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Colonial Athletic conference tournament preview

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Unless you have a dog in this fight, here is your homework: root for Drexel and VCU to make it to the CAA title game.

Root as hard as you can.

Because if you are one of those people — like me — that would rather see a quality mid-major basketball team that has put together a stirring run late in the season get a bid over a team like UConn or Mississippi State, a talented group that clearly is not enjoying the season and would get just as much out of a trip to the NIT as they would a spot in the Big Dance, than you need VCU and Drexel in the title game.

Because both of those teams have a very really shot at getting an at-large bid if that were to happen.

Look, the CAA did not do a lot of good things in the non-conference portion of their schedule. They don’t have many stirring non-conference wins. But this is also a league that, on the whole, is young this season. They’ve grown. They’ve gotten better. And now there are (at least) two teams that are deserving of a spot in the NCAA Tournament but, for what ever reason, just don’t have a powerful enough resume to command lock-status.

The Bracket

Where: Richmond, VA

When: March 2nd-March 5th

Final: March 5th, 7:00 p.m., ESPN2

Favorite: Drexel

Drexel started out the season 2-4, but that came as they were getting freshman Damion Lee adjusted to playing basketball at this level and while working Chris Fouch back from an offseason injury. Two of those losses came with Fouch in street clothes. Two more of them came in Fouch’s first two games back. Now he’s healthy and Lee is playing great, which is why Drexel has won 17 straight games and 23 of their last 24. They have one — just one — loss since Dec. 3rd.

And if they lose?: VCU

The Rams are on a similar run. They’ve won 14 of their last 15 games. The one loss? At George Mason, when Mason caught fire over the last minute. VCU went 5-6 from the free throw line and didn’t commit a turnover while blowing a five point lead in the final 50 seconds. Brad Burgess has not exactly had the season we all imagined he would have, but VCU has gotten some impressive play out of big man Juvonte Reddic and point guard Dareus Theus. This group still loves to press, they still force turnovers and they still shoot threes.

Sleepers: I don’t know if you can call George Mason a sleeper, but they ended up finishing the league in third place and have the best front line in the conference. Old Dominion has been rebuilding this year, but they still play as hard as anyone in the league and have a kid by the name of Kent Bazemore. He went for 37 in a loss to Drexel last week. Keep an eye on Georgia State as well, as they have put together a very nice season in Ron Hunter’s first year in Atlanta.

Studs:

Kent Bazemore, Old Dominion: Bazemore is a delight to watch play basketball. He’s 6’5″ and a terrific athlete. He defends as hard as anyone in the country and, this season, he’s scoring the ball very well.

Ryan Pearson, George Mason: Pearson is like the anti-Bazemore. He’s a slow-footed, bearded, 6’7″ power forward with “Old Man” game. But he’s a double-double waiting to happen and a threat to hit a three as well.

Mike Moore, Hofstra: He’s not Charles Jenkins and he hasn’t led Hofstra to 20 wins, but Moore is averaging 20.0 ppg on the season. He can light it up.

Devon Saddler, Delaware: Just a sophomore, Saddler has a chance to be a very good player by the time his career is done.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

BUBBLE BANTER: All of tonight’s bubbly action in one place

Connecticut head coach Kevin Ollie calls to his team during an NCAA college basketball game against Central Florida, Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016 at the CFE Arena in Orlando, Fla. (Jacob Langston/Orlando Sentinel via AP)
(Jacob Langston/Orlando Sentinel via AP)
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Tonight’s schedule. This post will be updated as the games are completed.

UConn (KenPom: 19, RPI: 46) at Temple (KenPom: 95, RPI: 69), 7:00 p.m.
Florida State (KenPom: 37, RPI: 38) at Syracuse (KenPom: 39, RPI: 44), 7:00 p.m.
VCU (KenPom: 32, RPI: 40) at UMass, 7:00 p.m.
Arkansas-Little Rock (KenPom: 41, RPI: 63) at Louisiana Monroe, 8:00 p.m.
Northern Kentucky at Valparaiso (KenPom: 22, RPI: 48), 8:00 p.m.
No. 4 Iowa at Indiana (KenPom: 24, RPI: 51), 9:00 p.m.
No. 11 Oregon at Cal (KenPom: 44, RPI: 32), 9:00 p.m.
Washington State at Colorado (KenPom: 56, RPI: 29), 11:00 p.m.
Gonzaga (KenPom: 33, RPI: 66) at Portland, 11:00 p.m.
Pepperdine at Saint Mary’s (KenPom: 26, RPI: 52), 11:00 p.m.
Oregon State (KenPom: 81, RPI: 31) at Stanford (KenPom: 104, RPI: 71), 11:00 p.m.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Big Ten showdown and key bubble battles

Iowa's Jarrod Uthoff (20), Christian Williams, center, and Adam Woodbury, second from left, and Michigan State's Deyonta Davis (23) and Eron Harris (14) reach for a rebound during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
AP Photo/Al Goldis
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 4 Iowa at Indiana, 7:00 p.m.

