CAA Basketball: Game-by-Game Predictions for the Conference Tournament
Starting Friday, all 12 teams in the Colonial Athletic Association will face off in the Richmond Coliseum in Richmond, Va. with the goal of becoming the CAA Tournament champion.
To the victor goes the spoils, and in this case, the spoils are an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament, and as George Mason and VCU have taught us, you always need to look out for the CAA team in the tournament, because you never know when they may do something amazing.
If you read my last article, you already know who I've picked to win this thing, but I thought it would be best to look at the entire tournament as a whole, and give you a step-by-step breakdown of how I think it's going to happen and why.
So let's jump right into it with our matchups on Friday.
James Madison vs. UNC-Wilmington
When: Friday, 12:00 p.m.
Analysis: The matchup to kick off the tournament isn't exactly one between two hot teams.
The Seahawks have lost 13 of their last 15 games, with their only two wins coming against William & Mary, who finished behind them.
The Dukes, meanwhile, lost 8 of their last 10, with their only two wins coming against last-place Towson.
This is going to be a battle between two teams with very conflicting styles.
UNCW likes to use guys like Keith Rendleman inside to pound the ball in the paint and grab rebounds. JMU uses guys like Humpty Hitchens and AJ Davis to fire threes at will and play the game from the outside.
Depth has been an issue for both teams as well, though UNCW got a bit of a boost with the return of K.K. Simmons, who had been suspended.
JMU has not been as lucky, losing senior leader Julius Wells for the year with a heart condition, as well as big man Rayshawn Goins, who has missed the entire season with a torn shoulder.
This game is really going to be a pick-em.
Both of the teams are very even, and their conflicting styles make it tough to say if one really has the advantage over the other.
JMU defeated UNCW earlier in the season, so I just have the feeling that with JMU will find a way to squeak it out against the Seahawks again.
My Pick: JMU
Delaware vs. Towson
When: Friday, 2:30 p.m.
Analysis: If the last game was one between two teams going in the same direction, then this one is certainly the mismatch of the tournament.
On the one hand, you have Towson.
Then, there's Delaware.
The Fightin' Blue Hens have been on fire recently, winning their last eight games and surging into fifth place.
The guys to look out for in this game will be Devon Saddler, who's averaging 18.7 points per game, and Jamelle Hagins, averaging a double-double, from Delaware, and Robert Nwankwo of Towson, who has put together a nice season despite the circumstances.
These two teams met twice in the regular season, and both times Delaware blew out the hapless Tigers. I don't expect this one to be any different, and see the Blue Hens cruising to a victory.
My Pick: Delaware
Northeastern vs William & Mary
When: Friday, 6:00 p.m.
Analysis: This is an intriguing matchup, as it takes a team who has had the better season, and matches them up with a team that has beaten them already this season.
Northeastern was putting together a surprising campaign in the CAA before a four-game losing skid landed them in seventh place. A hard fought overtime victory over George Mason on Senior Night, however, may have put the Huskies back on the right track.
William & Mary was a team that many hoped would be primed for great things this season, but just never seemed to get going. They played better at times in the second half of the season, taking VCU, Drexel, and Georgia State to the limit, but they are also prone to throw up clunkers, like against Old Dominion.
The big players to watch here will be Northeastern's Jonathan Lee and William & Mary's Quinn McDowell. Both guys have the ability to light it up, and if either one gets hot, it may end the other team's season right there.
Despite this and the distance Northeastern will have to travel, I like the Huskies in this game.
Lee put up a goose egg in that game in February, and I don't expect that to happen again, though it wouldn't shock me if the Tribe pull an upset in this one.
My Pick: Northeastern
Georgia State vs. Hofstra
When: Friday, 8:30 p.m.
Analysis: This game may be a bit trickier than it appears to the naked eye.
Georgia State is coming off a resurgent season. Led by new head coach Ron Hunter, the Panthers surprised a ton of teams this season, scoring victories over Drexel and VCU early in the season.
A rough patch mid-season, where the Panthers lost four of five games, slowed Georgia State's momentum and led to their sixth-place finish.
Hofstra has been one of those teams who has taken care of business out of conference, but can't find a way to win in-conference. They had an impressive victory over Iona just before league play picked up, and yet couldn't carry that momentum into the CAA, losing their next six games.
