|Who:||Drexel Dragons (2-7)|
|KenPom Line:||PSU -5 (72%)|
It's been an unusual finals week in 2014 for Penn State basketball. Generally this week doesn't come with reports of votes received in the AP/Coaches polls or inclusions in way-too-early bracketology. It typically just causes anxiety stemming from this program's past struggles in late December contests with students home for the holidays. Remember the Maine and all that.
But not this year. With the Lions streaking at 10-1 after winning 8-in-a-row, Penn State remains two winnable games away from one of their best non-conference seasons in a long time. To avoid a completely dead BJC, Pat Chambers will take his program to the Lehigh Valley at the recently opened PPL Center. This is the "home" game for Penn State in the 2-game "home-and-home" series that will see Penn State take on the Dragons in Philadelphia next year, likely at the Palestra.
Scouting The Opposition
Drexel has had some terrible luck with injuries in recent seasons that has prevented Bruiser Flint from elevating the Dragons' program. They had 5 players last season miss a combined 50 games in a challenging 16-14 season. This year, they already lost sophomore guard Major Canady (a former PSU recruiting target) in the preseason due to an ankle injury. Canady started 14 CAA games for the Dragons last year as a true freshman. They also lost another projected starter in big man Kazembe Abif when he tore his ACL in April.
The discontinuity from all of the injuries could be cause for the Dragons' 2-7 start. They have at least played the 93rd toughest schedule per KenPom's Pythagorean ratings and almost all of their losses were respectable - Colorado, Miami FL, St. Joe's, La Salle, USC, at Buffalo (with Bobby Hurley at the helm). But then there's that 54-52 home loss to the University of Sciences, a D-II program. At least D2 games do not count in the RPI ratings, so it has zero impact on Penn State's RPI. But still.
Damion Lee is back and healthy after missing most of last season with a knee injury. The do-it-all 2-guard is a marathon man much like DJ Newbill. He has played 90.9% of available minutes, shoots 31.9% of the team's shots when he's on the floor and has produced at remarkable efficiency - 112.8 ORtg, 20.7 PPG, 52.8% eFG% (44% from 3) with only a turnover rate of 14.1%. He will be the primary option in Drexel's attack at all times. Expect Ross Travis and Geno Thorpe to be hounding Lee throughout the game.
But he's about all the Dragons have to offer. Returning starters Tavon Allen and Rodney Williams have struggled mightily in the early-going. Allen is the only other high-usage player for Flint's club, but he's shooting a terrible 29% on his 2PA and 25% of his 3PA. The rest of the barely 7-man rotation has not produced much offense at all. It took the Dragons 4 games to finally reach the 50-point mark this season. Their adjusted offensive efficiency per KenPom is ranked 276th in the country, so hopefully the Lions can continues their improved defensive play of late.
What To Watch For
There are some interesting subplots for many of the Philadelphia-bred members of Penn State's program in this one. Most notably, Shep Garner will get to face his former high school teammate in Rashann London. Both true freshman occupied Roman Catholic's backcourt for years and the two are presumably very close. London has started every game so far for Bruiser Flint and is coming off a career-high 17 points and 6 rebounds in a loss at Buffalo. Look for the young freshman guards to go head-to-head all game long.
This also is Newbill's last game against a Philadelphia school. Drexel was one of the few local programs to recruit DJ and from all accounts, he has tremendous respect for Flint and the Dragons. Flint and Chambers also have ties to legendary high school Dan Dougherty, who will be honored before the game. Both coaches played under Dougherty at Episcopal Academy. All-in-all, count me as one taking solace in these opponents' past connections that a letdown or lackadaisical effort will not be present in the PPL Center.
With Drexel's offense in such an atrocious state, it's hard to imagine the Dragons putting up much of a fight. However, Allen is due to breakout from his shooting woes and Damion Lee can ball with the best of them. Still, without reliable 3-point shooting and no depth, I don't see how this team will be able to cause much difficulty for Penn State. Look for the Lions to win one of their more comfortable games of the year, 68-55.