By: Matthew Terry
On March 4, the Colonial Athletic Association’s tournament will tip off from the Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore, MD. To be blunt, the last time the CAA was relevant was back in 2006 when George Mason (who isn’t even in the conference anymore) made their miracle tournament run. Since that legendary 2006 run, which was 10 years ago now (damn I feel old), the conference has gone under their fair share of realignment, and now all the fun teams (George Mason, VCU, Old Dominion) are gone. But don’t worry, they still have Hofstra and UNC Wilmington to make this tournament fun! The CAA now has 10 teams, and this preview will be split into 3 sections. The favorites, the contenders, and the pretenders.
The two main favorites in the CAA tournament are the two I previously mentioned, Hofstra and UNC Wilmington. These teams finished tied atop the CAA in the regular season, both finishing 14-4 in conference and they split the season series 1-1, so Hofstra is the #1 seed in the tournament because they swept Northeastern while UNCW split the season with them. Hofstra finished 22-8 on the season, with their signature win coming vs Florida State. Hofstra’s entering the tourney on a 6 game winning streak, including wins over UNCW, Towson and William & Mary, and has one of the top scorers in the conference in Juan’ya Green (17.3 PPG). UNCW went 22-7 overall, the best record in the conference. UNCW features the top scoring offense in the league at 79.9 PPG, led by junior guard Chris Flemmings (15.9 PPG). Both of these teams will start their tournament on Saturday, March 5, against the winners of the first round games.
Among the other 8 teams, the three that stand out as the top ones to challenge UNCW and Hofstra for the CAA Title are Towson, James Madison and William & Mary. All three of these teams went 11-7, and are seeded as listed. Towson features an offense that spreads the ball around. Four Tigers average double digits in scoring, including junior forward William Adala Moto with 13.7 PPG, but the big key for this Towson team is they’re the second-best rebounding team in the league, averaging 39.5 rebounds per game. James Madison enters the tournament off a win over William & Mary in the season closer, and also swept Hofstra in a pair of OT games in the regular season. They face William & Mary in the second round of the tournament, led offensively by Omar Prewitt, the CAA’s top scorer with 18.0 PPG, and defensively by Terry Tarpey, the CAA’s leader in steals (he’s also 2nd in blocks). JMU will face William & Mary on Saturday, and Towson will face Northeastern in the second round on Saturday as well.
Lastly, a quick roundup of the rest of the conference. Northeastern is the last team with a first round bye, and they face a tough test in #3 Towson. Northeastern also has the only AP Top 25 win in the conference, a 78-77 win over currently #7 ranked Miami (ranked #15 at the time). The first First round match up will feature No. 8 seed Elon vs No. 9 Drexel. Drexel is the worst offensive team in this conference, averaging 63.2 ppg and shooting .392 on the season (both last in the CAA). Elon, on the other hand, is 4th among PPG in the conference, but they’re the worst free-throw shooting team (.662 FT percentage), and they’re tied with Delaware for having the worst defense (76.0 points against per game). The other match-up features the aforementioned Delaware Blue Hens, the No. 10 seed with a 2-16 conference record, facing the No. 7 College of Charleston. Charleston is one of the two CAA teams to lose to the Blue Hens this season, Delaware defeating them at home 62-59 back on February 18th.
The CAA will almost certainly be a one-bid league, unless the committee has a soft spot for either UNC-Wilmington or Hofstra, and both of them make the conference championship game. Thusly, this tournament will be an interesting one to watch because most likely every team will be fighting for their season this weekend in Baltimore.