It's all-or-nothing for Drexel heading into CAA tourney

Bruiser Flint has confidence in Drexel entering the Colonial Athletic Association tournament. "Can we do it? No question," the Dragons coach said.
Bruiser Flint has confidence in Drexel entering the Colonial Athletic Association tournament. "Can we do it? No question," the Dragons coach said. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 03, 2013

A T-shirt-clad Drexel student at the Daskalakis Athletic Center Saturday night for the Dragons' regular-season finale - preparing for a road trip to Richmond next weekend - summed up his chances of enjoying a few days in Virginia quite succinctly.

"We could totally win the whole thing," he told a buddy in the stands, "or it could be the biggest waste of a trip ever."

Bruiser Flint can relate.

Drexel's coach won't go crazy making wild predictions about next weekend's Colonial Athletic Association tournament. No reason to put any great expectations on his Dragons now. They earned the right to be underdogs, to have a chip on their shoulder.

"We'll see next Saturday, man. . . . I know how we played all year," Flint said Saturday night after the Dragons beat UNC-Wilmington, 62-46, to finish 13-17 overall, 9-9 in the CAA. "Can we do it? No question. We've got to show it. We've got to play better than we've played."

Drexel has known since early December that its next crucial game would be in March, in Richmond. Losing six of your first eight takes a CAA team out of an NCAA at-large bid fairly early.

Were we misguided in the preseason to think Drexel had a chance to be nearly as strong as last season, to contend for top team in the season and be the best in the Colonial?

"I don't think so," Flint said, although he said he knew there were X-and-O issues that needed to be sorted out, starting with replacing the production provided inside in past seasons by Samme Givens.

That production really wasn't replaced, and other issues obviously cropped up at both ends of the court, some of them related, such as more early-season turnovers than expected turning into opposing fastbreaks. Injuries also set Drexel back, starting with the season-ending broken ankle suffered by Chris Fouch, who already had cracked the top 20 on Drexel's all-time scoring list.

At one point, Flint said, he told his team, "Yo, guys, they're not going to shut the season down. We've got to continue to play."

Lately, Drexel has been playing decent ball, so the Dragons, at 13-17, are basically in the same position they were in last season when they were 25-5. "Maybe better," a Drexel staffer noted.

Their odds really aren't that much worse as a No. 5 seed than they were last year as a top seed. There is no dominant team this year, no one close to as good as either Drexel or Virginia Commonwealth was last time, no obstacle as steep as Virginia Commonwealth's playing in its home city.

That's not to paint Drexel as a favorite. The Dragons have won three in a row this season exactly once, against three schools with losing records.

While the Dragons were 0-4 against the top two seeds, all the games were tight, and two went to overtime.

"It's wide open," Flint said of the tournament script that starts with a quarterfinal Saturday against George Mason. "You only have to look at the scores."

There is no NIT safety net offering more games if the Dragons don't hear their name on Selection Sunday this time, but you sense a certain freedom that comes with the all-or-nothing stakes. This team isn't playing panicked right now.

One big element showed up Saturday night. Inside players Daryl McCoy and Dartaye Ruffin had more rebounds than the entire opposing team. Drexel had all 18 second-chance points scored in the game, and UNC-Wilmington typically is a decent rebounding team.

"We had to rebound. We only shot 30 percent," Flint said. "Sometimes it's all about the numbers. We can't shoot 30 percent in the tournament. We shot 30 percent a lot this year."

Flint knows that his team has a little taste of confidence right now after a long slog of a season. Flint likes to tell his guys that to be the hero, they have to be prepared to be the goat. That's a theme of his in March.

"Sometimes you can't just stick your toe in the water," the Drexel coach said. "You've got to jump in and be ready to drown."

Contact Mike Jensen at Follow on Twitter @jensenoffcampus.

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