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The conference championships started this past week, which means the bracket picture is solidifying. We already know one team that will be in the tournament and that is Cornell, thanks to a postseason-free Ivy League where the regular season champ gets the bid. And while the bigger conference tournaments won't start until next week, there is some good action already beginning.
Most people don't care about these tournaments. They want to watch the Big East and the ACC. If you ask me, however, I rather watch the small tournaments; the ones with meaning. Who wants to watch a Big East tourney where every team who makes it to the quarterfinals is probably going dancing anyway. Whereas in the tournaments of the Patriot League and Big South Conference, it's do or die time. The winner goes dancing. The losers gets to sit around during the last days of winter.
One of these do-or-die tournaments will be the CAA. Usually the CAA is solid enough where at least a few times who lose will be on the fence for a conference bid. But with the crowded March Madness picture the way it is, the only team in the CAA with any kind of at-large hopes should they lose the tournament is VCU, and those would be some excruiciatingly long odds. So what do you get when with a conference with three 20-win teams playing for one spot? You get some great basketball.
This year, the CAA tournament has been reshaped. Whereas in years past only the top 8 teams in the regular season standings came to the tournament, this year all 12 teams come to play in Richmond, VA, the state's capital, giving the top 4 teams a first-round bye.
These four teams, the one-seed VCU, two-seed George Mason, three-seed Old Dominion, and four-seed Northeastern, look to be the only four legitimate contenders for the title. Although with dark horse William & Mary advancing to the championship last year and almost stealing the conference's one automatic bid, anything can go.
VCU is the odds-on favorite to win it all. Senior Guard Eric Maynor is named once again the conference's player of the year. Likely NBA-bound after the season, he is easily the most dangerous player in the tournament. However, VCU, the No. 1 seed last year, too, was knocked out in the first round of the tournament last year by William & Mary, leaving the school with something to prove this year. They'll play the winner of the Georgia State-Delaware game. If they draw the Blue Hens on Saturday it could shape up to be a great game as the two teams split wins in the regular season each winning on their homecourt.
George Mason, last year's champion, comes into the tournament as one of the three 20-win teams in the conference. As the two-seed, conventional wisdom would suggest they would meet VCU in the tournament. The Patriots lost their only game to VCU this year in Richmond, and would likely be seeking redemption if they were to be so fortunate as to meet VCU once again for the title.
Northeastern was the suprise of the season. Expected to finish fifth in the conference, the Huskies hovered at or near the top for the majority of the season before a February meltdown, including a head-t-head end-of-season matchup with the Old Dominion essentially for the three-seed in the tournament, had them sliding to fourth. Northeastern won 18 games over the regular season including handing top-seeded VCU their only loss at home in a controversial and close game back in January. If anyone is going to beat the Rams in Richmond, this is the only team who has proven they can.
Old Dominion has quietly slid into the three-seed for the tournament. Without much buzz around the team, most people probably have forgotten about them. But as one of the 20-win teams in the conference, it'd be a huge error in calculation to write them off should you meet them in this year's tournament. At 20-9 the Monarchs proved they can win, but with losses to Northeastern, George Mason, and VCU, they'll have to prove how legitimate those 20 wins are in this tournament.
The lower-seeds begin the first round in a little less than an hour, and when the dust settles Monday night, the number of storylines coming from this tournament should be heavy!