Lightning never strikes twice. Unless teh selection committee is involved.
Lightning never strikes twice. Unless teh selection committee is involved.
Way back when Drexel was in the midst of its penultimate winning streak of the season and dominating the CAA, the thought crossed my mind that I should write something about how the Dragons represent what Hofstra could have been.
Just imagine if the Flying Dutchmen had lived up to the hype as the preseason pick to win the CAA in 2006-07—i.e. the year after the Dutchmen were screwed from within. Drexel, of course, was picked to win it all this year and finished first in the regular season.
And Drexel’s young and loaded roster brought to mind what could have been for Hofstra if the program hadn’t been decimated after Tom Pecora’s departure two years ago, when it appeared the Dutchmen were on the verge of emerging again as a title contender. (Think about this: Charles Jenkins-Chaz Williams-Mike Moore-Halil Kanacevic-Greg Washington with Nathaniel Lester as the sixth man last year, Williams-Moore-Kanacevic-David Imes-freshman/sophomore recruit this year. Then join me in weeping.)
But I decided to wait on writing that, figuring I didn’t want to hex the Dragons. Yes, I was rooting for Drexel to win the CAA. You’d have to be from north of Virginia to understand. Of course, the hex we all had to worry about was unavoidable, and top-seeded Drexel fell to second-seeded VCU in the CAA title game by three points playing in front of about 10,800 VCU fans at the Richmond Coliseum. I shouldn’t have to spell out what is absurd about the preceding sentence.
Drexel’s CAA demise was no surprise, nor was the royal screw job it received six days later at the hands of teh selection committee (which is, now and forever, its official moniker). We knew it was happening as soon as Frantz Massenat’s 3-pointer bounced high off the rim and to the floor in the final seconds March 5. So, too, did most Drexel fans, who, don’t forget, already went through this in 2007.
Knowing what would happen didn’t make the inevitable any less infuriating, as you may have gathered from reading my Twitter feed since Selection Sunday. And so instead of wondering what might have been for Hofstra as we watched Drexel in the NCAA Tournament, we instead watched the Dragons in the NIT and took a trip back in time to 2006, when the Dutchmen went on a run that was remarkably similar to the one that ended for Drexel in the quarterfinals Tuesday night, when Chris Fouch’s desperate midcourt heave missed the mark as time expired in the Dragons 72-70 loss to Williams (sigh) and UMass.
Like Hofstra in 2006, Drexel was inexplicably saddled with a no. 3 seed by the NIT, whose selection committee is even more crooked than the NCAA’s, despite being the best team left out of the NCAA Tournament. NIT selection committee chairman and all-around good ol’ boy C.M. Newton told ESPN The Magazine in 2008 that he’s brought to the NIT “…an element of fairness now that maybe wasn’t there before, in the seeding and bracketing,” that “…teams ought to be rewarded for great seasons” and the NIT is “…a true basketball tournament and not a made-for-TV reality show.” Oh. OK then.
Like the Dutchmen (Nebraska) six years ago, the Dragons opened NIT play by throttling a major conference foe (Central Florida) in the first round. The bracket went bonkers around Drexel just as it did for Hofstra in 2006: No. 2 Saint Joseph’s lost its opener to Northern Iowa, which gave the Dragons another home game. On Saturday, top-seeded Seton Hall lost to fifth-seeded UMass, which meant Drexel earned the right to host the quarterfinal at the DAC—where it was 15-0 this season—by edging Northern Iowa 65-63 Sunday.
In 2006, top-seeded Maryland lost its opener against ninth-seeded Manhattan. Two nights later, the Dutchmen toppled no. 2 Saint Joseph’s 77-75 and ensured it would host the quarterfinal against fifth-seeded Old Dominion at Hofstra Arena, where the Dutchmen were 14-0.
The Dutchmen seemed on the verge of blowing the game open early in the second half, but the CAA rival Monarchs stormed back for a 61-51 win. Old Dominion ended the game on a 37-19 run.
On Tuesday night, two days shy of the sixth anniversary of Hofstra’s loss in the NIT quarterfinals, Drexel led UMass—a program with whom it shares a great deal of history, as noted in this excellent feature from Monday by Philahoops.com’s Aaron Bracy—by 17 with 16:36 to play last night but was outscored 36-17 the rest of the way.
Falling one win shy of the NIT Final Four in nearby New York City and recording a school-record 29 wins left Drexel and its fans with the same sense of empty vindication the Dutchmen and their faithful (i.e. me, my wife and Sully Ray) felt after a school-record 26-win season six years ago.
As with the Dutchmen, winning two NIT games proved the Dragons should have been in the big tournament. And those pair of victories also proved Drexel had the mental fortitude to go along with its impressive record, because it’s tough for a team to get revved up for the consolation tournament after it has been robbed of a berth in the real one.
The performance of two of the three teams teh selection committee picked over Drexel also validated the Dragons, just as it did for Hofstra in 2006. Back then, it was Air Force (lost to Wyoming in the Mountain West QUARTERFINALS) and Utah State (lost to Nevada at Nevada in the Western Athletic title game but had an RPI at least 15 spots lower than Hofstra’s) getting waxed in the first round that served as proof those teams didn’t deserve to be anywhere near the NCAA Tournament.
