Playing Aces

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Lets talk about Matey Juric to not talk about Matey Juric.

Matey Juric is 5’11”, has high energy (they call that a high motor in these parts), with average footspeed and an average shot.  Matey is a biology major, has been on the Dean’s List since coming to DU, has contributed to published journal articles in his field, and plans to go to med school after graduation.

A high energy, leave it on the floor player who brings it every day in practice, and is elite off the court, is exactly the type of player that Drexel fans should love.  That is what Zach Spiker was told was the model recruit when he took the job.  His hard work should be appreciated by fans and teammates alike, and if there were more Matey Juric’s out there, we should find them and try to bring them to Drexel as well.everyda

Having said that, at 5’11”, with average footspeed and an average shot, what Matey Juric is not is a starting caliber guard for a team that wants to finish at the top of even a depressed Colonial Athletic Association.  Matey, even with all of the energy and intellect he brings, profiles as a dynamic role player who can be sent onto the floor to do any of a number of things on either end of the court.  Have a very specific goal for a short period?  Need to wake your team up?  Need to bring high energy defense against an opposing guard?  Matey, get in there.

Therein lies the problem.  For the last year and a half, Juric has played 24 minutes per game, and recently when Mate Okros went down with a lower body injury, it was Juric who drew the start against JMU’s elite set of guards.  And that is when Drexel fans needed to channel their inner Bruiser Flint, look at Zach Spiker and say “Really, man?  Really?  I mean Really?”

And this is where it is noted that none of the above paragraph is about Matey.

Alan Boston is quick to question just how hesitant Zach Spiker and staff are to make adjustments.  In poker parlance, they keep pushing their chips into the pot even when their hand is a loser, and once they realize what they’ve done, they’re pot committed.  Sometimes they’ll get lucky and the flop bails them out, but more often then not their chips go to the other guy.  It seems to be some mixture of overconfidence in their hand, and lack of confidence in what happens if they move in a different direction.  I believe its the latter that holds them back most.

This offseason, Drexel returned the vast majority of its scoring, and supplemented it with a capable class of incoming freshman.  Lamar Oden and Xavier Bell in particular arrived.  Bell in a very short sample has elite scoring numbers, and his turnovers are in line with teammate Cam Wynter (while admittedly asked to do much less than Cam while on the floor).  Oden brings length and footspeed and while his game needs development, the potential that he is a winning hand is there.  Both players ceilings are well beyond that of Juric.

Matey Juric got the start at JMU, he played 31 minutes and both his performance, and the game, did not go well for the Dragons.  Having seemingly learned their lesson, on the trip to Hofstra, Matey came off the bench while getting is usual 25 minutes per game, and it was Bell and Oden who got the opportunity to take the minutes of the injured Okros’.  The Dragons split that tough road series, and Xavier Bell in particular showed well.  So the staff learned from the JMU game, turned around and adjusted.  Success.

There’s always a but.

But Matey Juric is a junior and we all know what he is.  Why did that performance at JMU need to happen at all?  Why did the staff push more money into the pot on a hand that everyone else at the table knew wasn’t strong enough to win?

For the second time in this article, that’s not the argument.

If you take a peek at the freshman and sophomore year numbers of Nathan Knight and TJ Bickerstaff, you’re going to see an eerily similar story.  Nathan Knight played 20 minutes per game as a freshman under Tony Shaver and 30 minutes a game as a sophomore.  TJ played 15 minutes a game as a freshman and is catching 25 per game as a sophomore.  TJ is an immensely talented player who, as a younger team member, still brings some high risk/high reward with his minutes.  Bickerstaff, who some will argue has NBA talent, is playing the same minutes as Matey Juric and the underperforming and now injured Mate Okros.  That presents as… Interesting.

Finally, we’ve come to the point of the article.

Adjust.

More to the point:  Let the dudes play.

You know what the Drexel coaching staff isn’t doing?  They aren’t putting their top end talent on the court.  Sometimes this game is simple, and sometimes it’s hard to see when you’re in the trenches.  Alan is right, that this staff is hesitant to adjust and would rather double down a losing hand that they know rather than putting their risk in an entirely new hand that they haven’t seen play out yet.  If you watched the JMU game, then Godbless you for your Flo subscription, and you still know what you knew before that game.  At Drexel, the best players need to play and they need to play in a system that is adjusted for their strengths. That is how one competes in the CAA.  It shouldn’t get to the point where players families need to say that on social media, and it shouldn’t get to the point where articles like this need be written.

Cam Wynter and James Butler are All-CAA level players.  TJ Bickerstaff may have more talent than either.  Zach Walton has played with more discipline this year and the efficiency numbers reflect it.  There are exciting freshman.  There’s no excuse for this team to be 3-5 in the CAA with an underperformance record that looks eerily like Spiker’s last year at Army – when he also had one of the most experienced teams in the country.

Put the dudes on the floor, put them in a position to win and let the talent shine through.  In this edition of the CAA, if that isn’t enough to win, it’s at least enough to compete.  Through eight games, this team has one win against a team that isn’t William and Mary.  That’s not competing.  With the covid pause by Delaware this week cancelling the weekends games, there is no time like now to make the adjustments – and to stop pushing in chips on a losing hand.  The last time the Dragons had an extra week to prepare they went to Charleston and the effort was embarrassing to watch.  How the team comes off of this extended break and hits the floor against Towson and James Madison to round out the season will make all the difference.

A repeat performance of the Charleston debacle could well leave a lasting impression on this program.  Now is not the time to push in further on a 3-5 hand.

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1 Comment

  1. When you are a mid major, you build your program EXACTLY as Shaver did. You play your talented freshman enough minutes to get acclimated to the system. Even if Spikers system pails in comparison to Shaver, that is what makes for a consistent and hopefully winning mid major program. Play Freshman with experienced players. Eventually you have a cohesive unit. You must show faith in your recruits and show a willingness to play freshman. You might be surprised that other talented freshman follow. Spiker has shown to be stubborn burning his players out in lame duck games last year. This is no different. He should either have faith in his system and his willingness to teach it, or find something else to do. If I were a Drexel fan, I would opt for the latter.

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