March Madness starts for the Dragon faithful at 6pm on Friday night against the Elon University Phoenix. The Dragons roll into Baltimore winners of two of their last three and playing some of their best basketball of the season, for whatever that might be worth. While there are a number of headwinds for the Dragons in this game, there's plenty of reason for Friday night optimism.
The elephant in the room exists. 14 years, no CAA Tournament championships for Bruiser Flint's teams. Only 6 victories in 14 tournament appearances. Never beaten a team that finished the regular season with a better record than the Dragons. In 8 of the 14 years the Dragons lost to a team they were seeded higher than. That track record isn't futility, it is insanity. For those counting at home, they had been upset 5 times in 10 years prior to Bruiser getting his previous raise and contract extension, Eric Zillmer, bless your soul.
The headwinds are not entirely historical however. In the last two years the Phoenix and Dragons have squared off four times with Elon winning three of the four matchups. The Phoenix have done it on the back of outstanding three point shooting, open looks and sound offense that can even net them an easy two at times despite Drexel's athletic superiority. Matt Matheny constantly changes his defenses, and Drexel regularly faces man to man, a 1-3-1, and at times even full court pressure in these matchups. The Dragons continue to be whoa-fully under-prepared each time the 1-3-1 makes its "surprising" presence, which has helped Elon get out in transition at times as well. The Phoenix run and gun style clashes significantly with Drexel's possession based "Barbecue" offense (low and slow). When the two systems meet, it has tended to be advantage Elon.
The final significant piece of the Elon challenges is one man. Senior wing Tanner Samson has been a Dragon wrecking crew. The spot up three point shooter has gotten looks in every game the teams have played, and that is indicative of a larger defensive problem for the Dragons. He is averaging 9 three point attempts per game against the Dragons in his career. That speaks to the broader issues of open looks at the perimeter that this Elon team gets against a Dragons defense that just doesn't lock down when they play this team. The Dragon defense must get out to the arc if they want a good chance in this game. Look to Tanner Samson as the indicator, if they hold him to less than 6 three point attempts, the Dragons are having a much better day at the office.
That is where this game changes. Because it's a known entity, the Dragons can defend the perimeter when they show up prepared to do so. And while Elon is 2-0 against the Dragons this year, they won those games by a combined 10 points, and shot over 50% from downtown to even do that. When Elon isn't shooting like they can't miss, they have been played even or better by the Dragons. The Elon interior defense has more holes than swiss cheese and Drexel should have an advantage on the glass as well.
Down the stretch this season the team roles have appeared more defined, front court scoring has spiked and the early season turnover issue seems under control. Terrell Allen has looked much more comfortable over the last month of the season, and as Denise Dillon stated in yesterday's piece "When you have understanding it leads to confidence." With a healthy, confident Terrell and two big men that are playing the best basketball of their season, Drexel will walk into this game with the ingrediants they need to make a win. If Tavon Allen, Sammy Mojica or Rashann London find their stroke and provide the extra piece the Dragons need to push themselves over the top, this is a very winnable team.
Elon was a seven win team in a pretty good CAA this year, but they didn't do it all that impressively, Five of their seven wins come against teams that are playing in the Friday night play in games, and one additional win came during Northeastern's 0-4 run when they were missing Quincy Ford. Elon's victories come by beating the teams that they should beat. On paper, and in Vegas, the Phoenix will be a favorite tonight. But on a talent basis, this Drexel team is simply better. That, and they might just find a little win one for the gipper deep in their souls.
Prediction: Drexel 68, Elon 60
Vegas Line: Elon -5
Alan Boston's Take:
In game one with Drexel on short rest playing back to back on the road, Elon won rather easily, with a late Drexel run making the final closer than game. In the rematch, Drexel was in control until Elon started hitting some shots. Drexel blew the lead and the game again. However, Elon is beatable. They do not do anything very tricky. If Drexel can somehow play with intelligence for most of, not even the entire game, this game is winnable. Drexel has underachieved this year for a myriad of reasons, but underachievers sometimes find the new season that the conference tournament brings a sense of relief. With little confidence:
Drexel 69 Elon 68
College of Charleston barely beat Delaware 59-58 at home and then trailed the entire game in the loss at Delaware. However, shorthanded Delaware really hit a wall the last 2 games of the year. The home loss to Elon showed a team that has had enough. With so few bodies, the week off should help Delaware at least compete a bit better. Not sure what Delaware does if anything, that bothers C of C. The Cougars have a terrific coach and struggles of both regular season games should have them ready. Delaware will hang for a bit, but I think the long season of playing with so few bodies and not much talent, will show. Charleston eventually gets away.
C of C 74 Delaware 55