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CAA Tournament Preview: Does Hofstra have enough left in the tank?

Hofstra dominated the regular season, but can it topple the CAA’s other contenders?

NCAA Basketball: Hofstra at Villanova Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

The highlight of the Colonial Athletic Association regular season was the dominance of the Hofstra Pride over a 16-game win streak from November to February. Led by Justin Wright-Foreman’s stellar senior campaign, the Pride dominated nearly every league offensive category and ripped off nine consecutive conference victories before their first setback.

But Hofstra started to show signs of fatigue down the stretch. It lost two of its last five games to bottom-feeders UNCW and JMU, including a 104-99 home loss to the Dukes on Senior Night. Those stumbles have opened the door for the rest of the CAA’s top teams to steal a bid from the regular season champs.

Bracket

Colonial Athletic Association

Schedule

First Round (Sat., March 9)

CAA.tv will stream both games. All times Eastern.

Game 1: No. 8 James Madison vs. No. 9 Towson, 4 p.m.
Game 2: No. 7 Elon vs. No. 10 UNC Wilmington, 6:30 p.m.

Quarterfinals (Sun., March 10)

CAA.tv will stream all four games

Game 3: Game 1 Winner vs. No. 1 Hofstra, Noon
Game 4: No. 4 William & Mary vs. No. 5 Delaware, 2:30 p.m.
Game 5: Game 2 Winner vs. No. 2 Northeastern, 6 p.m.
Game 6: No. 3 Charleston vs. No. 6 Drexel, 8:30 p.m.

Semifinals (Mon., March 11)

Both games on CBS Sports Network

Game 7: Game 3 Winner vs. Game 4 Winner, 6 p.m.
Game 8: Game 5 Winner vs. Game 6 Winner, 8:30 p.m.

Championship (Tues., March 12)

CBS Sports Network

Game 9: Game 7 Winner vs. Game 8 Winner, 7 p.m.

The Favorites

Hofstra (25-6, 15-3): The Pride are clearly the hunted here, and for good reason. They have the conference Player of the Year in Wright-Foreman (26.8 ppg) and a balanced supporting cast that includes PG Desure Buie, wing Eli Pemberton and big man Jacquil Taylor. Hofstra dominated the CAA for half the season.

The questions for the Pride revolve around their depth and defense. Joe Mihalich plays a short rotation. Can they keep the offense humming for three games in three days? Playing the zone that it’s deployed all season should help keep Hofstra fresh, but it did seem a bit porous in those UNCW and JMU games. Fortunately, having Wright-Foreman is enough to go on a three-game tear.

Northeastern (20-10, 14-4): Northeastern was an easy preseason pick to win the CAA after it returned point guard Vasa Pusica and the rest of the team that made the championship game last year. Injuries, most notably to reigning defensive POY Shawn Occeus, derailed the Huskies from reaching their potential, but they still finished just a game back of Hofstra. Northeastern was a Wright-Foreman miracle shot away from sweeping the Pride in the regular season.

Even with a skeleton crew down the stretch, the Huskies won nine of their last 10. If they can get Occeus and big man Tomas Murphy back for the tournament, they will be a deep and dangerous team.

Charleston (23-8, 12-6): The defending-champion Cougars can’t be overlooked here, most notably because of where this tournament is being played. North Charleston Coliseum is 10 miles from campus, and the Cougars have not missed a championship game in the two previous CAA tournaments held there. Charleston also has two of the best players in the league in Grant Riller (22.3 ppg) and Jarrell Brantley (19.5 ppg, 8.4 rpg).

Earl Grant also developed a talented, if inexperienced, bench over the course of the season. That could ease the burden on Riller and Brantley, who are going to be the focus of every defense the Cougars face. They will need third and fourth scorers to repeat as champs.

Dark Horses

William & Mary (14-16, 12-8): William & Mary is the hottest team headed into the tournament. Led by big man Nathan Knight (21 ppg, 8.5 rpg), the Tribe won their final five games to pull away from the middle pack and finish as an advantageous fourth seed.

If they can win the 4/5 matchup with Delaware, the Tribe have a potential matchup with Hofstra in the semifinals. These teams have had several memorable battles in recent history, including a triple-overtime game on Jan. 10. If the Tribe are going to make some noise, their young supporting cast is going to have to continue to defend and protect the ball like they did down the stretch.

Prediction

If Northeastern enters the tournament with a healthy roster, the Huskies have the coaching, depth and experience to take home the hardware. They have the best defense in the CAA, and that can be the difference in this league when so many teams can score. Hofstra’s depth is a blessing in that the offense gels so well, but it’s concerning on these tight turnarounds between games. Make sure you tune into the semifinals. Whoever looks the most dominant in that round is probably going to win the whole tournament.