The CAA Basketball world is now well aware that Troy Harper joins teammates Zach Walton and Kurk Lee* on the sidelines for the rest of the season. When a sixth place team that was already thin loses its top scorer, most folks will start packing it in for next year. And while there is certainly reason for Drexel fans to look towards next year, one that should be rife with excitement, the question “What does this mean for this year?” should be asked prior to that look ahead.
First, the numbers:
Put simply, the team scores at a 76.4 points per game pace when Troy Harper is on the floor but not involved in the outcome of a possession** and a 69.2 points per game pace when he is involved. Amongst regular contributors, he is, by far, the guy weighting down the offensive statistics, rather than bringing them up. This is the reason that we live in an era that celebrates offensive efficiency, even more than it does scoring output. The differences can be huge. But these efficiency stats aren’t entirely fair to Troy either.
Troy’s involvement in 29.2% of the teams possessions when he is on the floor is 76th in the entire country. This team leaned on Troy a lot. In those per possession numbers include countless late game quick shots, late in the shot clock bail out attempts, and drives into the “trees” inside to attempt to get guys like Devontae Cacok and Jarrell Brantley in foul trouble. He was the go to guy for all of that, and those are going to weight down the numbers when the shot doesn’t fall or he doesn’t get the call. Put simply, and perhaps this is the best thing you can say about any senior guard in D-I basketball: Troy’s numbers made his teammates numbers higher.
Where does that leave Coach Spiker and Company? Well, with Matey Juric for one. Matey has battled injury for most of the year, and generally when he has been in games it was out of necessity more than choice. His numbers look like it, but given the small sample size and the oddball situations that they’ve been created in, they are fairly easily dismissed. What Matey does provide is a second point guard on the floor, and in an oddball way, this could work.
Trevor John is ninth in the country this season in turnover rate. That’s ninth out of about 4,500 players. It’s beyond exceptional. The reason? He and the staff know his limitations. He’s a spot up three point shooter who plays under control, sees if he has a shot, and if not, makes a smart pass to a teammate. Matey Juric isn’t the offensive player that Troy Harper is, but if he drives and finishes when it is there, passes when it isn’t, and takes the occasional open look, he can have a similar offensive efficiency to Troy Harper, albiet in many fewer possessions. And if he makes those passes that can create for others from time to time, like he did against Delaware, he can help his teammates who now have to carry more of that load that Troy was hefting for them. The key is, like Trevor John, he has to understand his limits and play within them. When Juric is on the floor, there will be at least three other scorers out there with him. If he puts them in a position to be successful, Matey will himself be successful. In that way, while Matey will be playing off the ball, he’ll still be acting as more of a point guard than any other two guard in the league. One expects his teammates efficiency numbers to fall, especially Cam Wynter, who will be forced into more late shot clock situations, but the more that Matey can help cushion that fall, the more likely the Dragons will be to remain a threat in the league.
Defensive metrics aren’t as easy. Matey was beaten multiple times during the Delaware game, but he was also being asked to defend UD’s best player, Ryan Allen. He likely will draw soon to be CAA Player of the Year Justin Wright-Foreman in the next contest, so welcome to the bigs, Matey. Truth is, Matey held Allen to a very mediocre efficiency number in the UD contest, and his bulldog like work going after loose balls ensured that UD wouldn’t get back into the game. Troy Harper’s Defensive Win Share was fourth on the team, and he was beaten off the ball more than one would hope from a senior. This is an area where DU loses some athleticism, but may be able to avoid seeing much of a drop. With the rotation changed, and more Doles, which in Drexel’s case means more length, on the floor, expect to see more and more zone. That may not happen until tourney time, since upcoming opponents Hofstra and Northeastern can certainly shoot teams out of a zone, but it likely will happen.
So in the end, does the loss of Troy Harper doom this team? The numbers seem to suggest that it does not. While the Delaware team may not have been prepared for a Harper-less team like Hofstra, Northeastern, and tourney opponents will be, Drexel had their second most effective offensive game of the conference season against UD, and did it despite not shooting the ball particularly well. The movement towards off the ball movement should get some open looks for more effective shooters. But the tightrope that the team and coaching staff are walking, is now exceptionally thin.
In particular, two recent issues that the Dragons have been grappling with would absolutely kill these new look Dragons. Any kind of foul trouble will make this team thin, but foul trouble on Cam Wynter, the only guard left who can be expected to regularly penetrate the defense, is basically a one game death sentence. And that’s tough because Cam will likely be asked to go in and try to get fouls called in Troy’s absence. Once driving in, an offensive foul can be called just as easily as a defensive one, especially with the defense now being able to focus more on Cam than they were. The second issue is the pick six. Hypothetically the value that is gained from Troy not playing is in smarter shots being taken, and less forcing the ball into places that aren’t there. If someone steps in to fill that void, let it be Matey or anyone else, this team won’t be able to recover like they were with Troy.
The Drexel offense needs to be slower and more methodical now, the quick comeback of yesteryear is likely a thing of the past. And in that way, while the team can possibly get through this from an efficiency perspective, they will look like a totally different team, while trying to end up in the same place.
The staff at AlwaysADragon want to thank Troy Harper for representing the Dragons for the last three seasons and all of the contributions and efforts he has made for the University community. An injury to end a senior season is always unfortunate, but to see it happen to a leader and competitor like Troy makes it somehow worse. We look forward to seeing him talking smack from the bench, helping his teammates and getting his Drexel diploma. And maybe he can show Cam Wynter how to draw that shooting foul two seconds after the whistle has blown. Thanks for everything, Troy!
*Kurk Lee’s absence for the remainder of the year is unconfirmed, but appears very likely
**Per Kenpom.com: Percentage of possessions used (%Poss): A measure of personal possessions used while the player is on the court. Simply assigns credit or blame to a player when his actions end a possession, either by making a shot, missing a shot that isn’t rebounded by the offense, or committing a turnover.