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CAA Tournament Primer: Can the Seahawks repeat?

NCAA Basketball: CAA Conference Tournament Finals- Hofstra vs North Carolina-Wilmington Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The UNCW Seahawks have had a target on their backs since they won the Colonial Athletic Association last year and gave Duke a run for its money. But it’s been six years since the CAA had a repeat champion, and UNCW (the regular season champion) has several teams nipping at its heels to steal the one available bid.

The College of Charleston finished just one game back in a season-long horse race and has one of the best defenses in the country. There are dangerous teams among the middle seeds like Towson and William & Mary. The Tigers are the CAA’s most physical team, punishing opponents with their league-leading rebounding and free throw numbers. The Tribe have the most potent offense and are looking to erase their Forgotten Five status.

Even teams at the bottom of the bracket have firepower in the way of senior leadership and individual talent. The stakes are high, and there’s anything but a sure thing heading into the CAA Tournament.

Tournament Format

The CAA Tournament comprises of four rounds in four days. As in years past, the top six teams at the end of the regular season are awarded a first round bye that keeps them out of Friday’s games. The bottom four seeds play in 8/9 and 7/10 matchups with winners advancing to play the top two seeds in the quarterfinals.

How to Watch

Every game in this tournament, except the championship, can be streamed on CAA.TV. Television broadcasts are noted below.

First Round, March 3

#8 Hofstra vs. #9 Delaware, 6:00 p.m., CAA.TV
#7 James Madison vs. #10 Drexel, 8:30 p.m., CAA.TV

Quarterfinals, March 4

#1 UNCW vs. 8/9 Winner, 12:00 p.m., Comcast Sportsnet
#4 William & Mary vs. #5 Elon, 2:30 p.m., Comcast Sportsnet
#2 Charleston vs. 7/10 Winner, 6:00 p.m., Comcast Sportsnet
#3 Towson vs. #6 Northeastern, 8:30 p.m., Comcast Sportsnet

Semifinals, March 5

Saturday Afternoon Winners, 2:00 p.m., Comcast Sportsnet
Saturday Evening Winners, 4:30 p.m., Comcast Sportsnet

Championship Game, March 6

Championship Game, 7:00 p.m., CBS Sports Network

Bracket

3 Things to Watch

1. Can Northeastern or Elon get hot for three games?

Neither the Huskies nor Phoenix finished with win totals to match the top seeds, but both teams are tough draws at full strength. Northeastern has the Player of the Year in T.J. Williams and posted the CAA’s best three-game stretch when the Huskies defeated Vermont, Michigan State and Oakland during a non-conference road trip. Elon was the overachiever of the year and leads the league in three-point makes. They can burn anyone when the shots are splashing.

2. How important is individual talent?

If you believe upperclassmen poise and guard play win championships, you might want to put money on some upsets. James Madison is the league’s most experienced team, but slipped to the seventh seed. William & Mary has a senior backcourt that averages 35 points per game. Even Hofstra and Drexel have All-CAA talent that can swing games.

3. What is the impact of a change in venue?

After three years in centrally-located Baltimore, the CAA moved the tournament to Charleston, SC for the foreseeable future. It’s at the southernmost tip of the conference - readily accessible for CofC, Wilmington and Elon, but not the Northern schools. North Charleston Coliseum will serve as host, despite a reputation for having difficult shooting sight lines. Will the new host city sway crowds and quality of play as the conference hopes?

Prediction

The CAA gets its dream matchup with a chalk championship game between #1 UNCW and #2 Charleston. In a raucous atmosphere, the Seahawks lean on their wing depth to pull away in their third game in three days. Wilmington repeats as champs by a score of 67-64.