The Drexel University men’s basketball team did the seemingly impossible Feb. 28, when the Dragons topped The College of William & Mary on the road in the final game of the regular season.
With just seven available players because of a slew of injuries dating back to April 2014, Head Coach James “Bruiser” Flint intentionally brought the pace of the game to a molasses-like slog. The Tribe couldn’t find a rhythm or hit a shot, and the Dragons — the worst shooting team in their conference — couldn’t miss one.
It was a spectacular performance, both in terms of coaching and in terms of executing a game plan.
And it will not be replicated in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament March 6-9 in Baltimore.
Barring an unforeseen miracle, the Dragons won’t win more than one game in the tournament. This prediction is less of an indictment of the team than an admittance of what is at this point an inevitability — you can’t win many games when you only have seven players at your disposal.
The 10-team tournament kicks off March 6, and No. 7 seed Drexel plays in the four-team play-in round that night against No. 10 seed College of Charleston.
The Dragons beat the Cougars in their first two matchups of the season, and they won’t need nearly as many lucky breaks and idealized situations as they needed against William & Mary to get out of the first round.
That’s not to say Drexel’s first game will be a cakewalk. In all actuality, Flint’s seven-man squad more than likely played its best possible game in the season finale. For all we know, the inconsistent Dragons — replete with inconsistent shooters in junior Tavon Allen and senior Freddie Wilson — used up all of their goodwill and top-notch shooting against the Tribe.
But of all the teams the Dragons could face in the first game of the tournament, Charleston seems to be the ideal matchup. The only team that averaged fewer points than Drexel’s 60 per game? Charleston, coming in at a CAA-worst 58.9 points per game. In the two contests between the teams this season, the Dragons averaged 56 points per game while the Cougars averaged 48.
For a team lacking any truly consistent scoring, the Dragons will be able to rely on defense and pray for points against Charleston. With the Cougars lacking a definitive star player, Flint’s patented “rock fight” approach to the game might yield just enough success.
If Flint continues to funnel the team’s offense through its big men in the paint, as he did in the upset win against William & Mary, it’s reasonable to expect the Dragons to come away with a victory despite being so shorthanded on the bench.
All of that said, the Dragons will more than likely find their stay in Baltimore cut short before the first day is out.
If they manage to top the Cougars in the first game, the Dragons will face the University of North Carolina at Wilmington Seahawks, the No. 2 seed in the tournament.
After a humiliating loss to No. 8-seeded Elon University in their season finale, a loss that cost them the top seed in the tournament, the Seahawks will be fired up. Potential coach of the year Kevin Keatts will have had more than a week to chastise his team for its listless performance in such a crucial matchup, and you can bet the high-flying squad won’t come out flat for a second straight game.
The teams split their two contests during the season, with each team winning on its respective home court. After missing a chance at a victory in early January, the Dragons out-paced the Seahawks in a track meet on the last day of the month.
But that was back when they had Damion Lee and Sammy Mojica Jr., who combined for 49 of Drexel’s 85 points that night. The two were transcendent, matching Keatts’ up-tempo offense and exploiting the Seahawks’ press defense all evening.
Without Mojica and Lee, the Dragons won’t be able to hang with the Seahawks on either side of the floor. It might take 20 minutes, but UNCW will likely pull away and sink the Dragons simply by wearing them down.
And, unfortunately, there’s no point in predicting past the possible UNCW matchup. This Drexel team, for all of its charm and earnest basketball, was destined to an early exit the evening of Feb. 22, when the school announced Lee was done for the season with a broken hand.
Of course, it’s always been about next season for this team. So the best thing for Flint’s squad to do would be bow out as early as possible, avoid another injury and let the conference’s best teams duke it out. The Dragons will get their shot next year.