Thursday, December 31, 2015

UNCW Away - Pregame

The Dragons and Seahawks will tip off at 1pm on New Years eve in beautiful Wilmington, North Carolina to lead off the conference season for both teams.  The teams split their contests in the prior year, with Damion Lee leading the Dragons to handing Wilmington one of their six losses on the conference season, en route to their splitting of the CAA Regular Season crown.  That worst to first season gave Kevn Keatts and crew a lot to believe in, and at 8-3 it looks like season two is going just as well.

There are a number of differences between this years Seahawk team and last, notably the losses of Freddie Jackson, Addison Spruill and Cedrick Williams, three players who absolutely killed the Dragons last year.  This years edition of the team is led by senior Craig Ponder, transfer Denzel Ingram and sophomore Jordon Talley, who highlight a rotation that can go up to 11 players deep.  While Pomeroy really likes this team (ranking them #92 nationally, second in the CAA behind William and Mary) that seems a bit tough to fathom.  For one, road losses at East Carolina and Radford don't look that hot, and the senior leadership is about on par with the Dragon team - it's poor.  For everything he does well, Craig Ponder has spent his entire career as a under one point per possession player, which is very poor in this day and age.  Asking him to lead the shots is a lot like asking Tavon Allen to lead the team in shots - not a recipe for success.

What Keatts will do is rotate his defenses.  And this is a problem as the Dragons are histrionically - and maybe moreso than ever this year - poor in reacting to those changes.  Drexel will see a bunch of zone and the history there isn't pretty.  Pomeroy has the Seahawks as 11 point favorites, and in case he's overrating the Seahawks don't worry, because Vegas has them as 13 point favorites.  It's all trouble for a Dragons team this is coming off a quick turnaround off of a tough loss.

Generally with a Thursday/Saturday road swing, coaches know the team will come out tired in the Saturday game.  That puts an onus on them to take the Thursday game and in this case the schedulemakers gave the team a doozy.  Bad matchup, bad spot.  This should be a clunker of a game with plenty of bad shots so look for the offensive rebounding to be vitally important.  The Dragons have improved, but continue to be very average on the glass this year.  The Dub is 6th in the country in cleaning the defensive glass.  And that's where this game gets away from the Dragons.  Watch for Bryce and Sherwood to have one of their better games of the year, and UNCW in a bit of a runaway.

Prediction: UNCW 81 - Drexel 63
Vegas Line:  UNCW -13.5

Alan Boston's Prediction:

Not a good year to be down in the Colonial. The top teams are strong, perhaps even a notch above last years winner, Northeastern. Drexel draws one of the best in its conference opener.  It has not taken 2nd year coach Kevin Keatts long to implement Pitino ball.  That is run shaky half court offense with many moving screens and mug and foul as much as you can defensively, knowing they can not call everything. Pitino  has always been smart about using rules to his advantage. The new rule of calling it tighter has not harmed either Louisville or Wilmington, which is very surprising to this writer. I must give credit. Keatts did an excellent job last year. This year with a deeper team, they are much better. The league should beware a Pitino recruiter in the Colonial, much like Amaker in the ivies, better players than normal may find their way to the school.

Drexel's 4 guard offense worked in the 2nd half vs Iona. That is good news, only if it remains that way. 4 guard results have been erratic at best. If it continues to be as effective as it was vs Iona, they may be able to somewhat control tempo (It is hard with the 30 second clock) and limit turnovers. If they can get this in a half court grind, Drexel has a shot at the upset. It would help immensely if Fields were healthy. Wilmington has had some home run efforts this year, but if you can get the tempo right and not turn it over, a big if with Drexel, the game becomes winnable.

UNCW 62 Drexel 55

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Iona - Postgame

This post written by Scot Kier

Final Score:  Iona 77, Drexel 70
Drexel player of the game: Sammy Mojica
Key to the game: Composure in the Clutch
Next Game:  Thursday Dec 31 @ UNC Wilmington

The Iona Gaels came into Monday night’s non-conference game against the Dragons with 22 consecutive home victories.  Through much of the first thirty minutes of play, it appeared that the Gaels would cruise to victory number 23.  That was until the Dragons gave them a run for their money.  It bears mentioning that Iona was without their best player AJ English who was injured earlier this month and had been averaging 25 points.  The Gaels still put up solid numbers on the offensive side of the court though, shooting 16-26 from the field, and 6-12 from downtown in the first half before cooling significantly in the second frame.

The first half of this game was the tale of two teams who were in completely different places and mindsets on the floor.  Drexel shot 9-26 from the field, 2-11 from three.  Sammy Mojica, the Dragons’ leading scorer was 4-6 overall and 2-4 from the line which means his teammates shot a painful 5-20 from the field and 0-9 from downtown.  They generated 9 turnovers to Iona’s 7, and were out rebounded by the home team 15-12.

One thing that stood out in the first half was Drexel’s two offensive fouls that were beautiful draws by the Iona defender.  London was tagged with one, and Mojica the other.  Offensive fouls happen, but it was a reminder of how rare it is that a Dragons player is seen taking to the floor in an attempt to draw a foul, especially with the aggressive defensive scheme that they play.  While the Drexel coaches preach toughness, they also continue to be struggling to use rules, new and old, to their advantage.

In the second half, it was almost as if the teams swapped jerseys.  Drexel shot 17-37 from the field as compared to Iona’s Drexel-like 11-25.  Mojica stayed hot, and undeniably earned the Player of the Game nod matching a career-high 20 points on 8-12 shooting with a 3-6 clip from downtown.  All of this was on the heels of what might have been the two worst games of his young Drexel career.

Tavon Allen started cold, but heated up in the second half.  His 1-6 shooting through the first 20 minutes landed him on the bench to start the second half.  Once he hit the floor though, he was a big part of the team fighting their way back as he contributed 12 points on 4-8 shooting.

Also impressing through the second half was freshman Terrell Allen.  His three steals and 8 points on 4-7 shooting, most of which was on hard-nosed driving layups, also played a big part in this team’s recovery.  That is the kind of ball that this team needs, and those are the kinds of “chances” that Bruiser Flint was talking about this team needing to take when they were in Alaska.  Well done.

The Dragons bench remained short.  Tyshawn Miles got some minutes as the third “big” for the Dragons but Austin Williams continues to ride the pine.  Comparatively the Gaels coach Tim Cluess countered the Dragons with 9 players, however his were on an almost revolving door of offensive for defensive subs.  Cluess seemed to have a strong grip on his situational moves for most of the game, however late in the second half the Dragons got hot.

Trailing 66-53 at the under-8 media timeout, Bruiser Flint went back to his often tried, and often failed four guard lineup.  This time, however, the Dragons would outscore Iona down the stretch 17-4.  They managed to whittle the home team's 19 point lead down to just 3.  The Dragons had a chance to tie the game up in the final minutes.

Now, on a personal note, I do not feel that I would be doing this write up justice if I did not discuss one of Drexel’s final plays, and it is a shame that I have to do it on the heels of Tavon Allen’s 1,000th point which was scored in the first half.  Over the past four years I have been a harsh critic of Tavon, his offensive abilities, and some of the basketball “intelligence” that he has shown on the court.  Scoring 1,000 points in a college career is quite the accomplishment. Congratulations to him.  I’m glad his mother was in the building to see it happen.

To set things up, Drexel had successfully played a four guard lineup for close to 8 minutes.  With less than a minute to go they trail 73-70 and are bringing the ball up the court with Terrell Allen, Tavon Allen, Sammy Mojica, Rodney Williams, and Rashann London on the floor.  This arguably had been this nights best five.

The Dragons called their final time out with 37 seconds to go, and 15 seconds on the shot clock.  When they returned to the floor they worked the ball around, and finally after coming off of a Rodney Williams pick, Tavon found himself with the ball at the top of the key.  He was shooting well at the time, and had the shot to take, so he took it.

The shot came up short and struck the rim.  By striking the rim, the shot clock was now no longer a factor.  Rodney Williams fought for the board and came away with it down low.  He looked back out to the top of the key and standing wide open on the wing just outside the three point line was Tavon Allen.  There was not another player, Drexel or Iona, within five feet of him.  Tavon received the pass, set to take his shot and somehow the ball came trickling out of his hands, going over his head and towards the sideline.  

With 22 seconds to go, Tavon recovered the ball and found himself standing with his heels next to the out of bounds line, Bobby Jordan and Bruiser Flint were standing immediately behind him, and two Iona Gaels were converging on him.  One of them was Sammy Mojica’s man.  Mojica, who was undoubtedly the best Dragon on the floor Monday night, started to drift towards the corner, wide open.  Tavon Allen, a senior, now had a few options.

With twenty seconds on the clock, and no shot clock, he could not call a time out.  His team did not have any.  To his left, Terrell Allen was calling for the ball as he moved, unguarded, to the top of the key.  To his right, the doubling defender abandoned Sammy Mojica leaving him wide open.  He had two solid passing options and even with the double from Mojica’s man, he had a clear view and play to Terrell Allen.

