Drexel Basketball midseason review; Dragons CAA contender?

Tavon AllenIf you have paid any attention to the CAA this season, there’s no questioning the disappointment the Drexel Dragons (11-9) have provided. While most people would begin to blame the players for their poor play and bad decision-making, I’d like to come at the situation from another angle. The angle that will actually make sense once you read a little deeper into their season. Let’s start from the beginning.

Coming into the season, the Drexel basketball team was picked to finish second in the CAA, featuring two preseason all-conference players in guards Damion Lee and Frantz Mazzenat. Accompanying these scorers is an even more prolific shooter in Chris Fouch, who was somehow awarded a sixth year of eligibility after breaking his ankle in the third game of last season. In the frontcourt, a seasoned vet, Dartaye Ruffin, and junior, Kazembe Abif, were set to take a majority of the reps, but the most impressive attribute of this team is their bench, which they haven’t had in years.

As every college basketball analyst will tell you, Tavon Allen may be one of the craftiest, unknown hoopers in the NCAA. This can be described in one word: ambidextrous. That’s right, he can shoot with both hands, making him one of the most confusing guards in the country. The fact he stands at 6-foot-7 with a long frame only complements his abilities. The bench also features a transfer guard, Freddie Wilson, and three freshmen that have provided valuable minutes.

They began the season 7-2, falling only to two top-25 teams, UCLA (22) and Arizona (4), by a combined nine points. At a quick glance, yes, this is extremely impressive coming from a mid-major squad who the voters have proven will only make the tournament with a CAA title after being snubbed in 2011-12, but behind those numbers are some scary facts. Without forward Kazembe Abif, the Dragons were beating the nation’s top squad 27-8 in the first half, and held on to a nine-point lead at halftime before running out of steam. They not only lost this affair, but also Damion Lee for the season with a torn ACL.

In the consolation game of the NIT Season Tip-Off, Drexel beat Alabama in triple-overtime, but not before squandering an 11-point halftime lead. Following the Alabama game, they beat Cleveland State, also in triple-overtime, but again, not before giving up a 10-point first half lead.  I think you get my point.

The Dragons have led 14 of their 20 games at halftime, including five of their nine losses. Some would attribute this to a problem with conditioning, which is valid, but I believe there is another factor. Drexel has one play on offense – a weave, which asks every player to be constantly moving the entire possession. Many would even consider it to be Globetrotter-esque, stemming from their repeated handoffs and screens at the top of the key.

It works, don’t get me wrong, but is it the best option for the Dragons? It’s been incredibly visible lately as the injury-bug has bitten in West Philadelphia, which sidelined Ruffin, Abif and Allen simultaneously with lower leg injuries. Currently only Lee is riding the pine, and will continue to, rehabbing his ACL, but not everyone is 100%, which only makes this amoeba-like offense more tiring.

There’s no avoiding freak injuries, but there are changes a coach can make to an offense to provide his or her team a better opportunity of succeeding. The only question I sit and wonder is, “Is Bruiser Flint too stuck in his ways to make some of the switches that would benefit Drexel?”

It’s now or never for the Dragons, who are 3-6 in the last nine games and currently seated fifth in the CAA, four and a half games back of conference leading, Delaware. The switch needs to be flipped if they want to make a run in the CAA tournament, which will be held at the Baltimore Arena in Maryland the 7-10 of March.

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