Debating William & Mary, sports and culture since 2011. Updated every Wednesday.

10 Degrees: Dispatches From the CAA Tournament

In Basketball, William & Mary on March 7, 2012 at 11:07 am

Go to Richmond, Va. and ask a resident, “Where is VCU?” You’ll be directed uptown and downtown. You’ll be directed across town and across the street. You’ll be directed north, south, east and west. Because, really, VCU is Richmond, and Richmond is VCU.

Prior to 2011, that was a physical fact. The campus of Virginia Commonwealth University sprawls across the city, and buildings emblazoned with gold sans serif letters “V-C-U” dominate the skyline. But after the VCU Rams’s Cinderella run to the Final Four of the 2011 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, VCU’s omnipresence in Richmond became spiritual as well. It doesn’t hurt to be the de facto home team favorite when less than two miles separate your home arena from the site of your conference’s championship tournament.

In the wake of an upset victory in which the No. 4 seeded VCU defeated the No. 1 overall seeded Drexel Dragons in the 2012 Colonial Athletic Association championship game, the Rams will represent their hometown once again this year, and Richmonders will snatch up every available piece of black and yellow clothing in the city. Their win Monday night sends…

1.)           VCU back to the NCAA tournament for the second time in the Shaka Smart era, and for the fifth time in the last decade. With the CAA champion’s automatic tournament bid, the Rams will likely face the Indiana Hoosiers in the first round. Last year, Smart was able to rally his team by playing the underdog card. Many observers questioned the tournament committee’s selection of VCU for an at-large bid, but another year of strong play and convincing tournament victories have quelled some of VCU’s doubters. Fans in Philadelphia have similar hopes as the…

2.)           Drexel Dragons will watch Selection Sunday with their fingers crossed. After an historic season that included their first CAA regular season title and only their second appearance in the CAA championship game, the Dragons fell to VCU in a tight 59-56 contest. While Drexel’s postseason prospects remain undecided, the Dragons’s convincing 27-6 regular season record (16-2 CAA) and No. 1 seed in the CAA tournament put them in a good position to claim an at-large tournament bid. ESPN projects the Dragons as one of the “last four in,” matched up against Florida State in a first-round contest. The Dragons padded their playoff resume with a dominant 68-51 victory over…

3.)           Old Dominion in the CAA tournament. Last year’s CAA champions regressed in 2012, falling (and at times stumbling) to a 20-13 (13-5 CAA) record. Despite competitive contests with top ten teams in Kentucky and Missouri, the Monarchs struggled against the better teams in the CAA, dropping season series to both VCU and George Mason and narrowly defeating a surprisingly good Georgia State team. But an up and down season for a clean shaven Blaine Taylor’s squad ended with a thud, as Drexel clobbered Old Dominion 68-51 in the CAA tournament semifinals. While the door might be closing on the Monarchs’s March Madness dreams, the future could be bright for the…

4.)           Georgia State Panthers. After nearly a decade of occupying the basement of the CAA, the Panthers experienced a breakout season under first-year head coach Ron Hunter. GSU won 20 games for the first time since their 2004-2005 days in the Atlantic Sun Conference. Highlights included an 11-game winning streak and a 31-point victory over South Carolina State. GSU’s 11-7 CAA record was good enough for a No. 6 seed in the conference tournament, and the Panthers responded with a 35-point victory over the Hofstra Pride. Maybe they should have saved a few of those points for the quarterfinals, where the Panthers lost a 61-59 nail biter to the…

5.)           George Mason Patriots. The team that first acquainted the CAA with the Final Four finished the season with a respectable 24-9 (14-4 CAA) record and a first round bye in the conference tournament. But the Patriots’s quest to claim another CAA title nearly ended before it started. After being down for most of their quarterfinal game against Georgia State, GMU went on a 12-3 run to pull ahead 52-46 with 7:24 left to play, only to fall back into a 59-all tie in the game’s final seconds. Bryon Allen scored the game-winning layup with 3.4 seconds left, and George Mason advanced to the semifinals. The Patriots weren’t the only team to receive a scare in the early rounds of the tournament, as the…

6.)             Delaware Fighting Blue Hens nearly lost to the lowly Towson Tigers. On paper, Delaware essentially had a first round bye. The Tigers finished the season with a miserable 1-31 (1-17 CAA) record and pulled the No. 12 seed for the tournament, and most penciled the Blue Hens into the quarterfinals before tipoff. But Delaware couldn’t put away Towson, which came back from an 18-point deficit to tie the game. Devon Saddler’s consecutive treys gave Delaware a 59-55 advantage with 6:06 left in the game, but a victory by the Blue Hens wasn’t assured until the final buzzer, unlike the…

7.)           William and Mary-Northeastern game. The Tribe, which throttled Northeastern 79-54 during their regular season meeting in Williamsburg, rediscovered its losing ways, and quickly fell into a 20-10 deficit. William and Mary closed the score to 25-22 going into the half, but the Tribe never found its form in the second half, shooting just 16 of 47 and missing half of its free throws (5-10). Senior guard Kendrix Brown and senior forward JohnMark Ludwick closed out their Tribe careers with the loss, but the story of the night for William and Mary fans was the end of the…

8.)           Quinn McDowell era. McDowell concluded his Tribe career with a quiet six points and a career-high five assists, but he goes down as William and Mary’s career leader for games played (126) and minutes played (4,091). McDowell scored 1,621 points during his four-year career, and he is one of just four William and Mary players to tally over 1,600 points and at least 500 rebounds. He was the guard the Tribe needed, but not the one it deserved — and he has a promising career as a costumed vigilante in Williamsburg awaiting him. Also ending at this year’s tournament was…

9.)           ODU’s championship run. After two consecutive CAA titles, the Monarchs will watch the NCAA tournament from home as the rival VCU Rams go dancing for a second straight year. But VCU’s fourth conference championship in the last nine years was threatened when the Rams nearly blew a…

10.)        30-point lead in their semifinal game against George Mason. VCU scored 20 points before the Patriots tallied their first bucket, and midway through the first half, the Rams were up 32-4. Blame it on VCU’s complacency or credit it to George Mason’s resiliency, but the Patriots staged an impressive rally, outscoring the Rams 60-42 over the game’s final 31 minutes. George Mason closed the deficit to six, but VCU was able to hold onto a 74-64 victory, bringing March Madness back to…

Richmond. The Rams’s tournament run last year became a media sensation and brought unprecedented attention to both the VCU team and the city. CAA champions don’t usually gain a lot of fans beyond their regional footprint, but in this case, Richmonders should embrace their inner hipsters — after all, they were VCU fans before it was cool.

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