Tavon Allen, a senior, chose option number three.  He drifted back out of bounds shooting a long, off balance, fade away three pointer that missed almost everything, careening off of the backboard and into a Gael’s waiting hands.  Gaels made some garbage free throws to come away with a 77-70 victory.

Game.  Set.  Match.

The Dragons put on a solid effort tonight and that should not be overlooked.  They trailed 21-4 at the U12 in the first half, and outscored Iona the rest of the way 66-65.  This play, however, defined a lot of the issues that the Dragons have had over the years.  It almost seemed like they returned to the floor without a plan.  Their set looked more rushed and panicked than organized and practiced.  These are the clutch moments that teams typically work on for hours in the gym and somehow, time and time again, Bruiser’s teams seem to hit the floor unprepared.

Drexel returns to the floor on New Year’s Eve at 1pm for their first CAA game of the season in Wilmington, NC against UNC Wilmington.  The fans will have to sit and wait for the next couple of days to see if Ahmad Fields will finally make his return to the floor for Drexel.  Hopefully he can be the clutch shooter that this team desperately needs.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Twas The Night Before Christmas

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the Association
Not a creature was stirring, not even "Sideline Coach Flint"
The league RPI was quite high no thanks to the Tigers
In hopes that the Selection Committee members would read it by the fires

The AD's were nestled all snug in their beds
While visions of angry alumni were mired in their heads
  And Yeager in his 'kerchief and Berto in his cap
Had just settled down for a slow Richmond nap

When out in the South their arose such a clatter
Zillmer even had a staff member find out what was the matter
Away to the internets the keys he did mash
using the DAC's dial up connection - he was on in a "flash"

The 3am moon on the people in the Baltimore streets
gave the lustre of downtown Richmond during rush hour meets
When what to the wondering eyes should appear
But a single frontrunner and nine coaches needing a beer

With a little old driver, his lip adorned with quite the flavor saver
I knew in a moment it must be Tony Shaver
More rapid than Dutchmen laptops his followers were in chase
And he whistled - Lord did he whistle - and called them with haste

Now Mihalich, Now Coen, Now Brady and Ross!
On Keatts and Bru, on Grant, on Skerry and Matheny!
To the top of the league to the inner harbor mall
now dash away, dash away, dash away all!

As Pantsless Griffins before the wild hurricane fly
when they meet with an obstacle mount to the sky
So up in the national standings the teams they flew
with a sleigh full of wins - and the Dragons had two!

And then in a twinkling I heard at the Mack
The prancing and pawing it sounds like a track
Running and running no defense in sight
Through the net the ball came without even a fight

Then there was Keatts his team tight as a tick
his defense what Bruiser Flint watches when he feels sick
A Seahawk team Coach Keatts had rebounding back
He can't wait to apply it to his resume draft

Coen's eyes how they twinkled, his paleness slightly less pale!
His cheeks were like roses, as he continues to recount his championship tale
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow
Hoping his home arena is available for practice and not hosting a figure skating show

The stump of a pipe Monte Ross held in his teeth
his AD watching his every move thru a wreath
He had a smiling face and a round little belly
Which Bruiser's tailor ensured no one could see on the telly

Skerry was chubby and plump a right jolly old elf
I laughed when I saw him in spite of myself
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know that Autism had something to dread

The coaches spoke not a word but went straight to cliche
Each one of them taking it day by day!
Laying their fingers in the direction of Jamie Luckie
and with a smile the fingers rose more like a bird than a ducky

Yeager grabbed his cellphone and to his Presidents and AD's he gave a whistle
And away the coaches all flew like the down of a thistle
But I heard him exclaim as he drove out if sight
Back to Richmond next year so enjoy Baltimore tonight!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Penn - Postgame

The Penn postgame report was written by Scott Kier:

Final Score:  Drexel 53, Penn 52 in Overtime
Drexel player of the game: Kazembe Abif
Key to the game: Stop chewing gum on the court.
Next Game:  Monday, December 28 @ Iona

When the NCAA made the rule changes that they did, the goal was to prevent games like the one that we saw at the DAC on Tuesday night.  Many probably saw the eight minute delay in the second half to remove some chewing gum from center court as something more exciting than the 40 minutes of basketball that those of us at the DAC witnessed.  From looking at the score line alone, one might have thought that this was a replay of a game from 2012 or 2013 when in fact, it was terrible offense that was a big contributor to this score.

Penn threw a wide variety of defenses at Drexel.  After a “make” they ran a loose 2-2-1 zone press that Drexel had no issues breaking.  It was almost as if it was there just to act as a means to slow a faster team down.  They would then drop back into a 2-3 zone.  Against a miss, they would drop back and play straight up man-to-man.  No frills, and nothing crazy.  Just old style basketball.

The twist came late in the second half when Steve Donahue started screaming “13!” from the sideline.  His team dropped back into a 1-3-1 zone.  This has always been my personal favorite zone defense.  It is perfect for a quicker team that wants to push their opposition into the corner and force a turnover or bad pass with a trap.  It is a lot of fun to watch when it is run well, and for the short time that Penn ran it they did a good job with it.

On the offensive side of the floor there was one play that was troubling while watching Penn.  When the entry pass came to the post, Terrell Allen seemed to cheat a lot, trying to force the double on the low block.  The point guard was then free to cut to the basket because Terrell was having trouble hedging back to his player.  This resulted in a couple of easy layup attempts in the lane.

On the offensive side of the ball Drexel’s set against the zone continues to baffle.  It is similar to a rotational zone system however the players do not rotate.  A shooter is left running from corner to corner, leaving him little time to get set.  One big goes back and forth from high post to high post, essentially acting as a pivot man for a pass or setting a pick at the top of the key to try and free up the ball carrier, which has always seemed largely ineffective.  The problem though, is with the positioning of the other big.

One would think that the second big man would end up at the low post.  Well, Bruiser pushes him down even lower to the point that he is actually behind the backboard almost on the end line.  Standing there takes him out of the play.  I have noticed with a pretty regular pattern that when this player positions himself there, the bottom 3 of the 2-3 zone will drift a little higher and you almost end up with a 5-on-4 situation.  That big on the end line does not get many touches, and when he does, he has to come back out into the playing area to take a shot, or get himself under the backboard to the other side to even get a shot off.

To say the least, it’s a low percentage shot.  It is the mid-range jumper of layups.

Speaking of shooting, Drexel somehow managed to win a game while shooting just 29% from the field.  When it came to shooting 2 pointers, our guards were 6-24.  The bigs were not much better going 4-14, and all 4 field goals belonged to Kazembe Abif.

Now that we have talked about how the team performed overall, let’s talk about some individual performances.  Once again, Kazembe Abif was the standout guy in this game.  He was aggressive at the rim and got himself to the line 9 times as a result.  Unfortunately, he made only 5 of those free throws.  Still, his numbers were good enough to give him a double-double as he totaled 13 points and 14 rebounds.  He passed the eye test with flying colors as well.  This kid has energy.  There was skepticism when fans heard he was coming back to the court this season, but he has quickly become a Dragon favorite.

Tavon Allen continues to make freshman mistakes.  And yes, I typed Tavon and not Terrell.  He fouled a guy taking a 3 pointer in the first half.  He had the late travel.  It is hard to believe he is a senior sometimes.  I don’t completely blame him though.  There is a consistent lack of development when you look at many of the players to come through Drexel over the last fifteen years, but that is another blog post for another time.  None the less, Tavon currently sits at 999 points for his Drexel career.  His next game at Iona will be a milestone for his career, and he deserves credit for that.

Rodney Williams is not 100%.  Not even close.  And it showed tonight.  With Austin Williams sitting on the bench next to Tyshawn Myles, who seems to feel the Wrath of Bru more than any other player, a strong case could have been made to keep Rodney out of the game.  Not only did he fail the eye test tonight, but he was 0-1 from the field with 5 Rebounds in 24 minutes.  It was a waste of a night in a non-conference game for a guy who was in a boot three nights ago.

Why risk it?  Rest him.  Even Myles only played 5 minutes in the game.

Mojica continues to puzzle me.  He had his second off (WAY OFF) night going 1-7 from the field, 1-6 from 3.  In his last 2 games he's 2-10 from the field and 2-7 from downtown.  He had a few players just blow past him on defense and both of his fouls tonight were sloppy reach ins when a guy made it past him.  One fan across from me stood up and yelled "MOVE YOUR FEET, SAMMY!" at one point, and I could not agree more.  In the most puzzling move of the night, Bruiser subbed Mojica in for Terrell Allen for the last play of the game as a defensive sub.  Terrell, in my opinion, is a lot quicker than Sammy and would have been better suited at that point.

If Mojica is going to be the 6th man, he needs to pick it up a bit.  He has to produce more on the offensive side of the floor.

