Breaking Down the CAA

The Colonial made headlines last March thanks to VCU’s improbable run to the Final Four, and while the league isn’t quite as talented as it was a year ago, things are setting up for an exciting finish with Drexel, George Mason, and VCU all tied at 13-2 in the league with three games to play.  Here’s a quick look at each team and their remaining schedules.

Drexel (21-5, 13-2 CAA, RPI: 81)

In recent years, the Dragons have been known as a defensive force with limited offensive firepower, but they are working to shake that stigma this season.  They actually rank first in offensive efficiency in league play and are atop the conference in eFG% (50.2%), FTR (45.2), and free throw shooting at (76.2%).  They also lead the league in three-point shooting at just under 40% and rank fourth on two-pointers.  Drexel is in the midst of a 13-game winning streak, and they have scored at least 1.03 ppp in 12 of those contests with 1.13 ppp or more in seven.  A few extreme numbers also stick out such as an eFG% of 70.2% in one game and 72.9% in another, not to mention FTR’s of 85.7 and 89.7. 

Even with an improved offense, the Dragons can still get it done on the defensive end.  They rank fourth in defensive efficiency in league play and have surrendered over 1.00 ppp just four times all season.  During their current winning streak, nine of their 13 foes have scored 0.92 ppp or less.  They rank first in the CAA in eFG% defense at just 41.1%, thanks in large part to outstanding three-point defense (27.1%).  They also rank first in DReb% at 74.3% but are ninth in both TO% and FTR.

Of the three teams, Drexel’s remaining schedule is the easiest as they face William & Mary and James Madison at home before finishing the year with a tough game at Old Dominion.  A BracketBusters game at Cleveland State is mixed in as well and should be one of the better games in the event.

George Mason (21-6, 13-2 CAA, RPI: 100)

I expected the Patriots to have a solid season, but through four games, they had already lost to Florida Atlantic and Florida International.  They have since rebounded and are in the midst of a stretch where they have won nine of their last 10 games.  They rank third in the CAA in offensive efficiency and are in the top five in three of the four factors.  Their 44.8 FTR is just behind Drexel’s, and they rank third in eFG% with their top-ranked two-point shooting helping to offset a 32.1% success rate from beyond the arc.  That being said, GMU’s offensive performance over the last 14 games has been inconsistent.  In six of those contests, they have been held to 0.99 ppp or less, but in seven others, they have scored at least 1.07 ppp.

George Mason is in the middle of the pack defensively during league play.  They rank third in FTR but are sixth or worse in the other four factors.  They have also been the beneficiary of poor free throw shooting from their opponents, who have made less than 65% from the stripe.  Still, they have managed to hold 10 of their last 14 opponents to 0.93 ppp or less, and just two of them have managed to break the 1.01 mark. 

The Patriots have a home-and-home remaining against VCU as well as a trip to Northeastern and a BracketBusters game against Lamar.  Quite frankly, it’s tough to trust a team coached by Paul Hewitt in virtually any situation, but the fact that GMU doesn’t line up well statistically with VCU and Drexel doesn’t help either.

VCU (22-5, 13-2 CAA, RPI: 83)

Despite losing a ton of production from last year’s Final Four squad, the Rams are right back in the thick of things in the CAA after reeling off 11 straight wins.  They rank second in offensive efficiency, thanks in large part to a league-best TO% and the third-ranked OReb% of 36.2%.  VCU doesn’t get to the line very often, which might be a good thing since they shoot just 65.6% from the stripe.  The Rams also take close to 40% of their shots from long range despite hitting just 32.6% from deep in league play.  Even during their current winning streak, the offense hasn’t been particularly prolific with six games with 1.01 ppp or more and five others where they scored between 0.94 and 0.99 ppp. 

On the defensive end, they are fantastic at forcing turnovers as evidenced by their impressive 27.1 TO%, which is tops in the CAA.  Outside of that, they rank fourth in eFG% but are in the middle of the pack in terms of DReb% and FTR.  However, during their winning streak just one team has scored more than 1.00 ppp and only two have eclipsed 0.96 ppp. 

As mentioned above, VCU has a home-and-home with George Mason left on the schedule as well as a road trip to UNC-Wilmington.  They also face a solid Northern Iowa squad as part of the BracketBusters.  If the Rams can win at Mason on Tuesday, they have a decent shot to run the table in the league.

Regardless, expect this race to come down to the final weekend of the regular season, and the conference tournament should be even more intense than normal since the CAA is shaping up to be a one bid league this season.

Follow me on Twitter (@AndyBottoms) for more of my thoughts on college basketball.