The Drexel Dragons currently stand with an 8-17 record, including just 2 wins and 10 losses in Colonial Athletic Association play. They sit at 252 in the RPI and 244 in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings putting them 9th in a 10 team CAA and around the 29th percentile of Division I teams. Going off of the eye test, they’re leading the league in coaches kicking basketballs, brutal losses and overall frustration. That’s not always a good thing, but in this case it just might be a sign that these Dragons are closer to contending than the standings show.
The blue line represents points per possession in the above graph. The orange bars represent the opponent Kenpom ranking, with the higher orange bars indicating weaker opponents. Break the graph into quarters and a story can be told. In the first 6 games, the points per game largely correlate to the weakness of the opponent. In games 7 through 12, against a slate of almost entirely weak opponents, the offensive output shows less correlation, but also shows a lack of firepower as only one time the team breaks the 1.1 PPP mark. When the third quarter of the season rolls through the CAA season has started and the opponents are consistently harder than the out of conference season. The offense dips right in line and only breaks 1 PPP in 2 of 6 contests. Then comes the most recent quarter.
In the most recent games the opponents are as challenging as the team has seen all year. Yet the offensive output rises. In all 6 games the team achieved greater than 1 PPP and in the most recent four game stretch that number was over 1.1 in all contest. Those four games were all played in an eight day stretch, three of them were on the road and the opponents the team faced included two of the leagues top three defenses. The team went 0-4, in that stretch, but they showed something not caught in the standings: Growth.
The story told by this chart is that of a team that beat some poor competition in the out of conference schedule, and perhaps gained some confidence. It also showed a team that was not properly prepared come CAA play. They weren’t ready for the conference grind, or the level of opponents that the league sent their way, a much stronger opponent than they typically saw in the early season. They weren’t prepared to sacrifice, to be unselfish with the basketball, or to stop trying to be a hero and instead be a teammate. In turn, the league smacked them around. While many teams may take that shot and wilt, the Dragons were able to regroup. The team is turning the ball over less. The shots tend to be smarter. Their game has gotten tighter. While the results may not show it, going just 1-5 in the prior quarter, they played 5 games in 10 days during that stretch and four of six on the road. And they played even with Towson, and had Hofstra beat, both on the road. Towson is a good basketball team. Drexel may not be ready to play with the top 3rd in the league, but it sure is beginning to look like they can play with and beat the middle of the pack and not just the bottom.
Then, there is the other side. By the numbers, every team in the Ivy League except Brown is playing better defense than these Dragons. With a red hot William and Mary team coming to town, Drexel fans will be able to quickly learn how this team wants to finish the season. Brad Stevens said that the difference between a good defensive team and a bad defensive team is three possessions. Zach Spiker keeps talking about the need to play 40 minutes. The consistent thing between Coach Spiker’s eye test and the stats is simple: there isn’t full effort on every possession. Watch the tape on this team and it doesn’t seem possible to go 10 possessions without seeing an off the ball defender sag too far off of his man, or break late to defend a cut. Sure Kurk Lee is undersized and has trouble staying in front of his man, and Sammy Mojica has lousy footwork at times that lets offenders turn him around, but where effort is most shown (or perhaps least shown) is when the ball is on the other side of the defense.
Earlier in this article the season was broken down into quarters which were six games long. There was a lie in that. The season isn’t over. In actuality the season was broken into six game segments which were 20% of the season. There’s 20% to go, six more games. If the players put the effort in on defense, the offense is there to be a decent, even contending team at this level. There is potential within the Dragons to scare the heck out of some coaches in Charleston, and maybe even be that sleeper team. Conversely, they could also continue to sleep when the they are off the ball, the strategy that has perhaps earned them that 2-10 record.
While the effort level may be up to the players, it’s worth noting that four of the final six games are at home. A DAC that gets loud on defense, a crowd that brings energy to the defense, will help. For this team to turn the corner and compete in this league will take work. It sure would be nice if they had support in that effort.
See you at the DAC.