Saturday, March 12, 2011

Review of the 2011 CAA Men's Basketball Tournament

The 2011 CAA Tournament lived up to its billing.  There were close games, major upsets, buzzer beaters, end to end action, raucous crowds and of course, bad officiating.  And what was at first a blowout in the championship game turned out to be an exciting finish and an opportunity for three bids for the conference.

When heading to Richmond Coliseum last Friday had anyone said to me that I would see four first round games that day where the margin of victory would be six points or less, I would have replied "Unlikely, but I will take it."  It's very rare that you see that many close games in a tournament.  But that's what you had on Friday.

I thought Georgia State would be deflated after their coach Rod Barnes was fired on Sunday.  And it sure looked like it after the Seahawks went out to a 16-8 lead.  But the Panthers responded with a 16-1 run over a six and a half minutes to go up 24-17 with six plus minutes left in the half.  Georgia State went into the half up 28-26.   They eventually won 58-52 in what was a very ugly game with a lack of scoring. 

UNCW was held to 29.5 percent shooting from the field.  Chad Tomko reverted to the Tomko pre 2010-11.  He struggled at the end missing five of his last six shots with three turnovers.  Tomko shot an ugly 7 of 21 for the game.

In the second game, twelve seeded Towson was looking for its first win in conference all season vs the fifth seeded Drexel Dragons.  And as I wrote in article for Defiantly Dutch, the three fans who came out to support their team got to see the Tigers play valiantly against the Dragons.  Unfortunately, Towson's late rally was not enough to get their first win in conference as Drexel moved on with a 75-69 win.  For more details, please click here for my article.

In the evening session, Northeastern came out smoking from the outside, shooting 8 of 16 including five three pointers, two by Chaisson Allen, to jump out to a 25-14 lead.  But Jawan Carter and his twelve first half points would lead the Blue Hens back as they outscored the Huskies 13-4 the rest of half as Delaware was down only two, 29-27 at the half.  In the second half, Delaware forced Northeastern to keep shooting from the outside and the Huskies only shot 32 percent while shooting 51 percent in a 60-58 win.  Chaisson Allen struggled in his final game for Northeastern as he only went 3 of 12 from the field.

In the last game of the day on Friday, #6 seed James Madison took on #11 William and Mary.  When the Dukes came out from the tunnel, they just walked on the court.  There was no sense of urgency, which was strange given the Tribe had defeated the Dukes at Harrisonburg.   The game was tied 34 at the half, yet when the Dukes came out of the tunnel early and sat on their bench while their dance team finished one routine and then did their final routine.   It was amazing how much it seemed that Madison didn't care.  Immediately I turned to Tieff and said, "They are going to lose. Mark my words."

The game was close throughout and one of the most bizarre moments in CAA Tournament history took place with W&M ahead 65-63 .  JMU  had two chances to tie or take the lead.  After missing the second opportunity, JMU Coach Matt Brady must have said something really bad to the official as he was running down the court on a W&M fast break.  The official stopped play right there and called a technical foul on Brady.  Quinn McDowell buried two free throws  and the Tribe were back out ahead 67-63.

JMU rallied and took the lead 68-67 on a Devon Moore layup with 1:21 left. But two Britt free throws gave W&M the lead back.   JMU couldn't score the rest of the way and the Tribe won, upsetting the Dukes 72-68.  Quinn McDowell was unreal that night.  He scored a tournament record 35 points on 10 of 12 shooting, including 5 of 6 from beyond the arc and 10 of 11 from the line.   He missed his last free throw attempt.

What was really strange in that game was that Denzel Bowles had zero points at the half and only five for the game.  W&M played a soft double team on him the entire night and took him out of the game.  He eventually took himself out of the game with five fouls and his body language all night was just bad.  There were many NBA scouts there that night sitting a few rows ahead of us.  I am pretty sure he didn't endear himself to them.

It was on to the quarterfinals where in three of the four games, the lower seed came out and took a substantial lead, only to have the higher seed comeback and win convincingly.   In the first game, Georgia State went out to an impressive 27-16 lead over George Mason with seven minutes left in the first half.  However the Patriots went on a 42-9 run over the two halves as they simply clamped down on the Panthers with incredible defense.