Going forward though, with Bruiser still being vague about Ahmad Fields' status, the hope is that come Conference play the team will look something like this:

PG - Terrell Allen
SG - Ahmad Fields
SG - Tavon Allen
PF - Kaz Abif
PF - Rodney Williams

6 - Rashann London
7 - Sammy Mojica
8 - Mohammed Bah
9 - Tyshawn Myles

As much as it pains to say this, Rashann London needs to come off the bench at this point.  With him and Terrell out there the teams has two point guards.  London is not a 2, no matter how much he tries to pretend that he is.  He can, however, fill in for a 2 if needed.  Bring him off the bench for any of the three starting guards.  Let him add some energy from that sixth man position.  He might not be as good a shooter as Mojica is supposed to be, but he can add a different dimension to a team that needs to rely more on the drive and dish than they do the three point shooting as they have in years past.  Regardless, that bench needs to get longer.

This team needs to play 9 players.  This seven player rotation just is not working.  The guys are getting tired and getting beat late in the game.  The kids just start to look gassed.  They need to throw more options on the court, and in what many see as a throwaway season, there is no reason why the likes of Austin Williams and Tyshawn Myles should not get a chance to develop on the court rather than just in the practice gym.

A win in a win though.  This is the second Big-5 team that Bruiser and the gang have beaten this season.  It is a shame that we cannot play them all the time.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Penn Pregame - Battle of 33rd Street

The below is written by Mark Walush

The University of Pennsylvania Quakers make their way down 33rd Street Tuesday to play our Drexel University Dragons at the Daskalakis Athletic Center. You read that right, Penn has finally decided to renew the closest rivalry in Division 1 basketball, and is actually doing it at Drexel’s home arena.  In the past 14 seasons, Drexel and Penn have played 11 times, and only 1 of those has been at the DAC. The rivalry was discontinued in 2012, 2014, and 2015, due to Bruiser’s insistence that Penn make the 1 block trip to Drexel’s home arena. Bruiser had every right to demand this, as Drexel has won the past 5 meetings between the teams, but Penn’s AD and coach refused to give in to Drexel’s demand, and held on to that high horse that the Palestra was above all else, and to travel to Drexel’s arena would be disgraceful.  To their credit, Drexel-Penn Palestra games were some of my favorite memories as a Drexel student. I mean, look at how well the DAC Pack looked in a bigger arena!  

This year, with a new coach and AD, Penn decided to put the past behind them and make the journey, and restart the rivalry game that should never take a year off.  Both athletic departments should be applauded for making this game happen and not letting the rivalry die.

Enough of the nostalgia: both teams are in a bit of a rough patch as programs right now, with Penn looking to adjust to a new coach, and Drexel figuring out some sort of identity now that Bruiser’s system is not suited for the new rules of college “everything is a foul” basketball.

Looking at the offenses, Drexel and Penn boast similar numbers, 99.1 points per possession and 98.8 points per possession, respectively.  However, their playing styles differ greatly from each other.  For Penn, they like to play an inside-out game, only being good at the inside part.  52.7% of their points come from 2-point shots, and they are shooting 55.4% inside the arc, good for 26th in the country. Outside the arc, Penn shoots only 29%, but 42.3% of their attempts are from outside the arc, good for 43rd in the country.  Against Drexel, Penn will look to feed it inside and drive the lane, as Drexel allows opponents to shoot 49.5% inside the arc, as well as sending opponents to the line frequently, the 5th best (worst) team at doing so.

When Drexel is on offense, they should be looking at driving the lane and feeding it inside, as getting to the line has been the only offensive strength for the Dragons this year, ranking 28th in terms of getting to the line. However, the Dragons are only shooting 42.5% inside the arc, good for 314th in the country and leading to lots of missed and-1 opportunities on the offensive end. Unfortunately for Drexel, Penn’s defense is strongest in the Dragon’s strongest area as well, ranking 14th in keeping opposing teams off the line.  For Drexel to win this game, they will need to play inside, getting Penn defenders off balance and getting to the rim. Shot selection has to improve for the Dragons, who we have seen time and time again, build a huge lead only to go back to long contested 2 point jumpers after building a lead based on attacking and being aggressive at the rim.

Penn’s main weapon on offense is Darien Nelson-Henry, who is not only an offensive shooting threat, but an incredible rebounder as well.  Nelson-Henry shoots 63% inside the arc, and a scorching 82.9% at the line, meaning that the trio of Drexel bigs will have to put forth a great effort to stop the 6’11” center from lighting up the stat sheet.  Other than Nelson-Henry, Antonio Woods and Jake Silpe provide good offensive balance for the Quakers, Woods and Silpe are national leaders in assist rate, and are formidable offensive threats as well, except for free throw shooting. Overall, I believe Drexel gets themselves feeling good for the holidays, improves shot selection, and shows the talent that we saw in small bursts this season.  They are hungry for a win, and I don’t see this Penn team getting in the way of that.

Mark Walush's Prediction:  Drexel 80 Penn 68
Dan Crain's Prediction:  Penn 68 Drexel 64
Vegas Line:  Drexel -3.5

Alan Boston's Take:

Sad to see Penn hoops deteriorate. However, I do believe they made an excellent hire. Donohue was not the right fit at Boston College, although I am not sure anyone is.  He'll be a good fit be at Penn. What he did at Cornell was miraculous. I expect even better with The Palestra his home and tons of tradition. They have had their moments this year. They will improve as the year goes. I think they have an excellent chance to win this game. I do not believe there will be much home advantage, this being Christmas week and Penn being 5 minutes away. With Rodney Williams out, Drexel is a bit shorthanded. It is also hard to know their mind set off blowing a big lead vs Penn St. I think this will come down to the wire either way. I may be a bit biased but:

Penn 76 Drexel 72

Monday, December 21, 2015

Penn State - Postgame

The below is written by Eric Resnick

Final Score:  Tailgate U 63, Drexel 57
Drexel player of the game: Terrell Allen
Key to the game: Fouls, and the lack thereof

On what was the first real cold day of the season outside, the nightcap inside the Palestra got off to a warm start with host Drexel’s vivid fanavision presentation of highlights from Drexel’s yesteryear we had forgotten, along with strobe lights and lineup introductions by Dan Baker. The Palestra was a third full with 3,000 fans, ¾ of which were supporting the Nittany Lions. Two blocks away from campus may as well have been 3 hours away in Centre County. While Drexel lost by one more point than last season against PSU, this game was a lot more competitive and it appeared that Drexel might win at times.

The Dragons marched out to a quick start with a three and an inside lay up from Mohammad Bah. In just 2 minutes, Drexel was out to a 9-0 lead and then took an 11-2 lead into the first media time out.  Drexel had an inside-and-out game going and was taking good care of the ball. Meanwhile, Penn State was always a step behind in the first quarter of the game, couldn’t get any good looks and forced up poor shots. This was due in part to Abif’s strong defense which persisted much of the game, holding PSU’s leading scorer, Brandon Taylor, to a mere six points. It was needed with the absence of Rodney Williams, who was sidelined from the South Carolina game with a left ankle injury; Williams was in a suit wearing a boot.

Abif would be more of a defensive force, but he did make a strong move inside, connecting on an “and-one”, giving Drexel a 20-9 lead with 11 minutes left in the first half. Terrell Allen recovered from an off-game in Columbia and managed 10 points in the first half, including a lay up that put the Dragons up 29-13, their highwater mark, with 8 minutes left in the first half.

Then came the zone.

And it wasn’t the best zone you’ll ever see, but all of a sudden the air went out of the ball for Drexel. Shep Garner led the Lions’ comeback with a three as PSU had caught up 32-25 and were down 34-27 at halftime.

Penn State went to the press somewhat early in the second half which was ineffective against the young Dragon guards. PSU went back to man-to-man as they could sense Drexel being worn down, playing just seven players to the Lions’ nine. All Drexel starters would log at least 30 minutes.
The biggest drama of the game involved the play of Terrell Allen. Allen made some rookie mistakes, but as typical with Bruiser Flint, he showed intolerance for Allen’s errors and directed his ire towards him. Allen did not appreciate the tirade and slammed a water bottle as he had to be held back by the assistant coaches. On a play that Terrell Allen had put Drexel up 46-43, Allen shot a look at Bruiser as if he was in control of the game. Allen would finish with 18 points.

One of the principal reasons why Drexel had maintained a lead so far into the game was that the officials let a lot of the physical play go.  While there were some fouls that were petty and outright mysteries at times, the whistles were fairly silent in the first half, with PSU leading the foul ledger, 8-4, at halftime. This worked to Drexel’s advantage as their bigs weren’t held back on defense by the prospect of disqualification.

