While the Mid-American and Missouri Valley are still the two conferences most synonymous with high calibre mid-major basketball, it's been teams from the Colonial Athletic Association that have produced the most memorable Cinderella moments in recent years. George Mason crashing the Final Four and VCU knocking out Duke on Eric Maynor's clutch jumper were two of the biggest NCAA Tournament stories from the past decade.
Even in defeat, the CAA has been represented well. A year ago VCU came within a bucket of eliminating UCLA, which was looking to improve on its mark of three consecutive Final Fours. In 2003, UNC-Wilmington was beaten by defending national champion Maryland on a Drew Nicholas buzzer-beater.
There was talk in January of as many as three teams from the Colonial making it into the NCAA Tournament, but stumbles by the conference's top-dogs have brought it back down to one-bid status. Still, there are probably as many as seven squads that are capable of winning this tournament and winning another game or two in the big dance.
Regardless of which team emerges from the tournament unscathed, no one wants to see the CAA champion pop up below their name on Selection Sunday.
SITE: Richmond Coliseum: Richmond, Va.
DATES: March 5-8
SET-UP: All 12 league members are invited, with the top four teams receiving byes into the quarterfinals. Teams 5-12 begin first round play this afternoon
Old Dominion (23-8, 15-3) knocked off Georgetown in December, but the consensus is still that they have to leave Richmond with the league trophy in order to make the NCAA Tournament. ODU's three conference losses all came on the road, but two of those losses came to VCU and George Mason, one of whom the Monarchs will all-but-certainly meet in the semifinals.
Though the league is extremely deep, it's Old Dominion that is probably most apt to win a game in the NCAA Tournament, and that's because of its size. The Monarchs frontline of Gerald Lee, Frank Hassell and Keyon Carter goes 6-10, 6-8 and 6-8.
William & Mary (20-9, 12-6) is the No. 3 seed and earned a first round bye for the first time since the tournament expanded in 2002. A year after going 10-20, the Tribe won 20 games for just the third time since 1952, winning at Maryland and Wake Forest along the way.
Northeastern (19-11, 14-4) is the two seed, but is still looked at as a bit of a long-shot. The Huskies have to travel nearly 600 miles to Richmond for the tournament, where, more times than not, they're forced to play de facto away games against teams with campuses less than an hour from the Coliseum. In three seasons, head coach Bill Cohen has yet to lead Northeastern past the quarterfinal round, but he certainly hasn't had a team this good.
VCU (20-11, 11-7) is the No. 5 seed, but they may as well be hosting the tournament. The Rams are the highest scoring team in the league, have the confidence of being the defending champs and possess the single-greatest weapon in the league in big-man Larry Sanders.
George Mason (17-13, 12-6) has dropped six of eight, but the Patriots have made it to the CAA title game in each of the past four seasons.
Seventh-seeded Hofstra has won six straight and nine of their last ten. They won at Northeastern by 11 and can lay claim to Charles Jenkins, the league Player of the Year.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Charles Jenkins (Hofstra) - The most talented offensive player in the league, Jenkins leads the Pride in scoring (20.4 ppg) and totaled 110 points in the last four games of the regular season.
Larry Sanders (VCU) - Named the league's Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight season, Sanders is a 6-11 game-changer who might end up being a first-round selection in this summer's NBA Draft.
Gerald Lee (Old Dominion) - The best player on the league's best team.
Denzel Bowles (James Madison) - Enters the tournament averaging just under 21 points and nine rebounds a contest.
WHERE TO WATCH
Saturday's quarterfinals and Sunday's semifinals will be carried by CSS, Comcast, CSN New England and ESPN FullCourt. Basically, if you subscribe to the DirecTV college sports package, you'll be able to see these games.
The final will be carried by ESPN on Monday at 7 p.m.
Friday, March 5
Game 1: No. 9 UNC Wilmington vs. No. 8 Towson, 12 p.m. ET
Game 2: No. 12 Delaware vs. No. 5 VCU, 2:30 p.m. ET
Game 3: No. 10 Georgia State vs. No. 7 Hofstra, 6 p.m. ET
Game 4: No. 11 James Madison vs. No. 6 Drexel , 8:30 p.m. ET
Saturday, March 6
Game 5: Game 1 winner vs. No. 1 Old Dominion, 12 p.m. ET
Game 6: Game 2 winner vs. No. 4 George Mason, 2:30 p.m. ET
Game 7: Game 3 winner vs. No. 3 William & Mary, 6 p.m. ET
Game 8: Game 4 winner vs. No. 2 Northeastern, 8:30 p.m. ET
Sunday, March 7
Game 9: Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner, 3 p.m. ET
Game 10: Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner, 5:30 p.m. ET
Monday, March 8
Game 11: Semifinal winners, 7 p.m. ET
COIN FLIP TOURNAMENT RESULT (Heads is better seed, tails is worse seed)
Northeastern over Old Dominion
TEAM I BLINDLY DREW OUT OF A HAT AND WILL THEREFORE PULL FOR
Old Dominion gets a scare from VCU in the semifinals but then rolls over Bill & Mary in the nationally-televised championship game, making all potential first-round opponents take notice.