Thursday, February 26, 2015

Delaware (home) (senior night) - Pregame

After a five year career spanning two schools, Freddie Wilson will start on Senior Night at the DAC tonight.  He will also finish it, and play the 38 minutes in between.  With the breaking news from Adam Hermann this morning that Sammy Mojica will miss this game with an MCL injury the Dragons will be rostering a total of three guards.  They have lost their two best offensive guards (by far) since Saturday.  And they will be greated by a team that they beat on the road, who will be coming in playing better of late, and angry.

The Dragons will either win this game or get totally blown out.  And I have no idea which.

If ever there was a time for Drexel to force their will and create a rivalry prizefight or a rockfight, this is that game.  And they can.  They will be bigger, they will be at home and hopefully they will have a good senior night crowd behind them.  It's also been my experience that teams that lose a big player seem to see guys stepping up in his first missed game that often covers for the absence, and the effects of the missing player aren't usually felt until his second game out. With that and the hope of an overconfident UD squad, yes we can make lemons out of lemonade.

That's all I've got.  Monte isn't a rocket scientist, there are no scary players on this UD team, and Bruiser is going to have to return to his roots.  All that bodes well.  The talent?  Well at the guard spots that's going to UD.  On the inside?  We know Rodney and Marvin King-Davis are skilled, but beyond that we know UD has junk and DU well, how would we know?  Looking back to Saturday in Boston, while most will remember Mohamed Bah for the missed free throw, hopefully no one forgets it as a possible turning point game for him.  He had a huge three point play that swung the momentum back in Drexel's favor, and then saved a teammates awful shot at the buzzer to tie the game with half a second left.  Lets see more of him and hope he continues to rise to the occasion in this game.

The Dragons need to challenge UD with the forwards that UD has less than no tape on, and make this a first to 50 wins experience.  This game doesn't need to be a disaster, but if the Dragons let the Blue Hens play an up and down running game, it will very quickly become one.  

Finally, lets talk about the Freddie Wilson experience.  5 years, 2 schools, and never in the uptemo offense that uses a point guard to distribute that he needed to be in.  Yet despite an offense that didn't fit his skillset, he took the reduced minutes, even as a senior, with grace.  His effort was rarely in question.  There's a lot to be said for guys like that, and we can be proud of the Dragons culture and his role in it.  So thanks for the plays Freddie, for making it absolutely rain threes at Davidson, Wilmington and James Madison, and safe travels.

Prediction:  Drexel 50, Delaware (sucks) 47
Vegas Line:  Drexel +1.5


Alan Boston's Notes:  I wish I were in Philly for Senior Night at Drexel. Of course, I love to attend live college basketball, but the main reason I would be at the Drexel game would be to say a few kind words to likely outgoing coach Monte Ross. Ross endured many years of losing, all the while doing the right thing and being a class act. 8 years in, he finally makes the NCAA tournament. With virtually the entire team gone and what was left injured to start the year, Ross young team got off to a poor start. As players got healthy and as freshman grew up, Delaware has gotten better, much better. For running a clean ship, being a class act and legitimately doing a terrific job this year, they are apparently letting him go at the end of this year. Evil lurks in every corner of this once great game. I would just like to tell Coach Ross that I have a ton of respect for his demeanor. No I do not think he is a top coach, but he is certainly not bad either. Good guys deserve a job in this once pure sport. I hope Coach Ross lands a job elsewhere. He deserves to be in the game.


Unless you are immensely more talented, it is difficult to win as the road team and repeat at home. Drexel won in Delaware 66-62 and now faces them without their top player. However, Drexel needs this like blood. Their remaining roster is still better than Delawares and although the loss of Lee is devastating, it should get Drexel out of that ridiculous 4 guard nonsense. For that reason alone, I think Drexel gets it done.

Drexel 58 Delaware 53

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Losing Lee

Being a Drexel fan may seem a challenge at times.  Lots of times.  But no one would be reading this, and I wouldn't be writing this, if it wasn't damned fun sometimes.  Even when the team isn't competitive, the coaching staff schedules some great games.  Between that and a job that is generous with vacation time, I've gotten to see the likes of Anthony Davis, Carmelo Anthony, John Wall, and Greg Monroe in person during their college careers.  So I can't say that Damion Lee is the best player I've ever seen play in college.  But he's right up there.  So stop for a second, read yesterday's post on how terrible wings are in Bruiser's offense, look at Damion's numbers, cry for a minute, and then try to figure out just how screwed the Dragons are.

Here on the blog, we like to look at numbers (if you like to skip the math, see the summary below).  So put this in the ole pipe and smoke it.  Even with the superhuman Player of the Year level effort from Damion this year, his team is still only averaging .98 points per possession, which is 257th out of 351 DI teams.  If we eliminate the possessions the 27.9% of Drexel's possessions that he was involved in, that number sinks to .92 points per possession, a number that would have the Dragons below every member of the Patriot League.  It equates to about 57 points per game for the Dragons.  That's a team that isn't guaranteed to break 50 each time they hit the hardwood.  So again, lets remember that even men cry, take a good sob, and try to figure out just how screwed the Dragons are as their anticipated offensive average drops from 60 points per game to 57 in one fell swoop.

Can't be all about the numbers though, can we?  We have to consider the intangibles (trademark Danny Hinds).  Damion Lee brought leadership and beyond that made his teammates better.  How many times has Sammy Mojica been open in the corner because the defense was worrying about Damion?  Seen a double team down low?  Not going to happen because they're worrying about DLee.  And now defenses can throw zones with even more aggression, because they aren't scared of Damion shooting them out of it.  Wipe away that tear, brothers and sisters.

Wipe away those tears because: math.  As noted at length in this space, the coaching staff of the Dragons has been shooting themselves in the foot all year with the four guard defense.  When that unit has been in, DU has actually been one of the worst defenses in the entire country.  With Lee gone and only four guards left, expect that defense to go too.  Not only will more pressure be put on the front court, which is something to be excited about as we watch them get involved with the rest of the team, but the defense will almost surely improve significantly.  How significantly?  Here's an update since last weeks four guard column:

*Includes games since Rodney Williams return vs Northeastern 1/28/15.  Regarding NU number, please see note below

Quite a turnaround and illustration of small sample sizes in the two games since the last report.  While both sets regressed slightly when playing two of the better CAA teams in their home gyms, the significant differential stays.  We do see a whale of an outlier vs NU.  Note that I did not include the overtime of that game which would have brought the four guard back to the mean.  Without Williams available, with the team clearly spent and with most of the OT spent at the FT line, I decided that those 5 minutes were more garbage stats than worthy of including.  Any number of statisticians just rolled over in their graves because I did that, but since I am only discounting data that helps my argument, I feel alright about it.  These numbers just became more conservative than they needed to be.  As for the rest of the NU game, it's an outlier.  They beat NU going mostly 4 guard in Rodney's return too, so those games may be worth a review at some point, but for now lets credit NU's softness, see it as the one off that it is and move on.

Now, lets be conservative.  Say the 25 minutes per game that DU spends in the 4 guard now will go to the 3 guard and the defense will allow .934 ppp, a 5% increase over what it has been giving up with that set.  That change from the 4 guard "defense" to the 3 guard defense is worth a stunning .21 points per possession, or about eight points a game.

