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November 23, 2005

Garden Party

It's the Final Four, November style in New York City tonight, as Duke matches up with an unlikely NIT Season Tipoff semifinalist.

When the pairings were announced, many fans anticipated a Madison Square Garden matchup between Duke and Quin Snyder's Missouri Tigers.

Sam Houston State dispatched Mizzou in the opening round and Drexel knocked off Sam Houston State after a first round road victory at Princeton.

While the opponent may be unfamiliar to Duke (first ever meeting between the schools), Drexel's coach should be a familiar face to most college basketball fans.

Former UMass head coach Bruiser Flint heads up the Dragon program and has taken Drexel to three straight NIT appearances as he embarks on his fifth season at the school.

Drexel's offense, like most solid mid-major level programs, revolves around steady guard play.

The Dragons don't start a player taller than 6-8 and guards Dominick Mejia and Bashir Mason lead the attack, averaging 16.7 and 15.3 points, respectively.

Expect the Dragons to try to stay in the game with Duke by hoisting as many three point shots as possible. Through their first three games, all victories, the Dragons are averaging more than 18 three point attempts per game.

Mejia is by far the most frequent long range bomber. The 6-foot-4 junior is hitting from downtown at a 35 percent clip and averages nearly nine three point attempts per game.

It's certainly not unreasonable to expect those numbers to rise against Duke, a game in which they are likely to have to play from behind.

Duke has been relentless on the defensive end of the floor in their last 110 minutes of game action, including two full games of defensive domination against Seton Hall and Davidson.

Drexel has been efficient enough on offense to win their first three games, but their overall offensive statistics aren't all that impressive.

As a team, they are shooting at just below a 42 percent clip and less than 33 percent from three point range.

They have done a good job protecting the ball, though, and have also controlled the boards at a better than plus 7 margin per game.

Can they continue those trends against a team the caliber of Duke? The answer will determine how competitive the Dragons can be.

What to watch

Shelden Williams and Josh McRoberts

As mentioned earlier, Drexel is undersized. They will bring a strong shot blocker off the bench in 6-foot-10 junior Chaz Crawford for some minutes, but their starting front line is 6-5, 6-7, and 6-8.

Williams had his breakout offensive performance of the season against Davidson on Saturday, when he scored 20 points in a near triple-double performance at home.

His size and McRoberts' athleticism will not be matched against Drexel. If Duke establishes their post advantage at the outset of the game, Drexel will have no way of hoping to contain the Devils.

Wilting pressure

Simply put, Drexel's guards will have to play their absolute best for a full 40 minutes to have a shot at beating Duke.

No team in the country applies the pressure that Duke does for a full game. Several teams are capable of great defense, but no one has shown an ability to sustain that type of intensity for as long as Mike Krzyzewski's team.

When Drexel goes to the bench to spell their perimeter players, they'll be turning to youth. Tramanyne Hawthorne is a freshman while sophomore Randy Hampton will also likely see some minutes.

Duke will likely show the entire Dragon backcourt a type of defense they haven't ever seen.

Not only do the Devils get in your face on the ball, but they are just as hounding off the ball, swallowing up passing lanes like they're Thanksgiving dinner.

As always, Duke has the potential to turn this game ugly if they can cause turnovers and turn them into quick offense.

The indefensible J.J. Redick

There's no matchup for Drexel against Redick. If he was just a spot up shooter, that would be one thing, but Redick's game is to the point now where only a very select few defenders in the country can compete with him for extended periods of time.

Drexel's best perimeter defender is Mason, but he's only six feet tall and will likely be matched up with either Sean Dockery or Greg Paulus.

Mejia is the best physical match for Redick, as he is the same height and weighs 200 pounds. Drexel needs his offense too much though for him to be chasing Redick all over the floor on the defensive end.

The Dragons may go with some zone looks to try to keep their perimeter offensive threats fresh, but a zone against Duke is just asking for trouble, with penetrate and dish options sure to lead to a flood of outside shots from Redick, Lee Melchionni, and company.

It's tough for any coach to gameplan against Duke's offensive firepower, but it's going to be extra difficult for Flint.

The bottom line

The only hope Drexel has is that Duke goes cold from the perimeter. Their only chance to stop Duke's interior advantage is to send extra defenders, which will of course leave the outside shot open.

Playing with the experimental three point line, an extra foot away from the basket, will make it even tougher for Dragon defenders to get out to shooters after collapsing to the paint.

Though Drexel does have some effective offensive players, Duke's defense will be much better than anything they've faced.

Look for the Devils to have a solid lead at the half and pull away early in the second 20 minutes.

Randall's prediction

Duke 79-52


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