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CAA men's basketball tournament preview

By Max Sass, Sports Editor

The CAA Men's basketball tournament commences on Friday, March 5. The Chronicle takes a look at why each team can and cannot win the tournament. No team outside the top four has won the CAA tournament since 1992-93 when seventh seeded East Carolina beat top seed James Madison.

Top Four Seeds

1.    Old Dominion

Why they can win: ODU has a superstar player in senior forward Gerald Lee. Lee averages 14.3 points per game this season and shot 53 percent from the field. He gets support from forwards Ben Finney, Frank Hassel and Kent Bazemore who each average over eight points per game. Coach Blaine Taylor is a favorite for CAA Coach of the Year and the Monarchs are undefeated at home this season (15-0, 8-0 CAA). The Monarchs lead the CAA in scoring defense (56.9 points per game) and scoring margin (plus 10.1).

Why they cannot win: The last time the Monarchs traveled to Richmond, VA they fell to VCU 58-70. They are undefeated at home, but all three conference losses came on the road. The Monarchs' only flaws are three-point shooting, where they are ninth in the CAA at .314 and at the free throw line, where they are last in the CAA at 64 percent. ODU could be upset in a later round if shots are not falling.

2.    Northeastern

Why they can win: Northeastern has the motivation necessary to win it all. Their loss to Hofstra at home essentially eliminated any hopes of an at-large bid and requires them to win the entire tournament to make the NCAA Tournament. Senior guard Matt Janning is the type of player both poised and talented enough to take over a game. NU is second in the CAA in free throw shooting. Janning and junior guard Chaison Allen are both capable of hitting big shots come game time.

Why they cannot win: Northeastern has to travel further than any other team to Richmond. The Huskies showed they are vulnerable to upset in their loss to Hofstra and are facing a possible rematch with the Pride in the second round. The Huskies are last in the conference in rebounding (30.2 per game) and could be beaten on the boards.

3.    William & Mary

Why they can win: William & Mary is coached by Tony Shaver, another candidate for Coach of the Year. Guards David Schneider and Quinn McDowell are both talented enough to carry the team over the span of a few games. W&M has big road wins against Wake Forest and Maryland so they know how to win.

Why they cannot win: William & Mary is good at almost everything, but are not quite great at anything. They are fourth in the CAA in scoring (68 points per game), fifth in scoring defense (64.8 points per game) and seventh in rebounding (34.8 per game). The Tribe has also been on a rough slide heading into the tournament, only going 6-6 in their last 12 games after winning 10 in a row earlier in the season.

4.    George Mason

Why they can win: George Mason travels only about two hours from Fairfax, VA to Richmond, so their fan base should travel well. The Patriots are coached by Jim Larranaga, the 2006 National Coach of the Year, who has brought GMU to the Final Four just five years ago. Junior guard Cam Long has not played as well as he did last year, but is poised for a breakout tournament.

Why they cannot win: GMU probably has the toughest path to the finals of any of the top four teams. The Patriots are looking at a matchup with tournament host VCU if the Rams beat Delaware. If GMU beats VCU, they will most likely face top seed Old Dominion in the semifinals. The Patriots also do not have a scorer in the top 12 of the league.

The best of the rest

5.    Virginia Commonwealth

Why they can win: The Rams are essentially home, hosting the tournament at the Richmond Coliseum. The Rams are 16-1 at home this season and should draw almost 10,000 fans for tournament games. Junior center Larry Sanders is the most intimidating defensive player in the league and defends the rim better than anyone. Junior point guard Joey Rodriguez leads the CAA in both steals (1.9 per game) and assist to turnover ratio (2.3 to 1).

Why they cannot win: The Rams are immediately at a disadvantage, having to play an extra game, just missing out on a bye. The Rams are on ODU's side of the bracket and would have to beat the favorites on their way.

6.    Drexel

Why they can win: Drexel is on the supposed easier side of the bracket, playing 11 seed James Madison first and then getting William & Mary next, the least imposing of the top four seeds. Drexel might very well be the best-conditioned team in the tournament and coach Bruiser Flint's club will have the depth and legs to play all four games. Chris Fouch and Jamie Harris have proven to be a dynamic backcourt that can pour in points in bunches.

Why they cannot win: Fouch is their best player, and he is just a freshman. The Dragons have been incredibly inconsistent all season. They have beaten Northeastern in Boston, but lost to UNC-Wilmington at home. Drexel does not shoot well from outside three-point range; they make less than five per game leaving them unable to stretch defenses at points.

