College Basketball: Will the CAA Produce Another Cinderella?

Alec NathanFeatured ColumnistMarch 1, 2012

HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 02:  Rob Brandenberg #23 of the Virginia Commonwealth Rams goes to the hoop against Andrew Smith #44 of the Butler Bulldogs during the National Semifinal game of the 2011 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship at Reliant Stadium on April 2, 2011 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Chris Steppig-Pool/Getty Images)
Pool/Getty Images

Now that it's officially March, predictions about prospective sleepers, upsets and winners of the 2012 NCAA Tournament will dominate sports talk. While fans will sift through countless statistics of mid-majors in hopes of trying to be the genius in their bracket pool who flashes some sort of worldly wisdom, the search for a sleeper may be not as difficult as you think.

The 2006 George Mason Patriots and the 2011 VCU Rams are prime examples of teams that have emerged from the Colonial Athletic Association—a league that considers itself lucky to send two teams to the big dance in a given year.

Just like Mason in 2006, VCU made an unprecedented run to the Final Four in 2011, emerging out of one of the newly instituted play-in games, upsetting teams with much more complete and impressive pedigrees.

This year, it's looking like the CAA could produce a surprise team, as well as a familiar one.

The Drexel Dragons finished the season on a 17-game winning streak, ultimately posting a 25-5 record (16-2 in the CAA) en route to the No. 1 seed in the CAA tournament. The Dragons don't possess any individual stand-out stars, but they do play great team basketball, evident through the four players currently averaging double-figures.

If they do end up dancing, Frantz Massenat could end up being one of the tournament's surprise players. He's currently averaging 13.5 points per game, shooting nearly 47 percent from three-point range, while dishing out 4.5 assists per night.

While Drexel doesn't have any defining wins on their resumé, they've caught the eye of several college basketball minds, and ESPN's Joe Lunardi currently has Drexel penciled in as the winner of the CAA tournament, checking in as a 13th seed in his latest edition of Bracketology.

As for the Rams of Virginia Commonwealth, they also finished the season strong, winning 14 of their final 15 games, finishing with a solid 25-6 record.

Right now it would appear that Shaka Smart's bunch is on the outside looking in, and their most realistic path to the tournament would be as an at-large bid, upsetting Drexel and claiming the CAA title.

If the Rams are able to capture the CAA title it would pose a very interesting question: Can Drexel still sneak into the dance?

The answer right now would appear to be no. While there's always a debate over who deserves more consideration for at-large spots, they're almost always given to schools that reside in bigger, more prominent conferences. As of now, Lunardi has VCU as one of his "First Four Out," but if the Rams were to capture the title, Drexel would most likely take their spot as one of the contenders on the outside looking in.

So while it remains a mystery, it's quite possible the representatives of the CAA will make some noise once again.