CAA Tournaments but it would be quite the shocker if they pull off a three-peat. ODU has been able to beat the teams below them, but hasn't broken through against the elite of the CAA, finishing 0-5 against VCU, George Mason, and Drexel. Their all everything player is senior G-F Kent Bazemore. Bazemore led the Monarchs in scoring and assists and was second in rebounding. Their second best player is senior F Chris Cooper. Cooper is a monster on the glass, averaging over 10 rebounds per game, to go with his 10.6 points per game. ODU is strong on the glass, which is important because they are pretty terrible offensively, shooting just 40% as a team.
5. Delaware (17-12, 12-6)
We are now getting into real long shot territory, however, they call it March Madness for a reason, so you can't entirely throw out the chances of a team like Delaware. The Fightin Blue Hens have won eight straight games. One of the best players you have never heard of is their guard Devon Saddler. Saddler was second in the conference in scoring, averaging 18.7 points per game. Junior forward Jamelle Hagins was second in scoring on Delaware and led the CAA in rebounding. Delaware was the second highest scoring team in the CAA, and were held under 60 points only twice in conference play.
6. Georgia State (20-10, 11-7)
First year coach Ron Hunter has done an incredible job at Georgia State. He changed the culture around the team and got players that were under performing to over perform. This senior laden team completely buys into the team concept and has many weapons. One of those players is Jihad Ali. The senior guard shoots 43% from the field and led the Panthers in scoring. Guards James Fields and Josh Micheuax are excellent distributors and also terrors on the defensive end, creating turnovers at a high rate.
Below are my predictions for Friday's First Round and then how I see Saturday-Monday shaking out.
#8 James Madison over #9 UNC-Wilmington
#5 Delaware over #12 Towson
#7 Northeastern over #10 William and Mary
#6 Georgia State over #11 Hofstra
#1 Drexel over #8 James Madison
#5 Delaware over #4 Old Dominion
#2 Virginia Commonwealth over #7 Northeastern
#3 George Mason over #6 Georgia State
#1 Drexel over #5 Delaware
#2 Virginia Commonwealth over #3 George Mason
#2 Virginia Commonwealth over #1 Drexel
I don't anticipate many upsets in this tournament. I do think Delaware will knock off a shaky Old Dominion team. GMU will have their hands full with Georgia State but I think they will pull out the victory. Unfortunately, I think their struggles against VCU in this tournament will continue and they will once again be sent home by the Rams. That will lead to the Rams knocking off Drexel in the championship, giving coach Shaka Smart his first CAA title. I believe the Rams are the best team in the CAA and as mentioned above that is why they will win, not because the tournament is in Richmond.