Wednesday, May 22, 2024

CAA men’s tournament prediction: This team can dethrone Charleston

SportsMen's BasketballCAA men's tournament prediction: This team can dethrone Charleston

KONNER METZ
Editor-in-Chief




Delaware comes into postseason play skidding, losing three of its last four, most recently a 79-56 smacking on the road at Stony Brook. The Blue Hens have struggled against the Coastal Athletic Association’s (CAA) top five teams, going a combined 1-6, the only win coming at Towson in February. A 10-8 conference record is certainly respectable, but Delaware might have a similar fate it had last year as a No. 6 seed – advancing to the quarterfinals and then dropping to Towson, 86-60. The Hens will await the winner of No. 11 Elon and No. 14 Hampton, but a potential quarterfinal matchup against nemesis Hofstra looms large. Delaware will not just have to take down one top-tier CAA team; it will have to upset multiple to win the tournament.

Senior guard Niels Lane (above) will be a key to Delaware’s hopes to take down the top dogs in the conference tournament. Hannah Paliath/THE REVIEW

At last year’s CAA tournament, Charleston was one of the hottest mid-major teams in the country, sporting a 16-2 conference record. Despite being the No. 2 seed, Pat Kelsey’s Cougars were considered the team to beat. This year, as defending champions, Charleston is once again the cream of the crop with the No. 1 seed and a 15-3 CAA mark. Despite less national buzz, this Cougars team might be just as dangerous behind arguably the deepest roster in the CAA and top-70 rankings in KenPom adjusted tempo and adjusted offense. Junior guard Reyne Smith is lethal from beyond the arc and junior forward Ante Brzovic anchors an interior that is top-25 nationally in offensive rebounds per game.

The only team to give the Cougars major fits this year was a nearby rival: UNCW. The Seahawks defeated Charleston twice in the regular season, making 18 free throws in each contest and grabbing a combined 26 offensive boards. After a loss in last year’s title game, Head Coach Takayo Siddle and his group are again a threat; however, as the No. 4 seed, UNCW potentially squares off versus the Cougars in the semifinals this season. Need a reason to believe in a second straight championship game appearance? Junior forward Trazarien White (19.6 points per game) and graduate guard Shykeim Phillips (14.0 points per game) shoot 49% and 52% from the field, respectively. KJ Jenkins, a graduate transfer guard, adds an outside shooting aspect to the offense (37% three-point shooting on the season).

Drexel has risen to new heights in the CAA in Zach Spiker’s eighth year as head coach, securing its first 20-win campaign since 2011-2012 and sporting a 13-1 home record. Winning in a neutral-site tournament atmosphere will be a different animal, but Drexel fans should travel well with the hype around this year’s group. Senior forward Amari Williams is a defensive stalwart and a rim protector who can switch momentum in a heartbeat. Sophomore guard and hometown phenom Justin Moore (12.6 points and 3.4 assists per game) might be the difference-maker, though. He was injured for the end of the regular season before returning to play in last year’s tournament. Drexel was bitten by the injury bug – in its 2023 quarterfinal loss, now-senior guard Yame Butler and now-graduate forward Mate Okros both sustained injuries. If the Dragons can avoid bad luck in D.C., a better result might be in store.

The always-feisty Hofstra Pride are sure to be a threat in Washington, D.C. under third-year Head Coach Speedy Claxton. Outstanding guard play and perimeter shooting is always a recipe for success in March. Stony Brook enters with a talented guard of its own, graduate Tyler Stephenson-Moore, who shoots over 40% from beyond the arc and can get hot. Looking for a true Cinderella? Northeastern is led by graduate forward Chris Doherty, who has scored double-digit points in 15 of his 17 conference appearances this season. Bill Coen, in his 18th season as head coach, led the Huskies to conference championships in 2015 and 2019. 

My pick: UNCW takes down Charleston for the third time this season in the semifinals, creating a wide-open finals game in which Moore rises to the occasion and leads the Drexel Dragons to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2021.

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