The Colonial Athletic Association took a hit with the departure of the notorious giant-killers VCU and George Mason. It was never going to be easy replacing those teams who put Final Fours on their resume within the last decade.
The conference took a chance in choosing the College of Charleston and Elon University, both perennial Southern Conference powers, to join one of the better mid-major conferences in the country. The CAA wanted Charleston's SoCon rival, Davidson, to join with them two years ago as well. The Wildcats held out for a better offer, which came in the form of the Atlantic 10 and many of us know how well that has turned out.
But on Friday night, both Charleston and Elon won their first CAA tournament games, which is a step in the right direction for all parties.
In the first matchup of the tournament, the No. 8 seeded Elon took down No. 9 Towson in overtime, 74-69.
Winning their final four regular season games, Elon finished with six wins in the CAA, which was on par with Charleston's first year in the conference in 2014.
Elon saw their star in the making, Elijah Bryant, score 21 points to pace all scorers. The CAA Rookie of the Year drilled four shots from behind the arc, which was part of 13 three balls from Elon as a team.
Elon will advance to Saturday's quarterfinals to face the top seeded William & Mary Tribe, which will be the ultimate test for the newest team in the CAA.
Following Elon's lead, No. 10 Charleston won the late game over No. 7 Drexel, 56-48.
Charleston had a bumpy ride through their second season in the CAA, but proved that there is nothing better than a fresh start in the conference postseason tournament.
A team of veterans rallied to overcome a halftime deficit against a Drexel team who was shorthanded due to injury. Charleston outscored Drexel by 13 in the second half of play and used seven straight points from senior Anthony Stitt to take their first lead with 9:31 left in the second half.
Sophomore Canyon Barry scored 19 points, including six-straight to clinch the victory for Charleston. He went a perfect 7-7 from the foul line as well.
Charleston will now face No. 2 UNC Wilmington in the quarterfinals.
Regardless of the results for Charleston and Elon on Saturday night, this was a giant step for the CAA as a whole. No, not giant like the improbable George Mason run of 2006 or the VCU run of 2011, but certainly giant for the new-look CAA.
Charleston and Elon may not be world-beaters just yet, but their day will come and the growing pains of a new conference will be a distant thought.