2018 CAA Tournament Preview

Tony Shaver has the Green and Gold clicking on all cylinders headed into the 2018 CAA Tournament. [photo via Bob Keroack, tribeathletics.com]
The time is finally here. It’s time to separate the men from the boys. History is for the taking, as we again find each team’s season on the line heading into this year’s 2018 CAA Tournament. Single-elimination, losers go home. Winners advance, and the team that ends the tournament with a win will not only have its name written into the history books, but also have a home court banner raised in its name for the rest of time. It’s that time of year: welcome to March Madness; we’d have it no other way.

To get you primed and ready to go, we offer a one-stop-shop, if you will, for for this year’s CAA Tournament. In this article, we include everything from updated standings to bracketology, statistical analysis, and team predictions. It’s guaranteed to be the most comprehensive overview of the CAA Tournament you’ll find out there. So kick back, relax, and soak up all the knowledge before heading to Charleston this weekend and overdosing on seafood. Roll Tribe Roll.

2017 Preseason Rankings vs. 2018 Reality 

As you can see, the Preseason Polls again proved unreliable this season. [above: preseason poll; below: final standings]
In reference to the adjacent graphic: going into the season, and according to a vote of the league’s coaches, media relations directors and media members, Charleston was chosen as the undisputed preseason #1 favorites. In this case, Charleston proved the voters correct. However, there was so much discrepancy among the final rankings with regard to the preseason #2-#8 slots that the rest of the preseason poll can really be thrown out.

For example, Elon was picked to finish #3 in the preseason, but ended up dead last. W&M was predicted to finish #8…but finished #4. JMU was picked to finish last…and it finished. Well, not quite last, but close. Can’t argue with that one. Ultimately, it all goes to show that preseason polls don’t mean much of anything, and really never will; if anything, a low preseason ranking drives some teams to perform better, serving as fuel to the fire and easy fodder for many coaches to feed their hungry players. So at the end of the year, we find ourselves with two teams sporting 20+ overall wins, and four teams with 10+ wins in the conference.

It’s been an up and down battle for many CAA teams this year, as parity seemed to be at an all time high. Truly, any team can knock off another in this year’s CAA, and we’re excited to see what the CAA Tournament brings out this season. It will undoubtedly be a nail-biter in Charleston.

Team Statistics: Regular Season

[stats pulled from caasports.com]
So. Many. Numbers. Yes, but if you can get beyond the fact that the above graphic looks like an Excel spreadsheet you may see at work, there are some interesting truths to uncover about each team heading into this year’s tournament. For example, while William & Mary holds the #1 ranking for most major offensive categories (assists, 3-point FG pct, overall FG pct, free throw pct, scoring offense), it also ranks second to last in scoring defense, allowing opponents an average of 82.1 points per game. The #1 team in the league, the hometown Charleston Cougars, finished in the top 5 in several major statistical categories, including: FG pct defense, scoring defense, and free throw pct. After a sluggish start to the season, UNCW finished strong, and actually ended the regular season as the 2nd highest scoring offense in the CAA, averaging 79.9 points per game.

Northeastern proved itself as perhaps the most balanced team in the CAA, not only finishing with a share of the regular season title, but also ranking toward the top 3 in both offensive and defensive categories, including: scoring defense, assists, 3-point FG pct, overall FG pct, and free throw pct. The Towson Tigers finished with the 4th highest scoring offense (76.8 points per game) to go along with the #1 ranked FG pct defense (with opponents shooting just 42.9% per game). And Hofstra, one of the most prolific teams in the league, unsurprisingly averaged the 3rd most points in the league at 79.2 per game.

But for the most part, teams ranked across the board in several statistical categories. It’s rare that a team finished toward the top in every category, with the aforementioned Northeastern and Charleston squads being the closest to accomplishing that feat. It is perhaps no surprise that those teams finished as co-CAA champions this season.

Team Statistics: Individual Players

[stats pulled from caasports.com]
Now that we’ve reviewed some macro-level stats, let’s dive deeper and put faces to the numbers. You’ll hear these players’ names announced early and often during the CAA Tournament, so you’d be wise to learn them now. Right off the bat, a player whose name you should know first and foremost is Charleston’s Joe Chealey. You’ll see him listed twice in the graphic above in the assists (#5) and scoring (#7) categories. Chealey came into the year as Charleston’s unquestioned senior leader, earning 2017-18 Preseason CAA Player of the Year honors to go along with Preseason All-CAA First Team honors. For a team that’s looking to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1999, it’s safe to say that he has not disappointed the Cougars this season. Look out for the man wearing #13 in maroon this coming week, as he undoubtedly has the look of a CAA Tournament MVP.