Math Summary

Offensive points per game lost by Damion's absence (not including intangibles):  3 points per game

Conservative estimate for defensive points gained by killing the four guard:  8 points per game

Using these numbers, expected average score for DU games going forward:  DU 57, Opponent 58

Scoring average for total year thru today:  DU 60, Opponent 65


Analysis

The offense had improved a bit during this recent stretch so the drop may be slightly more than shown above, especially with the other guys on the roster seeing more attention. The conservative numbers used on the defensive side should help offset those possible additions on the offensive ledger.  The immediate takeaway is this:  The Dragons should still be competitive, even with the loss of Lee.  While losing Damion is a body blow to the offense, backing the coaches into a corner that involves improving their defense by at least 7 points a game is almost, if not more than, as significant of a change.  With only three games left, averages don't mean much and it comes down to matchups more than anything, but if these numbers are indicative at all, the Dragons still have some fire left to breathe.  

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Allen Wrench

Remember that time that the Dragons were beating JMU 9-0, and then scored 26 points for the rest of the game?  Yeah, that was cool.  It was also a microcosm of Tavon Allen's season.  At some point this year, I turned to my neighbor and said, "He looks decent in the first five minutes of games.  Like every time.  If that's true, how bad must he be the rest of the game to be one of the worst shooters in all of Division I?"  With the snow this weekend and some downtime, math was done.  But please, don't just follow the math, because there's much more than that here.

First the math:

There are 424 players in Division I basketball that have attempted more than 10 shots a game this year.  Of those 424, Tavon is 423rd in effective field goal percentage at 37.7%.  It's the 8th worst shooting percentage for any player in the last 5 years.  Is this due to injury?  Maybe partially, but last year's 42.9% effective field goal percentage was good for 453rd of 473.

Many are frustrated by this.  That has been made clear.  Included in that are the Drexel coaching staff.  So they stepped up and worked with him this offseason.  They discontinued his ambidextrous shooting to give him a more consistent approach.  Tavon responded by shooting worse.  In the long term a more consistent approach should work, so lets applaud the staff for attempting to fix his shot.  But here's what the coaches didn't do:  change his approach.  He's still taking the same shots, and that's the problem, just not his problem.  I left a stat out in the previous paragraph:

Of the 4,536 college basketball players who have taken 10 or more shots in a game in the last decade, Tavon Allen's effective field goal percentage ranks 4,522nd or in the 0.5 percentile. Put another way: 14 players have posted a worse effective field goal percentage, and 4,521 have posted a better effective field goal percentage.  But here's the thing:  He has company.

Scott Rodgers 2008-09 season was 4,518th.  Current Drexel assistant coach Kenell Sanchez's 2005-06 season was 4,513th.  All played the 3 in Bruiser's offense.  You read that right: Drexel 3 guards have 3 of the 25 worst shooting seasons of the last decade.  Unbelievably, all three of those players were in their fourth year at Drexel during the seasons that they made that list.  Only once did any of those players eFG% increase from one year to the next (Scott Rodgers freshman to sophomore year).  Rodgers eFG% dropped every year after, and both Kenell and Tavon had straight down slopes from their freshman year on.

The coaching staff tried to fix Tavon's shot but they never looked inward to fix their offense.  Coming off of a poor shooting season last year, Tavon opened this year at Colorado by taking 17 field goal attempts.  Only 1 came in the paint, a fast break layup.  Within Bruiser's offense, he attempted 16 jumpshots.  Here's what Bruiser said postgame, per Adam Hermann of the Triangle:


“Got to make baskets,” Flint explained. “I thought today we got great looks"


We've heard that before.  As a matter of fact, if you Google Bruiser Flint and "Open shots" you'll find 940 results.  If you Google Bruiser Flint and "High Percentage shots" you'll get 53... and the first result is this Blog.  The seemingly minuscule difference between "open" and "high percentage" is the difference between the video based coaches of yesteryear and the "Moneyball" statheads of today.  It's also why the Drexel three guards will keep winging up long 2 point attempts, while opposing defenses keep giving it to them.  Looking at these numbers as an opposing coach, wouldn't you ensure that Drexel three guards had open looks from 18 feet?

Tavon does have poor shot selection.  He will take an off balanced shot, he will take shots without setting his feet, and he doesn't get to the rim nearly often enough given his 6'7" frame.  Here's what else he will do:  Go 37 minutes on a bad leg, hobbling and staying in the game til the end, even during a double digit blowout.  He uses his length and is a solid defender badly needed on a poor defensive team.  He was asked to be a scorer for this team and Lord knows he's tried, even when it looks like he can barely walk.  He's been asked to be a leader and a captain in his fourth year on the team, and he's constantly communicating on the floor.  Tavon is statistically the worst offensive regular on this team, but he is not the problem.  He's doing what he is being asked to do.

Just like the other wing guards before him.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Northeastern (away) - Postgame

The losses are piling up in West Philadelphia like the snow in Boston and no one is happy to lose what was a winnable game.  With the loss the Dragons upcoming Senior Night battle with Delaware goes from a "really could use this" game to a virtual must win in order to stay out of playing Friday night as well as to finish .500 or better in conference.  It moves DU to a miserable 2-7 against the top half of the conference, a record that screams "not for real," which, we all kind of have figured out by now.  Well, most have.  Because I haven't.

I'm as confused as I've ever been actually.  The 1.03 points per possession that NU had in regulation was a decent number for the Dragons defense.  And it's the defense that has been the overwhelming problem.  Good news, then, something to stand by?  Well, no.  It was NU's 16 turnovers that brought that number down, not their shooting.  The unbelievable stat to me is that the Huskies made 20 two point shots.  18 of those were in the paint.  They hit only 2, that's 2 mid range jumpers.  The Dragons are still letting opponents drive, and the help isn't coming fast enough on the interior.  Meanwhile, when they actually were forced to the outside, it was for open looks leading to a 50% shooting percentage behind the arc for the Bostonians.  And that shit is just weird.

Why is that so weird you ask?  Glad you did.  Allow Ken Pomeroy to answer:


A defense predicated on staying in front of your man, of a Belichick-ian "Do your job" mentality, suddenly is trying to help too much, to jump into passing lanes, and force turnovers.  Normally I'd say that speaks to a lack of trust in your teammates, like the times when you're playing pickup and you just know that kid can't stay with who he is trying to mark, so a better player cheats off his man to help.  Bru called it "Hero Ball" earlier in the season.  Obviously whatever it is hasn't been extremely successful this season, but after years of seeing the same to the same results, this was a fanbase crying out for change.  So we saw some zone last year, we see some over pursuit this year, some traps, and I'll be the first to tell you that I have no idea what to make of it.  While the initial reaction, seeing the losses pile up, is less than kind, the fact is that sometimes there are growing pains when trying to grow.  The question then becomes:  Is this a conscious decision to try to force turnovers by the staff, or has Bruiser merely lost his identity?  If it's the first, then they're building to something, and fans should appreciate that.  If it's the second, well, then it's time for a new staff.  There's no in between here.

There is one other significant takeaway from this game, and it's easily correctable.  Bill Coen didn't double Damion Lee.  He did damned sure make him every part of the scouting report.  Watch the tape and anytime Lee puts the ball on the ground, half the NU team (sometimes 4/5th) leaves their man and collapsed on defense.  He needed to find the open guy there and didn't.  When running four guard, the big man was trying to box out a path for Damion and thus wasn't availabe for a pass.  Instead of watching, one of the off the ball guards needs to be cutting for the hoop and looking for a pass there.  Get that and turn those tough shots for Damion into a layup for Rashann London.  As talented as Damion is (and he won these battles a good deal), 1 on 4 makes for a long day at the office.

