2012 CAA Tournament: the teams

This weekend, 12 very different teams will face off in the Richmond Coliseum. While all 12 teams are chasing the Colonial Athletic Association title and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament that comes with it, each team has a different story.

In 2011 the Colonial Athletic Association sent three teams to the NCAA tournament and Virginia Commonwealth University advanced to the Final Four. The CAA in 2012 has been less successful, but despite a lower conference RPI and fewer marquee wins, Drexel and VCU are fighting hard to make the CAA a multi bid conference again. For VCU, their performance in the 2012 CAA tourney will undoubtedly make a huge difference come “Selection Sunday.” Independent of post-season aspirations, this weekend promises to be full of quality basketball.

The conference, more or less, divides into a few groups:

  • The elite: Drexel, VCU, George Mason, ODU
  • Talented sleeper teams: Delaware1, GSU
  • The consistently mediocre: Northeastern
  • The basement: JMU2, UNCW, William&Mary, Hofstra, Towson

#1 Drexel and #2 VCU are two of the best mid-major squads in the country and both pass the “eye test” according to many analysts. Since December 4th, they are a combined 44-4, and it is extremely likely that the two will meet in the tournament finals on Monday night.

George Mason, ODU, Delaware, and GSU round out the top half of the Colonial. While the top six teams are all quality, every conference should strive for parity, and the bottom of the CAA really dropped the ball this season. Unfortunately for the conference, most of the “best wins” are within the conference which severely limits the opportunity for at-large bids.

The top six teams in the CAA are a perfect 44-0 against bottom five teams in the conference. While VCU, Drexel, and even George Mason are in the national spotlight for all of the right reasons, NCAA bottom dweller Towson is crushing the conference’s RPI, BPI, KenPom, and more or less every metric that matters come “Selection Sunday.”

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#1 Drexel Dragons (25-5, 16-2)

Preseason: #1

The Team: Drexel has won 17 games in a row and 24 of their last 25. While they failed to take care of their preseason schedule, Drexel is on a roll. Their RPI is lower than desired, but they are turning heads around the country. The Dragons combine last year’s stingy defense with a much more efficient offense. After years of being so close, maybe Bruiser Flint’s crew actually has what it takes to push through to the NCAA Tournament.

The Star: Drexel had two preseason all-CAA players in Samme Givens and Chris Fouch. While both are very talented, the emergence of Frantz Massenat has transformed this team. Last season, Massenat shot 25.7% from 3-point range. By shooting 46.6% from range this season, he has transformed Drexel from a defensive force to a well rounded winning machine.

  • Best Win: VCU (RPI #64)
  • Worst Loss: Norfolk State (RPI #142)

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#2 VCU Rams (25-6, 15-3)

Preseason: #3

The Team: Despite losing four of their five best players, Coach Shaka Smart’s Rams used their “HAVOC” defense to piece together 15 conference wins and finished an impressive second in the CAA. The Rams lead the nation in steals and have four players in the top 200 nationally in stealing percentage. Freshman Briante Weber leads the nation in steals per 40 minutes. While the Ram’s offense is not as high octane as last year, they have grown by leaps and bounds over the last several games of the season. If Bradford Burgess, Rob Brandenberg, Juvonte Reddic, and Troy Daniels all get going the Rams will be a force to be reckoned with.

The Star: While VCU’s lone senior Bradford Burgess has been inconsistent, he has been playing his best basketball of the season. He finished the season with a career-high 31 points in VCU’s regular season finale victory over George Mason.

  • Best Win: South Florida (RPI #70)
  • Worst Loss: Georgia Tech (RPI #171)

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#3 George Mason Patriots (23-8, 14-4)

Preseason: #2

The Team: In a defense first conference, Mason is the exception and they make up for their mediocre defense with exceptional shooting: the Patriots lead the conference in two-point shooting percentage. While the forward play of Mike Morrison, Ryan Pearson, and Erik Copes is their strength, the Patriots are very turnover prone. They turn the ball over on 22.2% of possessions–a percentage that ranks 10th in the CAA. The Patriots have lost two straight games, but they are a veteran team in a young conference and they are very capable of making a run this weekend.

