As John showed yesterday, the CAA Tournament is up for grabs. Thanks to a balanced league with four co-champions, as well as the CAA’s neutral-site format, nobody won more than 26% of the 10,000 simulations, and six teams had at least a 10% chance of making the finals. Here’s the case for each of the top six seeds — and the others — heading into this evening’s first round.
The case for … William & Mary: The Tribe has the league’s Player of the Year in Marcus Thornton. They have the league’s best efficiency margin in conference play (+.11 points per possession). They have the narrative, as one of five original DI schools who has never made an NCAA Tournament. And they have karma, having been on the wrong end of Delaware’s last-minute comeback in the 2014 CAA finals. Bet against the league’s best offense — and the league’s best story — at your own risk.
The case for … UNC Wilmington: If you subscribe to the “Defense Wins Championships” theory, then UNCW is the choice for you. In a league full of offense-first teams, the Seahawks are the outlier, allowing .98 ppp while squeaking by on offense. In a tournament of back-to-back games, opponents will be playing on tired legs and won’t have time to practice against UNCW’s pressure. And as a team that doesn’t rely much on three-pointers, the Seahawks aren’t likely to shoot themselves out of the postseason on bad fortune alone.
The case for … Northeastern: The Huskies’ balance and consistency has been unmatched in the Colonial this year. The other top-six seeds all have one unit, offense or defense, ranked in the bottom 100 nationally per KenPom’s adjusted efficiency; Northeastern is above the median on both ends. Every other CAA team has a D-I losing streak of at least three games this year; the Huskies lost two in a row only once. Consistency isn’t necessarily a virtue in a winner-take-all tournament — especially one as wide-open as this year’s, which will be won by the hottest team over three or four games — but the Huskies have fewer weaknesses than any other contender.
The case for … James Madison: The Dukes are the hottest team in the league, having won six of their last seven games. They’ve flown under the radar, perhaps because they were swept by the top three seeds — but that might be how they like it. In 2013, after finishing fourth in the league, James Madison went on a three-game tear in March to win the CAA Tournament, eventually winning a play-in game in the Big Dance. With two high-volume shooters nailing 42% of their treys (Ron Curry and Jackson Kent), the Dukes can get hot again.
The case for … Hofstra: Despite finishing two games behind the top four, Hofstra had the third-best efficiency margin in the conference (+.07 ppp), and the Pride are in a virtual tie with William & Mary and Northeastern in KenPom’s rankings. In this bracket, Hofstra may not face an opponent above the national average in tempo, allowing the league’s fastest-paced team to surprise foes on short rest. A 3-6 record in games decided by two possessions or less isn’t predictive of future luck, and no one will want to face the Juan’ya Green-Ameen Tanksley duo in the postseason.
The case for … Delaware: They’ve been here before. Granted, that’s using the royal “they” — only Kyle Anderson remains from the starting five of last year’s CAA Tournament champions. But that’s partly the point: After replacing so many key pieces, this year’s Blue Hens were bound to be a different team in March than they were in November. That makes it easier to ignore the 1-13 start — not easy, but easier — and focus on what Delaware has done over the past four weeks: A 5-2 record with four road wins, including at Northeastern and at William & Mary, and a much-improved defense.
The case for … the field: UNCW was picked ninth in the preseason and looked mediocre in non-conference play before winning a share of the league title. Drexel was 4-14 before reeling off a six-game win streak. Delaware started 1-13 before eventually winning four of its final five. Teams have constantly come out of nowhere in this year’s CAA, and there’s no reason to think that will stop in the postseason. Elon is the top candidate, riding a three-game win streak that includes wins over Northeastern and UNCW, but Drexel looked spry in a road upset of William & Mary, and Towson was a 2-seed just last year.
The Bracket: (All games at Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore)
First Round (Friday, March 6):
#8 Elon vs. #9 Towson
#10 College of Charleston vs. #7 Drexel
Quarterfinals (Saturday, March 7):
#1 William & Mary vs. 8/9
#4 James Madison vs. #5 Hofstra
#2 UNC Wilmington vs. 7/10
#3 Northeastern vs. #6 Delaware
Semifinals (Sunday, March 8)
1/8/9 vs. 4/5
2/7/10 vs. 3/6
Finals: Monday, March 9