As usual, things like fouls and bad calls even themselves out in the following half and Abif would eventually foul out. Jordan Dickerson left the game for the Lions with four fouls with 11 minutes left in the game, but Drexel could not capitalize. PSU took its first lead on a Payton Banks lay up five minutes left in the game, 48-47. Banks would lead all scorers with 20 points.

Wise and open looks Tavon Allen was replaced by ill-advised poor shot selection Tavon Allen in the second half. With Drexel down 57-53 and under three minutes left in the game, Tavon tried to take matters into his own hands pounding the ball into the paint in double coverage, only to get blocked and start a Lions fast break on their way to their largest lead of the night, 6. Drexel would never recover. There were too many times down the stretch when you knew that Tavon Allen is not giving up the ball- he commits to shooting and doesn’t leave himself the option to dish off the ball.
Drexel shot 23% in the second half and just 30% for the game. Despite Abif’s defensive presence, Drexel was forced to no better than mid-range jumpers when PSU went to zone. Abif wasn’t feeling his range and went 2-12 from the field- the two made shots were close up while he missed several attempts from 12 feet or more.

There were bright spots, including Drexel’s 82% performance from the foul line. If this team gets healthy, it can be competitive in the CAA.  57% of Drexel shots were taken by someone named “Allen”.  PSU had the edge in rebounding by 8, leading to 21 second chance points to Drexel’s 6.

Next game: Tuesday, December 22, Penn at Drexel. Directions for Penn fans can be found here.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Penn State - Pregame

Below preview penned by Mark Walush @thewalush:

As part of the 2 year series started last year, Penn State comes to Philly to take on the Dragons at a “Neutral” arena, the Cathedral of College Basketball, the mighty Palestra. Penn State has had a fairly decent start to the season, beating a bunch of middle of the pack teams, hanging close against a very good George Washington team, and with a  confusing loss to Radford. Picked 11th out of 14 Big 10 teams to begin the year, the Nittany Lions have seen success with their defense, ranking 29th in Block % and holding opponents to only 43.7% inside the arc, which is especially disheartening to hear for a Dragons team that is coming off of a game in which they were dominated in the paint.

Penn State is led by senior forward Brandon Taylor and rising star Shep Garner, a Roman Catholic product, and former teammate of current Dragon Rashaan London. Brandon Taylor is among the nation’s leaders in % of possessions used and % of shots taken when he is on the floor.  Taylor is shooting 43.6% inside the arc and 39.5% from 3, and also has the ability to draw fouls and get to the line with ease.  At 6’6” 225, Tavon will most likely, and should, be assigned to guard Taylor. Leading the backcourt is the 6’1” Garner.  He is the most efficient player on the court, shooting 43.6% from 2 and 43.1% outside the arc, one of the best marks nationally.  Garner also takes great care of the ball, with only 15 turnovers so far this season.  The Dragon defense will most certainly have their hands full with this PSU attack.

As for the Dragons, their struggles this year have been well documented.  After the team’s lone win against fellow City 6 School La Salle, the Dragons put up a formidable fight for 20 minutes before going on an 8 minute near scoreless draught which sealed the game for the Gamecocks, in a game which featured 47 fouls.  Much could be said about the new rule changes and adapting to this new version of basketball, but that is for another post. The Dragons have actually benefited from the new rules, ranking 20th in the country in getting to the line.  Unfortunately, this is offset by sending the opponent to the line, where opponents score 28.2% of their points, good for 6th in the country.  If the Dragons want to be competitive in this game and the CAA, they need to learn how to play within the new rules.

Unfortunately for Drexel, it looks like Ahmad Fields will still be out for the foreseeable future, and the injury bug struck again Tuesday with Rodney Williams needing to be helped off the court.  It remains to be seen if he will be able to play on Saturday, and a lot of Drexel’s chances rest on his status.  One of the most underrated players this year, Drexel is a much better team when Rodney is out of foul trouble and is able to play his game.  Tyshawn Miles and Mohammed Bah can more than hold their own on the boards, but Rodney’s offensive ability adds a much needed frontcourt presence to open up the court for the rest of the team.  Even if Rodney does not play, the Dragons still stand a chance.  If Tavon improves his shot selection and continues his solid FT presence and Mojica and Abif continue their solid starts to the season, Drexel may stand a chance in winning this game.
Oddly enough, the computers seem to favor Drexel in this game, but I think Penn State is better than the numbers make them seem.  While this game may be only 1 block from the Drexel campus, expect the crowd to be a majority of Penn State fans.  Playing in friendly confines, coupled with the likelihood Drexel continues its foul problems, I see Drexel hanging tough for a while but eventually losing out to the Nittany Lions.

Mark Walush Prediction: PSU 70 – Drexel 61
Dan Crain Prediction:  PSU 66 - Drexel 60
Vegas Line:  TBA

Alan Boston's Take:

Penn St has always been a very tough place to win in basketball. They have had some excellent coaches try. Most recently Ed Dechellis who gave up and went to an even tougher place, Navy, where they had success with David Robinson at center and then a bit with  the legendary Don Devoe coaching. Point being, it is a football school. Patrick Chambers now in his 5th year has done a very good job. He is a Philly guy, so perhaps that is the reason for The Palestra as the site. He was an assistant at Villanova and head coach at B.U. prior to taking the Penn St job. Typically a lower major is like a mid major. You get your best results recruiting high school players and hope by their 3rd or 4th year, you have a competitive team. This is not a strong Penn St team.  Their best win was probably over Eastern Mich at home. Their worst loss was being blasted by Duquesne. This is a very winnable game for Drexel. They did not play that poorly at South Carolina, following their strong play at Lasalle. They are also playing a team that will not overwhelm them athletically. Unfortunately and I am repeating myself, the 30 second clock and the refs calling it close, do not mesh well with what Bruiser likes to do. It is sad that this is what basketball has become. Perhaps they will stop treating colleges like a minor league for the NBA and start letting student athletes be just that. I hope Drexel gets lots of support at my old stomping grounds. I hope the refs dont call it too too close.

Drexel 66 Penn st 61

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

South Carolina - Postgame

Final Score: La Salle 79, Drexel 54
Player of the Game: Kazembe Abif
Key to the Game: Defense
Next Game: Saturday, December 19 vs Penn State (Palestra)

Back to square one.

Each game this season, including the Dragons lone win, called out for two things which mean nothing apart and everything when combined:  Trust and Focus.

Last year Coach Flint talked about Damion Lee playing "hero ball", forcing up shots and looking to create when there was nothing there.  This years version of the Dragons lost their hero, and mentally they don't seem to have gotten past it.  Whenever the tide seems to run against the Dragons, Tavon Allen tries to step up and shoots on consecutive possessions.  In today's example, after the Gamecocks scored 9 straight out of the half, Allen took 3 of the next 4 shots, with the only other shot being a stickback attempt by Tyshawn Myles when he rebounded an Allen miss.  Then there is Terrell Allen going off script through the paint with a behind the back pass that landed in a defenders hands.  While Terrell's creativity should be encouraged, there might be such a thing as too far.

Those small examples pale in comparison to what is going on at the other end of the court.  Everyone on the defensive end seems to be cheating much too far off of their man in an effort to help their teammates.  They get caught out of position and have to put their hands out to stay in front of their man, an easy whistle.  While defense may be about effort, man to man defense is much more about trust.  If you have faith in your teammates you don't cheat to help.  If you don't cheat to help you don't get caught out of position.  When everyone is trying so hard to help their teammates, they're not helping anyone.  That right there is the secret to the Dragons season, and yes it's best answered by my favorite coach: "Do Your Job".  So simple.  Focus on you and what is in front of you, and if each man does that individually, you will have your defense when you play man to man.

That same focus, the attempt to do to much is there on the offensive end and it rears its ugly head with seemingly each and every turnover.  A walk when they think they can push pace, a bad pass when they try to force a ball through, and as always with Bruiser's teams, shot selection, shot selection, shot selection (the team is taking even more 2pt jumpers than they did last year).

Perhaps it's the hole that the departing hero left in this roster.  Perhaps its the struggle that has been the early season, but it's time to stop being a hero and start trusting the team and trusting the system.  Because there is good news to come out of this - the offensive numbers this season are about average for a Bruiser squad.  228th ranked in the country is about right with what he does.  In the 2010-11 season, their offense ranked 264th in the country and the team went 21-10.  This is all one needs to show that the issue here isn't a talent issue.  It is an issue of trust and focus.  Bruiser can't fix a talent issue, but a mental issue on the defensive side?  This should be fixable.  This defense is ranked 204th in the country, the 3rd worst defense in Bruiser's 15 seasons at Drexel.  He can fix defense.  But coach, maybe sooner than later, please?

Rodney Williams was also hurt in this contest as the injury bug refuses to leave, but without the rest of his team coming together, Rodney's being on or off the court only creates a difference in how bad this team is.  We will wait for a report and hope the return of Ahmad Fields also helps.  But this is not a time for heroes to come off the bench.  It's time for a team to rally together.

