The return of a number of players from injuries has been the talk of the Drexel program for the last week. It lead to the question: How much of an impact should these returns have for the Dragons? And thus began the string of research below:
Unlike professional sports, college basketball does not have a disabled list or an injured reserve. In a search for a way to differentiate a player who is injured from a player who just did not get playing time, an average of 12 minutes a game was required for a player to be included in the study.. Each time a player who averaged that 12 minutes a game played a game, it was considered a “player game.” Then, we used each year’s end of year statistics at Kenpom.com to see how many games were missed by players. They will be referred to as “lost games.” We then took the number of lost games and divided it by the total number of expected “player games” for that season to determine a lost games percentage for that year. The higher the percentage, the more injuries there were that season.
The Early Years
2006‐2012 could best be described as the “golden years” of Bruiser Flint’s coaching tenure. It started with the 23‐9 2006‐2007 season that saw them ousted from the CAA Tournament in the second round. VCU and ODU got to dance that year, and many thought that Drexel would have an outside chance of dancing themselves. Looking back over the last ten years of Drexel basketball draws an interesting yet almost expected pattern. Since the 2006‐07 season, the Dragons have had three twenty win seasons: 2006‐07, 2010‐11, and the infamous 2011‐12 season. The 21‐10 2010‐11 campaign is the most remarkable of this group. Drexel did not appear to lose a single full game to injury. On average, Drexel lost less than 4% of possible player games due to injury during those seasons.
Drexel was remarkably durable for those six seasons while playing for Bruiser Flint who was a physically demanding coach. He played short benches, usually seven or eight players tops. He was intent on slowing the game down and dominating possession. Once the 2012‐13 season hit, something changed.
The Injury Era
For the next four seasons, Drexel would see their injury rates go through the roof. They saw Chris Fouch, Damion Lee, and Major Canady each miss seasons with injuries, in Canady’s case he missed two. Those long‐term injuries pushed Drexel’s injury rate up to or over 20% in those seasons, peaking at 22.5% in the 2014‐15 season when Canady missed his first full season. A team that lost ten or less games to injury a year for the preceding six seasons now lost almost three times that. Even removing those season-long injuries does not help much for three of the four seasons, as the percentage of games lost still would be nearly double what it was for any of the first six years of the study.
The Arrival of Zach Spiker
Some things have changed since the beginning of the 2016‐17 season. Drexel has a new coach. They have a new weight room. What has not changed is the rate of injuries that this team is seeing. Drexel lost nearly 13% of player games last year due to injury, which is at a 12‐year high when excluding season‐long ailments. Excluding the minutes played restrictions outlined earlier, Drexel has lost 39 games to injury already this year and currently has a games lost percentage of 27% for this season.
While Spiker’s approach to how he handles the team is clearly different than Flint’s, there is still a high physical demand on players. These Dragons are asked to play a demanding tempo. Troy Harper, Kurk Lee and Tramaine Isabell are constantly in the lane challenging players who are much bigger than them. Harper and Isabell draw a combined 12.8 fouls per 40 minutes, an incredibly high number. The wear and tear that their individual play style brings could have presumably contributed to their injuries, and very likely did for at least Harper’s.
What Does This All Mean?
A case study like this is not going to find the root cause of Drexel’s injury woes since September of 2012. In fact, it probably raises more questions. One theory would be bad luck. A five year string of bad luck. Another would be that Drexel was attempting to recruit high risk/high reward players. While we can’t be sure why the team has been so devastated the last 6 years, we can show the relationship between player games lost and winning percentage.
Bruiser Flint was able to prove that guys could play a high number of minutes, and when they were healthy, they were successful. The three 20 win seasons were proof of that. The more recent years, especially 2014-15, shows exactly what happens when guys get hurt and a team lacks a suitable replacement. Rashann London probably was not ready to take the point for the Dragons. The system was what kept him going that year. Even so, he was asked to do more than what he was probably ready for at that point in his career.
As this Dragons team seems to be getting healthy, we should hope to see that injury percentage start to trend down. As players settle into more defined roles and a more defined rotation, wear and tear should be reduced and things like Kurk Lee’s 93.7% minutes played statistic will be a thing of the past. It goes without saying that a healthier team is going to be more apt to perform better. When role players are asked to do things they might not be capable of, or when a team’s stars are asked to do too much, the other regular aspects of their game are going to be more likely to suffer.
At the tip-off of Sunday’s game against William & Mary, the only two players in sweats due to injury were Sam Green and Tyshawn Myles. While there has been no time table given for either player, the hope is that they will be back on the court soon, and we will get to see a 100% healthy Drexel team for the first time in quite a while.