Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
Coming off the best season in school history, hopes are sky-high around the Daskalakis Athletic Center, where Bruiser Flint hopes to take the Drexel basketball program to the NCAA tournament for the first time since Malik Rose led the team there in 1996. With improved depth, the return of most of their contributors and an improved schedule (albeit a weakened CAA), this could be the year the Dragons hear their name called on Selection Sunday.
(Bruiser Speaks: To read CoBL’s discussion with Flint about the upcoming season, click here)
Drexel Dragons Season Primer
Coach: James “Bruiser” Flint, 12th season (285-213, .572)
Last Year: 29-7 (16-2 Colonial Athletic Association); Lost in CAA tournament final (Virginia Commonwealth, 59-56), NIT third round (Massachusetts, 72-70)
Key Loss: Samme Givens (11.6 ppg, 7.9 rpg)
Though Givens is the only member of the 2011-12 Drexel Dragons who won’t be coming back for this season, he’s still quite a loss for Flint and company. The 6-5 forward had over 1100 points and 1000 rebounds and graduated one of the most popular players in Drexel history as one of just three Dragons in the 1000/1000 club (Malik Rose, Bob Stephens). A consummate teammate and leader, Givens’ absence will certainly be felt at times–it’s how Drexel responds to those moments and who steps up in his place that could ultimately determine the Dragons’ fate this year.
New Faces: Tavon Allen (New Haven, Ct./Hillhouse), Casey Carroll (Canfield, Oh./Youngstown Christian)
The Dragons are one of just a few teams without a true freshman on the roster, but this pair of redshirt freshmen should both contribute in some way in their second years on campus. Allen is a 6-foot-7 wing who has legitimate point guard skills and could even run the offense if Frantz Massenat needs a breather. Carroll is just an inch taller at 6-8 but is a stretch-four; his minutes will be determined by how well he can rebound. Now that both have used up their redshirt years, expect to see both on the court with their minutes determined by their productivity and hustle.
Starting Backcourt: Damion Lee (12.0 ppg, 4.4 rpg), Frantz Massenat (13.7 ppg, 4.8 apg), Derrick Thomas (8.1 ppg, 2.4 rpg)
The Dragons have one of the best backcourts of any team in the region, if not the entire country. Massenat is the star, the CAA Preseason Player of the Year and a complete package at point guard. A 6-4, 185-pound lefty, he’s good both from 3-point range and getting to the hoop, leading the conference in 3-point percentage (45.0) and assists per game.
Lee burst onto the scene last season almost immediately, starting every game as a true freshman but rarely looking like he was in his first season of collegiate basketball. The Baltimore native scored 35 points in his first two games as a Dragon, going on to hit double-digits in 22 games and 20-plus points in five. His biggest game of the year came in a January home game against George Mason, where he scored 21 points, including three clutch 3-pointers with under five minutes to go to propel his team from a two-point deficit to a five-point lead and a 60-53 victory.
The final member of Drexel’s starting backcourt is its least-heralded member in Derrick Thomas, though the 6-3 New York City native plays a very valuable role to Bruiser Flint as the Dragons’ best perimeter defender. Thomas has improved his shooting every year, hitting 23.5 percent of his 3-pointers as a freshman but making 35.2 percent last season, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he could average double-digit points for the first time ever–but with a low-tempo offense and plenty of other scoring option, it’s likely he’ll stay in the 7-to-8 ppg range.
Starting Frontcourt: Daryl McCoy (4.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg), Dartaye Ruffin (5.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg)
Though Givens’ graduation left a big hole in the Drexel frontcourt, it’s not a dire situation with a pair of experienced forwards who can both rebound in the starting lineup. McCoy is a 6-9 senior who’s one of the best interior defenders in the league, using his thick frame well and rarely leaving his feet in the post. His defensive rebounding rate of 22 percent was 98th in the country last season, but he needs to cut down on the fouls (5.1/40 minutes).
Ruffin (6-8, 245) is a year younger and coming off a somewhat disappointing sophomore season, but has a chance to be one of the dark horse All-CAA candidates this year. He saw a drop in both scoring (8.4 ppg to 5.6) and rebounding (7.4 rpg to 4.9) from his freshman to sophomore seasons, mostly because his role in the offense dropped. If Ruffin can re-establish some of that freshman year confidence, he could average double-digits and play more than 30 minutes per game.
