Posted on: March 5, 2011 5:36 pm

Buzzer-beating March drama is happening NOW

Posted by Matt Norlander

You can thank Jamie Skeen for being the first player to produce a buzzer-beating moment this March.

The VCU forward hit a spinning, off-glass bunny shot to beat Drexel earlier this afternoon to lift the Rams past fifth-seeded Drexel in the quarterfinals of the CAA tournament.

Here's the final seconds of the game, which only needed Skeen's dramatics because Drexel's leading scorer, Chris Fouch, hit a long 3 to tie the game at 60 with with 13.2 seconds left.

Enjoy this. Embrace March. It is here with full force. No matter the size of the arena, the channel of the broadcast or the jerseys on the floor, everyone gets a piece of the best month of the year.

(Timothy Burke is my hero.)

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Category: NCAAB
Posted on: February 15, 2011 9:20 pm
Edited on: February 15, 2011 9:29 pm

CAA champ Mason ready to bust brackets again

Ryan Pearson leads a tough George Mason team

Posted by Eric Angevine

Heading into Bracket Busters weekend, George Mason seems intent on reminding us that they practically invented the term.

On the Ides of February, the Patriots have already clinched a share of the CAA title by going into Richmond and beating slumping VCU 71-51. VCU fell back to 12-4 alongside another team that violated their sacred enclosure this week - the Old Dominion Monarchs.

Junior forward Ryan Pearson (above) led the visitors with 18 points and 8 rebounds, and 6-foot-5 sophomore Luke Hancock dished seven assists to go with his 8 boards and 10 points. Comically enough, Hancock put up donuts from the floor, but hit every free throw he was awarded. Three other Patriots ended the game in double figures as well. The Patriots as a team shot over 56 percent from behind the three-point line.

For the second straight game, none of VCU's starters scored in double figures. Only reserve guard Rob Brandenburg managed the feat, scoring 12.

Both teams are headed for televised Bracket Busters matchups this weekend, with Mason taking on last year's darling Northern Iowa, and VCU traveling to Wichita State in what will surely be the most black-and-gold-clad event in television history.

The CAA rewards the top four regular-season finishers with first-round byes in the league tourney, and GMU is now assured of being in that number, and has the inside track on claiming the top overall seed for the March event. Old Dominion and Hofstra both won league games tonight, creating a three-team logjam for second place, with each school at 12-4.

Mason may have the goods to get in without winning the CAA postseason event, but veteran coach Jim Larranaga backed into the NCAAs in that fateful 2006 tourney, and would probably prefer not to go that nerve-wracking route again.
Category: NCAAB
Tags: CAA, George Mason, VCU
Posted on: February 12, 2011 4:45 pm
Edited on: February 12, 2011 4:54 pm

Hassell blocks VCU's shot at CAA lead

Kent Bazemore, Frank Hassell and Chris Cooper star for ODU

Posted by Eric Angevine

Richmond, VA -- A portly, mustachioed VCU fan -- nicknamed "Pavarotti" not only for his girth but for his ability to belt out a fine national anthem -- spent much of the rivalry game between Old Dominion and host Virginia Commonwealth parodying Monarchs coach Blaine Taylor. He waddled around the sidelines with a dry-erase board, diagramming plays for gold-and-black-clad fans who were modeling similarly mocking phony facial hair.

This may have been a tactical error.

Two Taylors on the sidelines may have granted too much mojo to the visitors from Norfolk, who used nigh-impenetrable defense to even the slate against their CAA arch-rivals, winning 70-59. The road victory was exactly what ODU needed after losing to the Rams in their own building on January 22.

ODU senior Frank Hassell used his bulk to great advantage, scoring 18 points and hauling down 11 rebounds to pace the Monarchs. This should come as no surprise to anyone who watched the NCAA tourney last season: Hassell had similar numbers in ODU's upset of Notre Dame and subsequent loss to Baylor. He was the monster inside that ODU needs him to be for the remainder of the season if they hope to repeat that trip to the Big Dance.

There's still a long haul ahead. George Mason holds the CAA lead with a 12-2 record, but Taylor's squad pulled VCU back to the pack a bit. The Rams are now 12-3 and in sole possession of second, with ODU 1.5 games back at 11-4. Hofstra rounds out the league's top four with the same record, including a home loss to the Monarchs.

ODU's size led the way, with forwards Ben Finney and Kent Bazemore also showing in double figures on the scoreboard. Bazemore left early in the second half with four personal fouls, but returned late in the game with an unflappable demeanor. When an impassioned Rams fan cast shouted aspersions on his sister's virtue in the final five minutes, Bazemore acknowledged the jibe with a cool smile and point at the offender. He seemed satisfied to let the scoreboard and a thunderous breakaway dunk with 2:31 on the clock do his talking for him.

