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Colonial Notebook

March 3, 2008 Conference Notes No Comments

Colonial Athletic Association Notebook

by Jay Pearlman

You play all winter for seeding, and for four of twelve teams for first round byes. And then you play a final week in the regular season, with precisely the expected outcomes. Predictably, of the twelve games played this week in the CAA, eleven were won by the home team. Also predictably, the one conference team that was able to win on the road this final week was the consensus best team, 15-3 Virginia Commonwealth. After besting North Carolina-Wilmington in Richmond on Wednesday night, Anthony Grant’s team finished up Saturday by defeating struggling William & Mary in Williamsburg, 54-43.

With an overall record of 23-6 heading into the conference tournament, I wonder whether quarterfinal and semifinal wins followed by an upset lost in the final might be enough to earn VCU an at-large bid to the Big Dance.

Reviewing team-by-team, after losing at VCU, UNCW managed a home win against surging Old Dominion, resulting in a 12-6 second place tie with George Mason, and the tie-breaker with two head-to-head wins. George Mason beat William & Mary at home on Wednesday, and then with the second seed on the line fell at Northeastern Saturday. ODU (11-7) beat Northeastern at home on Wednesday, and then fell at Wilmington; however, that home win on Wednesday – Blaine Taylor’s sixth in a row, fifth in conference – was enough to clinch the fourth and final tournament bye.

The schedule maker was as unkind to William & Mary as to Northeastern, as the Tribe finished the regular season with a loss at George Mason, and then yesterday’s home loss to VCU. But on the strength of overachieving early in the conference season, Tony Shaver’s team finished at 10-8 and in fifth place. While this writer admittedly doesn’t always appreciate either Shaver’s personnel or his style of play, the fact that W&M finished 10-8 without a single player anywhere on my All-Conference ballot (not First, Second or Third Team All-Conference, not All-Rookie, and not All-Defense) must mean that Shaver got a huge amount out of his group.

With one reserve senior and its six best players freshmen and sophomores, Northeastern finished 9-9, losing at ODU on Wednesday before Saturday’s rousing home win over Mason. And by virtue of two head-to-head wins over Delaware, the Huskies land in the 6th spot. Like William & Mary starting strong and wobbling to the finish line, the 9-9 Blue Hens defeated Hofstra at home on Wednesday before losing at Towson. Playing its best basketball of the season in mid- and late-February, Coach Tom Pecora’s Hofstra team lost at Delaware before beating Drexel on Long Island, climbing all the way to the 8th seed at 8-10.

A formidable team at home (7-2), Coach Pat Kennedy’s Towson team finished the year without a conference road win, and true to form the 7-11 Tigers fell at Georgia State before beating Delaware at home to finish up. If Kennedy can somehow convince his team that the shorter trip to Richmond makes them the home team against Hofstra on Friday, the 9th seed Tigers could win.

Undermanned 5-13 Drexel likewise split this week, defeating James Madison at home before losing on Long Island. Favoring tie-breakers land the Dragons 10th. After losing in Philadelphia, 5-13 JMU won outgoing coach Dean Keener’s final home game against Georgia State, which also gave the Dukes the tie-breaker against GSU. Coach Rod Barnes’ 5-13 Panthers also split their final two, defeating Towson at home before falling in Harrisonburg.

The tournament schedule reads this way:

  • Hofstra-Towson in the 8-9 game Friday at noon, the winner forced to play a rested No. 1 VCU on Saturday at that hour.
  • William & Mary-Georgia State in the 5-12 game Friday at 2:30, with the winner taking on No. 4 ODU the same time on Saturday. Don’t be surprised if Coach Barnes’ Panthers upset the struggling Tribe in the 5-12 game, hardened by an incredible number of one-point games this season, and their improved play into late February (I’m not even sure a win by the 12 seed would be an upset).
  • Delaware-Drexel in a rivalry 7-10 game Friday at 6, the winner to face No. 2 Wilmington Saturday evening. While Delaware has been struggling and Drexel still guards, I just don’t see enough offense on Bruiser Flint’s team for the upset.
  • And in Friday’s 8:30 finale, Northeastern-James Madison in the 6-11 game, the winner to face No. 3 George Mason on Saturday night. In that 6-11 game, we’ll see if the JMU players really want to extend Coach Keener’s career, and also if Northeastern’s win Saturday over Mason breathes fresh life into freshmen point guard Chaisson Allen, who has hit at least two walls already this season.