We knew going into this matchup that DU would win the turnover war, and NU the shooting.  The thought was that rebounding would make the difference.  And even when running the four guard, DU rebounded with the best of them, they dominated the glass in this game.  It just wasn't enough to overcome Northeastern's ease of getting to the lane and foul shooting.  Most of the time though, that turnover and rebounding formula is good enough to win.  And while the defense still needs a lot of cleaning up, there was progress here.  So as bad as things are in Dragon land, maybe we are seeing progress.  It's getting late though, and if you have to break some eggs to make breakfast, if this staff has an omelet in them, it's time to present it.

Four Guard Tracker:

In the 8 games since Rodney Williams return, the Dragons +/- vs opponents has been:

3 Guard:  +7
4 Guard:  -11

______________________________________________________________________________
Update

Obviously, the above was written before the news about Damion broke.  The break no doubt had an effect on his ingame decision making, although I stand by what was written above.  My thoughts are with Damion at this time obviously, and Wednesday I will writeup a post looking at the effects that his injury will have on the team.  

Friday, February 20, 2015

Northeastern (away) - Preview

The Dragons will be in the Hub of the world on Saturday to battle it out with the Northeastern Huskies.  The word battle isn't used loosely here -- the Dragons opponents have scored in the 80's the last two games, and there's only one cure - a rockfight.  And in the past, if there was one team that DU could rely on for a rockfight, it was Bill Coen's Huskies.

The good news doesn't stop there.  After a disastrous start to the season, guess who is the best team in the CAA at holding onto the basketball?  That's your Drexel Dragons, led by Rashann London and Freddie Wilson on the point.  Last in the league at both holding onto the ball and forcing turnovers?  The Huskies of Boston.  And there is the rub.  Becuase the Dragons were outshot when they won the home game in this years set.  DU won that game because they had half of the turnovers and outrebounded NU by almost double - one of only two times in the last 10 games that they have outrebounded their opponent.

In simple terms:

The Dragons are the worst shooting team in the conference, per Bruiser Flint.

The Huskies are 53rd in the entire country (2nd in the conference) in effective shooting percentage.

Much like against Hofstra, the Dragons are not going to shoot their way to victory here.  It's about taking more shots than the opponents do.  The Dragons can already be expected to win the turnover battle, so this game will be won and lost on the glass.  Paging Rodney Williams!  Paging Mohamed Bah!  After the guards valiantly tried to keep the Dragons in the game at JMU, it's time for the boys up front to do what they do.  In the first matchup Bah & Co dominated POY hopeful Scott Eatherton and held him to 3 boards in 26 minutes.  They pushed him around a bit and earned that win for the Dragons.  Eatherton is sure to come out angry this time, but if the Drexel forwards can body him up again, and this becomes a very winnable game for the Dragons.

Coen's Gang has played well this year against the finesse teams that run.  They are 3-1 against William and Mary and Hofstra, but when it comes to the bruisers in the conference, Towson, Charleston, Drexel and Delaware, it's been a different story.  They handled Towson at home pretty well, but it was a dogfight on the road.  They squeaked by Charleston by 2 at home.  They split with UD and obviously lost at Drexel.  Body them up, get physical and smack those boards, and win this game.  No point in repeating, but its clear which set does this better for Drexel, although it's worth noting that DU outrebounded NU in the four guard in the first matchup.

Damion Lee and late freethrow shooting -- upset alert?


Prediction:  Drexel 62, Northeastern 61
Vegas Line:  TBA

Thursday, February 19, 2015

JMU (away) - Postgame

Final:  James Madison 82, Drexel 78

Player of the Game:  Damion Lee
Key to the game:  Bringing a knife to a gunfight
Next Game:  Saturday February 21 @ Northeastern


The exciting part about writing this piece is that I haven't thrown this fine wireless keyboard through a window to a snowy landing below.  Frustrations are running high at DragonsSpeak HQ right now as DU skids to a second straight loss.  "Skid" is the operative word there.  As in, when one confronts ice driving down the street and loses all control of their vehicle.  An out of control vehicle might end up sliding forward to safety, but more often then not one finds oneself not so much where the plan was to be.

The Dragons are skidding.

Specifically, they can't stop anyone. Yes, that's only in the four guard, but they seem hellbent on the four guard, so... the Dragons can't stop anyone.  Hofstra, 1.31 points per possession.  JMU 1.26.  The best offense in the country (Wisconsin) only does 1.24!  And yes, the four guard has helped the offense (kind of, we'll write on Tavon Allen's struggles next week) and they were especially outstanding yesterday, getting 1.20 points per possession themselves.  It was the first time ever in the Flint era that Drexel has scored 1.20 points per possession and lost.  The Dragons scored 49 second half points and didn't even tighten the score.  For the math and "we already knew this would happen" inclined:

13:07 in the three guard, 22 points allowed.  Over 40 minutes that's pace for giving up 67.1 points

Generously removing the six foul shots JMU hit in the final minute, here are the four guard numbers:

25:53 minutes, 54 points allowed.  Over 40 minutes that's pace for giving up 83.5 points

That's a 16 point difference.  That actually narrows the projected 17 point difference that we had been seeing.  Improvement looks interesting sometimes.

Any guesses on how many layups the 3 guard gave up?  Zero.  Four guard?  Twelve.

"But anonymous angry guy on the internet, look at the offense!" you say.  Glad you mentioned it!  Please allow me to drop some knowledge:

January 15, 2015.  Drexel scores a Flint career low 35 points.  Only 14 points scored in the paint

February 18, 2015.  Drexel's offense catches fire.  They score 18 points in the paint.  In the second half when they had a 49 point outburst?  Only 4 were scored in the paint.

This is peeking ahead to next week, but the four guard doesn't actually improve the offense.  It doesn't get better, higher percentage shots.  It just gets Sammy Mojica, a better jump shooter than 2 of the 3 starting guards, onto the court.  If Bruiser simply played Sammy more in favor of Tavon on offense, there's no indication that we would see any improvement at all when the Dragons go from the three guard to the four guard. At JMU, they held onto the ball exceptionally, but they didn't play better offense, they just hit a higher percentage of jumpshots.  Their own coach called them the worst shooting team in the conference, so you want to bet on this to happen again?

And that right there is the crux of the argument.  If all the team is going to do is take jumpshots, then yesterday is about the best offense that you can ever expect.  Low turnovers, high three point shooting.  With the best possible offense, they still lost the game.  Credit to JMU for hitting their jumpshots as well, and for hitting the boards hard.  Elon or Charleston or Towson lose that game, no question.  But when Drexel plays poor defense, doesn't rebound, and plays a top team, even their best offensive game will lose.  And that's what happened in Harrisonburg.  The Dragons played well.  They played their asses off, they never quit, and they played with heart.  They fought that steering wheel right to the end.  But the four guard defense has them skidding out of control.

Four Guard Tracker:

In the 7 games since Rodney Williams return, the Dragons +/- vs opponents has been:

3 Guard:  +15
4 Guard:  -9



Wednesday, February 18, 2015

JMU (away) - Pregame

The Dragons head to God's rest area, Harrisonburg, Virginia to take on James Madison University tonight.  When last they met, the Dukes kept switching up their defenses, from a base 2-3 to a 1-3-1 and on and on, en route to one of the most disappointing offensive efforts of Bruiser Flint's career.