Note:  Both the Gamecocks taking care of business against a dreadful opponent and the play of Kazembe Abif deserves praise that didn't fit into the above.  Kaz can be where this whole thing starts.  He may not lead with his voice, but his calmness, intuitiveness and shot selection can be a whole lot of leading by example.  It's time to build around the guy who is doing things the right way.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Pregame - South Carolina

On Tuesday night the "big game" of Drexel's out of conference schedule will be played when the Dragons take the court on the campus of the University of South Carolina.  Coached by former Northeastern University assistant coach Frank Martin, the Gamecocks are off to a hot start this year at 8-0 and have cracked the Top 25 in the USA Today Coaches Poll.

Generally Frank Martin's teams are a scary matchup for a team like Drexel.  A grind it out pace with long wings that help crash the boards and make them a premier rebounding team tends to spell trouble.  The scariest matchup in basketball is when your team plays a team that does the same thing, but does those things much better than you.  Style won't help Coach Flint and his Dragons tonight.

While the Gamecocks appear to work an inside out game with upperclassman forwards Laimonas Chatkevicious and Mindaugas Kacinas combining to average 3 three point attempts per game, this might be more of a problem than a solution.  Neither one of those guys have shot well over the course of their careers.  Add to that list Michael Carrera who has shot 59% from downtown this year, but whose history parallels much more with the career shooting of Tavon Allen, and it's easy to think that this South Carolina team may be more of a hot shooting fluky start than legit top 25 team.

Also in play in this game will be long layoffs by both teams.  This is a spot where South Carolina could come out flat as they have the long layoff going in and then a quick turnaround roadtrip to Clemson on Friday.  It would be easy to look past the 1-6 Dragons, meanwhile Drexel comes in with a chance to take down a major conference giant giving these squads totally different perspectives as they take the floor at Colonial Life Arena tonight.

Those are the DU talking points - a very real potential regression to the mean on top of lack of concentration from USC could leave Drexel to hang in this game.  If DU has a chance in this game it'll be due to a poor shooting night from the Gamecocks.  Facing a team that shoots poorly and has been running uptempo this year, the ideal defense is a zone.  Bruiser Flint isn't going to do that.  Playing man to man in a high possession game means a high likelyhood of foul trouble.  Depth favors South Carolina.  In a game of missed shots, rebounding will be key.  USC has a huge edge on the glass.  Even if Calvin Hicks Crusade hangs for a half, it's tough not to envision the Gamecocks going on a run in the second and putting it away, as Drexel's season seems to be mired in a game of opposing team runs.

USC is a veteran team with length and shooters.  At 8-0 and having beaten presumptive CAA Nominee Hofstra by double digits they've made it clear that they are players this season.  While there is a case to be made for a letdown from Frank Martin's squad, these Dragons are still a ways away from where they need to be.  The reason to watch tonight isn't the final score, but to see how much this team was able to pull together and mature during the offweek following their first win of the season.  Does the evolution continue?  Over the long season, continued evolution with a team this talented can still lead to success in the CAA.

Prediction:  South Carolina 76, Drexel 62
Vegas Line:  South Carolina -18

Alan Boston's Take

Well Frank Martin now has all his own players. With that, the team has got off to a terrific start. This is easily the best Gamecock squad in many a year, certainly the best in the 28 years I have done this professionally. Their best wins were over Hofstra and Tulsa in winning one of the many preseasons greed tournaments, theirs in the Virgin Islands. They really have not been threatened in any game. With 10 days off for exams, the best Drexel can hope for is some rust or a return to the 45 second clock, where Bruiser can play more of the game he is comfortable with.

Drexel surprised me with their easy win at Lasalle. I think it was more bad Lasalle, than good Drexel. Sadly, even good Drexel will not be enough here.

South Carolina 68 Drexel 44

Monday, December 7, 2015

La Salle - Postgame

Below is written by Scott Kier.  Some additions from myself are in italics

Final Score: Drexel 66, La Salle 53
Player of the Game: Tavon Allen
Key to the Game: Free throws
Next Game: Tuesday, December 15 @ South Carolina

After their worst start in the last 45 years, the Drexel Dragons have finally scored their first win of the season.  On the road.  Against a Big 5 team.  No typo.  The Dragons went into La Salle on Saturday with an 0-6 record, and emerged victorious by a score of 66-53.

As basketball games go, this one was ugly.  While there were many good points for Drexel there were a lot of not so good points on the La Salle end of the box score that contributed to their loss.  For example, Amar Stukes continued his Tavon Allen-like (more on that later) shooting streak, going 1-8 from the floor, including 0-3 from downtown.  The last time Stukes hit a three pointer was on November 22, 2014 against St. Peter’s.  Since then, he is 0-18.

Let’s take a look at a couple of the team factors that contributed to Drexel’s first win of the season.  Then, we can take a closer look at a couple of individual performances.

Drexel won the free throw battle – Coming into Saturday’s game Drexel’s best free throw display this season was a 78% clip against San Diego.  Their worst was against D-II University of Alaska-Anchorage where they shot 50%.  Saturday this team was almost automatic, hitting 87.5% from the stripe.  If you don’t think free throws are important, when they shot greater than 80% last season Drexel was 6-4 overall.  The rest of the season they were 5-15.  If this team wants to win, they need to shoot well from the line.

Drexel won the turnover battle.  Barely.  This game was sloppy.  La Salle had 17 turnovers to the Dragons 15.  Much like free throws, when the Dragons had less turnovers than their opponents in the 2014-15 season they were 8-11.  When they had more they were 3-8.

No respect for the La Salle Frontcourt - The Drexel staff showed no respect for the Explorer big men, none at all.  Aside from some ill advised Rashan London shots, the Dragons normal 15 foot jumpshot game was non existent, as they fed the post and even did some slashing into the paint.  Scott touches on this below, but Flint & Co were proven right to do this - Rodney Williams had 14 points and 13 boards in 30 minutes.  The entire La Salle front line put up 13 points and 13 boards in 63 minutes.

This also meant that Bruiser could go four guard when he chose to, and he did often.  Anchored by Rodney Williams against the non-existent Explorer forwards, the Dragons decided to play towards the strengths of La Salle who regularly employs a 4 guard set.  Generally playing into the other teams strengths is decision worth questioning, but given the inability to find DU's own strengths, this is something that may have been worth the risk and was a winning strategy on this day, albeit helped by La Salle's pure ineptitude.  

One of the larger questions in this game concerns the lack of PT for Kazembe Abif.  Bruiser went with Mohammed Bah over Abif for most of the second half despite Abif staying out of foul trouble and appearing healthy.  Obviously there have been off the court issues between the two in the half and it will be interesting how that situation plays out.

Now for the individual performances.

Rodney Williams stays out of foul trouble – Rodney Williams is not only the best of the team’s four bigs but when he stays out of foul trouble he is also their best player.  The kid has pure skill both as a face up player and with his back to the basket.  It pains me to watch him run handoffs outside of the three point line.  He does not belong out there.

After fouling out of three of his first five games, Williams put up what is unbelievably only the third double-double of his career scoring 14 and adding 13 rebounds.  Like many of his teammates, he was clutch from the line shooting a perfect 6-6.  Most importantly though, Williams stayed in the game and played a solid 30 minutes.  While he had four fouls, they did not seem to hamper his tempo or ability to contribute.

Nobody wake up Tavon Allen – I mentioned earlier that Amar Stukes continued his “Tavon Allen-like” shooting streak.  Well, our own Tavon Allen appeared to channel former teammate Damion Lee in the team’s first win, going 7-11 from the field and a perfect 3-3 from downtown and 8-8 from the line.  In a post-game presser, Tavon said that he “is just taking good shots” which is nice to see, however those of us here at DragonsSpeak would much rather see him take a step back, and abandon his 19 foot two point field goals in favor of 20 foot 9 inch three pointers.  Just take a step back, Tavon.  Please.

Tavon's 25 point performance matched a 2013 performance against the dreaded Blue Hens of the University of Delaware.  The shooting display Saturday against La Salle, however, was far superior.  His shot selection was much better.

Beyond his offensive game, Tavon was once again asked to defend the other teams best player. Jordan Price is one of the best players in the city, and the DU coaches acted like it.  When Tavon was on the floor he was tasked to Price.  Whenever transition, a switch or a substitution meant Tavon wasn't on Price, the entire Drexel team was aware of where Price was on the floor including numerous double teams (Bru calls it help defense, but when it's a double team outside the arc, that's more than help).  That the defense could play straight man to man when Tavon was on price shows the trust that the coaches and teammates have in Tavon to get the job done.  Rodney Williams had a hell of a game anchoring the middle of the court, Tavon gets the player of the game because he had the hardest one on one job on the court and won it at both the offensive and defensive end, a very impressive performance.