As a result of their surprising loss at Penn State Saturday night, Tom Crean’s Hoosiers enter this pivotal contest a game back of the Hawkeyes in the Big Ten standings. And with their backloaded conference schedule, this is a game Indiana has to get if they’re to entertain thoughts of winning the Big Ten title. Two of the Big Ten’s best players will be on display in Iowa’s Jarrod Uthoff and Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell, but both have plenty of help behind them offensively.

Iowa’s Peter Jok has been one of the conference’s most improved players, and the Hoosiers can counter not only with forward Troy Williams but with freshman center Thomas Bryant as well. The key in this one: turnovers, as Indiana has lost the ball on more than 20 percent of their possessions in conference play. That can’t happen tonight if they’re to win.

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: No. 11 Oregon at California, 9:00 p.m.

The Ducks have been the class of the Pac-12 to this point, but a win in Berkeley won’t come easy. The Golden Bears may not be enjoying the success many expected before the season began, but Cuonzo Martin’s team has won all 14 of its home games this season, most recently whipping rival Stanford last weekend.

The problem for Cal: Tyrone Wallace is still out due to injury, and given Oregon’s many versatile scoring options that’s a problem. Pac-12 POY candidate Dillon Brooks leads the way, but Chris Boucher has emerged as one of the conference’s best big men in recent weeks. Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb and Jordan Mathews will need to come up big, as this is a huge contest for Cal’s NCAA tournament hopes.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

  • The top two teams in the Big West get together in Honolulu, as Hawai’i hosts UC Irvine (1:00 a.m.) in the first of their two meetings this season. This will be a matchup of strengths when the Bows have the ball, as they lead the Big West in two-point field goal percentage (54.7) while UC Irvine leads the conference in two-point percentage defense (38.9) thanks in large part to 7-foot-6 Mamadou Ndiaye. Hawai’i forward Stefan Jankovic (15.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg) has been a much-improved player under first-year head coach Eran Ganot, leading the team in both scoring and rebounding.
  • Two ACC teams with matching 6-5 league records meet at the Carrier Dome, as Syracuse hosts Florida State (7:00 p.m.) in a game both teams need for their respective NCAA tournament résumés. Jim Boeheim’s team should be well-rested, as they haven’t played in nine days, and they’ll need that energy to slow down FSU guards Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Malik Beasley and Dwayne Bacon. The Seminole backcourt is young but talented, and they’ll face two fifth-year seniors in Syracuse’s Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney.
  • Picking up a home sweep of Utah and Colorado may have given Oregon State’s NCAA tournament hopes some life, but they really need to go on a run here. Tonight’s game at Stanford (11:00 p.m.) represents a good opportunity for Gary Payton II and company to win their third straight, but the Cardinal did win the first meeting in Corvallis back on January 6. In that game rebounding was the deciding factor (Rosco Allen finished with 21 and eight boards, too), as Stanford grabbed half of their available missed shots. OSU can’t let that happen again.
  • With SMU ineligible for postseason play, the other American Athletic Conference teams are jockeying for position in next month’s conference tournament. Tonight UConn looks to avenge its home loss to Temple January 5 with a win in Philadelphia (7:00 p.m.). Since Amida Brimah’s return the Huskies have played much better basketball, as they have their rim protector and a finisher for Daniel Hamilton’s alley-oop passes back on the court. The Owls have won their last three games, and tonight is their second-best remaining opportunity for a quality win (they play No. 1 Villanova next Wednesday).
  • At this point, no one’s catching Wichita State for the Missouri Valley regular season title without the Shockers collapsing in epic fashion. But when it comes to who can earn the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, both Illinois State and Evansville have a shot. The two teams meet in Evansville tonight (8:00 p.m.), with three of the Valley’s best players on display in ISU’s DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell and Evansville’s D.J. Balentine and Edigijus Mockevicius. Evansville won the first meeting by 11 in mid-January, as the Redbirds shot 6-for-31 from three on the night.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES

  • Mercer at Wofford, 7:00 p.m.
  • Hofstra at William & Mary, 7:00 p.m.
  • High Point at Coastal Carolina, 7:00 p.m.
  • James Madison at College of Charleston, 7:00 p.m.
  • Milwaukee at Oakland, 7:00 p.m.
  • Pepperdine at Saint Mary’s, 11:00 p.m.