Game 001: Drexel 78, University Of The Sciences 45 (exh.)
Thursday, November 11, 2004
Daskalakis Athletic Center - Philadelphia, PA
The Chili's at 38th and Chestnut Streets in Philadelphia, in an attempt to "get local," offers a menu item they call the "Drexel Dragons Burger." It's a half-pound of ground beef smothered in chipotle ranch dressing, sliced jalapenos and jack cheese. They'll add bacon for an extra 99 cents. (If anything, this sandwich will give you dragon breath.)
There's also something called the "USP Devil Burger" - a slab of red meat crusted with black peppercorns, drenched in bleu cheese dressing and topped with fried Awesome Blossom strings. Shredded lettuce, tomato and pickle available on request.
It's easy to lose sight of the University of the Sciences in the Big Five nexus - they play Division II ball and count Bloomfield and Felician as rivals. The school itself is tucked away in the southwestern corner of Philly's University City next to Drexel and Penn - even after seven years of living in the area, I had to check USP's website for their exact location. And most perplexing at all, a college that excels in pharmacy studies and health sciences has an incredibly coronary-inducing burger dedicated to them. C'mon, Chili's, don't you do your homework? Perhaps a turkey or a black bean veggie-burger for these guys?
Last night, the two teams met in an exhibition matchup. The promise of free admission brought a legion of students and Philly hoop-heads to Drexel's Daskalakis Athletic Center for a preview of an early favorite to win the Colonial Athletic Association.
Ah, the exhibition season. A chance to tune up for the tough 28-game slog ahead, to display and fine-tune one's weaponry before the real battles begin. A chance for the pep band to work on playing the national anthem in key (I'm talking to you, flute section). A chance for the "nutty fan corps" to practice their cheers and chants against a bewildered, overmatched opponent. A chance for the dance team to begin the painful process of excising the "Summer 2003 Megamix" routines from their repertoire.
The Devils came out hard and dictated the game's pace before the first media time out. I'd never seen this team play before, so I'm not sure if they have a signature style, but they seemed to take cues from the Lithuanian National Team - anyone on the floor with an open 3 would take it, and they'd take easy layups when defensive help came to the perimeter. And I mean any open bomb... these weren't NBA range or new-experimental-rules range threes, a lot of them would count in the Jupiter Anti-Gravity All-Steroids League.
Drexel quickly formulated an response - a stingy full-court man-to-man that spread out the floor and featured nearly effortless switching. They have the rotation of three lightning-quick guards necessary to pull this kind of thing off: twin 6-2 seniors Phil Goss and Jeremiah King are the ringleaders, and sophomore Bashir Mason looks like he'll be stepping up into a larger role this year. This approach will undoubtedly win them a boatload of conference games.
After scoring 20 points in the first ten minutes, USP scored eight in the next ten and ended the game with a mere 45. I guess you could say that the Dragons, um, er, "ate them up."
Drexel began the freshman orientation halfway through the second half, and I was able to spend some time reading the free "CAA 2004-05 Fan Guide" that was being given out. What is up with that new George Mason logo, anyway? Sheesh.
They are indeed emerging as the sexy pick to win the Colonial, and it's for all the stock template reasons why people usually pick teams to win conferences. Four of their starters are returning, and a great regular season matched with an ignominious conference tournament exit usually signals "hunger." They have a "name" coach in Bruiser Flint, and a few recent NIT trips under their belts.
But I still see Drexel as a work in progress. Their only true "big," a gangly sophomore standing at 6-10 (that's 7-3 in mid-major terms) named Chaz Crawford, doesn't seem to have the confidence of his coach quite yet - he spends long stretches on the bench, regardless of foul trouble. Their starting center is Sean Brooks, a 6-6 Barkley-styled player who matured by bounds last year and became my favorite Dragon. But they still don't seem to have an answer for a dominant center or a big, mobile front line. I still like Old Dominion in this conference.
But what do I know? I should stick to predictions that are likely to actually come true, such as the high probability that I'll end up strangling somebody if I hear the Buckwheat Boys' "Ice Cream And Cake" booming out of too many P.A. systems during this 100-game quest.
Yes, every journey begins with a single step, and I have ninety-nine games left to go before I achieve my stated goal. The road to college basketball nirvana is long, winding and usually unpaved. I will need strength, energy, sustenance... I think I'll go have a burger.