Thursday, March 31, 2016

Next Steps

With the coaching search complete, and Zach Spiker having at least seen his office chair once it seems time to look forward to the nuts and bolts of what will certainly be a hectic offseason.  The good news for Coach Spiker is that relative to his last job, he has an ocean of time in front of him to prepare.  The bad news is he’s already behind the eight ball, noticeably more with the transfer announcement of Terrell Allen.
The first priority for this week and next is to assemble his staff.  The men’s basketball staff, as it sits, seems a bit thin:

While those plans are certainly in motion already, look for them to get wrapped up in the coming days, likely while Coach Spiker and Dr. Zillmer join the rest of the coaching community at the Final Four in Houston. 

Spiker had a relatively fresh staff at Army with the exception of Jimmy Allen, who just became Head Coach at Army.  That Army wants to retain Spiker’s staff should be seen as a good sign by Drexel and Army fans alike, but it also takes Allen’s name out of consideration for the Drexel bench.  Beyond Allen, we will see if Spiker can bring with him one of Justin Jennings, Brandon Linton or Drew Adams. 

The rest of the staff will have to come from elsewhere.  Once they do, it’ll be on to the very significant phase two:  player retention and recruiting for this year and next.  Before the recruiting begins the staff will need to know how many holes they have to fill.  Once they do, it’ll be off to the races as local and national recruiting showcases (hello Donofrio Classc) are already underway.  It’s these first two phases of this offseason that will likely shape the next 2-3 years of Drexel basketball, they are vitally important.  And with the transfers being announced left and right, and the spring recruiting efforts off and running time is of the essence. 

The importance of this time of year is why UNCW looked like a dumpster fire when they fired their coach midseason and didn’t have a new one signed immediately following the season.   And it’s why every Dragon fan looks on and chuckles as the University of Delaware takes their sweet time hiring a new AD and only then will hire a new coach, knowingly losing this time in the process and watching their men’s basketball program meltdown around them.

While his staff, retention and recruiting efforts go on in this critical time period, Coach Spiker will also have the “minor” responsibility of relocating his family, helping his wife settle in their three children to a new environment and all of the logistics around that.  This is all a way of saying that now that he has been introduced, fans may not see the coach for a bit.  That is a good thing.  April isn’t the time to be creating excitement in the fanbase, nor for dog and pony shows.  The recruiting dead period in late May or July?  Look for a gathering.  When ticket sales start up in September, absolutely.  But for today, lets just watch what he can do with a one month head start on Delaware.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016


Zach Spiker was introduced as the new Drexel Men's Basketball Head Coach today, in front of a crowd of (in order of estimated quantity):

1)  People paid by Drexel or on a Drexel Scholarship
2)  Assorted media
3)  Penn Athletics Staff
4a) Friends and Family
4b) Drexel Basketball Supporters

Generating support for the program is something that will be discussed throughout this offseason, beginning on these pages later this week.  Prior to that will be a triage campaign to maintain the level of support that the program currently has going into the off-season.  But if the reader is a donor, or a season ticket holder, or just a fan at large, and a Drexel Athletics staff member happens to cross your path over the next few weeks, here is a question to offer them:

What direction is the program going?

The Spiker hiring was an aggressive, and exciting move.  Besides what Coach Spiker brings to the table on the court, the Athletics Department is saving - this is a technical term - oodles of money over the next five years.  Most of that savings comes from paying Coach Spiker rather than Bruiser and his Associate Head Coach's sizable contract.  Will there be an announcement of where that extra allocation will go?

In Dr. Zillmer's letter to fans, no goals were stated for Coach Spiker with the exception of "He will do great things for Drexel." Stating specific goals in an email before the new coach even meets his team would have been overly aggressive, but a head nod towards a broad goalpost would have been useful.  And if this was such a significant day for the university, why wouldn't there be an effort made to ensure it was scheduled at a time that the University President could attend?

Perhaps more insight into the programs direction will be given once the Assistant Coaches are signed.   It's worth remembering that the off-season is barely upon us and that there is plenty of time before next season begins.  But at any time during the process it should be important to potential donors to know if and how the school is investing in its flagship athletics program.  Is this program high on the President's agenda? If one donates, are they going to see the school do their part to ensure a return on that investment?  Are there clear and public goals and standards that the money will go towards?   And after a new coach was hired, and after a public speach by the Athletic Director, how are these questions now more relevant, and not less?

Donating to a program without a clear agenda or goals, or a program that is just stagnant...  well, there's a belief that Drexel fans don't like lighting their money on fire.  The hiring of Coach Spiker is an exciting move, but it can't be the final move of this offseason, rather it needs to be the first step in clear leadership.  President Fry, Dr. Zillmer now need to execute a decisive "first hundred day" vision that shows leadership, direction, and an avenue for return on investment for potential donors.  What they can't do is leave the current question out there floating for months.

What direction is the program going?

Friday, March 25, 2016

Just #SpikeIt

One of the great advantages of writing on the internet is the ability to reference through link, and in this case also attach additional documentation.  Please see the bottom of the piece for some additional related documents.

I don't say this to be braggadocious but Drexel basketball is huge.

That's the clear message sent by the business-first President Fry and Drexel Board of Trustees.  When businesses are unsuccessful and their failures would cause mass chaos for the American economic system, the government is forced to step in and protect the citizens.  At Drexel, with the legitimate possibility of the DAC roof collapsing at any time because well, it's the DAC, they turned to America's muscle.  On Thursday March 24, 2016 it was widely published (Adam Hermann of the Triangle had it first) that Army basketball coach Zach Spiker would be the next men's basketball coach of the Drexel Dragons.

A quick gauge of the online community shows the move appears to be met with mixed reviews.  Coach Spiker wasn't one of the "hot" names coming into the offseason, he has an under .500 record and local recruiting connections may or may not exist.  When that's whats on the label, it's easy to understand that some will question the move.  The Drexel coaching job is a strong opportunity in a strong conference, a position which would be a significant stepping stone for hundreds of coaches - so why this one?  The answers come just as easy as the question, and begin with a mea culpa.

While we at the blog did an exhaustive search for candidates before writing our now largely ironic 21 Guns piece, we missed a few names.  It was within hours of posting the piece that Coach Spiker's name came up multiple times from sources.  He was a hot name, we just whiffed.  That's on us as a reporting entity.

With regards to Coach Spiker's under .500 record, Army went 25-35 (.417) in the two years prior to Coach Spiker taking the reins.  Once he arrived on campus, on short notice he couldn't do the normal coaching shortcuts, flipping the team with transfers, dumping academic standards, or pouring cash into recruiting - this was Army.  He had two options.  Roll up his sleeves with the players he had available or roll up his damned sleeves with the players he had available.  And while his career record at Army may be under .500, in the final 3 years of his 7 at West Point, when all of the players had spent four years playing for him, the teams record was 49-45 (.521).  At West Point.  This season, with a senior laden team and lofty goals that were enabled by his work at Army, may have been disappointing.  Certainly the home blowout postseason loss to Holy Cross gives reason for pause.  But for those pointing at his career win loss record at Army as a reason for concern, it might be worth a deeper look.  There's no there, there.

To put it bluntly, the recruiting issue is a concern.  Coming from 7 years on the Hudson, where recruiting is unlike 347 other NCAA D-I institutions, it has to be.  The response to this is twofold.  First, no judgement should be made until he fills out his staff (Associate Head Coach Ashley Howard would be as exciting as it would be unexpected and unrealistic).  Second see this, from that rat bastard really good guy and really good coach who coaches at the hellhole down the block:

"Zach has an incredible work ethic, he's willing to put in the time. I think a lot of guys in this business think recruiting is making a big splash and being dynamic in a setting. ... In reality it's the guy that's going to develop relationships over time through hard work, and really fulfilling all the things he talks about with the coaches and the families, and Zach does a great job of staying on top of kids and making them realize he's there for them. He did that for us time and again."

Sounds pretty similar to the last guy to coach at DU, doesn't it?  And he wasn't such a bad recruiter himself.

For all of the great opportunity at Drexel there is an understanding that no potential hire will be a slam dunk.  Gregg Marshall, Brad Stevens, Mark Few, those guys aren't walking through that door.  The options available at a place like Drexel are a coach who has stubbed his toe at a higher level and is looking for an opportunity to reboot, a coach who has been moderately successful at a similar or lower institution, a coach without Head Coaching experience or... a gamble.  And at this level, if you're going to gamble it better be an educated gamble.  And that appears to be the best definition of what this hire is.

