CAA Tournament pairings breakdown

Friday, March 4

No. 8 UNCW (7-11) vs. No. 9 Georgia State (6-12), noon
The 2010-2011 season has resulted in familiar fashion for both of these middling teams that have found themselves near the bottom of the conference at the end of yet another regular season. The Panthers have landed in the same No. 9 seed that they found themselves in heading into the CAA Tournament last year while the Seahawks have jumped ahead two spots from last year’s standings.

The two teams have split the season series with each team winning on its respective home court. With both games between these two squads this season having been decided by a small margin of five points or less, this one should be a shootout on the neutral court of the Richmond Coliseum.

No. 5 Drexel (11-7) vs. No. 12 Towson (0-18), 2:30 p.m.
Although the seeds of these two teams may seem like they are a mile away, do not let the numbers fool you. Despite the fact the Dragons have taken both meetings between these two teams this year, the Tigers have kept it close with the margin of victory averaging only three points over the course of both matches.

In order for Towson to pull off the upset Friday afternoon, they have to go after the boards. Drexel enters the CAA Tournament as ninth in the nation in rebounding (40.4 rpg) while the Tigers come in one spot from the bottom of the conference in rebounding, averaging just 31.3 rebounds per game. Towson will look for its first win over a conference opponent since nearly a year ago when the Tigers knocked off UNCW in the first round of the CAA Tournament.

No. 7 Delaware (8-10) vs. No. 10 Northeastern (6-12), 6 p.m.
Delaware enters the tournament on a skid, having lost seven of their last nine games, including five straight from Jan. 29 to Feb. 12. Their final regular season contest was a 79-60 thrashing, courtesy of Hofstra and player of the year candidate Charles Jenkins. Northeastern had a rough season, finishing near the bottom of the CAA after advancing all the way to the semifinals in last year’s conference tournament. However, they have been playing better as of late, beating UNC-Ashville and UNC-Wilmington, and very nearly escaped with a win last Thursday at George Mason. Delaware won both match-ups with Northeastern this season, the most recent one a 72-66 victory in Boston, and they will look to make it a clean sweep on Friday.

No. 6 James Madison (10-8) vs. No. 11 William & Mary (4-14), 8:30 p.m.
Since losing to VCU on Feb. 5, JMU has been on a tear, winning four of their final six regular season games with the only losses coming to NCAA Tournament shoe-ins George Mason and ODU. The Dukes are one of five CAA teams with 20 wins on the season and are a lot more dangerous than a six seed may indicate. Denzel Bowles, at 18.2 PPG and 9.0 RPG is one of the most dominant big men in the conference.

William & Mary will have to pull a rabbit out of the hat, having lost both meetings against JMU this season. Quinn McDowell, at 15.2 PPG, is the Tribe’s leading scorer and will have to play big if they are to pull off the upset. Marcus Kitts, as the team’s best big man and best defensive player at 1.9 BPG, will also have to find a way to slow down Bowles.

Saturday, March 5

No. 4 VCU (12-6) vs. Towson/Drexel, 2:30 p.m.
Fourth-seeded VCU, after an explosive start to the season, has imploded down the stretch. They opened the conference season at 12-2 before losing their last four to ODU, George Mason, Drexel and JMU. The Rams are second in the CAA at 71.8 PPG, but their defense has let them down in crucial moments. They have also struggled against the longer, more physical teams when it comes to rebounding, where they are ninth in the conference.

With four players averaging double figures, VCU has a balanced offensive attack unlike any other in the conference. They shoot more 3-pointers than any team and run a fast-break paired with a full-court press almost constantly. The recent emergence of 7-foot freshman DJ Haley may provide some much needed help for Jamie Skeen down low as the Rams look to solve their defensive and rebounding woes.

If the Rams are able to regain the swagger they had for the vast majority of the season, they have a strong chance of making the splash in the tournament. With four seniors in the rotation meshed with plenty of young talent, VCU has the tools and the experience to make a run. But if they play like the team they have become over the last two weeks, an early exit should not be a surprise.

No. 1 George Mason (16-2) vs. UNCW/Georgia St., noon
George Mason has not lost a game since they were edged out by ODU back on Jan. 8. Jim Larranaga’s squad has won its last 15 contests and has been projected by ESPN and The Washington Post as a seven seed for the NCAA Tournament. They are number 25 in the RPI rankings and are one of the hottest teams in the country. The Patriots were the best offensive team in the CAA this season at 73.9 PPG, as well as the best defensive unit, allowing just 61.5 per game.

Cam Long and Ryan Pearson are a dynamic one-two punch for George Mason. Long, a senior guard, is an all-conference lock at 15.1 PPG. But the scoring doesn’t say it all; Long also contributes 4.8 rebounds, 3 assists and 1.5 steals. He is the whole package and the team’s emotional leader. Pearson is also an elite scorer at 14.7 PPG; he shoots nearly 53 percent in field goals and leads the team in rebounding.

Given the way they tore through opponents this season en route to a 25-5 overall record, look for more of the same from George Mason in the postseason. It is widely known that Jim Larranaga has already taken one team to the Final Four, proving that he can keep a team focused when it is “one and done” season. Although they are a lock for the Big Dance, George Mason still has a lot to play for in the CAA Tournament. The opportunity to improve their seeding, along with the thought of another conference championship, will be enough to keep the Patriots hungry.

No. 2 Old Dominion vs. Delaware/Northeastern, 6 p.m.
The Old Dominion Monarchs have gained wins and notoriety mainly through one crucial aspect: rebounding. The Monarchs currently lead the CAA in rebounding (40.6 rpg) – good for sixth in the nation – and have terrorized teams on the glass all season. After ending the regular season slate on a six-game winning streak, ODU looks to capture its second-straight CAA Tournament title this weekend, which would fill the shoes of a 2009-2010 team that rolled past William & Mary last year in the finals.

The Monarchs are everything but a sure bet for an at-large bid heading into the CAA Tournament, but a trip to the finals should cement ODU’s second-ever bid as an at-large in the NCAA Tournament. Standing in their way will be the winner of the Delaware-Northeastern match, which takes place in the first round on Friday night. The Monarchs went 2-1 against these teams in the regular season with the sole loss coming at Delaware on Dec. 4. Led by seniors Frank Hassell and Ben Finney, ODU will look to carry its momentum from the regular season and make a run in the CAA Tournament.

No. 3 Hofstra vs. James Madison/William & Mary, 8:30 p.m.
In college basketball it’s not very often that a team houses three different head coaches over the course of three seasons.

Following a heartbreaking double-overtime loss to Northeastern in the quarterfinals of the CAA Tournament last year, senior leader Charles Jenkins was left wondering during the off-season who his head coach would be for the upcoming season. Fortunately for Jenkins and the Pride, they found the perfect fit in first-year head coach Mo Cassara who has led Hofstra to its best season in recent memory.

The Pride enter the CAA Tournament on a two-game winning streak and will face the winner of James Madison and William & Mary Saturday night. Throughout the season, Hofstra has gone 3-0 against the two possible opponents and shows no signs of slowing. They will ride on the shoulders of the NBA prospect Jenkins who has recorded 30 straight double-digit scoring games.

After finishing the regular season 3-7 against top-100 RPI teams, the Pride’s chances of an at-large have all but diminished, meaning Hofstra will have to win the CAA Championship in order to clinch a NCAA Tournament bid.

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