Colonial Conference Preview

JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

GEORGE MASON, OLD DOMINION ALREADY DANCE-BOUND FROM COLONIAL

It's rare for Colonial Conference contenders to know they're already a lock for the NCAA Tournament. Often the top team is near the bubble. Sometimes NOBODY is near the bubble and only the tournament winner is going to get a bid.

This year, thinks look fairly safe for top two seeds George Mason and Old Dominion.

  • Joe Lunardi's Bracketology report at ESPN currently has George Mason slotted as a #7 seed. If they were stunned in their first tournament game this week, there's no way they'd fall all the way out of the Dance. Usually the 12th seeds are the final teams to get in. And, there will be two more at-large spots this year than in the past. Mason is SAFE in terms of a Dance bid. They're obviously a dangerous floater in the Dance because of their quality and head coach. Note that Ken Pomeroy's respected college basketball computer rankings show George Mason as a top 30 caliber team as we go to press. (Note also that the most of the stats you'll be reading about in our conference tournament previews this year will be coming from his website, kenpom.com).
  • Old Dominion is also getting a lot of respect. They're currently projected as a 9th seed. There's less margin for error. But, that's still a long way to fall with just one loss, particularly if ODU were to suffer a quality loss in this tournament. Pomeroy doesn't have ODU rated as high as Lunardi does, ranking them around the 50th spot in the nation (which would be right on the bubble were the committee to use those rankings). The fact that ODU beat Notre Dame in the first round last year should be a big point in their favor if it gets close. The committee says they don't look at prior years. Hopefully they've started! Quality maintains itself from year to year with many programs. ODU belongs.

Let's start today's preview by outlining the brackets. Here's the Colonial Conference tournament schedule:

FRIDAY
NC Wilmington (8) vs. Georgia State (9)
Drexel (5) vs. Towson (12)
Delaware (7) vs. Northeastern (10)
James Madison (6) vs. William & Mary (11)

SATURDAY
George Mason (1) vs. 8-9 winner
VCU (4) vs. 5-12 winner
Old Dominion (2) vs. 7-10 winner
Hofstra (3) vs. 6-11 winner

Sunday's Semifinals and Monday's finals will follow the standard bracket structure.

Note that all games are played in Richmond. VCU is based in Richmond, but this isn't their home floor. The traditional Colonial powers usually play well in this even, suggesting the site is not an issue.

COLONIAL MARGIN AVERAGES
George Mason: +13.7
Old Dominion: +7.2
Hofstra: +3.6
Virginia Commonwealth: +3.4
James Madison: +3.0
Drexel: +0.7
Northeastern: -3.7
Delaware: -4.1
NC Wilmington: -4.3
William & Mary: -4.5
Georgia State: -5.0
Towson: -10.3

You can see why Mason is getting so much respect this year. They've just crushed the conference to an extreme degree. Winning a game by 14 points is impressive. Winning ALL of your conference games by an average of that much is amazing, no matter what conference you're in. Old Dominion's number is terrific too.

Hofstra, VCU, and James Madison can all make cases as potential darkhorses based on those numbers. They're not as close as 3-4-5 teams usually are to 1-2 in a league. But, somebody will have a shot to break through with a semifinal upset. It's not like the lower division is likely to rise up and make history given those the poor numbers.

Let's see which of the contenders grade out best defensively…

COLONIAL TWO-POINT DEFENSE
Old Dominion: 42%
Drexel: 44%
George Mason: 45%
Georgia State: 45%
James Madison: 46%
Hofstra: 46%
Delaware: 47%
NC Wilmington: 48%
Virginia Commonwealth: 49%
William & Mary: 49%
Northeastern: 51%
Towson: 52%

Well, Hofstra and James Madison are the best of the darkhorses at 46%. But, with Old Dominion up at 42%, and powerful George Mason at 45%...the vulnerabilities may not be there for the "big two."A flat emotional effort that creates flat defense may be needed from GM or ODU for somebody else to break through. There aren't exploitable chinks in the armor if those two show up ready to play.

