Drexel’s returning production and experience are a recipe for an improvement in Year 5 under coach Zach Spiker. The Dragons were picked third in the preseason Colonial Athletic Association poll, and they’re the only team with two players on the preseason all-conference first team: point guard Camren Wynter and double-double machine James Butler.
An experienced point guard and a solid rebounder are critical components for success. That experience is magnified in a pandemic year, when the team hasn’t practiced as much as usual.
“I think having a veteran group has been helpful this time of year in this situation,” Spiker said.
According to barttorvik.com, Drexel ranks third in the CAA in returning production at 76.1%. The Dragons (14-19) had the most wins of those three schools.
Things are setting up well on paper, but Drexel’s turnover issues must be fixed. The Dragons’ minus-3.42 turnover margin was the worst in the CAA last season, and it led to the offense averaging a league-low 68.3 points per game.
“It’s an issue,” Spiker said. “Last year we could have been one of the best [offenses] in Drexel history, but we turned it over. If our turnovers come back to earth, then we’ll be better.”
Four of last year’s starters return. Wynter, Butler, Zach Walton, and Mate Okros should be joined this season by T.J. Bickerstaff, who is replacing Sam Green. Bickerstaff is unlikely to replace Green’s shooting, but his athleticism led to some jaw-dropping moments last season. Now that he’s a sophomore, a second-year jump will go a long way in determining Drexel’s ceiling.
“T.J. is at his best when he keeps it really simple,” Spiker said. “He’s a see-ball, get-ball guy.”
Matey Juric will be the team’s sixth man. He can play both guard spots and, since Wynter doesn’t come off the court often, Juric mostly plays beside him.
Tim Perry Jr. will be Butler’s primary backup, but Amari Williams will get minutes, too. Coletrane Washington was one of the CAA’s top shooters last season, and his backup role will grow as a junior.
Two freshmen, guard Xavier Bell and forward Lamar Oden, will be immediate backups behind Wynter and Bickerstaff.
“It’s been more challenging for our freshmen to pick up things and come along because we didn’t have summer or fall workouts,” Spiker said. “It’s been a time crunch, but there’s been a time crunch for everyone, so we’re not complaining.”
Luke House currently isn’t eligible, but he’ll likely be Bickerstaff’s backup before Oden if he is cleared by the NCAA. House can be one of Drexel’s top shooters. He made 73 three-pointers on 42% shooting and averaging 13.1 points last season as a freshman at California University of Pennsylvania.
Drexel challenged itself with its nonconference slate, starting with a road game Saturday against Pittsburgh. The Dragons’ original season opener for Wednesday against Penn State was canceled. Matchups against La Salle and St. Joseph’s are also included.
“We can’t be picky when we’re scheduling games in a pandemic,” Spiker said. “We have games in the commonwealth that make sense, and everyone agrees to the proper testing procedures.”