Lets not say that Drexel played right into their hands, lets use familiar terms:  They took what they were given.  The zone will concede jumpshots, and make it hard to get inside.  How little did DU get inside?  Their forwards took a combined 6 shots, while every guard had at least 5 by themselves.  So that may be an area to look for improvement in.

The really scary point from that game is that the Dragons were up 9-0.  JMU spotted DU nine points before they got their DAC legs under them, and the rest of the game was 54-26, Dukes.  When Drexel traveled to Kentucky to play John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and friends in 2009, they were doubled up 88-44.  The last 35 minutes of the home game against JMU was worse than that.  No, no, I can not wrap my head around that, but thanks.

Assuming Rodney Williams health (and he sent out an "I'm OK" tweet, which bodes well) [UPDATE:  He will play] his presence obviously helps this game.  If he is left in a 1 on 1 situation in the post, he'll be expected to win it, and his teammates will feed him the ball in a way they have yet to with the other forwards.  Sammy Mojica only took 6 shots in the first meeting (he went 4 of 6) and you can expect Drexel's second best three point shooter to pull the trigger more often and with more confidence this time around.

In other shooter news, we're starting to hear some fans rumbling about Damion Lee's stamina and his regular 40 minute outings catching up to him.  That certainly could be happening, he's 4th in the country in percentage of teams minutes played.  I'm of the camp that Damion is infallible though, and I take you back to NFL Week 4, 2014.  The Patriots were utterly destroyed and all we saw on ESPN for the week was Stephen A Smith & Co telling us Tom Brady was washed up.  Damion Lee is a great player, and just perhaps people are confusing two games of him looking human as signs of trouble.  The guy hit 18 of 18 free throws and averaged 18 points in the last two games.  Does that sound like a guy with no legs to you?   Because it sounds like the conference player of the year who is about to put up 25 on James Madison to me.  Great players love to answer the critics.

As for the Dukes, they're better than you think.  Joey McLean was a DNP freshman to start the year, now he's picking up some of Andre Nation's disposed of minutes and scoring with efficiency.  Jackson Kent is still a 6'7" perimeter shooter who you can't cheat off of.  Yohanny Dalembert is putting together an All-CAA caliber season while leading three other forwards as a deep and skilled pack.  Ron Curry has very quietly turned into an elite point guard, showing distribution skills, a 39% shot from distance, and an ability to drive and get to the line.  I started trying to sneak this out there last week, but JMU is currently my favorite to get to the Dance from the CAA.  So this game becomes quite a road test for a Dragons team coming off of a staggering loss at home.

The cynics will say that the JMU Athletic Department kept giving Andre Nation chances until he was no longer effective for them on the court.  I on the other hand... will let the cynics say that without interruption.  Since his dismissal, JMU is 7-3, is one game out of first in the CAA and has only one road game left on the calendar.  Once again Matt Brady has positioned himself and his team to finish strongly.  If anything gets the Dukes, it will be their defense, and this is the main concern for the Dragons.  The JMU team profile: lackadaisical on defense, effective on offense, profiles similarly to Hofstra, even though they get there in very different ways.

One thing to look for when studying the #3G/#4G tonight?  One of the biggest weaknesses in a zone is rebounding.  If they put him in, a second forward (specifically Tyshawn Myles) could have a very good night and keep this game interesting.  In the first matchup, the #3G was used for only 3 minutes.  We will learn a lot about the effect of Rodney Williams return by the end of this one, and hopefully it helps this team break the zone, stop taking jumpers, and keep it close.

Between the first meetings outcome, the likelihood that DU goes four guard against the zone and settles for jumpshots yet again, and JMU's marked improvement, it's tough to pick the Dragons here.


Prediction:  JMU 71, DU 64
Vegas Line:  JMU -5*

*This has had a significant drop in early action, insinuating that some of the wise guys out there have already backed the Dragons.  Can't complain about that as a DU fan, hopefully they're right.



Alan Boston's Take:  James Madison plays zone. Everyone knows, Drexel included. Yet when they first met in Philly, it appeared that Drexel had never seen a zone. Much to my chagrin Drexel lost 54-35. Yes, they put up a whopping 35. What would the 30 second clock that they are going to further ruin the game with do to the score? Likely nothing. Since Bruiser is incapable of learning that 4 guards does not work, I am sure that they have not figured out how to attack a zone yet either. James Madison has shot the lights out recently. Perhaps they will head to the norm. If so, they could stay within 10. If not, another rout is on.

James Madison 60 Drexel 42

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Four Guard Conundrum

Drexel Fans:  Over the first 13 years of his tenure, how many times did you say "If only Bruiser had an offensive coordinator", or "He only runs 2 plays!", or perhaps "I'd feel better if we just played prettier offensive basketball" (thanks: CAAZone). I'm pretty sure I've said all of those at some point, likely multiple times.

Now, put yourself in Bruiser's shoes this January:

--You just lost the only forward that you trust implicitly at both ends of the court, Rodney Williams, to injury.  Now the cupboard has only 3 forwards in it, two of whom are freshman.  Forwards tend to take longer to develop than guards in Drexel's system, so pushing them along faster doesn't seem like a sound tactic.

--Iona and Penn St both just shot >40% against the Dragons from behind the arc, and an area that you have always prided yourself in, perimeter defense, is as shaky as it's been in the last decade.

--Your offense is in the bottom 50 in offensive efficiency in D-I.  Since you don't ask the forwards not named Rodney to contribute to the shooting effort, you had been playing 4 on 5 on offense.  Without Rodney available, if you stuck with 2 forwards, you would be playing 3 on 5.

These were the pressing issues at that time.  So looking back, it gets much easier to see why they went to the four guard.  And after a few games of adjustment, the perimeter defense was light years improved, Sammy Mojica - previously buried behind Tavon Allen on the depth chart - was found and his shooting led to a significant increase in offensive production that took some of the load off of Tavon and the point guards shoulders.  And after years of begging for Bru to make adjustments, to change his offense with the times, and to make things prettier, that's exactly what happened.  As a fan, if you're looking at this move in isolation, it should have been reason for applause, not complaint.
However, there is a reason why coming off of making this change, shoring up those problem areas, and then winning six in a row, there is still cause for concern.  Some thought that the four guard was struggling since it needs an athletic, solid defender at the center spot who can move well and help out all over the floor.  Then Rodney returned, and the Dragons rolled.  Why then, the concerns?  Lets start with facts:

Assuming 61 possessions / game (current Drexel average)

Some of the original issues were solved with the four guard.  The offense is better with the four guard to the tune of 4 points per game.  Both the 3G and 4G styles have seen a significant boost since Rodney returned, and also since Sammy Mojica started getting minutes - something that may never have happened without the move to the new set.  Opponents are attempting and hitting less three pointers.  But all of those gains are taken away in multiples by how bad the interior game became.

