One of the teams that put the Colonial Athletic Association on the national radar, Virginia Commonwealth is gone now residing in the Atlantic 10, Towson and North Carolina-Wilmington are ineligible for post-season play due to sub-standard APR scores and thanks to conference bylaws Old Dominion and Georgia State are also ineligible for the post-season because of their impending moves to Conference USA and the Sun Belt respectively leaving just seven teams left to battle it out for the conference’s automatic bid.
Drexel was picked to win the league by its coaches, sports information directors and various media members with Delaware and George Mason picked to finish 2nd and 3rd. With such a reduced conference tournament field, the non-conference portion of the schedule becomes that much more important for the favorites should they fail to secure the automatic bid.
Drexel has dropped their first two games of the season both in overtime falling to Kent State and Illinois State. The losses put an extra emphasis on the Dragons’ remaining marquee games before the new year. They still have games with St. Mary’s (11/22), potential match ups with Xavier and California as part of the DirecTV Classic and home games against Davidson (12/22) and St. Joeseph’s (12/31). Even if the Dragons win out that schedule may not be enough to garner much at-large consideration if they don’t win the conference tournament.
George Mason is the remaining team in the conference with the greatest NCAA resume thanks to their trip to the Final Four in 2006. The Patriots have a young team this season with just one senior on the roster, Bryce Lewis. The Patriots kicked the season off by defeating the ACC’s Virginia Cavaliers before losing to Bucknell in their second game. GMU is taking part in the Paradise Jam in St. Thomas which gives them potential games with New Mexico and possibly Connecticut before they return to the US mainland to face the likes of Maryland (12/2), Northern Iowa (12/8) and South Florida (12/29) before beginning conference play.
The team perhaps in the best position to build a resume that would get them a second look for an at-large berth in March is the Delaware Blue Hens. They were picked behind Drexel in the Pre-season poll, like Drexel the Blue Hens started the season by losing to LaSalle. Next up for Delaware was the NIT Tip-Off, they defeated Pennsylvania in the first round 84-59 earning themselves a game with regional host Virginia. Like George Mason Delaware beat Virginia 59-53 giving them an unexpected (to a lot of people) trip to New York for the semifinals where they face Kansas State (11/21). Whether they win or lose in Madison Square Garden the Blue Hens are guaranteed a couple of things; 1. The spotlight, their name in lights and the big stage at a basketball mecca for two nights, and 2. They are guaranteed, win or lose, another game against either a top 5 Michigan team or a Pittsburgh team that is looking to rebound from a disappointing 2011-12, either way it should be considered a win-win for Monte Ross’ club.
After the NIT they also have road games with Temple (11/25), Duke (12/1) and Villanova (12/16) who is playing Alabama for the 2K Sports Classic title.
Over the first three games Delaware have been led by three players; Senior forward Jamelle Hagins, Junior guard Devon Saddler and Sophomore guard Jarvis Threatt. The three guys have averaged an amazing 39 points and 23 rebounds per game.
With more potential opportunities than the other contenders in their conference, it is the Delaware Blue Hens who may still have a chance to make the NCAA Tournament if they are unable to overtake Drexel as a league favorite, and that road continues next week at Madison Square Garden.