Wednesday, March 2, 2011

It's 2006 All Over Again - The 2011 CAA Tournament Preview

Before I start with my CAA Tournament preview, I just wanted to chime in about the firing of Georgia State's Rod Barnes.  Couldn't Georgia State AD Cheryl Levick wait until after the CAA Tournament was done to let Barnes go?  I mean we are talking about not even ten days.  Yes, the Panthers lost 79 games during Barnes' four years as coach.  But you are not going to start the hiring process until after the CAA Tournament anyway.    They could have let Barnes finish the season with his dignity.  Just sends the wrong message to everyone, especially any potential candidates for the job.

This is my sixth time writing a preview for the CAA Tournament.  It all started with what many CAA men's basketball fans think is the most glorious season for the conference - 2005-06.  Yes there was the at large George Mason Patriots going to the Final Four.  There was also UNC Wilmington winning the CAA Tournament defeating in the finals a Hofstra team that would be snubbed out of the NCAA Tournament six days later.  There was the combined 9-4 record of the CAA teams in the NCAA and NIT that postseason.  March 2006 was truly a special time for the CAA.

Five years later, here we are in March 2011.  Again there is talk of a multi-bid CAA contingent in the Big Dance, just like 2006.  Again George Mason is in the thick of the talk, along with Old Dominion as both teams sport RPIs in the 20's.  But in 2011, there are other similarities to 2006 that make it even more incredible.


UNCW 15-3 , 25-8
George Mason 15-3, 27-8
Hofstra 14-4, 26-7
ODU 13-5, 24-10
Northeastern 12-6, 19-11
VCU 11-7, 19-10


George Mason 16-2, 25-5
Old Dominion 14-4, 24-6
Hofstra 14-4, 20-10
VCU 12-6, 21-10
Drexel 11-7, 20-9
James Madison 10-8, 21-10

In 2006, you had four teams with 20 or more wins and two teams that just missed 20 wins. In 2011, six teams have 20 or more wins.

RPI 2006 - George Mason 15, Hofstra 30, UNCW 31, Old Dominion 52, VCU 80, Northeastern 88
RPI 2011 - George Mason 24, Old Dominion 27, Drexel 64, VCU 66, James Madison 74, Hofstra 81

In 2006, six teams were in the top 100 of the RPI ratings.  Likewise, six teams in 2011 are in the top 100 of the RPI ratings.

Wilmington Star News UNCW beat writer Brian Mull correctly noted in a reply tweet to me that similar to 2006, 2011's top players are senior laden.  In 2006 you had  Jose Juan Barea, Lamar Butler, Jai Lewis, Tony Skinn,  John Goldsberry, Vladimir Kuljanin, Alex Loughton, Isaiah Hunter, Aurimas Kieza, Adrian Uter and Nick George among others.  In 2010-11, you have Charles Jenkins, Cam Long, Frank Hassell, Ben Finney, Jamie Skeen, Joey Rodriguez, Denzel Bowles, Chad Tomko, Chaisson Allen and Jawan Carter among others.

So before I go into what's going to happen in the CAA Tournament, here's my two all CAA Teams, my All CAA Favorites and my choice for CAA First Team.

College Hardwood's All CAA Favorites

Charles Jenkins
Quinn McDowell
Frank Hassell
Jamie Skeen
Keith Rendleman

College Hardwood's CAA First Team

Charles Jenkins - Player of the Year
Cam Long
Frank Hassell
Chaisson Allen
Denzel Bowles

My favorites team and my All CAA first team have two similarities - Jenkins and Hassell.  Jenkins and Hassell are both in the top ten of John Hollinger's Player Efficiency Ratings.  Jenkins has improved every year he has been at Hofstra and is definitely NBA material.  Think about the fourth leading scorer in the country shooting 53 percent from the field.  Unreal.

Everyone I think by now knows how great Jenkins is, but Hassell also deserves a lot of love.  ODU is 14-0 when Hassell has a double double.  And Hassell is nearly averaging a double double, scoring 14 points and averaging 9.8 rebounds per game. As Brian Mull so aptly puts it, Hassell "drives their train".  The Hollinger efficiency ratings prove how important Hassell is to the Monarchs.

As for the rest of my favorites, well first, I love Quinn McDowell.  Kid can bury the three, drive to the basket and is just fundamentally sound.   Jamie Skeen impressed the hell out of me during the two Preseason NIT Tipoff games at MSG.  Sound inside, knows how to get to the free throw line and can even shoot the three.  Works real hard too.  And finally, I love the energy Keith Rendleman brings to the game. He can jump out of the building, has a nice touch around the basket and will only get better.