The Star: Statistically Ryan Pearson has a strong resume for player of the year. At 6’-6” he is a versatile senior leader that is averaging an impressive 17.8PPG and 8.5 RPG. While he is not extremely athletic, he is quick for his size, and he is an extremely crafty scorer.

  • Best Win: VCU (RPI #64)
  • Worst Loss: Florida International (RPI #236)

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#4 Old Dominion Monarchs (19-12, 13-5)

Preseason: #4

The Team: ODU leads the CAA in defensive efficiency. Kent Bazemore ranks 2nd in the CAA in steals, the Monarchs are extremely capable rebounders, and their defensive effective field goal percentage compensates for their inability to shoot the ball. Unfortunately their depth will be tested as Trian Iliadis tore his ACL a little more than a week ago. One of their only true outside threats, the absence or Trian Iliadis will undoubtedly place more of a burden on Kent Bazemore to score.

The Star: Kent Bazemore earned the preseason CAA Player of the Year Award, and while he likely won’t earn the post season recognition, Bazemore carried ODU. He finished the season averaging 15.3PPG, 5.8RPG and 2.16SPG. Like Bradford Burgess, he ended the season with a career high in scoring (37 Points).

  • Best Win: South Florida (RPI #42)
  • Worst Loss: Vermont (RPI #161)

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#5 Delaware Fightin Blue Hens (17-12, 12-6)

Preseason: #7

The Team: February has been the month for Delaware. Exiting January, the Fighting Blue Hens were 9-12, 5-6. Exiting February they are now 17-12, 12-6 and in the midst of an eight game winning streak.

The Star: Sophomore Devon Saddler and Senior Jamelle Haggins are two premier CAA players on a team that is just figuring out how to win. If Delaware makes a run in the CAA tournament, it will be on the backs of these two players. Jamelle Haggins is averaging 12.7PPG and 11.3 rebounds per game while Devon Saddler is averaging 18.7 points per game. They may very well be the best guard-forward combo in the CAA. The scary part is both halves of the duo will return next year.

  • Best Win: Drexel (RPI #69)
  • Worst Loss: Radford (RPI #327)

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#6 Georgia State Panthers (20-10, 11-7)

Preseason: #11

The Team: GSU wins with defense. They allow only 59.5 PPG which is good for 18th nationally. They rank 4th nationally in steal percentage, 7th nationally in block percentage, and 29th nationally in defensive effective field goal percentage. Bottom line, scoring on GSU requires a lot of skill and effort.

The Star: Coach Ron Hunter. GSU doesn’t have a new flashy on court performer, but they did add one of the most charismatic and transformational coaches in the CAA. First year Coach Hunter inherited five seniors that were 36-59 over their first three season and “taught them how to win.” Led by guard Jihad Ali, Hunter has led the Panthers to their first winning season in the CAA, their first win in the Siegel Center, and a #6 seed in the CAA tournament.

  • Best Win: VCU (RPI #64)
  • Worst Loss: Portland (RPI #221)

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#7 Northeastern Huskies (13-16, 9-9)

Preseason: #9

The Team: The Huskies are decent at stealing the ball, decent at hitting free-throws, and play respectable defense. Unfortunately all of the good they do is totally erased by their bad habit of turning the ball over on offense. Northeastern forks over the ball on 23.8% of possessions which makes scoring a lot more difficult.

The Star: Junior PG Jonathan Lee leads the Huskies in minutes, points, assists, and 3PFG%. Playing more than 35 minutes per game and shooting 40.7% from 3-point range, Lee has scored double digits in 26 of NU’s 29 games this season.

  • Best Win: George Mason (RPI #81)
  • Worst Loss: William & Mary (RPI #293)

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#8 James Madison Monarchs (12-19, 5-13)

Preseason: #5

The Team: JMU’s rotation has been reduced to almost nothing because of injury, and it is difficult to win games with only 7-8 players against defensive oriented teams like Drexel, VCU, and GSU. Senior Julius Wells missed senior night because of a heart infection, and injured (shoulder) senior Humpty Hitchens’s time on the court didn’t help the Dukes. The 3-point shot is the only glimmer of hope if this team has a chance at winning one more game this season.

