WIth the season 10% over (!?) already, here’s some thoughts regarding the first looks of Coach Spiker’s 2019-2020 squad:
- James Butler is just a bigger, stronger, taller, Samme Givens. I don’t know that anyone will give him a nicer compliment than that this season, and its certainly intended as one. He’s using smarts and positioning and in the case of the Niagara game, just being bigger, to dominate the boards. He had a very poor game getting outmuscled by Rutgers last year. Those RU big men are gone, but Rutgers still has length. I’m very excited to see how JB performs in tonight’s game at the RAC, I think it will give us a good idea of how high a level he can play at going forward.
- While the progression of James Butler has certainly been a highlight, the flip side of that coin is the turnovers. Even in a tough season last year, DU finished in the top 20% nationally in taking care of the basketball. The team brings back the same ballhandlers, with more experience and more returning players this year. So what is going on?
It’s not a one-person issue, it seems the entire team is plagued by this. So while I do think that Cam Wynter has had his pocket picked more in these first few games than I remember happening last year, I think there are larger factors at play. The referees allowed the Abilene Christian game to be very handsy on the perimeter, and I think that pressure got to the team. Also, the coaches don’t seem to have solidified their rotations yet (we’ll get to this later) and so there’s a lot of different personnel groups which can make it a bit harder to know where everyone is on the floor. Last year we saw that turnovers were highest early in the season and settled down in conference play, so between the personnel continuation, and that history, it may not be time to panic yet.
- Kurk Lee is seeing less minutes than people expected. A few things play into this. One, he hasn’t shown his full ability on the court yet. He had a good look that didn’t go against ACU, but fans know that’s well within his game, and shots like that will keep him on the floor. However, it’s tough to get minutes at the point simply because Cam Wynter is that good.
Rutgers is big at the guard spots, and that’s not usually a great spot for Kurk. This feeds into a very important point: The Drexel coaches have more flexibility this season than in any season this century. If a team goes small against the Dragons, I’d expect to see more of Kurk with Cam. If they go zone, I’d expect Zach Walton to slide to the four and Mate Okros and his sharpshooting ability to get more time. If the opponent is big, like Temple was and Rutgers will be, expect more TJ Bickerstaff with Zach Walton at the 3/4 spots. Zach Spiker just showed some of his hand by going offense/defense with Lee and Juric late in the ACU game. This team’s depth isn’t just about having subs for injuries or foul trouble, it’s about having many different looks that they can throw – very Belichickian of Spiker and his staff.
- Let’s talk about that length for a minute, since it is a huge deal tomorrow. Last years Rutgers game (which I talked about here) was, well, an abomination for the Dragons. DU couldn’t get a rebound (Rutgers had the sixth tallest team in the country this year) and quickly fell behind with Rutgers being red hot from the floor. That led to Drexel losing composure, the turnovers began flowing, and it was a runaway. This year, Rutgers is big, but not quite as much as last year, and Drexel suddenly has a bunch of 6’6”+ guys that can play on the floor together. I’d expect to see a bunch of 6’6” Mate Okros at the shooting guard spot, 6’6” Zach Walton and 6’9” TJ Bickerstaff on the wings along with Butler inside tomorrow. That should prove more effective then the Kurk Lee, Troy Harper, Trevor John trio at the guard spots against Rutgers last year.
- Switching gears, this team has shown a lot of discipline early. Sure, in all three games the referees seemed to “let em play” but when ACU exploited that and put their hands all over the Dragons, the Dragons resisted the temptation to do the same. Amazingly, James Butler has 43 rebounds in 105 minutes and just 3 fouls. That’s unheard of for a big man.
The team as a whole is only committing 7 fouls per half, so both the stats and eye test say that the coaching staff has made this a point of emphasis in teaching defense this summer. It’s unclear how this will effect the teams overall defense, and whether or not the benefits of fouling will outweigh the losses that come from not being as physical. It may be a case study for other programs in the future, the kind of cutting edge thinking that Dragon fans were looking for in a Zach Spiker hire.
All in, at 2-1, it has been a successful start. WIth youth and some surprising successes seeming to be the trend around the CAA in the early season, we are a long way from seeing how the conference will play out. But with this many minutes being given to the young future foundation of this team, there’s reason for optimism in Dragonville.