CAA Tournament preview: Towson looking to land first NCAA Tournament bid since 1991
In the last playoffs, no one could have predicted what happened in the CAA tournament.
In an upset-filled installment, the No. 6 seeded Drexel Dragons defeated eighth-seeded Elon in the championship, sending the Dragons to their first NCAA Tournament since 1996. That championship came as five of the last seven games have been won by the lowest-ranked team.
This season, the support was what no one predicted.
Towson won his first-ever CAA title after being picked eighth in preseason. UNCW went from worst to first, just like James Madison (who will not participate this season due to his move to the Sun Belt Conference) did last year. And league class Northeastern finished in last place.
The CAA Tournament was the definition of insanity and expect it to happen again.
All times Eastern
First Round (Saturday March 5), FLO Sports
Game 1: No. 9 William & Mary vs. No. 8 Northeastern, 5 p.m.
Quarter-final (Sun. March 6), FLO Sports
Game 2: Winner of Game 1 vs. No. 1 Towson, MIDI
Game 3: No. 5 Delaware vs. No. 4 Drexel, 2:30 p.m.
Match 4: #7 Elon vs. #2 UNCW, 6 p.m.
Match 5: College #6 Charleston vs. Hofstra #3, 8:30 p.m.
Semi-Final (Monday, March 7), CBS Sports Network
Game 6: Winner of Game 2 vs. Winner of Game 3, 6 p.m.
Game 7: Winner of Game 4 vs. Winner of Game 5, 8:30 p.m.
Finals (Tuesday, March 8), CBS Sports Network
Game 8: Game 6 Winner vs Game 7 Winner, 7 p.m.
Towson (24-7, 15-3): Man, what a job Pat Skerry did at Towson. It took 10 years, but he brought a program that was on a 41-game losing streak to start the last decade into a co-conference champion at the start of this decade and a consistent contender.
Currently seated at 59and in the NET, the team is full of local Baltimore-area players who run one of the most efficient offenses in the country. Towson currently ranks 34and in offensive efficiency, while being one of the top ten teams in offensive rebounding. Much of that was done in the transfer portal as Bradley’s Terry Nolan and UT Martin’s Cam Holden emerged as leaders to add to the big game of Nic Timberlake and Charles Thompson.
The Tigers have won seven straight, all but one by double digits. They haven’t made an NCAA tournament since 1991, but chances are that will change.
UNCW (21-8, 15-3): Takayo Siddle brought UNCW back to what it was when he was an assistant on Kevin Keatts’ team. The Seahawks have won their first nine CAA games. Their offensive discipline has been elite as they rank 23rd as a percentage of offensive turnover. If their four-pronged offense at guard can continue to be disciplined, the Seahawks could go dancing for the first time since 2017.
Hofstra (21-10, 13-5): You’re not going to find a better backcourt in major basketball than Hofstra’s. Aaron Estrada has played himself into player of the year conversations, scoring 18 points per game on a clip from 48% from the field. At his side, Jalen Ray was a stallion at the CAA for a long time. Transfer Zach Cooks arrived with a goalscoring mentality after scoring 1,788 points at NJIT. Darlinstone Dubar has shown talent at the Big 12 and CAA levels, and Omar Silverio just dropped 40 points to Elon a few weeks ago. Pride beat out-of-conference Arkansas and took Houston to overtime, showing they can still fight anyone.
Delaware (19-12, 10-8): Picked first in the CAA’s preseason poll, the Blue Hens didn’t have exactly the finish they wanted. After a 10-5 start to the league, they gave up their last three, including the last two against Towson & UNCW. Jameer Nelson Jr. was a great transfer addition, averaging 14 points per game. Jyare Davis played himself in the CAA Freshman of the Year talks, shooting 61% from the field and averaging 8.7 ppg. Along with them, Dylan Painter, Ryan Allen and Kevin Anderson will look to cap off their long careers in Delaware with an NCAA Tournament appearance.
Drexel (15-13, 10-8): They did it last year, why can’t they do it again? Drexel brings a lot of the same pieces from last year’s team, including Cam Wynter who is averaging 15.3 points per game. With him, baby-faced assassin James Butler and Amari Williams became some of the best defensive players in the country.
Elon (10-21, 7-11): In 2020, the Phoenix upset William & Mary in the quarterfinals. Last season they made the CAA Finals but fell short at Drexel. Is this the year they take the last step out of the Tournament club that was never done? They picked up back-to-back wins in dominant fashion as Darius Burford and Hunter McIntosh combined for 75 points.
Northeast (8-21, 2-16): As former CAA communications assistant director Bill Potter said, “Death, taxes and Bill Coen are competing in March.” It wasn’t exactly the season he wanted, but you can never count on a team from the North East at this time of year. Chris Doherty played great basketball in the front court, averaging 11.3 points and 9.1 rebounds per game while shooting 57.1 percent from the field. They still have a good punch in the backcourt with Jahmyl Telfort, Shaq Walters and Nikola Djogo. It will just be a question of where will they find that momentum?
Nic Timberlake, Towson (14.3 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 44.3% FG%)
Cam Holden, Towson (13.6 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 3 APG, 43.1% FG%)
Charles Thompson, Towson (10.9 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 62.6% FG%)
Terry Nolan Jr., Towson (10 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 4 APG, 38.9% FG%)
Jaylen Sims, UNCW (15.7 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 37.6% FG%)
Aaron Estrada, Hofstra (18.5 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 5 APG, 48% FG%)
Jalen Ray, Hofstra (13.1 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 41.3% FG%)
Zach Cooks, Hofstra (12.4 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 3.1 APG, 40.1% FG)
Darlinstone Dubar, Hofstra (11.9 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 54.1% FG%)
Omar Silverio, Hofstra (11 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 37.6% FG%)
Jameer Nelson Jr., Delaware (14 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 45.8% FG%)
Dylan Painter, Delaware (12.7 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 55.4% FG%)
Cam Wynter, Drexel (15.3 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 4.7 APG, 42.5% FG%)
John Meeks, Charleston (13.7 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 46.4% FG%)
Darius Burford, Elon (13.7 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 3 APG, 46.2% FG%)
Hunter McIntosh, Elon (13.3 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 38% FG%)
Ben Wight, William and Mary (11.5 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 61.3% FG%)
Jahmyl Telfort, North East (12.9 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 41.9% FG%)
Nikola Djogo, North East (11.8 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 45.4% FG%)
Chris Doherty, Northeast (11.3 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 57.1% FG%)
Shaq Walters, Northeast (10.9 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 41.7% FG%)
This tournament is still one of the craziest, but I think it’s going to come down to Towson and Hofstra. The Tigers have had a historic season, so this may be the year they turn the corner. Hofstra has one of the best backcourts in the country and is still looking to avenge his lost bid for the 2020 NCAA Tournament. Give me the experienced coach of Pat Skerry and Towson to beat Hofstra for the third time this season, in a final at suspense. You can’t go wrong anyway.