Thursday, February 6, 2014

The CAA: Where We Are

League standings courtesy
Three days in March.  That's what the season is about right now.  With a light week this week for Drexel basketball, it seems as good a time as any to step back and assess where the Association is now, and look forward to the prospects for March.

As you can see above, Drexel sits in a middle of the pack logjam in the regular season standings thru nine games, just passed the halfway point of the season.  As the coaching staff will trip over themselves to inform you, they have already played the top three teams in the conference five times, a fact that is much less impressive once you remember that Drexel was supposed to be one of the top three teams, and can easily be flipped around as half of the Dragons wins have come against UNCW and if it wasn't for a Double OT win at home against Northeastern, they would have zero wins against the top seven teams in a bad conference.

The Dragon coaches may be better off with a completely different narrative:  We're getting healthy.  Just last week Delaware announced the suspensions of Jarvis Threatt (his second suspension of the year, one more and he gets a free car wash) and Marvin King-Davis for "at least February".  While C of C was going beyond all expectations to prove themselves as pretenders for this season with a 26 turnover effort that led to blowing a 20 point lead with less then 9 minutes to play last night, UD was slowly showing a big red flag as well.  Devon Saddler sat the first half of the season, and seemed to learn that his teammates can play without him.  When he came back, he was a much better distributor of the ball then he had shown in years past, and his turnover numbers went way down.  Without Threatt though?  11 turnovers from Saddler in just 3 games, more then his total for the previous 5 games combined.  Suddenly we see the old holes in UD that will make them beatable down the stretch.  It's a team that might have peaked too early, although we will see what happens if/when Threatt and Davis return for the CAA tourney.

Drexel has played Towson twice, and as previously noted, had significant rebounding and turnover wins in both games - games that they lost.  The odds of that happening is extremely slim.  With rebounding and turnovers being much better predictors of future performance then shooting, and with Drexel getting healthier, the odds of that happening a third time... well if it does, Pat Skerry should also play the lotto that day.  Towson is a good team and Benimon might just be the CAA Player Of the Year over Marcus Thornton, but their peripherals just aren't good, and having a beaten up Drexel team be your best wins of the season isn't something that impresses anyone.  The biggest thing the Tigers have going for them is ability to get to the line (which is where they really beat DU, 61 ft attempts in 2 games) and home court for the CAA Tournament.  But I don't trust CAA referees and I don't trust Towson fans to show up, so...  where does that leave them?

The fact is, all CAA teams are flawed this year.  The easiest fixes are probably at Drexel and Delaware, although the Matt Brady experiments are still going on at the 3-6 Dukes house and that's interesting.  He's using the regular season as a true preparation for March, which he showed by sitting resident do-everything forward and AARP member Andrey Semenov for most of the second half in their game against Towson on Tuesday.  That offense has seen the significant improvement that we all expected with the return of Andre Nation, but it's still lukewarm and so Brady and Co are clearly and overtly tinkering as the season continues.  It's a young team though and Semenov doesn't exactly scream "senior leader" so perhaps the 3-6 is a more accurate look then my preseason CAA runner up prediction was.

The best X's and O's guys in the league are in interesting spots this year, Coen doesn't have the horses to take this thing and he knows it, but Shaver...  Oh Tony Shaver.  With Thornton a junior (swore he was a senior.  What the heck dude, stop playing against Drexel.  Go away, you're too good for this league) and Beathoven a senior, this may be their shot to finally, finally, put something on that sad looking Men's Basketball banner that sits in Kaplan's hallway.  They have pieces, but lack depth and defense.  Three games in three games is a lot to ask for with that recipe, but there's real talent both in the kids and the coaching, and a little part of everyone has to root for Shaver and Co, even if it's just to sing "What does whatevertheirmascot is say?" during tourney timeouts.

Lets be clear now, Drexel hasn't exactly put themselves in a position to win by playing no defense for half a season.  Since W&M and TU both have tie breakers on them, the odds of DU finishing better then fourth in the regular season is below 5%.  For a team with the talent and expectations of the Dragons, even without Lee, to be relegated to that position at just the halfway point of the season is somewhere between disappointing and embarrassing.  They're much, much closer (like a game out) to playing on Friday night in the 8-9 "Ultimate Pillow Fight Friday Game" then they are to even coming in third place.  But with the bodies coming back, and a weak schedule down the stretch, coupled with real weakness at the top of the CAA, they're also in as good a position to make a run as anyone.  It's all about getting hot at the right time, senior leadership, and Drexel can answer to that.  So maybe its time to start looking at where DU has been in the conference to date, and time to look forward.

Drexel Basketball:  Why not us?

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