CAA Tournament Preview

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February 27, 2007

6:58 PM

The 2006-2007 CAA regular season saw the formation of three tiers within the conference: four at the top, four in the middle and four at the bottom. However, the stratification of the league does not clear a path for the top teams. Middle and bottom tier teams alike harbor dreams of dashing the NCAA tournament hopes of the league’s top members. With an automatic bid to the Big Dance awaiting the tournament champion, the 22nd CAA Tournament promises to be one of the most entertaining.

p. **The Top Four**

p. The conference’s four top teams — Virginia Commonwealth University, Old Dominion University, Hofstra University and Drexel University — distanced themselves from the rest of the league early on, proving their mettle with strong performances against non-conference opponents. Each of these four teams entertained at-large bid hopes during the season; however, it now appears that ODU and Drexel have the inside track over VCU and Hofstra due to their non-conference strengths of schedule.

p. 1. Virginia Commonwealth University (24-6 overall, 16-2 CAA)
A statistical juggernaut offensively — they lead the conference in scoring offense, scoring margin and field goal percentage — the Rams also force a league-high 16.2 turnovers a game. With three players averaging double figures in points, VCU’s deep backcourt, spearheaded by seniors B.A. Walker and Jesse Pellot-Rosa and sophomore Eric Maynor, provides much of the offense. The Rams’ full-court pressure defense also makes them a dangerous team, especially when playing in front of a home crowd in Richmond.

p. 2. Old Dominion University (23-7, 15-3)
The conference’s hottest team rides an 11-game winning streak into the tournament. A starting lineup filled with upperclassmen gives the Monarchs valuable tournament experience; moreover, the starters blend well together and provide a bevy of offensive options, both on the perimeter and in the paint.

p. 3. Hofstra University (22-8, 14-4)
Similar to VCU’s guard-oriented scheme, Hofstra relies heavily on its backcourt for its offensive production. Senior Loren Stokes and junior Antoine Agudio rank second and third respectively in the CAA for scoring average at 20.8 and 20.5 a piece.

p. 4. Drexel University (22-7, 13-5)
The most offensively challenged of the top teams, Drexel uses its defense to stay in games. The Dragons lead the league in field goal percentage defense, steals and blocks. They do have offensive weapons in junior center Frank Elegar who averages 15.5 points per game, and senior guard Dominick Mejia, who contributes 11.9 points a contest.

p. **The Middle Four**

p. The CAA’s middle four teams share very similar characteristics. Each experienced its share of stirring victories and disappointing losses en route to their middle-of-the-road finishes. These four teams, however, have the potential to upset any of the top four teams and make a run to the semifinals or beyond.

p. 5. Northeastern University (12-18, 9-9)
After starting CAA play 0-3, the Huskies turned things around just in time, winning four of their last five to capture the fifth seed. The emergence of freshman Matt Janning helped Northeastern climb in the standings. However, the Huskies rank 11th in both scoring offense and rebounding margin (they were out-rebounded in seven of their nine losses), both of which are concerns heading into the weekend.

p. 6. George Mason University (15-14, 9-9)
Last year’s media darling and NCAA Final Four participant is a different team this year. Junior returnees Will Thomas and Folarin Campbell provide the Patriots with a solid one-two punch; nevertheless, George Mason’s offense has struggled while their defense, which leads the league in scoring defense, has kept them in games.

p. 7. Towson University (14-16, 8-10)
Senior Gary Neal leads the league, averaging 25.6 points a game, but the Tigers only have one other significant scoring option in senior Dennard Abraham. However, Neal is more than capable of leading the Tigers to an upset or two.

p. 8. William and Mary (15-14, 8-10)
Although the Tribe has dropped three straight games, they have proven they can play with the CAA’s top teams, as evidenced by wins over Drexel and George Mason and close losses to Old Dominion and Hofstra.

p. “I think the tournament is wide open,” Head Coach Tony Shaver said following the Tribe’s 57-62 loss to ODU. “I think we’ll walk into Richmond with a lot of confidence.”

p. The CAA Tournament has traditionally been unkind to the Tribe, as the College has compiled a 3-21 record over the tournament’s 21-year history. However, the 2006-2007 edition of Tribe basketball has shown signs that a one-and-done trip in this year’s tournament is unlikely. The College captured eight regular season CAA victories and is in position to finish above .500 for the first time since the 1997-1998 campaign.

p. Senior Adam Payton has had a strong season, leading the team in points, rebounds, steals and free throw percentage. His aggressive penetration sparks the Tribe’s offense and his junior teammates, forward Laimis Kisielius and guard Nathan Mann, have followed his lead offensively.

p. For the College to be successful in the CAA tournament, they must rely on what has brought them to this point: strong defense and solid execution. When the Tribe plays high-intensity defense, it usually carries over to the offensive end. However, the College has had its share of cold shooting stretches, which limits their ability to stay within reach of its opponents, making rebounding and free throw shooting critical.

p. **The Bottom Four**

p. The bottom four have pulled off a few shockers throughout the season — namely JMU’s surprising 72-65 win over visiting ODU. Turnovers and weak defense have kept these teams from winning and will most likely prevent them from any tournament victories.

p. 9. Georgia State University (10-19, 5-13)
The Panthers gave VCU all it could handle this past Saturday, but they came up short as the experienced Rams overtook them in the game’s latter stages. Georgia State committed 17 turnovers, a reflection of their league-leading 15.8 turnovers a game.

p. 10. University of North Carolina–Wilmington (7-21, 4-14)
Last year’s conference champions struggled this year under first-year Head Coach Benny Moss. The Seahawks have capable post players, with juniors Vladimir Kuljanin and Todd Hendley looming in the paint, but losing five of six to end the season is no way to enter the tournament.

p. 11. James Madison University (7-22, 4-14)
Since the victory over ODU, the Dukes have gone 2-10 and, like their bottom-dwelling brethren, enter the tournament heading in the wrong direction.

p. 12. University of Delaware (5-25, 3-15)
Losers of six straight, Delaware figures to be one of the first teams out of Richmond; however, the Blue Hens did upset Hofstra 72-68 and defeat the College 77-62. That said, a low-scoring Delaware team will be hard pressed for a tournament victory.

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