CAA Championship: Preview & Prediction

    
March 6th, 2009

This is one in a series of conference tournament previews, in which I run down all the teams involved, give a brief statistical review and present the log5 projections, using in-conference offensive and defensive efficiency. The basic log5 methodology comes from Bill James, and this is an area Ken Pomeroy has looked at in the past as well. I claim nothing new in the application, but obviously with slightly different methodologies, these numbers may differ from others you find.  I don’t claim to be an expert on any particular conference, and I’m sure there are some mis-characterizations on some players I’ve seen sparingly at best, so please add your thoughts in the comments. Anyway, with no further ado, the preview follows below:

 

 

Colonial Athletic

The CAA Tournament gives semifinal byes to the top 4 teams, and all games are hosted in Richmond; not in VCU’s home arena, but only a few minutes away. For that reason, I’ve decided to treat the games as semi-home games, giving a partial bonus to VCU’s chances.

 

#

Team

QF

SF

F

W

1

Virginia Commonwealth

100.00%

94.56%

83.70%

58.63%

2

George Mason

100.00%

83.28%

52.85%

22.67%

3

Northeastern

100.00%

70.20%

33.03%

11.76%

4

Old Dominion

100.00%

65.32%

10.70%

2.94%

5

Hofstra

89.78%

34.02%

3.86%

0.74%

6

Drexel

86.17%

28.77%

9.19%

2.16%

7

James Madison

76.07%

15.00%

4.62%

0.85%

8

Georgia St.

46.20%

2.32%

0.69%

0.08%

9

Delaware

53.80%

3.12%

1.03%

0.14%

10

William & Mary

23.93%

1.72%

0.22%

0.02%

11

Towson

13.83%

1.03%

0.08%

0.00%

12

NC Wilmington

10.22%

0.66%

0.01%

0.00%

 

VCU is indeed the favorite, as we’d expect from the hosts and champions, but I was rather surprised just how good its odds are. Both GMU and Northeastern will provide tough potential challenges, while ODU are primed for an early defeat, and Drexel could be a bit of a Cinderella.

 

#1 – Virginia Commonwealth Rams (21-9, 14-4) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.165

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2008 (2nd Round)

 

With the tournament being hosted in Richmond, VCU will be heavily favored to back up its regular season crown with a CAA tournament title. The Rams are the conference’s best defenders, holding opponents to just 38% shooting, and leading the league in forcing turnovers. They also don’t commit many turnovers themselves, and are very good three point shooters, but their rebounding leaves something to be desired.

 

Players to watch:

6-2 SR Eric Maynor, 22.4 PPG, 3.6 RPG,6.2 APG, 1.8 SPG, 52.3 eFG% - There aren’t many conferences  in the country where the player of the year is quite this clear-cut, but I don’t think anyone could make a reasonable argument that there’s been any CAA player better than Maynor. He leads the conference in scoring and in assists, and manages to shoot an excellent percentage despite taking almost a third of his team’s shots. His assist total is pretty good, but his rate is even better, one of the very best in the nation, and he manages to distribute the ball while rarely turning it over. When he was the ‘Dagger’ against Duke, he was a good player, but now he’s stepped up to be one of the very best scorers in the country.

 

6-9 SO Larry Sanders, 11.2 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 2.6 BPG, 51.5 eFG% - There’s not a lot of space to be a great player with Maynor on your team, but Sanders has managed to do it, one of the conference’s best rebounders and shot-blockers. He’s a pretty solid offensive contributor; a good inside foil for Maynor, but he often struggles with foul trouble, and without him the Rams are a lot more vulnerable inside.

 

 

#2 – George Mason Patriots (20-9, 13-5) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.143

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2008 (1st Round)

 

The Patriots played fairly poorly on the road all season, and a couple of bad losses left them short of the conference title. They actually won every game they played on their home floor, but a 2-4 stretch in the middle of the conference season was a killer to their chances. George Mason has had the CAA’s best offense, shooting over 52% from inside the arc and avoiding turnovers, and its defense has also been solid: the Patriots cause opponents a lot of problems on long-range shots.

 

Players to watch:

6-7 SR Darryl Monroe, 10.7 PPG, 8.3 RPG,1.2 SPG, 57.9 eFG% - Monroe may be a senior, but he’s a Ju-Co transfer who arrived the year after the run to the Final Four.  After redshirting last season, he’s looking for his first NCAA appearance, and has been a big player for the Patriots, leading the team in rebounding while shooting a stellar 58% from the field.

