The Dragons will put the nation's second-longest winning streak on the line against the team that crashed the Final Four a season ago as VCU and Drexel battle for the 2012 CAA conference tournament championship.
Drexel (27-5, 16-2) vs. Virginia Commonwealth (27-6, 15-3)
Game Time: 7 p.m. EST
Location: Richmond Coliseum: Richmond, Va.
Previous Meetings: Drexel won 64-58 on Jan. 8.
Favorite: VCU by 2.5
How They Got Here:
Drexel - Beat UNC-Wilmington, 59-47 in the quarterfinal and Old Dominion, 68-51 in the semifinal.
VCU - beat Northeastern, 75-65 in the quarterfinal and George Mason, 74-64 in the semifinal.
Regardless of what takes place during the actual game, the storylines will only become more abundant after the final horn sounds in Monday night's Colonial Athletic Association tournament championship game.
After becoming perhaps the most unlikely national semifinalist in the history of college basketball a season ago, Virginia Commonwealth finds itself just one win away from an almost equally unlikely return to the field of 68. Head coach Shaka Smart returned just one player who saw more than 15 minutes of court time per game from the squad that earned a controversial at-large bid a season ago before winning five games to crash the Final Four. Yet, here the Rams are again in essentially the same position they were before falling to Old Dominion in the 2011 CAA title game: squarely on the bubble.
Despite owning the nation's second-longest winning streak (19 games) and the CAA's outright regular season title, top-seeded Drexel will also have an antsy Selection Sunday if they don't claim the conference's automatic bid. As if peace of mind weren't prize enough, the Dragons will be playing with the added incentive of having never won the Colonial tournament title before.
"The team that makes excuses will lose," Smart said. "And the team that battles up and shows a level of toughness mentally and physically more than the other will win. If you can't get motivated and fired up and get physically and mentally ready to play one more game for the CAA championship, then you don't belong here."
Drexel won the only regular-season meeting between the two teams this season way back in early January by a score of 64-58 at home. Against the Dragon defense, which is holding opponents to an average of just over 28 points per half, VCU shot a mere 36.2 percent from the floor and 7-of-24 behind the three-point line. They also clanked 11 of their 20 free-throw attempts.
"Last year when we played in the NCAA tournament, against all those high major teams, everyone kept saying, 'Purdue is the best defensive team in the country,' or 'Florida State is the best defensive team in the country,' " Smart said. "I thought Drexel was the toughest team to score on of any of team we played last year. And this year's team is even tougher and more physical."
Tremendous outside shooting fueled VCU's miraculous run a season ago, and the Rams are again getting hot from the outside at the right time. In its last three games, VCU is 31 of 73 on three-pointers. That's 42.5 percent and an average of just over 10 made treys per game.
The flip side of that coin is that Drexel limited opponents to under 30 percent shooting from beyond the arc. The Dragons play a suffocating man-to-man where every pass and shot is contested, and every player trusts his teammates enough not to needlessly help and leave his man wide open.
If VCU can bury a handful of outside shots early and establish a multiple possession lead, then it will force Drexel to play at a pace it's not comfortable with. If the Rams shoot like they did in the regular-season meeting, then the Dragons will be fully content to let sophomore floor general Frantz Massenat control the tempo and make it a halfcourt game for 40 minutes.
Prediction: Drexel 62, Virginia Commonwealth 59