As for the First Team All CAA, Jenkins and Hassell are no brainers.   So is Denzel Bowles, who is such a load inside and has developed a nice touch from the outside.  Cam Long has improved a lot from last season.  He is very deserving of first team all CAA this season.  The last spot comes down to Allen, Skeen and Ryan Pearson.  Pearson's a junior so he has another season to get his first team All CAA.  Skeen tailed off at the end.  Allen scored 20 or more points in seven of his last ten games and he also averages six rebounds per game.  Give Allen the last spot.

Since the CAA expanded to twelve teams in the 2005-06 season, no team that hasn't had a first round bye has won the tournament.  In fact, in eight of the last nine tournaments, the team that was the number one seed has gone on to with the CAA Tournament.  In 2008, #1 VCU was upset by #5 William and Mary in the semifinals.

So based on that, I am going to discuss how the top teams in the CAA Tournament need to play to win the tournament.  And even though I think Drexel and JMU are long shots since they have to win four games in four days to win the tournament, since both teams have 20 wins and RPIs in the 60's and 70's, I will include them in as well.

George Mason - The Patriots win because on offense they are balanced as they have four players who average in double figures led by Long and Pearson.  But it has been better defense that has propelled the Patriots to their fifteen game winning streak.  If Mason gives up 69 or more points, they are 3-5.  When they give up less than 69 points - 22-0.  Mason will continue to roll if they have Luke Hancock, Andre Cornelius, Long and Pearson all average double figures and they play D as a whole.  Key Stat -  In five of their last seven games, Mason has held their opponents under 39 percent shooting.

Old Dominion - The Monarchs, the Ground and Pound of College Basketball, lead the nation in rebounding margin.  And a lot of that is due to their work on the offensive glass.  ODU leads the CAA in offensive rebounds with 475, averaging nearly 16 per game.  When they lose, it's because the rebounding margin isn't that great and the Monarchs are ninth in the CAA in FG percentage at 43 percent.  For ODU, it's just shoot well enough, clean up on the offensive glass, hold opponent under 60. Win. Key Stat - Again, when Hassell gets a double double, ODU is 14-0.

Hofstra - The Pride are one of the better offensive teams in the CAA, fourth in scoring offense, first in free throw percentage and third in assist to turnover ratio.  When they lose, it's due to their very weak rebounding and the inability to keep opponents off the offensive glass.  Hofstra is next to last in the CAA in defensive rebound percentage.   But their ability to win close games (9-3 in games decided by seven points or less) will be important for the tournament.  For the Pride to be successful - be balanced on offense, get to the line and keep the rebounding deficit reasonable.  Key Stat - When Hofstra has three or more players in double figures they are 18-1.

VCU - The Rams were in the hunt for an at large bid when they were first in the CAA at 10-1 and 18-5 overall.  But the Rams lost five of their last eight and in the three games they won, one was in overtime and the combined margin of victory in the other two games was a total of five points.  VCU is successful when they force turnovers as they are first in the CAA in steals, turnover margin and assists to turnover ratio.  VCU's game plan - shoot well from the outside, get Skeen involved and force the opponent to turn the ball over.  Make the game high scoring.  Key Stat - Rams are 12-1 when scoring more than 73 points in a game.

Drexel - The Dragons were 7-1 after they upset Louisville at the Yum Center.  Then they went 4-5 over their next nine games and were 3-4 in conference.  Drexel rallied to win 9 out of their last 12 to finish fifth.  They win due to defense, first in CAA in FG percentage defense, and their rebounding (ninth in the country).   They lose when they don't have enough defense and rebounding to overcome their next to last standing in the CAA in FG percentage.  Drexel wants to keep the game in the 60's at most, rebound and play defense.  Must stay out of foul trouble as well.  Key Stat - Seven players average more than 23 minutes.  Only one other player averages more than 5 minutes.

James Madison - The Dukes were the chic pick to finish in the top four of the CAA (hey, I had them finishing third).  On January 15, they were 15-3 overall and 5-1 in conference.  JMU went 6-7 the rest of the way and finished 10-8 in conference.  And what's strange is that they are in the top part of the CAA in most offensive categories and not really at the bottom of any defensive categories.  They just seem to find unique ways to lose games.  Dukes like a high tempo game with lots of points scored.  Madison 11-2 when they score 74 or more points in a game.  Key Stat - The Dukes have played 17 games decided by seven points or less (10-7 record).

