CAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Preview: A look at Delaware’s likely postseason opponents

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Courtesy of Delaware Athletics
Delaware faces No. 5 William and Mary in the quarterfinal round of the CAA tournament.

BY
Executive Editor

For the first time since 2015, Delaware will start their CAA tournament push from the quarterfinal round.

As the tournament’s fifth-seed, the Blue Hens will not play in the play-in round, which features the league’s bottom four teams. Instead, Delaware faces No. 4 William and Mary on the tournament’s second day.

To win it all, and claim the CAA’s automatic NCAA tournament bid for the first time since the 2013-2014 season, Delaware will need to win three games in three days. The Blue Hens face long odds, having closed the regular season on a four-game losing streak. Delaware finished 2-6 against the four teams seeded above them in the regular season.

“It’s a whole new season,” senior forward Eric Carter told reporters after Delaware’s final game of the season. “All we’ve gotta do is win three games but it’s one game at a time. That’s the good thing about the conference tournament. We’re not in the bottom four, so we don’t have to play [Saturday], we get a bye. And we get all week to prepare.”

Delaware faces William and Mary at 2:30 p.m. at the North Charleston (S.C.) Coliseum on Sunday. The game will be streamed on CAA.TV and broadcasted on 91.3 WVUD and 94.7 WDSD.

If Delaware defeats William and Mary, they will likely face the top-seeded Hofstra Pride in the semifinals. Hofstra will play the winner of No. 8 James Madison versus No. 9 Towson in the quarterfinals. Northeastern and the College of Charleston are the top two seeds on the other side of the bracket.

Below is a breakdown of the CAA tournament field, with a special focus on Delaware’s likely opponents.

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Courtesy of Delaware Athletics
Kevin Anderson attempts a pass against William and Mary on Jan. 3.

William and Mary Tribe 14-16, 10-8 CAA

William and Mary climbed up the CAA standings late with a season-closing five-game winning streak. The most impressive win of the streak came on Feb. 21, when the Tribe took down the College of Charleston Cougars (the number three seed), 86-84, in overtime.

Big man Nathan Knight averaged 26.2 points on 58.8 percent shooting over that span. He finished the regular season third in the CAA in scoring at 21.0 points per game, fifth in rebounding (8.5 per game) and fourth in field goal percentage (58.3 percent).

As a team, William and Mary shot an impressive 47.4 percent this season, but still trailed Hofstra, Northeastern and Charleston in that department and in total scoring. Against those teams, William and Mary finished 1-5. They were outscored by 54 points in those contests (nine points per game).

Knight could cause trouble, but William and Mary shouldn’t be expected to advance past the semifinal round.

How did Delaware fare? So-so.
The Blue Hens and the Tribe split their season series, with both teams protecting home floor. Delaware won, 58-56, on Jan. 3 and William and Mary won, 84-63, on Feb. 2.

The team played without Eric Carter in the second matchup of the season. Knight took advantage of his absence with a 17-point performance, while Chase Audige won the battle of the freshman over Ithiel Horton, with 17 points on 5-8 shooting.

When they meet again… the game should be competitive all the way through. A game more like the Jan. 3 matchup should be expected, given Carter’s return to the lineup.

Delaware was at full strength for the first time in weeks in its season-closing loss against Hofstra. Despite the 20-plus point loss, the offense returned to early-season form in the second half opening on a 10-14 spurt and finishing the half shooting 57.1 percent. Horton awakened with a 26-point performance, keyed by 6-10 shooting from three, and Kevin Anderson looked good with a six-assist game off the bench.

It was surprising to see Ryan Allen come off the bench and even more surprising to see him not get on the board until the 7:04 to go mark in the second half. Another disappearing act from Delaware’s second-leading scorer can’t fly.

Despite being Delaware’s leading scorer, Carter’s return will be more important to the Blue Hens defense then to its offense. Carter will be tasked with handling Knight, who he limited to 12 points on Jan. 3. When Carter leaves the floor, Delaware doesn’t have another center capable of slowing down Knight.

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Courtesy of Delaware Athletics
Ithiel Horton sizes up his defender Jalen Ray.

Hofstra Pride 25-6, 15-3 CAA

Hofstra opened CAA play 9-0 before losing to second-seeded Northeastern, 75-61, on Feb. 2. The Pride only dropped two games the rest of the way, but both came in upset fashion — against UNCW and James Madison.

Still, Hofstra looks very much like the team to beat, as they have for almost the entire year. Justin Wright-Foreman, the soon-to-be two-time CAA Player of the Year, is a complete scorer who’s yet to be shut down by any CAA opponent.

At his worst, he scored 15 points on 5-14 shooting in that loss at Northeastern. At his best, he dropped 48 points on William and Mary on Feb. 9.

Wright-Foreman finished second in the nation in scoring at 26.8 points per game. He shot 52.1 percent from the field and 44.3 percent from three-point range.

Hofstra has other scoring threats too, in junior Eli Pemberton (15.6 points per game) and senior Desure Buie (11.1 points per game). As the fifteenth-best three-point shooting team in the nation (best in the CAA at 38.9 percent), Hofstra has the offensive firepower to beat anyone — NCAA tournament teams included.

How did Delaware fare? Disastrously.

Hofstra outscored Delaware 183-116 this season. Delaware’s 91-46 loss at Hofstra on Dec. 28 is its most-lopsided defeat since joining the CAA 18 seasons ago. To close the regular season, with the No. 1 seed already locked up, Hofstra defeated Delaware 92-70.

If they meet again… the only thing Delaware will having going for itself is that it’s supposedly difficult to beat a team three times in a season. But it doesn’t seem like that will be of much concern to Wright-Foreman and company. Man, zone, double teams, it doesn’t matter. JWF has yet to be stopped.

The best of the rest

Led by Vasa Pusica, the fifth-best scorer in the CAA at 17.9 points per game, Northeastern (20-10, 14-4 CAA) outscored opponents by 5.3 points on average this season. The Huskies won nine of their final 10 games of the season.

Delaware beat them on the road on Dec. 30, 82-80, in double overtime. But that was without Pusica. The Huskies returned serve Thursday with a comfortable 75-64 win at the Bob.

Charleston (23-8, 12-6), the reigning CAA champions, swept their season series with Delaware — beating the Blue Hens 71-58 on Jan. 12 and 83-75 on Feb. 7. The Cougars are top heavy, with two of the top five scorers in the CAA — Grant Riller (22.3 points per game) and Jarrell Brantley (19.5) — but that’s not bad problem to have considering most rotations shorten during the tournament.

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