BY ADAM ROGAN
Five straight losing seasons. Nine consecutive losses. Back-to-back seven win regular seasons. There’s still the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament ahead, but for Drake Men’s Basketball (7-23, 5-13 MVC) to make a run, it might take a couple miracles.
The Bulldogs closed the regular season with a 82-74 home loss to Bradley University (12-19, 7-11 MVC). They never led throughout the game.
The loss dropped Drake to the 10th seed in the conference tournament for the second season in a row.
The Bulldogs will face Bradley in the first round of the tourney on March 2. A win would extend their season, and surpass 2015‑16’s win total. MVC-powerhouse Wichita State would be waiting in round 2.
What needs fixing?
The Bulldogs aren’t left with many options. To get out of the first couple rounds of the tourney, their best chance is to just shoot over the other team and force their opponents to do the same. Don’t let Bradley, or subsequently Wichita, break the outer defensive shell.
Drake isn’t going to out rebound many teams, so sinking the shots is what’s going to bring the magic to a Cinderella run.
Halfway through the conference season, the Bulldogs didn’t seem like such a long shot. They had some momentum with five consecutive home wins between December and January. They were shooting well, even if their defense hasn’t really been “good.”
Drake’s D is ranked last in the MVC: 77.4 points against per game.
The Bulldogs shoot more threes than any other team in the conference despite being ranked eighth in shooting percentage from beyond the arc. But they’re forced to take those shots. With the current squad, there aren’t any other viable options.
Drake is a one-dimensional, guard-heavy team. Being ranked ninth in shooting percentage in the MVC — the stat outside-focused teams rely on to succeed — doesn’t help.
No Bulldogs have the potential to be dominant in the post.
Senior center Jacob Enevold never developed into a well-rounded athlete and his minutes, as well as Drake’s rebounding and defense, have suffered for it.
Sophomore Nick McGlynn is developing well (5.2 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 0.59 BPG, 14.6 MPG), but he’s only 6 foot 8, not big enough to be a force. The same goes for 6 foot 10 redshirt-sophomore Casey Schlatter (4.4 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 0.29 BPG, 13.6 MPG).
6 foot 8 junior T.J. Thomas is unquestionably the best athlete on the roster, but his production has left more to be desired (5.8 PPG, 5.0 RPG), largely because he doesn’t shoot all too well.
Sophomore Billy Wampler is a forward only because he’s too tall to be a guard. At 6 foot 6, he’s averaging just 2.6 rebounds a game. When Drake was at its hottest early in the conference season, he was averaging as high as 13.5 points per game. Now, that number is below 10.
Redshirt-junior Graham Woodward is the microcosm of Drake Men’s Basketball. He’s undersized and gets his points near or outside of the arc. He scored a season-high 22 points with five threes and a shooting percentage of .667 against Bradley.
Even with performances like that, no Bulldogs are talented enough to take games over — save perhaps junior Reed Timmer if he gets really hot and can make up for his less-than-stellar defense.
Timmer is a good shooting guard with high basketball IQ and a well-rounded game, but he’s inclined to try to control games single-handedly as a result. He may be the only Bulldog averaging double-digit points per game (15.4), but his shooting percentage is only fine (.421).
His tendency to drive the lane and get to the line — more than 13 percent of his points come from free throws — has made him one-dimensional and easier to defend, especially when he forgets to look for open passing lanes. Without friendly refs, Timmer’s influence can be nullified.
He’s shot below .300 four of the last seven games. Against Illinois State on Feb. 5, he only scored four points, all of them on free throws. That’s not what you want to see out of your leading scorer.
Who will coach in 2017-18?
Both Athletic Director Sandy Hatfield Clubb and head coach Jeff Rutter remained quiet about whether Rutter will be around for 2017-18 until Feb. 27, when a press release announced that Drake Athletics was beginning a nationwide search for a full-time men’s basketball head coach.
In the press release, Hatfield Clubb called Rutter “a strong candidate” to retain the position.
Rutter, in his first D-I head coaching gig — albeit an interim one — has been laden with the task of coaching a losing team.
He’s beared it well. He appears optimistic even after losses and has an energy that former head coach Ray Giacoletti had lost near the end of his tenure.
I believe Rutter when he says he loves coaching the Bulldogs, that he’s still having fun. And that passion is something that could prove necessary for the program going forward.
After Giacoletti resigned from the head coaching position in early December, Drake Athletics looked as unstable as ever. There are no less than two court cases pending against it and the switch from Giacoletti to Rutter is the fifth head coaching change in two years for DU teams. Giacoletti was supposed to have been a mainstay, but obviously that is no longer the case.
“It’s been a unique season to say the least,” Rutter said in a press conference on Feb. 28.
Some stability, even in the short term, is necessary before the program can actually rebuild. Give Rutter at least one more season. Let him see the current juniors through graduation, see if a full year under Rutter can get Drake nearer to the middle of the conference, and then talk about making a long-term commitment.
“Coach Rutter did a really good job of instilling confidence and instilling the team-first approach,” Schlatter said. “You saw it from the guys on the court to the guys on the bench.”
The Bulldogs have kept it close at times, but “getting over the hump” has been the main problem. Complete games have been rare. They’ve kept it close. Hosting Wichita State on Feb. 1, Drake was only down four at halftime. Six days later against Illinois State, the deficit was just three after 20 minutes; the Bulldogs went on to lose that game by 29.
Inconsistency, one-dimensionality, whatever you call it, Drake Men’s Basketball is stuck. There have been too many changes to build momentum.
Next year, the Bulldogs need to stay healthy and united, to see what can happen when you have six seniors who all have experience playing together under a coach they know. Success doesn’t happen in a year; it comes from building a foundation. And right now the Bulldogs’ paws only have seven wins to stand on.
Sports Editor Matthew Gogerty contributed to this article.