Even with Rodney back, DU is having an impossible time keeping opponents away from the rim, an issue that runs well beyond last weekends Hofstra encounter.  The rebounding is just as poor, if not worse: Drexel is last in the league in both offensive and defensive rebounding during conference play.  Drexel is only grabbing offensive boards on 24.6% of their missed shots, which would be in the bottom 20 nationally.  To illustrate, if both teams shoot the same from the field:


The problem with that graphic is that we're assuming that both teams shoot the same percentage.  We know from experience, as well as from Bru calling his team the worst shooting team in the conference, that this is unlikely.  Here are those numbers again using current shooting averages:



Since those numbers include shooting and rebounding, the only way to counterbalance them is to beat the opposition badly in the turnover department.  That's a tough hill to climb, although we've seen huge improvement in the DU guards since their early season troubles.  All of that, quite frankly, is inside baseball when the top line is all we need.  Defensively, there is a 17 point per game difference between the three guard and four guard sets.  That's the ballgame.  There may be some bottom feeders that don't take advantage of it, and sometimes Drexel can outshoot a team like UNCW.  But don't miss the point there, Drexel shot 60% against UNCW at home, and still had to hold on late to win.  With their expected year in and year out defense, when DU shoots 60%, they crush people.  They didn't do that to the Dub, and that is a significant red flag.

This team has vastly improved since the start of the season and the staff should be thanked for that.  Part of the reason for that improvement is this new wrinkle to Drexel's game, it found some depth and talent at the end of the roster that had been underutilized.  And if you're a believer that Bru can't teach or adjust offense, but can fix any defense out there, then maybe this is attractive and we just need to give the four guard time.  The offense is better with the four guard, no one is questioning that, so if the defense gets fixed...  That gets interesting, doesn't it?

Having not seen enough signs of defensive improvement (and it would have to be massive improvement), I still believe it's time for this experiment to end.  This team is better doing what it knows, what it practiced all offseason and what it has been successful with since Rodney's return.  Once again on the blog, we reference this:

In the 6 games since Rodney Williams return, the Dragons +/- vs opponents has been:

3 Guard:  +25
4 Guard:  -13

This Drexel team may not be a great team, but its looked good in its base set.  While it can beat the conference dregs in the four guard, Hofstra just showed what happens when the Dragons face a real offense in its small lineup.  With Northeastern and William and Mary looming, it's important to get this fixed now.  If they want to win in Baltimore, they will need to beat the big dogs.  If they want to win in Baltimore, I think we all now know what they need to do.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Addendum

The four guard is better on offense, the coaching staff is entirely correct about that.  As a result, here's the lineups that would optimize performance down the stretch when going offense/defense late in games:

Offense:
London
Mojica
Allen
Lee
R Williams

Defense:
Wilson
Allen
Lee
Bah
R Williams


Offense when the opposing team is fouling:

London
Wilson
Allen
Lee
Bah



Some data from this article was sourced by hand.  That data can be found at on this Google spreadsheet if you're interested or want to double check my math

Monday, February 16, 2015

Hofstra - Learning From Our Mistakes

Final:  Hofstra 81, Drexel 57

Player of the Game:  Tavon Allen
Key to the game:  Not protecting this house
Next Game:  Wednesday, February 18 @ James Madison


Remember that time that Hofstra stopped taking layups and started to take threes against the Dragons in Hempstead and HU fans were losing their minds and Gary Moore said:

Yeah, that was awesome.

And so it was that Joe Mihalich and his layup line of transferring And 1 Mixtape wannabe's traveled to the DAC for the rare Sunday Evening Post performance.  Going into this game, there was one thing that you needed to know:  This Hofstra team is lazy.  Make them work on defense, you will end up meeting them at the rim.  Make them work on offense, they will live and die by the three.  They're good enough shooters that sometimes that will work out for them, but sometimes it won't.

Funny thing though, for all the laziness they bring to the table, the Pride seem to realize that layups are a higher percentage shot than threes.  So if a team such as the Dragons doesn't make them work for either layups or threes, they take the layups.  And take them they did, to the tune of a season low number of three point attempts for the Pride.  Why bother with threes against the Dragons when they give you the rim?

The argument from the coaches at DU would likely be framed in a different way.  They'll remind you of the first Elon game, of College of Charleston at home or Iona, and how this team was lit up by three pont shots.  They went to the four guard to prevent that kind of three point output, and Hofstra just took the lowest number of threes that they have taken all season!

It's apparent that the pendulum needs to swing somewhere in the middle.  Where many of us come from, is where these coaches were not long ago:  Defense starts at home.  Defend the paint first and if they outshout you from distance, then tip your hat.  They could have gone zone, or to the three guard in this game, and forced HU to hit 3's.  Instead they stuck with man to man with 4 guards, the same lineup that they played with in their first meeting with Hofstra.  Sure, they made small adjustments within that, but choose your metaphor, let it be shuffling deck chairs on the titanic, using a garden hose on a five alarm fire, or using a band-aid after getting hit by a .45,  It's some real seeing forest for the trees shit, as Bru might say.

The four guard post will come out tomorrow, but by way of quick primer, against the 4 guard:

First game against Drexel, HU puts up 1.27 points per possession on offense
Second game against DU, HU puts up 1.35 points per possession on offense

Average offensive PPP for HU against Drexel's 4 guard:  1.30

Wisconsin has the highest offensive PPP in the country at 1.25.  Hofstra has outplayed the best offense in the country against Drexel's four guard "defense".  To be clear: if HU played against the DU 4 guard defense year around the Pride would be considered one of the best offensive teams of all time.  That is factual, not hyperbole.  They are running a full .13 per possession (about 8.5 points per game) better than Kentucky is averaging this year.

The Drexel four guard defense doesn't need tweaks.  It doesn't need adjustments.  No sir.  It needs your thoughts and prayers. Much more on that tomorrow. For now, we hope that this was a good game for DU.  Because in a lot of ways, I think playing Elon/College of Charleston/ Towson lulled the staff into thinking that this was becoming a decent defense.  Their oppositions missed layups made things look better than they were, and the Pride may have just smacked some reality into the situation.  While it's disappointing that the staff didn't learn their lesson after the first game against Towson, if they learned it this time, then Drexel (Rodney Williams injury pending) will walk out of this game a much better, stronger team than they went into it.  And that's not so bad.



Four Guard Tracker:

In the 6 games since Rodney Williams return, the Dragons +/- vs opponents has been:

3 Guard:  +25
4 Guard:  -13

Friday, February 13, 2015

Hofstra (Home) - Pregame

What we have here is a problem.

That's how I led off the pregame the first time these teams met.  Despite the return of Rodney Williams, and the upswing of results for Drexel basketball since that time, most of the concerns listed in that pregame still exist:

-Hofstra runs uptempo, they don't turn the ball over and they shoot well
-Juan'ya Green continues to prove that he is the best pg in the conference
-They are coming off of a humbling homecourt loss and will be coming in angry
-Hofstra will very likely outshoot the Dragons

Here's what has changed though.  Drexel's interior defense, even in the four guard, is no longer a total joke.  The return of Rodney Williams' instincts and athleticism (11 blocks in the last two games!) means no longer will Hofstra experience the layup line that they saw against them in the game at Hempstead (leading to this tweet from the outstanding Gary Moore)


Drexel's offense has also ticked up.  Rodney has picked up double digit scoring in 4 of the 6 games since his return, Sammy has been a total surprise success story (he has shot 10/18 (56%) from 3 since the first Hofstra game!) and Damion Lee has had 2 of his 4 most efficient games of the season in that stretch.  If Tavon, who continues to try to battle through injury, were to come around, this offense will make this team a legitimate contender.  In short, almost everything Drexel does has improved since the wakeup call on Long Island.

