Bad luck overshadows Bruiser Flint's achievements at Drexel

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Bad luck overshadows Bruiser Flint's achievements at Drexel

Heading into the 2013-14 season, Bruiser Flint believed he had assembled his strongest team ever at Drexel. And in the first month of campaign, the Dragons backed it up, taking two nationally ranked teams in UCLA and Arizona right down to the wire.

But in what became a familiar theme for Flint and the Dragons, those good vibes were quickly dashed when, late in their game against then-No. 4 Arizona, standout guard Damion Lee came down funny on the Madison Square Garden court and tore his ACL.

Later that season, another starter, Kazembe Abif, missed almost all of conference play with an injury. The season before that, star shooter Chris Fouch was lost for the year in the third game. The season after, it was about half of the team, including Abif and Lee, that went down.

Suddenly, a talented core that included Lee, Abif, Fouch, Frantz Massenat and Dartaye Ruffin, among others, seemed like a distant memory as, at times, Flint struggled with simple things like finding enough healthy players to even practice.

“You’re thinking to yourself, ‘Yo, I’m gonna have it like this for a couple of years,’” Flint said last week before leading this year’s less-talented Drexel team into the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament. “Then Chris goes down, Damion goes down, Kaz goes down. We haven’t been the same since.”

In the end, all of the bad luck caught up to Flint, who was fired after the Dragons lost in the quarterfinals of the CAA tourney, ending a dismal 6-25 campaign — the coach’s worst in 15 years running the program.

And it’s hard not to think about what might have been.

Flint’s detractors will immediately point out he never got to the NCAA Tournament and thus had to go, especially after sputtering through his first-ever back-to-back losing seasons. And they’re probably right. Fifteen years is a really long time for any coach to stay with the same school, and when you become the longest-tenured Division I coach to never go to the NCAA tourney — a distinction Flint earned when Yale, under his friend James Jones, punched its dance ticket over the weekend — well, that’s not a good thing.

But Flint’s accomplishments, in the face of seemingly endless adversity and bad luck, are still quite good. He won more games than any other Drexel coach (245) and was named the CAA Coach of the Year a very impressive four times — in 2002, 2004, 2009 and 2012. And yes, the fact that the Dragons didn’t make the NCAA Tournament in any of those years largely boils down to bad luck, too.

For starters, until recently, the conference tournament was held in Virginia where the local teams like VCU, George Mason, James Madison, Old Dominion and UNC Wilmington dominated. Should Drexel have won at least one CAA Tournament in Flint’s tenure? Of course. But it’s still fair to say that the deck was always stacked against the Dragons and the other Northern schools in the league.

Because of those conference tourney struggles, the Dragons were often left hoping for an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament. And again, that simply led to more bad luck and frustration. The Dragons were snubbed in 2012, despite winning the regular-season league title, amassing 27 victories before Selection Sunday and, at one point, reeling off 19 straight wins. The problem, perhaps, was a weak non-conference schedule. But that just makes another snub — five years earlier — tougher to swallow. That season (2006-07), Flint purposely scheduled some tough road games and then proceeded to win most of them, beating Syracuse, Creighton, Temple, Villanova and Vermont away from home. But those wins — and 18 others — somehow weren’t enough for Drexel to get in either.

Perhaps in 15 years, Flint should have more to show than two almost NCAA Tournament berths.

But it’s important to remember that he still produced mostly winning campaigns and lured high-level mid-major recruits to a school that plays in a small gym and competes for players and headlines with five other, arguably higher-profile, D-1 programs.

The best recruit of all may have been Lee, who also serves as a perfect microcosm for Flint’s misfortune.

It was during Lee’s freshman year, when he was named the CAA Rookie of the Year, that Drexel won 29 total games but didn’t hear its name called on Selection Sunday. Two seasons later, Lee tore his ACL at the Garden. The following season, he got hurt before the conference tournament, preventing the Dragons from possibly going on a late run. And then, between last season and this one, he told Flint he’d be using his extra year of eligibility (gained from the ACL injury) at the University of Louisville, setting the table for the Dragons’ disastrous six-win campaign. (Lee’s bad luck continued at Louisville when the school imposed its own postseason ban, preventing him from ever competing in the NCAA Tournament).

What would have happened if Lee hadn’t come down awkwardly on his knee at Madison Square Garden? Or if Fouch didn’t break his ankle after falling on a photographer at the Palestra? Or if there had been different people on the NCAA Selection Committee looking at different things?

Maybe Flint still has a job today. Maybe he doesn’t. But as one of the most colorful and demonstrative coaches in Philly looks for a new place to work and Drexel a new coach, all we can do is wonder what if?

NCAA Tournament Wrap: Xavier stuns Arizona to reach Elite Eight

NCAA Tournament Wrap: Xavier stuns Arizona to reach Elite Eight

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Trevon Bluiett scored 25 points, Sean O'Mara scored inside with 40 seconds left and No. 11 seed Xavier upset No. 2 Arizona 73-71 in the West Region on Thursday night.

Xavier (30-13) stayed with the second-seeded Wildcats behind Bluiett's 18 first-half points and tracked down the Wildcats after they tried to pull away in the second half. O'Mara scored on a power move inside, but missed a free throw to give Arizona (32-5) a final chance.

Allonzo Trier missed a 3-pointer in the closing seconds and Xavier was able to dribble out the clock, earning its first trip to the Elite Eight since 2008.

The Musketeers held Arizona scoreless over the final 2:52 to earn a sport in the West final against No. 1 seed Gonzaga on Saturday.