7.    Hofstra

Why they can win: The Pride is the hottest team in the conference right now. Hofstra has won their last six games and nine of their last 10. Charles Jenkins gives the Pride a chance to win every night. He leads the CAA in scoring (20.4 points per game) and could carry the team if the supporting cast is slacking. The defense is excellent as well. Hofstra is the only team in the CAA to hold opponents under 40 percent shooting on the season. The Pride also led the CAA in free throw shooting  (72.5 percent) which gives it an advantage in close games. The team can also put points on the board, as they are second in the conference in scoring per game (70.5).

Why they cannot win: The Pride is incredibly inconsistent. At one point Hofstra trailed Drexel by 30 points in Philadelphia, but led by 20 when the Dragons visited Hempstead. When the Pride hosted Northeastern, it led 15-2 early, but then allowed the Huskies to go on a 16-0 run. The ball handling is also suspect, the Pride committed more turnovers than it created this season. A lot of the team's success will hinge on whether freshmen Halil Kanacevic and Chaz Williams have matured enough throughout the season to contribute in the tournament.

The Long Shots

8.    Towson

Why they can win: The Tigers can be explosive in short spurts. Sophomore guard Troy Franklin dominated in Towson's win over William & Mary, scoring 27 points. The Tigers can also be dangerous from three-point range, hitting 35 percent on the season, fourth in the CAA. The Tigers defend the rim extremely well, especially junior forward Robert Nkwando who led the CAA in blocked shots.

Why they cannot win: Towson does not play defense with the exception of Nkwando. The Tigers give up the most points per game, 76, of any team in the CAA.  The Tigers also do not hit the boards, allowing opponents more rebounds per game (39.6) than any other CAA team.

9.    UNC Wilmington

Why they can win: Guards Chad Tomko and Johnny Wolf have the potential to be excellent and carry their team. Tomko averages 13.1 points per game and Wolf averages 7.9, but both can explode for more. Wolf and Tomko are also one and two in the conference in free throw shooting percentage, so they make opponents pay at the line.

Why they cannot win: UNCW just does not win a lot. They lost to Delaware, Towson and Georgia State, three losing teams. While Wolf and Tomko are good players, there is not a lot of depth off the bench. Following a 39-point defeat at Hofstra, head coach Benny Moss was removed from his position and the team is still trying to find its new rhythm. UNCW allows the second most opponents rebounds per game in the CAA (38.1), so their first round game against Towson may included little to no boxing out between the two teams.

10.    Georgia State

Why they can win: The Panthers' only hope is senior guard Joe Dukes, who averages 13.5 points per game. The Panthers are able to outrebound their opponents on the season, so their only hope may be to get their opponent into a physical game and out-tough them.

Why they cannot win: Dukes is the Panthers' only player to finish in the top-20 in the CAA in scoring. Georgia State struggles to score; they are last in the CAA at just 62.1 points scored per game. Rod Barnes is a good coach, but unfortunately he does not have enough talent to get this team anywhere.

11.    James Madison

Why they can win: The Dukes have a ton of talent on their roster. Sophomore Julius Wells is a dangerous scoring threat from the guard position (third in CAA, 16.4 points per game) and coaches all over the league fear junior forward Denzel Bowles (20.9 points per game and 8.9 rebounds per game). Bowles is not ranked in the conference because he did not play 75 percent of his team's games this year. The Dukes won only four games in CAA play, but two were against VCU and William & Mary.

Why they cannot win: Defensively, the Dukes are very bad. They give up over 70 points per game to their opponents. They are also not very good rebounding the ball, losing the rebounding battle on the season. The Dukes also turned the ball over 69 more times than their opponents did this season.

12.    Delaware

Why they can win: Junior guard Jawan Carter is a superstar scorer. He is second in the CAA, averaging 18.6 points per game. The Hens have a good second scorer in junior guard Alphonso Dawson, who contributes 12.1 points per game.

Whey they cannot win: The Blue Hens are just not very good.  They only won three CAA games all season and are forced to play VCU in Richmond for their first game. Monte Ross and his club have little hope for the 2010 CAA Tournament.

The Pride sit in the sevent seed at this weekend's CAA Tournament. (Sean M. Gates/ The Chronicle)

Pride beats Georgia State in 68-67 thriller

Pride prepare for season finale against Delaware