INSIDER'S REPORT: Pre-Tournament Look at CAA

Why has the Colonial Athletic Association been such a force in post-season play in recent years, including getting two teams -- George Mason in 2006 and Virginia Commonwealth last year -- to the Final Four?

The answer is found in the style of ball played in the conference: an aggressive defensive style.

It hasn't changed this year. In fact, the emphasis may be stronger than ever with four teams ranking among the top 35 among the nation's top defenders.

In games through Feb. 23, Drexel ranked fifth in the nation in defense, allowing 55.2 points a game, explaining why it goes into the CAA Tournament as the regular season champion and No. 1 seed.

VCU, the No. 2 seed, is 15th, allowing 59 points a game while Georgia State is 18th at 59.5 points a game and Old Dominion 35th, giving up 60.6 points a game.
Drexel keys its defense off pressuring the shooter, ranking 17th in field percentage allowed at 38.8 and 12th at 3-point percentage allowed at just 28.3.

VCU, with its HAVOC defense, is like a swarm of pesky bees, leading the nation in steals with 10.5 a game, but the conference has three teams in the Top 10 in steals. Georgia State is fifth at 9.4 and Old Dominion is eighth at 9.2.

Smart's HAVOC philosophy burst onto the national scene during last year's NCAA Tournament.

He picked it up working with Billy Donovan at Florida, Oliver Purnell at Clemson and Dayton and Keith Dambrot at Akron.

Flint, a long-time coach at Massachusetts and Drexel, has always preached a hard-hitting, strong rebounding approach to the game. While Smart's defense goes for steals, Flint's teaches there is a difference between sealing the ball and forcing turnovers. His teams are taught not to gamble, but to pressure the offense at all times.

NOTES, QUOTES

CAA gets more television exposure

• The CAA reached five-year agreements with the NBC Sports Group that will provide the most extensive and comprehensive exposure of the conference in its history. NBC Sports Network will provide national television coverage for a minimum of 12 men's basketball games each year, including the semifinals and finals of the CAA Men's Basketball Championship. The Comcast SportsNet regional networks will regionally televise 39 additional men's and women's basketball games, including the quarterfinals of the CAA Men's Basketball Championship. The agreements will begin with the 2012-13 season and run through 2016-17.

• A conference is always more interesting if road teams have a chance to win and in the CAA that's the way it has been all season. This year home teams managed to win 59.2 percent of their conference games. Half the league had winning records on the road with Drexel, Old Dominion and VCU going7-2 and Delaware, George Mason and Georgia State finishing the regular season at 5-4.

• Freshmen made a huge impact during the regular season. Two of them finished in the top 20 in scoring, five in the top 30 (UNCW's Adam Smith, Drexel's Damion Lee, W&M's Marcus Thornton, NU's Quincy Ford and UD's Kyle Anderson). Every team had at least one freshman average 16 minutes a game and each team had a freshman start at least two games. Three freshmen finished among the top 15 in assists (Towson's Kris Walden, Delaware's Khalid Lewis and Mason's Corey Edwards) and two are among the top five in steals (VCU's Briante Weber, and NU's Ford).

• VCU played before its 18th consecutive sellout crowd at the Siegel Center in the season finale against George Mason. The streak is a CAA record and the Rams are averaging 7,622 fans this season. Old Dominion, which leads the CAA with an average of 7,682 fans per game, has played before 14 crowds of better than 7,000 at the Constant Center this season, including sellout crowds of 8,460 for three of its last four games (W&M, JMU and VCU). Drexel has had sellout crowds for four of its past seven home games. George Mason played before a sellout crowd of 9,840 against ODU on Feb. 4 and Georgia State played before its largest home crowd since Dec. 2008 on Jan. 12 against UNCW.

• VCU's Brad Ford Burgess has made 141 consecutive starts, which is the longest active streak in Division I basketball and is the VCU and CAA all-time record. With two more starts, Burgess would pass Patrick Ewing's record of 142 straight starts at Georgetown. Burgess ranks second on the CAA's career scoring list among active players.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Friday, March 2 (CAA Tournament, First Round)
No. 6 Georgia State vs. No. 11 Hofstra.
Georgia State well could prove to be the Cinderella team in the conference tournament, just as it was in the regular season. Coached by Ron Hunter, in his first season after a career at IUPUI, Georgia State put together a long winning streak early, went into a mid-season slump but then closed strong, its only two losses in the last eight games coming in overtime to streaking Delaware and Old Dominion. A senior-laden crew that plays defense, usually a key in tournament play, the Panthers are primed to make a run. Hofstra, however, is an interesting opponent for it is as offensive-minded as GSU is defensive minded, possessing the CAA's leading scorer in Mike Moore. Georgia State imposed its will in a regular-season game at Hofstra, winning 58-43.