We know Coach Spiker has been reasonably successful in unusual and challenging circumstances.  We can see his pedigree, which is an absolute murderers row.  Gregg Marshall, John Beilein, Steven Donahue.  And while Bru had Coach Cal at the top of his cell phone, if a recruit asks, Coach Spiker can get Coach K or Bobby Knight on the line, relationships he has seemed to have forged at West Point.  We also have some numbers (we'll post another article down the road with more details on numbers and what to expect on the floor) that can tell a story.  Keeping in mind the most predictive stats the public has available today are two point shooting percentage, two point defense and turnovers, all of which showed marked improvement from his first season at Army to his seventh:

Educated Gamble

This wasn't the safe choice.  It wasn't the easy choice.  But it's a high ceiling choice.  It's an aggressive, go for it move, that yes, has a deep floor as well.  Mixed reviews, especially if one doesn't look deeply into the choice, are understandable.  But all of that is burying the lede.  Drexel Athletics just went big.  They got aggressive.  They took a well informed gamble.  Given the complacency that is so often spoken of, this is a stunning move.  In his email (posted below) to season ticket holders, Dr. Zillmer spoke of Coach Spiker's energy, his uptempo style, and his "modern coaching" (we'll figure out what that means, promise).  He even used this line:

In fact, Zach’s brand of basketball and personality perfectly fits the aspirations of our University as a creative, fast-paced, and innovative institution of higher learning.

It just got a little chillier in Hell, didn't it?

Lets make it a deep freeze.

President Fry, Dr. Zillmer and their staff should be lauded for taking a shot.  The letter to fans brilliantly captures and responds to many of the frustrations that have been verbalized for the better part of a decade now.  This move can be called a lot of things, but it can't be called safe, complacent, or asleep at the wheel.  It's an aggressive shot across the bow to Drexel's CAA brethren, especially those 45 minutes down I-95.  And it makes today a proud day to be a Dragon.

For reference:

Coach Spiker's West Point Contract
Coach Spiker's Army Bio

Letter from Dr. Eric Zillmer to fans:

Dear Drexel Basketball Season Ticket Holders,

I wanted to share the great news with you that Zach Spiker, who led Army West Point to its most wins in more than 30 years, has been named the new men’s basketball coach at Drexel University.

Coach Zach Spiker is an exceptional coach and person. He has unbelievable energy and he is a true CEO and modern coach of college basketball. I know you will come to love coach Spiker. His team plays a tactical, up-tempo pace and exceptionally creative basketball. Coach Spiker has a contagious energy and will bring a new excitement to the Drexel fan base, the CAA, and the City of Philadelphia.

In fact, Zach’s brand of basketball and personality perfectly fits the aspirations of our University as a creative, fast-paced, and innovative institution of higher learning.

Drexel’s new coach will be formally introduced to the Drexel community on Tuesday next week at noon outside the DAC. I would like to invite all of you to attend this event.

Zach also worked under well-respected coaches and administrators, all of who endorsed him enthusiastically as an ambassador of basketball and a “sure thing.”
John Beilein – Head Coach, University of Michigan
Gregg Marshall – Head Coach, Wichita State
Steve Donahue – Head Coach, University of Pennsylvania
Kevin Anderson – AD, University of Maryland
Mentored by Mike Kryzewski, Head Coach at Duke University and former West Point Coach.

They all told me the same thing, hire him; he will do great things for Drexel.

Spiker comes to the Dragons from Army West Point, where he spent the past seven seasons as the head coach of the Black Knights. He won 102 games during his time at West Point, tied with Naismith Hall of Fame coach Bob Knight for second all-time at the Academy. This season, Spiker led the Black Knights to a 19-14 record, tied for the best overall mark in the Patriot League. They earned Army’s first postseason appearance since another Hall of Famer, Mike Krzyzewski, led them to the National Invitation Tournament in 1978. The winner of the 2013 Patriot League Coach of the Year award, Spiker was also named a finalist for the 2013 Skip Prosser Man of the Year and the Hugh Durham Award, presented annually to the nation’s top mid-major coach. Spiker was one of only seven coaches in the country to receive at least one vote for the Associated Press National Coach of the Year honor that season.

In the near future and after he transitions from West Point to Drexel, I will personally introduce coach Zach Spiker to you.

Go Dragons!

Dr. Eric A. Zillmer

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


One can lead while advancing.  Contrary to popular belief, one can lead while in retreat.  It’s standing still that makes a leader hard to find.  President Fry and the Board of Trustees have led Drexel into a sprawling, competitive future throughout the prior six years.  While still a work in progress, the business minded pursuit of excellence was most recently shown in the announcement of Schuylkill Yards, the 3.5 billion dollar expansion plan announced earlier this month.  The leadership and quest for better is also what led to the dismissal of Drexel Men’s Basketball Head Coach Bruiser Flint just a week later.

That Drexel Athletics has not kept up with the growth of the rest of the university is not question, it is fact.  From the Armory debacle of the early ought’s to the significant empty seats at all athletic competitions this year, things at the NCAA level in the department have been at a relative standstill when compared to the overwhelming growth and construction seen throughout the rest of the University.  Some of that can be accredited to Coach Flint’s lack of success, as a rising tide in basketball would certainly rise all boats.  There are more challenges in today’s NCAA atmosphere than there were when Coach Flint was hired, and as Drexel looks to hire their next Men’s Basketball Coach it’s not the coach, but rather the leadership and symbolism shown by the administration that should  be the main concern of Drexel supporters and donors.

The newest, largest burden for the school is the NCAA’s admission of the Cost of Attendance stipend for athletes.  Some CAA schools are going to pay this stipend, it appears others will not.  Both Athletic Director Eric Zillmer and President Fry have been outspokenat a national level about the concerns that the COA will bring and the rise in spending within college athletics departments – many of which are a cost center and not a profit center for the school.  That they have been so outspoken about cost control in athletics while the rest of the university grows at impressive rates seems telling.  There appears to be a clear belief that Drexel Athletics will remain a cost center for the broader University.  It almost begs for a new slogan - Drexel Athletics:  DragOn Growth.

While these statements by Dr. Zillmer and President Fry were recently spoken , it’s also worth noting that Eric Zillmer brought Drexel Athletics forward by taking the leap from the America East Conference to the CAA in 2001.  And when President Fry hit campus, one of his first major moves was to give Bruiser Flint the longest and most expensive contract extension a coach has received at Drexel.  DAC renovations are continuing.  Money is being poured into the squash program.  These are all signs of investment and a desire to grow. 

If the reader is confused by all of this, please note that the writer shares your company.  On the one hand their words and outspoken criticisms of the finances of college athletics seem to make Drexel primed for a step backwards to the comforts of the America East Conference, Patriot League or even down a Division.  On the other hand the growth of the university, the contract that Coach Flint was working under and his recent release lead to the belief that the university would like to push forward and become a prominent name on the Athletics scene in a Philadelphia market.  There may be financial opportunity in becoming a local, conference or national leader. 

Perhaps the largest reason for the confusion is the lack of clear and concise standards shown by either Dr. Zillmer or President Fry.  In a letter to season ticket holders the dismissal of Coach Flint was said as “[Taking] the men’s basketball program in a different direction” without stating what direction the department is looking to go in.  Are they looking for a surge in spending to catch up to the rest of the university?   Is it time to acknowledge the rampant spending in D-I and take a step back?  What are the standards that Drexel Athletics ascribes to that Bruiser Flint didn’t meet?  All of those are unknown, and with them being unknown comes significant challenges towards advancing ticket sales, donations and other development.

What program donors, ticket holders and other stakeholders do have to look towards is this next coaching hire.  It may be the most clear statement they receive as to the aspirations of President Fry and Dr. Zillmer.  A rising young assistant from a high major school is a clear nod towards future growth.  A more seasoned coach from a lower, academically focused league presents a less clear message.  A D-II coach may present a clear message in the other direction.  That is generalizing and it’s important not to do that here – each name brings its own opportunity to the table, but the point remains.  This hire is a message.  The message of this hire can, and should, determine development efforts within the department for years to come.

When Oklahoma State hired a coach, the school's goal was known.  Similarly, when Dartmouth hires a coach later this month, their goal will be known as well.  At Drexel, there is a unique situation.  A turning point, and there are arguments to be made for transition in either direction, let it be acknowledging the challenging climate of D-I and the CAA today or playing catchup with the rest of the University.  The one thing, and the only thing, that fans should find unacceptable is doing neither.  As Ryan Koechig acknowledged in yesterday’s post on prospective hire Zach Spiker, this athletics department has stood still while their peers, both internal and external have moved.  

