In Which We Preview Out of Conference Play

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Coach Spiker enters his third season at Drexel after an improved record of 6-7 out of conference (OOC) last season.  Last seasons form included a win off off NCAA bound (and sometimes ranked) Houston in the (not so) Paradise Jam. However, while playing a favorable schedule in OOC, the team did not follow through on its performance come the beginning of CAA play.

A trip to Australia over the summer to play professional teams should give the Dragons a head start over most teams whom did not have the opportunity to rehearse before the regular season. A couple of those Australian teams featured former professionals from the NBA and others who aspire to that level.  Long time Drexel fans may remember the name Alex Laughton from ODU, who got a chance to see the Blue and Gold once again.  That extra preparation means that despite a large turnover of players, this Drexel team should be ready for 2018-2019.

This OOC schedule features 7 home games, including a D3 fill-in-the-gap-on-your-schedule game, a “home” match against Temple at the Palestra, a neutral game at a casino, and just 5 road games. This is certainly the lowest amount of road OOC games since Drexel has played in since the 31-game schedule. It is not a Bruiser Flint-tough schedule, but it is the most well-rounded OOC schedule in Spiker’s three years.

Prior year RPI in parenthesis. Drexel was 234

Nov 9 @ Eastern Michigan (144)- This is match against a MAC opponent that will be a defensive challenge and match up issue for Drexel, playing a team that won 22 games last year and returns many of its players. The Eagles do not lack for height with 6’10” James Thompson who averaged 14.5 PPG and 11.2 RPG last season and 6’9” Elijah Minnie 16.8 PPG and 6.1 RPG. A win here would certainly set a good tone for the season.

Nov 11 @ Rutgers (142)- By definition, Rutgers is Big Ten team, but it has not been easy for the Knights. SI and virtually every media outlet has Rutgers finishing last in its conference and there is the history to back it.  However, when your team is struggling in the CAA, any team in the Big Ten is a tall order. Rutgers loses Corey Sanders to the NBA draft and will rely on players to step up from last season. Rutgers features sophomore sensation Geo Baker who impressed in hit first year by averaging nearly 11 PPG and looks to replace some of the scoring lost by Sanders. Even with Rutgers’ expected improvement, this is a winnable match, but coming back after a long trip to Ypsilanti, Michigan, with a turnaround of less than 48 hours will be a challenge for DU. Drexel got bounced by Rutgers by 19 two seasons ago.

Nov 17 @ La Salle (189) – Last season, Drexel made it three wins in a row with a somewhat surprising win at La Salle.  That win put Drexel at 5-4, the deepest in the season that this squad has had a winning record in quite some time. Neither team has had much to brag about the in recent years and lagging attendance at both gyms reflects it. Drexel will go back to the Tom Gola Arena to continue what has turned into a year-in year-out series. Drexel has won in both of its prior two visits to Olney Avenue, including one of Kurk Lee’s finest performances as a Dragon, scoring 23 including 4-6 shooting from three last December. Leading the Explorer bench will be a familiar face: former Dragon Ashley Howard.  He begins his first season as a head coach this year. La Salle returns its star Pookie Powell for one more season; he can pretty much light it up from anywhere.

Nov 21 Boston U (257) – Playing the second of three of Drexel’s former conference-mates (others being La Salle and Temple) will be a rekindling of a memory from the Bill Herrion days. BU will be a fine match up as Drexel finally opens its home season with a D-I opponent. The Terriers managed just a 15-16 record last season and lost many players due to graduation. They return 2018 all-Patriot League forward Max Mahoney. Mahoney scored nearly 13 PPG last season, but most impressive was his unheard of 60.1 FG%.  (Editor’s note:  Multiple family members including my only sibling are BU grads.  Coach Spiker, I need this one!  I gotta have it!  For the love of all that…)

Nov 25 @Bowling Green (202) – Drexel opened its season last year with a 78-69 loss to Bowling Green at home. Justin Turner had 33 points in front of the DAC largest crowd of the season. The bad news is Turner, an all-MAC Honorable Mention, is just a red-shirt sophomore and will look to terrorize the Drexel front court again. He will be joined by senior forward Demajeo Wiggins, 2017-18 second team All-MAC, who averaged a double-double last season.  It will be a huge test for Drexel’s young frontcourt.

