There’s quite a behind the scenes motion right now to get people excited about Drexel Basketball. The last winning season for the program was in 2011-2012, and so the first question that many will ask is… “Why the hell should I be excited about Drexel Basketball?” There’s two reasons:
- A women’s team that is 9-5, and hasn’t lost a game to a team that isn’t in the top 100. They routinely play in the postseason and deserve much, much more space on these pages, and love around their campus, than they get.
- A men’s team that hasn’t had a winning record in their conference since 2011-2012. A team whose marketing staff seems to be working with the slogan “Silent But Deadly” this year, and whose Athletic Director promotes his flagship program less than he promotes his squash program (go on Twitter and count folks).
That got ugly quick, didn’t it?
But there is an argument for the men’s program. And it’s a damn good one, that was presented to me last week: “We have nearly the same record, but we’re in much better shape than we were at this time last year.” And it’s true.
Yes, the incoming recruiting class is reason to be excited. TJ Bickerstaff was recruited by teams as big as Georgetown during his recruiting process, and the big man with guard skills is a coach’s son who should see plenty of playing time during his Drexel career. Oh, and Mate Okros, his incoming classmate, a wing with a handle and a mean jump shot, has an argument for being just as good a prospect, if not better, than TJ.
To round out the incoming class argument, here’s a picture in time of last years team compared to this years team:
That may not look like much, but it was the coach of Drexel’s upcoming homecoming game opponent (James Madison, this Saturday!) Louis Rowe who made this bold statement during two different press availability sessions this Tuesday:
“They may have had some addition by subtraction this offseason”.
In this era of Belichick level (Spiker level?) statements of saying nothing to the press, a Head Coach saying that is huge. And anyone who has heard rumblings from the DAC over the prior year knows there’s a level of truth to it. This website isn’t about rumblings and whispers though, so lets do some quick math:
Last year the Dragons had a commanding center presence in Austin Williams, a four year wing player with a jumpshot in Sammy Mojica, and perhaps the most talented offensive player since current Golden State Warrior Damion Lee was wearing Blue and Gold: Tramaine Isabell. They also had Miles Overton, son the NBA’s Doug Overton, and Tyshawn Myles as role players.
After losing all of that talent, the offensive efficiency of the Dragons went from 1.03 points per possession last year to… 1.07 points per possession this year. Yes, the offense actually improved. They were the sixth ranked offense in the CAA last year, this year they are fourth, and the most challenging portion of their schedule is behind them. Also, the team just got Kurk Lee back from injury. In a league with some very strong offenses (Hofstra and Northeastern will almost certainly end up top 50 offenses in the country, if not top 25) the Dragons should finish this season with the third ranked offense in the conference. In short, they have greatly improved despite the offseason talent loss.
Read into that what you will.
On the defensive side, the lack of Austin Williams has been felt. None of the big men currently playing are upperclassman, and it looks like it out there. In this era of spread the floor and/or motion offensive basketball, the big men are being left on an island more than ever, and Drexel’s have looked young, and not gotten the help they have needed.
Coach Spiker emphasized defense in the offseason, then again as the team went into the exam break, then again as the conference season began, and the results really haven’t changed. Ugly, ugly, and ugly, it’s been an almost historically bad year for the program, which currently ranks in the bottom 10 in the nation defensively. There’s abundant red flags here, including some big red flags for Coach Spiker himself. The defensive efficiency plummeted at Army when he took over, and did move back to the pack a bit after he left and his assistant, Jimmy Allen took over. The defensive efficiency at Drexel sank when he took over as well.
The good news is, he knows it, and his talk about it isn’t just talk. He’s continuing to experiment, and after very clearly not wanting to play zone this year, the team is showing much more 1-3-1 and 2-3 of late. Fans can expect to see other wrinkles as well as he continues to hit the big red emergency button. Ultimately, this may need to be an offseason fix, and aided by maturation of the front court, but if the current staff can even get this team to just be below average as opposed to terrible defensively, the offense that they are driving will make them a February contender.
And that takes us to the overall picture. And perhaps the reason to be most excited. Look at the players they lost last year, namely Isabell, Williams and Mojica. Then realize that the Dragons have been missing Lee and Walton almost all of this season. That’s an entire starting five gone! Literally. It’s a point guard, a shooter, two wings and a center that have been gone. And you know what has happened to the Kenpom rating? It’s almost the exact same. 251 vs 253 right now. It’s not glamorous, but they’ve gotten younger, the recruiting is in order, they’ve taken some bad injuries, and they haven’t lost any ground while doing it.
Take it a step further. Here’s the winning percentage from Bruiser Flint’s final season to today:
It’s a straight line upwards!
Listen, this was never going to be an overnight process, but the process that is being undertaken is working. This team has two exciting incoming players, a young core in the front court, and a potential Rookie of the Year Point Guard. They’ll also be getting back Zach Walton next season, who was their highest scoring player during their Australia trip last summer. That’s an awful lot of high end pieces to build with in the long term. They’ll also have three year starter Alihan Demir and four year starter Kurk Lee, both potential All-CAA candidates, leading the team as seniors next season.
That’s the future, but what is already happening at the DAC is a team playing a fast paced game that features the third highest scoring offense in the CAA, led by bulldog attacker Troy Harper, who has found his role in the offense this year and is playing a more refined and efficient game right now than at any point in his career. This years edition of the Dragons are just beginning to get healthy from early season injuries and should be rounding into form as the calendar flips to February, and right before the all important month of March.
Why be excited about Drexel Basketball? Why wouldn’t you be excited about Drexel basketball? Look at the direction it’s moving in. You can be here now or try to board the bandwagon once its already full.
Is that a hard decision?