The one thing that stakeholders should find unacceptable with the next hire is a parallel move.  The school needs to show decisiveness, in either direction, or else they will continue to pay large dollars for very few returns.  As the empty seats of the last few years have shown, including that sad scene in the game against James Madison where President Fry sat alone in the President's Suite, a lateral move is not a profitable move.  One can lead while in retreat.  One can lead while advancing.  It’s standing still that makes a leader hard to find.  

Monday, March 21, 2016

Spiking The Punch During the Dance

With Zach Spiker's name regularly being mentioned as part of Drexel's coaching search, Ryan Koechig took to some research on the candidate. Here is some back story on one of the members of Drexel's "Short List":

There would be no arguing if you were to think of the current state of the Drexel men’s basketball program as being the same as the Black Knight in Monty Python’s Holy Grail after his fight with King Arthur.

I will find any reason to make a Monty Python reference

Conference defections, losses, injuries and a plunge in attendance seem to have the program limbless on the ground and watching as all of the other programs in the CAA pass us by. New arenas, new practice facilities, new coaches or even new conferences have greeted rivals both new and old in recent years, while Drexel has remained relatively unchanged. So, if you’re Drexel Director of Athletics Eric Zillmer, who do you look towards to help put your Black Knight back together?

How about another Black Knight?

A few weeks ago, as the proverbial writing seemed to be on the wall pointing towards a change, a group made the leap to analyze the staffs of a number of schools searching for potential replacements. You can go back and read the list of 21 potentials here. Every name that is on that list is from a school that has played in the NCAA tournament at some point in their history. So it would seem an odd choice to turn the sites for candidate 22 to one of the five original programs to have never made it to the NCAA Tournament. Those five are The Citadel, St. Francis (NY), Northwestern, our friends the pantsless Griffins of William and Mary and The United States Military Academy at West Point. One of those schools happens to be the Black Knights, and I’m writing this to introduce you to their head coach.

When you think of a head coach producing program, the first one to come to mind is probably not Army (it’s probably not in the top fifty). However, two coaches you’ve probably heard of have roamed the sidelines as coach of the then Cadets: Bob Knight and Mike Krzyzewski. With that in mind, let’s take a look at their current coach, Zach Spiker. If you’ve been paying attention online, you would have seen his name pop up as a potential candidate to succeed Bruiser Flint over the weekend. He has just completed his seventh season at the helm in West Point after taking over from recently dismissed St. Louis coach Jim Crews after he was dismissed at Army and found a landing spot on Rick Majerus’ Billiken staff. Over those seven years, Spiker has amassed an overall record of 102-111 and a Patriot League record of 45-65, while never finishing the regular season higher than fourth and with no postseason appearances of any kind. You are now probably a bit upset that I’ve made you read about 450 words leading up to a coach who has a losing record, but let's dig a little deeper.

The final season of Coach K’s stint as Army’s head coach was the 1979-80 season. He finished his fifth season with a record of 9-17. Since that year, Army has finished .500 or better only four times. Zach Spiker has been the coach for three of them, and they’ve all occurred in the last four years. Army has had only three seasons where they finished the Patriot League regular season with a .500 or better record since joining the league for the 1990-91 season. Zach Spiker is the coach that has accomplished that as well. Three coaches in Army history have won 65 or more games in their first five seasons as coach, Bob Knight, Mike Krzyzewski and Zach Spiker. Spiker has led the Black Knights to 15 or more wins four years in a row. That’s the first time that’s happened for the program since a run from 1920-1924. He’s done this at a school that holds its athletes to standards that are even higher than what they would be here at Drexel while also dealing with the Academic Index of the Patriot League. So while the overall and conference records may not be as impressive as you may want, the success he’s had in a very difficult location for coaches is impressive.

Spiker, 39 (he’ll be 40 by the time next season starts), is a 2000 graduate of Ithaca College where he was a member of the basketball team. After graduation, he immediately began his coaching career as a graduate assistant under current Wichita St. coach Gregg Marshall at Winthrop University. He spent two seasons in Rock Hill, S.C. with each one ending in a trip to the NCAA Tournament. Spiker then moved on to West Virginia University where he was an administrative assistant under current Michigan coach John Beilein. His responsibilities with the Mountaineers included on-campus recruiting visits, postgame film development and opposition scouting. WVU was invited to the NIT in his second and final year there, in which he also was awarded his master’s degree in sport management. Spiker returned to Ithaca, New York in 2004 joining the staff at Cornell under the leadership of current Penn coach Steve Donahue. His time as an assistant saw a huge turnaround of the Cornell program. As one of the lead recruiters, the Big Red would win three consecutive Ivy League titles (the third was after Spiker left to coach Army) and the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament that came with them. Cornell became the first school that wasn’t Penn or Princeton to accomplish a three-peat. Cornell would also set season program marks for wins, points, three point field goals and blocks during his time there. Spiker would leave Ithaca for West Point after five seasons and Cornell posting a 50-20 Ivy League record in that time frame.

Spiker’s hiring at Army did not follow the conventional former "Coach is fired at end of year and a new guy is brought in shortly after" timeline. Jim Crews had just signed a contract over the summer to remain the Black Knights’ coach. However, a confrontation with a player led to Crews being removed on September 24, just a few weeks before the beginning of the 2009-10 season. A phone call from Steve Donahue to Army AD Kevin Anderson to recommend his top assistant for the Army position ultimately led to Spiker signing a six-year deal for his first head coaching gig. From his now former boss:

"Zach has an incredible work ethic," Donahue said. "He's willing to put in the time. I think a lot of guys in this business think recruiting is making a big splash and being dynamic in a setting. ... In reality it's the guy that's going to develop relationships over time through hard work, and really fulfilling all the things he talks about with the coaches and the families, and Zach does a great job of staying on top of kids and making them realize he's there for them. He did that for us time and again."

The question that really matters most is what could Drexel expect from a Coach Spiker led squad? That limbless Black Knight used as a metaphor for the Drexel program would need to regenerate some legs, because it’s going to run. Army has run at a top 75 Tempo in the country every year, save his first, that Coach Spiker has been in charge, reaching as high as 10th for the 2014-15 season. The Dragons will also need to regenerate their arms as stats show they will be jacking up a lot more three point attempts. Army has finished in the top 60 in the nation in terms of percentage of shots taken behind the arc every year, again, except for Spiker’s first year. All of this has resulted in a program that ranked 317th in offensive scoring per game his first season, to one that has now ranked in the top 100 for three of the last four seasons. The increase in scoring has been accomplished by an effective field goal percentage that has generally ranked in the top half of the country helped by ball movement that has seen the Black Knights with an assist rate consistently in the mid to upper 50's. That's important. It's a big piece that DU has been missing, and it's a key indicator of a well run offense.

There are some concerns with Coach Spiker, which is to be expected when looking for a replacement at Drexel’s level. It will be very important for Dr. Zillmer to decide whether these concerns are a function of the school and conference that Spiker coaches in or whether these are defects that will need to be addressed in the hiring of a potential staff of assistants. Chief among these concerns is that of the Black Knights’ defensive play. Jim Crews had gotten Army to being a top 100 defensive efficiency program while the offense lagged far behind. The top 100 ranking held during Spiker’s first season, but then saw it fall to where it bounced between the low to higher 200s. Perhaps this was a function of the aforementioned school/conference, however, looking at the same stat adjusted for only Patriot League play shows that Army has finished an average of 6th during the Spiker regime. That would seem to imply that the issue is with either the players that can be brought into Army being limited, or this being a deficiency in his coaching ability. This most recent season saw the team’s defensive efficiency settle at 197, the second season in a row that this metric has improved. Should Spiker end up the hire, there would be no way of knowing whether these last two years were the makings of a trend or just a couple year blip.

Another concern is on the offensive end. While it is true that the Black Knights have been one of the better scoring teams since Coach Spiker took over, the efficiency at which they have scored has not been all that great. Five of his seven years have seen Army’s offensive efficiency rank between 245-335 nationally. The two better years were 2012-13 and 2013-14 where they ranked 120th and 175th respectively. Again, looking at this metric adjusted for only Patriot League play, Army has an average offensive efficiency rank of 6.6. The main reason for this disconnect would appear to be due to the Black Knights turning the ball over on roughly 20% of their possessions. Another potential issue is their very low free throw rate not allowing them to pick up free points, which is likely correlated to the abundance of three point attempts his teams take. They haven't gone inside enough to be fouled at a regular clip, which may be coach, but is just as likely due to the normally undersized Army squads.

