Friday, March 7, 2008

CAA Tournament Preview

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The Colonial Athletic Association always has one of my favorite conference tournaments to watch and, in general, it is one of my favorite conferences. There are always plenty of contenders for the league title, and this year was no different. However, Virginia Commonwealth had a relatively easy time winning the regular-season title, as the Rams went 15-3, finishing three games ahead of George Mason and UNC-Wilmington. To demonstrate the balance of the league, just look at the standings: five teams finished above .500, two teams finished .500, and five teams finished below .500. If you know anything about the CAA, expect a great conference tournament.

Favorite: VCU was everyone’s favorite team in the NCAA Tournament last year, as the Rams knocked off Duke in the first-round and the took Pittsburgh to overtime in Round Two before falling. They could be better this year. Two of their three losses in CAA play were by one point and they have won 20 of their last 23 games. Eric Maynor is one of the best point guards in the country, while Jamal Shuler is a big-time scorer on the wing. The Rams play outstanding defense, and they are deep and tough to match-up with. Look out for them in the Big Dance again.

Contenders: George Mason returned all five starters from last season and seemed like the main contender to VCU’s supremacy. That was only solidified when the Patriots beat the Rams by 12 in late January. However, they lost four of their last seven to drop out of the title race. They have plenty of experience, and the best big man in the conference in Will Thomas. Folarin Campbell can do-it-all, and John Vaughan is a very good scorer. UNC-Wilmington has won 10 of its last 14 games, and will be a threat in the conference tournament. Four players averaged at least 12.8 points per game, including T.J. Carter, one of the best guards in the league, and double-double lock Vladimir Kuljanin. Todd Hendley is a very good inside-outside option. The key could be guard Daniel Fountain, who was injured in their loss to ODU, and according to a source close to the program, re-injured his ankle yesterday in practice. Speaking of Old Dominion, the Monarchs had won six in a row before falling in the season finale, including wins at VCU and over George Mason. Gerald Lee is a very good forward, while Brian Henderson and Brandon Johnson lead a deep perimeter.

Sleeper: Sure, there is a slight bias in this pick, but a team to watch is Delaware. The Blue Hens have already defeated George Mason, UNC-Wilmington and Old Dominion, and have the experience and talent to make a run. Herb Courtney and Marc Egerson form one of the best forward tandems in the league, while Brian Johnson is a very solid point guard who takes care of the ball. Alphonso Dawson has a good mid-range game.

Prediction: Although VCU won the league by three games, the Rams are by no means a lock to win the conference tournament. George Mason still has holdovers from its Final Four team, UNCW has the most weapons in the league, and there are several other solid teams that can pull off upsets. Still, with the tourney in Richmond and with the way VCU is playing, it’s hard to bet against Maynor, Anthony Grant and the Rams. Like Davidson, many people are wondering if VCU will get an at-large bid should they lose in the conference tourney. And like the Wildcats, the committee won’t have to worry about it. The Rams get the auto-bid.

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