Colonial Athletic Association Primer: Northeastern Looks To Make Noise In Richmond

It's been 21 years since Northeastern last made the NCAA Tournament and it won't be an easy task for Bill Coen's squad. Since the Huskies moved to the Colonial Athletic Association in 2005, they've gone just 5-6 in the CAA Tournament and have lost three of their past four games in Richmond. Only five number seeds have advanced to the semifinal round in the 29 year history of the CAA, but East Carolina did manage to win the tournament as a seven seed in 1993.

1 Drexel Dragons (25-5, 16-2): The Dragons are not only the hottest team in the conference, they have the second longest winning streak in the nation at 16 games, behind only Kentucky (20 games). Bruiser Flint's squad is on an impressive run winning 23 of their past 24 games and they've been consistent all season long. Drexel's five losses all came away from home against teams that finished above .500 and in the top half of their league. While the Dragons don't have a huge star, Drexel leads the conference or is in the top three in 11 major categories, including leading the CAA in scoring defense (55.7 points allowed), free throw percentage (74.6 percent) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.1 per game).

2 Virginia Commonwealth Rams (25-6, 15-3): Shaka Smart's team has not only had the most success in the NCAA Tournament recently, but they've also won the most CAA championships (three) and earned the most CAA title game appearances (five) over the past decade. Despite losing four of their top five scorers from last season's Final Four team, the Rams are back at the head of the CAA behind senior Bradford Burgess. The team's lone senior earned a spot on the CAA First Team after finishing with a team-leading 15.2 points and adding 5.2 rebounds, he's also just two starts short of passing Patrick Ewing for the all-time record. Three other players joined Burgess on the CAA Postseason Teams, giving the Rams the highest total of any team.

3 George Mason Patriots (23-8, 14-4): George Mason may have lost long-time head coach Jim Larranaga during the offseason, but the Patriots certainly haven't lost a step behind former head coach Paul Hewitt and CAA Player of the Year Ryan Pearson. The senior was one of only two players to finish in the top five in scoring (17.8 ppg) and rebounding (8.5 rbg), while connecting on over 50 percent of his shots. Four other Patriots are averaging seven points or more for Hewitt who led George Mason to wins over every team in the conference but Drexel and Northeastern. The Patriots were tied for first heading into the final week of the season but dropped consecutive games at Northeastern and VCU.

4 Old Dominion Monarchs (19-12, 13-5): The two-time defending champions played the most grueling schedule of any CAA team and hope it will help them get over the top for the third straight year. Seniors Kent Bazemore and Chris Cooper form a formidable duo that has seen it all over their four years, including three NCAA Tournament games. Bazemore earned his second straight CAA Defensive Player of the Year selection, while leading the team in scoring (15.3 ppg), assists (3.1 apg) and finishing second in rebounding (5.8 rbg). His counterpart averaged a double-double this season with 10.6 points and 10.3 rebounds per game.

5 Delaware Blue Hens (17-12, 12-6): Many people are calling the Blue Hens the dark horse of this season's tournament after Delaware finished the season on an eight-game winning streak, but I'm not buying it. Delaware is just 6-9 away from home this season and they've had little luck against the teams above them in the standings. The Blue Hens are 2-4 against the four teams above them, with both wins coming at the Bob Carpenter Arena. Let's not sell Delaware short though, sophomore guard Devon Saddler finished second in the conference in scoring (18.7 ppg) and junior Jamelle Higgins led the conference in rebounding (11.3 rbg) and averaged a double-double with 12.7 points per game.

6 Georgia State Panthers (20-10, 11-7): After a 13-4 start to the season, the Panthers faded down the stretch with a 7-6 finish to eliminate any hopes of a top seed in the CAA. Even with the poor finish, Georgia State earned their best seed ever in the CAA since they joined before the 2005-06 season. With the surprising results come higher expectations, as the Panthers have failed to advance to the semifinals in each of their first six years in the conference. This season's group has been led by six seniors including leading scorer Jihad Ali (12.5 ppg) and leading rebounding Eric Buckner (7.0 rbg).

7 Northeastern Huskies (13-16, 9-9): The woefully inconsistent Huskies make their first appearance in the CAA Tournament as a seven seed looking to break a two-game slide in tournament play. Junior co-captains Joel Smith and Jonathan Lee, along with a very young core group of players, will look to lead Northeastern back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1991. While Lee and Smith are the team's top scorers and lead the team in assists, freshmen forwards Quincy Spencer and Reggie Spencer have provided the Huskies with an inside presence that has kept them competitive in almost every game.

8 James Madison Dukes (12-19, 5-13): The balance of power drops off significantly after Northeastern, as the Dukes went 5-1 against the bottom four teams in the CAA, while losing all 12 games against the teams above them in the standings. James Madison struggled down the stretch, losing eight of their final 11 games, after starting the season 9-11. A trio of upperclassmen lead James Madison, as juniors A.J Davis (16.2 ppg, 4.7 rbg) and Andrey Semenov (10.3 ppg, 4.8 rbg) are joined by senior Humpty Hitchens (15 ppg, 3.7 apg) in trying to get the Dukes back to the semifinals, if not further, for the first time since 2000.

