2024 Drexel vs Monmouth - Men's

CAA Basketball: Improved Monmouth Presents A Test For League-Leading Drexel

CAA Basketball: Improved Monmouth Presents A Test For League-Leading Drexel

Home-court has been part of a major turnaround for Monmouth in its second season of CAA basketball. The Hawks look to leverage it vs. league-leading Drexel.

Jan 31, 2024 by Kyle Kensing
CAA Basketball: Improved Monmouth Presents A Test For League-Leading Drexel

Following his team's opening-round win at the 2023 Coastal Athletic Association Championship, Monmouth coach King Rice declared the Hawks would not be returning to the tournament's play-in round again in 2024. 

Monmouth is making good on that promise. A little more than a month out from the 2024 CAA Basketball Championship in Washington, D.C., the Hawks have emerged as one of the most improved teams not just in the Coastal but all of college basketball. 

Their turnaround from a 7-26 finish in 2022-23 includes a near-perfect record at OceanFirst Bank Center; 8-1, including defeats of CAA preseason favorites like Hofstra and Towson. 

Monmouth's biggest conference home date so far begins the February push to D.C., as CAA-leading Drexel makes the short trip to West Long Branch in a potentially pivotal showdown. 

The first encounter between Monmouth and Drexel this season delivered one of the best CAA basketball contests through the first month. The Dragons rallied from a halftime deficit to win a 78-74 nail-biter, part of their 8-1 spin through the initial portion of the conference slate.

Drexel begins February alone atop the conference, but with fierce competition bubbling on the Dragons' tail. 

The conference season's second half begins in earnest with February's arrival and the CAA leaders facing a potential trap on the Jersey Shore. 

CAA Player of the Year Candidates Lead the Way 

Central to Monmouth's 180 from a season ago is Xander Rice, transfer guard from Bucknell and son of Hawks coach King Rice. 

Xander Rice has been better than advertised, averaging 21.6 points per game — good for sixth-most in the nation and tops in the conference — and is fast approaching a program record for 30-plus-point performances. 

Rice went for 31 points and dished five assists in an 81-78 win over Hofstra on Jan. 27 — a game that coach King Rice told The Guarden State he's "hoping...will give our guys a lot of confidence." 

There's reason for it to from a historical perspective. It was Monmouth's first defeat of a Hofstra side since November 2013, and first since the Hawks became members of the CAA. The Pride blasted Monmouth in both meetings a season ago, 77-57 and 86-57. 

A team doesn't reverse such fortunes without it being a collective effort, but there's little doubt Xander Rice's presence is a huge contributing factor. Each win over an upper-echelon CAA team wherein Rice plays a leading role — like his 21-point effort in a 51-43 Hawks win over a Towson team currently second in the conference — strengthens the guard's case for CAA Player of the Year. 

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Drexel big man Amari Williams' candidacy for CAA Player of the Year isn't as easily detailed through sheer statistics, nor just by virtue of the Dragons enjoying one of their best regular seasons since Drexel's mid-1990s golden age. 

It shouldn't be taken for granted that Williams may well be on his way to a third consecutive CAA Defensive Player of the Year selection, thanks to his 1.8 blocked shots per game, his average of a hair less than a steal per contest, and the general dominance he exerts in the paint. 

Williams' overall impact on everything Drexel does on both ends of the floor is detailed effectively though assorted advanced metrics. Per KenPom.com, he ranks in the top 50 among all Div. I players in the percentage of both offensive (28th, 14.5) and defensive rebounds (48th, 25.2)  he collects, his blocked shot percentage (32nd, 8.8) and his possession-usage percentage (9th, 32.9). 

So while Justin Moore leads Drexel in scoring at 12.9 points per game, the offense runs through Williams and manifests in the inside-outside dynamic the two have cultivated. An 86-67 rout of Delaware on Jan. 20 encapsulated the Drexel offense at its best, with Moore and Williams combining for 12 assists on a night that five Dragons scored in double-figures. 

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Styles Clash 

The perimeter duo of Xander Rice and Jack Collins set the tone for Monmouth offensively. The two have attempted 290 3-pointers combined and connected on 100, igniting a Hawks offense that scores more than one-third of points from beyond the arc. 

Monmouth can score in a hurry, evident in the Hawks putting up at least 81 points in each of their last three CAA wins, and 77 points or more in five of their last six overall wins. 

Drexel's thrived with the hard-nosed defensive approach typical of a Zach Spiker-coached team. Only two opponents since the beginning of 2024 have scored 70 points or more against the Dragons: Towson, which handed Drexel its only league loss, and Monmouth. 

Dragons opponents shoot an average of 45.4 percent on 2-point field-goal attempts and 30.3 percent from beyond the arc. Drexel ranks top 30 nationally in both categories. 

They allow very few clean looks anywhere on the court with their harassing style, but that doesn't mean the Dragons play a rock-fight style. In CAA play, Drexel has scored at least 77 points six times; constricting opponents on one end of the court converts into scoring opportunities on the other. 

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