What Has Happened to Drexel?Posted by rtmsf on December 5th, 2012
David Changas (@dchangas) is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from the Drexel-Tennessee State game tonight in Nashville.
Early in the 2011-12 season, Bruiser Flint’s Drexel Dragons got off to a woeful start, losing four of their first six before a remarkable finish led to a 29-7 record, the Colonial Athletic Association regular season championship and a run to the quarterfinals of the NIT. With nearly everyone returning from last year’s squad, the Dragons were touted as the odds-on favorite to repeat in the CAA, with their stiffest competition, VCU, having moved on to the Atlantic 10. Unfortunately for Flint, this season has started even worse than last year, as Drexel dropped to 2-6 after yet another disappointing loss, this time to a heretofore underachieving Tennessee State squad Tuesday in Nashville. The question surrounding this team is whether it can repeat last year’s turnaround.
Led by preseason CAA player of the year Frantz Massenat and sophomore guard Damion Lee, Drexel has a potent backcourt that can score consistently. In their third game of the season, though, the Dragons lost senior guard Chris Fouch, who was the team’s leading scorer in the early going (16.7 PPG). Fouch, who led the Dragons in scoring as a sophomore, appeared ready to return to that form after finishing fourth on last year’s team. “Chris brought a little more toughness to the team, which we miss a little bit,” Flint said. While Lee and Massenat are capable scorers, neither is particularly adept at creating his own shot. Massanat (4.7 APG) is a pass-first point guard who can penetrate and get to the basket, but, at times has trouble finishing, and can struggle against quick guards. Lee works hard to come off screens, but is not going to overwhelm defenders off the dribble. Moreover, Fouch was the team’s best three-point shooter, hitting nearly half of his 25 attempts through the team’s first three games. Without Fouch, the Dragons have made only 34% of their attempts from long range, with Lee shooting a paltry 28.9% from behind the arc.
Flint’s biggest concern with the Dragons’ terrible start is not the way they are playing on the offensive end. It is their defense effort and toughness. “They played tougher than we did,” a clearly frustrated Flint said after Tuesday’s disappointing 76-66 loss to the Tigers. “That’s the way we’ve been playing, and that’s why we’ve been losing. We’ve got to play tougher.” The head coach acknowledges that the team is not performing to expectations. “We’re struggling, that’s for sure. Guys have to just keep working at it.” Drexel will indeed have to be better on the defensive end, as Tuesday’s loss marked the fourth time the Dragons’ opponent has shot better than 50% from the field, each resulting in a loss.
Another concern with the Dragons is their lack of depth, especially on the interior. Up front, starting forwards Dartaye Ruffin and Daryl McCoy, neither of whom averages double figures, and freshman reserve Tavon Allen (10.6 PPG), are the only reliable options. On Tuesday, the Dragons struggled to contain talented Tennessee State big men Robert Covington and Kellen Thornton, who combined for 37 points. With Fouch gone for the season, the Dragons rely primarily on Lee, Massenat, senior guard Derrick Thomas in the backcourt. On Tuesday, only sophomore forward Kazembe Abif logged more than 10 minutes off the bench, though Allen, a legitimate offensive threat, should see more time as the season progresses. Realistically, Flint’s bench is short, and a six- or seven-man rotation is all he will have at his disposal as the season progresses.
Given the way the Dragons struggled in Tuesday’s loss to a Tennessee State team from which much is expected but which has struggled in its own right, this Drexel squad clearly is not capable of duplicating last year’s 16-2 run through the CAA – or anything close to it. The Dragons simply do not have the depth or athleticism to survive the rigors of a conference grind and come away with such a gaudy record. Still, Flint’s team has enough talent and experience to compete with Delaware and George Mason for the league title, and dominating the league is not necessary. To compete for the championship, though, Drexel is going to have to improve its play dramatically. What is more important, because the Dragons have sustained too many early season losses to make a run at an at-large bid, is improving over the next three months and winning the CAA Tournament. Their focus right now, though, has to be improving day by day. Given the Dragons’ surprisingly bad start, Flint cannot be thinking about his first trip to the Big Dance as Drexel’s coach. And while it is far too early to write them off, especially considering last year’s remarkable turnaround, good results better start to show soon, or all that preseason promise will turn into a major disappointment.