The Star: Junior Transfer (Wyoming) A.J. Davis is the difference between 8th place and 11th place for JMU this season. He one of the few Dukes that has played all 31 games this season and his 16.2PPG and 1.7 steals per game both lead the team. He has the ability to drop 25-30 points, but he might not be enough to right the ship this weekend.

  • Best Win: Pennsylvania (RPI #98)
  • Worst Loss: William & Mary (RPI #293)

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#9 UNCW Seahawks (9-20, 5-13)

Preseason: #10

The Team: After starting 3-1 in the CAA, UNCW finished the season 2-12. As one of the youngest teams in Division I basketball, the Seahawks definitely hit the wall just before losing their last six games. Like many of the other teams in the bottom of the CAA, the Seahawks struggled with inconsistency. Just one week ago, UNCW took #2 VCU to the wire in a 63-59 loss–one game before being annihilated by #11 Hofstra 93-64.

The Star: Keith Rendleman is one of the best players in the CAA. He scored double figures in all but three games this season, and he is averaging an impressive 15.6PPG and 10.5RPG.

  • Best Win: Illinois State (RPI #125)
  • Worst Loss: Towson (RPI #305)

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#10 William & Mary Tribe (6-25, 4-14)

Preseason: #6

The Team: William & Mary certainly let the CAA’s conference RPI down. The Tribe went 2-12 out of conference, and they were one of the most disappointing teams in the CAA. It is difficult to establish what they do well consistently, but the Tribe can can occasionally score their way into competitiveness.

The Star: Quinn McDowell’s seasons never lived up to the preseason CAA first-team distinction that he earned. He digressed from his junior year in almost every single efficiency statistic. Most importantly, McDowell’s 3-point percentage dropped from 45.5% in his junior campaign to 35.1% during his senior campaign. That being said, McDowell is the Tribe’s most versatile player and he is undoubtedly a strong senior leader on a struggling team. Honorable mention: Freshman guard Marcus Thornton knows how to score. He is inconsistent, but if he shows up, he can transform the Tribe.

  • Best Win: Northeastern (RPI #184)
  • Worst Loss: Howard (RPI #294)

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#11 Hofstra Pride (10-21, 3-15)

Preseason: #8

The Team: Hofstra is the tale of two teams. One week The Pride is capping off a three game winning streak by beating a talented Iona squad, and a few weeks later they’ve lost six straight games. While The Pride is definitely capable of turning it on, their season is likely nearing a quick end on Friday.
The Star: Mike Moore is the second consecutive player from Hofstra to lead the CAA in scoring. While Moore doesn’t have NBA hopes, any player averaging 20 PPG in a defense oriented league like the CAA deserves serious respect.

  • Best Win: Iona (RPI #46)
  • Worst Loss: William & Mary (RPI #293)

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#12 Towson Tigers (1-30, 1-17)

Preseason: #12

The Team: The bad news is Towson had one of the worst seasons in NCAA history. The good news is that things can only get better. Towson is very good at rebounding the basketball on offense and blocking shots on defense. Unfortunately they turn the ball over 18.3 times per game and they shoot 36.8 % from the field.

The Star: Senior forward Robert Nwankwo is in the unfortunate position of being a talented post player on a team with no ball-handlers. He is not the best at creating his own shots but he ranks 23rd nationally in offensive rebounding percentage, and a lot of his points come off second chance opportunities. Nwankwo averages an impressive 12 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game.

  • Best Win: This is a no brainer as Towson’s only win this season came against UNCW on January 28th.
  • Worst Loss: While it was entirely expected, VCU’s victory over Towson on January 25th marked Towson’s NCAA record 41st consecutive loss.

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While many wait until the second week of March to start watching college basketball, the magic starts this weekend. Show up or tune in, and pay attention as the next George Mason or VCU might be in the making.

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  1. Delaware is in the midst of an eight game winning streak, and the Blue Hens might be capable of beating anyone in the CAA. 
  2. JMU’s lineup is struggling with injury. 
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Aaron Williams

Aaron Williams loves music, basketball (follow @rvaramnews!), family, learning, and barbecue sauce.

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