This year, Iona squandered a 25-point lead—the biggest blown lead in the history of the NCAA Tournament—in falling to BYU in a first four (yeah, NCAA, I’ll proper name what I want to proper name) game. A night later, California scored 13 points in the first half against South Florida, which ended up winning another game before it was knocked out in the second round (yeah, NCAA, I’ll call the Round of 32 the second round, thank you very much). Sure beats watching one of the last teams in make the Final Four, doesn’t it?
Of course, just like with Air Force, Utah State and YOU-KNOW-WHO over Hofstra six years ago, those squads never should have been there instead of Drexel in the first place. South Florida lost as many games to CAA opponents as Drexel. California proved what anyone with a set of working eyes already knew—the Pac-12 deserved multiple NCAA bids about as much as the Great West. Iona lost in the semifinals of its conference tournament, which was played at an actual neutral site, and had ugly losses to sub-.500 squads Hofstra and Siena.
Drexel, meanwhile, won 19 in a row until losing to VCU at VCU’s de facto home court, went 16-2 in the no. 13 conference in the land (Iona went 15-3 in the MAAC, which was no. 18) and suffered all six of its regular season losses to teams that reached a postseason tournament
In addition, Drexel suffered ALL its losses this year with a compromised roster. Fouch (off-season knee surgery) missed the first four games of the season, during which the Dragons went 2-2, and he scored just eight points over 33 minutes in his first two games back against Saint Joseph’s and Delaware, both of which Drexel lost. And guard Derrick Thomas was suspended for the CAA Tournament—think the Dragons could have used him when they played their starters for 178 out of a possible 200 minutes in the title game?—but was reinstated after assault charges against him were dropped.
Alas, it wasn’t enough. Just like the Dutchmen six years ago, the Dragons were victimized by a committee of crooks that answers to no one and has no checks and balances in place to keep it from continually pushing back the goalposts. Every year, the committee asks mid-majors to boot 64-yard field goals to earn at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament, then, after the kick sails through the uprights, declares it had to be good from 74 yards, except occasionally when kicking it 54 yards was good enough.
Such was the case with Iona, which survived a semifinal exit in its conference tournament by “scheduling up” in November and December. The Gaels went 6-3 in away or neutral site non-conference games (including a one-point loss to Purdue) and were 14-5 in away or neutral site games during the regular season.
“Road wins are a big thing for me,” selection committee vice chairman Mike “Bobo the Clown” Bobinski told Philahoops.com Selection Sunday. “I like to see teams that are willing to challenge themselves away from home. Teams that would take a chance really make a difference.”
You mean like Drexel in 2007, Bobo? Five years ago, the Dragons went 13-4 in away or neutral site games and beat Villanova, Syracuse and Temple on the road in three consecutive games over a 13-day span. The Dragons ended the regular season with the highest RPI of any CAA team. Yet they were left out of the NCAA Tournament field after going 13-5 in conference play, finishing in fourth place and falling to VCU—SHOCKING—in the semifinals.
Drexel had eight losses prior to Selection Sunday in 2007. None came against sub-.500 teams. Five of the losses came to NCAA Tournament teams (Old Dominion and VCU twice and Pennsylvania) while a sixth was at the hands of NIT-bound Hofstra. In addition, the CAA that year had four teams ranked in the top 100 in the RPI and four of its 12 teams with an RPI of 200 or lower. This year’s 10-team MAAC had two teams ranked in the top 100 in the RPI and five with an RPI of 200 or lower. (The CAA. even in a bottom-heavy year this season, had just five)
The beauty in all this for teh selection committee is it can smugly declare it didn’t act in an inconsistent manner simply because the process by which the field is selected is ever-fluid. How can something be declared unfair and contradictory when no consistent criteria for evaluating at-large teams is ever established? Teh selection committee will take into account injuries and suspensions, as it did for George Mason six years ago, except when it won’t. What was important five or six years ago isn’t important now, and vice versa. So have fun scheduling a beast of a non-conference schedule next year, Bruiser. It won’t matter.
Nor, really, will this vindicating NIT run. Sure, Drexel and its fans—those with a degree from the school as well as those who took up the defense of the basketball team these past two-plus weeks—have even more tangible proof now that the Dragons belonged in the NCAA Tournament.
But all the “told you so’s” in the world won’t change the fact Drexel didn’t make it, and that the Dragons’ NCAA Tournament drought is now at 16 seasons and counting. Nothing sells a program like an NCAA Tournament appearance, and high schoolers who will be seniors this fall were barely out of the womb the last time Drexel went dancing and likely won’t care about the politics or the ineptitude or whatever it was that kept Drexel out twice in the last five years.
Think that doesn’t matter? Think about how Jaime Larranaga stormed into New York after 2006, and how many NCAA Tournaments Hofstra has made since then. And then join me in mourning what could have been, for two schools six years apart.