When watching the Hofstra Pride on the court, we suggest you look out for two players in particular: Justin Wright-Foreman and Rokas Gustys. Both wreak havoc on opposing teams in completely different ways: while Wright-Foreman drains shot after shot (and leads the CAA in scoring at 24.2 points per game), the 6’9″ 260 pound Gustys muscles rebounds on both the offensive and defensive sides of the court (finishing #2 in the CAA in rebounds per game, with an eye-popping 12.1 average — which is good enough for #3 in the nation). For William & Mary, an astounding five of the top ten three point shooters in the league (according to 3-point FG pct statistics) wear Green and Gold. Led by Connor Burchfield (who leads the entire NCAA in 3-point FG pct), the Tribe has proven itself to be absolutely deadly from beyond the arc; give them space at your own risk.

And did we mention rebounds earlier? Perhaps no one does it better in the entire CAA than UNCW’s Devontae Cacok, who ranks #1 in the nation in rebounds per game (13.8). It’s incredible to watch. When UNCW misses a shot, even on the offensive side of the court, expect the 6’7″ 240 pound Cacok to come down with it.  And of course, because we’re still the William & Mary Sports Blog after all, we’d be remiss if we didn’t at least mention our senior captain, David Cohn, who led the league in assists this season, recently garnering CAA Player of the Week honors for an historic senior day performance over the #1 Charleston Cougars. In the season finale, Cohn finished with 30 points and 9 assists en route to a 114-104 OT victory to end the season over Charleston.

As we’ve listed four major statistical categories here and spoken to a hand-full of players, you can feel free to dive deeper into the numbers at this link.

2018 CAA Tournament Bracket & Team Analysis

[via caasports.com]

  • Tournament Seed: #10
  • Last NCAA Tournament: Never
  • WMSB Analysis: In all our years following CAA basketball, we may have never seen a more precipitous drop from preseason #3. Elon never found its groove this season, finishing the year 0-6 to end as the #10 (of 10) team in the CAA. As such, they’ll be playing in the first round on Saturday against the Delaware Blue Hens. The Phoenix can certainly pull the “upset” here, but they almost certainly wouldn’t make it by Northeastern in the second round.

 

  • Tournament Seed: #9
  • Last NCAA Tournament: 2013
  • WMSB Analysis: It’s safe to say this has been a rebuilding year for the James Madison Dukes. Despite finishing near the bottom of the league, the Dukes have actually beaten Towson twice, while knocking UNCW off once. The problem is, they haven’t beaten anyone else consistently all year long (unless you count Elon…). So although JMU alum and current Head Coach Louis Rowe has this team on the right track, this is not the year for the boys from Harrisonburg. But the first round game against Drexel will be a fun one, as the two teams look as evenly matched as they come.

  • Tournament Seed: #8
  • Last NCAA Tournament: 1996
  • WMSB Analysis: Would you believe me if I told you that despite Drexel finishing the season 6-12 in conference play, they still hold wins over #1 Charleston, #2 Northeastern, and #4 W&M? It has truly been a season of ups and downs for the Dragons, as they began conference play with a meager 1-7 CAA record before ripping off 4 wins in a row. However, immediately following that 4-game win streak, and heading into the CAA Tournament, Drexel is 1-5 over its last 6 games. At this point, the best the Dragons can hope for is a round 1 victory…which would score them a date with the #1 Charleston Cougars in the second round. Ouch. We don’t like those odds.

  • Tournament Seed: #7
  • Last NCAA Tournament: 2014
  • WMSB Analysis: Although the Blue Hens began the year with a solid 4-2 CAA record, they would go on to post nine losses in a row before ending the year 2-1 heading into the CAA Tournament. Despite the losing streak and poor overall record, the Blue Hens boast two outstanding scorers in sophomore/former CAA Rookie of the Year Ryan Daly (17 points per game) and freshman Ryan Allen (15.7 points per game). The problem is, outside of these two outstanding guards, Delaware doesn’t have much else. In the future, this Delaware team has some incredible building blocks to build off of, but this is not the season for the Blue Hens. Expect the game against lowly Elon to be competitive in the first round.

  • Tournament Seed: #6
  • Last NCAA Tournament: 2017
  • WMSB Analysis: The UNCW Seahawks have come a long way since taking the league by storm the last two seasons under former Head Coach Kevin Keatts, who has since gone on to do big things at NC State this year. In the past two seasons, we’ve seen the Seahawks in the NCAA Tournament both years. But this is not the same team as it was under Keatts, as this year’s version boasts an incredibly unimpressive 10-20 overall record. With some pieces still there from last season, most notably junior sensation Devontae Cacok, UNCW certainly has the potential to upset #3 Hofstra in the second round. But beyond that game, we don’t see them getting very far in this year’s CAA Tournament. Don’t expect a three-peat this season.

