When Drexel players felt fatigue setting in while lifting weights or running sprints in preparation for the season, the Dragons probably had no trouble finding motivation to push through it.
They merely had to think back to last March when they were perhaps the most deserving at-large candidate left out of the NCAA tournament.
With four starters and several key reserves back from a team that won 29 games and the CAA championship last season, Drexel will have every chance to avenge that snub this March and snap an 16-year NCAA tournament drought. The Dragons enter the season as a clear-cut favorite in a CAA race watered down a bit by the departure of VCU and Old Dominion, UNC Wilmington and Georgia State being ineligible for the conference tournament.
Drexel's strength under Bruiser Flint has been rugged defense and rebounding, something that's unlikely to change this season. Opposing teams shot just 39.2 percent against the Dragons and averaged just 0.92 points per possession, both top 20 nationally.
What helped Drexel improve dramatically last season was a perimeter offense headlined by guards Frantz Massenat and Damion Lee. One of the CAA's worst shooting teams for years, Drexel led the conference from behind the arc last season and placed three players in the top 10 in 3-point percentage. Massenat ran the attack brilliantly, scoring 13.7 points and 4.8 assists.
The biggest question mark for Drexel this season is probably their ability to find a low post scorer to replace graduated Samme Givens, who demanded double teams and freed up shooters last season. Relentless defender and rebounder Dartaye Ruffin will be asked to contribute more offensively this season with Givens gone.
No team in the CAA returns as much proven talent as Drexel, but Delaware and George Mason probably pose the biggest threat.
The Blue Hens, 12-6 in the CAA a year ago, return all five starters including high-scoring guard Devon Saddler and athletic double-double threat Jamelle Hagins. The Patriots lost their star, Ryan Pearson, to graduation, but wing Sherrod Wright may develop into a go-to scorer and promising sophomore Erik Copes should assume a larger role.
MAKING A LIST
Best shooter: Andrey Semenov, James Madison
Best playmaker: Frantz Massenat, Drexel
Best defender: Jamelle Hagins, Delaware
Coach on the rise: Monte Ross, Delaware
Coach on the hot seat: Matt Brady, James Madison
Three must-see games: 1 Drexel at Anaheim Classic, Nov. 15-18 (If Dragons win opener vs. Saint Mary's, opportunities for marquee wins await); 2. Virginia at George Mason, Nov. 9 (Virginia clobbered the Patriots 68-48 a year ago); 3. Delaware at Duke, Dec. 1 (Are the Blue Hens any match for the Blue Devils?)
FACTS AND FIGURES
New coaches: none
Regular-season winner last season: Drexel
Tourney winner last season: VCU
League RPI rank in each of past 3 seasons: 2011-12: 15th ; 2010-11: 10th, 2009-10: 12th
Last NCAA tourney win by a league team: 2012, 12th-seeded VCU defeated Wichita State
More conference previews from Yahoo! Sports:
Ohio Valley Conference (No. 15): Isaiah Canaan talks about coming back to Murray State, his most famous shot and how Hurricane Katrina altered his life; Murray State, Belmont poised to continue league's run of recent success
Southern Conference (No. 19): Trading soccer for hoops has paid off for College of Charleston star and Great Britain Olympian Andrew Lawrence; Davidson is loaded for another run at a league title, NCAA bid
Southland Conference (No. 28): Pat Knight's epic rant had unintended benefits for Lamar; Oral Roberts assumes the role of instant favorite in its new league
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