It's the matchup that remains a problem.  Hofstra's weakness is on the defensive end of the court,  Not surprisingly, effort is an issue at Transfer U.  Teams that are known to run a number off offensive plays and take risks tend to get rewarded by the porous tribe.  Specifically, Northeastern and William and Mary have all put up a ridiculous 1.2+ points per possession in their combined 3 games against HU.  William and Mary dropped triple digits on them.

Drexel doesn't have a push the envelope offense,  As Bill Coen noted, they don't make the risky pass that gets the open layup.  They won't make Hofstra pay for defensive lazyness nearly as much as the teams at the top of this conference will.  It will still be jumpshots.  And while the jumpshots have gotten better, Drexel's jumpshots can't keep up with Hofstra.  Especially if the four guard gets crushed on the boards like it has the last few times out.  If this game comes down to who converts more on offense rather than Drexel stuffing HU with slow, effective play and good defense, Drexel is in trouble.  The gap between these teams has closed significantly, but the styles still favor those from the island.




Lastly, a little tease for next weeks early week piece on the four guard:

A Valentine's Card not written to me by Bruiser Flint:

"Roses are Red, Violets are Blue
You bitched about my offense for 13 years, I changed it up with the 4 guard which has been 
effective and you're still complaining so  you."


Prediction:  Hofstra 72, Drexel 66
Vegas Line:  Hofstra -1.5


Alan Boston's Notes:  When Drexel last saw Hofstra they were an angry group, losers of 2 straight. They jumped all over hapless Drexel, winning 86-58. That was Drexel pre Williams. That was Drexel in total disarray. Since then Drexel has won 6 in a row. They continue to dabble with 4 guards which ultimately will stop them from having a shot at the NCAA tournament, but with the return of Williams, 4 guards has been used fewer minutes. Still, anything over 0 seconds, is entirely too much. I continue to write of my disdain for Drexel and 4 guards. I repeat that Bruiser did not recruit for and does not coach 4 guards well. It should be banished from the play book. It is not Drexel basketball. Enough.

Hofstra entered conference play as one of the favorites. They are 8-5 in conference. They have struggled vs the top teams in the league, losing twice to Northeastern and getting drilled at William & Mary. They were fortunate to open at UNCW  before UNCW got used to their new coaches system. Hofstra lost the rematch at home. Basically, they have been good at bullying. So is Drexel one of the top teams? I think if they play Drexel ball, meaning super slow on offense and super tough on defense, they are a notch below the top 2. When 4 guards enters, they are a notch above the bottom 2. If Bruiser even dreams of 4 guards vs a Joe Mihalech coached team, he needs to seek help. Drexel will win this game if they impose their will on Hofstra, if Bruiser coaches what he knows, what these players were recruited to do. Drexel will lose this game, if they do not. Since teams that control tempo dictate whether the pace is slowed or not, it is 100% on Bruiser whether he wants to win this game or not.

Drexel 62 Hofstra 60


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Towson (home) - The Happy Recap

Final:  Drexel 53, Towson 49

Player of the Game:  Damion Lee
Key to the game:  Interior Defense
Next Game:  Sunday February 15 vs Hofstra @ the DAC

The Dragons played 26 minutes in the 3 guard and 14 at the 4 in this game (more on that in an upcoming post).  They played slow.  Damion Lee had a ho hum 23 points and the front court even tossed in an efficient 13.  They played excellent defense and Towson only shot 31% from the field.  

So why was this game close?

Last two games:  Drexel has 9 offensive rebounds to their opponents 39.  In this game it was Drexel 6, Towson 23.  Not 23 rebounds, 23 offensive rebounds.  That's putting the offensive in offensive.  Now before we get too far ahead of ourselves, C of C and Towson are two of the better rebounding teams in the conference, and they need to be since they miss a lot.  Drexel knew going in that the boards were going to be tough for them, but I don't think they expected to be well... I just googled "alternative phrases to being someones b" and nothing came back.  So I'm not saying I'm going with that, but I'm not saying I'm not.  23-6.  Mercy.  

The practical application to that is that Towson got the rebound on over 50% of the shots they missed.  On most possessions, Drexel had to try to stop Towson not once, but twice.  As inept as TU is, that's asking for trouble.  At some point - and that point is next game against Hofstra- Drexel is going to run into a team that won't let them get away with that.  

Here's what's cool though.  The Dragons had one big (ok, gigantic) problem, but beat Towson in every other way possible.  Rodney Williams was representative of his entire team.  Perhaps still getting his legs back under him a bit, his rebounding numbers have been well off since his return, but his 10 points on only 6 field goal attempts and 6 blocked shots (!!) make his final line still look good.  Sammy Mojica put together his sixth straight game with over a point per possession efficiency and is now second on the team in effective field goal percentage behind Damion Lee.  Mohamed Bah put up 6 boards, an assist and a steal in just a 22 minute shift.  

More importantly, as a team the Dragons only had 5 turnovers, which offset some of the Tigers rebounding advantage.  They kept John Davis in check and only allowed 9 three point attempts, few of which were good looks.  The actually ran some lobs off the weave and turned those into dunks.  Bruiser's squad led almost cover to cover yet again and even with the 3 ball vacant from their game (20%) they had over a point per possession on offense.  That's what getting to the rim, and making the pass inside can do, and they're doing that now.  If the days of living and dying by the three are over, then we should all say good riddance...  and yes, give the staff the credit for getting the team there.

After playing the three worst teams in the conference back to back to back things are looking up.  It's a good time to remind ourselves that this is what usually happens when the schedule is that weak, and that things get harder from here.  But fundamentally, regardless of the opposition, this team is playing better basketball.  They have an absurdly tough matchup for them on Sunday, a real test to see how much they have improved while picking on the little guys.  Personally, I can't wait to see how that test goes.  

See you at the DAC.


Four Guard Tracker:

In the 4 games since Rodney Williams return, the Dragons +/- vs opponents has been:

3 Guard:  +33
4 Guard:  +3

In this game the four guard allowed 13 offensive rebounds in just 14 minutes

Damion POY Tracker:

Damion Lee will likely move into the top 10 in All-Time Drexel Scoring and Career Free throws within the next two games, and certainly in the next three.  More on that information can be found at the absolutely outstanding http://dragonshistory.weebly.com/

Kenpom O-Rating: 118.6 (3rd, 2nd amongst guards)
PPG:  21.9 (1st)
FG%: 46.5% (5th, 3rd amongst guards)
3pt FG%: 40.5% (5th)
FT%: 90.4% (1st)
RBP: 6.8 (4th)
APG: 2.4 (15th)
Steals/G: 1.5 (5th)
Min: 38.6 (1st)

Currently Kenpom has Damion as the Conference POY.  Current Kenpom.com all conference team:

1. Damion Lee
2. Marcus Thornton
3. Terry Tarpey
4. Juan'ya Green
5. Scott Eatherton

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Towson (home) - Pregame

Four games ago the Dragons hit a stretch where the matchups made anything possible, and they went 4-0.  Two games ago I said that the Dragons needed 3 wins in order to keep themselves out of playing on Friday Night in Baltimore.  No "Pillow Fight Friday" team has ever won the CAA Tourney, so this was an especially relevant goal.  Now, they're just one win away from "should be good" territory.  With a very tough matchup coming up on Saturday, followed by 3 of the final 4 games on the road, now would be a very good time to get that third win.

