After pulling away in the semifinals, No. 1 UNC Wilmington and No. 2 College of Charleston will meet for the Colonial Athletic Association title Monday night on CBS Sports Network. Tipoff at the North Charleston Coliseum will be at 7:00 p.m. ET.
In one of the most electric games of March thus far, the top-ranked Seahawks buried William & Mary in a 104-95 track meet on Sunday. The Wilmington backcourt of Denzel Ingram and Chris Flemmings combined for 53 points. Despite W&M shooting 67 percent in the second half, UNCW’s speed and outside shooting were too much to overcome. The Seahawks advanced to their second straight CAA Tournament final with an eye on being the first repeat champion in six years.
Charleston trailed No. 3 Towson by as many as seven points in the second half, but got some big plays from their stars and a boost from the home crowd to pull away late. All-CAA point guard Joe Chealey exploded for 25 second-half points, including a stretch where he scored 13 straight to give CofC a lead. Jarrell Brantley converted a layup through contact to swing the momentum in the Cougars’ favor before junior guard Cam Johnson iced the game with a three and a steal.
The championship game will be a battle of conflicting styles. Wilmington wants a game in the 80s, where it can wear an opponent into turnovers and convert in transition. Charleston wants a game in the 60s, where it can leverage its league-leading defense into a game that gives its go-to guys a chance to make plays. The teams split the regular season series.
If UNCW repeats as league champs, it will be because the Seahawks swarm the Cougars into another uncharacteristic high-turnover night. That full-pressure defense fuels the transition game, where three all-league guards can light it up. Charleston would benefit from getting into the paint early -- a place where both Chealey and Brantley excel. That puts pressure on Defensive Player of the Year Devontae Cacok. The sophomore big is prone to foul trouble, and taking him out makes the UNCW offense much more one dimensional.
The atmosphere should be intense, as both schools have had raucous fans in attendance all week. Charleston will hope it favors its team a bit more, and leads to an energized offensive burst. In their two postseason games, the Cougars have been prone to lulls where the offense devolves into isolation plays.
UNCW winning puts the team and coach Kevin Keatts in elite CAA company. A Charleston upset returns the school to the Big Dance for the first time in nearly 20 years. It’ll be a battle of strengths, and a worthy conclusion to the race these two teams have competed in all season.