George Mason forced 21 Georgia State turnovers and the Panthers lack of a go to scorer killed them in the second half.  The Patriots went on to win the game 68-45.  Ten Mason players contributed points in the win.  And while Ryan Pearson had nine free throw attempts (hitting seven of them), it seemed like he was there even more than that.

Then you had the second game of the day, Drexel and VCU.  It was a classic Bruiser Flint game - low scoring for the most part, physical defense, lots of rebounds, lots of fouls and at times, damn ugly to watch.   And the crowd LOVED it.   The score was tied 23 at the half and what looked like was going to be a score in the fifties.  After the first fifty one minutes, the teams combined for only eighty points as the score was 41-39 VCU.

Yet somehow the teams managed to score forty two points in the last ten minutes of what turned out to be a very exciting game.  And a very badly officiated game.   First the foul differential was  unreal.  Drexel was called for 27 fouls while VCU had 19.  Second in free throw attempts, Drexel had 17 (only making 10 of them), while VCU had 37 (making 26 of them).

The coup de gras moment was with 4:12 left, Samme Givens hit a layup and went into Joey Rodriguez who was LITERALLY underneath the basket.  The referee called a charge on Givens which sent the non VCU fans howling and Bruiser Flint into a tizzy.   Bruiser literally walked to the corner of the court by the baseline so he could vent there by himself.   Meanwhile the officials gathered and in attempt to make it up, counted the basket yet kept the foul on Givens, which was his fourth.   Rodriguez hit two foul shots.  So instead of 51-50 VCU, it was now 53-50 VCU and Givens had four fouls and would eventually foul out.

The game looked over with the Rams up five 57-52 with 1:07 left.  But Drexel rallied as Chris Fouch hit two threes and a layup in the span of thirty four seconds while VCU missed three free throws, including two by Rodriguez.  The game was tied at 60.  But Jamie Skeen, who had been a horse all day with 24 points and 8 rebounds, hit a layup as time expired and the Rams won 62-60.   It was exciting but damn ugly.  Forty Six fouls, thirty one turnovers (seven by Rodriguez who had a horrid game) and eighteen missed free throws.  Typical Drexel-VCU game.

In the evening session, which was totally sold out, Delaware, who had split the regular season series with ODU, went out to a 17-8 lead.  ODU rallied and went into the half up 27-25.   The game remained close for the first ten minutes of the second half as Devon Saddler buried a three pointer to tie up the game at 35 with just about ten minutes left in the game.   But the Monarchs clamped down on Saddler and Jawan Carter while Frank Hassell and friends went to work.

ODU went on a 15-4 run over the span of a little more than five minutes to go up 50-39.   Delaware  would never get closer than six points the rest of the way as Old Dominion won 59-50. Hassell was his usual self, scoring 24 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and shooting 9 of 13 from the field. The Monarchs would shoot 48 percent from the field, which would be a trend for the team that was at the bottom end in the CAA in FG percentage.

In the last game of the quarterfinals, Hofstra was facing William and Mary for the third time. The Pride had swept the season series but both were very close games.    W&M went out to a 9-0 lead. But Hofstra rallied and using a suffocating defense and a strong second half surge, the Pride would defeat the Tribe 72-56.  For more on this game, click here.

So it was on to the semifinals, a capacity crowd at the Richmond Coliseum and a rocking atmosphere. There was the battle of the pep bands as George Mason's band took turns with VCU's band as they tried to one up each other. The funniest moment was after Mason did a rocking version of Thriller.  The VCU band started doing a few bars of their own version of Thriller which got the Mason band and student section howling.  The VCU band pranked them as they kicked into another song. The VCU band had Mason's band's number and soon the Rams would have the Patriots' number as well.

George Mason came into the game with a 16 game winning streak while VCU had the majority of the crowd in their favor. And Jamie Skeen ignited the crowd with two threes as the Rams went up 16-8 early.  The Patriots would come back and a Cam Long three point play put the Patriots up 20-18 ten minutes into the first half.  Mason Nation, most of which was sitting by us in our section, was quite pleased with GMU's 12-2 run. 

