RICHMOND, Va. – In theory, the next six days should be quite stressful for Drexel and head coach Bruiser Flint. After losing in the Colonial Athletic Association championship game on Monday night, the Dragons must wait to find out which tournament they will be playing in. As the regular season champions of the CAA, they are guaranteed a bid to the NIT, but naturally hope the NCAA Tournament comes calling. Flint doesn’t seem stressed at all about it, however, and his experience is a key factor in that.
Drexel was in a similar position in 2007. The big difference is in the NCAA Tournament profiles of the two teams, as the one in 2007 was better than this one. A look at the numbers doesn’t help Drexel: their strength of schedule entering Monday was 259, and their non-conference SOS is 228. Their best non-conference win is probably their win over Princeton at home, and the Tigers will finish third in the Ivy League.
In 2006-07, Drexel finished the regular season with a 23-8 mark. They finished fourth in the CAA in the regular season and lost in the semifinals to eventual champion VCU. That team had a very impressive non-conference resume, with wins at Vermont, Villanova, Syracuse, Temple and Creighton. They lost at Penn and Rider and were 13-5 in CAA play. The Dragons went 13-4 on the road that year. And still no bid.
Flint hasn’t approached non-conference scheduling the same ever since, and part of that is the reality that many of the Villanovas and Syracuses of the world don’t want to play them. That also drives why he’s not going to stress himself or his team over the next few days.
“We had all the right things that they said we were supposed to have, and we didn’t get in,” Flint said of the 2006-07 squad. “I thought, in 2007, we were going to get in. It couldn’t really get much better than that.”
Not only has scheduling become a much tougher task in terms of getting quality opponents, but Flint had another problem this season. When September rolled around and his schedule still wasn’t complete, he had just two home games on the slate. He needed to get more, and Big East and ACC teams that are hesitant enough to play Drexel only at home are certainly not going to play them in Philadelphia. As it is, the Dragons had 13 home games, with nine coming in conference play.
Flint added Fairfield and Princeton to his schedule, and that looked like a reasonable move. Fairfield was among the preseason favorites in the MAAC, while Princeton was projected to contend in the Ivy League. In the end, neither quite happened, although Fairfield made it to the MAAC title game before falling to Loyola (Md.) on Monday night.
“Guys talked them up in the preseason, people were saying to me, that might have saved your schedule,” Flint said. “I can’t help what Fairfield and Princeton did. I had to get some home games for us.”
Drexel finishes the regular season 27-6, with 20 of those games being away from home. Six were at neutral sites, although some will say that Monday’s game was a road game since VCU plays their home games about a mile down the road from the Richmond Coliseum. The Dragons were 11-3 in true road games.
The Dragons will naturally hope for the NCAA Tournament. Drawing from his experience, Flint will approach the NIT differently this time around if the NCAA doesn’t come calling. He felt that not making the NCAA in 2007 was a big letdown for his team, hence their home loss to North Carolina State in the first game there. Perhaps creating no expectations of being in will help, although there has been a groundswell of support for them as a tournament team.
“I think both the teams that are playing tomorrow night definitely belong in the NCAA Tournament,” George Mason coach Paul Hewitt said on Sunday. “I can’t wait to hear, when both of those guys get in, all the people say they don’t belong and look forward to seeing them advancing through the tournament.”
Added VCU head coach Shaka Smart: “To me, there’s no doubt that they’re an NCAA Tournament team.”
Old Dominion head coach Blaine Taylor draws on his own experience this season, while admitting there is a little bias since he is talking about a school in his conference.
“Having played Kentucky in a real tough game, having played Missouri right to the wire, I really think, for instance, a Drexel-Missouri matchup would be a very entertaining game, and I’d give Drexel every opportunity for success in that game,” said Taylor.
Drexel started the season without their best returning player in Chris Fouch, and he took a long time to remotely resemble his old self this season. They won 19 straight games before losing on Monday night, and it wasn’t a bad loss – in fact, they don’t have a bad loss. Even if they did, Taylor feels the time of the year has to come into play, as well as the conference’s play in the BracketBusters event. Drexel crushed Cleveland State on the road in their BracketBusters game to lead a solid showing by the CAA’s best teams.
“The problem our league has is that we have to have an open-minded assessment of what happened in the first weeks of the season,” said Taylor. “If somebody looks from the middle of December on, it’s unbelievable how strong our league has been. I think we were symptomatic of that. I think a lot of people were young, without players or kind of feeling their way along a little bit, and they got a couple of losses they can’t get back. But I’d rather have the bad loss on November 15 than the ones the BCS schools are trying to talk you out of on March 6.”
While others are going to bat for his team, with Taylor doing so in much the same way he did for VCU a year ago after knocking them off in the title game, Flint isn’t stressing. He’ll get his team ready for whatever lies ahead, and there’s a pretty good chance this team can win more games.