Many of the experts think of this as a down year for the Colonial Athletic Association and that it will get only one NCAA bid, even though a year ago VCU went to the Final Four and six years ago George Mason did the same.
"In some respects, I don't know why everyone worships the RPIs so much," Taylor said, noting his team had a high RPI last year at No. 22 when selected. "It's misleading with our league. You can't look back and see how we played in the early season. What is important is how we play in January, February and March."
And teams at this level, which bring in recruits who need some time to develop, play far better later in the year.
"Look where (Old Dominion) was at a month ago. We're not close to the same team now," Taylor said. "Some teams beat us, but we have three or four new players."
VCU coach Shaka Smart added, "Step back and look at the big picture. We've had two teams from the CAA in the Final Four in recent years."
But with two more games with George Mason left and with Drexel still strongly in the picture, Smart isn't taking time to look ahead to March Madness.
VCU, GMU prepare for first-place showdown
• There has been much talk about the Feb. 14 showdown in Fairfax, Va., between VCU and George Mason, two teams tied with preseason choice Drexel in the Colonial Athletic Association race through Feb. 12.
Old Dominion coach Blaine Taylor, whose team always is a factor in the race, has played both teams and thinks he knows them.
"It's a lot of theater," he said. "You talk about key players, well, I'd bet VCU's Bradford Burgess would be the Player of the Week this week. He's had his ups and downs, but he's up now. And Ryan Pearson, he is the one who will get the attention on the other side for George Mason."
• Towson freshman Will Adams had played in all 22 games for the Tigers through Feb. 12. It's a success story considering his mother abandoned him at 3, and a hit-and-run driver raced through a yellow light and dragged him and his bicycle a city block in Philadelphia when Adams was 9, breaking both of his legs.
On top of that, he fought Hodgkin's lymphoma at 18.
"He was pronounced terminal," coach Pat Skerry said on the CAA coaches conference call. "He fought back."
• William & Mary had won only four games all season when it played Northeastern on Feb. 11. Almost out of nowhere, the Tribe played its finest game, scoring a season-high 79 points in a 25-point victory.
Surprisingly, coach Tony Shaver had gone with more a defensive lineup for the game in an effort.
"We talked a lot before that game that at this point of the year the focus should be on what we can control 100 percent -- our effort and our attitude," Shaver said. "Our focus was good, and with that came a high level of effort and concentration."
Shaver felt he had to stress defense because "our best offensive lineup is our worst defensive."
And it worked. "It was our best game offensively because we scored off our defense," Shaver said.
• It's been a tough year for Towson this season, but help is on the way, especially offensively for next year. The additions of junior transfer G Mike Burwell and freshmen Frank Mason, Jerome Hairston and Barrington Alston should help with the scoring, while freshmen forward Timajh Parker-Rivera should help out on the boards and will compete for playing time with current big guys Jervon Pressley, Jamel Flash and Erique Gumbs.
However, the newcomer who should make the most immediate impact is junior Jerrelle Benimon. The 6-foot-7, 237-pound transfer from Georgetown averaged 17 rebounds as a senior for Fauquier High School in Warrenton, Va. A power forward with an inside and perimeter game, Benimon has practiced all season with the Tigers.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
MATCHUP TO WATCH: VCU at George Mason, Feb. 14 -- This is one of the key matchups of the CAA season ... as always. The two teams are tied for first place with Drexel at 12-2, VCU having won its last 10 league games. VCU plays a high-pressure defense, George Mason a high-pressure offense, and something has to give.
What's more, the game matches up two of the premiere players in the conference, VCU's Brad Ford Burgess and George Mason's Ryan Pearson. Each leads his team in scoring, Pearson averaging 17.6 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, Burgess averaging 13.0 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.
"You're talking about two of the best players in the league," VCU coach Shaka Smart said. "Both have done a really good job leading their teams. "They are very, very different players. Brad has made a lot of shots the last couple of games. Done a good job of getting in gym and taking extra shots. Pearson has been terrific all year."
The two teams play twice in the closing weeks of the season.
"Our guys have watched them the whole year," George Mason coach Paul Hewitt said. "We're very familiar with them. They will be huge games."
KEY GAMES TO WATCH:
Feb. 17, Northern Iowa at VCU: Northern Iowa comes out of the Missouri Valley Conference with a 17-10 record, led by junior G Anthony James, who comes off the bench. The Panthers have not seen a defense like VCU's.
Feb. 18, Drexel at Cleveland State: Cleveland State is considered one of the really good mid-major teams, coming out of the Horizon League with five players scoring between 8.5 and 11.8 points a game. They own a victory over then-No. 7 Vanderbilt but lost to Hofstra, an also-ran in the CAA.