Can other teams do well in the CAA Tournament?  Well, Delaware did give ODU fits and their two guards, Jawan Carter and Devon Saddler are very good.  Northeastern played very well the second half of the season and with Allen, Jonathan Lee and Joel Smith, they can score.  Interesting matchup there between the Huskies and the Blue Hens.  William and Mary beat James Madison on the Dukes' home court and have been very tough lately, so it won't be an easy game for the Dukes.   UNCW has the duo of Chad Tomko and Rendleman, so they could be a handful.   Georgia State likes low scoring games but the firing of Rod Barnes won't help.  And Towson, well, they had several offensive chances late against Drexel and could have had their first win in conference.

Of the bottom six teams, I think Delaware has the best chance to do damage.  They match up well with ODU for some reason, perhaps because their guards cause matchup problems for teams.

Now it's time for predicting the tournament.  At the beginning of the season, I predicted ODU to win the CAA Tournament.  They haven't disappointed with their second seed, their impressive non conference wins and of course they have Hassell.   There is of course George Mason, winners of fifteen straight, the Top 25 ranking and the #24 RPI.

Now if you know your CAA tournament history, the last two times the CAA had an at large, 2006 and 2007, the at large team did NOT make the CAA Finals.  In 2006, George Mason lost to Hofstra.  In 2007, Old Dominion lost to George Mason.   Both 2006 George Mason AND 2007 Old Dominion were #2 seeds.  And to make matters more interesting, in 2006, George Mason had to rally to force overtime  before beating Georgia State in the quarterfinals.  In 2007, Old Dominion barely held off Towson 58-55 in the CAA quarterfinals.

So that doesn't bode well for #2 seeded ODU.  And in fact, potentially staring the Monarchs in the face in the quarterfinals is #7 Delaware, who split with ODU during the regular season.  The Blue Hens won at Newark and barely lost to the Monarchs at the Ted.

So how do I think it goes?  Here's what I think happens;

First Round

UNC Wilmington defeats Georgia State (Tomko and Rendleman combine to beat a deflated Panthers team)
Drexel defeats Towson (but Dragons will struggle due to cold shooting)
Delaware defeats Northeastern (Blue Hens sweep Huskies on the season thanks to Saddler and Carter)
James Madison defeats William and Mary (in a very close game)


George Mason defeats UNC Wilmington (handily...too much balance by the Patriots)
VCU defeats Drexel (The Dragons again are cold from the field and the home Richmond crowd spurs the Rams to victory in a game where neither team breaks sixty)
ODU defeats Delaware (barely in the rubber match.  Hassell hits a late layup to give Monarchs the lead)
Hofstra defeats JMU   (Pride take the lead early and hold on barely as Jenkins goes for 32 points and 9 assists in another high scoring affair.)


George Mason defeats VCU as the Rams porous defense can't stop the Patriots from the field. 
Hoftra upsets ODU as the #2 at large jinx continues.  Hofstra rallies in the 2nd half as ODU goes cold from the field (similar to their losses to Drexel and VCU).  Monarchs though get an at large and go to the Sweet 16.

And that brings us to the finals.  C'mon, in a season that is so hauntingly familiar to 2006, where someone high up in the CAA administrative offices (Tom Yeager?) had the sense of humor to sit the Patriots' fans next to the Pride fans, you have to have Hofstra vs. George Mason in the CAA final.  It's the team that got snubbed from the dance but swept the Patriots in 2006 vs. the team that got one of the last at large bids and had the magical run in 2006.

So how will this play out?  Conventional wisdom would say George Mason will win based on their stunning 15 game winning streak.  However, being a history buff, let me throw this one out at you.  Until this season, George Mason was ranked in the Top 25 in the regular season (before the NCAA Tournament) only one other time.  Yup, 2006.  The team to knock George Mason out of the Top 25 in 2006.  Yup, the Hofstra Pride.  And why not, Hofstra is only one of two teams that beat George Mason in conference all season.

And a lot of the CAA Twitter feeds I saw for a week or so before VCU melted away their at large bid hopes had the hashtag #3BidsForCAA.   And as I stated in a tweet, the NCAA has the chance to right a wrong from 2006.  Three CAA teams in the tournament.  That's what it should have been in 2006.  The five year anniversary seems about the time to have this happen.

Hofstra upsets George Mason.   Hofstra, Mason and ODU all go to the dance.  You heard it here first.  And if I am wrong, like I have been with most of my CAA Tournament predictions, hey what else is new.

But history has a tendency to repeat itself.

1 comment:

  1. Well done. Love the analysis. I hope Towson can shock everyone and win their 1st game. Drexel shoots 61% from the line in case it stays close. Towson matches well with them if they can keep it somewhat close on the boards. Drexel also not good on the road.....I also think Georgia St. will play inspired and will play hard for their outgoing coach....Delaware allows 42% shooting vs. NE 47% (defense wins in post season)....The Mary will keep it close - they out rebounded Madison in their last game....WISH I WAS THERE TO WATCH!!!