Hofstra has been a pain for a lot of teams though, staying in nearly every game until the very end, proving that they're not a talentless team as much as a team who just didn't know how to win in the conference. The Pride are hoping that their 93-point outburst against UNCW can give them some momentum into this game.
These two teams met once during the season and put together a low-scoring rockfight that Georgia State won handily.
For this game, I expect it to be much closer, but the result to be the same.
Georgia State has six seniors on their squad, and I don't see themselves allowing the Panthers to lose in the first round.
My Pick: Georgia State
Drexel vs. James Madison
When: Saturday, 12:00 p.m.
Analysis: Now, let's get into the speculation part of the article.
Drexel has been the hottest team in the CAA and quite possibly the hottest team in the entire country. They have won their last 17 games en route to their first-ever CAA regular season championship.
The Dragons, who in years past have been a strong defensive team who struggled to score, have found a whole host of offensive weapons in the forms of Samme Givens, Chris Fouch, CAA Freshman of the Year Damion Lee and Frantz Massenat.
This combination of players have made the Dragons a threat both in the paint and behind the arc, and make them a matchup problem for just about every team who has faced them.
In this game, I just can't see the Dukes hanging with Drexel.
They met twice this season and the Dragons mauled James Madison twice.
If the Dukes get hot from beyond the arc, this game can get interesting, as they showed in the first half of their last game with Drexel that they can outscore the Dragons.
That being said, I think Drexel's defense clamps down on the perimeter and coasts into an easy quarterfinal victory.
My Pick: Drexel
Old Dominion vs. Delaware
When: Saturday, 2:30 p.m.
Analysis: I've been picking all favorites so far, so let's have a little bit of fun.
Old Dominion has had a bit of a disappointing season by their standards.
The two-time defending CAA Tournament champions have struggled mightily against the top half of the league this year, going 0-5 against the conference's top three teams, leading to their fourth-place finish.
Just to add to their problems, the Monarchs lost their starting point guard and three-point threat Trian Illiadis to an ACL tear, making them shorthanded and without one of their better players.
For this game, it's going to be all about Kent Bazemore.
Yes, I personally think Chris Cooper is the most important part of this team, particularly with their low shooting percentage.
That being said, with the loss of Illiadis, someone needs to get the ball in the net, and Bazemore is one of the best in the conference at doing that, averaging 15.3 points per game.
The first and only time these two teams met during the regular season, Old Dominion eked out a 68-66 overtime victory over the Blue Hens. Since then, Delaware has been playing much better, and Old Dominion has lost a few pieces.
Like I said, the outcome of this game depends on Bazemore.
If he decides to go off, that will spell doom for Delaware. But with the Blue Hens being as hot as they are and with the Monarchs missing a point guard, I'm going to go with the upset on this one.
My Pick: Delaware
VCU vs Northeastern
When: Saturday, 6:00 p.m.
Analysis: Welcome to the first home game of the tournament.
VCU has once again found a way to get hot by the end of the year, closing out the season with 14 wins in 15 games, giving them the conference's second seed.
The Rams are led by their lone senior, Brad Burgess, who is averaging 13.5 points and has given this team steady senior leadership all season. A breakout season from sophomore Juvonte Reddic has also helped pace this young Rams team.
VCU met Northeastern only once this season, in what was a surprisingly close game that saw the Rams escape with a 59-56 victory in their own building. What this game showed is that Northeastern doesn't match up terribly with VCU, even in the comforts of their own building.
I bring up the fact that the Huskies performed well on VCU's floor, because in a lot of respects, that's what they will have to do again.
The Richmond Coliseum is a mere 1.4 miles from VCU's campus, making the arena a bit of a home away from home for the Rams.
I just don't see a way that VCU loses this first game. The only conceivable way they lose is if their three-point shooting, which is the crux of their offense, goes ice cold, but I just don't see it happening in their first game.
My Pick: VCU
George Mason vs. Georgia State
When: Saturday, 8:30 p.m.
Analysis: The last game of the night is looking to be a battle between two groups of seniors who are going to refuse to lose.
Despite offseason turmoil, the Patriots managed to secure the second seed in the CAA and were in the running for a share of first place before stumbling at the end of the season, losing two straight.
