CAA Tournament Betting Preview: Can James Madison Win Without Leading Scorer?

CAA Tournament Betting Preview: Can James Madison Win Without Leading Scorer? article feature image
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Gregory Fisher/Getty Images. Pictured: Matey Juric of Drexel.

Conference tournament season is in full swing, and the Colonial Athletic Association tournament should be one of the most exciting. The league is in complete chaos entering Saturday’s opening round.

Five teams ended the regular season on a program pause, including four of the top five seeds. This season has been such a mess for the league in terms of scheduling and postponements, as the conference finished  last in the country in percentage of games scheduled that were actually played.

Top-seeded James Madison has been able to stay on the court, but they ended the season with a few bad notes. First, it was reported last Friday that star guard Matt Lewis would miss the remainder of the season. Then the Dukes dropped their season finale at home to Drexel later that day.

James Madison has the honor of hosting the tournament as the top seed. Here’s a look at the full bracket:

The Favorite

James Madison

James Madison Dukes

Despite losing Lewis, the Dukes remain the favorite to win the CAA tournament.

The Dukes aren’t super flashy but are a balanced team that’s solid on both ends of the floor. They rank third in the conference in adjusted offensive efficiency and fourth in defensive efficiency.

The path to the final could present some difficulties, especially if they don’t find answers to replace Lewis’ offensive production right away. Potential quarterfinal opponent Elon is a decent defensive team and is as streaky as they come offensively. If they get hot from 3-point range, Elon could give the Dukes issues. Delaware or Hofstra awaits in the semis, and while both teams haven’t taken the court in a while, they’re still dangerous.

With the conference’s leading scorer and likely player of the year on the sideline, I can’t get involved with the Dukes at this price. Instead I’ll look to other teams with better odds that I believe can just as likely get to the finals as the Dukes.

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Value Plays

Hofstra

Hofstra Pride

The fourth-seeded Pride are a dangerous team in this tournament because of their offense.

Hofstra boasts the top adjusted offensive efficiency ranking in the league, per KenPom. They likely have the conference’s best scoring duo in Jalen Ray and Tareq Coburn. Both players are terrific outside shooters and can get to the rim as well. Add in Isaac Kante, a strong interior presence who’s averaging a double-double, and this offense is really tough to stop when it’s firing on all cylinders.

The Pride must get by Delaware in the quarterfinals and then most likely James Madison in the semis.

They split the season series with the Blue Hens, with both games being played at Delaware. Delaware is coming off the longest layoff of any team in the tournament, not having played a game since Jan. 31. They have a strong defense which could keep them in the game, but I don’t see how their already struggling offense will be able to shake off the rust and generate enough scoring to take down the Pride.

Hofstra’s last two games were at James Madison on Feb. 13 and 14, and both resulted in a four-point losses to the Dukes. The third round will be a battle, but it will only be the Dukes’ third full game without Lewis. I expect Pride coach Joe Mihalich to make enough adjustments from the first two losses to come away with a win.

If the Pride make it to the final, there will be an opportunity to hedge and guarantee a respectable profit. Hofstra will likely be a small underdog in most potential championship scenarios.

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Drexel

Drexel Dragons

Despite being the No. 6 seed, Drexel has the best odds of teams in the bottom half of the bracket to win the tournament. While this may seem surprising, the Dragons are my pick to make it out of the bottom and reach the title game.

Drexel is the top-rated team in the league according to KenPom, with an adjusted efficiency margin of +1.04.  They have the advantage over most of the top teams of not entering the tournament directly off a program pause. While the 2-5 seeds were all sitting at home last week, Drexel beat top-seeded James Madison in the season finale in the arena where the tournament is being played.

The Dragons’ path to the final starts with Charleston before likely meeting 2-seed Northeastern in the semis. Charleston’s defense is very suspect, and I don’t see them hanging with Drexel in its first game off a long layoff. Northeastern will be a much tougher test due to its defense and solid outside shooting. However, they’re quite streaky offensively, whereas Drexel is consistent thanks to its league best 54.6% 2-point shooting percentage.

Given how strange of a year this conference has had, watching the 6-seed cut down the nets in Harrisonburg shouldn’t shock anybody. And they may just be the best team in the league right now, so there’s a very strong chance it’ll happen.

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