Three (Belated) Thoughts: Drexel 85, UNCW 76

The Colonial can be a difficult league to cover for a site with a limited budget like ours (feel free to donate if you can) just due to its sheer geography, getting to Elon, Charleston and NC-Wilmington (sorry, UNCW) just isn’t practical. But we do our best, we’ve had as much Northeastern and Hofstra coverage as anyone, and Saturday I had the opportunity to go to the Daskalakis Athletic Center to see suddenly streaking Drexel take care of UNCW, 85-76.

We like to get very technical here, but the rise of the Dragons (7-14, 5-5) doesn’t seem to need its own CSI series. For most of the season, Drexel just couldn’t score and more specifically, couldn’t shoot in what turned out to be an embarrassing non-conference slate that included a loss to Division II Philly rival University of the Sciences.

But after breaking the magic 1.0 point per possession just once in non-conference play (1.01 in a close loss to Penn State), Drexel has accomplished the feat in four of its last five games, and – lo and behold – they were all wins, pushing the Dragons for 1-4 in the CAA to 5-5 and looking like they might be third choice at the moment to win the CAA Tourney in March behind Northeastern and William & Mary.

If you’re reading this, you probably know about junior Damion Lee, who has only scored 65 points in Drexel’s last two wins (the first over Northeastern) and is currently the fifth leading scorer in the nation (21.8 ppg, 24.0 ppg in conference games which ranks third nationally). Lee missed most of last season with an ACL tear, and much has been made of Drexel’s injury woes this season, but only two of their main contributors (Rodney Williams and Sammy Mojica) have missed significant time.

Of course, you could turn around and say the nagging injuries are what account for the poor shooting numbers, but that’s a chicken and egg argument neither of us will win.

But the bottom line is this: when guys like the New Haven duo I covered in high school of Tavon Allen (Drexel’s second leading scorer) and Freddie Wilson are shooting 29.9% and 25.0% from the field, respectively, and Mojica is at 36.7%, while Williams – as a post player – is checking in at 37.5%, it adds up to sub-300 offensive efficiency and 330th in eFG%.

Even Saturday, Allen was just 3-8, but it’s a start. Mojica was 6-8, 3-4 from behind the arc, Williams (in only his second game back from his injury) was also 6-8 (and, of course, Lee was 10-14). The result is 1.20 points per possession and a fairly easy win over a UNCW (12-9, 7-3) team that has made great strides under first-year coach Kevin Keatts.

But shooting the ball well makes a team look so much better, doesn’t it?

Anyway, here are a couple of other thoughts from the DAC:

1. Drexel can still win the CAA – We’ll know more about the Dragons in their next four games, road games at Elon and Charleson, then home for Towson and Hofstra. According to KenPom, they are only favored in one of them (Towson), but if they continue to play well, they could get at least three and put themselves in position for a high seed in Baltimore. The league will key on Lee (likely more than UNCW did by trying to push tempo), but if Mojica (who was only averaging 4.9 ppg heading into Saturday) can hit his open shots, he could be a big factor. Williams is Drexel’s top rebounder and they really suffered in that area while he was out.

2. UNCW is fun to watch, but…  – Kevin Keatts has done a remarkable job in his first year with the Seahawks after taking over for Buzz Peterson, whose four years were basically a disappointment in Wilmington, never finishing higher than eighth in the CAA. The biggest change is in tempo, where the Seahawks were 281st this season and up to 46th in 2014-15. Defensively, opponents hold the ball only 16.2 seconds per possession, fourth fastest in America (with only West Virginia, VMI, and Mississippi Valley State ahead of them).

Keatts has an interesting coaching history, making his name at Hargrave Military Academy before becoming an assistant at Louisville (and shame on me for not including him in this story, too). While the offensive numbers aren’t great (203rd in efficiency), they are better with the faster pace.

However, the Seahawks have won plenty of close games and are generally a veteran team, with point guard Craig Ponder a redshirt junior, while Addison Spruill (another amazing undersized mid-major post averaging 13.9 ppg and 6.8 rebounds despite being listed at 6’4”. Listed.) and Cedrick Williams (the second-leading rebounder) are both seniors. Leading scorer Freddie Jackson (who had a dreadful outing Saturday with just one point) is also graduating in May.

So the success this season with Williams’ players is great, but it still remains to be seen if Keatts can bring in his own players and have success. Given his track record, he might. And ironically, winning this season may help him get better players.

3.  Moar Teal – For whatever reason, there is very little teal among Division I basketball teams, which is why UNCW would probably rank amongst the top uniforms I’ve seen in my travels, although teal on 7-foot center C.J. Gettys was a little ostentatious. UNCW also leads the CAA in attendance this season, which is another sign that Keatts may be able some headway is the not quite what it was a couple of years ago Colonial.

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