VCU senior Brandon Rozzell was the only Ram in double figures, with 15.

ODU shot just 48.3 percent in the win, which could be a troubling statistic. The Monarchs defend very well, but suffer from frequent accuracy issues. The visitors did outrebound the home team, which may have been a necessity. Several second- and third-chance points were necessary when first shots were dramatically off.

"Up here, we were really looking forward to hitting them first, banging them hard on the boards," Hassel said after the game, recalling that the opposite had happened in the first meeting of the two teams. Head coach Blaine Taylor also praised his players' ability to run out scoring opportunities against the VCU pressure as well.

ODU may be peaking at the right time. A Bracket Busters matchup against Horizon League power Cleveland State looms on Sunday, February 20. Defense will be at a premium against Vikings star Norris Cole, who was busy putting up this line while the ODU/VCU game was in progress: 41 points, 20 rebounds, and 9 assists in a win over Youngstown State.

Blaine Taylor was jocular when I told him the news. He looked me in the eye, thought for a second, and said "What did he have in the second half?" When the laughter died down, he re-oriented the question to ODU's next opponent, Georgia State.

With laser-focus and mental toughness going full-force, the Monarchs may be up to any task.

Posted on: February 7, 2011 3:35 pm

Well, hello again, George Mason!

ODU couldn't get past Mason on Saturday

Posted by Eric Angevine

Those of us who follow the Colonial Athletic Association closely know that George Mason never left the spotlight in our little Virginia-centric league. For us, VCU, ODU and Mason are always the teams to watch at the beginning of each season. They always seem to end up in the hunt in March.

Nonetheless, this season was supposed to belong to the Old Dominion Monarchs, but it hasn't played out that way. The Patriots lost at ODU by four in early January, but absolutely swamped the visiting Monarchs 62-45 in their own building on Saturday. That win helped re-shuffle the conference standings so that Mason and VCU are on top at 11-2, with ODU and Hofstra hanging back at 9-4.

According to Michael Litos of CAA Hoops, Mason is winning because they remember who they are and what they do; something the visiting team couldn't manage this past weekend:

(Y)ou cannot help but to notice the manner in which Mason steamrolled Old Dominion. A taut rock fight turned into an old Wile E. Coyote versus Roadrunner cartoon in the second half.

One thing we saw is confidence being hurtful. Kent Bazemore made his first three point shot, and then took two more that were not within the flow of the ODU offense. Both were somewhat open but early in the shot clock and both were bricks. You could see the exasperation on Blaine Taylor’s face.

In fact, after that Bazemore three the Monarchs missed their next 15 threes. That isn’t their identity.

On the other hand, Mason “did stuff,” and scored and looked good in the process. Fast or slow, finesse or Ryan Pearson literally ducking his head, the Patriots pushed forward. They rallied from a slow start because they were a little too hyped up and took control of the game after halftime.

These are the types of games that make February so entertaining, no matter who you root for. These conference matchups have deep history, and they have recent history, and they have in-the-moment gut checks. They matter so much to everyone involved.

Mason has plenty of tough games ahead before we can think about their tourney resume, including a potentially decisive roadie at VCU on February 15 and a Bracket Busters matchup at Northern Iowa three days later. With ODU's great non-conference performance looking like it will go for naught, the concept of a two-bid CAA is fading fast, and that means another hotly-contested and thrilling CAA tournament battle for the auto-bid.

One thing we do know: Jim Larranaga has been here before. The fact that he's here again attests to his loyalty to the school, because he likely could have written his ticket to a BCS school following the 2006 Final Four run. Rumor had it that his alma mater, Providence, came calling a few years back but he stayed put.

Seeing Larranaga and his Patriots back in the national spotlight is nice. After Green Bay's Super Bowl win on Sunday, that combination of green and yellow they share with GMU's sports teams has a bit of extra shine on it.

Photo: US Presswire
Posted on: February 7, 2011 3:19 pm
Edited on: February 7, 2011 3:28 pm
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Posted on: January 20, 2011 10:22 am
Edited on: January 20, 2011 10:32 am

The CAA is gaining momentum for Big Dance bids

old dominion at hofstra

Posted by Eric Angevine

For all but the traditional Big Six conferences, garnering even a second bid to the NCAA tournament in any given year is a real struggle. In recent seasons, the A-10 and Mountain West have gained traction, becoming de facto power leagues due to consistent non-conference and post-season winning streaks by a handful of programs. The West Coast Conference is moving steadily in that direction, and several other leagues have designs on a similar growth pattern. It's tricky to pull off a full-on transformation, as former spotlight leagues like the Missouri Valley and Conference USA can attest. One off season is all it takes to slide back into the one-bid pack.

