Thursday, April 3, 2014

Not Just in Pajamas Anymore

This year Bruiser Flint and his staff paired two of Drexel's all-time top 10 scorers with a top 10 all-time rebounder, put them in the weakest conference they have been in an over a decade and finished .500 in-conference, 16-14 in all competitions.

Not surprisingly, that outcome wasn't appreciated by all, and the expected calls for Bru and assorted staff members' heads started from the pajama brigade.  Anonymous message board posts, e-mails or - God help us - angry blogger(s) , protected by the anonymity of the internet and with no idea how hard it is to run a program, the specific difficulties that a small, private athletic department faces, or having ever played middle school basketball, threw barbs at the program.  Never before has so much been said by people in their parents' basements, except for last year and the year before that.  And the response from the Athletics Department?  The same as last year and the year before that.  Quaking in their boots about comments on the internet, they are not.

Why then is this year not like other years?  What makes this post different than other posts?

It's not just the pajama brigade this time.

Listening to the Drexel/Northeastern broadcast from Boston, Northeastern University broadcaster Alex Faust inadvertently rocked Drexel fans world.  Walking into this, one thing to note is that Bill Coen's press conferences make cardboard seem alive and interesting.  Their predictability makes the sun rising in the morning seem unpredictable.  They surprise in a way that only not winning the lottery can.  Bill Coen attempts to inform as much in his words to the press as UNC athletes want to learn in their "classes."   So when Faust quoted Bill Coen, saying "Drexel would rather take a bad shot that has a chance of going in than make the extra pass that could result in a turnover" it was a surprise.  That Bruiser Flint would unknowingly agree with Coen as he did by saying: “I’m big on taking the shots that are given to you and don’t force anything" is probably better for this blog than it is for the Dragons.  Bill Coen making this statement just before playing the Dragons twice within a one week period makes that quote stunning, and shows how strongly he believes his words.

While digesting the Coen quote, the first thing that to do is prove its authenticity.  The quote is both quickly and easily confirmed by looking at tempo-free stats from the last decade.  The stats show Drexel in the top half of college basketball at avoiding turnovers in nine of the last ten years.  The stats also show the Dragons in the bottom half of effective field goal percentage in eight of those ten seasons.  Making Coen's quote more interesting is that over that same time frame, Drexel has always run one of the slowest tempo offenses in all of college basketball: running the shot clock down time after time, playing in CAA rockfight after rockfight.

If Drexel is using the whole shot clock, but not making the pass that creates a good shot attempt, what exactly are they doing?  

It seems that Bill Coen is not saying that Drexel doesn't pass enough, since they are passing until the shot clock is running down, but rather that Drexel is making the wrong passes.  Perhaps his intent was not to be critical, but in layman's terms, the second-longest tenured CAA Coach is saying that Bru is running bad offense.  And he`s saying it right before going out and ending the Dragons season, beating them in back-to-back games.

Knowing that Coen is correct, one should turn to see what why the offense is suffering.  The worst shot in basketball is the mid-range jumper says just about everyone, including the Wall Street Journal.  This year Drexel took two-point jump shots on 37.3% of their shot attempts.  According to the national average for teams this year was 29.3%.  Bill Coen's Huskies took two-point jumpers only 23.2% of the time, possibly why he feels OK commenting on the Dragons' offense while almost never commenting on anything else.

Re-affirming Coach Coen's beliefs is Bruiser Flint:

“[Canady] played good today, he played good. I told him after the game, I said, '
It’s easy when you make it easy.' ... I told him, 'My man, you’re never going to 
be guarded.' I told him that.   So just be ready to step up and shoot your pull-up jump shot.
Just how overwhelming is the data against this idea?  Here's what happens when you punch in "mid range jumper" to Google:

This is the shot that Drexel coaches have told Frank Elegar, Samme Givens, Major Canady and many others to work on.  This is a shot that they are happy with.  It is the worst shot in basketball.

Leading the way with the mid-range jumper for Flint's squad are Major Canady and Tavon Allen, both of whom took two-point jumpers on 52% of their shot attempts this season, hitting them at an ugly 37% and 39% clip respectively.  Even though Tavon seems to enjoy seeing how off balance he can be when taking these shots, he never gets pulled off the floor like guys like Chris Fouch, Dominic Mejia and Scott Rodgers did when they were young.  And this gets to another complication with the staff.  I've spoken to people who tell me that there was a perception in the locker room, starting 2-3 years ago, that Bru has begun to play favorites.  There was a feeling from inside the room that Coach Flint, once someone who pulled guys like Fouch when they were defensive liabilities, is no longer sticking by his guns in that regard, and that some players can get away with playing bad defense if they are favorites of the head coach.  Much like Coach Coen's comments on the Dragons offense, this player's comments on the defense can be backed up with statistics.  For seven straight years Drexel had a top 100 defense nationally under Coach Flint.  This ended two years ago with a 153 ranking last season and a 106 ranking this season.  In a related story, the Dragons went a combined 29-32 in those seasons.

