The Drexel Dragons finished non-conference play with a record of 6-7 (5-7 for those who want to exclude the Arcadia game). Eric Resnick was a little off with his prediction of 8-5 with Drexel’s solid performances against La Salle, Temple, and Houston being as good as their games against NJIT and Robert Morris were bad.
While not an excuse Zach Spiker and the rest of the program are comfortable with, injuries and absences were a problem. Tramaine Isabell, who is living up to Major Canaday’s preseason praise, missed three games, two of which the Dragons lost. Troy Harper has been out since the Paradise Jam. The Drexel staff is hopeful that both players will be at 100% soon.
But on to the numbers. . .
Bruiser Flint would tell us that the team needs to make their shots. This adage rings true with Zach Spiker’s Dragons, especially from outside the arc. Last year’s team had one big difference in their backcourt and that was Kari Jonsson. The kid from Iceland was a lights out three-point shooter, pouring in 43.7% of his attempted threes. In limited action, Jarvis Doles is averaging 40.7%, but the Dragons do not have the bonified outside shooter that they had last year in the Iceman. What they do have is a number of streaky shooters from the perimeter, but Drexel lacks that ever game threat that they are able to rely on.
To really find what this Dragons need to do to put more ticks in the win column, we need to dive a little deeper into their analytics. Looking at performances against opponents, the formula for a Dragons win is not that surprising. When Drexel keeps their turnover rate under 19%, they are 4-3. When they are over 19% they are 1-4. The Dragons have posted a better turnover rate than their opponents in just three games this season, have drawn once, and have been on the wrong end of the metric eight times. Winning that battle on top of limiting their own turnovers would undoubtedly help.
Assist rate, which is a measure of assists divided by a team’s made field goals, is another category where a correlation with winning can be found. When Drexel moves the ball effectively, recording assists on more than 40% of their makes, they are 4-2. When they are under 40%, they are 1-5. It’s a sign of hero-ball and lack of quick ball movement in losses. This team has frequently played two point guards on the floor at the same time which makes the trend away from quick passes particularly frustrating. This was true not only after Troy Harper’s shoulder injury but before as well. With two guys on the court capable of effectively moving the ball, they need to work more effectively on the perimeter and in the lane to do just that.
Then there is dominance on the defensive boards. When the Dragons hold opponents to an offensive rebounding rate that is less than 25% they are 4-2. When opponents are grabbing more than one of every four offensive rebounds from the Dragons they are, you guessed it, 1-5. Their distribution of rebounds is something that stands out though. While Spiker has said openly that he does not like putting labels on his offensive players, Kenpom disagrees. Drexel has gotten 23.7% of their defensive rebounds from the shooting guard position. That, right there, is all Isabell, and it is good enough for 15th in the nation. In fact, Tramaine Isabell already has two double-doubles this year. If Sammy Mojica can get back to his rebounding numbers from last season, which have been good but not as good as last year (and may be being negated by Isabell), we should see this trend increase even more.
On the offensive glass, Drexel has been nothing short of excellent. They rank in the top 100 in the nation in offensive rebound percentage, largely due to the performances of Austin Williams and Tyshawn Myles. The two players are averaging grabbing 12.2%, and 13.4% of offensive rebounds when they are on the floor respectively. If Austin can continue to stay out of foul trouble, his contributions on the offensive end of the court should increase as well.
And finally, there is free throw percentage. This team is doing a great job of getting to the line. The Dragons currently have three players shooting over 80% from the charity stripe: Isabell, Harper, and Alihan Demir. Two of those guys, Isabell and Harper, are two of the best in the nation at getting to the line. Isabell is 187th in the nation in fouls drawn per 40 minutes, and before his injury, Harper was averaging 8.4 in the same statistic. While Harper’s body of work is considerably smaller, one just must look at his play with Campbell through his first two seasons of college ball to realize that he is the real deal when it comes to getting to the line.
At the other end of the spectrum they also have Austin Williams, who is generating the 134th highest free throw rate in the nation, and is shooting just 43% from the line. While Williams has never been a great free throw shooter, that 43% is well under his career average. Some extra time from the stripe in practice could help this team because when their free throw percentage is over 70%, Drexel is 4-2. Under 60%? 1-5.
Looking at those five factors, Drexel came out on top in all five categories twice this season, against Lafayette and Quinnipiac. They were successful in four of those categories just once, besting Rider. They split the four games where they won three categories. Less than three was not nearly as pretty. Drexel was 0-5 when they won two categories or less. With a record of 5-2 when winning three or more categories, Drexel has proven that they don’t have to be perfect every night to win games, but they need to be consistent and competitive. This will be a pattern that Always a Dragon continues to monitor.
Winning games goes deeper than the categories we’ve explored today but some of the fundamentals that we’ve looked at give us a real peak at what this team needs to do to be successful beyond having a high shooting percentage. Controlling the ball when they have it, moving it effectively, rebounding well, and capitalizing on freebees might be as good a formula for Duke or UNC as it is Drexel, but the clear correlation of numbers through twelve of the first thirteen games of the season is pretty clear.
With CAA play starting in just a couple of days, pressure is going to start to mount for this Dragons team. The fans and the program want to see improvement, not just with their record but also in the process. If Drexel can work on these aspects of their game, their CAA record could be a little better than the 5-13 predicted by Kenpom.