UMass Minutemen @ Drexel Dragons -7.5 (NIT Regional Finals)
It was clear from the minute Bruiser Flynn’s Drexel Dragons took the floor in their opening round game against Central Florida that they felt they had something to prove. The regular season CAA champs (the same league that has George Mason and VCU), went 25-5 in the regular season and 16-2 in the underrated Colonial League in conference play. Yet on Selection Sunday, the Dragons found themselves on the outside looking in. Meanwhile teams like Iona and Cal headed off to the “First Four” only to become part of the first four to head back home. Don’t think that doesn’t still fuel Drexel’s focus in this NIT.
Tonight they host an interesting team in UMass. It would be pretty easy to dismiss UMass as a team that can only win at home and then falls apart when they head on the road. After a 15-1 home regular season and a 4-7 record away from Amherst, I probably would have agreed with you. But in the last three weeks this team seems to have really geled and found some much needed leadership. They beat Temple on a neutral floor in the A-10 opening round, and have already went on the road twice in the NIT and won, beating Mississippi State in overtime in front of a surprisingly raucous crowd, and then two nights ago beating Seton Hall, who many had among the first four left out of the Big Dance.
UMass got incredible efforts from Chaz Williams and Sean Carter against Seton Hall. Both played the entire forty minutes, Carter with an 11-point, 11 rebound double-double and Williams leading all scorers with 20 points (not to mention six rebounds and seven assists). They are going to need similar Herculean efforts tonight if they are going to beat a possessed Drexel team.
Drexel advanced powered by an impressive individual outing from Samme Givens, who scored 28 points and contributed 7 rebounds in their two-point win over Northern Iowa. In general, the Dragons are a more balanced team, with Givens actually being only the third leading scorer on a team with four guys averaging double figures (a high of 14.1 down to 10.6). Their fifth starter averages over eight. So expect a balanced attack tonight from the Dragons.
I think Drexel advances to Madison Square Garden, but seven a half feels like a lot playing against a team with similar talent and a team that is playing as well of late as UMass has. They owns wins over Seton Hall, Mississippi State, Temple, Xavier, St. Louis and Davidson, so this is not a team unaccustomed to stiff competition. I like a good, close ballgame tonight with Drexel just edging out the Minutemen in the last minute…