Thursday, March 11, 2010

Your CAA Tournament guide

With the league tournament set to tip off in a few minutes, here are a few things to look for over the next four days in Harrisonburg.

Don't be surprised....

- If ODU's Wendy Larry works the sidelines with her trusty towel in one hand and a pocket scoreboard in the other.

- That, given VCU's heavy use of its starters, the seat next to coach Beth Cunningham is filled by an oxygen tank instead of one of her assistants.

- The tournament's single-game scoring record (40 points by George Mason's Jen Derevjanik in 2004) doesn't survive the weekend.

- Every game from the quarterfinals on is decided by single digits, by a last-second shot or in overtime

Defense wins championships?

Sure it does. Problem is, every team in this league is capable of a strong defensive effort, particularly against fellow conference teams they know inside and out. That's why offense is going to decide this tournament - the team that can best execute with the ball in late-game situations will cut down the nets on Sunday.

So who's the favorite?

Are you kidding? There's no such thing in this tournament. Home court advantage certainly won't hurt JMU, but as we pointed out in an earlier post, host schools have won only 38 percent of the previous CAA Tournaments. So we're going to leave this spot blank. This puppy could go several different ways.

So who are the contenders?
Well, the following teams can win it if:

Old Dominion
They can keep opponents from pounding them on the offensive boards and if Jasmine Parker can continue making the right plays at crunch time. Parker went down early in the second half after taking an elbow to the face early in ODU's regular season-ending loss to Towson, and ODU's offense suffered mightily without her. ODU coach Wendy Larry said Parker is good to go for this tournament, although she may be forced to wear a mask.

Their post players - Nikki Newman, Jalissa Taylor, Lauren Jimenez - can supply some inside punch to complement JMU's typically-deadly, Dawn Evans-led perimeter game.

After missing a few outside shots, the Rams start attacking the rim instead of continuing to settle for perimeter bombs.

Gabriela Marginean's knees don't buckle from the weight of carrying the entire attack. Also if the Dragons can re-discover the late-game magic that propelled them through the first three-fourths of conference play. Six of Drexel's first eight wins came by three points or less or in overtime, but in closing the season on a four-game losing streak, the Dragons lost by one, two, two and six points.

See first Drexel comment. Delete "Gabriela Marginean"; insert "Elena Delle Donne". The Blue Hens will also need to reverse their heartbreaking track record of coming up just short against the league's top teams.

Jess Fuller can deliver a couple of reasonably big offensive games to her always-stellar defense.

Towson, UNC Wilmington, Northeastern, Georgia State, William and Mary, George Mason
Hell freezes over. No disrespect to these programs, but these teams didn't finish 7th-12th in the league by accident. We're pushing it calling Delaware and Hofstra contenders because no team has come close to winning four games in four days at this tournament. But it would be startling if any of these teams even made it to the semifinals. And if one of these guys wins it, we'll eat this keyboard.


First round
#8 Northeastern vs. #9 Georgia State, noon
#5 Delaware vs. #12 George Mason, 2 p.m.
#7 Towson vs. #10 UNC Wilmington, 5 p.m.
#6 Hofstra vs. #11 William & Mary , 7:30 p.m.
#1 Old Dominion vs. #8/#9 winner, noon
#4 Drexel vs. #5/#12 winner, 2:30 p.m.
#2 James Madison vs. #7/#10 winner, 5 p.m.
#3 VCU vs. #6/#11 winner, 7:30 p.m
Semifinals, noon and 2:30 p.m.
Final, 12:30 p.m.

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