The Dragons already defeated Towson on the road this year, and they are just the type of team that DU likes to play.  Big, slow, and very weak on the offensive side of the ball.  The Tigers are last in the conference in 3pt field goal percentage and first in missed free throw percentage.  The Tigers lone shooter, Four McGlynn is an easy cover since he is the only guard worth paying attention to on the perimeter.  Drexel beat these guys on the road and the Dragons are even better now than they were then, so this game should be a walk in the park, no?

Well, no.  Coach Skerry has been finding ways to minimize how terrible his team is shooting the ball.  Namely, everyone meets at the basket.  The Tigers are 1st in the conference on the offensive glass, and first in the country at getting to the foul line.  If the Dragons start getting silly and go small, or run, then they will be doing TU a tremendous favor.  Looking at the first game - this is big - the Dragons played a half hour of four guard, but they also kept the pace to an absolute crawl.  With just 49 possessions, it was one of the slowest games in the entire country this year.  End result?  Dragons guards calmed down, the team only had 3 turnovers, and a turnover differential of +8 is how they won.

So that is what we want to see after this game tips at 6pm at the DAC.  Low and slow, like good barbecue.  Bru did mention how strong Towson's rebounding was after last game, so we know that is an area of concern to the staff and will hopefully lead to some more minutes for the big guys.  Towson is 3-3 in their last 6 and playing better basketball themselves, but when two teams play similar styles, it's always nice to be the more talented team, also playing at home.  The only concern on the books is that the players and staff have had exceptionally good press this week for a 9-14 basketball team, and could come out a little flat and overconfident.  Still, no excuse to lose this one.


Prediction:  Drexel 57 - Towson 45
Vegas Line:  Drexel -4


Alan Boston's Notes:  Towson is next up for Drexel. They last met in early January an easy 55-41 road win for Drexel. This happened pre Williams return, so with RW back, this should be easy. Towson has lost 2 in a row. Drexel has won 5 in a row, so this should be a cake walk. There is nothing Towson can do to hurt Drexel. There will be absolutely NO REASON for Bruiser to use that reprehensible 4 guard thing, so how can Drexel ever lose? Well, as easy as this looks and Drexel will be a decent fave for sure, danger still looms. Teams that lose at home, play to higher level in the road rematch, so Towson will be more than ready here. Drexel has played mostly great in their 5 game winning streak, but like the peaks they are at now, there are always valleys lurking. There is a good chance Drexel shows up flat for this game. Yes, I feel Towson will have more energy, more focus for the rematch. Is this enough to pull the upset? Well, again, it all depends on the number 4.  Since there is not a single good reason to go 4 guards vs Towson, I think Drexel superior talent will be enough to get by.

Drexel 58 Towson 56

Monday, February 9, 2015

College of Charleston - The Happy Recap

When the opposition shoots 29%, misses layups and open 3's (actually, all of their deep shots, they went 0-11 behind the arc) what more detail do you need?  Teams from lower divisions would have beaten Charleston on Saturday.  It's not about the game story this time, it's about what we've learned from this 4 game stretch, part of a 6-1, 7 game run the Dragons are on.

#DUBelieve

I made fun of that hashtag on twitter in mid January.  A week after I did, Athletics hung a billboard facing my office window with that hashtag on it.  And let me tell you something, if making fun of the Athletic Department means the basketball team starts winning games, then I'm about to lay down some smack.  Like a lot of smack.  Like Eric Zillmer's Ego is so big, it demands two psychologist at the same time - unless one of them is him - then one will do. But alas, I don't think my making fun of the Athletics Department is actually helping the team win, so I won't do that.

What has been helping this team win?  Certainly the return of Rodney Williams.  Five straight games of over a point per possession efficiency from Sammy Mojica.  Turnovers are down, point guard Rashann London only has one game in conference play with more than 2, which is very strong for that position.  Damion Lee certainly has been a can't miss part of the success.

Better shooters are taking the shots too.  Freddie Wilson hasn't taken more than 3 shots in a game in the last month.  Tavon Allen is using his body much better and taking more contact, perhaps overcoming his injuries a bit.  In the last month he has taken 31 free throws.  In the month prior: 10.  Tyshawn Myles is the frontcourt answer to Sammy Mojica: High energy freshman that will make mistakes but will also make enough plays to more than justify his minutes on the floor.  Most importantly, as a team they're winning.  After collecting 3 wins in the first two months of the season, they have 6 in the last month.

Certainly scheduling has played into things.  After a challenging out of conference schedule, the CAA is much weaker.  The Dragons have only beaten two decent teams during this streak, and both of those were home games.  It took shooting 60% to win one of those as well, and lets not expect that to happen again.  The question then looms.  While there has been significant improvement, should you #DUBelieve quite yet?  Or has the shift just been from being one of the worst teams in Division I to a non-laughingstock, an improvement, but still not exactly a contender?

Regardless of whether you choose to be a cynic, or to #DUBelieve, the improvement in this team is unquestionable.  The coaches should get, and deserve, the plaudits that are coming their way.  On a personal level, how am I grading them out?  The same way I have been all year:

In the last 4 games since Rodney Williams return, the Dragons +/- vs opponents has been:

3 Guard:  +37
4 Guard:  -5

I would #DUBelieve that this team was a contender if this staff ran their stuff, their sweet spot, what they've run forever.  Right now, knowing they will look to go 4 guard against the top conference teams such as W&M or Hofstra, I can't buy in.  There has been improvement, and a team that many, including myself, had thought was lost has been found.  They can't defend or rebound in that set though, and continuing to watch them try is driving this fan mad.  They're close now, and we all can see a way for them to compete.  DUBelieve that they will though?

Comments section below.  Let me know what you believe.

Friday, February 6, 2015

College of Charleston (away) - Pregame

This game can be summarized in two terms:  Great Matchup and Bad Spot.

After back to back games against teams that want to go small and run, Drexel comes up against the slow, lumbering giant of the conference.  The first time around, this meant DU going three guard for as long as they could (They only had three available forwards and Tyshawn Myles was in quick foul trouble, limiting the #3Guard to 18 minutes).  That slow it down gameplan wasn't dominant against the Cougars, it was DOMINANT.  The Dragons played so clean that Charleston shot almost 70% (9/13) from 3 and still lost the game.  This is the best matchup in the conference for the Dragons.

Much like Elon, the Cougars are playing only one forward of significance, Senior Adjehi Baru.  They're 2-9 record shows that the guards haven't been up for the pressure that has been put on them. Canyon Barry is still trying to do much more than he is able to at this point in his development, and while Joe Chealey has impressed at times this year, his zero points in his first outing against Drexel showed that the lengthy DU guards can contain him.  The Cougars third guard, freshman Cameron Johnson has shown a shot from the perimeter and may very well develop into a very good CAA guard, but he still needs some time to develop.

It's not all bad news for the Cougars though.  They just got back Anthony Stitt.  Stitt had been struggling prior to getting hurt in early January but his return brings with it much needed depth and fresh legs for The College.  Keep in mind how much Rodney Williams had struggled prior to his injury, and look at the Dragons since he has come back.  Beyond Stitt's return, effort has never been in question for C of C, they fought hard at DU and have been in almost every game this year.  They've shown marked improvement of late, prior to their big upset win over William and Mary on Thursday, they had lost all four of their previous road games by less than 4 points, and took UNCW to OT in their sole home game in that stretch.  This is a better team than their record indicates.

