This is one of the most wide open Colonial Athletic Association tournaments that I can remember. In spite of being the top seed, I think College of Charleston has more dangerous opponents to get through than second seeded Northeastern. The only team in the field that I would be shocked to see win on Tursday night would be UNCW. I can easily find very legitimate reasons for every other team to get the automatic bid. I am rooting for William and Mary. Ironically, should they make the final, that game will be the easiest of the three games that the Tribe would need to win.
Two of the three CAA teams with coaches finishing up their second year meet in the play-in round. If the third meeting between Drexel and James Madison is anything like the first two, the crows, staff and both fans in North Charleston Arena are in for a treat. In their first clash, there were 17 ties and 20 lead changes. Neither team ever led by more than five points. I doubt I have ever written those words before, a game that close is few and far between. Late in that one Sammy Mojica scored after a nice dish from Troy Harper. The basket was waived off as Harper was called for a charge. JMU’s super frosh, Matt Lewis then did what he had done the entire second half of the ballgame and drove to the hoop. He scored what was the eventual game winner in a riveting 75-73 JMU win.
Round two played out in similar fashion. Drexel needed to stop Matt Lewis from getting to the hoop. Once again, they did not. Lewis played 39 minutes. He had 26 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals. He only turned it over once. If that is not enough, in the last 90 seconds of the game he twice drove for layups to tie the game at 72 and again at 74. He is a freshman! JMU was called for a foul with six seconds to go. Drexel made both resulting shots. It looked like JMU had a clean look to get it to overtime but the terrific and underappreciated, Austin Williams properly came from the back side to help. It was a hard earned “walk off block”. Drexel held on 76-74. In the last 8 minutes and 12 seconds, you guessed it, neither team led by more than five.
Both teams have second year coaches. Both teams got better as the year went on. Both teams enter this game playing their best ball. Drexel must find a way to stop Matt Lewis. He has toyed with whoever Drexel has put on him. I think Spiker should play a little box and one, or junk it up in some other way, to make things a bit more difficult for Lewis, but I don’t see it happening. I am sure Lewis will once again have a big game. JMU played a make up game on Monday, on the road versus a desperate Elon bunch. JMU’s 90-84 win in that one, is the most impressive result on either teams resume. For that reason, I give them the edge. The pick:
JMU 69 Drexel 66
The third Colonial team with a second year coach also plays today. Delaware endured an insane number of injuries. Ingelsby did a terrific job, changing things up and getting everything out of the limited number of bodies he had to work with. Game one was at Elon. Delaware was blessed with a seven man rotation at the time, five of whom played more than thirty minutes. Heavily favored Elon ran out to a 17 point lead. However, in spite of Elon hitting 13-25 from deep, Delaware cut that 17 pt lead to 5 with three thirty to play. The tanks eventually ran dry. Elon prevailed 89-76. Game 2 was the polar opposite. With Ryan Daly back, Delaware had a third scorer. They also caught Elon without Brian Dawkins. His absence helped Delaware win the rebounding edge 46-31. They ran out to a big lead and coasted home 72-57.
Elon is the odd team out today. They had all five starters returning this season. They have a very successful coach, now in his ninth year. They have a new arena nearly completed. They have moved up the ranks of the mid major conferences. This was supposed to be Elon’s year. It didn’t happen. From the opening blow out loss at Duke to the final loss on Senior night to JMU, Elon has been terrible the entire year. However, conference tournaments are a new lease on life. Underachievers like Elon, often find the gear they lacked during the regular season.
Sure Delaware had the epic meltdown in Philly, but they also finished the conference season at their healthiest. They come to Charleston playing their best ball of the year. Even with Dawkins back, Elon could not beat JMU in a game they were super focused and had a lot on the line. If Elon can not beat JMU at home, how can they possibly go to a neutral court and beat Delaware, a team that just manhandled them a couple of weeks ago? As I wrote, conference tournaments are a new lease on life. I expect Elon to play more like the upper level team they were projected to be. They should play like the team that went into Terra Haute and buried Indiana State. As long as players are not poached by power schools, the Colonial is going to be one strong conference next year. Yep, money is paid to get kids to transfer. I hate the NCAA. Until then:
Elon 78 Delaware 74