Requiem for the Colonial: CAA doing its best after being ravaged by realignment

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

It was the best mid-major conference in college basketball just three short years ago. Now, the Colonial Athletic Association is making due thanks to three intriguing teams at the top of the league standings.

Between 2005 and 2011, the Colonial Athletic Association sent more programs to the Final Four (2) than either the Pac-12 (1) or the Big 12 (1). Sadly, this is a fact with an attached shock value that seems destined to rise over the coming decades.

It's no secret that basketball is, at best, a secondary concern during periods when the conference realignment wheels are turning. While the Big East is the sexiest example of this, the metamorphosis of the Colonial might be an even more depressing illustration.

The toast of mid-major basketball just three years ago, no league has been torn apart as savagely as the CAA, which was forced to sit and watch itself be disassembled in the events succeeding Virginia Commonwealth's miraculous run to the national semifinals. It went from a conference seemingly destined to join that middle echelon of leagues like Conference USA and the Atlantic 10, to one struggling to find both a place and an identity.

Without getting into the nasty ins and outs of why, when and how it all went down, here's the quick and easy version of what the latest helping of conference realignment did to CAA basketball:

Departures

Georgia State (Sun Belt)
VCU (Atlantic 10)
Old Dominion (Conference USA)
George Mason (Atlantic 10)

Arrivals

Charleston (Southern)
Elon (Southern)

In the turning of a page, the CAA lost both of its anchor programs (VCU and Old Dominion), both of its Final Four participants (VCU and George Mason) and a fourth program with a deep history that includes Lefty Driesell and three straight conference titles to start the last decade (Georgia State). It has replaced that power quartet with a College of Charleston program that has won one NCAA Tournament game, and Elon, which has only been a member of Division I since 1999 (the Phoenix won't become members of the CAA until next season.)

A league with conference tournament quarterfinals ripe with NCAA Tournament at-large bid implications became a league with just seven teams eligible for postseason play. This season, more than half of the conference has a losing record, and four of the league's nine teams -- Hofstra, Northeastern, James Madison and UNC-Wilmington -- had six wins or fewer after 10 weeks of play.

While the conference may never again have the level of depth it possessed four or five years ago, it's attempting to make up for that this season with a bevy of intriguing storylines at the top of the league standings.

In first place heading into the final two games of the season is Delaware, which is 12-2 in the league despite playing without a pair of suspended starters, including star Jarvis Threatt, for the bulk of the conference season. The Blue Hens are exciting -- laying claim to three players who average 17.9 points per game or more -- and will be one of the highest-scoring teams in the NCAA Tournament if they make the big dance for the first time since 1999.

The only other team above .500 in CAA play is third-place William & Mary.

Then there's Towson, which has an identical 20-9 overall record and sits just one game behind Delaware at 11-3 in-conference. If the Tigers, who were ineligible for postseason play last year because of sub-par APR scores, make the NCAA Tournament just two seasons after posting a 1-31 mark and setting the Division I record for consecutive losses, it will be one of the better stories of March.

The only other team above .500 in CAA play is third-place William & Mary. The Tribe is one of the infamous five original Division I teams that have never made the NCAA Tournament -- Northwestern, Citadel, Army and St. Francis (NY) are the others. It has won five of seven games in February and has already locked up the No. 3 seed in next week's league tournament.

The CAA is likely never going to be what it was, and that's a shame, but it is making due with what it has, and what it has will likely generate some national attention in the coming weeks.

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