Friday March 7th
Game 1: #9 UNCW vs #8 Hofstra
The game nobody wanted to play. The winner of this veritable "play-in" game gets the unfortunate task of facing off against top-seeded Delaware less than 15 hours later. Neither the Pride nor the 'Hawks come into Baltimore with any real momentum, but Hofstra does hold the 2-0 series advantage against the Dub this season. The Seahawks seemed to be turning the slightest of corners down the stretch of this season but Dixon and Williams can only do so much. The victor gets congratulated with jeers from CAA fans Saturday afternoon about having not delivered enough jabs to bruise up Delaware before the latter rounds.
The Pick: Hofstra
Saturday March 8th
Game 2: #1 Delaware vs UNCW / Hofstra Winner
Over/under 25 Flacco jersey-clad UD fans at this tournament? Even as the overall #1 seed in Baltimore, I'm not sure many have bought the Blue Hens as the team to beat. Despite having three All-CAA performers in the starting lineup, the Blue Hens are playing second fiddle to pre-season favorite Towson. In a league full of parity I would be surprised if this game is in question beyond halftime. Delaware had a chip on their shoulder against CofC in the final regular season game and I believe they will carry it into Baltimore. I foresee Upshaw having an inefficient 20+ point game as he tries to shoot Hofstra into the next round but ultimately Saddler, Usher and Baptiste pose too much manpower.
The Pick: Delaware
Game 3: #4 Drexel vs #5 Northeastern
Now we're getting somewhere. For the middle 80% of the season I saw CofC likely playing in this middle seed matchup. That scenario fell by the wayside when the Cougars dropped their last three games. Like the Cougars, Drexel seems capable of grinding out an upset or two in Baltimore but Northeastern has the most recent win over the Dragons in the season finale and The Beasterton down low. If the college basketball gods are just we'll get a repeat of the fantastic double OT game that these two teams played on January 8th. In similar fashion I think this is going to come down to the wire, with one team making just enough threes late in the game to pull away.
The Pick: Northeastern
Game 4: #2 Towson vs #7 JMU
With the CAA Tournament leaving the familiar confines of Richmond, Virginia, former conference doormat-turned favorite Towson finds themselves defending their own backyard. JMU is a team you don't want to face in a win or go home scenario because their effort levels and outside shooting sway back and forth so violently that they can beat anybody. But the Dukes are still a year or more away from really making noise in the tournament. Benimon, Skerry and Towson have had big aspirations all year - I fully anticipate them taking care of business on Saturday and cruising into the next round.
The Pick: Towson
Game 5: #3 William & Mary vs #6 Charleston
Well well well...now we get to the headliner, the main event (just let me have this). CofC fans have differing opinions on whether or not 3rd seeded William & Mary is a favorable or unfavorable matchup. The Cougars experienced both sides of how the classic offense vs defense matchup can go. At William and Mary earlier in the year, CofC had the Tribe right where they wanted them and seemed destined to sneak out with a low scoring victory on the road before Marcus Thornton started taking (and making) and unconscious number of shots to lead a strong comeback and ultimate win. More recently in Charleston, CofC put together what will probably go down as their best game of the season. The defense put the pressure on Thornton and Rusthoven early and often but more importantly, the Cougars took what the soft W&M defense gave them and drained season highs in threes and shooting percentage en route to an 87-54 victory.
I hope that game is crystallized in the players' heads because that's how they need to play throughout the tournament - balanced. You have to believe William & Mary is nervous about a rematch with CofC. Wojcik has preached all season that the regular season CAA run is just a set-up for the tournament; and the team has the defensive acumen, relative depth and rebounding dominance to stay in any game (also lose any game, as we've seen so often this year). The Tribe rely on three point offense and the unfamiliar shooting perspective that comes with playing in a brand new venue does not bode well for them.
If the Cougars are going to pull the upset, they will need two things to fall their way. First, the game needs to be called like a tournament contest and not like the bones-are-made-of-glass whistle fests of this past fall. CofC cannot afford to have All-CAA defensive ace Adjehi Baru riding the pine with the season on the line and Marcus Thornton driving uncontested to the basket.
The second thing is what we have preached all season: the scoring. More specifically, the outside shots need to fall. The sets Charleston sees on Saturday should not be much different than the defense they torched last time out. The Tribe players don't have the length or closeout speed to contest open looks so Nori, Anthony and Canyon need to drain them when they get the opportunity.
The Pick: The College