DC: Hi Alan, thanks for offering your insights in this preview and all year long. Let's start with an easy one. CAA tourney: Who is your pick and why?
AB: William and Mary played to the highest level of all in the conference. Their home loss to shorthanded Drexel, when trying to clinch the title was to say the least, bizarre, and almost unexplainable. Strangely, it may help them. They had played a bunch of big games in a row. A clinker was coming. Better to get it out of the way pre-tournament, than during. I am a bit biased as I absolutely love Tony Shaver. I root hard for schools that stick to their guns when it comes to athletes and academics, so there is a slight chance I am a bit biased, however, it is really pretty simple, William and Mary was the very best team during the conference schedule, they have tons of experience and their focus should be overwhelming as this is a chance for the school to finally make the NCAA tournament. As just stated, the awful game vs Drexel, should make it easier to keep that focus, the energy sky high. They are a flawed team no doubt. Athletically, they are underwhelming, therefore, their defense is not the best and they can get beat up on the boards, but I do not believe that those issues will outweigh the spectacular offense they run. The teams that are close have holes bigger than theirs. Unusual for me, but I am going with the favorite with both my heart and my head.
DC: I don't have any issues with the pick. My challenge to that is that as you said, they are so reliant on shooting. It's hard to be consistent when you're so poor at fundamentals like defense and rebounding. They went 20-12 but only won 3 games in a row once all season.
My pick is James Madison. Ron Curry has developed so well, Yohanny Dalembert is so skilled and Matt Brady showed two years ago that his teams can peak at the right time. I like them a lot against Hofstra on Saturday since HU is 0-6 against the top 4 offenses in the conference, and JMU and William and Mary are both in that fold. Tough draw for the Pride. If we get JMU/W&M on Sunday, that will be worth the price of admission.
Do you have any teams from the top half of the conference that you don't like to win? Or a sleeper from the bottom 5 to compete?
AB: I do not like Hofstra, not at all. They too rely on offense and are shaky on defense. In their biggest game of the year, they lost at home to William & Mary. They were very good at beating the weak, but failed against the better teams. Like you, I think they lose to James Madison, but if they get by them, they certainly will lose to William & Mary. They are similar to The Tribe but their shot selection will not be as good.
I would love to say that Drexel is the best of the lower seeds. With all the injuries, Bruiser was forced to play Drexel basketball, the way I remember. Yes, they shot the lights out in the shocking win over William & Mary, but they rebounded well and did not turn it over. They must have also defended well. That is a formula for winning tournament games, however, winning 4 games in 4 days as shorthanded as they are is just too much to ask. Delaware played extremely well the last few games. They had a very young team. I suppose there is some chance that they grew up. They could possible pull off a surprise or two.
DC: Totally agree with you that the only potential active underdogs are Drexel and Delaware. I can't stop being bummed out that it took Bru 6 injuries to play the game that he should have been playing all year long, but they're there now and will certainly be a live dog.
The only teams we haven't seemed to cover are a Northeastern team that I expected to be much better than its been, and a senior laden UNCW team that no one is giving any respect or paying attention to. Could either make a run?
AB: UNCW overachieved big time. They are one of the bigger surprises in the country. Coach Keatts should be one of the finalists for coach of the year but he is in the CAA, so The Powers That Be will not allow that. I did not expect a Pitino assistant to do much, but I could not have been any more wrong. That being said, teams that overachieve during the year, are good to go against at conference tournament time. I expect UNCW to lose their first game, even with the benefit of opponent playing the night before. They will certainly not win 2 games.
Northeastern began conference with an impressive non-conference resume. However, teams that have 5 starters returning have a big advantage in modern college hoops. With little practice time before the season begins, their prior experience shows. So when conference began Northeastern had high hopes. What seems to be a disappointing conference season, in fact is not. This is the highest rated Northeastern team ever under Coen. Coen is a terrific coach and this is a good Northeastern team. But a good Northeastern team is still lacking athletically. Nevertheless, lesser Coen teams have tortured opponents in tournaments. I think they are a notch below William & Mary, but they are certainly the only team that I think can beat them.
DC: That's interesting, and with the Matt Janning NU teams I'm very surprised to hear that this is the highest rated. I have them second behind JMU in my picks, but there has just seemed to be something missing from that team all year.
As noted on Tuesday, my Coach of the year pick is Brady over Keatts, but it's razor thin. UNCW really started playing defense for the first time in a while this year and that's why they are interesting to me. Six of the last seven CAA Champs have been in the top two in the league in defensive efficiency the year they won, and that bodes well for NU and the Dub this season.
Assuming the seeds hold and DU and Elon make it thru Friday, which game is the most likely upset in your opinion, and which team has the worst matchup?
AB: As stated prior, I think UNCW loses its first round game. Since I also felt Drexel was a bit of a sleeper, they are the team that can pull of a major upset. I also think that it may be the worst match up of the lot. With Drexel only having 7 available bodies and about to be pressed the entire game, fatigue could be an issue.
Trigger happy Hofstra has struggled vs Matt Brady's zone defenses. JMU beat Hofstra twice during the year. I see no reason why that will change this week end.
DC: Completely agree on the JMU/Hofstra matchup. Looking at both angles on the DU and UNCW game is interesting. I hope we can preview that late Friday night.
All that's left is the picks.
Dan Crain works in the Philadelphia area staring at numbers for a living. As a hobby, he writes this blog in order to give himself the opportunity to stare at even more numbers in his spare time. He enjoys supporting the Philadelphia Union, the Drexel Dragons, New England Sports, visiting National Parks, summers on Cape Cod, volunteering and being a beer snob. His dislikes include Bruiser Flint's offense.
Alan "Boston" Dvorkis was featured in the book "The Odds" written by current ESPN The Magazine Editor in Chief Chad Millman. He sat through many a Big Five game while studying at the Wharton School of Business before moving to Las Vegas, Nevada and establishing himself as a predominant college basketball handicapper and professional poker player. His in the money finishes include a runner up at the World Series of Poker. Alan is a student of the human condition, and does not use statistics to analyze college basketball. His dislikes include Bruiser Flint's offense.