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CAA Tournament finals preview: Preseason favorite against co-regular season champion

Both teams will look to clinch their first NCAA Tournament bid under their current coaches

Syndication: Wilmington News Journal William Bretzger / Delaware News Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

How To Watch

Location: Entertainment & Sports Arena, Washington, D.C.

Tip Time: 7:00 p.m. EST

Television: CBS Sports Network

DraftKings Betting Line: Delaware -2, O/U 134

This is exactly what leagues hope for in the preseason, right? The preseason favorite against the regular-season champion in the title game. It doesn’t get much better than this.

Delaware was slotted as the league’s preseason favorite, but losing its final three games of the season, things weren’t looking so bright for the Blue Hens. That was no problem though, as they threw that in the past and focused on the postseason, getting over the hump and making it to its first CAA title game since they won it in 2014. Both wins were in dominant fashion.

UNCW went from worst to first in the league, seemingly winning every close game. They began CAA play with a 9-0 record and just kept finding ways to win. That was shown on Monday in its semifinal victory over the College of Charleston.

Now, UNCW swept the season series but that means nothing. Delaware got swept by Towson in the regular season and won last night, same with Charleston against Hofstra on Sunday. It should be a battle.

Delaware

A lot of chatter in The First State was that this season was a disappointment or Martin Ingelsby will seemingly never get over the hump. But here we are, they’ve made it back to the CAA title games for the first time since 2014.

It began with a victory over rival Drexel on Sunday, 66-56. The Blue Hens led for all but the opening minute as Freshman of the Year Jyare Davis made his first start and picked up a double-double along with that.

They would then have to face co-regular season champion, Towson in the title game. Towson swept the season series, winning back-to-back games against the Blue Hens which included a celebration on the Tigers floor.

Delaware came out of the gate hot. Leading by as much as 16 in the first half, Towson cut it down to seven at the break. In the season-ending matchup – that was delayed with 18:45 remaining in the second half due to a wet floor – the Blue Hens led by nine, but Towson regained the lead just over three minutes later. The Blue Hens could run into the same trouble as both Jameer Nelson Jr. and Jyare Davis were in foul trouble, but they did not let their lead get lower than two, responding to every Towson run.

“We’re able to be versatile and a little dynamic on the defensive end,” said Ingelsby postgame on the foul trouble.

The Blue Hens also got swept by UNCW in the season series and if trends continue, it looks like they’ll be hard to stop. The old saying goes “It’s hard to beat a good team three times in a season.

“Definitely means a lot. It’s what we worked for all year, we had a disappointing finish to the end of our regular season. We kind of regrouped, took that little week off to regroup. We knew what we had to do to come down here and win three games in three days and we’re in the position we want to be in right now,” Dylan Painter said postgame.

UNCW

The soaring Seahawks capped the second consecutive worst to first season in the CAA as they will look to clinch their first NCAA Tournament bid since 2017.

It doesn’t always look pretty on the stat sheet for KenPom’s second luckiest team in the nation, but they’ve found ways to beat both Elon and College of Charleston on their way to the title game.

During Sunday’s quarterfinal against Elon, the Seahawks trailed by 14 with 12:08 remaining in the first half. They would finish the half on a 27-18 run, cutting it down to five at the break. The second half was complete domination, doubling up the Phoenix, 44-22.

Monday’s game was a scrap where they really held no advantages on the stat sheet. They were owned on the offensive boards, gave up a lot more shots, but they picked and choose their matchups and a charge late resulted in a three-point victory.

The Seahawks defense should get a lot of credit for limiting Charleston’s star, John Meeks, to only eight points on the game. He opened the evening with a 1-10 tilt from the field but scored 27 and 21 against the Seahawks earlier this season.

“We wanted to really crowd the floor on him and I think we did a better job of it,” head coach Takayo Siddle said postgame.

UNCW will have a chance to make it back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2017. Siddle was an assistant on Kevin Keatts staff when that happened.

“They know who we are as a program. We never get too high, get too low. We kinda stay in the moment. Ever since I’ve taken over the job, we’ve talked about winning the day and that’s what we’re going to try to do tomorrow,” Siddle said.

Prediction

This will be yet another grinded out UNCW game, but I feel as its luck will fall just short. Neither of the Delaware wins were blowouts and close games mean good battles between even teams. It’s hard to beat a team three times in a season. The Seahawks struggled against Towson’s group of big men in adversity a couple of weeks ago, giving up 35 points to the group. Delaware was just not owning the boards last game against UNCW and that was the ultimate difference, something that the Seahawks struggled with yesterday. I predict that Delaware comes out victorious by a score of 68-64, clinching its first ticket to the big dance since 2014.