Nov 28 NJIT (275) – Scheduling OOC games when you are a mid-major that does not draw fans is a difficult task. This is why D-III schools and NJIT show up on your schedule. That said, you do not expect to lose to them, as Drexel lost by 12 to NJIT last November, surrendering a halftime lead and leaving Coach Spiker spitting mad.  No one expects Drexel to repeat 3-21 (14%) from three this year. NJIT’s Abdul Lewis ranks 54th among active D-I players in total rebounds and added 12 PPG last season.

Dec 1 Robert Morris (248) – Drexel was riding a 3-game winning streak last December until it arrived at PPG Paints Arena and proceeded to lose by 14 points (and it wasn’t even that close), in front of 20,000 empty seats. Robby Mo was looking good at that point in the season, but their year never panned out, and they finished 7th in the NEC. From the look on Coach Spiker’s face, it may have been Drexel’s worst performance of the season (apologies NJIT). Last April, the Colonials got burned when its leading scorer, Dachon Burke, transferred to Nebraska. But this year they return Imhotep Charter’s Koby Thomas, who put up 12 PPG and 6.9 RPG last season in his freshman year. They also return senior guard Matty McConnell, who chipped in nearly 11 PPG.

Dec 5 Loyola (MD) (325) – The Dragons suffered a close loss in Baltimore last season; shooting 33% from the field usually doesn’t do it for you. Chuck Champion, out of Friends Central, put up 21 on the Dragons in that contest and looks to add to his 11.5 PPG from last season. If there ever was a game ripe for returning the favor this year, this may be it.

Dec 8 UMBC (132) – If you live long enough, you will see everything. It was only a matter of time, after 136 attempts, that a 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament would take down a #1, and Virginia now has that dubious distinction (also remember they lost by 20 and gave up 53 points in the second half!). It makes the Retrievers not just another D-I school with an unnecessarily longer name. Two of the starters from that magic night are not returning, including Jairus Lyles who put up 28 (now playing in the NBA G League), but they do return Arkel Lamar and senior Joe Shurburne who each contributed over 10 PPG last season.

Dec 16 Quinnipiac (Uncasville, CT- Mohegan Sun) (283) – This is yet another rematch from last season against a team that hadn’t been playing well. Drexel snuck out a close and tight win, 72-71 in Quinnipiac then. Cameron Young launched 24 on Drexel and the Dragons gave up many easy opportunities in that game. This game will be played as part of a triple header at the Mohegan Sun Casino, home of the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun.

Dec 18 @ UConn (137) – The Dragons will head from Mohegan Sun up the road to Storrs to play the most household name on the schedule and one of two teams on the OOC schedule who have held a national championship. UConn struggled mightily last season, going just 14-18 (7-11 AAC). The school was investigated for recruiting violations and fired head coach Kevin Ollie at the end of the season. New coach Dan Hurley, still has many weapons to work with, including Christian Vital (14.9PPG) who entertained the idea of playing in the NBA this year. Vital is not afraid to launch the 3, whether or not it is warranted. Jalen Adams amassed an impressive 18.1 PPG last season and was their best player. Hurley also brings in grad transfer Tarin Smith, who averaged 12.4 PPG last season for Duquesne.

Dec 22 Temple (80) – Playing a second AAC team in a row, Drexel challenged Temple down to the wire last season only to lose 63-60 as part of Drexel’s chameleonic OOC. Temple wasn’t so consistent itself last year (17-16), beating greats such as Auburn and Clemson, but lost to GW and La Salle. This match will be played at the Palestra where Drexel will don the home jerseys. This will be part of the Fran Dunphy farewll tour as former Owl Aaron McKie is taking them helm at head coach. Senior Shizz Alston (13.3PPG) returns as the Temple point guard alongside junior Quinton Rose (14.9PPG).

The OOC schedule is anything but predictable as last season showed. Drexel is clearly not an at-large bid – these games are purely preparation for conference play where wins and seeding matter. Staying healthy and becoming confident will be the goal.

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