HAMPTON, VA., MARCH 4 -- The Colonial Athletic Association tournament will open Saturday with no prohibitive favorite for the first time in three years. That is, no team has a David Robinson playing.
Richmond, the regular season champion with a 21-6 overall record, is favored, and has won five of its last six games. But American, George Mason and Navy each have realistic chances to win, coming off of recent, long winning streaks. Navy is in Richmond's bracket, with George Mason and American in the other.
In Saturday's games at Hampton Coliseum, American opens against William and Mary at noon, followed by George Mason, whose star forward Kenny Sanders was named conference player of the year today, versus James Madison. In the evening doubleheader, Richmond plays East Carolina at 7 and Navy follows against UNC-Wilmington.
George Washington will begin play in the Atlantic 10 tournament this afternoon at 4 in Morgantown, W. Va. The Colonials will play 10th-place Rutgers in a first-round game. The winner meets second-seeded Rhode Island Monday night.
Top-ranked Temple opens play Sunday against the winner of the Massachusetts-Duquesne game. Penn State and St. Joseph's meet in the first round, as do West Virginia and St. Bonaventure. The tournament, which plays just two games a day, continues through Wednesday.
Though the conference has a rule authorizing Commissioner Ron Bertovich to levy suspensions for "unsportsmanlike conduct," no action will be taken in regard to Wednesday night's altercations between Temple and St. Joseph's, a conference official said today.
Atlantic 10 Service Bureau Coordinator Lewis Shaine said Bertovich only acts when a report is made to the conference office. Apparently, none has been made. "If no one in the conference makes any stink about it, there's nothing to rule upon," Shaine said. "Otherwise, we're not looking for trouble."
At the CAA tournament, as most teams went through light workouts today, the relative evenness of the top teams was a big topic of conversation, looking to Monday night's final and the automatic NCAA tournament bid to the winner.
"It wasn't like you were coming down here and you were just playing for second," said AU Coach Ed Tapscott, named co-coach of the year today with George Mason's Rick Barnes. "But you knew you had to play great. You had to have the night of nights to get a win with the dominant big man in the league. Now, I think you have to play well. You can go out and play your game, you don't have to worry about minimizing your mistakes all the time."
American (14-13) had its seven-game winning streak broken by James Madison in its regular season finale.
Mason (18-9) rallied to beat Navy Wednesday after trailing by 17 in the first half.
The top-seeded Richmond Spiders are a formidable bunch, with all-conference forward Peter Woolfolk, senior center Steve Kratzer and sophomore guard Ken Atkinson leading them. Woolfolk was in the top five in scoring all season but still is not fully recovered from a severely sprained right ankle.
The Spiders lost just three regular season conference games and Coach Dick Tarrant said he was delighted with their opening pairing. East Carolina lost its top player, freshman Gus Hill (formerly of Flint Hill) to a broken leg last month.
"I think everybody expected that we would not lose a game in the conference," Tarrant said. "And I knew that just wasn't coming. That's pretty tough. Even Temple squeaked it out. So we're very happy. Eleven and three, we're happy . . . first place seed in the tournament. We're delighted. What could be better? . . . No excuses. We should win it."
Sanders, George Mason's junior forward, was chosen by an extremely slim margin over Woolfolk for player of the year, with each making the all-conference team.
"I'm kind of surprised," said Sanders, who led the conference in scoring and rebounding at 22.6 and 11.7 per game, respectively. "But I worked hard for it. It wasn't something that I dwelled on every day, because we have team goals that we strive for, getting to the NCAAs."
Others on the all-conference team incldude American's senior guard Mike Sampson, Hill, and North Carolina-Wilmington's Larry Houzer.
Navy finally has everybody healthy. Forward Derric Turner is just about recovered from a knee injury, playing 27 minutes against Army last week. And reserve guard Joe Gottschalk answered any questions about a broken right thumb when he nailed his first three three-point shots Wednesday.
"For a guy who just got the cast off," Navy Coach Pete Herrmann said, "to play that well was really a surprise to his teammates, to his coaches, everyone. I don't anticipate that he's going to play that well, especially coming off a month."