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The game of the night will be the CAA championship

Shaka Smart

FILE - In this Dec. 4, 2011, file photo, Virginia Commonwealth head coach Shaka Smart reacts to a play during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against George Washington at the BB&T Classic in Washington. The Rams made an unexpected run to the Final Four last season, have 25 wins and finished a game behind Drexel in the Colonial Athletic Association. Even so, VCU could be left on the outside looking in. (AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez, File)


Tonight at 7 p.m. in Richmond, Drexel and VCU will be taking the floor for the right to earn the CAA’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

And while conference tournament title games are always terrific to watch, there is plenty of added intrigue involved here.

For starters, both VCU and Drexel are playing their best basketball of the season right now. VCU has won 16 of their last 17 games while Drexel has won 25 of their last 26. Its been enough that both teams, despite playing in a conference that struggled from a national perspective in non-conference play, are going to get heavy consideration for an at-large bid if they lose tonight when the brackets come out on Sunday.

That’s all well and good, and I truly hope that both teams do get in; give me a plucky mid-major peaking at the right time of a talented but enigmatic powerhouse that will sleepwalk their way through the postseason the same way they did the regular season. (Looking at you, UConn.)

But I digress.

Making this game all the more intriguing is that Drexel beat VCU in their only meeting this season, but that game was played in Philly. The Dragons never made a return trip to Richmond, which is where VCU is located.

The story lines heading into this game are terrific on all accounts. How good? I haven’t yet mentioned that VCU lost four starters from the team that made the Final Four last season and that, given how much this team’s group of youngsters has developed over the course of the season, I think that the chance of this group pulling a Butler is better than non-existent.

But the game itself is just as intriguing. Its tough to imagine a more stark contrast in styles heading into a game like this. Drexel is a physical, methodical team that is going to beat you up on the defensive end of the floor and attack the glass as hard as any team in the country. The Dragons are as strong as any team in the country -- I don’t think its a stretch to say that it looks like Bruiser Flint strictly recruits players that get from NFL practice teams, and they play like it.

VCU, on the other hand, is going to press and trap in the back court. Where Drexel wants a half court, possession-by-possession game, the Rams are looking to speed up the tempo. The faster this game is played, the less of an advantage Drexel’s interior strength will be.

The loser of this game will be playing in a national tournament. Here’s top hoping that regardless of how this thing plays out, that national tournament is the NCAA, not the NIT.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.