James "Bruiser" Flint

Drexel’s bid to deflect attention from the CAA’s departures

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ARLINGTON, Va – Media day for the Colonial Athletic Conference had an almost surreal feel to it.

Forget, for a second, that it was hosted by a sports bar that I’ve been known to spend some time at. The event was without the team that owned the league’s most recent Final Four berth — that’d be VCU, who is already a member of the Atlantic 10. It was also the swan song for one of the nation’s most beloved and quotable coaches — the now-mustacheless Blaine Taylor, heading to Conference USA with Old Dominion — and the league’s waking power — the Ron Hunter-led Georgia State Panthers who are Sun Belt bound.

To make matters worse, the most pressing issue at this year’s media day had little to do with the talent that still resides within CAA borders and everything to do with the potential additions of Davidson and the College of Charleston.

Preseason hype and attention is something that can be detrimental for a program that’s not used to receiving it, but it was evident that Bruiser Flint was nonetheless frustrated with the lack of attention being given to his team, which is one of the strongest mid-majors in the country this year.

“If you really go and read some of the stuff the pundits say, […] we’re in the top 35, top 40,” Flint said. “But the only thing they’re talking about in the CAA right now is how we’re losing those teams.”

“They’re not necessarily talking about the league itself.”

The comment was made in jest, but it’s difficult to believe that there isn’t a bit of frustration within the program. This is not the first time that Drexel has been overlooked nationally, as they were, by many estimations, the best team to be left out of last year’s NCAA tournament field. If you remember, they bounced back from losses in four of their first six games — games that were played with an injured Chris Fouch — to win 25 of their last 26 before losing to VCU in the finals of the CAA tournament.

The same VCU whose departure has left Flint’s best Drexel team, one that includes arguably the two best players in the conference in Frantz Massenat and Damion Lee, as a sidenote in CAA preseason coverage.

To his credit, Flint appears — at least in front of reporters with recorders — to be focused on all the right things. “All I gotta do is do what I’m supposed to do for Drexel,” he said. “I can’t be worrying about the changing landscape of the league, because 12 years ago, we were one of the new teams in the league.” But wouldn’t it be nice to make a statement nationally? Wouldn’t it be great to prove to the country that the Dragons are more than just the best team in Philly that doesn’t play in the Big 5? That they are more than just the little brother that Shaka Smart and VCU left behind?

“I don’t know if we need to make a statement, I just hope that we can be successful with some of the things that we didn’t do last year,” Flint said. “Which is cut down the nets at the CAA tournament and get to the NCAA tournament. I think those are the two things you have to do. I don’t think we’re necessarily making a statement. If we can do that, I think we’ve accomplished the things we want to accomplish.”

That’s a good answer, Coach.

But that doesn’t mean I have to buy what you’re selling.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Duke knocks off No. 13 Louisville in first game of critical four-game stretch

Duke's Grayson Allen (3) and Marshall Plumlee (40) react during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Louisville in Durham, N.C., Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. Duke won 72-65. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
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Grayson Allen scored 16 of his 19 points in the first half and Brandon Ingram added 18 points, 10 boards and four assists as Duke picked up a critical win over No. 13 Louisville in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Monday night, 72-65.

A call this a critical win for the Blue Devils because it kicks off what may be the most important two-week stretch of Duke’s schedule This weekend, the Blue Devils square off with No. 9 Virginia. Next Wednesday, they’re at the Dean Dome to take on No. 7 North Carolina. Four days after that, they head to the Bluegrass State to pay a visit to Louisville.

 

With the way that Duke has been struggling on the defensive end of the floor without Amile Jefferson, that’s a stretch that could derail Duke’s season; entering Monday, all four of those games were losable. But a four-game winning streak — or even going 3-1 in that stretch — could completely change the tenor of what has been a fairly disappointing year for the defending champs, and that’s before they get Jefferson back to 100 percent.

And the difference was defensively, at least in the first half.

I’ve written in this space a number of times about how opponents know what they’re going to get from Duke defensively. Coach K, traditionally, plays half court man-to-man defense, switching every exchange — ball-screen, off-ball pick or simply when two players run by one another — that doesn’t involve the center. In recent years, he’s played some zone in situations where he defense has struggled or, like this season, when he doesn’t have the depth to risk foul trouble. We’ve even seen some 2-2-1 pressure from him of late.

But on Monday night, Duke played straight man-to-man for much of the game, and in the first half, it seemed to fluster the Cardinals. They scored just 24 points in the first 20 minutes, and while Louisville did find a way to break Duke down defensively in the second half — they shot better than 55 percent from the floor after the break — but part of the reason Duke was able to win this game was the lead they built. After a three from Allen opened scoring in the second half, the Blue Devils were up by 14, and while Louisville made a run down the stretch, they could never get control of the game.

Duke is becoming appointment viewing for basketball nerds like me that pay too much attention to X’s-and-O’s to see what kind of wrinkle Coach K is going to put in to try and compensate defensively, so I’m not sure that this performance sticks. But it is worth noting that this was the first time in eight games the Blue Devils gave up less than 1.0 PPP, and the first time since Dec. 19th they did so against an NCAA tournament-caliber team.

As far as Louisville is concerned, you have to tip your hat to those kids. They played their hearts out and fought back from a big deficit in one of the toughest places in the country to play. They did all that three days after their school ripped their hearts out with an NCAA tournament ban for this season.

So good for them. You never know how a team is going to react to something like that, but the Cardinal players showed that they have some serious fight in them.

Iowa State’s starting center Jameel McKay remains suspended

Iowa State forward Jameel McKay celebrates on the court at the end of an NCAA college basketball game against Oklahoma, Monday, Jan. 18, 2016, in Ames, Iowa. Iowa State won 82-77. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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Steve Prohm announced on Monday that starting center Jameel McKay will not be in the lineup on Wednesday when the Cyclones take on Texas Tech.

“He’ll practice today because I want him in practice,” Prohm said, “but game-wise, he’s suspended.”

McKay did not make the trip to Stillwater with the team on Saturday, where Iowa State beat Oklahoma State, 64-59. Prohm has not gotten into specifics regarding the cause of McKay’s suspension, but it’s reportedly an issue with the way he has been practicing. McKay is dealing with a nagging knee injury, which may play a role in the situation as well.

“My hope is he’ll be with us on Saturday,” Prohm said.