Drexel coach Bruiser Flint spent a lot of time shaking hands and hugging before and after the annual Coaches vs. Cancer NCAA breakfast at the Palestra while accepting both congratulations and condolences for a 27-win season that wasn’t good enough to get the Dragons into the NCAA tournament.
Drexel was kept out because of the weakness of its non-conference schedule, according to the chairman of the committee that selects the field. But as St. Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli explained, the issue of scheduling non-conference games always is a conundrum for coaches.
“I don’t think the general public understands that scheduling is the most difficult part of our job,” Martelli said Monday. “It’s not recruiting. It’s not really coaching our teams or the practice sessions. It’s that one thing.”
Martelli’s Hawks were the only Big Five team to play the Dragons this season.
“You know what your team is going to look like,” he said. “You know what your contract looks like. So you’re looking at a situation where you say either, ‘I’m scheduling to have a winning record’ or you’re scheduling to be a post-season team.
“Sometimes you schedule and that post-season might be the NIT. Then other times you have to schedule with the idea that, on that Sunday, you don’t want to give them anything that will allow them to take us out of the conversation. It’s a bear for Drexel.”
The Dragons gained a consolation prize, a berth in the NIT along with St. Joseph’s and La Salle. In fact, five of the City Six coaches present for the 14th annual American Cancer Society fund-raiser are preparing for the post-season, with Temple in the NCAA and Penn accepting an invitation to the College Basketball Invitational.
La Salle coach John Giannini felt Drexel was hurt by matters it could not control.
“St. Bonaventure winning was great for our league (Atlantic 10) but maybe that knocked Drexel out,” Giannini said. “Things happen sometimes that are completely outside of your control.
“Even in their league (CAA), you don’t expect Towson (1-31) to go through what they went through. Sometimes you schedule people that are normally very good and maybe they just have down years.”
Villanova coach Jay Wright said he had scheduling problems when he was coaching mid-major Hofstra, which went to the NCAA tournament twice as America East tournament champions.
“One year we would up playing Belmont home and home because Belmont was really good, too,” he said. “The two of us were communciating to see if we could try to help each other get games. Finally we just said, ‘Let’s play home and home.’ It’s really tough.”
Not surprisingly, all the City Six coaches felt badly about the Dragons’ omission from the field of 68.
“I’m pretty close with Bruiser so I’m a little bit disappointed for him and his guys,” Penn coach Jerome Allen said. “They did a tremendous job at Drexel. They had an outstanding year.
“I just think, whatever their schedule is, it’s still Division I basketball. Their body of work can stand for itself.”