It's hard to talk about last year without bringing up the snubbery that befell the Dragons in March, as they were omitted from the NCAA Tournament in favor of Iona.
As great a year as the Gaels had last season, Drexel belonged in the tournament, plain and simple. They racked up a great 29-7 regular season record, including a 16-2 record in the CAA, that led to the regular season conference title.
After beginning the season 2-4, the Dragons went on to win 25 of their next 26 games, including a 19-game win streak that only ended when they fell to VCU in the conference championship, the three-point loss that appears to be what held them out of the big dance. They advanced to the NIT quarterfinals (losing to Massachusetts), but nothing burns more than a tournament snub.
However, the Dragons (and their fans) can't afford to dwell on the past for long, nor will they want to do so. By retaining four of their five starters from last year's campaign, losing only senior forward Samme Givens to graduation, this season is lined up to be ultimately triumphant.
That was pretty good when done in an offensive system that often seemed to move in slow-motion in the half court (as evidenced by his 5.97 HOOPWAR and 115.2 ORating from KenPom).
His 45.0% three-point shooting was jaw-dropping, and his downtown stroke will be huge in the upcoming season even if he can't replicate that gaudy number.
Despite such talent returning, Drexel can't assume the false sense that success is imminent, because Delaware is coming right up behind them. Massenat's stats and leadership won't be enough to carry the team to success; sophomore guard Damion Lee will have to answer the call to step into the number two role on the team (a 3.32 HOOPWAR and 112.7 ORating suggest he can).
Lee was just named to the preseason all-conference first team, and now it's time to see if he can live up the expectations. He will play an integral role in the guard-oriented offense that coach Bruiser Flint will be employing this year; his three-point percentage clocked in at 37.5% last year, which is extremely efficient from a freshman.
Where the Dragons will make or break their season, however, will be in role players.
Let's start with the third of the big three guards, junior Chris Fouch. His role in the offense decreased last year, but he still produced 10.8 points per game. His involvement figures to be similar to last season, so his production needs to stay the same to keep the Dragons deep.
Oh, did I mention that the team is going to be running a guard-oriented offense...? Yeah, I did. And I wasn't kidding. The fourth key guard for Drexel, senior Derrick Thomas, probably won't see the same 32 minutes per game that he did last year as Lee and Fouch increase their roles in the offense, and after shooting 38.6% from the field last year, he'll have to make full use of his time on the court.
The question for the Dragons will be replacing the aforementioned Samme Givens and filling the big man position. Which forward-in-waiting will step up and man the boards for Drexel: senior Daryl McCoy (4.3 points, 6.7 rebounds per game in 2011-'12) or junior Dartaye Ruffin (5.6 points, 4.9 rebounds per game in 2011-'12)?
McCoy has the size advantage (1 inch and 30 pounds), but Ruffin scored more efficiently last year, and also has an extra year to develop in Bruiser Flint's system. I'll be curious to see if one becomes the dominant forward over the other as the season progresses, because in a guard-oriented offense that will feature a three-point barrage, rebounds will be crucial.
The key for Drexel is to work together as a team. While they did have talent, they didn't have anyone "elite" - not a single player above 5.0 HW/30, and they lost their second-rated player in Givens while returning only four players with a positive rating. Last year we also saw them implement an offense that thrived on ball sharing and finding the hot man. This year, be it Massenat, Lee, Fouch, or any other role player, the ball needs to get to the hot man.
If Drexel can run an efficient offense rather than a high-flyer and elevate their team defense in the absence of Givens (last year's highest-rated defensive Dragon), this team has the potential to be a middle seed in the NCAA tournament and actually make some noise come dancing time.