The Colonial Athletic Association is one of those conferences that always seems to be on the verge of a breakthrough season. CAA teams not only make the tournament, they tend to win once they get there. Consider George Mason's Final Four run, Eric Maynor's 'Dagger' that led to VCU's upset of Duke a few years back, and Old Dominion's upending of Notre Dame last March. The league's top teams are becoming identifiable brands, with ODU, VCU and Mason hanging tough in the conference's upper division for the better part of a decade, and Drexel, UNCW and Northeastern jumping into the vanguard frequently. Still, the conference gained second bids only twice over the past 15 years, in back-to-back seasons in '06 (George Mason and UNC-Wilmington) and '07 (VCU and ODU).

The recipe for a two-bid season in the CAA has been predicated on one very specific scenario: the dominant team that loses late in the CAA tournament to another strong team, more or less forcing the NCAA to take both (unless there's a really special 8-8 Big East team that deserves that coveted at-large bid). In essence, a great team must lose at just the right time to just the right opponent in order for the league as a whole to win.

Ron Bertovich, the CAA's Deputy Commissioner for Basketball, says he trusts the NCAA committee to choose the right teams for postseason play. "The system is completely transparent," he said. "(NCAA Selection) Committee members know what’s going on, they see the teams play and make tough decisions. I think they understand how strong the league is this year and how tough it is to win on the road."

Bertovich feels the CAA has five teams that pass what he calls 'the eye test', giving the league a strong opportunity to make waves in March. "It's who you play, where you play 'em, and do you win?" he said. This season, teams from the Colonial have played that tune well, giving the league a very strong profile.

How the league is perceived by outsiders is not really a measurable stat, but the eye test can be applied to the conference as a whole over time, with three key factors indicating that this league has staying power.

Drexel defeats Lousiville1. Consistency. As mentioned above, the league produces winners. CAA teams have developed their postseason mojo by scheduling tough in the non-conference season, willingly playing true road games, holiday tournaments and neutral-site contests in venues that clearly favor the opponent. Take this season, for instance: VCU beat Wake Forest to reach the NIT Season Tip Off Final Four, lost a squeaker to Tennessee, and beat UCLA in MSG in the consolation game. Old Dominion lost their season opener on a crazy-lucky shot that allowed Georgetown to beat them at home, then beat Clemson, Xavier and Richmond during a three-game win streak. Drexel locked down on Louisville (right) to upset the Cardinals at the spanking new KFC Yum! Center. Big-time teams know that a loss to a CAA team isn't necessarily a 'bad' loss, or else they'd avoid these matchups like the plague.

2. Coaching. The CAA has always been a stepping-stone. Jeff Capel (Oklahoma) and Anthony Grant (Alabama) went directly to the big-time from Virginia Commonwealth during the past decade. Noteworthy in that span has been the fact that the Rams haven't faltered, and have been able to land top big-program assistants to carry on the legacy. Billy Donovan disciple Shaka Smart is the latest. Elsewhere, however, longevity is the rule. ODU's Blaine Taylor is coaching his tenth season in Norfolk. Jim Larranaga has been at George Mason since 1997, and stayed there even when his coaching stock was red-hot a few years back. Bruiser Flint is another member of the decade club at Drexel, and even Tony Shaver of snake-bitten William & Mary is in his ninth season. Knee-jerk reactions to the highs and lows of coaching are at a bare minimum.

3. Star Power. This league, VCU in particular, has done a great job of polishing up some diamonds found in the rough. Eric Maynor and Larry Sanders became NBA prospects while playing for the Rams, and Bertovich believes Charles Jenkins at Hofstra can be the next pro star to come out of the underrated conference.

Ron Bertovich pointed out a couple of other factors that have made the CAA more visible in recent years. "The Bracket Busters relationship is key," he said, referring to the recent tendency for CAA teams to draw marquee matchups on television in the annual ESPN event. In addition, he says that power conference teams are more likely to schedule Colonial teams, which boosts RPI and Strength of Schedule. "Our coaches have their programs to the point where losing to them is not a bad loss," he said. "These programs know it's going to be a good game that won't hurt them, win or lose." ODU, in particular, has benefited from that perception, landing home-and-home contracts with Georgetown, Missouri, and Dayton of the A-10 in recent seasons.

With 68 teams making the Big Dance this season, the perfect storm could be building for the CAA.

Photos: US Presswire
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com