Feb. 18, Lamar at George Mason: Lamar comes out of the Southland Conference with a 16-9 record and a reputation for scoring a lot of points, twice surpassing 100 and two other times topping 90. The Cardinals have four players scoring in double figures.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
- Freshman G Jarvis Threatt scored 19 points while hitting critical free throws down the stretch Feb. 11 to give the Blue Hens their fourth consecutive victory, 80-77 in overtime against Georgia State. It gave the Blue Hens a sweep of both games with the Panthers this year and a tiebreaking edge for the conference tournament.
- Delaware had won four straight games for the first time since December 2011, and it posted its first four-game CAA winning streak since opening 5-0 during the 2007-08 campaign. The Blue Hens' 9-6 CAA record tied their best start in the conference, matching the 15-game start of the 2007-08 squad, while Delaware was over the .500 mark this late in the season for the first time since 2003-04.
- G Jarvis Threatt added 19 points Feb. 11 to the school freshman-record 30 points he scored during the Blue Hens' first meeting with Georgia State. The 19-point outing was his second-highest scoring game of the year, built on gong 13-for-15 from the free-throw line. He added eight rebounds, six assists and three steals.
- F Jamelle Hagins played led the team with 12 rebounds while blocking six shots against Georgia State.
- Sophomore G Devon Saddler surpassed 20 points for the 11th time this season when he scored 14 of his 25 points after halftime to lead the Blue Hens to a 71-53 victory over UNC-Wilmington on Feb. 8. He hit four 3-point shots in the game.
- Saddler was second in the CAA in scoring at 18.9 points a game through Feb. 12.
- Drexel won twice during the week of Feb. 6-12 to give the Dragons 13 consecutive victories, a 13-2 record in the CAA and a tie for first place through the weekend. The Dragons raised their win total to 21, giving them consecutive 20-plus-win seasons for the first time since the late 1990s.
- Chris Fouch scored 25 points as Drexel beat Hofstra on Feb. 11. It also carried him past 1,000 career points during one of the best games of his career. As the Dragons were hitting 60 percent from the field and 59 percent from 3-point range, Fouch went 6-for-7 from long range and missed just two of his 10 overall shots.
- PG Frantz Massenat had quite a week. In Drexel's 63-56 win over James Madison, he scored 16 points. He added 20 points on 8-of-9 shooting with five assists in the victory over Hofstra.
- The Dragons led the CAA in free-throw shooting and did nothing to hurt their mark by shooting 84 percent against JMU from the line. Massenat finally missed a free throw after hitting 34 straight, tying the Drexel record held by three players.
- F Samme Givens had his fifth double-double of the year and added 13 rebounds against JMU. Through Feb. 12, he was seventh on the CAA career rebounding list with 959 boards.
- With two victories during the week of Feb. 6-12, George Mason reached 21 victories for the 11th time and remained tied for the CAA lead with Drexel and VCU. All three are assured of a first-round bye in the CAA tournament next month.
- Ryan Pearson, who is a strong conference Player of the Year candidate, had scored in double digits in 24 of his last 28 games through Feb. 12. He ranked third in the CAA in scoring at 17.6 points a game and fifth in rebounding at 8.5.
- PG Byron Allen dished out a career-high eight rebounds against UNC-Wilmington while also scoring 10 points.
- Georgia State has clinched its first winning season since 2003-04, and its eight CAA victories through Feb. 12 were its most ever.
- The Panthers' 80-77 loss to Delaware on Feb. 11 was their second in 13 home games this season, and they now have dropped four in a row to the Blue Hens. All of those games have been decided by three or fewer points.
- In the loss to Delaware, senior F Josh Micheaux set a Georgia State career high. He scored 26 points, going 8-for-16 from the field and 9-for-11 from the free-throw line. F Jihad Ali added 15 points and a team-leading nine rebounds.
- F Eric Buckner led the CAA with 80 blocked shots through Feb. 12. In less than two seasons, he had become the all-time leader in blocks at Georgia State with 129.
- Senior G Mike Moore scored 18 points against Drexel, lifting him to 1,000 for his career. Moore became the 31st to score 1,000 points in the Hofstra program. He racked up 513 at Fordham before transferring.
- Senior F Nathaniel Lester, who scored his 1,000th point at Hofstra earlier this season, scored 22 of his 27 points in the second half of the loss to Drexel. Lester went 12-for-15 from the foul line, scoring in double figures for the 23rd time in 27 games this season.
- Hofstra became the first Drexel opponent in the past 15 games to crack the 60-point mark against the Dragons.
- James Madison used six points in the final 90 seconds from junior G Devon Moore to defeat Towson 58-56 and end a five-game losing streak. Earlier this season, Towson set the national record for consecutive losses, 41.
- Faced with a shortage of players due to numerous injuries, James Madison went to a seldom-used zone against Towson and held the Tigers to just 27.6 percent shooting. That was the lowest shooting percentage against JMU since Hofstra shot 27.1 percent on Jan. 16, 2002.