All in all, Zach Spiker is a very intriguing candidate for head coach of the Drexel Men’s Basketball program. He would definitely appear to be a complete 180 from the Bruiser Flint Era in terms of tempo and defensive prowess. A contract extension he signed with Army prior to the 2013-14 season and lasting through the 2017-18 season would need to be addressed, but if he has emerged as one of the lead candidates, it would appear to be a minor issue. While he has definitely had some success in a difficult coaching situation, there would be a risk in assuming that some of the red flags that were discussed would be mitigated by his moving to a conference that should be able to attract more talented players. Depending on who would round out his coaching staff, it could be a risk very much worth taking. If anything, his hire would add another level of intrigue in the Battle of 33rd Street as Spiker would be going up versus his mentor and former boss in Steve Donahue. 

He’s also undefeated against Delaware.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Rumblings From the Search

Below are some assorted nuggets from the grapevine commingled with some internal thoughts that will answer some frequently asked questions, and perhaps create others:

--Yes, Bashir Mason and Geoff Arnold are likely picking up interviews.  There are many reasons for both the school and the individuals to go through this process, both practical and political, but don't expect much to come of it.

--The Hoop Dirt piece from 3/10 jibes with what I have been hearing.  The standards that Bruiser Flint maintained are expected to be, well, maintained, on the academic and compliance side.  That makes a long look at Ivy and Patriot League coaches worth doing, but don't forget some high majors like Notre Dame.  On those lines, I think the link to the Pitino family may damage Kimani Young's (asst coach, Minnesota) chances.

--The two names that have come across my desk the most this week?  Zach Spiker of Army and Will Brown of Albany.  Neither screams instant turnaround, recruiting mastermind or excitement, but both are coaches worthy of this level and known as good people.  Spiker in particular has run good offense at Army, which is tough to do, and is on the younger/up-and-coming side.  And the track record of Army coaches...  is not bad.

--I have not heard the names Brian Earl, Niko Medved or Kevin Kuwik at all.  Really hope those names get the consideration that they deserve, if they are interested.  They fit the bill and are remarkable individuals.

--The two top names from the earlier piece looking at coaches around the country continue to show up.  I believe Caputo's sites are higher, but Inglesby feels about right for this level.

--The Doug Overton rumors haven't died, and there appears to be interest with Scott Cherry.

--The name that was a bad miss on the perspective candidates piece was Joe Jones.  He's a complete fit to the profile and if the price is right I think he would take the gig.  Head coaching experience at elite academic schools (Columbia, BU) with assistant experience at Villanova and Hofstra, providing a local and CAA connection.  He has some Philly/NJ kids on the BU roster, he can recruit the area if you're into that.  His name hasn't come across my desk, and he may be slightly older than they are targeting, but he makes too much sense and he's too good of a coach not to take a long look at.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Bracket Tips from the Analytics Department

A big thank you to everyone who took the time to reach out yesterday, your generosity is very much appreciated.

Today we borrow from last years bracket tips article to offer some bracket advice for this season.  Here is some guidance for your 2016 NCAA Tournament:

Location Matters

Studies have shown over and over again that referees calls are influenced by fan behavior.  This is a fact of life.  In arenas where there is a strong rooting interest, there will be an advantage at play for the well supported team.  In the NCAA tournament, those fans will also root for a live underdog in the other game at the same arena, hoping their team will get an easier draw.  Here are some teams with large followings who will see some type of home court draw:

Temple & Villanova, rounds 1&2 (Brooklyn)
Yale, rounds 1&2 (Providence)
Oklahoma, Texas & Texas A&M, rounds 1&2 (Oklahoma City)
North Carolina, rounds 1&2 (Raleigh)
Purdue, rounds 3&4 (Chicago)

Look for Balance

In the last two seasons, 19 of the 24 Elite 8 teams were in the top 50 in the country in both offensive and defensive efficiency.  Here are a list of contenders that people are picking this year, but will not end the year in the top 50 in both categories.  Don't expect a deep run from:

Team (Seed)

Kentucky (4)
Iowa St (4)
Duke (4)
Indiana (5)
Baylor (5)
Notre Dame (6)
Dayton (7)
Oregon St (7)

So Yale/Baylor...

Winning Streaks Lead to Winning It All

In the past decade, 5 of the 10 NCAA Tournament winners were "major conference" teams that also won their conference tournament.  Since only 7 of the teams in the field were major conference winners (6 before the American Athletic Conference came around), a 50% hit rate from those 7 of 64 teams is extremely impressive.  The sample is small, but it seems to point to the idea that no one "needs a loss" to go into the tournament hungry.  Here are your major conference tourney winners this year:

North Carolina
Michigan St
Seton Hall

Defense Wins Championships

In the past 6 years, every national champion has been in the top 15 nationally in defensive efficiency and done that against top 20 offensive strength of schedules.  Here are the teams that could do that this year:

Michigan St
West Virginia
North Carolina
Seton Hall

One and Done, but not Done Done

In this season we've seen a lack of impact from "1 and done" freshman similar to those that have propelled Kentucky, Duke and others in years past.  This provides an opportunity to fall back on the old standby that experience brings wins come tourney time.  While mid majors such as Tulsa, Arkansas Little Rock and Chattanooga lead the field in experience, Iowa St, Miami, and Oklahoma are in the top 50 nationally as well.  Congrats to those programs for developing talent at the major conference level, and maybe passing out a degree or two as well.

One Last Note

I've never won a bracket pool in my life.  The greatness of March is that it supersedes number, every game is one small sample size after the next, and we will cheer like hell for Cinderella the entire way. So after you're done with this and carefully made your picks...  rip it up and just flip a coin for each game.

March is here.  Enjoy the holiday.

Monday, March 14, 2016

In Darkness There is Light

Robert L Crain passed away this weekend.  To many, he was a brilliant man, an Associate Professor at Johns Hopkins University and then a Professor at Columbia University.  To others, he was less than perfect, as are we all.  To me, he was simply Grandpa Bob.

It took some time for word of this passing to find me.  Families, as it turns out, can be hard.  I've been reminded today - often - that this passing was not sudden.  After eight years of intense care, it was simply the end of a long, painful and unhappy road.  I choose not to be angry about that.  There are lessons to be learned for all of us, but I chose to take the day, with the very helpful and strong support of many around me, to look at his passions.  While he had many, there were two that very much stood out to me on a personal level:  Equality, and College Basketball.

Professor Crain spent a career studying, testifying, and teaching the joys of desegregation in education, a somewhat obscure choice for a Kentucky raised child of the 1930's.  I choose not to bastardize his career on these pages, as my scant study can't speak towards decades of work.  I do feel comfortable saying this:  He was outspoken.  He knew the difference between right and wrong.  He wanted to see us, as a society, do better.  While there are a number of themes to his research, the thread that I choose to pull on is this:  We do better as a society when we interact.  Mix the wealthy with the poor and as a nation we see more success.  Mix cultures and we may see less hate.  It's not easy.  No one is pretending anything.  But it is also there for the taking.  Regardless of what separates us, age, race, education, or just opinion, when we come together, especially in an organized setting, we more often than not move forward.

While I know he was a college basketball fan because in Kentucky it's illegal not to be, I'd like to think that he also enjoyed the game because of the way the game has evolved.  This weekend, on national TV, a melting pot of the inner city, the country, and the immigrant will take the floor when the tournament tips off.  Many writers will take the easy way out and talk about the joke that is the NCAA.  Others will write about the players as exploited labor.  Still more stories will flow once the first player gets suspended due to on or off the court actions.  All of those will be fair to write, and low hanging fruit for those that write about them.  The harder story, but the much, much greater story, is about how kids from 13 different backgrounds came together, bonded, and will very likely live a better life because they had this experience.  College basketball allows kids to cross the railroad tracks, to cross the country and to cross the world.  To some of the players that exposure alone is worth even more than the scholarship and degree.  My grandfather spent a lifetime observing just that.  As his journey comes to an end, that spirit will not.  His legacy will continue in thousands of children.  Because he was outspoken.  And he was right.  And he got to see basketball make us all just a little bit better.

Almost 20 years ago... 

Looking Back to Look Ahead

The below is contributed by Scott Kier, who looks to the past in order to see the potential of Drexel's future.
Editor's note:  This post has been updated with bdragon's much appreciated history refresher.

Twenty years ago I was a high school junior with a front row seat from the end of the bench of my school's varsity basketball team watching one of the most exciting players in New Jersey ball that season.  His name was John Tice, and he was a year ahead of me and bound for Fairfield.  A year later, he would play and lose in the round of 64 to the North Carolina Tar Heels in what would be Dean Smith's last season on the UNC bench.

I was disenchanted with my high school sporting experience.  I was never good enough to get much farther than the 10th or 9th guy off the bench at the varsity level, and with a bum knee slowing me down I decided that it was time for me to move on.  My off days from practice and games were spent watching what I considered to be a much more exciting brand of basketball that was taking place about 80 miles to the southwest in West Philadelphia.  Drexel University was enjoying the best season in the history of the school.