KEY GAMES TO WATCH:

Friday, March 2
No. 8 James Madison vs. No. 9 UNC-Wilmington
•JMU is depleted with injury, which could make it susceptible to an upset but Wilmington has really struggled down the stretch, losing six straight and 10 or 11.

Friday, March 2
No. 5 Delaware vs. No. 12 Towson
•Delaware is among the hottest and deepest teams in the tournament and faces in Towson a team with only one win all year. Could overconfidence set in during a conference tournament? To win, Towson will need big man Robert Nwankwo to play the greatest game of his career.

Friday, March 2
No. 7 Northeastern vs. No. 10 William & Mary
•Northeastern comes in having upset George Mason in its next-to-last game and with a team probably better than its seed. William & Mary suffered through a tough year but in Quinn McDowell has a senior who won't say goodbye to his college career without a fight.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

DELAWARE
• The second-hottest team to Drexel down the stretch in the CAA? Delaware, which closed with a rush as Coach Monte Ross molded all the pieces together for an eight-game winning streak.
• Delaware closed the regular season with six straight home wins for the first time since2004 and with four straight road wins for the first time since 2001.
• The 17 wins they brought into the CAA Tournament were the most since the 2001 season.
• Sophomore G Devon Saddler closed the regular season by scoring 38 points in the final two games. Ge finished the regular season averaging 18.7 points a game to finish second to Hofstra's Mike Moore.
• F Jamelle Hagins continued to present his league MVP credentials by closing the year with his 14th double-double. Hagins led the conference with 11.3 rebounds a game and was second in blocked shots with 2.9 per game. Hagins went into the final game of the year ranking 155th in the nation in rebounding.

DREXEL
• G Damion Lee hit six 3-pointers and scored 24 points to help Drexel to a regular-season ending 73-72 road victory over Old Dominion, giving the Dragons a school record 17th consecutive victory.
• PG Frantz Massenat closed out the regular season with eight assists and just three turnovers against ODU, finishing tops in assist-to-turnover ratio in the conference at 2.2.
• F Samme Givens is closing out his career reaching heights that are a testament to his ability to overachieve. Despite being only 6-5, Givens has grabbed more than 1,000 career rebounds, reaching that figure on senior night against George Mason. He is the third Dragon to score 1,000 points and collect 1,000 rebounds. Malik Rose and Bob Stephens were the other two.
• Givens closed out his last regular season with a double-double, scoring 12 points with 10 rebounds.

GEORGE MASON
• George Mason enters into the CAA Tournament on a rare two-game losing streak, having dropped games at Northeastern and VCU to close out the regular season.
• The 89-77 loss to VCU was the Patriots' first double-digit loss in conference play this season and it avenge a one-point Mason victory over last year's NCAA Tournament semi-finalist on their home court.
• F Ryan Pearson did nothing to diminish his bid for Player of the Year in the VCU loss, leading the Patriots with 24 points and nine rebounds.
• Sophomore PG Bryon Allen had his first career double-double and dished out 13 assists in the loss to Northeastern. The 13 assists were the most by a CAA player this year and fourth best in George Mason history. He is the first person at the school to reach that total since Curtis McCants did it three times during the 1994-95 season.
• The Patriots ended the regular season with their 18-game home court winning streak intact.

GEORGIA STATE
• The early season darling of the CAA, Georgia State closed out a successful first regular season under new coach Ron Hunter with a victory over William & Mary to secure the fourth 20-win season in school history and the No. 6 seed in the conference tournament.
• G Devonta White, who finished 18th in scoring in the CAA with a 12.5 average, put on a powerful finish to the regular season by scoring 22 points and hitting four clutch free throws.
• Senior F Jihad Ali, the team's leading scorer despite coming off the bench often, tied Trae Goldstein for the most career games played at Georgia State by playing in game No. 122.
• C Eric Buckner just missed a double-double in the final regular season game with 10 points and nine rebounds but added 2 blocks to his school record, which now stands at 106.

HOFSTRA
• Senior Day was a day to remember in a season to forget for Hofstra's seniors. Although they finished the regular season just 3-15 in the CAA, seniors Mike Moore, Nathaniel Lester and Dwan McMillan walked off their home court for the final time winners in a big way, beating UNC-Wilmington, 93-64.
• Moore, the conference's leading scorer at the end of the regular season with an average of 20.0 points a game, close with 30 points while canning 6 of 9 from 3-point range. Moore had 17 games of 20 or more points.
• Lester finished with 20 points and six rebounds and completed the regular season averaging 14.7 and 6.7 rebounds a game.
• McMillan had only four points and six rebounds but turned in a career-best 15 assists, one short of the school record set by Robbie Weingards against Bloomsfield in 1993-1994.

