A couple weeks ago I got to cover Drexel’s home game against Hofstra for CAAZone.com. Before the game I made the acquaintance of Josh Verlin, a writer for PhilaHoops.com. He seemed like a good guy who was knowledgeable about the entire college hoops scene in Philadelphia. When it came up that I was an ODU graduate and that I’d be covering the Monarchs’ final home game, he wanted to know if I’d be interested in doing a Q&A with him.
He sent me his questions yesterday and I responded after I arrived in Hampton Roads. You can read my responses to his questions by clicking on this link. Josh was kind enough to return the favor with my questions, which are below.
1. Tell us about PhilaHoops. How did the idea start and how did the site get off the ground? How did you yourself become a contributing writer?
Philahoops is the brainchild of Aaron Bracy (Twitter: @Aaron_Bracy), a Philadelphia sportswriting veteran and current elementary school teacher who felt the City 6 (Drexel, La Salle, Penn, Saint Joseph's, Temple and Villanova) wasn't getting the coverage or recognition it deserved. He started the site as a blog last season and launched as the site you see now back in December, just a few weeks after I came on board after finding Aaron through Twitter. Since then we've added a few more writers, including Big 5 legend Jack Scheuer, who's been covering the city's hoops scene for decades and decades, as well as a bracketologist and a number of talented beat reporters. For the last few months we've been going to practices, games and other events all over the city, getting exclusive content for our readers to help them keep up to date on the best college hoops town in the nation. I've been lucky enough to cover two of the hottest teams in the country over the last few weeks, the Temple Owls and Drexel Dragons.
2. How would describe the college hoops scene in Philly this year, and where does Drexel stack against the other schools?
The best way to describe the hoops scene around town this year is "rejuvenated." The fact that Villanova, a Big East squad with numerous McDonald's All-Americans on its roster, is the worst team in the city is saying quite a lot about the level of talent in the City of Brotherly Love this season. The Temple Owls are ranked 22nd in the country, Saint Joseph's and La Salle are both having quality years with very little talent leaving this offseason, and should contend for NCAA bids next year. The players who will be coming back next year from SJU and LU alone are scary--Ronald Roberts, C.J. Aiken, Langston Galloway, Halil Kanacevic, Ramon Galloway, Tyreek Duren, Sam Mills and Jerrell Wright are all future professional basketball players who will only be juniors or sophomores next year, with the exception of Ramon Galloway, who will be a senior.
The Penn Quakers are in the midst of a tough Ivy season with a huge game against Harvard that could decide their NCAA fates, and they have potentially the best player in the city in point guard Zack Rosen. That's all before we get to Drexel, who have won 16 straight games and 22 out of 23 to garner some serious NCAA at-large consideration. Right now I would say Temple is the best team in the city, with wins over Duke, Xavier, Maryland and Wichita State on the resume. Drexel is next, ahead of 18-10 La Salle and 18-11 Saint Joseph's. Penn comes next, with Villanova bringing up the rear.
3. This year's Drexel team plays defense with the same intensity as previous years, but the offense has taken a giant step forward. To what do you attribute their improvement on offense?
The biggest individual improvement comes from Frantz Massenat, who has been arguably the best player in the league this season. The 6-foot-4 sophomore has improved his 3-point shooting (25.7 percent to 46.1 percent), free-throw shooting (61.0 to 80.7), rebounding (2.0 to 3.4) and scoring (5.5 to 13.6), leading the team on the court and playing 35.3 minutes per game. He makes this team run, and his 3-point shooting has gone from a liability to such a strength that it opens up his ability to drive the ball.
When Frantz is off his game, he's got freshman wing Damion Lee to step in and shine. Lee could be one of those truly special mid-major players, a kid who's going to hit 400 points in his freshman season and has all the tools to be an NBA wing. At 6-6, Lee can shoot (36.9 percent from 3-point range), rebound (4.2/game) and turns the ball over fewer than two times per game while playing solid defense on the other end. A fearless competitor, Lee has won the confidence of his team and has hit a number of huge shots, most notably when he took over the last few minutes of the game against George Mason. Aside from Lee and Massenat, Derrick Thomas and Chris Fouch have provided spark, and both of them have played better with less pressure on them to drive the team on the offensive end.
4. Frantz Massenat leads the team in scoring and assists while Samme Givens leads in rebounding. Who on the roster does little things not reflected in box scores to help the team win?
What makes this team so good is that really, everybody does the little things to help this team win. Daryl McCoy is a very underrated defensive center, and while Drexel fans cringe whenever he puts the ball on the floor, he does have a 14-foot jump shot that he can step out and take if the Dragon offense has really stalled. His rebounding efforts and ability to stay down in the lane frustrate opposing big men over and over, and he teams very well with Dartaye Ruffin in that respect. Givens gets a lot of love in the frontcourt, but Drexel is one of the best rebounding teams in the country thanks to Ruffin and McCoy. In the frontcourt, it's Derrick Thomas who's the glue guy. He had 9 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists with no turnovers against JMU, numbers that Bruiser Flint and company would take from the junior every day of the week. Thomas has had a few big games (16 against William & Mary, 20 vs. Northeastern), but he's usually good for a 3-pointer or two and a few extra contributions.
5. Hypothetically, let's say Drexel doesn't win the CAA tournament. Does this team deserve an NCAA at-large bid?
Do they deserve it? Yes. They're certainly playing like one of the best 37 non-automatic-qualifiers over the last two months, but the problem is they haven't really played enough quality teams to prove it. Wins against VCU and George Mason came at home, and the win at Cleveland State came without CSU's best defender and one of their senior leaders--sound familiar? Even winning at Old Dominion might not be enough, now that the Monarchs lost Trian Iliadis, and I think it's going to take a run to the finals for the Dragons to even have a chance. Will they get one? That will be determined by the number of teams like Murray State who don't win their conference tournaments. But Drexel deserves to be dancing with their best team since Malik Rose led the team to March Madness back in 1996.
We would like to extend our sincere appreciation to Josh and the folks at PhilaHoops.com for the opportunity to do a Q&A!