2014 CAA Tournament Preview

The CAA is an unpredictable, exciting beast. The conference tournament starts Friday in Baltimore. Buckle up, Colonial fans. We don't know who will win, and neither do you.

The CAA is always... interesting.

Presumptive conference favorite Towson took its time finding its feet in conference play (going 3-2 in its first five games) before going on a blistering run (10-1 since then) that has the Tigers firing on all cylinders at the right time.

Drexel nearly beat then-No. 4 in the country, and potential NCAA tournament overall No. 1 seed, Arizona in November before losing games to three conference opponents seeded lower than the Dragons in a 17-day span.

And Delaware, despite a slew of suspensions to its best players, managed to emerge with the regular season title and the No. 1 seed heading to Baltimore Arena March 8.

Any of the top four seeds could plausibly launch a three-day victory campaign this weekend and go Dancing. It's going to be absolute mayhem.

So, of course, I have everything figured out.

Let's get predicting!

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8 Hofstra vs. 9 UNC-Wilmington

Just because this technically has to be in here...

Buzz Peterson is a great guy. UNC-Wilmington had a bad season. There's really not much more to be said about the Seahawks' woeful 3-13 conference record (which featured 10 straight losses from Jan. 4 to Feb. 8). They don't have a scorer who can do the things that Hofstra's Zeke Upshaw can. Hofstra is no bastion of basketball brilliance, but the Pride have enough in the bank to make it past the play-in game.

Hofstra wins, 68-56

1 Delaware vs. 8 Hofstra

Momentum Check
Delaware: 110.9 Points Per 100 Possessions, 105.5 Points Per 100 Possession allowed
Hofstra: 104.2 PP100, 113.0 PP100 allowed

Heat Check
Delaware: 3-2 in its last five games
Hofstra: 1-4

Matchup Check
Delaware won season series 2-0, holding a 167-156 scoring advantage.

Delaware is a really good basketball team with a frightening offense. Hofstra is not a really good basketball team with a frightening offense. There isn't much nuance to this matchup, either.

The Hens' three-headed attack of Devon Saddler, Davon Usher, and Jarvis Threatt is impossible for any team in the conference to aptly defend. Hofstra's defense -- the second-worst in the CAA, just 0.3 PPP allowed better than that of William & Mary -- has no chance. In the two contests this season, those three averaged 57.0 points per game versus the Pride. And Threatt didn't even play in the second contest.

Delaware won the regular season CAA title. The first round won't be a problem.

Delaware wins, 82-74

2 Towson vs. 7 James Madison

Momentum Check
Towson: 5-0
James Madison: 2-3

Heat Check
Towson: 110.9 PP100, 107.0 PP100 allowed
James Madison: 98.1 PP100, 105.8 PP100 allowed

Matchup Check
Towson won season series 2-0, holding a 149-137 scoring advantage.

Delaware may have won the regular season title, but Towson is the scariest team in the CAA coming into Baltimore. Pat Skerry's squad is the only team entering the conference undefeated in its last five game. The Tigers are tied with Delaware for the second-most potent offense in the league. And they possess perhaps the most unstoppable force in the league in senior forward and CAA Player of the Year candidate Jerrelle Benimon (18.9 PPG, 11.7 RPG, 3.7 APG).

James Madison, meanwhile, will likely be playing without sophomore guard Andre Nation because of an academic-related suspension, Nation's second suspension of the season. Even with the team's highest scorer the Dukes had no chance. Without him it could be a bloodbath.

Towson wins, 75-62

3 William & Mary vs. 6 College of Charleston

Momentum Check
William & Mary: 3-2
College of Charleston: 1-4

Heat Check
William & Mary: 111.7 PP100, 113.3 PP100 allowed
College of Charleston: 97.5 PP100, 100.1 PP100 allowed

Matchup Check
Season series tied 1-1, with College of Charleston holding a 150-128 scoring advantage.

The Cougars were a popular choice to shake up the CAA before the season started. But #TheCollege went 3-8 in its final 11 games. They lack a definitive leading scorer and true shooting threat. While balanced offenses win games during the season, the postseason is built on heroes and veteran leaders.

William & Mary has a pair of those in junior guard Marcus Thornton and senior forward Tim Rusthoven. Thornton is the shooting and slashing threat that the Cougars simply can't match. And Rusthoven is a safe bet for 15 points and seven rebounds on any given night. Those two set the Tribe a head above the Cougars, and will be enough to put them through to the second round without too much hassle.