Much like a player or coach yelling about a foul that needs to be called, none of these issues matter unless the guy in charge sees it.  Unlike a referee though, Dr. Eric Zilmer doesn't need to make an instantaneous call.  He can digest 13 seasons worth of information and do as he sees fit, he has no need to explain his results to the general public.  So it raises an eyebrow when immediately after the Dragons loss to Northeastern in the CAA Tournament, Zilmer parted ways with Drexel University President John Fry, walked over to Drexel boosters and proclaimed loud enough for those nearby to hear "I'm beginning to wonder if it's Bruiser."  Plenty of people have said those words over the last decade plus of the coach's tenure at Drexel, but none of those people sign Bru's paycheck.  That Dr. Zilmer would say this publicly raises more questions than it answers, but it's certainly not a vote of confidence for his highest paid direct report.

A peer, a player, and a supervisor, all commenting on a coach whose teams have vastly under-performed the last two seasons, a coach who is oh for thirteen in achieving his annual goals at the University.  This is a conversation that is no longer being typed by an anonymous individual behind a keyboard, instead elevated to open conversation among groups of people that matter.  The argument can no longer be buried with "they don't know what they're talking about" but must be confronted.  Eric Zilmer knows that the conference season does not need to end with a loss each year, and it doesn't need to end with Bruiser Flint either.  Someone needs to step up.


  1. College basketball is not just about winning games. It is the other stuff that is more relevant. Bruiser is decent with wins/losses. He excels in all other areas. He should coach until he no longer wants to.

    1. You can get all of those other benefits without spending $2.5 million on it by dropping down a couple of divisions. If you want to stay D1 you damn well better win (and also not seemingly piss off your only NBA player), that's what pays the bills.

    2. Pissing off your only NBA player? What happened with Malik?

    3. I'm sure you've discovered it by now, but if not you can see here for yourself:

  2. Actually, success in college basketball arguably can be measured by how many conference tournaments you win, and how many appearances your team makes in the NCAA's. THAT is the true sign of a quality program. You make it there year after year, and your players get used to playing there and success can THEN be measured on a different level.

    Bruiser has never once achieved this.

    While he has had some NIT success, well, that's just the NIT. and the one year that it was MOST important for the team to have SOME success in the NIT, what happened?? They lost in the first round.

  3. I view things from a different place. I do not think college basketball is a minor league for the NBA, although that starts in high school now. I think the ivies have it right, minimize lost class time, no dumb ass conference tournament. I understand when big money is involved, the dynamics change. If Bruiser is pissing off players, then perhaps there is a problem. From what I have read and from people that have interacted with Bruiser, he seems to be a straight shooter, he seems to care about the kids off the court as well as on, he definitely represents the university well. I have never read of any cheating or even a hint of.
    Auburn can sell out and hire Bruce Pearl. Houston can too, hiring Kelvin Sampson. I look forward to see where Dick Vitales "one of the great people in the world", Dave Bliss gets hired. Kentucky would post how much they pay to get players to come to their school, if it helped convince them to come. Yes money creates evil, but that does not mean, I have to give in and accept it. There is something to be said for a class act running a decent program, who, I dare say without injuries the last 2 years, were likely in the NCAA, who was completely screwed a few years ago, when a bid was deserved, but the good ol boy network took care of that. Not surprisingly, they apathetically went quickly in the NIT. Perhaps I am anachronistic, maybe a bit delusional, but I can speak from the heart that I would rather lose with Bruiser, than win with Bruce Pearl, Calipari or a myriad of other shortcutting scumbags.

    1. I don't disagree with you on the comments about Pearl and Calipari. I'm not saying Drexel needs to be a puppy mill for NBA players. I am talking about measuring success as a college program. Did you know that Drexel spent the most money on Men's Basketball in the CAA last year? And where did it get them? The same place that it has gotten them in the majority of the seasons that bruiser has been steering the ship: Mediocrity.

    2. I don't think you have to worry about Drexel ever becoming a shady program. Drexel chooses to compete in Division 1, and as the post above mine states, we spend a lot of money. Therefore, in my mind, the leader of the program should be held accountable if he fails in the games that are most important - the CAA Tournament. Bruiser is 6-13 in those games, he's only made it past the first game 4 times in 13 years. That means he's failed to win a game 9 out of 13 tries. An NCAA unit is worth about $1.5 million over six years. While some of that is spread out among the rest of the conference, a good chunk of it ends up with the school that earned it. Simply put, Bruiser is costing the school money by not making the NCAAs.

      I'm not trying to bash Bruiser. I'd love nothing more than for him to be successful here, and think he's done a pretty good job considering the facilities that the university has provided him in a tough recruiting area and what once was a very tough conference. I'm pretty sure that he has three years remaining on his contract and I'm pretty sure the school would never buy out those three years, but they did buy out Seymour so I figure Bruiser has two more years to see this through. Next year's team will be a bit of a transitional one, but two years should be pretty solid again. It's then or never, I hope he proves me wrong.

      If the school is more like you, where losing doesn't matter as long as kids graduate, you should be pushing the administration for a move to Division 3 where there are no scholarships and the remaining costs are greatly reduced. I, too, would support that move if we truly don't have the stomach to compete financially and facility wise (where we are way behind and falling further).