Despite his performance, however, Tavon still got mixed reviews from his coach.  “I hate to say it that way, but the kid hasn’t played good” Bruiser said in the post-game press conference.  He went on to add that Allen has been a solid contributor on the defensive end of the floor, and said that “Today he played well.”  Still though, the backhanded compliments need to stop.   If I can give Tavon credit, coach, then so can you.

Calvin Hicks makes his debut – There has been one absence from the team this season that has been more noticeable than Major Canady or Ahmad Fields and that is Assistant to the Head Coach Calvin Hicks.  When I first started writing my contribution to the blog this week, it was going to be a piece asking where Calvin, the team’s most vocal fan, had been so far this season.  Normally, Calvin can be heard loudly chanting “DEFENSE!” every time the team hits their end of the floor, and taunting opposition free throw shooters by screaming “MISS IT!” on every single attempt.  When he goes on the road, opposing fans often boo him or complain about him, but that has never slowed him down.

Welcome back, Calvin!  It’s good to see you back in the mix.

The Dragons, now 1-6, head off to South Carolina in 10 days.  With that long break, it will be interesting to see if the team can prepare effectively and stay healthy.  As far as today’s game, all that I can say is nice job, guys, you made us proud to be DU fans.

Friday, December 4, 2015

La Salle - Pregame

Hey Drexel fan, have you ever thought: "I'd like to be in a gym shittier than the DAC, but don't feel like making the trip to Rider"?  You're in luck!

The Dragons travel to North Philadelphia on Saturday to take on the Explorers of La Salle.  Dr. Giannini's squad is lead by a partnership of junior transfers, Jordan Price (Auburn) and Cleon Roberts (Georgia Southern).  Those two players have combined for 53% of the teams points this year, meaning the only thing the other six rotation members are Exploring is being bad at offense.  Sophomore Amar Stukes for example is not only shooting just 25% from the floor, he's also fourth on the team in shots taken.  The poor kid is shooting 1 of 23 (4.3%) career from deep which most readers of this blog could probably do.  He's 0-10 from distance this year, so not only should Drexel fans encourage him to take more threes, if he hits one I think he's earned a cheer from us.

Tavon Allen will get the unenviable task of guarding Jordan Price, and it may be a great opportunity for the Drexel staff to tell Tavon what he already knows - they need his defense in this game if they want to win.  If Tavon is OK letting go of some of the load offensively to help his teams struggling D, it could go a long way towards winning this contest on both sides.  Price is a 6'5" scorer that is a near impossible cover.  Over 80% of his shots either come at the rim or behind the arc.  He's taking the best shots on the floor and hitting them.  That lethal combination of intelligence, sharpshooting and quickness is deadly.

In Cleon Roberts, the Explorers have a sharpshooting compliment to Price.  A 36% career three point shooter, Roberts has hit on 41% of his shots from downtown this year as he continues to evolve as a basketball player.  He stretches the floor for the La Salle offense as the defense can not help off of him no matter where he is on the court.  Even scarier for Drexel fans, Roberts joins the rest of the Explorer squad as an elite free throw shooter.  The North Philly squad is 18th in the country in from the stripe (77.1%), and as Drexel is 9th in the country in putting opposing players on the line...  well it looks like the Drexel offense better show up or hope the refs swallow their whistles.

It's obvious the Dragons season is in peril.  They need something to rally around and certainly a win against a city rival could represent just that.  If the measure of a man is how he responds when he gets knocked down, well after the Alaska trip we have a lot of measuring to do around these parts.  And it will be done very quickly.  Heard it here first, this is a 15+ point loss or a 5 point win, nothing in between.  And it's hard to take the Dragons side of that until they prove that they can get up off the ground.

Prediction: La Salle 80, Drexel 62
Vegas Line:  La Salle -7.5

Alan Boston's Take:

I am often wrong. I thought John Giannini was a terrible hire. I watched his Maine team play in the Great Alaskan Shootout. It was embarrassing. However, he has done a terrific job at La Salle. Yes Philly has tons of hoop talent, but the days where kids want to play in front of their families or for the school they grew up watching are a distant memory. With Villanova around, the top talent is tough to get. You are also recruiting against St Joseph's and Temple for similar athletes. Also, my take is La Salle would not sell out and become a place where alumni make sure AAU coaches are players families are taken care of.

Yes, La Salle has great history. Sadly, that means nothing in today's college hoop world. So props to Coach Giannini for elevating the program, under extremely difficult circumstance. He has also done an excellent job as an X's and O's guy. His La Salle teams bear no resemblance to the mindless Maine team I watched. His teams have also showed great resilience. When they were forced to play 3 games in 5 days at 2 different venues miles apart vs a team playing their 2nd at the same arena shows the obvious foolishness of a play in round in the NCAA tournament. When some of the good ole boys were left out of the tournament, because the NCAA had the audacity to keep the tradition of allowing the winner of the ivy league and other "minor leagues" automatic bids, something had to be done. I specify Ivy as the NCAA was about to make their automatic bid null and void, until Pete Carrill's  Princeton team played the epic first round game vs John Thompson and Georgetown. They could have won but of course the refs made sure there was no call, late in the game, when a Princeton player ended up in the 3rd row with a bloody nose courtesy of a Gatown players elbow. That was the feature non call in a game that not only went to the wire, but also and more importantly, was the most watched tournament game on ESPN.

Well if the Ivy league winner can take a one seed to the wire or rather get people to watch, then they won't eliminate their bid as they planned. So in comes a play in game. Later, when Gary Williams and other good old boys were bitching that Missouri St, Utah St or Butler could possibly get in before them, the NCAA decided to add more play in rounds. Tennis and golf have qualifiers to get into their majors. The NCAA has conference tournaments. However, NCAA basketball has become so corrupt, that they decide who must play an extra game. When la Salle had blown all of their 21 pt lead. were dead on their feet from their 3rd game in 5 days but still beat Mississippi 76 74, there was some joy in college hoops.

La Salle returns only 2 starters from last years team. They opened vs Towson and after 2 players had fouled out, Coach G told one of his players who had 4 fouls, "Let them score, don't foul" . If he lost another player, it would have been 5 on 4. They held on 78 76 then easily beat Rider and Lafayette. They finally got healthy vs Penn at the Palestra and lost by the shocking score of 80-64. Now comes Hofstra. Surely, 2nd game with a healthy roster, they will be better.  Well, they were not. Then down 13 to a very experienced and very good Hofstra team, something clicked.  La Salle missed a foul shot late to tie it and eventually lost 84-80. The loss may be what turns the corner. Jordan Price is an animal. He led this young group back when they were dead in the water. They displayed resilience like the Sweet 16 team did. That is bad news for a Drexel team, that somehow lost to St Joe's by only a single point. That also seems like a distant yet recent memory.

La Salle 78 Drexel 62

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Disciplining and Discipline

I'm always hesitant to speak towards off the floor behavior between coaches and players - without being in this specific locker room, it's impossible to know the dynamic. Scott Kier is back with a blog post examining the parts of this dynamic that can be viewed from the cheap seats. He makes a number of valid points and assumes nothing. 

Training a team to be disciplined is a difficult thing to do.  Some confuse disciplining a team with making them disciplined.  For example, screaming at players, or making them run sprints in practice does not mean much if you cannot back it up with positives.

If you are a fan of basketball in general, then I recommend that you  watch the movie The Street Stops Here, the story of Bob Hurley and one of his championship seasons with St. Anthony’s High School in New Jersey.  The team that he put on the floor that season was arguably one of his most talented.  I saw them play that season in Springfield, Massachusetts at the Hoop Hall Classic Invitational, a series of games that I tried to attend as often as possible when I was living in New England.

I always made it a point to get myself positioned behind the St. Anthony’s bench just for the sole purpose that I got to watch Mr. Hurley coach.  It was a sight to behold.  He’s hard on his players, demands a lot out of them, is tough on them when they screw up, and is always in the referees’ ears.

Sound familiar?

There is a difference, though.  There was always a positive to add in on the perceived negative comments that Hurley made to his players.  He was tough on them.  In one particular scene, Hurley pulls star guard Mike Rosario off the court on a routine substitution just days after he was named as a McDonald’s All-American.  Rosario is benched for failing to shake an assistant coach’s hand.  The two “make up” and Hurley uses the improved bond between coach and player to get more out of his leading scorer.

Later, in the team’s final practice before a state playoff game, Hurley clears the gym while essentially giving his players a gut check.  He sends them home directed to think about what they are doing, and what the implications will be if they lose their next game.

After the gym is empty, Hurley looks at his coaches and says, “we got them.  We got everything done, and we have to send them out the door with the fear of the Lord.”  Spoken like a true parochial school coach.  Despite Hurley’s harsh words you can tell that he is proud of his players, and they know it.  He is not just a coach to them but he is a father figure.  He is hard on them but he is fair from his star player right on down to the 12th man on the team.

