If there is one stretch in the Drexel season that is absolutely imperative, it is the one the Dragons are in the middle of right now.
Conference games versus Delaware, Hofstra, Towson and James Madison over a two week span are critical for several reasons.
First, Drexel had the opportunity to go 3-1 in this stretch by beating every team but the the exceptional Towson. This would've put the Dragons at 10-11 and 4-4 in the CAA, meaning there was a chance they could avoid the dreaded CAA Tournament play-in game.
Secondly, following that 4 game stretch, the Dragons get Elon and Northeastern, two of the top teams in the CAA.
I don't want to sound alarmist, but I believe I am being a realist when I say that in losing the first two games of this critical stretch, Drexel all but cemented their place in a CAA Tournament play-in game. In two winnable games at Delaware and at home versus Hofstra, horrendous defense and poor shot selection were Drexel's undoing.
Now, Drexel sits at 1-5 in the CAA, and most likely will lose to Towson, and against bottom feeding JMU, nothing is certain.
Having seen Drexel play against most of the teams in the CAA thus far, it doesn't appear this team can compete in this conference.
Drexel doesn't have the size, interior quickness or intensity needed on defense. On offense, they look completely lost aside from the spurts of greatness from Tramaine Isabell.
I have gone to bat for Zach Spiker, but he doesn't seem to be helping this team improve. Sure, injuries were tough, and they won some big games in spite of them. Against Delaware and Hofstra, Drexel found themselves in a hole and clawed their way back. These are signs that Spiker has managed games well and made necessary in-game adjustments.
The knock is that his team has not gotten any better from game one to now. No matter the personnel on the court, the defense seems to be fighting against Spiker's scheme, or they're just totally inept, and the offense is just iso-ball where Lee dribbles around for 20 seconds and shoots, a reckless drive by Harper, a missed corner three from Mojica, a poor Austin Williams pass or an Alihan Demir forced shot in amongst larger defenders.
The success for the Dragons usually comes in the form of a Tramaine Isabell drive, or him spotting an open shooter and firing a pass. Often times, his teammates aren't quite ready for the pass and it ends up being a turnover anyway.
While we're on offense, I think it is time that Kurk Lee comes off the bench, and Isabell and Harper start together at guard.
Lee and Isabell just can't seem to click, and despite the affection Spiker has for Lee, he'd serve this team better coming off the bench to spell Isabell. Drexel's large point totals come against piss-poor defenses, and even with some impressive scoring games, they still don't crack the top 100 nationally in points per game. This minor change would have both players playing their natural position, and neither would end up matched up with a much larger guard.
It's really the defense that needs to improve though, to give Drexel any sort of chance at salvaging the season.
It's a shame Jarvis Doles and Tadas Kararinas have proven themselves useless, because interior defense is the biggest issue for the Dragons who allow 78.1 points per game which is good for 279th nationally.
So, the defense is the larger of two problems which needs to be corrected immediately.
The scheme changes depending on who the opposition is, but regardless of the type of zone or man defense they play, the Dragons just seem outmatched.
Both Hofstra and Delaware losses can be attributed to the lack of interior defense. Austin Willams can alter shots, but if they're coming off the rim the Dragons are often out of position or missing box outs to get the rebound. It's incredibly frustrating as a fan, so I can't imagine how Spiker and Co. feel.
If the opponent has a big man, Williams will try to stay home on him, so when a guard can penetrate and Williams slides over, a simple drop pass leads to a monster dunk. If Williams stays at home, Demir doesn't have the quickness to slide over, so you're just hoping for someone to block a shot in the trail.
It's impossible to beat teams who get easy, high-percentage shots, as Drexel is proving.
The coaching staff is paid to figure this shit out, and I'm pretty pissed off there has been a regression in not only their help defense, but the defense in general from the start of the season. Yes, I know Ty Myles isn't playing, but the problems go beyond the injury to a high energy, but ultimately mediocre player.
If Drexel does appear to be defending the post, it's because their opponent is kicking out for open three's or to a wing with a clean path to the lane.
There are definitely some games where a team is just "on" and consistently knocking down tough shots. That has not been the case for Drexel. The reason they fall behind and can never mount a full comeback is because even if shots start falling for the offense, the defense doesn't make enough stops. Therefore, if you go into a shooting slump, which a team like this is prone to do, you better have strong defense to stay close and turn stops into offense.
Delaware shot 47.5% from the field, which is actually pretty good for Drexel, but it was one of those offensive slumps that buried the Dragons.
Next up is Towson, a team that averages 76.3 points per game, and we have to play them at their place. Between 6'5 and 6'4 guards Mike Morsell and Zane Martin, Drexel will have their hands full.
This team can surprise, but I don't see how Drexel can compete if their defensive struggles persist.