The Triangle - The Independent Student Newspaper at Drexel University

Poor start exposes problems for men’s basketball

Things were rolling as smoothly as possible roughly 10 months ago for Bruiser Flint’s Dragons. The men’s basketball team had completed a 19-game winning streak, which spanned the course of two months. Now, two months shy of the one-year mark of that run, the team has won just seven of its last 19 games. The March 5 Colonial Athletic Association championship game loss to Virginia Commonwealth University is included in the team’s recent run of misfortunes.

It would have been difficult to repeat the same kind of success, but losing this many games seemed unthinkable given how well they were playing. It is as if a storm swept, threw and shook up the entire team.

The first item to fall from the sky in University City is not as clear as you would think. Many point to Samme Givens’ inevitable graduation. Givens, who more or less was the face of Drexel in a then-not-so-glamorous era, was seen as the leader of the 2011-12 team because he was the lone senior. Frantz Massenat and Damion Lee had a combined one year of experience under their belts.

The Dragons have undoubtedly missed their big man, who averaged 11 points and nearly eight rebounds per game last season. Dartaye Ruffin, the primary replacement for Givens, has not filled his shoes, scoring only 5.6 points per game himself and failing to average five rebounds per game. Ruffin is playing more minutes per game, on average, than Givens had been.

Simply put, they have failed to replace him. But that’s only a fraction of the problem.

Perhaps the true starting point was exposed in the final game Givens played. The score of that game was 59-56, but VCU struggled and eased up in the second half, and the Dragons probably did not play as closely with them as the score indicated. VCU, after all, flirted with blowing a 32-4 lead the night before against George Mason University with a poor second half.

The first half, which saw Drexel trail 35-19, reflected the difference between VCU, an NCAA Tournament team, and Drexel, a National Invitation Tournament team. As you may recall, Drexel was not given an at-large bid to the “Big Dance” because of its weak schedule.

It is very possible that the players were exposed as overachievers. Massenat, for example, was hitting three-pointers at a rate approaching 50 percent, while this year, he has shot at a rate 10 percentage points less at 35.8 percent.

The team is now playing at a more down-to-earth level, having gone 3-8 in games against teams with a record above .500. The Dragons’ first two wins of the season came against teams with a combined 5-24 record. The team just isn’t good enough this season.

There was one other concerning trend on display during that championship game last March: The starters and team were clearly fatigued.

Since then, they have also lost their then-leading scorer Chris Fouch to injury. Fouch, who actually was starting for the suspended Derrick Thomas in the championship game, has been lost for the season since the third game of this season. He was supposed to be the top option off the bench for Flint, who now has to rely on his starters even more.

The trio of Massenat, Lee and Daryl McCoy has all seen an increase in minutes. With Lee and McCoy not at full health and playing on bad feet, they are severely limited.

It is debatable which component of this storm was most destructive. Other events, such as assistant coach Ashley Howard’s move to Xavier, a team that beat Drexel, might have contributed despite how minor in nature they were.

The team has fallen back into reality, and it is not looking good. Unfortunately, the forecast does not look very bright for the Dragons. There won’t be any public outcries from the coach and players on Twitter about a missed at-large bid because the damage likely has been done. It has happened in a way nearly no one could have imagined; it has been another storm to shock the Philadelphia sports scene this past year.