What: Drexel Dragons (8-6, CAA: 0-1) at Northeastern Huskies (4-11, CAA: 1-0)
When: 2 p.m., Saturday
Where: Daskalakis Athletic Center
By KEVIN ROSSI
Quickly, and before you could even blink an eye, the Dragons are losing their fire.
Drexel has dropped three straight games, including four of their last five. They are averaging only 57.6 points per game during the five game stretch, and that even includes their 73-point effort in a 12-point loss to William & Mary the last time they took the court. This team just has not looked the same since before their 20-point beat-down at the hands of St. Joe’s in mid-December.
Concerning to Dragons’ fans now is another issue, though. Drexel is struggling with a case of the dreaded injury bug.
The bug first bit Damion Lee in the second half against Arizona late in November. Although Lee is a major piece to the Blue and Gold’s offense, they were able to win their first four games without him. Those wins proved to the team and to the fans that winning without Lee, though not ideal, was manageable. Hope lived on.
When the calendar flipped to 2014, things went from bad to worse for the Dragons. Back-to-back double-digit losses on the road, including one in conference play.
And the bug bit again. Twice.
As the team travelled to William & Mary on Wednesday, they were without junior forward Kaz Abif. Abif, who is averaging 7.2 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, suffered a sprained knee in practice. He remains questionable for Saturday’s home game with Northeastern.
Already thin at forward, Dartaye Ruffin went down only seven minutes into the Willim & Mary game. The senior big man did not return to the game with what appeared to be a calf injury. After the game, head coach Bruiser Flint told Rob Brooks on Drexel Radio, “Dartaye looks like he is going to be out for a while.”
Odds are Ruffin will be out for Saturday’s game, which immediately inserts freshman Rodney Williams into the starting lineup. Williams has impressed with his deft offense early in his young career, but foul trouble has plagued him in the early going and keeping him from getting into a rhythm. Sometimes it feels like he walks into the gym before pregame warm-ups and gets whistled for a foul or two.
If Abif is also a no-go, then there will be a lot of senior Goran Pantovic and freshman Mohamed Bah. Using the Dragons’ last game as a reference point, Pantovic will likely be the first of the two big men to play. Pantovic saw 19 minutes against William & Mary, pulling down seven rebounds while battling foul trouble.
Northeastern poses a big match-up problem for Drexel if Abif and Ruffin are out. The Huskies bring a formidable forward duo to the DAC in Scott Eatherton and Reggie Spencer. Easterton is leading the team in both scoring and rebounding with 16.8 points and 10.0 rebounds per game. Spencer, who has given the Dragons fits in the past, is averaging 10.1 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.
With the shortage at forward, Flint also has the option of “going small” and playing with four guards on the court instead of the usual three. Flint did tinker with this lineup on Wednesday, playing Tavon Allen at the four with Frantz Massenat, Chris Fouch, and Freddie Wilson filling out the three guard spots. Allen is listed at 6-foot-7, so it’s not as crazy as it may sound on the surface.
Going small gets more guards into the rotation, which could open up some quality minutes for freshman Major Canady. Canady has actually seen an increase in minutes in the six games since Wilson became eligible, and he has played 19 minutes in each of the last two games.
Flint has been happy with what he has seen from his point guard in-waiting. “He played well. He did a good job out there,” Flint said after Canady played 19 minutes on Wednesday. “He did the things we needed him to do, and I thought he played extremely well out there.”
Regardless of how bad the injury bug’s bite proves to be, Flint has never been one to use injuries as an excuse. The games will go on whether you’re ready to go or not, he will often say. If a guy goes down, the next guy needs to be ready to step in. “We need some guys to step up and be ready to play,” Flint said.
Ready or not, Northeastern will be ready to play at 2 p.m. at the DAC on Saturday. Will Drexel use their recent injury troubles as an excuse or will they use the adversity to fuel their fire?
-Scouting Drexel: Last game: 73-85 loss at William & Mary. …3-1 record at home this season. … Kaz Abif (7.2 points and 7.4 rebounds per game) is questionable with a knee sprain. … Dartaye Ruffin’s (4.6 points and 7.5 rebounds per game) status is still unknown after leaving seven minutes into the last game with an apparent leg injury. … Chris Fouch leads the Dragons in scoring with 16.9 points per game. … Fouch is tied with Jeff Myers for 12th all-time on Drexel’s career scoring list with 1,430 points. He needs six points to tie Mike Kouser for 11th, and he is 43 points away from Phil Goss for 10th. … Frantz Massenat leads Drexel with a 2.42:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. … Massenat heads into the game with 1,331 career points, 33 points shy of tying Len Hatzenbeller for 14th on Drexel’s all-time scoring list. … The Dragons are turning the ball over only 8.9 times per game. … The Blue and Gold are shooting just 27.4 percent from downtown but holding opponents to 29.3 percent. … Drexel is 0-6 when they get outrebounded by their opponent (they are 8-0 otherwise).
-Scouting Northeastern: Last game: 79-68 win vs. UNC Wilmington. … 0-5 record on the road this season. … The Huskies average 13.9 turnovers per game. … Northeastern is allowing opponents to shoot 46.6 percent from the field and 38.6 percent from behind the 3-point line. … Without Quincy Ford, the Huskies are led by forward Scott Eatherton, who is averaging 16.8 points and 10.0 rebounds per game this season. … Reggie Spencer also provides a presence on the interior with 10.1 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. … David Walker adds 11.7 points and a 2.9:1 assist-to-turnover ratio from the guard position.
-Prediction: The Dragons will break their three game skid, but the game will be closer than expected.
-Sound Off: Can the Dragons get it together quick enough to reestablish themselves as CAA contenders?
-Kevin Rossi covers Drexel basketball for Philahoops. Reach Kevin by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at @kevin_rossi. Leave your comments below.