But before we tip off the tournament, there’s the conference dinner on Thursday, with lots of hardware to be distributed. For the second year this writer has been honored as one of forty-eight voters (head coach, SID and two sportswriters for each conference team; in Boston it’s myself along with Hoopville editor Phil Kasiecki). On this, even though I haven’t consulted counsel, I have every reason to believe that while I have the right to keep my votes secret, I am under no obligation to do so. (With the votes having been cast earlier today, I can’t influence any of my fellow voters, not even Kasiecki who will edit this article). So here goes:

  • For Third Team All-Conference (listing the players 15th through 11th), I voted for Abdulai Jalloh of JMU, John Vaughan of George Mason, Gerald Lee of Old Dominion, C.C. Williams of Towson, and Herb Courtney of Delaware;
  • For Second Team, I voted for Pierre Curtis of JMU, Jamal Shuler of VCU, Matt Janning of Northeastern, T.J. Carter of UNC-Wilmington, and his teammate Vladimir Kuljanin;
  • For First Team, I voted for Leonard Mendez of Georgia State, Folarin Campbell of Mason, his teammate Will Thomas, and Antoine Agudio of Hofstra. After more than a few minutes strongly considering Agudio, I went back to my original selection and listed Eric Maynor as CAA Player of the Year;
  • For All-Rookie Team (again listed from fifth to first), I nominated Ben Finney of ODU (his monster game against Northeastern last Wednesday earned the vote), Chaisson Allen of Northeastern, Alphonso Dawson of Delaware, and Charles Jenkins of Hofstra. Recognizing my prejudice in favor of point guards (the late Al McGuire used to say “cut off the head, and the body dies”), my Rookie of the Year is Wilmington’s Chad Tomko;
  • For All-Defensive Team, I voted for dark-horse Randy Oveneke of Drexel (Randy would be a strong candidate for most improved player, if we had such an award), Shuler, Vaughan (was my Defender of the Year until Janning had his way Saturday), and Tramayne Hawthorne, also of Drexel. My Defensive Player of the Year (interestingly also the leader in assist-turnover ratio, and like Oveneke a candidate for most improved player if we had one) is Towson’s C.C Williams;
  • My Coach of the Year, for meshing two seniors with a sophomore and three freshmen, and surging to a bye in what most of us thought was a rebuilding year, is ODU’s Blaine Taylor. (My broadcast partner Dave Jageler pushed for Benny Moss, whose team, like Taylor’s, improved right through the end of February).

CAA News and Notes

  • Our halftime guest on the broadcast of Northeastern’s first round tournament game (Friday at 8:15, on AM 1060-WBIX in Boston, and WBIX.com) will be the brand new coach of Indiana University, Dan Dakich.
  • I continue to marvel at what a superb group of coaches have come together in the CAA, including the most recent addition in GSU’s Barnes. Even if Coach Grant should find his way to the SEC next season, this will remain an incredibly strong group.
  • All four CAA quarterfinal games next Saturday, and both semifinal games next Sunday, will be televised on CN8. The final at 7 p.m. on Monday will be aired on ESPN.
  • Congratulations to old friend and Cleveland State University head coach Gary Waters. With their 65-58 win at Youngstown State Saturday night, CSU completes its Horizon League regular season at 12-6, 20-11 overall. Coupled with Wright State’s loss earlier Saturday at Valparaiso, that win earns the Vikings the second seed in the Horizon League Tournament and a bye into the semifinal round, where they play a home game next Saturday at 4:30. That developement saves this writer a trip to Cleveland on Tuesday, and I’ll be a little bit busy in Richmond come Saturday. But just maybe, I’ll get to catch the Vikes in the Horizon League Championship Game a week from Tuesday, the NCAA, or the NIT.


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