After an up-and-down non-conference slate that included a strong performance at the NIT Season Tip-Off but losses in three of its last four games, Drexel opens conference play tonight at William & Mary (7 p.m.).
What can the Dragons expect in the Colonial Athletic Association this season? Here’s a quick league primer:
Top teams, bottom teams
Gone are the days of the CAA being dominated by Virginia teams.
With George Mason following VCU into the Atlantic 10 this season and Old Dominion bolting for Conference USA, there’s a large void at the top of the league which the Dragons can easily grab.
Towson (9-6) was picked to win the CAA in the preseason but hasn’t lived up to those expectations with an RPI of 161.
Of the league’s nine teams, Drexel (8-5) is the only one with an RPI in the top 100, coming in at 72. With an RPI of 109, Delaware (8-7) should contend for the league title, along with Towson and Drexel. And William & Mary (8-5) and CAA newcomer Charleston (9-7) should be able to jockey for position in the league’s upper half.
Defending conference tournament champs James Madison (6-10), UNC Wilmington (6-10), Northeastern (3-11) and Hofstra (4-10) likely won’t be contenders.
Drexel will see the CAA’s leading scorer right off the bat in William & Mary’s Marcus Thornton (19.5 ppg).
Illinois State transfer Zeke Upshaw has been scoring in bunches for Hofstra, averaging 18.9 points per game, second in the league. And the Delaware duo of Jarvis Threatt and Davon Usher has been sensational, currently averaging a combined 35 points per game.
Towson big man Jerrelle Benimon (17.7 ppg, 10.7 rpg) is probably one of the league’s only NBA prospects.
And even with the season-ending injury to Damion Lee, Drexel still probably boasts the league’s best collection of guards with Chris Fouch (16.8 ppg), Frantz Massenat (14.6 ppg) and Tavon Allen (12.6 ppg).
Games to watch for Drexel
While the biggest games will come in March, the Dragons will still look to win the regular-season league title to secure an NIT berth and the top seed in the CAA tournament.
To get there, the Dragons will need to take care of business against the lower-level teams, especially at home, and win the season series over Towson (Jan. 14 at home, Feb. 1 on the road) or Delaware (Jan. 20 at home, Feb. 23 on the road).
Projected conference standings and NCAA musings
The CAA will almost certainly be a one-bid league, so the only path to the NCAA tournament will be to win the CAA conference tournament from March 7-10 in Baltimore (a much better location for Drexel than the Richmond Coliseum).
And with all nine teams making the tournament (the eighth-place team plays the ninth-place team for the right to play the top seed), the regular season is essentially meaningless when it comes to the Big Dance.
Still, here’s our best guess as it how the standings will look when the CAA tourney begins:
4. College of Charleston
5. James Madison
6. William & Mary
8. UNC Wilimgton