BOSTON – Tis the era of analytics in sports and in basketball. I love them. You probably love them if you’re reading this. But, as any coach, hip or not, will tell you, there are few things more frustrating or tougher to work around than a team that can’t make shots.
Drexel is 3-22 after a 70-60 loss to Northeastern Saturday afternoon, their 10th straight defeat, and they now stand at 1-13 in conference. But, by 3-22 standards, the Dragons are still pretty good, even if that’s the worst backhanded compliment ever. Down 15 at the half, Drexel showed what might have been in the second half, scoring 1.24 points per possession and mounting a comeback that worried Northeastern (14-13, 6-8) a bit before falling.
For most of the campaign, Bruiser Flint has had his hands full trying to find something, anything that would work offensively. Even with the impressive second half, Drexel is dead last in offensive efficiency (0.925 ppp, .045 behind 9th) and in eFG% (42.1%). Quite simply, the Dragons just can’t make shots this season.
Northeastern has made plenty of shots this season, including enough to post 1.16 ppp at Miami (who could be a top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament) in an upset win. The Huskies posted 1.16, 1.07, and 1.29 ppp in three hot-shooting wins to open CAA play. And then, well, they couldn’t make shots anymore. Some of that was due to injuries, particularly Quincy Ford who missed four games.
But that doesn’t explain all of it. No one can explain all of it, as Northeastern – the defending champ who looked like a favorite – lost 8 of 9 games – to fall to 4-8 in conference play. Even when it beat Towson Thursday, it still only posted 0.85 ppp. Saturday, they looked more like themselves, shooting 84 eFG% in the first half and able to cruise home despite taking their gas off the pedal a bit early. David Walker made his first six shots from the field, five from three, for 21 points, while Ford added 16. Walker’s five threes tied the school single-season record (83) and he has hit at least one in every game this season.
It’s only a win over a 3-22 team and it’s going to be really difficult for Northeastern to play its way out of the first Friday in Baltimore for the CAA Tournament. But in an extremely balanced league, who knows, right? Especially if the Huskies can hit shots.
“We just have to focus on the next game and getting better,” Northeastern coach Bill Coen said. “We have some things to clean up, but I think our in terms of confidence and effort, we can play with anyone and it all comes down to matchups.”
What else did we learn at Matthews Arena Saturday afternoon?:
- Northeastern has issues in the post
All credit to Drexel junior Rodney Williams, who scored a game-high 23 points (9-11 FG) and completely owned the middle for most of the game, even when Northeastern went zone, but the Huskies are going to need to have some post defense if they’re going to win the CAA. Coen starts small with 6’10” Jeremy Miller at center. Miller can step out and hit threes at the other end, but is physically no match for stronger players like Williams. There aren’t many viable options after that, the most likely is 6’8” Kwesi Abakah, but he had his problems with Williams as well.
“First, Williams is a really good player and he’s tough to guard,” Coen said. “Second, we have a really young frontcourt. We have a couple of freshmen who are really trying, but they’re inexperienced. It’s like David (Walker) and Quincy (Ford) going up against freshmen, they’re going to have an advantage just based on experience. I thought Quincy gave us some good minutes in the post, and that was just enough.”
2) Long season for Bruiser Flint
Flint has 150 career CAA victories, tops amongst active coaches and second all-time behind Jim Larranaga (who now coaches the Miami team that Northeastern beat earlier in the season). Losing Damion Lee to Louisville has left his squad offensively challenged, but they have continued to battle for most of the campaign, nearly beating St. Joseph’s, and playing Monmouth tough as well as many of their conference rivals.
Where do they go from here? That’s hard to tell, Flint needs a couple of his players (like Sammy Mojica, who had about 150 fans at Matthews to see him in his return to his hometown Saturday) to become consistent offensive threats. The good news is the Dragons haven’t been all that far off at times this season. The bad news is that the players they have will need to improve a lot to break into the top half of a very tough conference next year, too.
“We fought back and did the things we wanted to do in the second half, but didn’t come with a few big rebounds and we’re still fouling too much,” Flint said. “We just didn’t make enough plays. I thought we lost a couple of other games because we fouled them too much. Give Northeastern credit, they were on fire in the first half, but we didn’t make enough plays.”
3) Senior leadership
Northeastern’s schedule down the stretch is very difficult, with road games at James Madison, Hofstra, and Drexel to go with a home game against Charleston. They will likely have to win at least three to jump into sixth and a bye in the first round of the CAA Tournament. Saturday’s performance jumped the Huskies from 6th to 5th in CAA offensive efficiency, 4th in eFG% at 51.2%. It will need Walker and Ford to be at their absolute best and whomever is in the middle to at least hold their own, but as we’ve seen all over the country this season, you never know.
“We have a senior laden group, a veteran group, they just wouldn’t let us lose today and that’s what we need,” Coen said.