Below is a quick journey into each CAA entrant as the conference tournament is about to kick off.
College of Charleston – With all five starters back and an excellent coach, College of Charleston was the obvious favorite to win the Colonial. They have talent and experience and a coach that knows what he is doing. After winning the regular season, they remain the favorite to get the automatic bid.
Northeastern – The Huskies are one of the most consistent programs on the East Coast. Bill Coen’s teams never beat themselves and rarely take a bad shot. Wins over Bucknell and Vermont foreshadowed a season where once again they were a threat to win the Association. I believe they have an easier path to the final than College of Charleston. Should they meet in the finale, Northeastern will be about a two point underdog. I am sure Coach Coen will make the necessary adjustments to avoid losing for a third time to the Cougars.
Hofstra -This is the typical Joe Mihalich team. They can score with the best of them. They do not defend so well. Oh and this: they win more than they lose. For years Mihalich has been one of the more successful coaches in the land. Hofstra split 20 point home wins with UNCW. They also split road wins with Northeastern. Even with the powers that be trying to ruin a once wonderful sport, tournament basketball, the games still always come down to winning in the half court. That is not Hofstra’s strong suit. I doubt they make the final, but they are in the much easier end of the bracket, so it is not out of the question. I don’t believe that they will win the finale versus anyone from the other side of the draw.
Towson – After a terrific non-conference run, Towson entered league play as the clear choice to potentially unseat Charleston. However, in college hoops, as everywhere else, water always seeks its level. Towson indeed leveled off. They are still a solid team. Their style is perfect for tournament play. However, Towson failed to win several key conference games. That does not bode well for this weekend. I doubt they see Sunday.
William and Mary – What more can I write about this coach and this program? With all the underhanded bullshit that permeates college hoops, it is refreshing to watch William and Mary. Unlike certain Ivy League institutions, William and Mary will not sacrifice admission standards for the sake of basketball. They are fortunate to have Tony Shaver, who is simultaneously honest and positive, a near impossible feat. He is also one hell of a basketball coach. The Tribe is shooting the lights out. That happens when you are as well coached as this team is. They began the year losing 100-66 to High Point. They ended by beating College of Charleston. An incredible job by Shaver.
We all know the program has never been to the NCAA tournament. Shaver does not have the talent to win this however, with Shaver the sum is greater than the parts. They are so efficient offensively, that they could shoot their way to the title. There is nothing that would make this writer happier.
UNCW – I do not like any team that is coached by a Roy Williams assistant. However, I must give McGrath some credit. The team lost every non-conference game. However, the Seahawks also improved as the year went along. By years end, they were competitive in most contests. I think they are the weakest team in the Colonial but they avoided the play in round and drew Hofstra, a team that is always beatable. I doubt Wilmington beats Hofstra though. Coming off back to back NCAA trips, Seahawk fans may be a bit disappointed. But given how poorly they played the first half of this season, and given how good a recruiter they hired, I would expect UNCW to also be much better next season. This could be one hell of a league.
Delaware – What a terrific job my Coach Inglesby. In the face of a ridiculous number of injuries, Delaware hung tough in nearly every game. The return of Ryan Daly gave Ingelsby a six man rotation. Delaware will be a tough out. Coach Inglesby knows what he is doing. However, it is a bit much to ask a six man rotation to win four games in four days, especially when they are not the most talented. This is yet another Colonial school who has much to look forward to.
Drexel – After the team got healthy and got some reps playing together, Drexel also showed flashes of brilliance. I was most impressed by their late season road efforts. Without Austin Williams, on short rest, they were tied with eleven minutes to go at Charleston. On the road again, with almost no minutes from Williams, they took both Northeastern and Hofstra to the wire. One could imagine with Austin that Drexel could have won one or two of those games. They had already blown out William and Mary on the road. Effort like that will win conference tournament games. If Drexel got knocked out in the first round I would not be shocked. If they made the final, I would not be either.
James Madison – Year two of Louis Rowe began as expected, a bit rough. His top sic players consist of two freshman, two juniors and two seniors. Rowe’s top three off the bench are all freshman. Madison lost their first six conference games. However, in two they gave up tying three pointers late (AHEAD 3 WITH 5 SECONDS OR LESS TO GO YOU GRAB SOMEONE! FOUL!) and lost in overtime. Luck changed when the Dukes won their first conference game. They went on a late 13-3 run to tie and then beat Elon in overtime. JMU was competitive in all but one of their final eleven conference games. They won four of their last seven, including their finale which was a lame duck road game over Elon. The future is bright in Harrisonburg. Matt Lewis is often unstoppable. They made great strides this year. However, they were 0-6 vs the top three in the CAA. Winning four straight is far too tall an order, at least this year.
Elon – They have all five starters back. A new arena is nearly completed. Coach Metheny is back for year nine. The team had improved each and every year of the first eight. This is the year of the Phoenix.
Wrong. They began atrociously. However, the last game before conference play, Elon went to Terra Haute and crushed Indiana State. They won three of four to start conference play. It has been a debacle since. Elon’s poor play is a shock to this fan. In the final game ever in Alumni Gym, Elon could not beat a JMU team playing a lame duck third game in five days. The conference tournament is a new beginning. If Elon plays to their ability, they could reach the final.