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Drexel Punches Ticket To CAA Championship As Dragons Look To End Drought

Drexel Punches Ticket To CAA Championship As Dragons Look To End Drought

Drexel punched a ticket to the CAA Championship to give themselves a chance at ending a 25-year NCAA Tournament drought.

Mar 9, 2021 by Kyle Kensing
Drexel Punches Ticket To CAA Championship As Dragons Look To End Drought

Twenty-five years ago this month, Bill Herrion quipped that “people don’t know who Drexel is."

“Heck,” Herrion added following the Dragons’ 75-63 defeat of Memphis in the 1st Round of the 1996 NCAA Tournament. “I didn’t know who Drexel was when I took the job.” 

That relative obscurity was perhaps overplayed; the ‘96 Tournament marked Drexel’s third straight appearance. But recognition and respect aren’t always one and the same, and Dragons guard Jeff Myers said he didn’t believe the Tigers “respected” Drexel. 

Ten years ago this past January, the ‘95-’96 Dragons were shown the ultimate sign of respect with induction into the Drexel Hall of Fame. On the 15-year anniversary of their Tournament win, those Dragons were the last to go dancing. 

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It’s now been 25 years, and Drexel still hasn’t reached the NCAA Tournament. The drought can end in the Colonial Athletic Association Championship Game against Elon. 

“We’re happy we’re 40 minutes away, but we’re not satisfied,” Camren Wynter said following his 14-points, six-rebound and four-assist performance in Drexel’s 74-67 CAA semifinal win over Northeastern. 

Like all most of college basketball, 2020-21 has been trying for the Dragons. They came into Harrisonburg and the CAA Tournament having played just one game in the previous month. 

With just nine wins at the end of the regular season, few could really know this Drexel team — and not in the hyperbolic manner Herrion claimed of the ‘96 squad. 

“We learn something about our guys every day,” Dragons coach Zach Spiker said. 

Among the lessons Spiker took away from beating a Northeastern bunch that led the CAA for the first half of the season, and a coach in Bill Coen whose teams excel in March: Drexel can finish in the clutch. 

That the Huskies have so often overachieved in the postseason in recent years offers up further lessons for Spiker. Northeastern is a program in thee CAA of today with stature akin to Drexel of the old North Atlantic Conference in the ‘90s. 

“That’s a program we emulate and look towards for how we want to build our basketball program,” Spiker said of Northeastern. “It’s one of the top class programs in this conference, and that makes this win much more meaningful.”

Another reveal of Drexel’s identity on the way to the CAA Championship: It can score in a variety of ways. 

“We have a lot of scorers,” Wynter said. “We share the ball, and whoever’s hot is aggressive...That’s the great thing about our team.” 

The core four of Wynter, Zach Walton, T.J. Bickerstaff and James Butler came into the conference tournament all averaging in double-figures scoring. All but Bickerstaff hit double-figures against Northeastern, but Xavier Bell’s 11 points kept up the pace. 

Drexel finished the regular season with the CAA’s best adjusted offensive efficiency, per KenPom.com metrics. The Dragons go into the conference final ranked in the nation’s top 100, and with ranks of 63 and 31 in 3-point and 2-point field-goal shooting.

Limited sample size, perhaps. At roughly half the length of a typical regular season, knowing too much about Drexel can be difficult. But being unknown has suited Drexel basketball just fine.

Kyle Kensing is a freelance sports journalist in southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.