 

6-4 SO Cameron Long, 11.8 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 3.2 APG, 54.0 eFG% - Long is the team’s leading scorer, and one of the few Patriots who is a serious three-point threat. He’s also a solid inside shooter who can chip in with some assists, and while he often doesn’t score a whole lot, he can easily break out for 15-20 points.

 

 

#3 – Northeastern Huskies (18-11, 12-6) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.112

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 1991 (1st Round)

 

Northeastern looked like it would have the inside track for a conference title when it sat at 10-1, with just one game left against the other top contenders. The Husky offense came unravelled down the stretch, though, and a few bad losses dropped it to third. They are the only team that looks like challenging the top two, but may not have the form to get to the final. It’s tempting to say that Northeastern has an excellent defensive team, but that’s mostly due to its slow pace; the Huskies have been better on the offensive end, decent shooters who earn a lot of points at the free throw line. They do force a lot of turnovers, but aren’t great rebounders and allow opponents to shoot 34% from behind the arc.

 

Players to watch:

6-4 JR Matt Janning, 14.3 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 47.4 eFG% - Janning leads the Huskies in scoring, but hasn’t been a particularly effective player, just barely making a third of his threes and well south of 50% on his two-pointers. He doesn’t contribute too much in other areas of the box-score, and in the last few games has seen his scoring fall off.

 

6-4 Chaisson Allen, 9.8 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.7 SPG, 44.9 eFG% - Allen is a pretty weak shooter, and doesn’t score much, but leads the Huskies in rebounds, assists and steals, though a lot of this has more to do with how much he plays, as his rates in those areas are fairly pedestrian.

 

 

#4 – Old Dominion Monarchs (20-9, 12-6) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.032

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2007 (1st Round)

 

From sitting at 5-5 with a month to go in the season, the Monarchs put together as good a run as any team in the conference, losing just once the rest of the way. Old Dominion takes the ball inside a lot, and while it doesn’t make a huge percentage of shots, it does crash the offensive glass really well. Its free throw shooting may be a liability down the stretch, among the worst in the league. While the Monarchs are good at attacking inside, their defense isn’t nearly as good on the interior, though it does defend the outside well; forcing a lot of turnovers and rarely fouling.

 

Players to watch:

6-10 JR Gerald Lee, 15.7 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 57.0 eFG% - It’s rare to find a 6-10 player at this level who isn’t a great rebounder, but that’s exactly what Lee has been. The Finnish national’s strength is in his offensive game, as he’s a 57% shooter who sees a lot of the ball.

 

6-5 SO Ben Finney, 10.8 PPG, 6.1 RPG,  1.6 SPG, 53.6 eFG% - Finney may be five inches shorter than Lee, but he has out-rebounded him on the season, and has easily been the team’s best player on the offensive glass. He’s also a pretty efficient scorer, having a decent three-point touch to go with good scoring ability  inside. His 58% free throw shooting is a big problem, though.

 

 

#5 – Hofstra Pride (20-10, 11-7) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.010

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2001 (1st Round)

 

Hofstra has the honor of being Ken Pomeroy’s luckiest team in the entire country, as it’s been outscored by an average of two points in conference play, and yet finished fifth in the standings. The Pride lucked out with a weak draw, but don’t look likely to challenge the better teams. They have one of the conference’s weakest offenses, as they are both terrible shooters (including 43% from two) and turn the ball over a lot. The one bright spot is rebounding, but when you miss as often as the Pride do, it’s not that much of a benefit. Hofstra has some serious defensive problems as well, committing a lot of fouls and allowing opponents to score pretty easily from behind the arc.

 

Players to watch:

6-3 SO Charles Jenkins, 19.2 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 4.2 APG, 1.5 SPG, 42.9 eFG% - Jenkins is second in the CAA in scoring, though this is more about the sophomore’s role in the offense than his ability to shoot. His percentages are decent but not great, though an 81% showing at the stripe sure helps. Still, he’s an excellent distributor of the ball who can potentially go off for a big number, and has twice put up more than 30 in the month of February.

 

6-10 SO Greg Washington, 5.5 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 2.3 BPG, 49.6 eFG% - Washington doesn’t score much, but he doesn’t need to, as the core of his game is rebounding, where he leads the team despite often playing less than 20 minutes, and shot-blocking, where he puts up one of the best rates in the country. Watch out for the Dragons in two years, when both Jenkins and Washington are seniors.