Bench: Allen, Carroll, Chris Fouch (10.8 ppg, 2.5 rpg), Kazembe Abif (1.5 ppg, 1.2 rpg), Aquil Younger (0.6 ppg, 0.5 rpg), Goran Pantovic (1.1. ppg, 0.3 rpg)
This is one area where the Dragons should be much stronger than last season, where their depth wasn’t exactly deep. Fouch and Ruffin were the only two bench players to play more than 6 minutes per game during the 36-game season, with Abif and Younger seeing spot minutes while Pantovic only appeared in nine games all year. While Fouch is still the super sixth man, expect the Dragons to get double-digit minutes from Abif and Allen, with Carroll and Younger seeing spot minutes that could increase if they can prove to be productive.
Now, don’t expect Bruiser Flint to suddenly come out and play a 10-man rotation–this is a squad that is going to rely heavily on its top talent, especially Massenat and Lee. Still, instead of a bench that played 25.4 percent of all available minutes (278th in the country) last season, this year’s reserves should see upwards of 30 percent, which would put them about another 100 slots higher and take a lot of strain off the starters.
Three Games to Watch: vs. Illinois State (11/15) vs. Saint Joseph’s (12/31), @ Delaware (2/21)
The Dragons’ second game of the year will be one of their toughest tests when the Redbirds, one of the strongest teams in the dangerous Missouri Valley Conference, comes to town. Illinois State returns almost all their talent from a 20-win squad that made it to the NIT last season but has designs on an NCAA appearance–sound familiar? St. Joseph’s is the preseason Atlantic 10 favorite, and the Daskalakis Athletic Center rematch of last year’s Hawks win should be one of the loudest atmospheres in the city all season. The trip down to Delaware could have a huge say in the CAA race; the Blue Hens were picked just behind their archrivals and in a shallow league these two schools could be neck-and-neck.
Three Keys to Success
1. 3-point Shooting: The long-distance shot was quite an effective weapon last season for the Dragons, whose 37.8 percentage from beyond the arc was 36th-best in the country. Massenat’s CAA-best 45.0 percent (54-of-120) was quite an improvement from his freshman season, where he hit just 25.7 percent (9-of-35). The addition of Allen and another year of maturation for Lee (63-of-168, 37.5 percent), plus a healthy Fouch (65-of-178, 36.5 percent) means the Dragons could be even more dangerous from 3-point range this season.
2. Massenat’s minutes: Massenat averaged 35.8 minutes per game, playing 89.4 percent of his teams’ minutes–the 36th-highest mark in the country. He played fewer than 35 minutes in only 11 of the team’s 36 games, one fewer than the number of games where he played either 39 or all 40 minutes. So it’s no surprise that by the end of the season, he was a little bit tired. If Tavon Allen and/or Aquil Younger can provide 10-12 minutes per game of quality point guard play, especially in the early part of the season, it could result in a much fresher Massenat when it matters most.
3. Rebounding: Drexel was one of the better defensive rebounding teams in the entire country, picking up 73.2 percent of their opponents misses, which was 16th nationally. Their own offensive rebounding, at 34.6 percent, was a very respectable 80th (out of 344 teams). Givens was an incredible rebounder for his size, but McCoy and Ruffin weren’t exactly slouches in that area, either. Because the Dragons don’t force many turnovers (18.3 percent, 272nd), they’ll need to get their hands on as many missed shots as possible.
Oct. 24: Drexel sophomores look to maintain focus
Oct. 16: Drexel, Delaware dominate preseason CAA honors
Oct. 13: Dragons step it up as practice schedule intensifies
Jul. 25: Drexel’s Fouch embraces role off the bench
Jul. 16: Now healthy, Tavon Allen is another weapon for Drexel
Jul. 3: Bobby Jordan named newest Drexel assistant coach
Jun. 29: For Drexel’s Lee, preparation for sophomore season is mental
CoBL Division I 2012-13 Season Primers: | Drexel Dragons | Delaware Blue Hens | La Salle Explorers | Lafayette Leopards | Lehigh Mountain Hawks | Penn State Nittany Lions | Penn Quakers | St. Joseph’s Hawks | Temple Owls | Villanova Wildcats |