- Towson held a 30-rebound advantage over JMU in the Feb. 11 game, the Tigers pulling down 49 and JMU 19. That was the Dukes' worst rebounding deficit since Old Dominion won the battle of the boards by 31 in the final game of JMU's 2008-09 season.
- Junior G A.J. Davis saw his streak of 14 consecutive games in double figures end when he scored six points against Towson
- G Devon Moore pulled into a tie for ninth in career assists at JMU with 294 through Feb. 12.
- F Andrey Semenov climbed into the top 10 for career blocks at JMU, reaching ninth with 81 through Feb. 12.
- G Adam Smith led UNCW with a game-high 20 points in a Feb. 11 loss to George Mason, and he passed Steve Langston for No. 3 on the Seahawks' all-time single-season scoring list for freshmen. It was the sixth time this season Smith had reached 20 or more points.
However, Smith was held to six points on seven field-goal attempts by Delaware on Feb. 8.
- The Seahawks' dynamic duo of Smith and junior F Keith Rendleman combined for 28 of UNCW's 61 shots against George Mason.
- Rendleman and G Donte Morales combined for 21 of UNCW's 27 points in the first half of the loss to Delaware.
- Freshman Quincy Ford scored a career-high 21 points while hitting 10 of 16 shots against William & Mary.
- Freshman G Jonathan Lee ended a 13-game streak of scoring double figures when he was held without a point by William & Mary. It was the first time he was held scoreless since Jan. 19, 2011.
- Junior G Joel Smith had made at least one 3-pointer in 43 of the last 46 games through Feb. 12, and he had 14 games this season with multiple 3-pointers.
- The Huskies' nine free throws against Georgia State were a season low, tying the nine they shot against Bradley on Dec. 6.
- Old Dominion suffered a tough loss to rival VCU on Feb. 11, but the Monarchs managed to beat William & Mary 70-51 in the previous contest, which looked like a trap game.
"What happens when you have a game looming is that people are talking about it until it becomes a distraction," coach Blaine Taylor. "We had good focus on William & Mary. I thought it was spectacular how we handed that opponent."
- Against VCU, the Monarchs had every chance to win but just came up short., 68-64
"It was a fabulous audience, a national television audience being treated to spectacular basketball played by two teams that guarded," Taylor said. "VCU made a couple of plays at the end. We had our chances. The clock ran out and they had more points."
- Towson nearly beat James Madison despite shooting just 27.6 percent from the floor, and it did so by attacking the boards with an unstoppable fervor. The Tigers, who lost 58-56 at home Feb. 11, held a 49-19 rebounding advantage.
- Senior F Robert Nwankwo, who grabbed 15 rebounds to go with 15 points against the Dukes, ranked fourth in the league with a 9.3 rebounding average through Feb. 12.
He also moved up the Tigers' all-time list with 734 career rebounds, just 54 behind Lawrence Hamm for fourth place.
- The team's rebounding has been the bright light of the season. A week earlier, the Tigers outrebounded Drexel, which was leading the league in rebounding margin at plus-6.5.
- Despite a season-high-tying 19 points and nine rebounds from Nwankwo, Towson fell 66-43 at Virginia Commonwealth on Feb. 8. VCU, which was leading the nation in total steals, used a full-court press the entire game to force Towson into a season-high-tying 28 turnovers.
- When VCU defeated Old Dominion 68-64 in a thriller in Norfolk on Feb. 11, it gave the Rams a sweep of the season series with their rival. Neither team had been able to sweep the series since 2004.
- The Feb. 11 victory was the 11th straight for the Black & Gold, VCU's longest winning streak since 1984-85.
- Senior Bradford Burgess, who scored 22 in previous game against Towson, had another monster game against the Monarchs with a game-high 24 points on 6-of-12 shooting, including 5-of-9 from beyond the arc. He added six rebounds and a career-high five steals. It was Burgess's 137th consecutive start.
- Before the Towson game, coach Shaka Smart challenged F D.J. Haley to go for a career high in rebounds, saying he felt he should be able to pull down eight. Smart underestimated Haley, who grabbed 11 boards while also scoring 11 points for his first career double-double.
WILLIAM & MARY
- After William & Mary beat Northeastern 79-54 on Feb. 11, coach Tony Shaver called it "the best game for us because we were able to score off our defense." The Tribe had had trouble winning all season, and most of the problem was a lack offense, especially turning defensive plays into points.
- Shaver made a lineup change for the Northeastern game, using top scorer Marcus Thornton off the bench and putting Brandon Britt in the lineup. It worked, as Britt scored 24 points, but the move was primarily made for the defense.
"Coming off the bench, Marcus Thornton is still going to do a lot of things for us," Shaver said.
- One reason Shaver messed around with the lineup was that in the previous game, a one-sided loss to Old Dominion, his team shot only 28.8 percent.