So our dream CAA Final Four was a bit of a letdown. Drexel and VCU delivered early knockout blows to Old Dominion and George Mason, held double digit leads at intermission and cruised to victory. The Dragons and Rams will square off tonight for the CAA Championship and the automatic bid into the NCAA Dance. With 34 of 79 mock bracketologists placing both in the field as of this morning, there is a strong chance both teams will make the dance. But its hardly a guarantee. Drexel is only a 13-seed in Bracket Matrix and usually teams seeded in that area arent able to pluck at-large bids should they fall in their league tournament. The Rams are second to last cut out of the Bracket Matrix, their 43 total mock selections are seven less votes than Xavier, the final at-large bid in the current Matrix. Was their rout of midmajor brand name George Mason yesterday enough should they lose to the Dragons tonight? I feel there is room in the field for both teams, but tonight’s loser might need to cheer for further erosion of the NCAA Bubble in this final week before the official selections to help their cause. So expect a winner take all mentality from both teams tonight as this remains a one-bid league until we’re told otherwise. These teams finished 1-2 in the standings, with Drexel’s 16-2 mark a game better than VCU’s 15-3 record. The difference? A 64-58 win by Drexel on their home court more than two months ago, the only match of the season between these two teams.
I enjoyed Drexel’s takedown of ODU yesterday. Not only did we forecast the game correctly, but it was our biggest play of the day Sunday. It helped cover some of Saturday’s losses. Oy. But getting back to the Dragons. In a game pitting the nation’s 16th best defensive rebounding percentage team in Drexel vs the nation’s 12th best offensive rebounding percentage team in ODU, it was the Dragons on the defensive glass that won this battle of strengths. They shut down ODU on the offensive glass during the first half as they built an insurmountable lead and ultimately hauled in more offensive boards, 13-11, than the Monarchs. ODU came out ice cold, hitting on just 1 of their first 12 shots, but only grabbed one of those misses for an offensive board. The Dragons came out hitting shots, poured in some second chance baskets of their own, opened up a 15-3 lead and really were never threatened. ODU finally got some work in on the offensive glass, but only grabbed 23.9 percent of their misses for the game, well below their season average of 39.2 percent. Chris Fouche, whose amped up his own scoring down the stretch, provided the first half offense with four treys for Drexel, while Frantz Massenat picked up the slack in the second half en route to a game high 20 points. Sammie Givens and Daryl McCoy wore the hard hats under the basket, grabbing 12 and 8 boards apiece, including 11 on the offensive glass. The Dragons gave ODU a taste of their own medicine by collecting more than 35-percent of their misses. The win was the 16th in a row for Drexel, which, rather amazingly and queitly, has lost just one game since December 3.
As for VCU, what can you say? Will there be a better opening round of punches the rest of this month than what they threw at George Mason yesterday? I thought it had the chance to be the game of the day, but the Rams ended this game early. They scored the game’s first 22 points en route to opening up a 32-4 lead before the midpoint of the first half. Remember a year ago when the otherwise average 3-point shooting outfit of VCU tore up the nets all the way to the Final Four? If yesterday was any indication, get ready for a reprise. The Rams, just 194th nationally in 3-point shooting percentage, drilled their first 8 treys, including a trio of bombs from CAA First-Teamer Bradford Burgess, en route to opening that monstrous lead. They also had their top-ranked in the nation turnover percentage defense amped from the jump. They forced eight turnovers, including five steals, and scored 12 points off those miscues during that early knockout punch. Give George Mason a ton of credit for fighting the rest of the way and nearly coming back to cover the +6.5 point spread, but the hole created by VCU’s dominant first 10 minutes of the game was too much to overcome.
So we get Drexel and VCU playing in tonight’s championship game. VCU has been installed as 3-point favorites. The Over/Under is 118.5 points. It ought to be a helluva game. Whose going to win, you ask? Let us try and tell you.
Despite VCU’s statement against George Mason, I’m siding with Drexel on this one. Last night was a perfect matchup for VCU’s thieving guards and turnover creating defense as the Patriots are one of the worst teams in the land at valuing the basketball. Drexel wont have those issues. Much like yesterday when the Dragons were able to take away one of ODU’s strengths–its work on the offensive glass–because of one of their own top end skills, I expect the same to work to their benefit tonight. They only turn the ball over on 18.9-percent of their possessions and fall victim to steals only 8.6 percent of the time. Both of those are within the top quarter of all teams nationally. They wont melt down in the early the going the way George Mason did last night. The ball will be in Fouche’s and Massenat’s hands a lot tonight. Fouche rarely turns it over and has had only three games this season with three or more miscues. Massenat had some issues early in the season, but only has 14 turnovers in Drexel’s last 11 games. In their one game with VCU this year, they turned it over just 11 times, which also happens to be the Dragons’ season average. This chaotic Ram defense didnt faze them.
With Drexel containing their turnovers and taking away usually a big edge for the Rams, look for their defense and shooting ability to take over from there and do just enough to coax out a win. Dont forget, the Dragons are 3rd nationally in EFG% D, 6th nationally at guarding the three ball and 22nd at guarding 2-point shots. Despite last night’s hotter than hot effort coming out of the gates, the Rams are a below average shooting team. They’re 235th in the nation in EFG%. Up against an elite midmajor defense tonight, I dont think they get the easy looks they got against Mason, nor will they nail as many of those looks either. VCU plays terrific D as well, but the Dragons numbers are a bit better, they shoot the ball better that VCU does and are a better rebounding club. When the game ends, I expect VCU’s turnover edge to be negated while the Dragons will score the ball from the behind arc more and have an edge with second chance points.
The Pick: Drexel +3…..KenPom favors VCU, but by a 61-60 score. Hey, we’ll take that. It means a Dragon cover. But I expect Drexel to win this game, giving them their 17th in a row and automatic bid into the NCAAs. VCU will have to spend the week hoping more bubble failures will pave the road for an at-large bid.