9 UNC Wilmington Seahawks (9-20, 5-13): After a 5-7 start to their CAA schedule, Buzz Peterson's squad had the wheels fall off heading into the CAA Tournament with six consecutive losses. Junior forward Keith Rendelman will have to come up big if UNC Wilmington is going to play deep into the weekend and he's certainly capable. The First Team selection finished fifth in the conference in scoring (15.6 ppg) and second in rebounding with 10.3 rebounds per game. Rendleman was the lone player named to the First Team, who was not on a top four team in the CAA. Freshmen Adam Smith provides a strong secondary scorer with 14 points and nearly two made 3-pointers per game.

10 William & Mary Tribe (6-25, 4-14): As bad as the Tribe's record appears, William & Mary drew a favorable matchup against a team they've had success against in the past (Northeastern). William & Mary has relatively preyed on conference foes, considering they earned just two wins in the non-conference against 14-18 Liberty and Division III Wesley College. The Tribe combine a blend of senior leadership and young talent, as senior Quinn McDowell leads the team with 12.7 ppg, while underclassmen Marcus Thorton, Tim Rusthoven and Brandon Britt all average more than nine points per game.

11 Hofstra Pride (10-21, 3-15): Hofstra could be the best of the four teams at the bottom of the CAA, despite what the standings say. The Pride have dropped seven games by six points or less and own early season wins over mid-major powers Iona and Cleveland State. Conference play wasn't so kind to Hofstra though, as they've lost eight of their past 11 games and dropped five straight road contests. Senior guard Mike Moore will look to extend his Pride career for as long as possible, after a season that saw him lead the CAA with 20 points per game.

12 Towson Tigers (1-30, 1-17): A 12 seed has never won a tournament game in the CAA postseason play and it's not likely to happen this season. After ending their NCAA record 41-game losing streak in late January against UNC Wilmington, the Tigers have dropped in eight in a row. Sophomore Marcus Damas (12.8 ppg) and Robert Nwankwo (12 ppg) combine to average nearly half of the team's 51 points per game, which is dead last in the conference.

Predictions

CAA First Round Games Friday March 2nd

(9) UNC Wilmington Over (8) James Madison (Noon): Even though the Dukes won on the Seahawks home floor during the regular season, James Madison couldn't slow down Keith Rendleman on the glass and I don't expect that'll change this time around.

(5) Delaware Over (12) Towson (2:30): The hottest team playing on day one against the worst team in the conference? The Tigers should be happy if they can keep it as close as the regular season meeting, when Delaware won by seven in Maryland.

(7) Northeastern Over (10) William & Mary (6:00): Northeastern fans still haven't forgotten the Tribe's 47-45 semifinal upset in 2010, they just hope the leaders of this team haven't either.

(11) Hofstra Over (6) Georgia State (8:30): It might be a stretch, but the 11 seed has won in each of the past three seasons and Hofstra has shown they have the talent to beat better teams.

CAA Quarterfinal Games Saturday March 3rd

(1) Drexel Over (9) UNC Wilmington (Noon): Drexel crushed the Seahawks by 22 in Wilmington earlier this year and have only gotten hotter since then.

(4) Old Dominion Over (5) Delaware (2:30): Fresher legs and the defense of Kent Bazemore on Devon Saddler will be enough for the Monarchs to move on.

(2) VCU Over (7) Northeastern (6:00): If there's going to be a big upset on Day 2 (top three seed falling) it will come in this game, but the fact that VCU will have the much larger crowd gives the Rams enough to defeat the young Huskies.

(3) George Mason Over (11) Hofstra (8:30): George Mason has the conference's best player, the best offense in the CAA and three senior leaders, sorry Pride fans.

CAA Semifinal Round Sunday March 4th

(1) Drexel Over (4) Old Dominion (2:00 p.m.): The Dragons have won behind their depth all season long and that could be challenged over the three-day stretch with junior guard Derrick Thomas suspended after charges were brought against him in an assault case. They should have enough against Old Dominion, but anything is possible.

(2) VCU Over (3) George Mason (4:30 p.m): The Rams have ended George Mason's CAA Tournament in each of the past three seasons and more importantly handed the Patriots their lone double-digit loss in CAA play on the final night of the regular season.

CAA Championship Game Monday March 5th

(2) VCU Over (1) Drexel (7 p.m.): Unfortunately for college basketball fans across the nation these teams have only faced once this year, with Drexel escaping with a 64-58 victory on their home floor. On the other side though, this is a slightly different Drexel team without Thomas, and VCU will essentially be playing a home game, with their campuses based in Richmond, where the tourney is set.

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