Sunday, June 16, 2024

CAA men’s tournament prediction: Longtime kryptonite in Delaware’s path

SportsMen's BasketballCAA men's tournament prediction: Longtime kryptonite in Delaware's path

BY DANIEL STEENKAMER
Managing Sports Editor




The favorite: Charleston has separated itself from the pack in the last month, winning nine in a row since falling to UNCW on Feb. 1. UNCW did manage to sweep the regular season series with the Cougars via that win, but the rivals have since gone in opposite directions, with the Seahawks showing cracks in their armor in defeats to Elon and Campbell. The prospect of UNCW having to beat Charleston a third time this season in the semifinals? It is a daunting one, given the Cougs’ CAA-best scoring offense (81 points per game) and league-leading three-pointers per game (10.7).

The runner-up: Hofstra is the beneficiary of Charleston and UNCW occupying the other side of the bracket in Washington. The Pride projects to oppose Delaware in the quarterfinals – the Blue Hens are 1-9 and losers of seven in a row against Hofstra in recent series history. Head coach Speedy Claxton’s team fits the profile, owning more of the same traits to plague Delaware and advance to the final: It is strong scoring by guards (graduate Tyler Thomas and junior Darlinstone Dubar each average over 18 points per game), care for the basketball (No. 2 assist-to-turnover ratio in the CAA belongs to Hofstra) and top-end perimeter shooting (37.4 three-point field goal percentage is best in the conference for the Pride.)

The upsets: Stony Brook is the lone team without a double-bye that appears in my semifinals. The Seawolves closed the regular season by throttling Delaware 79-56 on Long Island, setting the tone for a potential underdog run. Presuming that Stony Brook gets past Northeastern in its postseason opener, the Seawolves are set to face Drexel in the quarters. Although the Dragons will have the rest advantage in such a meeting, they needed everything they had against SBU on Feb. 29, a 90-86 Drexel win. Stony Brook possesses the talents of graduate guards Tyler Stephenson-Moore and Aaron Clarke, who are two top-20 scorers in the league, plus 7-foot graduate center Keenan Fitzmorris. Fitzmorris versus Drexel 6-foot-10-inch graduate forward Amari Williams would be a treat to watch down low. 

The fun one: Saturday’s noon tip-off between Monmouth and Campbell should be a fireworks show on offense. When the Hawks and Fighting Camels last met on Feb. 15, Monmouth’s Xander Rice, a graduate student, and Campbell’s Anthony Dell’Orso, a sophomore, combined for 68 points as Monmouth won it on Rice’s buzzer-beating three near mid-court.

Gerald Drumgoole Jr. (#1, above) drives into the lane against Charleston in a home loss on Feb. 22. Jordan Rosales/THE REVIEW

The Hens: Delaware has sagged against the best competition in the CAA, going 1-6 versus tourney seeds higher than the Blue Hens: Charleston, UNCW, Drexel, Hofstra and Towson. The one victory over a top-flight foe came Feb. 8 at Towson when Delaware shot 57.9 percent from three-point range, including 4-of-5 by Cavan Reilly, 3-of-6 by Gerald Drumgoole Jr. and 2-of-2 by Niels Lane. This perimeter barrage has not been Delaware’s forte overall, but when it is clicking, it relieves pressure on star forward Jyáre Davis and rebounding stalwart Christian Ray in the halfcourt offense. Davis has ascended in his senior season, ranking seventh in the CAA with 17.5 points per game on the conference’s No. 7 field goal percentage (47.2) and No. 4 free throw percentage (81.9). Delaware’s lack of size and depth, though, coupled with shooting lulls against premier opposition, generates dependence on a Blue Hen defense that does rate fourth in the league in scoring (70.2 points per game allowed). Head coach Martin Ingelsby’s rotation has felt the absence of injured St. Francis Brooklyn transfer guard Zion Bethea, who has managed three appearances this season. All came in January for the Hens, whose ceiling of the CAA quarterfinals here feels appropriate given the strain caused by missing out on one of the CAA bracket’s four double-byes.     

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