 

 

#6 – Drexel Dragons (15-13, 10-8) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.050

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 1996 (2nd Round)

 

If you want to pick a team outside the top 4 that could cause a surprise, Drexel might be worth a shot, though a 2-5 finish to the conference season doesn’t give much hope to its chances. The Dragons managed to break the .500 mark despite being one of the country’s worst shooting teams. There are two reasons: they are good offensive rebounders, and their opponents have been just about as bad making shots as the Dragons have. It’s very rare to see a team lead the conference in two-point defense and finish last in two-point offense, but somehow Drexel manages it.

 

Players to watch:

5-10 SO Jamie Harris, 8.0 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 48.0 eFG% - Harris is Drexel’s most efficient player, and when you consider that he turns the ball over a fair amount and shoots just 41% from two-point range, this is something that should really concern the Dragons. He’s the team’s only three-point shooter who hits more than a third of attempts, but his role in the offense is too small to really help the team.

 

6-3 SR Scott Rodgers, 13.7 PPG,5.1 RPG, 3.1 APG, 39.0 eFG% - Rodgers is a little better than his pathetic eFG% would suggest, leading the team in assists and putting up a pretty good percentage at the free throw line, but he still wastes a lot of possessions on missed shots.

 

 

#7 – James Madison Dukes (18-13, 9-9) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.022

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 1994 (1st Round)

 

James Madison is a deserved .500 team, finishing pretty close to even in EM over the course of the conference schedule. It’s a pretty good shooting team that turns the ball over a lot, and it also manages to hold opponents to a conference-best 28% from behind the arc. The Dukes’ problem has been defending the inside, as their inability to stop shots or get a lot of rebounds has held them back.

 

Players to watch:

6-3 JR Pierre Curtis, 8.5 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 2.8 APG, 52.9 eFG% - Curtis doesn’t tend to take a lot of shots, but has a good percentage on the ones he does take, and manages to get to the free throw line a lot, where he’s an 81% shooter.

 

6-6 SR Juwann James, 15.8 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 59.7 eFG% - James missed much of the month of November, but on his return he brought an excellent dimension to the Dukes’ offense, shooting nearly 60% from the field and doing a great job on the offensive glass. He’s averaged 20 points in the month of February, and is the team’s best offensive threat.

 

 

#8 – Georgia St. Panthers (11-19, 8-10) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.058

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2001 (2nd Round)

 

Now that we’ve reached the #8 seed, the teams begin to head south, with all sporting fairly large negative efficiency margins. All the teams previously discussed had defended at at least a point-per-possession or better, with Georgia St. being the first to fall short of that standard. The Panthers are a decent shooting team from the field, but have hit under 60% from the free throw line, and have been poor offensive rebounders. Defensively, opponents take a lot of long distance shots against Georgia St., which probably works out for the best, given how weak its interior play has been.

 

Players to watch:

6-1 SR Joe Dukes, 12.3 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 4.4 APG, 1.8 SPG, 47.3 eFG% - Dukes leads the team in points, assists and steals, but his shooting has been somewhat spotty, and his role has gradually shrunk over the course of the season.

 

6-0 JR Trae Goldston, 11.0 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 50.9 eFG% - Goldston’s overall numbers have been pretty solid, but he’s tended to be very inconsistent, with periods where he’s a big scorer sandwiched between stretches where his shot hasn’t been going. If he’s on, he can put up 15-20 on any team in the tournament, but that’s a pretty big if.

 

 

#9 – Delaware Blue Hens (13-18, 6-12) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.046

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 1999 (1st Round)

 

Delaware may sit towards the bottom of the conference standings, but it certainly has the potential to cause some upsets, as it is the only team outside the top four to have beaten both George Mason and VCU this season. The Blue Hens put up a lot of threes (something we’ll see often towards the bottom of the conference), and make them at a pretty good clip, but have little interior presence, especially  in terms of rebounding. They tend to give opponents a big possession advantage, through the dangerous combination of not grabbing misses and forcing few turnovers.

 

Players to watch:

6-6 SR Marc Egerson, 15.5 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 48.5 eFG% - The conferences’ leading rebounder, Egerson is the only man in the CAA to average a double-double, but doesn’t do it in the way you might expect, as he’s an excellent defensive rebounder who gets a lot of offense from behind the arc.

