The Dragons fell to KJ Jackson and the UMBC Retrievers on Saturday, 91-76. The contest wasn’t so much a matter of the Dragons not being able to get out of their own way so much as it was being unable to get in the way of the retrievers. For much of UMBC’s 56 point second half outburst, things were as simple as driving the lane and finding nobody home. “It came down to that team kept us in front and we weren’t able to keep them in front… I think it’s pretty basic”said Zach Spiker postgame.
There’s something to that – there has to be – as there’s only 15 teams in Division I that have allowed more points per possession than the Dragons (per Kenpom.com). Because while this will make for interesting games – 7 of the CAA’s 10 teams are in the bottom 100 in the NCAA defensively – Drexel simply won’t be able to win basketball games on a regular basis when playing like this. When KJ Jackson, who averages 9 points per game, walks down the lane and easily dumps in 27 points in a half, there’s an issue. The second half of this contest was Drexel’s third time in nine games this season in which they gave up 50+second half points (they’ve yet to do it once in the first half). In their losses the Dragons have scored an average of 31 points in the second half while giving up 41.
The second half problem seems consistent with another issue the Dragons have – ball movement. Watch any play out of a stoppage and you see crisp clear passes, and you’ll almost always see the ball touch the hands of Alihan Demir, the skilled big who creates all kinds of problems for a defense. Watch as the time since the last stoppage slips away and you’ll see a less crisp team, less passes, less post touches at times. Combine that with the fact that this Dragons team scores two more points than the opponent in the average first half, and is outscored by two points by opponents in the average second half, and it leads one to think that perhaps while this game it was about staying in front of the opponent, perhaps it’s a microcosm of a team that is inexperienced in this system.
“Six of our guys weren’t eligible or allowed to play last year” Spiker is quick to remind fans. And he’s right. And while fans are fair to ask when, after summer workouts, a trip to Australia, and a month of season play, this team expects to fully “buy in” to the coaching, there’s a middle ground to be found. Kurk Lee is still missing (he practiced prior to this contest and should be close to returning)and with the loss of Zach Walton, Coletrane Washington has been pushed into a role faster than expected. There’s been a ton of moving pieces with this team. It doesn’t change the fact that they are strong out of timeouts, strong in the first half – and then fade. They aren’t playing as a complete team with full buy-in right now, and that would seem to be why they are at the bottom of Division I defensively. And that, not zone or man, or individual matchups, or anything else, is what leads to a home loss against a very beatable UMBC team.
The Dragons will be better in January and February than they were in November. Defensively it’s almost impossible not to be. If these coaches can coax their team into their system for all 40 minutes, this can be a very good team in fact. After a timeout with 10:24 to go in the first half, the Dragons finished the half on a 27-10 run. The ability is there – the flashes have been exciting for fans and the knowledge of what this team can do is thrilling – but there is still plenty of work to be done.
The Dragons will get to continue that development at The Mohegan Sun Casino and Resort in Uncasville, CT where they will square off against Quinnipiac on Sunday.