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Colonial Notebook

February 11, 2008 Conference Notes No Comments

Colonial Athletic Association Notebook

by Jay Pearlman

The dynamic is different in different sports and conferences, that of whether some or all teams make the post-season, and whether or not seeding provides byes for some. In some college conferences (e.g., the Big East) only the first 8, 10 or 12 teams make the post-season.

At press row on Tuesday night at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, the chatter was that the Friars’ win over DePaul that evening would assure Providence a tournament bid. I wasn’t at their loss Saturday at St. John’s, but I suspect the Providence chatter was much less certain down in Queens.

Here in the Colonial, twelve of twelve teams make the tourney, and the first four get byes into the quarter-finals; thus all of the chatter is about seeding.

Also, all of us have heard radio and television announcers calling games say that “this game is being played like a playoff game,” “the intensity down on the field/court is like that of a playoff game,” or “this game is as exciting as a playoff game.” Well for my money, the tensest and most exciting of games are those that determine whether or not a team gets into the post-season, rather than post-season games themselves. For example, in week 16 of the NFL season, the New York Giants played in Buffalo, with a win clinching a wild-card and a loss making necessary a win against New England in week 17 to avoid elimination. Now, that was a game, arguably a bigger game than the heralded game against the Patriots the following week, bigger than each of the road playoff wins the next three weeks, bigger even than the Super Bowl win. If not for that win against Buffalo (and the Giants were down 14 in the first quarter), likely none of the rest could ever have happened. For a second example, just think of the Colorado Rockies this past September.

Getting back to the CAA, if one were to ask each of the 12 coaches in the conference about seeding, I’m certain that all would say that the biggest jump is between the 4th and 5th seeds. The 4th seed gets a bye to the Saturday quarterfinals; everyone below must play first round games on Friday. (Much like the difference between second and third seeds in each NFL conference). Therefore, for a team seeded anywhere from 5 to 12 to win the CAA tournament, it must win 4 games on 4 straight days; for a team among the first 4 seeds, just 3 games in 3 days. A huge difference.

Last year in the CAA, the teams were bunched in groups of four, such that the last two games of the regular season impacted only seeding within the first four, the middle four, and the last four seeding groups. The results that final week had no bearing on the four byes, already earned by Virginia Commonwealth, Old Dominion, Drexel and Hofstra.

And just to underscore the point, if you were watching last year’s exciting tournament final between Mason and VCU at the Richmond Coliseum or on television, VCU’s late-game comeback was a comeback by a team playing for a third straight day against a team playing for a fourth. VCU won the tournament, an automatic bid and a date with Duke; Mason went home.

With Old Dominion’s home win over Mason yesterday, 72-64, this article changed from 4 teams for 2 spots to 6 teams for 3. That is, if George Mason would have prevailed yesterday and gone to 10-3, moving ODU to 6-7, while not mathematically assured, a four-game Mason lead with five to play would have looked insurmountable. Now, while VCU appears safely entrenched at 11-2, the next six teams in the conference all have legitimate shots at earning one of the three remaining first four seeds for a bye in the first round of the conference tournament.

Therefore, if you’re a fan of Mason or William and Mary (each 9-4), UNC-Wilmington (8-5), Delaware, ODU or Northeastern (each 7-6), the next five games are everything, each arguably bigger than whatever first or second round draw each team gets in the tournament. So, if you’re a basketball fan in Fairfax, Williamsburg, Wilmington, Newark, Norfolk or Boston, these next five games are the games, games you ought pay as much attention to as I did to the Giants at Buffalo in NFL week 16. Let’s look at the teams, their schedules, and their prospects.

Despite the loss yesterday in Norfolk, 9-4 George Mason has the strongest chance for a bye. With a lead of two full games and most tie-breakers ahead of Delaware, ODU and Northeastern, Jim Larranaga will surely win a bye with a 3-2 record in its remaining 5, and even 2-3 could be sufficient. Mason is also by far the highest ranked of the six competing teams. Moreover, their remaining schedule includes three home games and two away; the home games are against UNC Wilmington, Delaware and William & Mary (all three among the competing 6), while its away games are both winnable, at Towson and another of its bye competitors, Northeastern.

Coming off yesterday’s loss at Northeastern, 51-42, Tony Shaver’s William & Mary team shares the second-best record in the league with Mason at 9-4. But the Tribe has only two games remaining at home, with three on the road; the home games are against beatable Drexel and difficult VCU, and the away games against beatable but difficult Towson (5-1 at home in the conference), and against difficult UNCW and Mason. So while 3 wins should earn a bye, and 2 could, two wins in the remaining five are hardly assured for the league’s least athletic and most over-achieving team.

At 8-5, Benny Moss’ UNCW club surely needs three wins for a bye, and perhaps four. The Seahawks have three of their remaining five games in the friendly confines of Trask Coliseum, where the students stand from opening tip to closing horn and where they are 5-1 in conference and 9-2 overall. The home games are against William & Mary, Georgia State and Old Dominion; the away games are brutal, at VCU and Mason. So even at 8-5, Wilmington will have to sweep three home games and either steal a difficult road win or watch the scoreboard for a bye.

Finally, the three teams at 7-6, ODU, Delaware and Northeastern, each likely needs four wins for a shot at a bye. And all three of them, like William & Mary, must play three of their remaining five away.

While struggling of late, Monte Ross’ Delaware team appears to have the easiest remaining schedule of these six teams, with home games against Drexel and Hofstra and road tilts at Georgia State, Towson and Mason. Even with a game at difficult George Mason, if Ross rights the ship for the next three weeks, four wins are not beyond the pale.

For its remaining five, at home Blaine Taylor’s ODU team will face beatable Drexel and Northeastern, the latter of whom beat the Monarchs this past week in Boston; on the road ODU faces beatable James Madison and more difficult UNC Wilmington and VCU.

Bill Coen’s Northeastern Huskies may have the toughest road to a bye, with home games against monsters VCU and Mason along with road games at Hofstra, Georgia State and ODU. If the Huskies could finish strong (as they did last year), and somehow win three of four against Hofstra, Georgia State, VCU and ODU, their final home game on March 1 against Mason (which won the Fairfax match-up by 28) could be for a bye, perhaps even to take that bye away from Mason.

So for fans of these six CAA teams who might be waiting for the conference tournament to pay attention, even to attend games in Richmond, a bit of advice: attend, watch or listen to the next five conference games, for it is these games more than the tourney to follow that will determine your teams’ fates this 2007-08 season.

CAA News and Notes

  • Things returned to normalcy in the league this past week, as home teams prevailed in 9 of 12 CAA games played.
  • With yesterday’s home win over William and Mary, Northeastern has now won four in a row (two away, and then two at home), moving from 3-6 to 7-6, joining the competition for a first round tournament bye.
  • With its loss at ODU yesterday, George Mason is now 3-4 away from the Patriot Center (as opposed to 6-0 at home). That at least gives some hope to its forthcoming road opponents, Towson and Northeastern.
  • Seven of the 12 games this coming week in the CAA will be televised: Mason at Towson Wednesday at 9 on MASN; Drexel at ODU Thursday at 7 on ESPNU; Hofstra at JMU Saturday at noon on CSN-MA and SNY; Drexel at Delaware Saturday at 2 on CN8 and CSS; William and Mary at Towson Saturday at 4 on CSN-MA; UNCW at Mason Saturday at 6 on ESPNU; and ODU at VCU Saturday at 8 on ESPN2.


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