Everything is turned upside down at this year's CAA men's basketball tournament. Absent are perennial favorites VCU and Old Dominion, which is a positive for the other schools left behind. Also gone, though, are the thousands of fans those schools used to bring with them to the Richmond Coliseum each March. That is a mixed blessing, because while it certainly makes the lives of the remaining competitors easier since they don't have to face overwhelmingly hostile environments on a supposedly neutral floor, no one wants to play their biggest games of the season in a docile atmosphere.
Just imagine for a second if this weekend unfolds as expected. If the bracket plays out to chalk, Delaware will face Northeastern in Virginia on Monday night with a trip to the NCAA Tournament on the line. Those two schools met twice during the regular season, with both games being held on their respective campuses. The contest at Delaware drew just 2,685 fans, while the attendance in Boston for the rematch was even sparser, when only 1,399 people witnessed UD’s 76-74 overtime triumph.
If the schools could barely get 4,000 people combined to watch two games at home between the two teams, how many people would journey all the way to Richmond to watch the squads play a game that’s going to be nationally televised? The numbers could wind up being scary, which is why this is the last year the tournament will be held in Virginia.
Besides the possibility of a near-empty title tilt, there is plenty else that is new for the Hens entering this season’s tourney. Delaware no longer comes south hoping to just get a win or two. UD marches down to the Richmond Coliseum with expectations to punch their Big Dance ticket.
No one enters the weekend with as much talent as Monte Ross’s team, and the need to win three games in as many days hardly seems daunting when you bring the best team to the party The biggest question for Delaware is whether they can muster up the kind of consistency it takes to win a championship.
The Hens’ two biggest bugaboos all season long have been the inability to string together 40 minutes without any lulls, and a startling tendency to play down to the level of their opponent. There’s a reason why a team with players as good as Devon Saddler, Jamelle Hagins and Jarvis Threatt lost to Delaware State and Lafayette earlier this season. It’s the same reason why Delaware needed late heroics to sneak past weak opponents like Hofstra, UNC Wilmington and ODU. The Hens get up for big games, but they seem content to just show up against teams they should beat.
In a single-elimination setting, letting teams stick around can be lethal.
The other issue for Delaware has been extended stretches in games where nothing goes right. It seems like once a night the Hens endure some sort of an elongated scoring draught that either digs UD a deep hole for itself or causes a lead to evaporate. Those are the types of things that end tourney-runs before their time.
Is Delaware finally ready to put all of that in its rearview mirror? The answer will determine the Hens’ fate in Richmond. But one thing is certain; for the first time in ages, UD’s presence in Richmond matters. Considering where the program has been, relevance is something to be relished.