What, Who, When
The Colonial Athletic Association Tournament will take place in Richmond from March 2-5.
This is your standard 12-team bracket, with no fancy double-byes or re-seeding. The top four seeds (Drexel, VCU, George Mason and Old Dominion) get byes to the quarterfinals, and the first round matchups will determine their respective opponents.
Friday: No. 8 James Madison vs. No. 9 UNC-Wilmington, No. 5 Delaware vs. No. 12 Towson, No. 7 Northeastern vs. No. 10 William & Mary, No. 6 Georgia State vs. No. 11 Hofstra
Saturday: No. 1 Drexel vs. JMU/UNCW, No. 4 Old Dominion vs. Delaware/Towson, No. 2 VCU vs. Northeastern/W&M, No. 3 George Mason vs. GSU/Hofstra.
Who The Numbers Like
Drexel. As we see in most of these previews, the CAA is pretty top-heavy, with two Top 50 teams (according to Ken Pomeroy's ratings), two more Top 100 teams, four teams ranked between 100th and 200th, and four dead-weight teams. No. 47 Drexel and No. 48 VCU are almost dead even, but the slightest of edges will go to the conference champion Dragons, who lost the first two conference games (and to Delaware and Georgia State, no less), then ripped off 17 consecutive wins to finish the season. Drexel is balanced, ranking 58th in both offensive and defensive efficiency -- they shoot three-pointers very well, they consistently leverage you into poor shots of your own, and they clean up the defensive glass.
Who The Eyeballs Like
VCU. The eyeballs gravitate toward the familiar, right? If Drexel and VCU are nearly equal (Drexel beat VCU at home by six on January 8), then one would tend to favor the team they recognize, and with Shaka Smart on the bench and players like Bradford Burgess and Juvonte Reddic still making a strong impact, you should find plenty you remember about last year's surprise Final Four team. VCU forces turnovers like nobody in the country, and while they can become stagnant on offense, they will have a very good chance to take the automatic bid, especially considering they would be playing (presumably Drexel) after two games in two days, when the Dragons might be experiencing a bit of fatigue.
Old Dominion. The Monarchs are not as good as they were last year, when they went 27-6, knocked off VCU to win the CAA Tournament and barely fell to eventual national runner up Butler in the Round of 64. However, they've still got a really strong identity -- attack the offensive glass relentlessly and play strong pressure defense -- and they've shown they can hang with heavyweights. They fell to Missouri by just seven points at home in December, dropped to Kentucky by just 10, and in the regular season finale, they lost to Drexel by just one. Their grind-it-out style could work well in a tournament setting (in theory, while they are a terrible shooting team, after a couple of games, all teams begin to lose the legs on their jumpers), and they could give Drexel all it can stand in the semifinals (if they get past Delaware or Towson first -- they beat Delaware by just two points in January).
Best Possible Title Game
Drexel vs. VCU. Predictable, I know. If we get chalk to the semifinals, however (Drexel-ODU, VCU-GMU), we cannot really lose. The CAA is obviously not as deep as major conferences, but it consistently produces high-end teams, as evidenced by the fact that the conference has produced as many different Final Four teams in the last six years (George Mason in 2006 and VCU in 2011) as any conference not named the Big East or SEC. Georgia State and Delaware are both interesting teams, but they are still a step below Drexel, VCU and ODU in particular.
Who Might/Will Get In Anyway
Drexel. Bruiser Flint's Dragons are hot (23-1 since December 3), and they claimed the title of a very respectable conference. They are physical and fun, but their main problem is the lack of marquee wins. They missed opportunities for decent wins against Virginia and Saint Joseph's in non-conference play, meaning their top five wins (according to Pomeroy's rankings) are VCU, Cleveland State (BracketBusters), Old Dominion, Georgia State and Princeton. It would not be surprising to see the NCAA committee placing Drexel in the field out of respect to the CAA, but it would probably behoove them to lose a tight final to VCU if they are to attempt the at-large route.
VCU. The Rams are also smoking hot, having won 14 of their last 15 (their only loss: a one-pointer at George Mason). They took a while to get going, which was to be expected after they basically handed the offense over to freshman Treveon Graham, and their performance before mid-January (losses to Georgia Tech, Georgia State) was definitely not tourney-worthy. But they have rounded into shape, and at the very least, their 23-point non-conference win over South Florida is looking pretty good.
Players To Watch
1. Ryan Pearson, George Mason. The CAA's Player of the Year, the 6'6 senior enters the postseason averaging 17.8 points and 8.5 rebounds. Fifth on George Mason's career scoring list, the left-handed Pearson has led the Patriots in points in 22 games and had a career-high 35 against College of Charleston. He averaged 24 points and 10 rebounds in two meetings with arch-rival Virginia Commonwealth.
2. Frantz Massenat, Drexel. After an up-and-down freshman season in which his play was widely criticized by head coach Bruiser Flint, Massenat has emerged as the biggest reason for Drexel's current 17-game winning streak. He leads the Dragons in scoring (13.6 ppg), minutes played (1,063), assists (4.4 pg) and an assortment of other categories.
3. Kent Bazemore, Old Dominion. The CAA's preseason Player of the Year, Bazemore averaged 15.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and three assists, overcoming an offseason foot injury that slowed him down early in the season. He finished the regular season second in the conference and 24th in the nation with 67 steals, which is part of the reason he was named the league's Defensive Player of the Year.
4. Bradford Burgess, VCU. Burgess leads the Rams in scoring with 13.5 points per game and was the team's second-leading rebounder at 5.2 rpg. He has started all 141 collegiate games he has played in, and is one of only three VCU players with more than 1,600 points and 700 rebounds for his career.
5. Keith Rendelman, UNC Wilmington. Perhaps the best pure-post player in the conference, Rendleman led UNCW and was fifth in the CAA in scoring at 15.6 points per game, and was second in the conference and 12th in the nation in rebounding (10.5 rpg). He has recorded 16 double-doubles this season, which is tied for the sixth-best total in the nation.