Trier scored 15 of his 19 points in the second half and Dusan Ristic had 17 for Arizona (see full recap).

Gonzaga escapes in wild finish for win
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Jordan Mathews hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with under a minute to play and top-seeded Gonzaga survived a rough shooting night for both teams to beat No. 4 seed West Virginia 61-58 Thursday night to advance to the West Regional final.

On a night that featured 51 fouls and only 34 made baskets, Mathews delivered the big shot that sent the Bulldogs (35-1) to their third Elite Eight in school history.

It didn't come easily. West Virginia (29-8) had three shots to tie the game but Tarik Phillip missed a shot from the lane and Jevon Carter missed two 3-pointers after Silas Melson made one foul shot. The Mountaineers rebound both misses but couldn't get another shot off before the buzzer (see full recap).

Oregon survives to end Michigan’s run
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Tyler Dorsey scored 20 points and made the go-ahead layup with 1:08 left, and third-seeded Oregon ended No. 7 Michigan's dramatic postseason run with a 69-68 victory in a Midwest Regional semifinal on Thursday night.

Dorsey, the man the Ducks call "Mr. March," had his sixth straight game scoring 20 or more points.

The Wolverines (27-11) had one more chance to extend their run after Dylan Ennis missed a free throw with 15 seconds left. But Derrick Walton, who had carried the Wolverines the last three weeks, was off with his long jumper just before the buzzer.

Jordan Bell had a double-double for the Ducks (32-5), with 16 points and 13 rebounds. Pac-12 player of the year Dylan Brooks added 12 points and Dylan Ennis had 10.

Walton led the Wolverines with 20 points, eight assists and five rebounds. Zak Irvin had 14 of his 19 points in the second half and DJ Wilson had 12 points.

Oregon plays Kansas or Purdue on Saturday in the regional final (see full recap).

Kansas throttles Purdue to advance
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Player of the year front-runner Frank Mason III poured in 26 points, Kansas turned on the jets in the second half and the top-seeded Jayhawks soared to a 98-66 blowout of No. 4 seed Purdue on Thursday night in the Midwest Regional semifinals.

Devonte Graham also had 26 points and Josh Jackson had 15 points and 12 rebounds for the Jayhawks (31-4), who led by 7 at halftime before their up-and-down pace finally wore down the Boilermakers.

Kansas used two big runs, including an 11-0 charge highlighted by Lagerald Vicks' 360-degree drunk, to coast into a matchup with No. 3 seed Oregon on Saturday for a spot in the Final Four (see full recap).

The Ducks survived a nail-biter against Michigan earlier in the night.

Caleb Swanigan had 18 points and seven boards for the Boilermakers (27-8), but the 6-foot-9, 250-pound All-America candidate had to work for all of it.

Georgetown fires John Thompson III after another losing year

Georgetown fires John Thompson III after another losing year

WASHINGTON -- John Thompson III was fired as Georgetown's basketball coach Thursday after two consecutive losing seasons at the school his father led to a national championship.

Thompson said in a statement released by agent David Falk that he was "honored" to have been the Hoyas' coach and proud of what his players have "accomplished on the court and how they are thriving since leaving Georgetown."

"Georgetown Basketball has been a part of my life since 1972," Thompson's statement said, referring to the year his father took over as the Hoyas' coach, "which makes this moment even more impactful, but I look forward to my next chapter."

School president John DeGioia told Thompson on Thursday he would not be brought back next year at a basketball program strongly associated with his last name.

"Our tradition of excellence as a university will forever be inextricably linked with John and his family," DeGioia said in a statement. "We are committed to taking the necessary steps to strengthen our program and maintaining the highest levels of academic integrity and national competitiveness."

Thompson, known as "JT3," was Georgetown's head coach for 13 seasons, including a run to the Final Four in 2007 with future NBA players Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert on the roster. But he went a combined 29-36 the past two years, with some of those defeats punctuated by crowd chants of "Fire Thompson!"

What had once been unimaginable -- a Thompson being sent away from Georgetown -- became a topic of conversation among the team's fans as the losses mounted. When the subject was broached with Thompson after a defeat against defending national champion Villanova, a team spokesman jumped in to say: "Leave it to game-related questions, please."

The Hoyas' 14-18 record this season included six losses in a row to finish and marked the team's worst winning percentage since the 1950s. They went 15-18 a year ago, losing seven of their last eight games.

"We're not going to keep rehashing last year," Thompson said before the start of this season. "A lot of introspection where you just stop and, from top to bottom, look at everything: How you do things, how you approach things, how we should change things, how you should alter things. ... We have to make some changes on how things were done, and we have. We're in the process of doing it."

Not quickly enough, apparently.

Thompson's record was 278-151 at Georgetown, with eight trips to the NCAA Tournament.

Since that lone Final Four appearance a decade ago, the Hoyas had several missteps at the Big Dance, going 3-6 and never winning more than one game in any single bracket. There were plenty of memorable exits against low-seeded opponents such as Florida Gulf Coast and Ohio.

His father, John Thompson Jr., led the Hoyas to 20 trips to the NCAAs, three Final Fours and a national title in 1984 with Patrick Ewing at center while coaching the team from 1972-99. "Big John," as many call him, has been a visible and vocal presence at Georgetown's games during his son's tenure, often sitting in on news conferences and interjecting his thoughts from the back of the room.

Georgetown's new on-campus practice facility, which was opened with a dedication ceremony in October, is named after the older Thompson.