And that is what is scary for the Dragons.  The Cougars represent as a bad team and one that can be taken lightly, and they aren't that.  They're playing their best basketball of the season right now, and they'll be fighting hard on their home court, on their Homecoming day.  In addition, with back to back road games with one day between, time is short for the Dragons to travel, rest and prepare for this contest.  A "lets just win and get home" mentality is how a team in Drexel's shoes goes home with a loss.

Before the Northeastern game, I posted this:

The first half of the conference season closes with a big one at the DAC, and it kicks off a stretch of games that will almost certainly determine the Dragons seeding when they head to Baltimore.  Consider that two of these four games will be played in the rockfight style that the Dragons have found favorable (Northeastern, Charleston), one is a revenge game at home against a good but not great UNCW squad and the final game is against an Elon team that is 1-4 in its last 5.  On the flip side, two of these four games are against teams tied for first in the conference, one is against an Elon team that destroyed the Dragons, and the final game is a Saturday road game that will involve short rest travel.  Storylines abound.  Lets just project a 2-2 split and call it a day shall we?

Regardless of what happens in Charleston, this has been a significant and successful stretch.  The chance to go 4-0 is in front of the team though, and doing so will make some real believers around this conference before a brutal stretch run.  If they want to be taken for real, they need to beat the 10th place team in the conference, no matter what circumstances may surround the game.  Anything else and they may avoid Friday, but they will be the same old "Bruiser's Dragons" - the team that every other CAA team hopes to play in Baltimore.


Prediction:  Drexel 60, Charleston 59
Vegas Line:  Charleston -4.5

Alan Boston's Notes:  Stitt returned for C of C to help upset William & Mary. He had 10 points 5 rebounds 5 assists off the bench. I was not sure Stitt's injury would hurt C of C but in fact their power rating dropped a half a point. I always felt that injured players who miss a good chunk of the year have a greater positive impact than the norm. Where others are wearing down, they have a ton of energy. This seems to permeate the team, so I expect underachieving C of C, to finish conference better than they began. 

C of C has been a major disappointment. WIth a Greg Marshall assistant as their new head coach, I thought it would be a huge upgrade. The program has always been strong, so talent is always good. But like most of my thoughts, I am wrong. They have struggled right from the git go. The start of conference did not change things, not at all. They did however, play their best game of the year last game. They recently blew a big lead up at Drexel. They were missing Stitt in that one. However, Drexel  was without Williams. Since his return Drexel has found a new gear or 2 or 3. Williams returned the game after Drexel's come back vs C Of C. They have won all 3 rather impressively. However, the battle rages on. Bruiser refuses to abandon his 4 guard set, that he began to help counter Williams loss. If Bruiser continues to try and make it work, Drexel will not make a deep run in the conference tournament. Sad, because they could potentially win it. There is no other team that will grind out a typical tournament half court slugfest as well as Drexel. Four guards takes Drexel away from that, which is their strength, their edge over others. This is a very tough spot for Drexel, playing with short rest, back to back on the road. They are also facing a team that will be super motivated after blowing the game at Drexel. They seem re-energized by Stitts return. However I would not count Drexel out. It comes down to the same sentence. If I knew for sure Bru would eliminate 4 guards, despite the tough circumstance, Drexel would be my pick here. But that does not seem to be happening, so with some regret

C of C 68 Drexel 61

Elon - The Happy Recap

Final:  Drexel 67, Elon 63

Player of the Game:  Mohamed Bah
Key to the game:  "Money" In The Paint (That's Mo and Rodney folks, work with me) go for 17 and 14
Next Game:  Thursday, February 5 @ Elon


We're going streaking!

The Will Ferrell clip above was the low hanging fruit that prevented me from posting some Hooked on a Feeling.  Who knows, a win in Charleston and maybe I'll start getting high on believing.  No one game should get anyone too high or low, much less when the opponent stinks up the joint all by themselves.  With that disclaimer out of the way, there were a ton of good signs from this game.

First and foremost, the Dragons played four guard, didn't shoot the lights out, and still won.  The four guard is very weak against teams that score in the interior and rebound.  Despite Elon's lone big man, Tony Sabato, only having 5 points on 6 shots (he was well looked after by Rodney Williams and Mohammed Bah) the Phoenix still had 26 points in the paint.  Elon guards had 21 points in the paint, and that's the problem with the lineup that Bru has been trotting out there, because when that is combined with a frontcourt scorer, that is just way too much to give up at the rim.  One only needs to go back to Iona's 38 points in the paint to see that.  

Where is the good sign that in that?  Well, early in the conference season, Drexel wasn't even slowing teams down in the paint.  UNCW and their mediocre frontcourt had 30 points in the paint against them.  It seems that the guys have adjusted and are figuring things out a bit, and the return of Rodney Williams makes the four guard slightly more palatable.  No longer is Drexel among the worst teams in division I when they run four guard.  They're showing right now that they can beat bad teams with it.  Expect them to still get smoked when they run this against Hofstra or William and Mary, but prior to these last two games there was no faith that this lineup could beat even the worst teams in Division I.  Now, we can comfortably say that we're passed that stage.

A largely unspoken concern this season was the significant decline in Mohamed Bah's rebounding numbers.  Quite frankly, Damion Lee had better per possession numbers than Bah this season, and Damion doesn't even spend that much time in the paint.  So seeing Mohamed well positioned, ready for the ball, rocking some dunks, on his way to 10 points and 9 rebounds in just 21 minutes is fantastic.  It's actually better than that:  He had a steal, and didn't have a single foul or turnover all night.  While there is still plenty of work to be done for the sophomore, this will go down as almost a perfect game for him, and it'll be close, wanting only one or two possessions back.  As noted above, Bah and Rodney Williams combined for 17/14 with just 2 turnovers and 3 fouls.  They combined for only 45 minutes.  That's like putting one All-CAA caliber forward on the court.  Again, don't get too excited here and remember the opposition, but that has to be great for the coaching staff to see and will hopefully lead to even more passes to the bigs from their guards.

Want more good signs?  We've got em.  Damion Lee scores only 4 points in the second half, but the Dragons still put up 36!  Not only did Tavon Allen have his second straight efficient game (27 points on 19 fg attempts in his last two outings) but Sammy Mojica is rising just as fast as that Bad Moon that Creedence Clearwater Revival is always talking about.  His 12 second half points (just 7 attempts) paced the Dragons when they needed to find that second scorer.  And find him they have, Sammy has now put up 9+ points in six straight games, providing the guard accompaniment to Damion Lee's opponent wrecking ball.  How big has Sammy been?  Check this out from kenpom.com:


As Sammy's offensive efficiency (O-Rating) goes, so do the Dragons, don't they?

So good signs at guard.  Good signs at forward.  Damion Lee.  If this team slows down and plays the three guard, maybe they can stay over .500 in conference play, despite a brutally challenging stretch run.  Just imagine this lineup out there:

London/Wilson
Sammy Mojica/Tavon Allen
Damion Lee
Tyshawn Myles/Austin Williams
Rodney Williams/Mohamed Bah

And before anyone jumps on this, yes Tavon Allen does a lot for this team.  But ball don't lie and the offensive efficiency drop from Sammy to him is statistically obscene.

That lineup features a true pg, two options to be the hot hand at SG, the best player in the league at the three, a guy who may turn into the best rebounder since Samme at the four and two guys who are totally reliable to compete with anyone in the conference, and provide some offense at the 5.  That team can compete in this league.  So don't read too much into one game, but read something into the streaking.  Improvement!