Drexel (11-19, 9-9)
A seemingly harmless postgame statement spoken after Drexel’s seventh consecutive loss didn’t hold much weight at the time, but became ever-relevant some three months later.
When stud wing Damion Lee announced his intentions to play his fifth season outside of Philly, he instantaneously transformed the outlook of his former team’s upcoming season.
And now we’re left to ponder what’s next for Bruiser Flint’s squad.
Drexel is coming off a mercurial season that featured a seven-game losing streak (including…well…this) that was nearly forgotten amid a six-game stretch of CAA ascendancy that saw Lee dominate the best teams the league had to offer.
Drexel turned in its worst defensive performance (allowed 105.0 points per 100 possessions, 216th in D-I) since Flint’s first year in ’01-’02. Outside of Lee, the Dragons were downright poor offensively, posting an abysmal 0.59 points per possession in the worst single-game offensive performance (JMU home game) of the Flint Era.
This overall lackluster play can be recognized by the fact that the Dragons finished ninth in conference play in both offensive and defensive effective field goal percentages.
As has been the case in recent years, injuries played a massive roles. Flint was forced to rely heavily upon a five-man freshman class, causing Drexel to conclude the season as D-I’s 306th most experienced team. Flint will lean on that youthful experience and three redshirts to keep the post-Lee ship floating.
A quartet of sophomore guards enters the season in fierce competition for playing time.
After starting 14 games alongside Frantz Massenat and Chris Fouch in ’13-‘14, Major Canady was poised to step into a massive role last season. Canady fractured his ankle before the season, continuing an unfortunate recent trend in Flint’s snake-bitten tenure.
Now healthy, Canady will compete with rising sophomores Rashann London and Sammy Mojica for playing time.
London (7.0 points per game) started every game as a freshman. His 0.85 assist-to-turnover ratio was concerning (even for a freshman point guard). But London improved in that area as the season progressed, and would’ve registered higher assist totals on a better shooting team. Canady’s presence will allow London to play off the ball more frequently.
Mojica was a crucial sparkplug during Drexel’s midseason surge, averaging 10.5 points during the six-game winning streak. On a team lacking proven three-point shooters, Mojica (24-of-64, 37.5% from three) will have a claim to big-time minutes.
6’5” Ahmad Fields chose Utah over Colorado, Mississippi, and St. Joe’s out of high school. Adam Herrmann indicated that Fields has been a standout in intrasquad pickup games, and might start from the get go. Fields showed a propensity for getting buckets in limited action as a freshman, and the redshirt sophomore might be the player best suited to consume the bulk of Lee’s minutes.
The Dragons return a double-digit scorer in senior Tavon Allen. Allen is 157 points away from hitting 1,000 for his career, but last year’s 37.3 effective field goal percentage and Dan Crain’s research point to Allen as one of the least efficient scorers in D-I. Allen averaged 3.7 assists per game during Drexel’s six-game winning streak, which shows how the team thrived when he took on more of a facilitative role.
Drexel’s lone freshman, Terrell Allen, might be the only pure point guard on the roster. He’s a good bet to see the court for that reason.
Last season represented the third consecutive in which Flint had to replace his leading rebounder. Bru’s teams finished top-16 nationally in defensive rebounding percentage from 2011 through 2013 before slipping to 96th in 2014 and a middling 172nd last season.
I expect the fall to stop there.
Injuries forced Flint to roll with guard-heavy lineups, and we know damn well that four guards and one forward make Dan an angry man. Frontcourt depth should allow the Dragons to play to their strengths, and avoid guard-heavy lineups that are particularly problematic for the archetypal rock fighter.
In Rodney Williams and Mohamed Bah, Flint has two juniors with 30+ career starts to their names. Insert Kazembe Abif, who redshirted last season while recovering from a torn ACL, and this has the makings of one of the better frontcourts in the conference.
Williams was an All-CAA Rookie Teamer in ’13-’14, and brings a rare level of athleticism to the league. Williams put up numbers (8.2 points, 7.0 rebounds) despite missing the first eight conference games with a stress fracture. The team needs to prioritize getting Williams the ball.
Bah started every game last season, but averaged just over two field goal attempts per game in conference play. Bah spent his summer playing with the Malinese National Team, and is another guy with solid percentages (64.3% during conference play) who could use a few more touches.
Abif has 17 career starts to his name, and will be the most tenured big man on the squad. He’ll most likely start on the bench while he rounds into form.
Sophomores Tyshawn Miles and Austin Williams played spot minutes as freshmen. Miles posted a double-double versus Delaware in January, and mixes Daryl McCoy’s size with Samme Givens’ desire to be a true difference maker on the glass. Williams actually started a dozen times, but only played more than eight minutes in one of those starts.
Flint secured an intriguing midseason transfer who will redshirt the upcoming season. Miles Overton put up Tavon-esque (efficiency wise) numbers in 36 games at Wake Forest. It remains to be seen whether or not he was a product of Jeff Bzdelik’s trainwreck, or part of the quandary. We’ll have to wait until ’16-’17 to see Overton on the floor.
Without a Givens, Massenat, Fouch, or Lee in sight, Flint has to get this team back to the rugged underdog mentality that’s defined Drexel basketball for the majority of the last 14 years. Dominating the boards, defending the perimeter, and taking care of the basketball are three elements that had Drexel on the winning side of so many rock fights in the past decade, and we need to see the Dragons trend back in that direction.
This program has positively surprised us before, and returns three players who started 30-plus games last season. Ultimately, it just feels like the Dragons will be too reliant on unproven players. We’ve seen enough flashes from the sophomore guards and upperclassmen bigs to understand this team’s potential for growth, but even extreme optimists would have a hard time pegging Drexel as a contender.
If Bru turns in a throwback coaching job, this team could surprise and push for a .500 finish in conference play. Given what we know about the team right now, I think seventh or eighth place might be this team’s ceiling.