Coached by Bill Herrion, and led on the court by junior guard Jeff Myers (who came to University City by way of St. Francis), freshman sniper Mike Derocckis, and the legendary Malik Rose, the team strung together impressive winning streaks of 8 and later 15 games, and put up a near perfect NAC conference record of 17-1.  The next closest team in the standings was Boston University with a record of 13-5.

The team was dominant in regular season play.  While their schedule could have been more challenging they put up a 23-3 record as they entered the Northeast Athletic Conference tournament with loses to Murray State, Oklahoma, and BU.  Rose averaged a double-double putting up 20.2 points and 13.2 rebounds per game for the season.  He carried the front court as a three guard contribution by Myers, Derocckis, and Cornelius Overby provided the majority of the remaining scoring.

The fifth starter on the team was 6'9" Chuck Guittar, playing in his first of two seasons at Drexel after transferring from Division II school New Haven.  Guittar was Herrion's second transfer capture after Brian Holden, who was recruited by Herrion at BU before joining him at Drexel for three successful years as a Dragon.  While he was not as much of an outside threat as Holden was, Guittar's outside shooting ability coupled with his height made him an important weapon to this team.  His capture, along with that of Holden, showed Herrion's ability to build a well balanced, competitive team.

On March 14, 1996 just one week after the team secured their third consecutive NCAA tournament bid, Drexel took to the court as the 12th seed against the 5th seeded Memphis Tigers who were led by sophomore center Lorenzen Wright.  For the next 40 minutes, the Tiger bigs would battle with Malik Rose, who put up 21 points and 15 rebounds.  The other four Drexel starters, Overby, Derocckis, Myers, and Guittar added 10, 15, 14, and 10 respectively and on that day nearly 2,000 miles away from the home court in West Philadelphia, Drexel did the unthinkable and walked away with their first tournament victory in school history.  And they did not just win, but they won big with a 12 point edge in the final 75-63 score.

Malik Rose, who fittingly scored the 2,000th point in the biggest victory of his college career, injured his ankle in that game which took a bit of his edge away when the team took on Syracuse just two days later.  Despite being injured, Rose played all 40 minutes in his final college game against the Orangemen and put up a very respectable 11 points and 15 rebounds.  His injury, and presumably playing with a short bench on short rest meant that despite their best effort, the Dragons just could not keep up with the higher ranked Syracuse.  Drexel hung with them though, as they went to the locker room with the game tied at 24 but the second half told a different story as Syracuse pulled away to a 69-58 victory.

That was the last NCAA tournament game that the Dragons' Men's Basketball team played, and the only time in the team's history that they made it out of the first round.  Malik Rose would go on to play a solid NBA career followed by what will surely be a storied career in the front office.  While he might not be the team's winningest coach, Bill Herrion still stands as their most successful coach, steering the Dragons to three tournament appearances and five regular season conference titles in 8 seasons.

Herrion's departure after the 98-99 campaign spelled the end of what many consider to be the golden years of Drexel basketball.  While Bruiser Flint had his share of success in his tenure at Drexel, he was never able to achieve what Herrion and his team did now twenty years ago.

With the 2016 NCAA Tournament about to begin, and on the anniversary of that big win against the Memphis Tigers, it is important for us as Drexel fans to remember where our team has been.  It is important for us also to take a look at what heights we want this team to once again reach.  It is obtainable, and with a the team taking a new direction starting in the 2016-2017 season, the sky is the limit for what this team will be able to accomplish.

Now it is time to sit back and watch as the women take to the court in the WNIT in their effort to try and raise another banner to the DAC rafters and set our sights forward with the prize of dancing again for the first time in two decades.  With each day that ticks by, I am more and more excited about what is to come for the 2016-2017 season.  20 years later, my front row basketball seats are now about four rows off the floor at center court of the DAC, and I could not be more excited about it.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Women's CAA Tournament - Day 3

The Dragons defeated the Northeastern Huskies on Friday, March 11th to advance to the CAA Finals on Saturday against the James Madison University Dukes.  As expected, the Huskies played Drexel tough, keeping the game within 6 at the half while making the Dragons uncomfortable and pushing them to the perimeter on offense.  

While most will look to the lopsided 16-8 4th quarter advantage for the Dragons to tell the story of the game, there were hints of what was to come midway through the third.  Once the Huskies had crept within a point of DU on a Jess Genco three pointer, the Dragons decided that they had had about enough of Northeastern's freshman point guard for the afternoon.  After trading empty possessions, Alexis Smith pulled down a defensive rebound, then came down to the other end and made a layup.  On the ensuing inbound, she tipped the pass, deflecting the ball off of a Northeastern player and out of bounds, bringing the ball back to the Dragons.  After a missed Drexel shot, it was Kelsi Lidge's turn to pick Claudia Ortiz's pocket during a frontcourt battle.  And once the turnovers started, they simply did not stop.

In the fourth quarter Denise Dillon through the kitchen sink at the young Northeastern team, showing 1-2-2 pressure at times, man to man, 1-3-1, and 2-3 zones.  In a period in which the Huskies only scored 6 points the Dragons had 9 points off of turnovers alone.  After having to absolutely battle Northeastern for every minute of two and three quarter games (and an overtime) Drexel had finally cracked the code and broken past the tired legs of Kelly Cole's Northeastern team.  

With that victory, Drexel turns to a much tougher test on Saturday.  Championship Saturday.  At 4pm, Drexel and JMU will face off with a chance to dance on the line.  RPI #32 James Madison will be in their home whites against the #79 Dragons in their road blues.  It was this same matchup that played out in the 2008-2009 sesaon's championship game when the Drexel players and coaches walked onto the court in Harrisonburg and walked out champions.  This time, in the slightly friendlier confines of the Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro, MD, the Dragons may be larger underdogs.  

The Dukes are led by Senior Jazmon Gwathmey, the CAA Player of the Year.  She didn't just lead the conference in points per game in conference play, she LED the conference.  Jazmon put up 22.4 points per game, in second place was Drexel's Sarah Curran with 15.4, leaving a significant gap.  Between Gwathmey and fellow senior Angela Mickens averging double digits scoring and Kayla Cooper-Williams 10.1 rebounds per game, the Dragons come in looking outgunned.  They can draw inspiration from the men's championship game where Hofstra walked in with three players on the CAA first or second all conference teams, but UNCW won behind coaching and having a team that was much better than the sum of its parts.  Yes, the Dragons junior stars Sarah Curran and Meghan Creighton will have pressure on their shoulders, they will need to hit their shots, but the story of this years tourney win hasn't been either one of them.  The story has begun and ended with diversity.  It's been names like Lidge, Pellechio, and Smith that have stepped up in the second halves of games to help their team gain the advantage.  It has been a variety of defensive looks thrown at their opponents.  It's been uptempo and down geared and it's been poking opponents until they find their holes, and then exploiting them.

On paper, this matchup may seem like Denise vs Goliath.  And that may be just what it is.  But in the third game in three days, depth matters.  Coaching matters (and with Kenny Brooks opposite Denise Dillon, it's a battle of the heavyweights in the coaches boxes).  Picking one another up matters.  These Dragons have a shot.  On the first day of practice, this was the game everyone was hoping for.  It's here.  This team earned this shot, now it's their chance to take it.  

Lets go Drexel.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Women's CAA Tournament - Day Two

The Dragons began CAA Tournament play yesterday in a game against Towson where all of the caveats (or clichés) applied.  It’s tough to beat a team three times, and the Dragons had already drilled them twice in just the past month.  It’s tough to start play in a tournament against a team that has already been playing:  they are used to the background, the rims and the feel of the facility and the fresh team needs time to adjust.  And last year, as the two seed, the Dragons were upset by seventh seeded Delaware.

The clichés, and the first half score of DU 33 – Towson 31, may have told you that the Dragons could have been given a run for their money.  In the halftime locker room, Denise Dillon wasn’t hearing that talk.  While she asked her team to slow the game down and present a defensive focus, tenth seeded Towson was unlikely to shoot 57% from distance in the second half whether the Dragons cranked up the intensity or not.  Where the brilliance really showed through was on the offensive side.  In the first half, the Dragons ran an offense that most college teams would kill for:  50% shooting with only 3 turnovers.  As it turns out, they had been going easy on the Tigers.