 

5-10 JR Brian Johnson, 10.2 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 5.0 APG, 53.6 eFG% -  Johnson has been a very solid guard for the Hens, especially down the stretch, averaging nearly 15 points in his last eight games. He’s a 40% three point shooter who gets a lot of assists, while controlling turnovers fairly effectively.

 

 

#10 – William & Mary Tribe (10-19, 5-13) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.075

Last NCAA Tournament bid: None

 

The Tribe enter the tournament on what is for them a roll, having crawled their way back to respectability after a 1-10 start. Frankly, you wouldn’t expect very much out of a team that takes most of its shots from behind the arc, but shoots just 31% from there. They’ve been an OK defensive team, but have allowed opponents to shoot pretty well from long-distance. The change in William & Mary’s recent positive stretch has been putting together better shooting with control of turnovers; they’d occasionally done each thing for the first part of the season, but getting them to happen in the same game was uncommon until the last month or so.

 

Players to watch:

6-3 JR David Schneider, 14.4 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 2.8 APG, 1.3 SPG, 44.7 eFG% - Schnieder is an ugly shooter, just 35% overall and 30% from behind the arc, but he puts up a good assist rate while committing few turnovers (just 43 all season), which ends up making him a pretty efficient player despite his problems.

 

6-5 FR Quinn McDowell, 9.5 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 57.8 eFG% -  McDowell doesn’t play a huge role in the offense as a freshman, but when he does takes shots, he usually hits them, putting up the highest three-point shooting numbers on the team and hitting 57% of his shots inside.

 

 

#11 – Towson Tigers (10-21, 5-13) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.107

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 1991 (1st Round)

 

Towson has had a difficult season, and are deserved 11th place finishers after having a lot of trouble of the defensive end. Teams have been able to exploit the Tigers inside , shooting 52%, and they don’t do anything else well enough to make up for those troubles. Their offense has been respectable, not making a lot of shots, but getting a lot of chances by limiting turnovers and picking up a good number of rebounds.

 

Players to watch:

6-8 SR Junior Hairston, 12.9 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 1.9 BPG, 47.1 eFG% - If Hairston took less three-pointers, he’d be one of the conference’s better players overall, but with his 30% shooting serving as an anchor to his efficiency, he’ll have to settle for excellent rebounding and block rates. He also holds onto the ball pretty well, and his shooting is the only serious weakness in his statistical profile.

 

6-7 JR Jarrel Smith, 11.1 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 46.4 eFG% -  Smith doesn’t have any particular area in which he’s that strong, but he’s a decent shooter who doesn’t make a lot of mistakes, which is a relative rarity on this team.

 

 

#12 – NC Wilmington Seahawks (7-24, 3-15) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.075

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2006 (1st Round)

 

The Seahawks have easily been the worst team in the league, ranked at the bottom of the conference on both ends of the floor, and their win over VCU stands out as their only half-decent result. They allow opponents to shoot a absurd 58% from two-point range, and aren’t much better outside the arc. A lot of this can be linked to their pace of play, the conference’s fastest. This creates a lot of turnovers, but NC Wilmington pays for it by getting badly outrebounded, and is unable to create for itself the same high percentage chances it gives up.

 

Players to watch:

5-11 SO Chad Tomko, 15.8 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 4.5 APG, 2.2 SPG, 46.6 eFG% - Tomko takes a lot of shots when he’s on the floor, and while he doesn’t shoot a great percentage, he makes up for it with excellent assist and steal rates.

 

6-3 JR Johnny Wolf, 13.7 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 50.6 eFG% -  Wolf takes most of his shots from behind the arc, and is one of the rare Seahawks that manages to hit more than a third of these attempts. The most interesting thing about Wolf may be how infrequently he fouls; since fouling out twice in the first three games, he has committed just 21 in the next 27 games.

 

 

My statistical all-Colonial team:

Virginia Commonwealth SR G Eric Maynor, 22.4 PPG, 3.6 RPG,6.2 APG, 1.8 SPG, 52.3 eFG%

Delaware SR G Marc Egerson, 15.5 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 48.5 eFG%

Hofstra SO G Charles Jenkins, 19.2 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 4.2 APG, 1.5 SPG, 42.9 eFG%

George Mason SR F Darryl Monroe, 10.7 PPG, 8.3 RPG,1.2 SPG, 57.9 eFG%

Old Dominion  JR F Gerald Lee, 15.7 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 57.0 eFG%