Monday, January 3, 2011

Five pre-game thoughts: Drexel

1.) Meant to post this over the weekend or first thing this morning, but the Day Job weekend was, umm, no days at all. Hooray for that! Anyway, there’s a lot of people declaring the Flying Dutchmen are doomed after Wednesday’s ugly loss to Iona. I’m here to tell you we’ve seen far worse, and recently. For instance: At this time 104 weeks ago, the Dutchmen were about to get throttled by Northeastern in their second straight wire-to-wire loss to open real CAA play. I thought we were about to watch the worst Dutchmen team of the last 15 years. Instead, they finished 11-7 and 21-11. And last year? Do we need to remind you how bad last year looked at the midway point of the CAA season, and how things ended up? As I noted in today’s first post: The Dutchmen squeezed 21 wins two years ago out of a roster that featured a sophomore Charles Jenkins and very little else, so this is by no means beyond repair.

2.) The Iona loss was almost a good thing. Funny thing to say about the Dutchmen’s worst defeat at the hands of a mid-major in more than 10 years, but it’s true. Had the Dutchmen mounted a meaningless 29-12 run to end the game—as they did against Drexel when they bottomed out in January—then this just would have felt like a reasonably competitive loss against a better foe. It wasn’t. It was ugly, and the final margin only underlined how bad it really was. It was good to lose that game by 25 points, because it was a perfectly timed wakeup call for Mo Cassara as well as the entire roster. Efforts like the one the Dutchmen produced last Wednesday would get them blown out of the gym by Drexel tonight and George Mason Wednesday, and I wouldn’t even be able to scream about how Jim Larranaga is pouring it on (oh hi Mason Nation, how are you?). Better to get destroyed in a non-conference game that doesn’t matter a whit in the long run, and right before the games that count. Cassara ran the Dutchmen’s last four practices like boot camp to ensure this never happens again on his watch, and no matter what the result is tonight, the Dutchmen will look a lot better than they did against Iona.

3.) Strength vs. strength: As your good friend and mine Mike Litos noted today, Hofstra ranks 31st in the country in 3-point shooting while Drexel ranks first—king of the hill, numero uno, A Number One—in the nation in 3-point defense. Something’s got to give. For the Dutchmen’s sake, it better be Drexel’s defense, because the Dutchmen can’t match the Dragons’ fierceness under the boards (Drexel outrebounds opponents by almost 13 per game). Brad Kelleher and Shemiye McLendon can’t be 0-for-15 again.

4.) Weakness vs. weakness: Neither team is very deep, with the Dragons playing seven guys at least 22 minutes per game and their eighth less than seven minutes per game. The Dutchmen have a nine-man rotation, tops, but Cassara said Sunday the cold and flu viruses are still making their way through the Dutchmen, so who knows how deep they’ll be tonight. Drexel’s top seven has also been much more defined and proficient than Hofstra’s—the Dutchmen only have six players averaging as many as 22 minutes per game.

5.) The keys are keep it close, play good defense and hope for the game to be decided at the line. Pretty standard stuff, obviously, but if Dwan McMillan and Yves Jules are healthy, the Dutchmen will be far better off on defense than Wednesday against Iona, when the Gaels got uncontested shot after uncontested shot. One of Drexel’s few weaknesses, meanwhile, is at the free throw line, where the Dragons are shooting just 57 percent from the charity stripe. The Dutchmen will be in good shape to pull off the upset if they can keep it within a possession or two heading into the final media timeout.

Bonus thought.) Real curious to see how the new and more aggressive Jenkins fares. If he lives up to the advance billing, watch for Mike Moore to have a big game and for the Dutchmen to pull off the first CAA upset of the new year.

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