Breaking down the shooting further revealed the hidden win of the first half.  Drexel was a perfectly acceptable 5/14 (36%) from behind the arc before the break.  They were also 8/12 (67%) from inside it.  Coming out of the half, there was no messing around.  While Towson extended out their defense to withstand an anticipated barrage of three point attempts, Drexel ran their offense the other direction.  Drexel’s shot selection from behind the arc was much more restrained, and Kelsi Lidge became an impact player with cuts through the paint.  Lidge, who didn’t put up a shot from the field in the first half, was an efficiency monster in the second, going 4/5 from the field (4/4 from two point range) and getting to the line and going 3/4 from the charity stripe without a turnover to her name.
Lidge, along with team leaders Sarah Curran and Meghan Creighton,  combined to go 12/14 from the field in the second half, and there was simply no way the Towson team could keep up with the breakneck pace of the Drexel offense.  In fact, the Drexel defense also clamped down, holding -Towson to 39% from the field after the half.

Not only did Drexel pickup the 71-54 win, taking care of their own business, they also got help across the bracket after their game concluded.  Six seed Northeastern took down three seed Hofstra.  Hofstra was one of four CAA teams in the top 100 in the RPI, along with Drexel, JMU and Elon, and would have been Drexel’s second round opponent.   Now it’ll be a Northeastern team next up for the Dragons, and while on paper that looks like a preferred matchup, in reality it’s a program the Dragons have struggled to beat in recent seasons, losing twice to the Huskies in the past three seasons, including a split with Northeastern this year.

In both games against NU during the current campaign the theme has been simple:  It has been very tough to get inside.  Everything that worked so well in the second half against Towson has been a brick wall against the Northeastern defenders.  That has led to an uptempo pace that the Dragons are uncomfortable playing and an emphasis on the three point field goal to a point that is hard to believe.  In the two games this season, DU has taken 69 three point attempts, which is a staggering number.  While the team shoots a healthy percentage, and rebounding hasn’t been as much of an issue in these games as one might expect, there is still a certain risk putting all of the teams hopes into the most unpredictable shot in the game, especially on short rest.

As an underdog, teams should want to push the game to be as unpredictable as possible.  A game that ends predictably is not a good thing when your team is expected to lose.  With Northeastern being a healthy underdog in this contest, expect them to throw plenty of zone and challenge the Drexel team to take another barrage of shots from downtown.  Add to that NU forcing the tempo in a quick turnaround game, and the Dragons could be looking at tired legs needing to shoot well to win.  That’s a dangerous combination.  Denise Dillon will look to slow things down and emulate the second half of Thursday’s game against Towson, and try to bring this game right into the envelope of predictability that will bring comfort to the coaching staff.  At the end of the day, Drexel fans should take solace in a strong team with an even stronger staff.

Prediction:  Drexel 66, Northeastern 60

Thursday, March 10, 2016

March 10 - Links Day

At the beginning of the season, there was intent to have a midweek "Links Day" both to give the site laborers a day of rest, and to appreciate the great writing at Drexel (nods to Adam Hermann) and around the conference (nods to a dozen different writers).  It wasn't a bad idea, and will probably make an appearance next season (yes, the blog will return for it's 4th season, 1st under Coach ?????).  Today however, a celebratory teaser of the links column:

And we celebrate for good reason.  We are now 88 articles into a journey that followed a 6-25 basketball team,  We have published 259 articles over 3 years, and none of those teams even finished above .500 in the CAA.  We endure the misery to someday fully enjoy the sweetness of victory.  And we enjoy our victories when savored with others.  So when the "21 Guns" post that our staff worked so hard on became the most read article ever on the site, we say "Thank You!" to all of you who read it, linked to it, or helped with it by sending us texts, emails or commenting.  And quite frankly we're not complaining at all that this post passed previous "most read" leader Damion Lee Figured It Out.

We also genuinely want to recognize the work of Adam Hermann all season long, his Kazembe Abif feature pairs nicely with his work from last season with Major Canady and Rodney Williams and is finished by an eloquent closing speaking to how Bruiser Flint made everyone want to be a Dragon.

Finally, a word of apology.  At some point, there was a decision made that there was only enough time in a day to cover Drexel Men's Basketball in these pages.  In not covering the women's team, we aren't just turning our back on people we respect, a team we care about, and teammates whose blood runs just as blue and gold as ours.  When we don't cover them, we don't cover the best basketball that Drexel has to offer.  Soccer is often referred to as the beautiful game, but Denise Dillon's motion offense will challenge that six days a week and twice on Sunday.

The last season that the women's program didn't finish in the top half of the CAA (a highly competitive league on the women's side) was 2006-07.  The ladies are a lock for postseason play this year, making it seven postseason appearances tn the ten seasons since 06-07, including an NCAA appearance and an WNIT title.  We have an elite program in the building, playing basketball, and the blog hasn't been covering it.  Shame on us.

So please take the time to get excited about this years team, a 2 seed that kicks off their CAA tournament against Towson at 5pm today.  As a primer, be sure to read last weeks story by Pamitha Weerasinghe as he covered this exact matchup, Drexel vs Towson, down in Maryland.  Also, the Blue and Gold club guys knocked it out of the park with their Pre-CAA tourney primer.  The names Meghan Creighton, Sarah Curran, and Rachel Pearson should be fresh in your mind over the weekend, as you root on a team that really does have a chance to punch a ticket.  Hofstra and JMU are very talented teams in the league this year, but DU has already beaten the Pride once and taken the Dukes to the wire (for those of you missing Bru, Coach Dillon ate a technical foul late in that contest).  So please, take a minute and give a very deserving team some time this weekend, as at Drexel, weve got one more chance to dance.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

OpEd - Stand in the Place Where You Live

The best part of the Bruiser Flint experience at Drexel wasn't the free booze (thanks though!), nor was it the support and tickets when we supported the team on the road, or even the great wins.  Bashir's buzzer beater was amazing.  "You can't afford this suit" was brilliant.  And getting a glimpse of how much he cared about his players will make a person believe.  But for this writer, the love hate relationship with Bru was always about the basketball.

The basketball drove me crazy.  Almost every part of it, beginning with the steadfast belief in one Defense, The Defense, the Man to Man, eternally begotten from the Video Tape.  Those feelings continued as we saw an offense where the lack of establishing distinct roles for each player caused every guard to play the role of shooter.  Damion Lee was one of the best players in all of college basketball.  Tavon Allen was one of the weakest shooters of the last decade.  They shot the same percentage of the teams shots when they were on the floor.  That was, is, and will always be a fireable offense - in Bruiser's case it certainly contributed.

There were numerous other major clunkers, including a slow developing offense played 4 on 5 for 14 of Bru's 15 seasons (until this final season) because the player at the 4 position was restrained to mid range jumpers that they by and large weren't very good at shooting.  All of that makes up the very tip of the iceberg with regards to my issues with Bruiser Flint's in game coaching.

Those of you who know me, and even those of you who just read this blog, know that I like to share these thoughts.  Let it be due to ego, interest in gaining clarity, or just frustration.  I, like many others, wanted to see better from the team that represents my school.  Bruiser and Associate Head Coach Mike Connors knew I was critical of their overall approach.  It never stopped them from talking the game with me, whether it be about the team or the conference, from players to X's and O's.  Even at the worst of times this season, they took the time to speak to me about where they saw things and where I did.

In a bizarre attempt to tempt fate, I take off the Monday of the CAA tournament every season.  This year, I was behind on blog work and was also well aware of what was likely to unfold at the DAC.  So after dropping my girlfriend at her office near Drexel's campus, I setup camp at a coffee shop across the street from the DAC.  I knew that some of the assistants had not come in to the building in the morning, but at one point, in the 10am hour, I looked up to see James Flint and Mike Connors walking across the street, dressed smartly and without any Drexel apparel.  They got their beverages and chatted in a corner as I typed away.  The news of their dismissal had not broken yet, but I knew that they knew, and they knew that I knew.  As they left, they each shook my hand and we exchanged "Have a good one" and they were gone.  It was a small gesture.  A tiny thing.  But right after they were dismissed, they shook the hand of one of their most vocal critics.  They wished me a good day.  That is class, and character, and who these gentlemen were, defined.

Bruiser was never going to be my favorite coach.  He was excellent in some areas, but never looked for help in those areas where he was weak.  The key offensive minded assistant coach was never hired.  Bru viewed the job of Assistant Coach as a an opportunity to help feed a member of his family.  He loves the members of his family. He'll certainly be a great assistant or TV man anywhere that he goes, but where he would really excel - and he'll cringe when he never reads this - is administration.  Bruiser's way of delivering a message, rallying his employees and gaining trust and appreciation even from those that disagree with him are the stuff that management seminar coordinators dream of.  The Drexel program right now is in a multi-decade lull in support.  Bruiser Flint is not.  As supporters, as Athletic Department members, and as people there is a hell of a lot that we can learn from Bruiser Flint.