But Ed Nixon put the Rams back up 21-20 with a three pointer,  And it was the beginning of a monster 21-2 run by VCU as they would hit five three point bombs during the eight and a half minute span.  Long's layup before the half would cut the deficit to fourteen as the Rams entered the locker room with a fourteen point lead, 39-25.  VCU had nine threes at the half, three by Skeen.

The two questions starting the second half was one, whether VCU could keep up their torrid shooting and two, how would Mason respond starting the second half.   The Patriots quickly responded by working the ball inside for layups and they cut the Rams' lead in half, 44-37 not even four minutes into the second half.

But Jamie Skeen buried his fourth three of the game and the lead was back to ten, 47-37.  The Patriots would never get closer than ten points the rest of the way.  Mason couldn't stop VCU and they looked out of sync on offense.  Mike Morrison quickly fouled out in the second half and Long had more than a third of his team's points with 20.  The rest of his team scored 46 points.  Skeen and Burgess combined for 37 points, 17 rebounds and seven three pointers as VCU stunned the number one seeded Mason 72-56.  

The question for many fans was could Hofstra knock off Old Dominion and perhaps give CAA fans the strong possibility of three CAA teams making the NCAA Tournament (or as the tweet hashtag would say #3BidsForCAA).  The VCU fans stuck around to see if that possibility could be a reality while the Mason fans headed for the exits.

Both teams came out smoking from the field.  Hofstra hit eight of their first eleven field goal attempts while Old Dominion hit six of their first nine field goal attempts.  Barely ten minutes into the first half and the score was ODU 22 Hofstra 21. 

About one minute later, Hofstra's Greg Washington who had been a major part of the Pride's offense with seven points, most of which came on cuts to the basket off screens, picked up his second foul.  When Washington left the game, the Pride offense struggled for over five minutes shooting 2 of 9.  The Monarchs took advantage stretching their lead to eight, 33-25.  The Pride cut the lead back to three, 33-30 on a three pointer by Brad Kelleher and a jumper by Charles Jenkins, who had eight points and four assists in the first half.  But ODU would get the lead back to seven, 41-34 at halftime.

The question would be whether both teams could keep up such a high scoring pace, especially an ODU team that was for a good part of the season till recently towards the bottom in FG percentage , yet was first in scoring defense.  The answer turned out to be yes, much to the chagrin of the Hofstra faithful.

The Pride could not make up any ground on the Monarchs over the first few minutes.  In fact, ODU actually extended their lead to 52-41 on a Darius James' three as the Monarchs hit three of their first four FG attempts and also added four free throws as as well. 

Hofstra though came back and cut the deficit in half to 56-50 on a Jenkins three, his fourth with 12 minutes left.  The Pride had two chances to cut the deficit even further on their next two possessions as Kelleher got a five second inbounds call against him (only their fourth turnover of the game) and Jenkins missed on a layup attempt (yes, a definite rarity). 

The Pride would never get closer the rest of the way, though they did their best to hang around.  They just couldn't stop the Monarchs on the defensive end, especially Frank Hassell.  Hassell had 22 points on 6 of 9 shooting from the field and 10 of 12 from the line.  And while Hofstra did a really good job of holding their own against the best rebounding team in the nation (ODU only outrebounded Hofstra 29-26), the Monarchs as a whole shot a scolding 57 percent from the field.  So while Hofstra did a good job of scoring 69 points against the best scoring defense in the CAA (ODU only gives up 58 points per game), ODU scored 77 points. 

So while the final was set with the CAA's biggest rivalry VCU vs. ODU, Tieff and I made our way back up to New York on a very rainy Sunday evening.  As everyone knows, in the championship game, ODU went out to an eighteen point second half lead only to see VCU rally to cut the deficit to one.  The Monarchs held on for a 70-65 win in front of perhaps the loudest televised CAA crowd I can ever remember.

VCU has gained ground swelling support for an at large bid while George Mason seems assured of another at large bid, while ODU waits to see what seed they will get.   Sound familiar?  It should.  Just like I said in my CAA Tournament preview, it's 2006 all over again.  The question is, will VCU play the part of Hofstra this time?

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