William & Mary wins, 75-65

4 Drexel vs. 5 Northeastern

Momentum Check
Drexel: 3-2
Northeastern: 2-3

Heat Check
Drexel: 103.8 PP100, 100.5 PP100 allowed
Northeastern: 99.4 PP100, 102.8 PP100 allowed

Matchup Check
Season series tied, 1-1, with Drexel holding a 145-142 scoring advantage.

The two times these teams (sorry for starting a sentence with five Ts) met this season, the games were as dead even as you can get. There were few advantages to be had by either side. Drexel point guard Frantz Massenat shot a combined 10 of 34 in those two contests for an uncharacteristically low 29.4 shooting percentage.

This game will be close, just as the first two were, and there really isn't much statistically to say the Dragons will win. But I'm in the heart over body camp, as well as the homer camp. Drexel will win this game because they are indomitably the better of the two teams. They have more veteran leadership, and those veteran leaders have more on the line.

Expect better than 29 percent from Frantz Massenat.

Drexel wins, 64-56

1 Delaware vs. 4 Drexel

Matchup Check
Season series tied, 1-1, with Delaware holding a 155-146 scoring advantage.

This game, if and when it transpires, will be the centerpiece of the tournament. The pièce de résistance. It will pit Delaware senior guard Devon Saddler against Drexel guards Frantz Massenat and Chris Fouch. I had the privilege of watching the two teams face off when Delaware visited Drexel in January, and there was a serious fire between Saddler and Massenat.

These two have a long-standing rivalry, and if it comes down to one game to determine the rivalry and the lengths of their respective collegiate careers, it will be one to remember. At that point the game boils down to analyzing supporting casts, and I believe more in Davon Usher and Jarvis Threatt than Chris Fouch and Tavon Allen. It'll be a close one, and a beauty.

Delaware wins, 65-62

2 Towson vs. 3 William & Mary

Matchup Check
Towson won season series 2-0, holding a 155-138 scoring advantage.

Picking William & Mary in this matchup is extremely tempting. The Tribe have a ton of scoring depth, meaning they can typically stay close to any team in the CAA even if one of their four double-digit scorers is off his game. They also just held tight to this very Towson team this past Saturday, falling by two points on a last-second Mike Burwell jumper.

The problem is that Jerrelle Benimon averaged 21 points, 15 rebounds, and 5.5 assists in the two games between these teams. When Benimon put up a double-double this season, the Tigers went 14-6, including going 9-2 vs. the CAA.

If Rusthoven and the Tribe can find a way to pump Benimon's brakes, they'll have a shot in the final five minutes. If not, it'll be smooth sailing to the championship game for Towson.

Towson wins, 81-74

1 Delaware vs. 2 Towson

Matchup Check
Season series tied 1-1, with Towson holding a 154-146 scoring advantage.

I'm still shaky on having the Blue Hens in the championship game over Drexel. Versus a team as powerful -- and on fire -- as Towson? It's going to be tough to pick Monte Ross's squad.

Delaware has the better guard play, that much is a given. They roll out three guards who can play with any backcourt trio in the conference. But Towson's backcourt isn't anything to turn your nose up at. Mike Burwell, Marcus Damas, and Rafriel Guthrie average a combined 33.5 points per game and all shoot at least 32 percent from deep.

Towson scores on you in a number of ways; when you think you have Jerrelle Benimon's scoring game figured out, he finds his wingmen and opens the floor for them to hit shots on sagging defenders looking for Benimon's next cut.

The Hens' Carl Baptiste is a functional big man inside, putting up 10.9 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. But he's functional at best. Jerrelle Benimon will bully him all game long. And, in front of likely pro-Towson crowd, I don't see the Hens having the answers, Sway.

Towson wins, 79-72

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Like I said, I could see as many as four different teams winning this championship.

Delaware is the most intimidating offensive squad in terms of potential -- they might not bring it every night, but when they do, the Hens could drop 100 points on any team in the CAA. Towson, my pick, has the most dominating force in the conference. William & Mary is a beautifully well-rounded team offensive team. And Drexel has a combination of veteran sharpshooters and the indefinable will to win.

I don't know what to pick. You don't know what to pick. WE'RE ALL CONFUSED. So let's just watch and see what unfolds.

After all, that's why they play the games.

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