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Friday, November 25, 2005

Drexel Dragons Breathe Fire

They were picked seventh in the pre-season polls for the Colonial Athletic Association. They graduated four starters. They are not part of Philadelphia's famed Big 5, even though they are a Division I hoops team that plays its home games not far from Philadelphia's 30th Street Station. They're the not-so-much-talked-about stepsister to the debutantes that stroll hoops' catwalk each year and have figured prominently in the public spotlight: Villanova, St. Joseph's, Pennsylvania and Temple. Two are in the Top 15 list for all-time NCAA wins. All are storied programs (the fifth, LaSalle, hasn't had a winning season in the past ten but shows signs of improving under coach John Giannini).

They slayed Princeton in the home opener a few weeks ago by showing a fierce combination of athleticism and tenacity. They took advantage of the relatively young Tiger team, especially when Princeton's four best players were on the bench together for a good part of the first half, saddled with two fouls apiece. It was at that juncture that Drexel went on a 17-0 run (against a Tiger fivesome on the floor that averaged roughly 2 points per game collectively last year -- showing that they could put away a well-schooled opponent when it had them on the ropes. The Dragons showed everyone that night that they are finishers. Good finishers.

It was a rough night for the Tigers and an excellent night for the Dragons. The Dragon faithful were buoyed that their team defeated a perennial rattlesnake, while the Princeton faithful sensed a dreadful season, as their Tigers played badly (one piece of evidence -- they were outrebounded 46-17).

As it turns out, Drexel might not finish in the second division in the CAA, as they had an amazing past few days, giving #1 Duke a great game mid-week before losing by 10, and then getting nipped by #16 UCLA today by a point, both in the pre-season NIT. Both games were played in Madison Square Garden. Which goes to show you that the Drexel Dragons are better than people thought, and that the Princeton Tigers, who followed that game with an excellent effort and runaway win over Lehigh on the road, are better than the Tiger faithful might have feared after that disastrous opening night. Why? It could well be that the Drexel Dragons are just that good. We'll learn more about how good after their tangle with Pennsylvania tomorrow (with a caveat that the Dragons might well be tired, as this will be something like their fifth game in seven days).

In Philadelphia, the pre-season skinny was that Villanova was a lock for the NCAA tournament and that Pennsylvania was the strong favorite in the Ivies, and that if they play their cards right Temple and St. Joseph's might have a shot at the NCAA tournament. Everyone knows that LaSalle is rebuilding, and almost no one mentioned Drexel in the conversation.

They will now.

Sure, Drexel didn't beat either Duke or UCLA, but the effort was there.

If the Dragons honor those performances the remainder of the season, they could well be part of the post-season conversation -- as CAA champions.


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