The way that Hurley coaches is not difficult to quantify when looking at his results: countless titles with a very small school budget.  Hurley’s techniques and tactics breed discipline.  His players walk on the court knowing what they have to do each and every play and knowing that there will be consequences if they do not deliver.

Where am I going with this?  Well, this is where I come back to our Drexel Dragons.  When I watch sets, both offensive and defensive, they seem very simple.  They seem to run maybe four or five offensive sets.  Inbound plays usually result in a pass to the top of the key and a reset instead of a set play to create a shot.  Defense is just as simple: high-pressure man–to-man.  The team does not press unless forced to usually too late in a game and when they do they press with a man defense.

It is a scheme that to me, as a casual observer of the game, can figure out pretty easily.  I was to the point after a few games last season that I could walk through their most popular sets with ease.  Considering this team practices regularly, I would expect them to be able to do the same.  Running these plays should be almost automatic leaving them a lot of time to perfect their craft in the practice gym which leaves me to ask the question: why then does this team lack discipline on the floor?

Why is it that upperclassmen don’t know where to go when they check in to the game on their home court?  Why do players need to be sent to the end of the scoring table time and time again?

Why did I see four different players on different occasions during the Monmouth game looking towards the side line, eyes wide, mouth agape, and palms to the air as if to say, “What did I do?”  As their coach screamed at them?

Why did I see one of the team’s two seniors throw a ball out of bounds untouched during an inbound pass and stay on the court?

Why have I read two articles in the last six months that describe a “falling out” between a coach and his best players?

This team gets disciplined.  They get screamed at.  The overwhelming majority of subs are usually punitive and not part of a rotation.  Players far more frequently come off the court and get “the eye” from Bruiser instead of a handshake.  It just leaves me asking, what does it breed?  What kind of atmosphere does it create?

In the paragraphs above I have raised far more questions than I have answered because, frankly, I do not have the answers.  All that I know is that being a tough disciplinarian does not produce a disciplined team.  Scream at them all that you want, but if you don’t produce an environment where they want to play and are willing to play hard for you as a coach, and for their school it is all for naught.  

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Whacha Gonna Do?

Seemingly every Drexel fans favorite line: "Whacha gonna do?"  Not so great when a Head Coach getting almost half a mil in compensation says it.  At the same time, a fun question to ponder.  You're Bruiser Flint, you're 0-6 and fighting for your job and there are no wrong answers.  So whacha gonna do?  Below find some ideas which are a tip of the iceberg style of start to this question:

Rebounding for Miles  This one is exciting because it looks like the coaches already began doing this in Alaska.  With transition defense and rebounding two of the top problems for this team to date, the first thing that I would do is embrace the players who work the hardest.  Tyshawn is at the top of that list.  He's far from the most skilled guy on the team, but this squad needs a guy who will outwork you, clean up the garbage and get on the floor in the worst way.  Miles does all of those and the numbers back it up:

Stats for players Senior year last full season played

Everyone, including coaches, is questioning this teams effort level?  And there's a rebounding problem?  And one guy can help with both?  Play him!  The 20 minutes a game that he got in Alaska is a good start, and he's certainly surpassed Mohammed Bah on the depth chart, but at this point he should be cutting into Rodney and Abif's minutes as well.  That sounds crazy but the best Drexel teams have always had one big man on the floor who scores with the other big man picking up the garbage.  Playing Rodney and Kaz behind each other at times limits foul issues and injury risk, and since Kaz is a walking injury, this just makes too much sense.  And if one of them wants to win their minutes back, they can earn them by crashing the glass.  That's a message sent.

Sammy Mojica, let me introduce you to Chris Fouch, Dom Mejia and Phil Goss  These guys profile as very similar players.  Both turnstiles on defense.  Both spot up shooters.  And neither has ever contributed to this team inside the arc.  So lets use that.  Sammy needs to be a full time spot up shooter and spot up shooter only.  Run him on the baseline, curl him around a screen and have him spot up and only spot up for the next two and a half years.  For all of the agita over where the points are going to come from this year, this should have been one of the easy answers.  Instead he's taken more shots inside the arc than outside.  Last year Sammy hit 3's at a 38% clip, right there with Damion Lee.  This year, after starting slow in the first two games, he's hit on 44%.  In the words of Adam Sandler, "not too shabby".

Tavon's Gone - Not from the team obviously, but from the offense? Yessir.  And it's for a simple reason: he's holding his teammates back.  Tavon Allen has taken 31 shots from two.  Terrell Allen has taken 33.  Tavon is shooting 38% from inside the arc for his career (28% this season), Terrell is shooting 61%.  That's 61%!  And since when he drives he takes it all the way to the rim, he's getting fouled much more often as well.  Yet they have taken the same number of shots.  Un-acc-ept-able.  Unacceptable.  That's unacceptable.  They are who we think they are.  If you want to let Tavon shoot, then lit him shoot it.  But let us off the hook (for your coaching contract).  That Tavon is taking the highest number of shots on the team, by far, isn't a problem for the offense.  It is THE problem with the offense.  Tavon is being a leader and playing hard nose defense and that should be appreciated - he should play.  But whatever message that needs to be sent to get him to trust his teammates and find them with passes, needs to get sent right this minute - it should have been sent years ago.

This is just the beginning, there's plenty left to be posted.  Like (shudder) going zone to help the interior D, or going offense/defense on every sub to maximize the offense snaps that Mojica gets while maximizing the defensive snaps that London gets, and doing the same down low with the starting bigs on offense and Miles on D to take away opponents second chances and minimize fouls on the starters.  Little things that can earn a point here and there during a game and will change the outcome of a few games a year.

Bruiser can put a team on the floor with an elite rebounding presence.  With a spot up shooter at the 2, an elite defender and swingman at the 3, a scoring presence at the 5 and a freshman, elite point guard.  Doesn't that sound a lot like this:

F . Massenat
C Fouch
D Thomas
S Givens
D McCoy

That team went 29-7.  This team is 0-6.  And Mojica is outshooting Fouch.  I'd argue Miles is better than McCoy.  Tavon and Derrick Thomas should be toe to toe.  And while his defense needs (a lot) of work, Terrell Allen is currently outpacing Massenat's offensive stats.  With the scoring of Ahmad Fields also on the way back (allowing the coaches to go offense/defense at the 3 with Tavon and Fields) there is no reason this team can't at least be competitive.  But a message must be sent:  if you want the minutes, show the hustle.

Say it with Tyshawn.

That's the beginnings of what I'm gonna do.  Whacha gonna do?  Respond to Bru in the comments below.

Monday, November 30, 2015

San Diego Postgame

Final Score: San Diego 62 Drexel 59
Player of the Game: Terrell Allen
Key to the Game: Shooting (That's more like it)
Next Game: Saturday December 5 @ La Salle

Refreshing.  Same old, same old.  Terrifying?

It's tough to define the Dragons loss to the University of San Diego in Alaska on Saturday. 0-6 is 0-6, but this felt so different than the other games this year.  Instead it felt like the losses of the last 14 years.  The (Prodigal?) Sons of Flint managed to waste a massive rebounding and turnover advantage, with a shooting display matched only by The A-team and their opponents.  Shot after shot was taken, miss after miss was recorded.  Drexel played so well off the ball that they took 18 more field goal attempts than the Toreros.  And they still lost.  That's hard to do.  It's also old school DU.

And that's a good sign.  The crashing of the boards was back.  The defense, less so, as they allowed USD to keep their season average 97% effective field goal shooting.  Even that is improvement on the disaster that the Dragon "defense" has been to date.  It's hard to have positive takeaways after losing to one of the worst 50 teams in Division I, but in this case there is.  As noted in earlier posts, the question for this team was one of effort.  In this case, while the shots didn't fall, the effort seems to have been there.  The biggest concern that the fanbase seems to have - has Bruiser lost the locker room - seems to have not been a problem in this contest, and that's big, especially coming off of a loss to a D-II program that could have led to heads hanging throughout the bench.

Will the level of effort keep growing over the next couple of weeks, with only one game to be played and a lot of time to think about how bad this team has been?  That's the million dollar question.  This team is not good enough to win anything, even a game, without making the effort plays.  If Bruiser can't hold this locker room together over the next two weeks then an ugly start to the season will encompass the entire season.  If he can get them back on the same page then things get interesting again.  Shots will fall (more on that in tomorrow's post) and Ahmad Fields will return.  With rebounding and defense this team becomes interesting once the conference season begins.

For now, we saw a glimmer against San Diego.  It may be a sad, sad glimmer.  It may be just trying in vain to take a positive out of a lost trip.  But for the second time this year (Hi St. Joe's!) Drexel won the hustle plays.  And that was the flicker of light we were all looking for.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

San Diego - Pregame

Insert Obligatory "Anchorman" Reference Here

Alan did a better job than I could ever do writing up this San Diego team's quagmire, so please reference his piece below for pertinent knowledge on the squad.  Quick and dirty version from my eyes: San Diego lost star Johnny Dee (great f'n name) and head coach Bill Grier last year.  Largely due to self inflicted wounds they should stink to high heaven this year. They have lived up to that billing, and I am totally convinced that UA-Anchorage is better than them (and had home court against DU).  This is a much easier game for the Dragons than playing the D-II team was.  Crazy world we're living in.

