Drexel enters CAA tournament with more wins and confidence

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Drexel coach Zach Spiker encourages his team during a game.

A year ago, Drexel limped into the Colonial Athletic Conference men’s basketball tournament, having lost nine of its previous 10 games. Not surprisingly, the Dragons concluded a 9-23 season with a first-round, 80-70 loss to James Madison.

This season, Drexel has shown improvement and enters Saturday’s CAA tournament at the North Charleston (S.C.) Coliseum with a few more wins and much more confidence.

The Dragons are seeded eighth in the 10-team field and face huge odds in earning an NCAA berth in this one-bid league. At 12-19 overall and 6-12 in the CAA, the Dragons still have plenty of reasons to be more optimistic in coach Zach Spiker’s second season.

For one, Drexel owns victories over the regular season co-champions, Northeastern and the College of Charleston. Both wins came at home, but when all is working, Drexel can be competitive with any team.

That doesn’t mean the Dragons can win one game, let alone the four it would take to earn an NCAA bid, but it also suggests they won’t be an easy out.

“I am thinking that we are making progress,” Spiker said. “I think we are all a hungry group and have tasted more success than we did last year.”

The Dragons couldn’t open with a more evenly matched opponent than James Madison (10-21, 6-12). The two will kick off the tournament at 4 p.m. Saturday.

This season, the teams have split their games. Drexel earned a two-point win at home and suffered a two-point defeat at JMU. The Dukes’ strength is in its backcourt, which isn’t surprising in a guard-oriented league.

“Stuckey Mosley is one of the more honored guards in our league, and Matt Lewis has tremendous length at the point-guard position,” Spiker said.

Mosley, a 6-foot-3 redshirt junior, is averaging 18.6 points and 2.2 assists. Lewis, a 6-5 freshman, averages 14.5 points and 2.2 assists.

Drexel’s Tramaine Isabell has become one of the better all-around players in the CAA. The 6-1 junior guard averages 21.1 points and 7.3 rebounds and on Friday was named second-team all-CAA.

James Madison coach Louis Rowe, a former star player at the school, identified Drexel’s most impressive trait with one word earlier this week on a CAA conference call: “Toughness.”

Rowe says he can identify with a player such as Isabell, in his first year with Drexel after transferring from Missouri. Similarly, Rowe began his college career at a bigger school, Florida, but he became a star after he transferred to JMU.

“He did the same thing I did by transferring,” Rowe said. “He transferred from Missouri, and I knew he was a really good player.”

The winner of this game will face top seed Charleston in Sunday’s quarterfinals.

CAA Tournament

Saturday through Tuesday, North Charleston Coliseum in North Charleston, S.C.

Defending champion: UNC Wilmington beat the College of Charleston, 78-69 in the final.

Schedule (seeding in parentheses)

Saturday, first round on CAA TV
Game 1: (8) Drexel (12-19, 6-12 in CAA) vs. (9) James Madison (10-21, 6-12), 4 p.m.

Game 2: (7) Delaware (13-18, 6-12) vs. (10) Elon (14-17, 6-12), 6:30 p.m.

Sunday quarterfinals on CAA TV
Game 3: Drexel/JMU winner vs. (1) College of Charleston (23-7, 14-4), noon.

Game 4: (4) William & Mary (18-11, 11-7) vs. (5) Towson (18-13, 8-10), 2:30 p.m.

Game 5: Delaware/Elon winner vs. (2) Northeastern (21-9, 14-4), 6 p.m.

Game 6: (6) UNCW (10-20, 7-11) vs. (3) Hofstra (19-11, 12-6), 8:30 p.m.

Monday semifinals on CBS Sports Network
Game 7: Winner of Game 3 vs. Winner of Game 4, 6 p.m.

Game 8: Winner of Game 5 vs. winner of Game 6, 8:30 p.m

Tuesday championship on CBS Sports Network
7 p.m.

Players to watch

Nathan Knight, William & Mary, F, So., 18.1 ppg., 7.1 rpg.

Joe Chealey, Charleston, G, Sr., 18.0 ppg., 3.7 apg.

Zane Martin, Towson, G., So., 19.9 ppg.

Tramaine Isabell, Drexel, G., Jr., 21.1 ppg., 7.3 rpg.

Justin Wright-Foreman, Hofstra, G, Jr., 24.2 ppg.

Devontae Cacok, UNCW., F., Jr., 17.8 ppg., 13.8 rpg.

Grant Riller, Charleston, G., So., 18.4 ppg.

Vasa Pusica, Northeastern, G., Jr., 17.6 ppg., 5.0 apg.

Stuckey Mosley, James Madison, G., R-Jr.., 18.6 ppg.

Insights

Drexel’s Tramaine Isabell was named CAA player of the week after averaging 29 points. 10.0 rebounds, 7.5 assists and 1.5 steals in the Dragons’ final two regular-season games, the historic 85-83 win over Delaware and an 83-82 loss to UNC Wilimington. … Charleston earned the No. 1 seed in a tiebreaker, based on two regular-season wins over Northeastern. …  UNCW’s Devontae Cacok leads the nation in rebounding (13.8 per game). …  Hofstra junior Justin Wright-Foreman has scored in double figures in 52 consecutive games and on Friday was named CAA player of the year. … Northeastern’s Bill Coen was named CAA coach of the year and Delaware guard Ryan Allen was named CAA rookie of the year. … William & Mary leads the nation in three-point field-goal shooting (43.5 percent). … Drexel 6-8 senior Austin Williams is ninth nationally in blocked shots (2.83 per game). … Hofstra’s Rokas Gustys, a 6-9 senior, has 1,295 career rebounds, 19 shy of the CAA career record of 1,314 set by Navy’s David Robinson.