Not so fast. The return of Rodney Williams should return this team to a two forward rotation, and significantly strengthen the Dragons interior defense. UNCW shot 60% from two against the Dragons the first time around, and that's not happening against a three guard/ two forward Dragon set. Wednesday's game against Northeastern is a bit of a different animal though, and it's because they run a perfect offense.
Rockfights. Low possession, low scoring games. Nailbiters on the road. This is what defines Coen's teams and Flint's teams, same strategy, same competitive outcome, right? That's a common thought, and the common thought couldn't be more wrong. Yes, both teams play slow, and playing slow leads to more close games. But this year, the teams couldn't play more differently. Bill Coen spoke last year about how Bruiser's offense is unwilling to make the risky pass that leads to the easy shot. This year, that pass defines Northeastern's season. They are risking the ball, turning it over on 20.9% of their possessions in league play, good for dead last in the CAA. So why is their offense so perfect? For that we turn to hoop-math.com:
Only 18.7% of NU's shots are mid range jumpers. That's 13th fewest in the country. For perspective, rarely used Tyshawn Myles is the only player on Drexel that shoots under 20% of their shots from mid range. As detailed in the past the midrange jumper is the worst shot in basketball. NU's risky passes work to get them to the rim for almost 50% of their shots, which is why their effective field goal percentage (55.4% in conference play) is so high. Drexel's conservative offense only takes a third of their shots at the rim, leading to their CAA worst 42.5% effective field goal percentage.
If their offense is so good, why are the Huskies just 6-2 in the piss poor CAA? They don't value the basketball like Drexel does. Northeastern's turnover rate is terrible, and their rebounding isn't much to write home about either. So while much like Hofstra, they will almost certainly outshoot the Dragons on a percentage basis, if the Dragons make the game not about shooting, but about number of shots, then they can be right in this thing.
Bruiser mentioned on the conference call this week how much better the Dragon's ballhandling has been since conference play started, and he's not exaggerating. Drexel's cut down turnovers by around 15% since conference play started, even while many conference opponents have shown pressure. Combine that with a strong rebounding presence tonight, and this is a winnable rockfight for the Sons of Flint. The team has found a rebounder in Tyshawn Myles who is running laps around his teammates in a way that fans haven't seen since Samme Givens. Put him and Rodney Williams on the floor and the Dragons will win on the boards. With the point guard situation under control, they can win the turnover battle. Coaches, fans, say it with me again: Make this game about number of shots, not shooting. That is how Drexel can not just compete in this game, but they can win.
Last note: With no apologies at all to Scott Eatherton, the best player in this game will be in Blue and Gold. Conference Player of the Year voters, please take note.
Prediction: Northeastern 56, Drexel 55
Vegas Line: Northeastern -6
Alan Boston's Notes: Pre conference, Northeastern looked to be the class of the league. With all 5 starters returning, the return of a healthy Quincy Ford and a terrific coach to guide them, they were the logical team to beat. Early on, they did not disappoint. They were 6-2 and had Cal Poly blown out, but well coached Mustangs shot the lights out and came from 16 down to beat Northeastern who missed one and ones and lay ups down the stretch, in gagging away the game. Still, they recovered to beat host Santa Clara and push an excellent St Mary's team to overtime. They came from 16 down and won most impressively in Richmond. To start conference play they manhandled Delaware, but then were shocked at home by UNCW. They then won 5 conference games in a row before being run out at William+Mary on Saturday. There was a home loss to Detroit thrown in there. With such little practice time in modern college hoops, teams with many returnees have an edge to start the year. Northeastern has leveled off, since their terrific start. Still, this is their best team in a very long time. Coen will out coach most, which means it is a mismatch vs Bruiser. Northeastern did struggle to win both at James Madison and at Towson, so they are beatable. But this Drexel team has not displayed the willingness to defend to the bitter end that Bruisers best have. Lapses on D vs Northeastern, usually lead to open 3s. Trouble looms for the Dragons.
Northeastern 68 Drexel 55