JAMES MADISON
• Senior Day was emotional at James Madison as it honored not only G Humpty Hitchens, who led the conference in minutes played in 3-point baskets per game, but F Julius Wells, who played only 12 games due to a heart condition.
• Injuries have so depleted JMU that it had just seven players for the final two games, being outscored off the bench, 27-4, by Drexel. Even Coach Matt Brady is hobbled with Achilles tendon surgery.
• G Devon Moore has moved into seventh place at JMU with 323 career assists, passing Robert Griffin, who played at the school from 1984 to 1988.
• F Andrey Semenov has moved into seventh place all time in blockedshots with 85.

UNC-WILMINGTON
• UNC-Wilmington headed into the CAA Tournament with six straight losses and having dropped 10 of its last 11 games.
• While the Seahawks closed with a thud, their junior F Keith Rendleman powered his way through the regular season's final games, scoring 40 points and grabbing 19 rebounds in the final two losses.
• Rendleman has started 76 of the 91 games in which he has appear and already has 981 points and could become the school's 21st 1,000-point scorer before the year is over. He also raised his rebounding total to 735, second to Brian Rowsom's all-time record 1,015.

NORTHEASTERN
• Despite losing its Senior Day finale, Northeastern received a huge boost heading into the CAA Tournament with its upset of George Mason in its next to-last regular season game.
• G Joel Smith scored 20 or more points in three of the final four games, averaging 20.7 points during that time. Smith finished the regular season averaging 12.9 per game.
• Smith's 156 career 3-pointers rank 6th all-time in Northeastern history.
• Jonathan Lee scored in double figures in 37 of the last 41games and capped it off with 27 in the upset of George Mason.
• Lee hit 18 of 20 free throws in that game, the 18 tying the Northeastern single-game record.

OLD DOMINION
• Senior F Kent Bazemore said goodbye to the home folks in a big way on Senior Night, scoring a career high 37 points and pulling down 12 rebounds against the regular-season champion Drexel Dragons, who held on for a one-point victory.
• Bazemore's 12 rebounds ties a career high he had against William and Mary last year and Delaware earlier this season. He also dished out three assists and came up with two steals against Drexel.
• Bazemore finished the regular season sixth in scoring in the conference at 15.3 per game, while averaging 5.8 rebounds and finishing second in steals with 2.2 per game.
• Senior C Chris Cooper closed with a double-double and finished third the conference in rebounding at 10.3 per game and second in offensive rebounds with 4.2.
• Senior Night produced the fifth sellout of the season and ODU finished the regular season averaging 7,682 for 16 homes games, second only to last year's record season of 7,745.

TOWSON
• Towson produced only one victory all season, beating UNC-Wilmington, but it may have been the most celebrated in the CAA as it ended the longest losing streak ever in Division I basketball at 41 games.
• Senior F Robert Nwankwo, who sat out last season and took a while to get unwound this year, has been one of the most dominant big men in the conference. He finished with 14 double-doubles, 10 of them coming in the season's final 13 games.
• Sophomore Marcus Damas has shown himself to be a dangerous scorer as he recorded 20 or more points three times in the regular season.

VCU
• VCU was looking for two things in its final game of the regular season ... momentum heading into the conference tournament but, more important, revenge from George Mason and it got in the form of a dominating 89-77 victory.
• Senior Bradford Burgess showed the proper way to play your final game at home, scoring 31 points while setting the school record by playing in his 104th victory.
• With most of his family in attendance, Burgess went 7-of-14 from the field, including five three-pointers, and 12-of-14 from the charity stripe, finishing with 31 points, four rebounds, two assists and one steal. He became just the third player in VCU history to score 1,600 points and grab 700 rebounds, joining only Kendrick Warren and Charles Wilkins in that club.
• Heading into the CAA Tournament Juvonte Reddic is at the top of his game with four double-doubles in the past nine games including 18 points and 11 rebounds against Mason.
• Junior Troy Daniels hit five 3s against Mason and now has 83 this season, third highest total in VCU history.
• VCU has already set a season record in steals with 329. It was the third straight year under Coach Shaka Smart they have set a record in this department.

WILLIAM & MARY
• It was not the kind of season they had envisioned at the start but William & Mary's three seniors said goodbye with a strong performance before losing to Georgia State in the final home game for captains Kendrix Brown, JohnMark Ludwick and Quinn McDowell.
• McDowell led a trio of Tribe players in double figures with 11 points and just missed a double-double with a team-high nine rebounds, three assists and two steals.
• Sophomore Brandon Britt knocked down a 3-pointer with 18.1 seconds remaining to propel the William and Mary to a 75-71 victory over Hofstra in its next-to-last game of the regular season, a game in which the Green and Gold shot a season-high 55.6 percent from the floor and drilled 10 3-pointers.
• McDowell had one of his finest games of the year in this one scoring 21 points.


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