  • Tournament Seed: #5
  • Last NCAA Tournament: 1991
  • WMSB Analysis: Another one of those teams that disappointed this season was the preseason #2 Towson Tigers, who finished #5 in the CAA this year. Despite battling back into the standings after a sluggish start to CAA play, the Tigers could not win games in a consistent manner this season. But even with that lack of consistency, this team still ranks in the top 3 in several offensive and defensive statistical categories, including: scoring defense, FG pct defense, and overall field goal percentage. A strong, defensive-minded, “in the paint”-type team such as the Tigers cannot be taken for granted; they were ranked #2 in the preseason polls for a reason. But momentum is not on their side, as the Tigers find themselves 1-4 over the last five games of the regular season, and losers of their last 3 regular season contests.

  • Tournament Seed: #4
  • Last NCAA Tournament: Never
  • WMSB Analysis: As many of you will remember, W&M took the league by storm at the beginning of conference play, jumping out to an impressive 5-0 CAA record. Naturally, the Tribe would return to the mean, falling back to Earth to finish the year 11-7 in conference play. As mentioned in our stats write up above, this team can shoot the ball. And we mean they can shoot it. In the preseason, Head Coach Tony Shaver noted that this is perhaps the best shooting team he has ever had at W&M in his 15+ years with the Tribe — and that’s coming from an offensive-minded coach. And it turns out he was right. W&M ranks #1 in just about every major statistical category this year. And that should scare every team it faces in this year’s CAA Tournament. Example #1 was the last game of the regular season, in which the Tribe went off for 114 points against the #1 Charleston Cougars, taking out the Cougars in overtime. But if there’s an achilles heel for the Green and Gold, it’s the team’s defense, which finished the season ranked 2nd to last in points allowed. In the CAA Tournament, if the Tribe’s offense travels, and if its defense performs just well enough, the Tribe may make a run and qualify for its first-ever NCAA Tournament. Is this finally the year?

  • Tournament Seed: #3
  • Last NCAA Tournament: 2001
  • WMSB Analysis: Led by prolific scorer and the CAA’s #1 point-getter, Justin Wright-Foreman, the Hofstra Pride have all the tools needed to make a serious run in this year’s CAA Tournament. This team has been consistent all year long, never losing more than 2 conference games in a row (which only happened once this season). They are well balanced across the board, with Rokas Gustys down low to complement Wright-Foreman and his running mate Eli Pemberton. As a team who hasn’t gone dancing since 2001, the Pride finished the year 5-1 with the hopes that this is the year they break the seal and return to the Big Dance. A Hofstra CAA Finals appearance is certainly possible; don’t underestimate the team from Long Island.

  • Tournament Seed: #2 (CAA Co-Champ)
  • Last NCAA Tournament: 2015
  • WMSB Analysis: Perhaps the most balanced team in the CAA, the Huskies are one of this year’s surprise teams. Chosen as the #6 team in the CAA preseason polls, Northeastern has proven the doubters wrong — even taking home a share of the regular season CAA crown. The only reason they don’t hold the #1 seed for the CAA Tournament is because they lost the tiebreaker to Charleston. This year’s Northeastern squad is led by junior scorer Vasa Pusica (17.6 points per game), who can single-handedly take teams out. He can drive to the bucket, as well as hit the open three, making him a scoring threat from just about anywhere on the offensive side of the court. Pusica is joined by Donnell Graham, a 3-point specialist, who finished the year ranked #2 in 3-point FG pct, hitting 45.3% of his shots from beyond the arc this year. Outside of these two players, Northeastern boasts a lineup that likes to spread the ball around, with several players capable of having big nights — and that’s what makes them scary. From a #6 preseason ranking to a potential NCAA Tournament bid, this year’s Huskies have what it takes to go dancin’.

  • Tournament Seed: #1 (CAA Co-Champ)
  • Last NCAA Tournament: 1999
  • WMSB Analysis: As if these guys needed any help, the Charleston Cougars will be playing in front of a home crowd during this year’s CAA Tournament. The preseason #1 Cougars have proven the preseason pundits correct, finishing as the strongest team in the parity-laden CAA this year. Wielding a lineup that is strong from top to bottom, with scorers/distributers such as senior Joe Chealey and sophomore Grant Riller, they also boast weapons in the paint such as 6’7″ 250 pound Jarrell Brantley and 6’10” 260 pound Nick Harris — both of which are juniors. Charleston has the look of a team that will not only compete in this year’s CAA Tournament, but next year’s as well. If you’re in Charleston for the tournament this year, you might just witness Charleston’s first NCAA Tournament berth since 1999, as they are the undisputed favorites to win it all this season.

See you in Charleston — the W&M Sports Blog will be there!

Be sure to follow our Instagram below! We’ll be posting pictures and videos from the CAA Tournament every day. LET’S GO TRIBE!!!

 

#NotOurWords 🔰#RollTribe🔰

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