Why not this year?
Those who follow the program even remotely realize how demoralizing the past few years have been. And as we all know, outside of that glorious run a few years back, Drexel’s CAA Tournament history has been an unmitigated disaster. Far more talented teams than this year’s iteration have saved their worst basketball for last, often leaving uninspiring performances on some of the most uninspiring arena floors the east coast has to offer.
So then, we must assume that this year could or will be different. Drexel, which up until a week or so ago had more wins against the Big 5 than the rest of its schedule combined, has enjoyed a bit of a renaissance of late.
The Dragons spoiled another William and Mary senior day, pulling off another stunner in Williamsburg last week. Drexel followed that up by beating the hapless Blue Hens of Delaware, a task that seemed somewhat far-fetched just a few days prior. The Dragons were a made-for-tv movie open three pointer away from finishing the regular season on a three game winning streak. They largely held a potent Northeastern offense in check. Well, until the team neglected to cover David Walker for stretches of the second half… but I digress.
Drexel will match up in the CAA Tournament’s first game in front of what I must assume will be a sold out crowd. The Dragons will take on eighth seeded Elon before College of Charleston and Delaware square off in the nightcap. You could argue that Elon is about as good of a matchup as Drexel could have hoped for in the first round. The Phoenix are 2-0 against the Dragons this year (and you can’t beat a team three times in a row, right?), with both wins coming by a margin of five points. Elon lit up the scoreboard in the first game, posting 83 points and shooting just shy of 50% from the floor. They had four players in double figures and jacked up 23 three pointers, hitting 11 of them. The Dragons were led by a dominating performance by Rodney Williams, who along with Tavon Allen posted 19 points apiece. Both teams played sloppy basketball, with 14 turnovers for Drexel and 15 for Elon. The Dragons committed a ridiculous amount of fouls, 29 in total, which led to 31 free throws for the Phoenix. Drexel got to the line nearly as often, making 23 of their 29 attempts.
A couple of weeks ago, Elon returned to the DAC for another high scoring affair. The Phoenix downed Drexel 81-76 behind a ridiculous, and consistent, shooting night (58% from 2, 58% from 3, 58% from the line). Elon had five players in double figures, led again by Tanner Samson. Drexel shot well from the floor, at 52%, but couldn’t keep up with Elon from deep as they shot 6-17 for 35%. The foul and free throws were kept under wraps in that one, with Drexel committing 17 fouls which led to 12 Elon free throws. The Phoenix committed 12 fouls which led to 10 Dragon free throw attempts. Drexel point guard Terrell Allen (note to broadcasters: no relation to Tavon, seriously guys) led the way with 18 points and 7 assists. The freshman point guard has been hot of late, but has found himself in foul trouble too often.
So what will it take for Drexel to get its first tournament win in Baltimore? First and foremost, the Dragons need to get back to playing better defense. Their man defense in the backcourt has been a problem all season long. Drexel fans have grown weary of watching guards chasing their opponent from behind. Generally speaking, it’s tough to play defense when you’re behind the guy you’re supposed to be guarding as he streaks towards the basket.
Next up is foul trouble. Drexel has done a better job of staying out of foul trouble (technically they couldn’t have gotten any worse from the beginning of the year) recently. With that being said, they can’t afford to lose Terrell Allen or Rodney Williams to foul trouble. Both players are too talented to be watching from the bench. I firmly believe that Drexel has the top starting frontcourt in the league with Williams and Kazembe Abif. It’s the first time in a long time that the Dragons have two legitimate scorers down low. Abif complements Williams post game well with his ability to hit mid-range jump shots. But again, Drexel needs those guys on the floor. Tyshawn Myles (before the apparent injury) and Austin Williams (remember him?) have done well in reserve. Mohamed Bah, who was the first forward off the bench for much of the year, hasn’t seen playing time since the first Delaware game.
It’s been said before, and it’ll be said again, but Drexel has really lived and died by shot selection. When Drexel’s guards take open shots with feet set they tend to make their opponents pay. But all too often, the offense has stagnated around contested shots, shots with players falling to a side, or some discouraging combination of the two. Take Tavon Allen for example. The senior guard is shooting just 36.9% from inside the arc, but a nearly identical 35.9% from three. He’s averaging 0.74 points per field goal attempt from two point range and 1.08 points per attempt from behind the arc. Those numbers should jump out at you (and ideally him). He has taken more three pointers than not (65 to 61) but his team would be best served if he pushed that ratio higher given his poor overall percentage from inside the line. Sammy Mojica is averaging 0.72 points per field goal attempt from inside the arc, and exactly 1.0 points per three point attempt. Noticing a trend?
It is imperative for Drexel’s guards to take and make open shots. Far too often of late, Drexel’s backcourt has neglected to make enough shots to keep opposing defenses honest. Rodney Williams may be the best one-on-one offensive forward in the league, but even he has trouble scoring against what have often because double teams or worse. Teams are stacking the paint to take away Drexel’s low post advantage. The Allens, Mojica, and London need to make Elon pay if it employs such a strategy. I’d go into the art of not shooting shots from six inches inside of the three point line, but I’ll get too riled up to continue.
So I think that about covers it. I think at this point it’s safe to assume Drexel will be suiting up for a match-up against top seeded Hofstra on Saturday afternoon. Ever the optimist, I’ll keep telling myself that until the buzzer sounds. See you guys in Baltimore. Go Dragons!