CAA setting up for wide-open tournament

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Drexel coach Bruiser Flint and the Dragons are currently fourth in a wide-open CAA. (Photo: Tug Haines)

Drexel coach Bruiser Flint and the Dragons are currently fourth in a wide-open CAA. (Photo: Tug Haines)

Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)

With two weeks to go in the 2013-14 college basketball regular season, there might not be a harder conference tournament to predict than that of the Colonial Athletic Association.

Each of the nine teams in the league has at least one win over a team in the top three in the standings.

Out of the 64 conference games played through Sunday, February 23, only three were decided by 20-or-more points, which is the lowest rate among all 32 Division I conferences, according to basketball statistician Ken Pomeroy.

A full 25 percent of the CAA’s games have been decided by four points or fewer, or needed overtime, which is the seventh-highest rate in the country. That’s a better rate than every high-major conference–better than the Big East, the Atlantic Coast Conference, and especially better than the American Athletic Conference, at dead last in that category with just 11.3 percent of their games played within that margin.

Even the current leaders for the conference’s top seed know that any advantage their seeding would provide in the tournament will be almost nonexistent.

“When you go down there and it goes to 0-0, I think everybody’s going to be chomping at the bit,” Delaware coach Monté Ross said. “We’re expecting, we’re thinking, we’re knowing that every game we play in the CAA tournament is going to be a difficult game, anybody can win the game.”

“I don’t want to get too far ahead, we do have two regular-season games to go, but I think there’s going to be a lot of teams down there that feel like they can win it.”

Ross had good reason to say so, considering his Blue Hens dropped a tough 69-65 game to archrival Drexel on Saturday. It was the team’s senior day, a chance for the UDel students and alumni to see the program’s all-time leading scorer, Devon Saddler, in action at the Bob Carpenter Center for one final time. It was also a chance for Ross’ squad, who entered the game 12-1 in league play, to wrap up at least a share of the CAA title.

Instead, the Dragons, who entered the game with just a 6-7 record in league play, reminded the 5,122 in attendance just why the Baltimore Arena is going to be a rather fun place to be from March 7-10.

Drexel presents the perfect case for just how tight the league is. They’re currently in fourth place, but just a game ahead of 6-8 College of Charleston and James Madison, with Northeastern (6-9) a half-game back of them.

On the flip side, the Dragons’ last four losses have come by a total of seven points, including one that went to overtime. A few made free throws here and there would have the standings looking rather different, and they’re quite aware of how quickly those fortunes can change.

“I didn’t think we were going into the tournament desperate [anyway],” Drexel coach Bruiser Flint said when asked whether the Delaware win gave his team confidence heading in the tournament. “We just have to make those plays. If we win those four games, this game today might be for first place.”

Towson's Pat Skerry (above) and the Tigers are just a game back of Delaware with two games remaining. (Photo: Josh Verlin)

Towson’s Pat Skerry (above) and the Tigers are just a game back of Delaware with two games remaining. (Photo: Josh Verlin)

The schedule is set up perfectly for a lot of movement to happen even in the last two games, with Charleston playing both Drexel and Delaware; the Dragons also play at Northeastern while Delaware travels to last-place UNC-Wilmington (3-12). James Madison plays Towson, currently in second place at 11-3, as well as current No. 8 Hofstra (4-10); William & Mary, the current and likely No. 3 (9-5), has the same two opponents.

If Towson ties Delaware for the league title, the tiebreaker becomes a bit complicated, as those two split the two regular-season meetings. The league will look at the team’s records against opponents in the CAA beginning with the third seed (UDel is currently 1-0 against William & Mary, Towson is 2-0), and down from there.

Considering Drexel lost twice to Towson while splitting the two games with Delaware, that would give the advantage to the Tigers. With so many things up in the air, the Blue Hens’ best best is to win their final two games, another fact they’re well aware of.

“With social media and everything, maybe eight years ago you could hide it from them, but now you can’t,” Ross said. “They know. But I don’t think they feel any pressure.”

But if the seedings do hold over the next week, Drexel and Delaware will be on a collision path to meet in the semifinals. And there’s no doubt on either side that they can’t get it done.

“It’s a huge momentum-builder,” Drexel sophomore wing Tavon Allen said. “That just shows that we can play with anybody in this conference. When we come to play every day, we know we can play with anybody in this conference. We just know that if everybody is on the same page, we have a good chance to win a basketball game.”

Like the rest of the league come Baltimore, they’ll have a chance to win three.

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