In areas where Bruiser was good, he was very, very good.  So lets take what we can from the best of what Coach Flint and Coach Connors had to offer.  And with this fresh start, lets not leave any opportunity on the table, let it be on or off the court.  It's time to catch up to the rest of the University.  It's time to rally, and to do it together, with character and class.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

They're Coming to Philadelphia

Many moons ago, the University of North Carolina Wilmington Athletics Department had a variety of issues.  Among them was a vocal booster base, an indecisive and ineffective administration, high expectations by all and a low salary figure.  Head Coach Benny Moss had been relieved during the season and the weeks rolled by with tumbleweed blowing through the Men’s Basketball Head Coach’s office.  After substantial local and national ridicule (please enjoy) and 79 days of “searching” Kelly Mehrten’s hired Buzz Peterson who won only 20 CAA games over his four years at the University.

For all of the criticism leveled at Dr. Eric Zillmer, this Athletics Department is a lot of things, and far from the debacle that happened in Wilmington.  What the job opening at Drexel represents is a tremendous opportunity for an array of candidates.  Besides compensation that is expected to be extremely competitive for the mid major level (Bruiser Flint had been making close to a 450k base salary) the job brings with it a number of highlights, some of which are listed below:

  • First and foremost, the incoming coach won’t be involved in a rebuild.  Thanks in part to Bruiser’s tough run of luck, redshirt years have already been burned by Ahmad Fields (who may get another), Major Canady and Miles Overton.  The senior class, namely big men Rodney Williams and Mohammed Bah are shoo-ins to return.  That forms up to a third year point guard with three years of eligibility left, two wings who were recruited at a high major level and two senior post players.  If the next coach can keep Terrell Allen, and a couple of the incoming juniors this becomes a deep, talented team that they will be inheriting.  And that team will be picked low in the preseason poll.  There is a very reasonable path to a first year CAA Coach of the Year award that comes with this gig.

  • While the CAA in general, and Drexel in particular, have done a poor job of getting eyeballs on the program (there was not a single Philadelphia media member at Bruiser’s final press conference, as none of them bothered to send a reporter to cover the teams tourney run, an embarrassment to all involved ), it remains a Philadelphia basketball program.  A Philadelphia coaching job brings with it membership to Big 5 Coaches events, and the entrance to a fraternity.  Connections are made here.  Exposure happens here.  And a successful Head Coach gets an entire east coast city behind them, and gains the free media that comes with that.  While many Philly coaches choose to never leave and have the luxury not to, success here makes a coach a hot name at larger institutions.

  • Deep breath Drexel fans…  The support of the administration for the Head Coach is outstanding.  With regards to on the court activity, they are somewhere between hands off and inept.  Suffice it to say, they will not interfere with the job of the Head Coach.  They gave the last coach 15 years and he never won a league title, in case anyone didn’t notice that.  And as far as financial support, while the DAC may not look like much today, pull a photo from 10 years ago.  The building has come a long way, and looks much more like a D-I facility than it gets credit for.  Bruiser said he needed offices, he got them.  He said he needed new locker rooms and team rooms, he got them.  If a coach is looking for a hands-off administration that can deliver on requests, they will get it at Drexel.

The Drexel job is a great gig in the NCAA landscape.  While the administration chose to let Bruiser Flint work here for 15 years, Bruiser Flint also chose to stay for 15 years.  In this day and age that should speak volumes to any candidate.  While the CAA is a grinder, lets not forget that Shaka Smart came from this league.  Jim Larranaga came from this league (don’t let the door hit you, Jim).  Blaine Taylor lived here.  The competition in this conference can make a good coach great.  And for all of the heat given to UNCW at the open of this post, this year, just six years after the school’s Athletic Department let all the dirty laundry air and four years after a postseason ban due to APR violations, they’ll be dancing.  That is the power that change can bring.

Drexel doesn’t need half of the turnaround from their next coach, that UNCW needed from Buzz Peterson or Kevin Keatts .  The Dragons simply need the right person to breathe some fire back into the program.  So while there are plenty of deserving candidates in the Philadelphia area, from Doug Overton to Jim Rullo to Bashir Mason, fans should be excited by Dr. Zillmer’s announcement to hire Parker Executive Search and conduct a national search campaign.  This is a job that should be given to someone of the highest qualification, who is hungry to take a good program and make it great.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Hofstra - Postgame - CAA Tournament

Final Score: Hofstra 80, Drexel 67
Drexel Player of the Game: Terrell Allen
Key to the Game: Firepower
Next Game:

If you support the Dragons, hold your head high.

In their final game of the season, and likely of an era, the Dragons went out swinging til the final second.  They came into the game following a strict gameplan that kept them even with Hofstra early.  On offense, the trio of Rodney Williams, Kazembe Abif and Austin Williams combined for 39 shots (and stunningly just 7 free throw attempts).  On defense, Rokas Gustys was into foul trouble early, and a lid was kept on one man wreching ball Ameen Tanksley.

It wasn't gameplan.  It wasn't effort.  And it wasn't mistakes.  The Dragons played with heart and they played well.  But the combination of Hofstra's talent and Drexel's short rest made it possible for the Dutchmen to hold the Dragons at arms length throughout the second half.

While most basketball teams talk about their "Big 3", Hofstra brings a "Big 4" to the table.  With CAA Player of the Year Juan'ya Green surrounded by two other All-CAA team members and junior deadly spot shooter Brian Bernardi, the only way to stay with Hofstra is to score with Hofstra.  With tired legs and quite frankly the talent level of Drexel's "shooters" that was going to be a challenge.  With Rodney Williams and Kazembe Abif getting beaten up inside and not hearing the referees whistle, it proved impossible to keep up with a Hofstra barrage that finished the game 41% from downtown.

Despite losing by more than they did in their two other matchups with Hofstra this year, this was Drexel's best effort of the season against the Dutchmen.  It was a performance to be proud.  The team on the other side was the best team in the league this year, and they brought their A-Game.  And so it's time for creative destruction at Drexel.  A rebirth and a rebrand, possibilities abound.  But before the page flips to a new renaissance and a 0-0 record, say thanks to the seniors and the coaching staff.  While supporters and staff alike may have wished for a better result, they put in everything they had.  Coach Flint and Coach Connors have been doing it, devoting their life to make this program a success for 15 years.  And while they may not have seen the ultimate success, their impact on the Drexel community will be forever felt.  And on the players behind them, so will the actions and words of Kazembe Abif, Tavon Allen and Chandler Fraser-Pauls.  Their final appearance in blue and gold was full of class and heart.

So lets join the players and staff and live the offseason as they have lived all season.  Bleed Blue and Gold.

Drexel Athletics: Beaten, Not Bruised

The below is written by Ryan Koechig, whose name was spelled correctly in this space for a change.  His contributions, such as the one below, help this blog rise to another level, and are always appreciated by the editor.

And so, the deed is done.

With it, an era spanning nearly 1/3 of Drexel’s existence as a Division 1 member comes to a resoundingly uneventful and supremely frustrating thud.

Let’s start off by being clear, Drexel is not an easy program to have success with. Start with the late arrival to the Division I ranks and with it, missing the opportunity to celebrate 60 years of the Big 6 this year instead of the Big 5. Add to that a dash of student and alumni apathy and bake it in an old gym that just finally moved out of the Stone Age and offers lumbar support for those who actually do come out to catch a game.

This is the base recipe handed to James “Bruiser” Flint when he was introduced as the head coach on April 5, 2001. Through 15 years of tinkering with various ingredients and a huge promise that the university wasn’t able to deliver on (cough, Armory), he was never quite able to achieve a dish worthy of a grand ball, but he did tease us on several occasions with veiled whiffs of opulence that seemed to promise a satiating of the palette.  After the bitterness of losing Coach Herrion (he of three straight NAC (A. East) titles, 7 conference title games in 8 years and the school’s only NCAA win against Memphis St. in 1996) to East Carolina and 2 unremarkable seasons under Herrion’s successor, Coach Steve Seymour, that’s all that was really expected to start.

"It's going to take a couple years in the CAA to really be competitive"

Those couple of years turned out to be, carry the one, zero.  A fourth place inaugural CAA season was followed with a third place finish and a trip to the CAA Tournament Finals in year 2. That finish resulted in Drexel’s first postseason appearance in six seasons as the Dragons snagged an NIT berth and snagged Bruiser the first of his contract extensions. The following seasons also saw NIT berths following 2nd and 4th place finishes. In the first four years played in a more formidable conference, Coach Flint had three NIT berths, four top four finishes and the third most CAA wins, two behind both UNCW and VCU.

