NEWARK, Del. - The Colonial Athletic Association women's basketball tournament, which opens today at the Bob Carpenter Center on Delaware's campus, is attracting national interest that is rare for the conference.
In the CAA, the only team that usually advances to the NCAA tournament is the conference champion, with an automatic bid.
And the only team to be that team has been Old Dominion, which has claimed all 15 titles since the Monarchs joined the CAA.
This year, however, things are a little different, even though Old Dominion (21-8) took the regular-season title.
"I think our conference showed this year we can play with and beat ranked teams," Drexel coach Denise Dillon said. Her Dragons (9-20) are seeded ninth and will open the CAA tournament at noon against eighth-seeded Georgia State (15-14). Delaware, seeded third, has a bye.
Both Delaware (25-4) and second-seeded James Madison (25-4) are being discussed for potential at-large bids to the NCAA field, as is Old Dominion, provided another team figures out a way to stop the Monarchs this weekend.
Fourth-seeded Hofstra (23-6) and Delaware had big wins outside the conference. The Blue Hens beat Kentucky in December, when the Wildcats were ranked, and Hofstra defeated Michigan State in November.
The CAA has become part of the NCAA at-large picture because major conferences that normally send a slew of teams have not done well. The Big Ten, for example, is worth three representatives. The Atlantic Coast, even with the formidable trio of North Carolina, Duke and Maryland, may be limited to four or five teams.
The Southeastern Conference, which has sent six or seven in the past, is considered good for just five participants.
That opens the door to the
Drexel spent most of the year in 12th place before making a late move.
"It took a while, but we got some things done," Dillon said.
The Dragons moved into the spotlight with a Feb. 22 win over Northeastern in five overtimes, the longest game in NCAA women's basketball history.
Freshman Gabriela Marginean, who starred in the marathon, was named the CAA's rookie of the year at last night's conference awards dinner. She also was named to the all-rookie team and the CAA's third team. Delaware's Tyresa Smith was named defensive player of the year. She was on the CAA's first team.
"Gabby didn't know what to expect when she came here," Dillon said. "But she worked hard and she's going to be a big-time player."
Contact staff writer Mel Greenberg at 215-854-5725 or firstname.lastname@example.org.