Early-season struggles could be costly for the CAA in March

Jeff Eisenberg
November 18, 2011

It's pretty difficult for an entire league to eliminate itself from at-large contention before Thanksgiving, but the Colonial Athletic Association is sure trying hard.

Preseason favorite Drexel's stunning 61-56 loss to lightly regarded Norfolk State on Friday at the Paradise Jam is the latest blow for a league that produced three NCAA tournament teams last year including Final Four-bound VCU.

Before that, Old Dominion got dismantled at home by Northern Iowa, VCU lost feebly by 15 to Seton Hall in the first round of the Charleston Classic and George Mason was upset by Florida International in the Preseason NIT Round of 16. The losses by the Patriots and Rams cost them chances to win marquee games in the winner's bracket later in the tournaments.

The league's also-rans aren't exactly picking up the slack for the above teams projected to finish in the top four. The combined record of the CAA's dozen teams is 9-16 so far and the only one that hasn't lost a game is James Madison, which won its lone game at home against Canisius.

Power conference teams can typically afford early woes and recover because the league slate offers them plenty of chances for marquee victories, but it's especially damaging when a mid-major league collectively struggles in November and December.

CAA teams only have a few more chances to secure the headline-grabbing non-conference victories they desperately need to raise their RPI and avoid one-bid status. That means avoiding too many more bad losses and securing at least a victory or two when VCU visits Alabama, George Mason meets Virginia or Old Dominion plays Missouri.  {YSP:MORE}

The struggles from the CAA aren't entirely unexpected considering the losses top teams sustained from last season. Four starters are gone from VCU's Final Four team, as are the big men that helped Old Dominion dominate the offensive glass the past few years and the backcourt that propelled George Mason to the conference title a year ago.

One silver lining for the CAA is that Drexel will get guard Chris Fouch back from injury next month and George Mason starting point guard Andre Cornelius will return from suspension in mid-December as well. In the meantime, they need their teammates to pick up the slack, or their hopes of an NCAA tournament berth will rest solely on the outcome of the CAA tournament.