COLONIAL ADJUSTED PACE FACTORS (slowest to fastest)
Old Dominion: 61.7
NC Wilmington: 63.4
Drexel: 63.8
Northeastern: 64.3
Georgia State: 64.4
William & Mary: 64.8
Delaware: 65.1
George Mason: 66.1
Towson: 66.2
Virginia Commonwealth: 66.4
Hofstra: 66.7
James Madison: 67.8

Old Dominion also plays the slowest tempo of anyone, meaning they're best suited to playoff style basketball. That's a great combo to have in the postseason, great two-point defense and familiarity with slow pace. This gives ODU a chance to threaten George Mason here, and whoever they play in the first round of the Big Dance.

Oddly, the most logical darkhorses are the three FASTEST teams! That's dangerous for a tournament because it creates fatigue over a series of games, and takes a team out of its comfort zone in high pressure situations. Whoever runs into Old Dominion will have to focus on speeding them up.

PERCENTAGE OF POINTS FROM TREYS (from low to high)
William & Mary: 36%
NC Wilmington: 34%
Virginia Commonwealth: 34%
Georgia State: 29%
George Mason: 28%
Northeastern: 28%
Delaware: 27%
Towson: 27%
Hofstra: 27%
James Madison: 26%
Old Dominion: 23%
Drexel: 18%

Man, it's like Old Dominion read the manual on how to play tournament style basketball. It might bite them in the butt if an opponent happens to shoot lights out from long range. Tough to play catch up with a slow-down style that emphasizes two-pointers. You win more than your share of toss-ups though, which is why teams who emphasize two's tend to outperform those who emphasize treys in March over a large sampling of games.

BEST CHAMPIONSHIP POTENTIAL

  • George Mason is way at the top because of their big margin average and historical postseason moxie. This program knows what to do under the spotlight. They're also versatile enough to win against any style.
  • Old Dominion plays the perfect style for tournaments, which gives them a shot to cut down the nets if they can stay focused.

Frankly, nobody else is a logical breakthrough team. Anybody can get hot from long range and score some upsets. So, "anybody"can be a darkhorse who ultimately has a big weekend. In terms of the best indicator stats, there's not a logical candidate in our view. Handicappers must focus their energies on what's predicatable, and live with the element of randomness that's present in all legal wagering.

That wraps up our outline for the Colonial Conference tournament. Here's our upcoming schedule in the NOTEBOOK…

FRIDAY: West Coast Preview and Horizon Update
SATURDAY: Sun Belt Preview
MONDAY: Big East Preview (plus an A10 quickie)
TUESDAY: Big 12 Preview (plus MAC, and CUSA quickies)
WEDNESDAY: ACC and Pac 10 Previews (plus WAC and MW quickies)
THURSDAY: SEC and Big 10 Previews (plus a Big West quickie)

The West Coast, featuring St. Mary's and Gonzaga of course, doesn't begin until late Friday out in Las Vegas. So, you'll have plenty of time to study the numbers before making your opening night choices.

Thursday's schedule is shaping up nicely for JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK. We have a huge NBA Parlay of the Year planned for the Orlando-Miami and Denver-Utah doubleheader on TNT. In the colleges we're looking at Tennessee-South Carolina on ESPN, UCLA-Washington from the Pac 10, and the opening night of the Missouri Valley tournament (see yesterday's NOTEBOOK entry in the archives for a look at the stat indicators).

And, tonight's winnings will set up a fantastic weekend combining the NBA, college regular season finales, and tournament action in the mid majors. MARCH MADNESS IS HERE!

You can purchase our game day releases online a few hours before tip off of the first game (remember the early start times on some tournament days). Make a few clicks and have your credit card handy. We have great rates for seasonal packages that offer the most bang for your buck. If you have any questions, call the office at 1-800-323-4453.

Back tomorrow with more coverage. Be sure you're with us EVERY DAY so you know what's REALLY happening during MARCH MADNESS!

19
Aug

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