Drexel Preview

Are the Drexel Dragons as good as they looked against Duke Wednesday in the semi-finals of the NIT Season Tip-Off? UCLA will find out today in the consolation game, and be challenged when they face another team with athletic, scoring wings...

UCLA (3-1) takes on Drexel (2-1) in the consolation finals of the NIT on Friday.

The Drexel Dragons won 17 games last year and return a veteran team, but that doesn't explain their tough performance against Duke on Wednesday. I'm not sure what explains their performance. Duke could be overrated this early in the season, relying on freshmen to fill key roles in the starting lineup and off the bench. It could be that Duke's aggressive overplay defense fed into Drexel's strengths, an experienced backcourt with good quickness and strength and the ability to put the ball on the floor and get past an aggressive defender. It could be that Sheldon Williams, Duke's best (and perhaps only) low post player, got in foul trouble, leaving Duke with an unbalanced attack which was easier for Drexel's own tough man defense to clamp down in the first 25 minutes of the game. It could be that Drexel played its best game of the season. We'll never know.

What we do know is that the Bruins seem to match up very well with the Dragons. As I said, Drexel's strength is in its backcourt and on the wing. Bashir Mason, listed at 6-0 but probably not that tall, is a junior point guard who controls Drexel's floor game like a master. He has 19 assists and only 3 turnovers so far this year, and he's averaging 17 points per game on top of it. Mason is not a very good shooter, and scores by shooting a lot, mostly off drives into the lane, although he will launch the ball from 3 (he's 5-18 from 3 so far). Since they're unlikely to force him to turn the ball over, the key for Jordan Farmar and Darren Collison will be to stay in front of Mason and try to disrupt his passes out to the wings.

Dominic Mejia, 6-4 200 JR SG (19.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg) and Kennell Sanchez, 6-5 220 SR (13.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg) do a lot of damage for the Dragon from the wings. Both are strong, physical player who can put the ball on the floor and go one on one and create their own shot. They play especially well off of Mason, taking passes after Mason penetrates or coming of post screens to receive the ball on the wing. Mejia is the only really gifted outside shooter on the team and is 9-26 so far from 3 this year. He lit up Duke for 25 points and scored about any way that a player can, exposing JJ Reddick's deficiencies at that end of the floor. Arron Afflalo and Cedric Bozeman should be able to guard these guys if they put out the effort.

These three guys play 35 minutes per game. When they need a slight rest, Drexel brings in Tremayne Hawthorne, 6-1 FR PG (2.7 ppg) and Randy Hampton, 6-4 SO SG (3.0 ppg). Hawthorne is quick; Hampton scores more off drives than outside shots. Darren Collison and Mike Roll should do a better job of matching up with them than they did against Memphis, although as I said they don't play much and Darren and Mike will have to contend with the starters for part of the game.

Up front, Drexel basically has 3 players: Frank Elegar, 6-8 SO C (10.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.0 bpg), Chaz Crawford, 6-10 JR (3.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg), and Randy Oveneke, 6-7 SO SF/PF (2.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg). Elegar is a slender, agile post man who can hit the mid-range shot, take the ball to the basket over short distances and post up well inside. He's a pretty solid all-around player and I expect Luc Richard Mbah A Moute to guard him. Elegar is just too quick and agile for the Bruin post players to defend. Crawford is a banger at 230 with limited offensive skills. It will be interesting to see if he tries to push Ryan Hollins around. Mike Fey might have more success against him. Sheldon Williams of Duke had no trouble scoring over Crawford, but then Williams is the best low post player in the country and Crawford did battle him well on the boards. Oveneke, from Belgium, is an athletic player with who's still learning the game. He handles the ball and passes it decently, but doesn't seem to have a shooting touch. He plays good defense, as do all of the Dragons. He is like Luc light.

The Bruins should be able to guard Drexel. The bigger question is whether they can score against them at the other end of the floor. Drexel is unlikely to make a lot of mistakes and they're quick at 4 positions, so I assume the Bruins' ability to score off of fast breaks will be severely limited in this game. Once again, the Bruins will be forced to play a half court game against a tough defense, although this defense will be mainly man to man instead of a zone like Temple. Expect Drexel to go back and forth between in your face defense and some trapping and laying off the Bruins and daring them to shoot over them, especially if the Bruins are able to get good offensive contributions from Mike Fey (6.7 ppg 2.7 rpg) and Ryan Hollins (6.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 1.0 bpg).

Jordan (16.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 6.7 apg, 1.7 spg, 3.3 tpg) and Arron (16.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.3 apg) will have to go at the Drexel guards aggressively and try to draw fouls to take advantage of the Dragons' thin bench. If the Drexel guards concede the open shot, the Bruin guards must take the shots. Arron is shooting 42.3% from 3 so far this year. Jordan was 0-12 from 3 until he hit 4-6 in the second half against Memphis. Hopefully, he's worked out his shooting woes. Mike Roll is 5-11 from 3 so far and could have some success against this team. Darren Collison needs to take care of the ball and use his quickness to break down the Drexel defense and do some damage in the lane.

Once again, Ced Bozeman (12.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg) could be the real key to the Bruins' efforts. Drexel is a good defensive team all around, but Ced's combination of size and skills should enable him to penetrate against this team. He must finish better than he did against Memphis, and he must also do a better job of looking for the passing lanes created by his penetration and get some easy feeds to his teammates for open looks. I thought he played a little selfishly against Memphis. If the Drexel defense collapses, Ced might have to put up some jump shots. He's 4-8 from 3 so far and perhaps he should be shooting more from the outside.

Luc's offense is limited and he should again focus on setting screens, hitting the boards and guarding Elegar. The contributions of Ryan Hollins and Mike Fey will be vital. Sheldon Williams showed that Drexel's weak spot is right around the basket, and if the Bruin centers can replicate their offensive performance against Memphis the Bruins should be able to break down the Drexel offense often enough to win this game.

Drexel is clearly a good team. They have quickness and big-time scorers, if not great shooters, in their backcourt and at the wing and Elegar gives them some offense up front, so they can score from 4 positions. They use their quickness and physical toughness to play good man defense which they can adjust depending on whether they're giving up too much inside from penetration and passes over the top of the 6-7 Oveneke and 6-8 Elegar (and Crawford is not a quick player, but he is a hard worker). To beat the Dragons, the Bruins will have to come out and play a very good all-around game, being both physical and quick on defense and either aggressively going inside if Drexel offers the opportunity or nailing their outside shots if the defense collapses.

My predicted score: UCLA 70, Drexel 62.

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