CAA Women’s Basketball Tournament Preview: A look at Delaware’s postseason path

vs William & Mary  3-3-19  29
Courtesy of Delaware Athletics
Delaware won nine of 11 games after defeating UNCW in Newark on Jan. 25.

BY
Executive Editor

It seemed inconsequential at the time — an early-morning game at the Bob Carpenter Center between UNCW, then the conference’s third-best team, and Delaware, a team struggling for offense without its top player.

But that game, a 65-53 upset win behind a 26-point performance by Samone DeFreese, proved to be the turning point in a tumultuous season that now sees Delaware hosting the CAA tournament as its fifth seed and one of its hottest teams after opening the year in the cellar of the CAA.

“We talk about being the best team in March,” Delaware Head Coach Natasha Adair said after that UNCW win on Jan. 25. “If we take this momentum today … it really excites me about where this team can go and what we can compete for in March.”

Delaware won nine of its final 11 games after the UNCW win and never lost to a team that finished below them in the CAA standings. The impressive stretch came after Delaware opened CAA play as losers of four of their first five games, while averaging 54.2 points per game.

The Blue Hens will face No. 4 Towson in the quarterfinal round of the tournament on Thursday March 14 at 2:30 p.m. at the Bob Carpenter Center. The game will be broadcast on caa.tv, 91. 3 WVUD and Fox Sports 1290.

To win it all, and claim the CAA’s automatic NCAA tournament bid for the first time since the 2012-2013 season.

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

vs UNCW 1-25-19  29
Courtesy of Delaware Athletics
DeFreese had a breakout game against UNCW in January, scoring a team-high 26 points.

Towson Tigers 17-12, 11-7 CAA

Towson closed the regular season on a three-game home losing streak. The Tigers have failed to score more than 60 points since Feb. 22.

Still, the Tigers finished the regular season with the second-best offense in the CAA at 68.1 points per game. The offense has exploded for 80 or more points five times in CAA play, which is the second-most such games of any team in the league.

Redshirt sophomore Kionna Jeter leads the attack, averaging 17.3 points per game in her first season at Towson after transferring from Gulf Coast State College. She’s tied for second in the league in scoring with Northeastern’s Jess Genco.

Nukiya Mayo is Towson’s second scoring option, at 14.3 points per game (ninth in the CAA). Towson is one of two teams with two scorers in the CAA’s top 10 (UNCW is the other).

How did Delaware fare? Fine.

Delaware and Towson split their season series. Towson defeated Delaware, 56-48, in Newark on Jan. 6 and Delaware beat Towson, 70-57, in Towson on March 7.

When they meet again… the Delaware team that beat Towson on March 7, only a week before the third part of this series will be played, is the team that should be expected to show up at the Bob.

The first matchup came early in CAA play well before Delaware found its footing. The second game serves as a better barometer.

In the most recent matchup, the Blue Hens outscored the Tigers 27-13 in the fourth quarter. Makeda Nicholas (15 points) and Alison Lewis (14 points) led Delaware in scoring. It should be encouraging that Delaware was able to beat Towson handily on off nights from DeFreese and Abby Gonzales. DeFreese and Gonzales combined for 17 points on 4-17 shooting from the floor. Both have had most of their best performances at home.

The Blue Hens defended well against Jeter and Mayo. The duo combined for 16 points, while shooting 5-22 from the floor (22.7 percent) and 1-6 from three-point range.

vs William & Mary  3-3-19  08
Courtesy of Delaware Athletics
Abby Gonzales led Delaware with 3.1 assists per game in the regular season.

James Madison 25-4, 17-1 CAA

After failing to reach the CAA championship game last season for the first time since 2014, James Madison climbed right back to the top of the league in the regular season.

James Madison’s lone CAA loss came at UNCW on Jan. 18 by a final score of 66-63. In 18 CAA games, James Madison outscored opponents 1,232-880, an average of 19.6 points per game.

The Dukes are led by Kamiah Smalls, the CAA’s fifth-leading scorer at 16.6 points per game, and Kayla Cooper-Williams, the CAA’s leading rebounder at 9.8 rebounds per game.
To reach the semifinals, James Madison has to beat the winner of No. 8 Elon vs. No. 9 Hofstra in the quarterfinals. The top-seeded Dukes should be considered the favorites to win it all.

How did Delaware fare? Not as bad as you may think.

JMU walloped them in Newark at the beginning of CAA play on Jan. 4, winning 68-43. But in the rematch, Blue Hens put up a respectable fight, losing 56-51 in Harrisonburg in the regular season finale.

Delaware limited James Madison to its second-lowest score in CAA action. The Dukes scored only three points in the second quarter, a frame in which they shot 1-20, but rallied to outscore Delaware 36-29 in the second half behind a strong effort on the glass. JMU outrebounded Delaware 51-42 and pulled down 25 offensive rebounds.

If they meet again… James Madison should be expected to handle Delaware with relative ease.

The best (and worst) of the rest

The two-time defending champion Elon Phoenix will be playing in the play-in round Wednesday, after finishing the regular season 9-20 overall and 4-14 in CAA play.

Drexel (22-7, 14-4), who lost to Elon in last year’s final, is the best team on the opposite side of the bracket from Delaware. The Dragons beat the Blue Hens 57-40 on Jan. 13 and 58-41 on Feb. 10. Drexel forward Bailey Greenberg is one of the frontrunners for CAA Player of the Year after leading the league in scoring (17.9 points per game) and finishing third in rebounding (7.0) and field goal percentage (47.8 percent).

UNCW (18-11, 11-7), held onto the third seed, with the same conference record as Towson and Delaware. The Seahawks are the most improved team in the league, having finished 4-14 in league play a season ago.

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