Friday, March 5, 2010

CAA Tournament Preview

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The Colonial Athletic Association tournament is always one of the most exciting and entertaining events during Championship Week. The teams are fun to watch and the competition is second to none. The regular season was nothing short of fantastic, either. Seven teams finished with double-digit league wins, with Old Dominion edging out Northeastern by one game, finishing 15-3 in CAA play. William & Mary and George Mason finished tied for third, with VCU, Drexel and Hofstra behind them. This should be a great conference tournament.

Favorite: Although the league tournament is completely wide-open, Old Dominion comes in as the favorite. The Monarchs won the regular season and had 12 double-digit wins in CAA play. Old Dominion is an excellent defensive team, both inside and outside the arc, and its offense is predicated on crashing the offensive glass and hitting its twos. Big man Gerald Lee is the team’s only double-figure scorer, but Frank Hassell and Ben Finney are two more solid options. ODU is very balanced on offense.

Contenders: Northeastern jumped out to a 12-2 start in conference play, but proceeded to lose three of its final five overall to slip to second. The Huskies are still a primary threat to Old Dominion, though. They are a very solid defensive team that forces turnovers and guards the two. Offensively, Northeastern is carried by the tandem of Matt Janning and Chaisson Allen. Both players can score in a variety of ways and create for teammates. William & Mary got off to great start in non-conference play, beating Ricmond, Wake Forest and Maryland. However, the Tribe had a miserable stretch in late January, losing four of five to drop out of the league race. They have the pieces to mamke a run, though. They take a ton of three-pointers, and guards David Schneider and Quinn McDowell are two players who can carry them. With the tournament played in Richmond, VCU has to be considered a contender for the automatic bid. Throw in the fact that the Rams have won 11 of their last 15 games and the experience factor, and don’t discount VCU. Their offense is balanced, and the Rams take care of the ball and crash the offensive glass. Defensively, they guard the three, rack up steals and don’t foul. Larry Sanders is one of the best big men at the mid-major level, and guard Joey Rodriguez has asserted himself more this season.

Sleeper: After starting the CAA campaign 2-7, Hofstra has been rolling. The Pride have won nine of their last 10, including a nine-point road win at Northeastern in the next-to-last game of the season. Point guard Charles Jenkins is one of the best guards in the country; he can flat-out score and is capable of putting the Pride on his back. Luckily, Hofstra’s defense has been playing great down the stretch as well.

Prediction: This is going to be one of the better conference tournaments in the country. There are more than a handful of teams capable of winning the tournament, as Old Dominion won the regular season, Northeastern has good weapons, William & Mary can get hot from three, VCU is experienced and playing in its home city and Hofstra, Drexel and George Mason are also in the mix. I’m going with an upset for the champion. VCU is playing very solid basketball lately, and the Rams have players who have been in this situation before. If Larry Sanders can shut down Gerald Lee in the semifinals, the Rams have the pieces to win the automatic bid. Eric Maynor isn’t around anymore, but VCU is heading back to the Big Dance.

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