By Gregory Hunt
With a 12-6 conference record, the Northeastern Huskies men's basketball team finished the regular season in a four-way tie for first place in the Colonial Athletic Association, so this year's CAA Men's Basketball Tournament appears to be wide open. Northeastern tied with William & Mary, UNC Wilmington and James Madison, so all four teams have a legitimate shot at winning the conference title and advancing to the NCAA Tournament. The Huskies have not been to the NCAA Tournament since 1991. Due to tiebreakers, the Huskies settled for the No. 3 seed in the CAA Tournament, so they will face No. 6 Delaware in the quarterfinals Saturday at Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore, Maryland.
William & Mary and UNC Wilmington earned the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, respectively, so they will play the winners of the first-round games that will be played Friday among the bottom four seeds in the conference. William & Mary will play the winner of the game between No. 8 Elon and No. 9 Towson, while UNC Wilmington will play the winner of the game between No. 7 Drexel and No. 10 College of Charleston.
The season has been somewhat unpredictable, as three of the top four teams actually lost games to the bottom half of the conference during the regular season. William & Mary, with a chance to win the regular season championship outright, actually dropped its regular season finale at home to Drexel 80-66. In that game, Drexel shot an impressive 52.4 percent from the three-point line (11-for-21). UNC Wilmington also lost its finale, dropping a 74-55 decision to Elon on the road. Three of Northeastern's losses came against Drexel (65-60 on the road January 28), Delaware (73-68 at home February 7) and Elon (72-65 on the road February 26).
"I think it was apropos for our league this season," James Madison head coach Matt Brady said about the apparent parity in the CAA. "To me, it's indicative of mid-major basketball, not just this year. It's been going this way for a number of years."
William & Mary earned its No. 1 seeding by going 5-1 against the other three co-champions. The only loss came at Northeastern, 75-64, on February 18. The No. 1 seeding, along with its 18-11 overall record, guarantees William & Mary of at least an automatic bid to the National Invitation Tournament, but the winner of the CAA Tournament will win an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament regardless of the team's overall record. Thus, even College of Charleston has a chance to go to the Big Dance.
UNC Wilmington, under first-year head coach Kevin Keatts, finished the regular season with a 17-12 record, giving the school its first winning season in men's basketball since 2005-06. That year was also the last year the school advanced to the NCAA Tournament.
"I'm telling you now, anybody can beat anybody," said Keatts. "The team that's more focused and comes prepared and can put three or four days together will be the tournament champion. Everybody's got their opportunity to win here, and that's what makes March so special."
The CAA Tournament semifinals are scheduled for Sunday and the championship game will be played Monday.
Gregory Hunt is a Boston native and a life-long fan of the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics. He's also particularly fond of lacrosse, IndyCar racing and women's college basketball. He currently works for Examiner.com where he serves as the Senior Manager of Content and Media Access. He also writes for Examiner.com as the New England Patriots Examiner. His work can be found on Examiner.com.
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