That short write-up on the opponent is indicative of where the Dragons are right now.  They need to treat their own wounds before they worry about who is on the opposite bench from them.  The good news is that after today's throwaway game the Dragons only play one game in the next 17 days - plenty of time to reassess, ignore statistics and breakdown video if they're allowed to.

The following statement is a true statement.  I want to make it very clear that it is NOT something that I am advocating.

If the administration were ever to make a move midseason, it would be after a loss today.  If the Dragons return home 0-6 and the admin was already considering moving on in the offseason then they need to consider making the move now.  The Dragons have one game in 17 days so there is time for a new coach to acclimate himself.  Generally when a new coach comes in their team plays harder for them for the first game (see: Dolphins, Miami) and the next game happens to be an embarrassment in waiting against city rival La Salle.  If there was one spot all season to make the move, it would be when the Dragons plane lands this week.

Here's why they should not make the move:  First and foremost, it's 800k in dead money.  That's an awful lot for President Fry to choke down.  Second, the interim coach would be someone from his staff, who are all Bru disciples, and they would need to carry the DU banner the whole season knowing that they weren't coming back next year no matter what they did.  Knowing they won't be there next year also kills any chances to recruit.  Beyond that, the current players (see: Mojica, Sammy and Allen, Terrell) have much longer for people to whisper thoughts of transferring in their ear, making it much more likely they leave the program.  Firing Bru at this time is a full reset button and ensures that the program is as bad next year and maybe the next few, as it is right now. 

The wiser play right now is to offer Bruiser the almighty "vote of confidence" and assure him he will get anything he needs to help this team get better.  And we can be reasonably confident that this will happen as Dr. Zillmer is, how shall we say, heavily invested in the success of Bruiser Flint.  And Dr. Eric Zillmer doesn't think Dr. Eric Zillmer is wrong very often.

So yes, I have seen your emails, I have gotten the texts, I know the CAAZone has been a "Fire Bru" cesspool for years now (and I continue to be upset that it has driven rational people away from that community, which is an important community in our small landscape.  The zone is an opportunity to have your voices heard by Drexel Admin pretending not to hear it, and that's critical feedback that they may not otherwise get so I encourage everyone to post there).  

Beyond DU fans, I have been contacted by multiple people outside our program about Bru's job and that's a noteable change.  It shows how bad this situation is - people around the college hoops community are noticing that DU's dumpster fire is getting out of control.  That's uncomfortable from the coaches to the administration to the fans.  But that perception doesn't mean an in-season move is the right call - just ask conference-mate UNCW, who may or may not have been heckled by Drexel fans after doing just that.

There's an on the court reason not to make the move too.  Excluding Tavon Allen's awful 9/31 (29%) from INSIDE the arc this year, the Dragons are shooting 56.4% from two this year, good for 26th in the country (tied with Kentucky).  The Bru led team record for 2pt shooting is 49.6%, accomplished by the team that should have danced in 06-07.  That's the beginning of good offense, and the coaching staff has adjusted towards it.  The Dragons are taking less 3's than almost any Flint coached squad before it.  He has them taking the correct shots, and they are making those shots, for the first time in his career.  

There's more good signs on offense: after an awful start to the year, turnovers are trending down. The Dragons are also 31st in the country at getting to the line which is outstanding.  If they control Tavon's shot selection (as in, none inside the arc) this has the makings of a real offense.  

The big, blatant, gigantic holes in this team come in the areas of rebounding and defense.  A person wiser than me reminded me yesterday that these things are 90% effort.  This is about guys buying in, trusting and supporting each other.  When Rob Brooks is talking about players not having legs in the first game of a tournament, that's not about lack of energy.  That's lack of heart.  

Ask a Drexel fan who has followed this program for a decade if Bru can fix someones shot and that person will laugh in your face.  But ask if Bruiser can get his guys to play hard.  He can.  This appears to be a fixable problem as it stands, and Bru might actually be just the guy for it.  But he can't keep sounding like a beaten man in interviews.  Fans get his confusion - the stuff that he normally does wrong is actually going right - so he thinks this team should be good.  And it's very clearly not a good team right now, he's said that himself.  A lot.

Much like an Athletic Department, this team is going to embody it's leader. That leader needs to find his voice and return to his basics - to hit the reset button for this team.  And he needs to do it before someone else hits the reset button for this program.

Prediction:  Drexel 67, San Diego 60
Vegas Line:  Drexel -4.5

Alan Boston's Take:

Drexel finally found a team they can beat, perhaps even beat soundly. San Diego U had all but hired Columbia coach Kyle Smith but it got nixed very late in the process. In comes Lamont Smith, an alum who was an assistant to Craig Neal. He has no head coaching experience and he has worked for Randy Bennett, so perhaps he knows something, but the way it went down just wreaks of politics which generally does not work out. Years ago, they had a solid program and a terrific coach in Brad Holland. With the success of Gonzaga, several in the league got greedy. San Diego U was one.  With only 2 starters returning, a freshman point guard and a coach who likely does not belong, San Diego U has been terrible.  They played their best game in the first round of this tournament. Even Bruiser can't fuck this one up. Yes, I have finally knocked a coach I have always had tons of respect for, but perhaps my respect for the man, has negated the fact that he is not a great head coach.

Drexel 80 San Diego U 63

Drexel-Alaska Post Game: Upset to No-one

Mark Walush returns to review the Alaskan catastrophe from yesterday:

Final Score: Alaska-Anchorage 71 Drexel 65
Player of the Game: Sammy Mojica
Key to the Game: Defense
Next Game: Today, 4pm EST vs San Diego

There is so much that can be said about this game that is covered in the first line of this post.  But for now, we will focus on the positives.  For the second game in a row, fans saw a solid performance from Sammy Mojica, who went off for 20 points on an efficient 15 shots and 3-4 shooting from the line, while also chipping in 6 rebounds and 6 assists with only 2 turnovers.  Sammy’s resurgence comes as a bright spot compared to his early play which left a lot to be desired that invoked fears of a sophomore slump year.  This game showed those flashes of explosiveness that the coaches saw last year and hoped would infuse this team.

Offensively, Drexel shot 38.3% inside the arc, 40% from 3, and only 50% from the line.  The also outrebounded UAA by 11 and had 9 blocks.  Drexel also assisted on 75% of their shots, showing an emphasis on moving the ball and players getting the ball to the open man instead of trying to force bad shots.

Unfortunately, that is about all of the good that can be said about this game.  For the second straight game, Drexel spotted their opponent a 10 point head start, had a furious comeback to get close or lead by halftime, only to see that lead evaporate after halftime never to get close again.  Drexel turned the ball over 13 times, committed 27 fouls to UAA’s 19, and only averaged a meager 0.96 points per possession.  The 4-big rotation was completely shut down, shooting a combined 4-14 against a team that they had a ton of size on.

Talent is not the issue in this case, as I believe that this team has the talent and ability to win in the CAA.  However, they are typically only performing to their potential on the offensive end, and basketball is a two-way sport.  Oddly enough, the defensive end has been the demise of the team this season, and even more surprising, is how bad the D has actually been.
The worst stat of the night is that the Dragons gave up over 1 point per possession, something they have done in every game this year.  The 1.04 ppp mark is actually the lowest mark the Dragons have conceded this season, but still ranks well above the D-1 average for defensive efficiency.  For a team and coach that used to pride itself on defense, take a look at defensive ranks since the 2002 season, when Bruiser took over as Drexel’s head coach:

Kenpom Defensive Efficiency Ranking
2016 (as of 11/28/15)

Drexel has consistently fielded one of the better defensive teams in the country for the better part of the last decade, except for the past 2 years.  This has also coincided with the new rule changes enforced by the NCAA.  Since Bruiser’s teams have always been physical, grind it out, beat your nose in defensive teams, these new rules emphasizing freedom of motion and cracking down on arm bars and hand placement of offensive players, something that was a staple of the Drexel defenses of legend.  The question now is, if defense was the glue holding this team together, how do they play Bruiser’s style within these new rules? 

All of the statistics aside, losing to a Division II school is unacceptable, no matter the circumstances.  Losing 2 games in as many seasons to Division II schools? That is enough to cost many coaches their jobs.  Unfortunately, the small, diminishing following that Drexel basketball has, was not surprised at that result of this game, with some even commenting that they would actually be more surprised if Drexel won this game.  That shows signs of greater program problems than can be discussed in this space, and a growing number of people see the only relief is a total change in program culture, which of course needs to start at the top of the food chain.  Unfortunately, we have seen this song and dance before and it looks like there is no end in sight.