The first game of this season’s BracketBusters weekend gave the nation a good look at what CAA teams can do. The last game of the weekend did just the same.
Old Dominion closed out BracketBusters weekend with a 74-63 win in Norfolk over Cleveland State—a team tied for first place in the Horizon League.
ODU withstood an explosive first half from Cleveland State’s outstanding guard, Norris Cole. Cole had 24 first-half points, accounting for all but four of the team’s 28 points at halftime. Despite Cole’s outburst, ODU held a three-point lead at the half thanks in large part to their offensive rebounding.
The second half was vintage Old Dominion. After falling behind 41-39 with 15 minutes to play, the Monarchs locked down defensively. They held Cleveland State to just five points over the next seven-and-a-half minutes, and used their defense to create good scoring chances in transition. The 19-5 run by ODU over that period put them ahead by 12, and they were in control of the game from there.
The Monarchs significantly improved their efforts on containing Cole after halftime. They held him to 11 points in the second half, and he shot 0-for-5 from the floor over the final 11 minutes.
While Cole’s 35 points set an all-time BracketBusters record, the most important stat of the day was the rebounding margin. ODU out-rebounded Cleveland State 51-22. The Monarchs had just one less offensive rebound (21) than the Vikings had total rebounds. Frank Hassell—the Monarchs’ anchor on the interior—had 15 rebounds, including eight on the offensive end. Ben Finney, a 6’5” swingman, had 13 boards, five of them offensive.
Even for a team like Old Dominion—one of the best rebounding teams in the country—this was a truly impressive rebounding effort, particularly on the offensive end.
With the victory, ODU improved to 22-6. It adds yet another quality win to the list of impressive non-conference wins that Blaine Taylor’s Monarchs have compiled. Cleveland State joins the likes of Xavier, Richmond, Dayton and Clemson—teams who have all lost to ODU this season.
These non-conference wins have put Old Dominion in great position to make the NCAA tournament. Barring two losses to end the regular season—against James Madison and William & Mary—and an early exit in the CAA tournament, the Monarchs should have a fairly secure claim on one of the 37 at-large bids.
Thanks to impressive wins by some of the CAA’s other top teams this weekend, ODU may not be the only team in the running for an at-large bid.
On Friday, VCU went into Koch Arena and knocked off Wichita State—who is tied for first place in the Missouri Valley—by one point. It was a big win for VCU, who had just lost by 20 at home to red-hot George Mason three days before.
The win brought the Rams back into the bubble discussion, after they had been somewhat written off after the blowout loss. They are still tied for second place at 12-4 in the CAA, and own very impressive wins against Old Dominion on the road and UCLA, in New York.
Speaking of George Mason, the Patriots went on the road and beat one of the Missouri Valley’s top teams—Northern Iowa. While UNI has struggled some after losing power forward Lucas O’Rear for the season, they gave Mason a tough game thanks to their outside shooting. Mason was able to withstand UNI’s 13 three-pointers and rallied late in the second half to take the lead, eventually winning by six.
The win was the 13th straight for George Mason, the longest current streak in the nation. With two excellent wins on the road this week, they appear to have all but locked up an NCAA tournament bid, regardless of what happens from here on out.
As a league, the CAA presented themselves quite well in televised BracketBusters games. CAA teams won five of the six played on one of the ESPN networks, with Hofstra having the only loss for the league, at Wright State. Drexel (9-7 CAA) defeated Kent State, and James Madison (also 9-7 CAA) beat Miami, OH to help display the strength of the CAA’s second tier of teams.
Their success as a conference this weekend will help the CAA gain additional consideration for multiple at-large bids when the selection committee meets in three weeks. If a team other than George Mason or Old Dominion wins the CAA tournament, the league should send at least three teams to the NCAA tournament.
With VCU back in the picture as well, four bids for this league is not entirely out of the question.