On Friday afternoon, the Drexel Dragons play their first matchup in the Paradise Jam in Lynchburg, Virginia. They come up against a very good Houston Cougars team coached by Kelvin Sampson, a head coach with an excellent defensive track record in his career. To get a better idea of what Drexel is up against, and to figure out what they might have to do to have a chance to win this game, we are going to take a deep dive into the statistics that Houston as a team, as well as their players, have put up over the last couple of seasons.
In the only matchup between these two schools, a Drexel team led by Michael Anderson lost to Houston 91-88. Friday’s game will prove to be another difficult task. Returning to the Cougars lineup is senior guard Rob Gray. Gray led the University of Houston in scoring last season averaging just over 20 points per game. He was forced to sit out the opener against McNeese St. as he was suspended by the NCAA for playing in a church rec league game this summer. His absence might have prematurely exposed one of coach Kelvin Sampson’s other weapons though. Sophomore guard Armoni Brooks saw limited action last year but got the “nod” to start at Gray’s expense last week and he did not squander the opportunity. The 6’4 second year player put up a game high 22 points on 8 of 11 shooting, 5 of 8 from three.
Last season the Cougars were 300th in the country in adjusted tempo at 65.4 and ranked 39th overall in offensive efficiency at 113.5. Their turnover percentage was in the top ten in the country, and they were an excellent three-point shooting team. To open the season, against a severely overmatched McNeese St. team, they put up an adjusted tempo of 70.7, which is a pretty low number considering that much schools open their seasons with lesser able teams. What does that mean? Houston is a possession minded team that thrives on being smart on the offensive side of the floor.
To put this all in perspective, since the NCAA went to a 30 second shot clock, Zach Spiker led teams have put up adjusted tempos of 72.2, 70.3 and in their first two games this season, 74.7. Houston is going to look to slow down the game, but Drexel is going to try and push, push, push. While Brooks undoubtedly adds depth, Houston ranked very low in the nation in bench minutes last season. If Drexel can force some bad shots, get the Cougars into transition and gas their starters a bit, they might be able to make this a contest.
Ultimately, the Dragons are going to have to make their shots when they have them. Houston was 34th in the nation in steals last season at 7.2/game, so letting them get into their defensive set could create a problem for the Dragons. That means Harper needs to keep driving. A lot. Houston opponents scored 22% of their points from the free throw line last season, and that plays right into Harper’s game. His teammates are going to have to be just as successful from the line today though. Isabell and Lee are going to have to keep the Dragons constantly moving, and Austin Williams needs to have a strong game on the boards for Drexel.
With Ty Myles’ status a question mark, stretch will be matched up against Breaon Brady, a JUCO transfer in his first year playing D1 basketball. Brady scored 8 and pulled down 10 boards in their season opener but he did commit four fouls. Behind him are fellow starter Devin Davis and transfer Nura Zanna. From all indications, Zanna appears to be the more “pure” big man of the remaining two behind Brady. Todas Kararinas and Jarvis Doles will have to try and make big contributions should Williams get in foul trouble, since we have yet to see Tim Perry, Jr. play this season.
To counter Gray, in man defense, Harper or Mojica will likely be their best options. The 6’2 guard took a third of his shots from downtown last season, but showed that he was not afraid to drive either. The other option, should they feel overmatched, is to go to their 3-2 zone, but giving Houston that much space with their level of efficiency could be dangerous. At the same time though, Houston was a very good free throw shooting team at 71.7% last season, which makes playing a tight, aggressive man-to-man style defense dangerous as well.
The hope for Friday is that Drexel plays an exciting brand of basketball. Spiker needs a clear game plan, and he needs his guys to execute it. While this writer’s prediction is another tick in the “LOSS” column for the Dragons, Spiker’s guys could surprise a lot of people with their play on the court.
Prediction: Houston 80, Drexel 65.