As all 10 Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) women’s basketball teams make their way to Upper Marlboro, Maryland, the second year in the conference for Elon University feels all too familiar to the first.
Just like the men’s basketball team, Elon is in the exact same position as last season, playing as the fourth seed and needing to go through conference powerhouse James Madison University in the semifinals to get to the championship.
The teams are seeded as follows:
No. 10 Towson University: 6-23 overall (3-15 CAA)
The Tigers were an incredibly young team this season, playing three freshmen and eight sophomores, and their defense was the worst in the CAA, letting up 70.9 points per game — about eight full points more than the next-worst team. But their youth leaves lots of room to grow and time to buy, especially with the Bankston twins — junior Raven and redshirt sophomore Raine — leading the way.No. 9 University of North Carolina at Wilmington: 7-22 overall (3-15 CAA)
The Seahawks trotted out the CAA’s weakest offense this season, scoring a mere 52.7 points per game and shooting 34 percent on the year. But, like Towson, this is another young team, with only one senior on the roster. After a solid season last year, expect UNCW to bounce back and perform well next season.
No. 8 College of Charleston: 10-19 overall (5-13 CAA)
The Cougars struggled mightily to score this season, shooting a collective 36 percent from the field and 28 percent from behind the 3-point line. Their middle-of-the-pack defense kept them in games, but it’s tough to envision many paths to immediate success in the tournament, especially with a possible quarterfinal game against the Dukes.
No. 7 College of William & Mary: 15-14 overall (6-12 CAA)
The Tribe followed up a strong nonconference performance with a win over James Madison, the only loss for the Dukes in the CAA. On paper, they’ve got quite a bit of firepower, but a stretch of 10 losses in 12 conference games highlights their inconsistency. They were the No. 4 offense in the conference at 62 points per game, and can really bomb it from long range on some days. The talent is there, but it is tough to peg William & Mary’s potential heading to Upper Marlboro.
No. 6 Northeastern University: 14-15 overall (9-9 CAA)
The Huskies failed to live up to higher expectations this season, with one of the conference’s weaker defenses and a lack of reliable scoring outside of senior forward Samantha DeFreese. Their conference hopes look bleak, but Northeastern was a bizarrely inconsistent team all season that found the bulk of its success on the road in conference play (8-4). And stranger things have happened in conference tournaments.
No. 5 University of Delaware: 15-14 overall (10-8 CAA)
The Blue Hens have struggled to score the ball all season (58.7 points per game). Even with a strong defense to boot, it’s tough to imagine a squad that lacks multiple outside scoring threats making noise in the conference tournament. But they lost to Elon both times in round-robin conference play — including one that had Elon make three buzzer-beaters to win in double overtime — so expect Delaware to give Elon a battle and try to avoid losing to the Phoenix for a third time this season.
No. 4 Elon University: 18-11 overall (11-7 CAA)
The Phoenix had a stronger regular season than the Dragons, but they began to stumble late in conference play and finished as a fourth seed. Nonetheless, with junior forward Jennifer Rhodes battling inside and sophomore guard Shay Burnett attack relentlessly outside, Elon features a real and potent inside-out attack. And, if Elon advances to the semifinals, the Phoenix nearly beat presumed opponent James Madison in both regular season games.
No. 3 Drexel University: 17-12 overall (13-5 CAA)
The Dragons finished the regular season well below Hofstra in overall record, but tied the Pride with a strong showing in conference play. With one of the best defensive units in the conference — allowing 55.4 points per game, just less than the Dukes — and solid play on the wings from senior guard Rachel Pearson and junior forward Sarah Curran, they’re a threat to win the tournament, especially by avoiding James Madison until the final, if they can get there.
No. 2 Hofstra University: 22-7 overall (13-5 CAA)
The Pride is led by the two-headed backcourt attack featuring junior guard Kelly Loftus and sophomore guard Ashunae Durant, featured the conference’s second-strongest two-way attack this season. They can shore up the middle on defense and put the ball in the basket from anywhere on the floor. But again, with a powerhouse like James Madison in their way, they’re very much second in command, and there’s far more separating them from the top than is separating them from the middle pack of the conference.
No. 1 James Madison University: 24-5 overall (17-1 CAA)
The Dukes are unquestionably the team to beat in the CAA. They’re riding a 17-game winning streak, and senior guard Jazmon Gwathmey is riding a hot streak, scoring 21 points per game this season. They’re undefeated at home, and tout the conference’s highest-power offense (70.4 points per game) and staunchest defense (54.7 points allowed per game). But the Dukes have been vulnerable at times this season, losing at William & Mary to open the season and escaping with two wins over potential semifinal opponent Elon. Reigning CAA Player of the Year senior guard Precious Hall’s knee injury that ended her season before it began could spell trouble for James Madison in the tournament, when they would need her presence the most.