The Huskies improved to 8-3 with a victory over Manhattan on Saturday night, but their play against the Jaspers left much to be desired, scoring only 61 points due to poor shooting. That should improve when facing the Dragons, one of the worst defenses in the country.
The Zach Spiker-led Dragons have quite a bit to clean up on the defensive end. It’s not hard to make shots against Drexel, which gives up a 36.3 percent 3-point percentage to its opponents, none of which have been especially tough teams. It’s not much better for them inside the arc either, as the Dragons allow a 52.3 percent success rate.
Drexel also fails to take away scoring chances from their opponents, averaging less than five steals per game. The one defensive area where they’ve succeeded so far this year is opponents’ free-throw percentage, which isn’t exactly a stat you can attribute to your defense, suggesting they might be lucky that their defense isn’t even worse than it already is.
The Dragons are 6-5 for a reason, though. A weak schedule is certainly part of the equation, but so is the team’s shooting ability. Drexel’s 40.6 percent mark from 3-point range ranks 15th in Division I, and a good percentage of that rate seems sustainable. The shooting success starts with Trevor John, a specialist attempting eight 3-pointers per game and converting nearly half of them. He’s shooting at a frequency he’s never seen before, but playing in an offense designed to get him open looks from outside. He represents a major threat to the Huskies’ defense.
John may be the most consistent option for Drexel to score three points at a time, given that its volatile deep bench has been shooting well so far, but he’s far from their only proven scorer.
Stretch-four Alihan Demir, a 6-foot-9 junior with range, scores from inside and out, and is comfortable with the ball in his hands. At 15.4 points per game, he’s their leading scorer, and likely their best all-around player too.
Drexel will also get contributions from several role players as well. Troy Harper, an undersized senior guard waiting to break out, has been underachieving with his shot but attacks the rim with regularity, drawing several fouls a game. Sophomore big man James Butler rarely makes mistakes and freshman guard Camren Wynter sets up teammates for scoring opportunities, but can’t be left alone given his shooting range.
The Dragons have plenty of deficiencies, but so far have been able to cover for them with lights-out shooting (well, except for a 29-point loss to Rutgers). That’s not something that can carry less-talented teams forever, especially with so many issues on the defensive end. The issue for the Huskies is whether that shows up tonight, as 3-point shooting is the great equalizer in basketball.
Where UConn can have its say on the game is in the turnover margin. The Huskies have had a pretty big problem with turning the ball over lately, and playing against a team that forces so few of them may help them turn things around. More crucially, the Huskies force a lot of turnovers themselves, both through steals and through pressuring ballhandlers. Drexel has not yet responded well to pressure. Winning the turnover battle could put the game out of reach in the Huskies’ favor.
What to look for
When UConn has the ball: Do they continue to force the ball, leading to unnecessary turnovers, or do they play more conservatively with ball control? Against a team unskilled at creating turnovers, we may get a chance to see what Dan Hurley’s true philosophy is. Keep an eye on Sidney Wilson offensively too—after a solid performance against Arizona, he hasn’t looked the same in the games since.
When Drexel has the ball: Do the UConn defenders take the bait on Troy Harper’s offensive strategy? The Huskies likely won’t need to minimize fouls, but should still avoid doing so against a player who isn’t a major scoring threat from the field. Also you’ll have to keep an eye on John’s shooting, and how he’s defended. He’s not looking to do anything else but be set up for 3-point attempts, and the Huskies haven’t always shut down weak side shooting looks well.
How to watch
Where: XL Center, Hartford, CT
When: 7 p.m.
TV: SNY, ESPN3
Radio: UConn IMG Sports Network