Does Drexel belong in NCAA tournament?

Does Drexel belong in NCAA tournament?
March 6, 2012, 3:50 pm

RICHMOND -- Heres the rsum. You decide.

Drexel has won 27 games, including 25 of its last 27.

The Dragons went 15-5 away from home.

They won the regular-season title in a conference thats produced two Final 4 teams in the last six years.

They beat five 20-win teams, along with an 18-win team and a 19-win team.

They lost by three in the conference tourney championship game to a 28-win team that was in the Final 4 a year ago in the opponents host city.

Theyre ranked in the top 30 in both the AP poll and the coaches poll and 42nd in the comprehensive KenPom rankings.

Consider all that and then try to make a case that Drexel is not one of the 68 best basketball teams in the country. Or, more accurately, one of the 37 best non-conference tournament winners.

Are they in?

Are they out?

Drexel wont know until Sunday evening, when the NCAA selection committee announces the field for this years tournament.

But its difficult to argue with their body of work.

Its going to be rough waiting, said freshman guard Damion Lee, who had 15 points and six rebounds in the second half of Monday nights near comeback win against Virginia Commonwealth in the CAA title game. Definitely going to be real rough. But were just going to stay positive and keep the faith that theyre going to put us in the tournament that we belong in. But it is going to be a rough six days.

Only Kentucky, Syracuse, Murray State and VCU have more wins than Drexel. The only thing missing from Drexels rsum is strength of schedule, and thats out of the Dragons hands.

Nobody will play them.

When youre good and youre a mid-major, non-conference schedule becomes tough, coach Bruiser Flint said. And they definitely arent coming to the DAC. We aint setting foot in that bandbox. Gotta get dressed and take a shower and go to the bathroom in the general locker room? Definitely not doing that when they think you have a pretty good team. They want no part of that.

Heres how tough it is for Flint. Three months before the season began, he was still trying to fill up Drexels schedule with non-conference games.

He knows the knock on the CAA. He knows you need quality non-conference wins to beef up your at-large chances.

But if those teams are all avoiding you, what can you do?

The problem we had with our schedule, in September I had two (non-conference) home games (scheduled), Flint said. So we played two teams everybody said was going to be pretty good. We added Princeton and we added Fairfield, and those guys were willing to come in. Guys talked them up in the preseason. People said that might have saved your schedule. I cant help what Princeton and Fairfield did. But we only had two home games. I had to get some home games for us to play.

How many games did we play this year, 33 games? We only played 13 home games, so we played 20 road games. Thats not easy.

Drexel beat 27-win VCU, 24-win George Mason, 22-win Cleveland State, 20-win Old Dominion twice . They beat 19-win Fairfield and 18-win Princeton out of the conference.

They bowed out of the CAA tourney Monday evening with a 59-56 loss to VCU, but what a national TV audience saw was a team that was undermanned (only six deep), that trailed by 16 points early in the second half, that was facing a 27-win team whose campus is six blocks away, that played in a gym with more than 10,000 hostile fans and about 250 Drexel fans, that battled back within one point in the final seconds before finally falling one basket short.

It was impossible to watch that game -- courtside or on TV -- and not look at Drexel as an NCAA tournament team.

Drexels a phenonenal team, VCU coach Shaka Smart said. To me, theres no doubt theyre an NCAA team. They just won 19 games in a row, and last time I checked theres no team thats done that outside Kentucky. To me, theyre definitely in.

Flint isnt so sure.

In 2007, Drexel went 23-9. The Dragons did everything they were supposed to do that year. They had some huge non-conference wins -- at Villanova, at St. Joes, at Temple. Against Syracuse at the Carrier Dome, for crying out loud. Their RPI was 43.

And still the selection committee snubbed them.

Ive been there before, Flint said. We had all the right things that they said we were supposed to have and we didnt get in. I thought in 07 we definitely were going. Couldnt get any better than that.

The tough thing for Drexel to swallow is seeing teams like Seton Hall and U. Conn, who both had losing records in the Big East, projected as at-large teams while a 27-win mid-major that won its conference is banished to NIT obscurity.

I think we proved to ourselves that we can play with a lot of good teams on the road, in a bad atmosphere, and if others cant really recognize that? Its hard for us as a team when you see teams that arent even .500 in their conference get in, Drexel sophomore guard Frantz Massenat said.

Its hard for us because were a quote-unquote mid-major team, but that team (VCU) went to the Final 4 last year and almost beat Butler in the Final 4, George Mason went to the Final 4 a few years ago. So its hard for us to understand if they only take one team (from the CAA).

Flint knows nothings certain. And thats why his message to his young team -- 10th-youngest in Division 1 -- is that whatever happens Sunday, there will be more basketball to be played.

Drexel clinched an NIT bid at worst with its CAA regular-season title, and Flint wants his team to take the consolation tourney seriously, if thats where the Dragons end up.

I just want my guys to be ready, he said. I thought after we didnt get in in 07, there was a big letdown when we got into the NIT because I thought that team was good enough to win some games.

What Im going to really talk to my team about this year is, if we (go to the NIT), lets go win that, lets go win that. Lets not get all depressed: Now were in the NIT, and lose to a team that we could possibly beat. Thats going to be my approach.

And who knows. Maybe the committee will include Drexel, now the ultimate bubble team.

Flint just believes that the CAA deserves to be considered as one of the top mid-major conferences, along with the Atlantic 10, Missouri Valley and Conference USA.

If they get more than one team in, so should the CAA.

Unbelievable year, man, Flint said. We won a lot of games. We won a lot of games in a row. Everybody talked about this being one of the top mid-major leagues in the country. If thats the case and you win the regular season and you win 19 straight and you win 16 (conference) games? If youre in the Missouri Valley and you do that?

He let the thought go unfinished, but he didnt have to keep going. His point had been made.

E-mail Reuben Frank at rfrank@comcastsportsnet.com

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