Hunt is a senior history major and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s that time of year again. It’s time for the annual January tease of the Drake men’s basketball team under head coach Mark Phelps. Just when you think the Bulldogs have finally turned the corner and are headed for a spot in the top half of the Valley, they sink back to reality and seem destined for a fourth consecutive Thursday night game at Arch Madness.
I’m sure a lot of fans marked the triple-overtime win over Wichita State as a sign that better things were to come, but the reality is that the Shockers were just a victim to the usual one upset the Bulldogs have been able to pull off each year.
The loss of junior Ben Simons for an indefinite period of time due to mono is a big loss. Losing your team’s second leading scorer is no easy blow to handle for any team, let alone one that has already played the entire season minus two other players. However, that provides no excuse for the debacle that was Saturday night’s “game” against Missouri State.
When you lose a player, the responsibility to adjust falls on the coaching staff. And it was painfully obvious on Saturday that they had no answer to the question of “What do we do without Ben?” Simply slotting junior Aaron Hawley into the same sets that they normally run for Simons is not going to cut it. The two players have different skill sets. While Simons can comfortably hit the jumper at the elbow coming off of a screen, Hawley cannot. They ran the already uninspiring set of “everybody stand around while one player continually runs off baseline screens” for Hawley against MSU, and the one time he caught the ball off the screen, he chucked up a leaning, off- balance jumper that missed horribly. Any regular follower of Drake basketball could tell you that Hawley would not be successful shooting the ball after coming off those screens, so why did Phelps think running that play was a good idea? One would hope that a head coach in his fourth year would be able to actually make some adjustments to overcome the loss of a key player, but failure to make adjustments has been a hallmark of Phelps’ tenure.
Under Phelps, the Bulldogs have a dismal record when they play Valley teams the second time around. The first time through the conference slate, Phelps has a record of 19-17. The second time around, his career record at Drake is 8-23 (including 0-4 this year), a truly abysmal statistic. The significance of this statistic is that it shows the true ability of a coach and his staff. A good coach and his staff will make adjustments and learn from the experience of playing a team the first time around, and they will rectify the mistakes from the first meeting. This statistic points to the fact that Phelps is unable to make adjustments to his game-planning skills, which is already weak to begin with.
In the case of last Saturday’s game, one possible adjustment could be to push the tempo to get some transition baskets and open looks to make up for the loss of Simons. However, Phelps seemed insistent on his usual tactic of slowing it down and having no coherent offensive plan.
Many of the Bulldog faithful (including myself) will be calling (or renewing their calls) for Phelps’ firing based on this performance, and rightly so. He has failed so far in his career to show that he can build a winning program here at Drake. The reality, however, is that these injuries give him an excuse to fall back on to explain his failure to produce success this season, and, unfortunately, the administration will likely accept his excuses and grant him another year. One can only hope that the decision makers of the athletic administration collectively pull their heads out of the sand and open their eyes to the reality that Phelps’ time needs to be at an end. They can do a much better job in their search for Phelps’ successor.