One of the most anticipated parts of the Drexel basketball season is the release of the non-conference schedule. Never mind that it is on average the 332nd schedule released in Division I, it’s the suspense that takes us through Labor Day and the High Holidays that piques one’s interest for the most unpredictable aspect of Drexel’s season.
This year’s non-conference schedule features the rekindling of an old rivalry that should never have been interrupted, return revenge matches against two local foes, an SEC match up, and a trip to America’s last frontier.
Notwithstanding the 2012 wins in its non-conference schedule which contributed to Drexel’s expectation of making the tournament, but was also its downfall when the quality of opponents didn’t pan out, Bruiser and his staff have always done a good job scheduling teams that befit Drexel’s contemporary abilities. This year is no exception.
AWAY November 13 at St. Joseph’s (PA)- You have to acknowledge Phil Martelli’s respect for the Drexel program, scheduling the Dragons on a home-and-home basis for many seasons running. Last season’s home opener was one of the best games played in the DAC all season and was played at the time you thought the Dragons might have had some life. The Hawks had come off a sobering loss to Fairleigh Dickinson and were out to right themselves. In last year’s game, Damion Lee’s three-pointer came up short at the buzzer as St Joe’s won 52-49. DeAndre Bembry was the only player who stood out for the Hawks that game and it certainly wasn’t his best performance. He is the first Hawk to ever lead the A10 in scoring and he also led his team in rebounds. The 2016 All-America Candidate also handled the Dragons two seasons ago on City Avenue. Isiah Miles returns as a senior as the Hawks return four starters. St Joseph’s will also debut redshirt freshman Markell Lodge and his 39 inch vertical leap.
HOME November 18 High Point - You may ask how can a season’s high point come so early? It’s the first of two Big South games on the schedule. The Panthers boast red shirt forward John Brown, who is the third highest scoring returning senior in the country with 1,680 career points, 142 more than Damion Lee. He was named to the second team of the preseason mid-major All American list. Drexel bigs will have a tough time staying out of foul trouble defending the big man. Last season, High Point amassed an impressive 23 wins on their way to the school’s D1 record for wins. Head coach Scott Cherry will have familiarity with coach Flint’s strategies, as Cherry was an assistant coach at George Mason for seven seasons.
HOME November 21 Monmouth - The Hawks should benefit early on from a tour of China this past summer, giving players needed practice time together. The Hawks are preseason MAAC #2 pick, which beats a #8 CAA pick any day. Monmouth returns its two double digit scorers from last season, Deon Jones and Justin Robinson. They don’t hit the boards too hard so this is one of Drexel’s most winnable OOC games.
NEUTRAL November 26-28 at Great Alaska Shootout in Anchorage, Seward’s Folly - This tournament is being attended for two reasons- it is a great life experience for the players and national TV coverage. A win in Drexel’s opening televised game guarantees two more nationally televised games on the always available CBS Sports.
The tournament does not have the same team draw it used to have with the abundance of exempt tournaments now out there. None of the seven potential opponents made this past year's national tournament (RPI)- Alaska-Anchorage (NA), Loyola (Chicago) (87), Middle Tennessee (152), UNC Asheville (248), San Diego (164), San Jose State (336) and Toledo (76). The Division II host, Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves, beat the Dragons in this tournament back in 1981. Alaska-Anchorage is the last team you want to play given that they are always competitive in this tournament as they get up for their D-I opponents, they don’t have travel issues and are already acclimated to the dark climate. The program has the backing of a D-I program, but has not elected to step up to that level.
A potential encounter with Anchorage would not happen until the second round. The Dragons open up with UNC-Asheville who could only manage a 15-16 record in the Big South last season. They lose their best player, Andrew Rowsey a Marquette transfer. You don’t replace 19.2 PPG too easily, so the Bulldogs will have to rely on junior guard David Robertson who started all of the games for Asheville last season.
AWAY Dec 5 LaSalle – “Wait a second here, you guys aren’t expected to be good? Let’s play then, glad I thought of it” - John Giannini.
