Drexel will try to buck recent history in aiming for its first-ever Colonial Athletic Association tournament title.
The tournament begins Friday at Richmond Coliseum and runs through the championship game at 7 p.m. Monday.
This is a tournament in which the schools from Virginia have enjoyed tremendous success. The last five conference tournament champions have been from Virginia, with Old Dominion winning in 2011 and 2010, VCU winning in 2009 and 2007, and George Mason capturing the title in 2008.
"We know how tough it is to win in Richmond and hope we can finally break through and knock down the big three," said Drexel coach Bruiser Flint, whose 25-5 team has won 17 in a row. "It won't be easy."
The same can be said about beating Drexel.
The Dragons entered the week as the No. 6 team nationally in scoring defense, allowing 55.6 points per game.
Guards can take teams far in the postseason. Drexel has one of the best tandems in sophomore point guard Frantz Massenat (13.5 ppg.) and freshman Damion Lee (12.4 ppg.).
The third starting guard, junior Derrick Thomas, won't play in the tournament after being placed on interim suspension by the school. Thomas surrendered to the Philadelphia Police Department's Northwest Detectives after being charged with simple assault and criminal trespass.
Thomas missed the season finale, a 73-72 win at Old Dominion. That was an important game for the Dragons, even though they already had clinched the CAA regular-season title.
"The ODU game was sold out and it was senior day," Massenat said. "The crowd being against us really prepared us for this tournament."
With the absence of Thomas, sixth man Chris Fouch plays a greater role. He is known for his instant offense off the bench, averaging 10 points per game.
Senior Samme Givens (11.7 ppg., 7.8 rpg.) gives the Dragons an inside presence. He has surpassed 1,000 career points and rebounds.
There is the perception that Drexel, despite its successful regular season, may have to win the conference tournament to earn a berth. That feeling isn't shared by teams that have played the Dragons.
"If Drexel doesn't win the CAA, it would be very hard to keep them out of the NCAA," George Mason coach Paul Hewitt said.
Award winners. Drexel had a strong representation as the CAA announced its award winners Thursday night.
Flint was named coach of the year. It's the fourth time in 11 seasons at Drexel he has won the award.
Lee was named rookie of the year.
Massenat was named to the first-team all-conference team, and Givens was a second-team selection.
Jake Lerner and Stevan Manojlovic were named to the honorable-mention all-academic team.
When: Friday through Monday
Where: Richmond Coliseum, Richmond, Va.
TV: TCN; ESPN3 Friday through Sunday. Monday's
7 p.m. championship game will be on ESPN.
City Six: Drexel is the top seed and enters with a 17-game winning streak. The feeling persists that Drexel will need to get at least to the final and might have to win it to earn an NCAA berth. Although three CAA teams earned NCAA bids last year, nothing this year is guaranteed beyond the conference tournament winner.
Favorites: The tournament is staged in VCU's backyard, and the Rams will be a force. Fellow Virginia schools George Mason and Old Dominion will be major threats.
A darkhorse is No. 5-seeded Delaware, which enters the tournament on an eight-game winning streak. Delaware and Georgia State are the only CAA teams to defeat Drexel this season.
Schedule: Four first-round games Friday, quarterfinals Saturday, semifinals Sunday, final Monday.
- Marc Narducci