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