The Patriots are led by seniors Ryan Pearson and Mike Morrison, who have found ways to will George Mason to victory, even on nights when the team wasn't at its best. Pearson took CAA Player of the Year after a season that saw him average 17.8 points and 8.5 rebounds per game.
George Mason met Georgia State once this season, way back in early January in a game that was actually for sole possession of first place at the time. The Patriots won despite a gutsy effort from the Panthers, in a game that saw Jihad Ali put up 19 points in a 61-58 loss.
The Panthers have a strong defense that is based around a 1-1-3 pressure zone, which has given teams fits all season. To beat the zone, you need to be able to shoot well, and this is something at the Patriots go hot and cold with.
I see the Patriots coming away with this one, in a game that will be hotly contested the whole way through.
The Panthers certainly do not intend on going quietly, but I think the mix of it being their second game in two days, as well as the Patriots devastating offense in the paint, will be enough to help put George Mason over.
My Pick: George Mason
Drexel vs. Delaware
When: Sunday, 2:00 p.m.
Analysis: The first of the two semifinals matchups also happens to be the first of two rivalry matchups.
This game will be interesting because of it taking place on a neutral site. The two teams split their season matchups, with Delaware winning by 11 early in the year on their floor, and Drexel winning by 16 on their floor at the end of January.
The difference in the two games came on the inside play of the teams. In the first game, Jamelle Hagins dominated the inside with a double double.
In the second, Hagins was nearly nonexistent with only 6 points, while Samme Givens took over, posting a double double of his own.
For Delaware to pull another upset, they are going to need a huge game from their shooter Devon Saddler, and an even bigger effort from Hagins.
Personally, I think that this gutsy Blue Hens team will run out of gas in their third game in as many days, as Givens wins the battle of the paint and leads the Dragons to the title game.
My Pick: Drexel
VCU vs. George Mason
When: 4:30 p.m.
Analysis: This game has potential to be championship game-quality.
This rivalry has gotten more and more heated over the years, and I fully expect this matchup to be just as intense and physical as a rivalry game in the semifinals is supposed to be.
Since the CAA Tournament moved to the Richmond Coliseum in 1990, George Mason has never beaten VCU in the tournament. Even further than that, the Rams are responsible for sending the Patriots home from Richmond for the past three years.
Both of these teams matchups this season have been memorable. The first game will be remembered for Sherrod Wright’s last-second buzzer-beater to cap Mason’s incredible comeback. The second will be remembered as the Brad Burgess Show in his last home game.
These teams are as evenly matched as two teams can be.
The first game was decided by one point, and ruling out a 12-0 run VCU had over 79 seconds, the two teams were dead even in the second one as well.
This battle is going to come down to who's style dominated the game. If it's a fast pace, VCU has the advantage. If the game slows down, GMU will thrive.
In the end, I just have a gut feeling that Mason will be able to finally get over the hump and pull out a victory in what will be a thriller.
My Pick: George Mason
Drexel vs. George Mason
When: Monday, 7:00 p.m.
Analysis: It all comes down to this.
These two teams only met once during the regular season, where Drexel, guided by the hot shooting of Damion Lee, knocked off the Patriots in Philadelphia 60-53.
This game is going to be physical and both teams are going to have to perform well in all phases of the game.
Both teams have a big presence inside, and both teams have shooters who can knock it down from deep. If their first matchup was any indication of how evenly matched these two teams are, this will be a good one.
Fatigue may end up playing a huge role in the outcome of this game. George Mason is known for their incredibly deep roster, but Drexel will have some issues in this department.
The Dragons are really only going to be using seven players after their starting shooting guard, Derrick Thomas, was suspended for the CAA tournament. This suspension may come back to haunt the Dragons, and it may happen in this game.
It's tough to win three games in three days as it is, but add in a short bench and it may be impossible.
I'm also not sure how Drexel will be able to handle George Mason on a neutral site. The Dragons got a nice schedule this year, playing Mason, VCU, and ODU only one time each, and the Mason and VCU games were on their home floor, where they have a ravenous fanbase and a huge home field advantage.
I think that if Mason gets by VCU, they will be very hard to stop in this game. Barring suffering from a letdown after a huge win, I just don't think Mason's seniors will be denied when it's for all the marbles.
My Pick: George Mason
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