It’s no surprise that the Explorers scheduled Drexel this and last season given Drexel’s slide. The Explorers as a team were on par in almost every statistical category against its opponents and it showed in a mediocre 17-16 showing last season. LaSalle loses Jerrell Wright and Steve Zack, but returns junior Jordan Price. Price averaged 17.2 PPG last season after a successful transfer from Auburn. He looks to improve upon his 26.7% from the field and 6 turnovers in the slop-fest against the Dragons last season. LaSalle also has a late addition in Dusan Majstorovic, a heady Serbian sharpshooter. He has additional experience having played at a prep school in Maine and was a member of the competitive Serbian U-16 Super League and U-16 national team.
AWAY Dec 15 U of South Carolina- This is one of the Dragons’ most challenging opponents and the only one from a power conference. Drexel always manages to schedule a big-time conference opponent that is completely beatable on a good day. It is the perfect opponent as SC has been known to sleepwalk against lesser teams. SC does return about ¾ of its production from last season, but there is no one from the returning class that would give most teams fits.
“HOME” at Palestra Dec 19 Penn State - Last season’s match resulted in a 73-68 loss for the Dragons in a game that did not appear as close. The Dragons mounted an un-Drexel-like 15-0 run in 3 minutes with 7 minutes left behind the shooting of Tavon Allen and Freddie Wilson, with plenty of offensive rebounding and 6 forced turnovers on 8 Penn State possessions, only to come up short against the Lions. The game was right around the high-water mark for Penn State who after the next game had been an un-Penn State-like 12-1, only to realize that the Big 10 schedule is tougher than what Penn State schedules out of conference and went on to go 4-14 in the Big 10. Brandon Taylor was too much for Drexel, particularly in the first half with a double-double and then senior D.J. Newbill led PSU with 20 points, his season average. Newbill is gone to graduation and no one else for PSU averaged double digits in scoring last season. Shep Garner started at guard as a freshman in almost every PSU game and played nicely for the Lions and is the leading returner in assists. 7’1” Jordan Dickerson as a junior will look to play more minutes and compete for the Big 10 lead in blocked shots.
HOME Dec 22 Penn Quakers - HOME, you read that right. You will not find a team that has been an inferior opponent with a lopsided home/road ratio like Penn: Drexel. Maybe Penn realized that drawing several thousand for a non-conference, non-Big 5 game to its building every other year, with no travel costs, is better than not at all. The fans win when these two teams play, no matter the teams’ expectations. Steve Donahue comes in as head coach to replace Jerome Allen. The Quakers look to enjoy Donahue’s successful run at Cornell and relive the 90’s glory days when he was Fran Dunphy’s assistant, but the expectation is not there this year. Last season, Penn managed to have one player who was able to average in double figures scoring and one player who averaged over 5 boards per game on their way to 9 wins. Penn brings 19 players in on their roster. It will be interesting to see if the visiting bench at the DAC can accommodate this many players. Drexel has won the last 5 meetings between these teams.
AWAY Dec 28 Iona- This is the most difficult game on the schedule and will be played 1 year to the day Iona smacked Drexel at the DAC by 19. The Gaels are coming off a successful campaign going 26-9, finishing first in the MAAC, but losing to Manhattan in the finals of the MAAC tournament; they missed the NCAA tournament with a gaudy 26 wins and 51 RPI. They have made the postseason in the last 5 seasons, including 2 NCAA tournament appearances in 2012 and 2013 under Tim Cluess. They also won at least 20 games in all of those years. The guard-heavy Gaels showcase shooter AJ English, a first team preseason All American who scored 20.1 PPG last season with 5.1 APG and 5.0 RPG, who can score from just about anywhere on the court. Iona returns three of their four 13+ point scorers.
The Dragons have once again managed to schedule some competitive OOC opponents without stretching itself against expectations. Drexel has gotten away from the quick pay days whose payday was being pummeled. It’s one thing this program always gets right.
Fun fact: every OOC team on the schedule has been to the NCAA tournament more recently than when Bruiser Flint began coaching at DU in 2001, except for High Point, who went D1 just a year prior to Flint’s arrival.
Out of Conference Prediction: 4-7