Breathing Fire, City Champions and Heartbreak

After the hot start to their CAA tenure, the 2005-06 team cooled off a bit in their fifth season. That’s not to say that the season didn’t have its share of highlights. Prior to the season, Drexel was selected as a participant in the Pre-Season NIT . Thanks to an upset, the Dragons were able to host Sam Houston State for the right to advance to the Semis at Madison Square Garden. In front of a national ESPN2 audience and a frenzied and packed DAC, the Dragons dispatched the Bearkats to chants of “we want Duke!” Drexel is what the #1 Dookies got at the World’s Most Famous Arena, as the Dragons kept the game within two possessions through 3/4 of the game before running out of steam and falling by ten. The consolation game saw a matchup with the Bruins of UCLA. Once again the Dragons fought tooth and nail against a ranked opponent, before losing in heart breaking fashion.

Those close losses in 05-06 would provide the setup to one of the, if not the, most magical months of Drexel basketball history the following season. The opening month of the 2006-07 season saw the Dragons get off to a 3-2 record, losing to Penn and Rider. December, however, was a completely different story. It started with a convincing victory against St. Joe’s at the Palestra and continued with wins at Villanova, at Syracuse and at Temple before ending the month at home against previous season Final Four participant, George Mason. The Bru Crew were making major news not just at home, but across the country as well. The familiarity of conference play brought the Dragons back down to earth a bit as they finished the year 4th in the CAA and lost in the Semis to eventual champion VCU.

The week between that loss and Selection Sunday will go down as the most excruciating week for Dragon fans. For a week we were subjected to Drexel’s resume being sliced and diced on whether it was worthy for inclusion to the Big Dance as an at large team. With CBS cameras documenting the team during the Selection Show, 65 teams were announced and none matched the only Dragons in Division 1 sports. Drexel would have to settle for the consolation of a home NIT game against NC State.

Sharp Decline and The Incident

The success of the 06-07 season led to very lofty expectations for the 2007-08 squad, but a combination of younger players not growing to meet expectations along with the failure to find a second piece to compliment senior forward Frank Elegar, saw the Dragons stumble to their worst finish since joining the CAA and Bruiser’s first 20 loss season. The following two seasons saw a return to .500 and respectability, as well as the player who would turn out to be the cornerstone of the next great Dragon team in Samme Givens, who arrived on campus for the 2008-09 season.

After the second .500 season in 2009-10, the Dragons seemed to have a very strong returning cast and incoming recruiting class to be contenders again in 2010-11. However, scandal struck the program before that team was able to take the court. In late July of 2010, two members of the team were charged with an attempted armed robbery in an apartment right off of campus. One was the presumed senior starting point guard, while the other was a reserve junior forward. It was a shocking development that had never been seen before or since with the program and seemed poised to derail the program just as it seemed ready for a breakout season and a return to the upper echelon of the CAA.

Surprise and The Year of the Dragon

If you want to know when Bruiser Flint was at his best as the head coach of the Drexel men’s basketball program, I would submit that it was the 2010-11 season. Following the player dismissals just three months before the start of the season, Bru was able to regroup and use a trip to Turkey to integrate a new freshman point guard, freshman forward, and two very late freshmen Serbians. That early start of practice allowed the Dragons to compile a surprising 8-2 OOC record, including an upset victory of Louisville that bestowed upon the Dragons the answer to the question to the trivia question "Who handed the Cardinals their first loss in the new KFC Yum Center?" The Dragons would finish 5th in the CAA and lose a heartbreaker to VCU in the quarterfinals to finish the year 21-10 and the early favorites to win the CAA the following year.

In what turned out to be a stroke of marketing luck, 2012 truly was the Year of the Dragon in the Chinese calendar. It would also prove to be the same on the basketball court. After a slow start to the season as Chris Fouch returned from an injury, the Dragons took off in league play finishing 16-2 and taking a 19 game winning streak into Bruiser’s second CAA championship game appearance. Once again, VCU played the part of foil and ended Drexel’s quest to become the first former American East member to earn the CAA’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

The reasoning for Drexel’s first snub from an at-large bid in 2007 was stated to be due to Drexel failing to finish higher in the CAA standings. The reason given for Drexel not receiving an at-large in 2012 after winning 16 CAA games and winning 19 of 20 games to end the regular season was for a subpar OOC schedule in the eyes of the selection committee. Once again Drexel was required to take an NIT home bid as a consolation, this time winning two games – only the second and third postseason victories in program history.

After the season, VCU announced that they would leave immediately to join the Atlantic 10 conference and Old Dominion and Georgia State announced that they would transition to CUSA and the Sun Belt conferences respectively. The CAA, it seemed with the players Drexel would return, was finally ripe for Drexel’s picking. For winning 50 games in two seasons, Bruiser was rewarded, with a new contract extension.

Injuries and The End

With everything finally seeming to line up for Drexel to take control of the conference, it all came crashing down in a heap of injuries and loss of program identity. If the first 12 seasons under Bruiser Flint relied heavily on strong interior play on offense and tough man-to-man defense, the following  years saw the offense become too overly guard-centric and the tough defense began to break down a little more each season. Ultimately, the talents of four of the top ten scorers in Drexel history would wind up with few returns. After the 2014-15 season the final knockout blow was landed when Damion Lee opted to use the Graduate Transfer rule to use his last year of college eligibility at the University of Louisville. After winning 50 games in two seasons, Bruiser and Drexel have only managed 46 in the four years since.

For the many things that Coach Flint was able to accomplish during his tenure, there was, and would remain, that nagging itch in the middle of your back that remains just out of reach. Namely, those fifteen netted backboards that hung in Richmond and Baltimore. Nobody could imagine that the first game loss down in Richmond way back in 2002 would be a harbinger of things to come, especially not after advancing to the finals in his second year. The truth is that first game flame-outs would turn out to be the norm and not the exception. Bruiser was able to lead his teams to victory in only 5 opening round tournament games out of the 15 he roamed the sideline for. He finished with an overall record of 7-15 in conference tournament games, never pulling a major upset when a lower ranked team and only being .500 when the higher seed separated by more than one seed ranking. In a generally one bid league, preforming that badly in the conference tournament is an insurmountable issue.

Those struggles, mainly in Richmond, also extended out to any game played in the state of Virginia. The 2007 semifinal loss to VCU began a 14 game losing streak in games that were played in the state; a streak that would span two full seasons and change. In a conference that had 5 of its 12 members located in Virginia, it was the utmost importance to handle your business against them if you wanted any chance of reaching the promised land. And he did, to a point, going 35-20 against JMU and William and Mary, but they weren’t the gatekeepers. Those would be the programs of the CAA's Virginia Big Three – George Mason, Old Dominion and Virginia Commonwealth. After UNCW fell on hard times, those three schools received all of the conference auto-bids and all at-larges. If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best, and Bru failed to deliver, posting a 22-33 overall record against them going only .500 at the DAC and an awful 8-19 on the road.

Beyond the struggles in the conference tournament and the games played in Virginia, there were also strategic deficiencies that would manifest themselves throughout the years with different players. The 2005 PNIT game against UCLA provides a very strong case of this. With Drexel up 2 and only 7 seconds remaining, UCLA hit two FTs to tie the game. Drexel was unable to inbound the ball and turned it over on a 5 second call. UCLA would be fouled with less than a second and hit 1 of 2 FTs to steal Drexel’s upset bid. Look at any Drexel fan in a close and late game inbounding situation and you will see the definition of "stressed". Botched inbounds would be a hallmark of the Flint Era. So too would be the slow-paced weave offense that many times would bleed the shot clock leading to a contested, off balance shot to beat the buzzer.  That offense would still be utilized even when Drexel trailed and needed to score in a hurry.  But it is the conference tournament record and these past four lackluster seasons that will weigh heavily on Bruiser’s legacy at Drexel in the early years after his dismissal. In many ways he was cursed by those 50 wins and receiving one extension too many, an extension that saw everything that could go wrong go wrong.

However, as the years go by James "Bruiser" Flint should be remembered more for the positives; as the all-time winningest coach in program history and his guidance in making Drexel respectable in games against Big 5 programs.  This year he did become the first Drexel coach to have defeated all 5 programs during his head coaching career with the win at LaSalle. Not only was he able to have success on the court with Drexel's city rivals, he was also instrumental in getting three of the five (St. Joe’s, Penn and LaSalle) to agree to play the school in a true home and home series. He was also responsible for recruiting some of the best players that this school has ever seen don the blue and gold. For those above reasons, I wish Coach Flint and his family all of the best in wherever they may continue their journey next and thank him for the past 15 years of service and for being an excellent ambassador for Drexel University.