Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
It has been a rough start to the season for the 1-2 Drexel Dragons, and the going got even tougher on Monday night with the news that senior guard Chris Fouch was out for the season with a fractured right ankle.
Fouch has been a mainstay in Bruiser Flint’s rotation since 2009-10, when he averaged 11.3 points per game en route to being the first Dragon ever to win the Colonial Athletic Association’s Rookie of the Year. He improved to become Drexel’s leading scorer (14.9 ppg) as its sixth man as a sophomore before overcoming a slow start to his junior season due to a knee injury to average 14.3 points over the teams’ final 11 games. Now, after leading the team with 16.7 ppg over Drexel’s first three games of this season, he leaves a gaping hole in the Drexel lineup as their best shot-creating guard.
Because it’s more than just the stats that tell the story of what Chris Fouch means to Drexel. What Fouch was was a shot of energy off the bench, a weapon that Flint would bring in at the first moment in the game when the Dragon offense stalled, when they needed someone to come in and take some shots that only Fouch would take–and make. Off-kilter 3-pointers, crazy ventures into the lane, shots seemingly thrown up at the rim, all would fall in off the fingertips of their super sixth man.
Though the loss of one of their three seniors–Derrick Thomas and Daryl McCoy are the others–is certainly a big blow to a team that was picked to win the CAA for the second year in a row, it isn’t exactly a knockout punch.
The Dragons still have preseason All-CAA First-Team honorees Frantz Massenat and Damion Lee, though Massenat needs to snap out of an early-season shooting slump that’s got him just 7-of-26 (26.9 percent) from the field though he is dishing out over six assists per contest. Junior forward Dartaye Ruffin (10.0 ppg, 8.7 rpg) is also going to have to take on some of the additional scoring load.
Lee, a 6-6 sophomore wing, told CoBL this summer that Fouch had been helping him with his ability to create his own shot off the dribble. Now, with additional pressure on the starters to create offense instead of waiting for their savior off the bench to make something happen, Lee’s going to have to put that work into action to take some pressure off Massenat, who already shoulders a lot of the Dragon’s offensive burden.
For scoring off the bench, Drexel will now have to turn to 6-7 redshirt freshman Tavon Allen, a lengthy and talented scorer who certainly does have the potential to slip into a double-digit scoring slot on a regular basis. In his first-ever collegiate action on Saturday, Allen played a huge role in Drexel’s second-half comeback, dropping 15 points (including a pair of treys) in a 61-59 win over Penn.
Allen’s name was thrown around a lot this offseason as a possible breakout player this season, though Flint had tried to tamp down expectations for a kid who hadn’t even gotten a minute through Drexel’s first two games of the season. There were certainly some first-game jitters–Allen traveled three times, all at the beginning of drives, and contributed them afterwards to nerves–but overall Dragon fans saw an athletic wing who could rise up from the perimeter, get into the lane and even showed off a nice left-handed floater in his second-half burst.
The problem is, Allen doesn’t really have much time to get himself acclimated to the Dragon rotation. Thursday night’s game against Saint Mary’s in the Anaheim Classic might be an at-large bubble game months down the line, as could be a possible second-round matchup against A-10 powerhouse Xavier. Looming on the horizon are key tests against Princeton (Dec. 8), Davidson (Dec. 16) and Saint Joseph’s (Dec. 31), all of which would look good to the NCAA selection committee but all of which will be very difficult victories.
Ultimately, though, Drexel’s eyes now all have to be focused on winning the CAA’s tournament in Richmond next March. Delaware (2-1), who made it to the NIT Season Tip-Off semifinals with a win over Virginia, and George Mason (2-2), who’ve played well despite a tough schedule, are both much closer to the preseason favorites than they were when the season started, but it’s not clear that either are better than Drexel just yet.
Looking ahead to next year, there is a chance that Fouch could be granted a sixth year of eligibility, given that his prior redshirt season (2008-09) was due to a torn ACL. If he is granted that waiver–assuming he even applies for it, which is unknown at this point–then there’s a chance that Drexel could be selected to win the league for the third consecutive year. A strong incoming freshman class of Major Canady, Mohamed Bah and Rodney Williams would join an already-strong rotation, and Fouch’s inclusion would certainly not hurt.
But for now, Drexel just has to focus on the next game, against Aussie guard Matthew Dellavedova and the Saint Mary’s Gaels. They’re not going to have Chris Fouch for that one–like it or not–and if they want to go dancing for the first time since 1996, they’re going to have to do it without him.
The path is just a little bit rougher.