Hunt is a senior history major and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Only eight games into the season, and your Drake Bulldogs have already experienced both high and low points. Yes, the win over Iowa State was exhilarating, but the team failed to capitalize on that momentum and turn it into wins in St. Thomas at the Paradise Jam, with some promising efforts against Ole Miss and Virginia ultimately ending in disappointing losses. The Bulldogs followed that up by receiving a walloping at Taco Bell Arena against the Boise State Broncos and a late-game collapse against Air Force on Saturday that almost resulted in a loss. If the Bulldogs want to progress, win some games and make some noise come conference season, here are the five things that need to change:
Avoid 40+ point losses like the one in Boise.
Blowouts like these are demoralizing to both players and fans. Bad losses such as these can kill any positive feeling and momentum built earlier. What’s especially galling is that not only did we beat this team last year at home, but Boise State was picked bottom of the Mountain West Conference. Losses like this and the ones to St. John’s and at Iowa State last year cannot happen, and with good coaching, it shouldn’t. As Coach K said after Duke received a shellacking at Ohio State last Tuesday: “Sometimes you coach how to not to lose by 30.”
Be competitive on the road.
The Bulldogs under head coach Mark Phelps are 10-26 in true road games (not counting neutral site tournaments like the Paradise Jam). Any decent team can go .500 or a little above at home; it is the ability to consistently win games on the road that separates the mediocre teams from contenders. If the Bulldogs want to compete in the Missouri Valley Conference, they will have win at least four conference games on the road in addition to making the Knapp Center a fortress.
Utilization of the post players.
This is a spot where the coaching staff needs to make adjustments more than the players. Half of the reason our team lacks post scoring is because redshirt junior Jordan Clarke and redshirt senior Kraidon Woods aren’t consistently getting the ball in spots where they are a threat to score. Adjustments need to be made by the coaches to get these athletic big men the ball without their backs to the basket so that the rest of the offense opens up.
Return to the Iowa State game plan.
The game against the Cyclones was probably the best game I have witnessed in my time here. The reason the Bulldogs were able to pull off the upset was a surprisingly good game plan. To get back to winning ways, the coaching staff needs to return to the aspects of that game that brought them the win, mainly rebounding and attacking the basket. Rebounding the ball is especially critical for the Bulldogs, who have an absolutely atrocious rebounding margin under Phelps and consistently get outplayed on the boards. The rebounding margin against ISU was only -1, which was actually good considering the Cyclones are a bigger team. In contrast, the Bulldogs were outrebounded 42-24 against Boise State. Need I say more? In addition, Drake’s guards need to attack the basket more. Redshirt freshman Karl Madison has been doing a good job of penetrating but has backed off a little recently. Sophomore Rayvonte Rice, senior Kurt Alexander, redshirt freshman Jeremy Jeffers and Madison are all capable of getting in the lane and creating scoring opportunities for themselves or others.
Find some late-game poise.
The Bulldogs almost handed the Air Force Falcons a road win on Saturday with some questionable decisions in the closing moments. To start, it would be nice if the players followed the first lesson about breaking a press that a middle school team would know: don’t inbound the ball to the corner. Air Force nearly ate the Bulldogs alive with their press late in the game Saturday due to some bad decisions, and a more athletic team that puts on the press will undoubtedly cause more problems if adjustments aren’t made. Second, get the ball to your key players with the game on the line, such as junior Ben Simons or Rice, not the inexperienced redshirt sophomore David Smith. Finally, the last Air Force possession was almost catastrophic — two good open looks from beyond the arc that would have won the game. There’s five seconds left in a two-point game; do not allow a clean look from 3-point land no matter what. A good team with good coaches is better prepared for late game defense.
With these adjustments, I’m confident the Bulldogs could reach the 20-win mark and finish at least in the top half of the Valley. Hopefully, the coaches are already working on improvements for these last non-conference games. Lastly, kudos to assistant coach Stan Johnson for showing some much-needed fire and passion by repeatedly getting off the bench for the coaching staff. Stan, you look like head coach material.