Dick Jerardi: Best option for Drexel: Win CAA Tournament

DREXEL HAS WON 17 consecutive games and 23 of 24. The Dragons won the Colonial Athletic Association regular-season title. They have been playing wonderful basketball for 2 months.

However, as of this moment and perhaps every moment through Selection Sunday, Drexel is not in the NCAA Tournament at-large pool. The Dragons may have to win the CAA Tournament or settle for the NIT.

Is that fair or reasonable? Well, that is a debate for another day.

If this were just about how a team is playing, Drexel would already be in. But it is more about whom you play and where you play.

Unlike some recent seasons, the CAA really did not get any giant wins in the non-conference schedule. In 2006 and 2011, the league did, which was why George Mason and VCU were among the last teams invited in those years. That both made the Final Four is not supposed to be relevant to the 2012 selection committee members, but it could be. Drexel fans have to hope it is.

Is Drexel (and for that matter VCU) better than some of those BCS schools that are under .500 in their leagues, but have big wins? Probably.

What they have to hope is enough committee members look at how they played rather than who they played.

The Dragons were 3-0 against VCU, George Mason and Old Dominion, the teams that finished right behind them in the CAA standings. So that helps a bit, but not enough.

The regular-season title might help, but no way to know how much.

If Drexel had played in the Virgin Islands in February instead of November, you have to think they would not have lost to Norfolk State or gotten buried by Virginia. Chris Fouch was out with an injury then and the Dragons had not yet hit their stride.

Fouch's first two games back were losses to Saint Joseph's and Delaware. He was a combined 2-for-19 in those games. He was not ready.

So, the timing of Drexel's potential non-conference difference-makers could not have been worse.

The CAA hierarchy is sure to point all that out to the selection committee, but will it matter?

"An injured player is not going to get you picked if you don't have the credentials to get picked," said Jerry Palm, the bracket guru for CBS Sports. "They can't sit there and say they would have won those games if he played."

Not sure what the selection committee will think about Derrick Thomas' suspension for the CAA Tournament or how they would evaluate Drexel, as it is unclear if Thomas will be back for the postseason. Obviously, his loss is not going to help the Dragons' chances of winning the CAA Tournament, which starts for them tomorrow in Richmond against today's James Madison/UNC Wilmington winner.

Palm has Drexel as a 14-seed in his bracket at the moment. He puts the league leader or regular-season champion into his bracket from all of the one-bid leagues. And he sees the CAA as a one-bid league.

"If anybody's got an at-large chance, it's probably VCU," Palm said. "But this league just didn't do it this year. Nobody did anything out of conference."

The final four at-large teams are most likely to be 12 seeds so 14 is simply too low. ESPN.com's Joe Lunardi has Drexel as a 13 seed so it is closer in his bracket. But not close enough.

Can the Dragons do anything to help themselves in the tournament? Not really. Because there are no good wins out there.

Beating James Madison or UNCW does nothing. Neither does beating Old Dominion or Delaware in the semifinals. Beating VCU or George Mason in the final would be helpful, but irrelevant to at-large chances, as Drexel would then be getting an automatic bid.

So, what happens if they lose to VCU by a point in Monday's championship game?

"I don't think so," Palm said. "You never know. The thing that amuses me is all these national media types out there pounding the gavel for Drexel and VCU to both get in because of what the league has done in the past, ignoring the fact that they've done nothing at all this year."

The other issue for Drexel is that the at-large field is a moving target. Over the next week, teams will play themselves in and out. Spots will open. Spots will close. There really is no way to be sure what it will take.

So, the answer is obvious. Win the CAA Tournament. Then, there will be no waiting around, no speculation, no rooting for or against teams in other tournaments. Drexel would just be waiting to see where it will be going and whom it would be playing.