Drexel favored to win CAA

Drexel forward Samme Givens, the only senior on the squad, averaged 12.2 points and 10.1 rebounds per game last year.
Drexel forward Samme Givens, the only senior on the squad, averaged 12.2 points and 10.1 rebounds per game last year. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer)
Posted: November 12, 2011

Bruiser Flint laughs when he talks about the hype surrounding his Drexel basketball team. Sure, Flint likes the Dragons' new role - as the favorite in the Colonial Athletic Association.

Yet the coach, now in his 11th season at Drexel, is a little tired of people telling him how good his team is before it has played a game.

"We return six of our top seven from last year, and I think we bring back a talented team, but there is a fine line between winning and losing," Flint said last week in his office, appearing relaxed before the season opens with a 6 a.m. game at Rider on Tuesday.

The Dragons went 21-10 last year, beat Louisville, and earned a win over eventual Final Four team Virginia Commonwealth. But they lost to VCU, 62-60, on a buzzer-beater in the second round of the CAA tournament.

It's quite a compliment to be picked to win a league that sent three teams to the NCAA tournament, which included VCU's magical run and trips by George Mason and Old Dominion.

But with so many veterans returning, it's no wonder the Dragons were named the team to beat in a poll by CAA coaches, media members, and media relations directors.

Drexel returns four starters, and that doesn't count leading scorer Chris Fouch, a junior guard who averaged 14.9 points per game. Fouch started just two games but was effective supplying instant offense off the bench, a role he embraced.

"I don't think he has a problem coming off the bench because I let him shoot every ball," Flint said, laughing.

Fouch, however, won't have the green light to shoot or even hit the court when the season begins. He is recovering from offseason knee surgery. Flint said he doesn't expect him to play at least through November.

Drexel is still a young team, with just one senior, but what an upperclassman he is. Often described even by himself as undersized, 6-foot-5 senior Samme Givens is a beast on the boards.

Last season, the second-team all-CAA choice was the only league player to average a double-double: 12.2 points and 10.1 rebounds.

"I have a tenacity to get the ball," said Givens, a graduate of Academy of the New Church. "I guess I just want the ball."

Flint says that Givens should be a CAA player-of-the-year candidate, but the coach believes that his senior will be even more effective if he improves his foul shooting. Givens is a career .552 free-throw shooter.

"It's something I've been working on," Givens said.

Daryl McCoy, a 6-9 junior who averaged 5.8 points and 7.8 rebounds, is the other returning frontcourt starter.

Sophomore point guard Frantz Massenat stepped right in last year, going from the leader of the New Jersey Tournament of Champions winner at Trenton Catholic in 2010 to the Dragons starting point guard. He led all CAA freshmen with 3.3 assists per game and was named to the league's all-rookie team.

"Last year was a great experience," Massenat said. "The fact that I got to start at the point, I couldn't have asked for more as a freshman."

The other returning starting guard is 6-4 junior Derrick Thomas (6.9 ppg.). Dartaye Ruffin, a 6-8 sophomore forward, was a key reserve who was named to the CAA rookie team.

Among the freshmen to watch are 6-7 forward Tavon Allen, who attended Worcester Academy in Massachusetts last year, and 6-6 guard Damion Lee, who played last year at St. Thomas More, a Connecticut prep school.

Besides holding the fort until Fouch returns, the Dragons have to make sure their heads don't get too swelled from all the favorable preseason press.

"Our coaches are aware that so much is expected of us, but we can't assume anything," Givens said.

No, the only assumption is that Drexel starts the season wearing the biggest bull's-eye in the CAA. How the Dragons handle the pressure will go a long way toward determining whether the prognosticators got it right.


About the Dragons

Record: 21-10 overall, 11-7 Colonial Athletic Association (fifth place)

Coach: James "Bruiser" Flint (11th season, 170-134; 256-206 overall)

Returning starters: F Samme Givens, 6-5, Sr. (12.2 ppg., 10.1 rpg.); F Daryl McCoy, 6-9, Jr. (5.4 ppg., 7.8 rpg.); G Derrick Thomas, 6-4, Jr. (6.9 ppg.); G Frantz Massenat, 6-4, Soph., (5.5 ppg., 3.3 apg.); sixth man, G Chris Fouch, 6-2, Jr. (14.9 ppg.)

Key loss: G Gerald Colds

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

Can Drexel, which was last in the CAA in scoring (59.6 ppg.), withstand the early loss of Fouch as he recovers from knee surgery?

Will all-CAA rookie honorees Massenat and 6-8 Dartaye Ruffin (8.4 ppg., 7.4 rpg.) improve on impressive freshman seasons?

How will the Dragons handle the pressure of being the preseason choice to win the CAA?

Drexel appears ready to continue its dominance on the glass after outrebounding teams, 40.3 to 30.8, last season.

To win the close games, Drexel must do better than last year's 61.6 percent average in free throws.

- Marc Narducci


About the Colonial Athletic Assn.

LAST SEASON IN REVIEW

Tournament champion: Old Dominion won the Colonial Athletic Association tournament, beating Virginia Commonwealth, 70-65, in the final. With Old Dominion, two other CAA teams made the NCAA tournament: VCU and George Mason. VCU advanced to the Final Four before losing to Butler, 70-62. ODU lost its opening game to Butler, 60-58. After beating Villanova in its opener, 61-57, George Mason lost to Ohio State, 98-66.

Regular-season champ: George Mason finished first with a 16-2 league record. The Patriots were 27-7 overall. How tough was the CAA? VCU reached the Final Four after finishing fourth in the regular-season standings.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

Former Villanova assistant and ex-Georgia Tech head coach Paul Hewitt takes over at George Mason, replacing Jim Larranga, who became the head coach at Miami. Other new coaches are Ron Hunter at Georgia State and former Pittsburgh assistant Pat Skerry, who takes over at Towson.

Among the key returnees are three second-team all-conference choices from last year, Drexel 6-5 senior Samme Givens (12.2 ppg.), George Mason 6-6 senior forward Ryan Pearson (14.2 ppg.), and ODU 6-5 senior guard Kent Bazemore (12.3 ppg.). Bazemore, the reigning CAA defensive player of the year, has been named the CAA preseason player of the year.

William & Mary senior forward Quinn McDowell is the CAA's leading returning scorer after averaging 15.5 points last season. Drexel's Givens is the leading returning rebounder (10.1 per game), and James Madison junior Devon Moore is the leading returning player in assists (4.2).

Watch out for Delaware sophomore guard Devon Saddler, last season's CAA rookie of the year after averaging 13.3 points and 2.8 assists.

Drexel was picked to win the CAA championship by a vote of league coaches, media relations directors, and media members. Last season's three NCAA Tournament participants - George Mason, VCU, and Old Dominion - were picked to finish second through fourth.

- Marc Narducci


Contact staff writer Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225, mnarducci@phillynews.com, or @sjnard on Twitter.

 

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