Steven Shoemaker (@steven_shoe)
After a different and challenging 2020-21 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, things are starting to look up in the basketball world. With the basketball season not too far away, excitement is in the air as schools and leagues begin to release their schedules. Following Wednesday's release of its women’s conference schedule, the Colonial Athletic Association released its men’s basketball conference schedule for the upcoming 2021-22 campaign on Thursday.
Drexel coach Zach Spiker (above) guided his team to a CAA championship last year. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
The CAA announced they will be returning to its traditional conference scheduling with an 18-game season, travel partners, and a double round-robin format. The Men’s Basketball Championship will also return to the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Washington, D.C., taking place from March 5-8.
The Drexel Dragons will be aiming for a return to the nation’s capital as the defending champions. Last season, the Dragons finished with a 12-8 overall record, and were 4-5 in conference play, but turned things up in the playoffs.
Even though four of their last five regular season games were postponed — part of six weekends overall DU missed because of other teams’ positive covid tests — the Dragons made some serious noise in the CAA Tournament, taking down the College of Charleston, Northeastern, and then Elon in the final to earn their first CAA title since joining the league two decades back. Drexel earned themselves a bid in the big dance for the first time since 1996, falling to top seed Illinois in the first round.
Drexel will have four starters returning from last year’s squad. Head coach Zach Spiker, entering his sixth season in University City, has to be excited about a strong returning core led by guard Camren Wynter, who will be returning for his senior season. Winter, a 6-4 guard from Long Island, was a member of the 2020-21 All-CAA first team, leading the team in minutes per game (36.0), points (16.3) and assists (5.2), playing in all 20 games.
Second-team honoree forward James Butler will also be returning as a graduate student. Butler led the team in rebounds per game (9.2) and made his presence known on the defensive end leading the team in total blocks (18).
The two major departures are graduated wing Zach Walton (10.5 ppg, .398 3PT%) and forward T.J. Bickerstaff (10.2 ppg), who transferred to Boston College with three years of eligibility remaining. Sophomore wing Mate Okros (7.2 ppg), freshman Xavier Bell (4.0 ppg), junior Mate Juric (3.8 ppg) and freshman Lamar Oden Jr. (3.7 ppg) are all back in the rotation, boosted by the addition of Monmouth grad transfer Melik Martin, who averaged 12.5 ppg and 5.7 rpg last season.
With much of the Dragons roster returning, experience could be one of the biggest qualities to drive them to a top-half finish in the CAA or better.
The Dragons will kick off conference play on Dec. 29 on the road at Charleston. This will be the first of two games on the road before returning home for their season opener against Towson. This will be the first of a three game homestand for the Dragons.
Spiker’s team will have the chance to play each team on their schedule once at home and once on the road. The season opener against Charleston is going to be a thriller, with Charleston looking for revenge after the Dragons pulled away in the CAA Tournament game as underdogs for an 80-75 win.
James Madison and Northeastern finished at the top of the standings last year. The Dragons will have an early opportunity to prove themselves against these teams on Jan. 5 at home against JMU and Jan. 15 on the road against Northeastern.
After taking on Northeastern the Dragons consecutive games on the road looking to take down Hofstra in MLK Day. The Dragons will have another stretch on the road to end the month of January, with plenty of opportunities to solicit themselves as a road team.
Here’s a look at Drexel's full CAA schedule:
Wed., Dec. 29 @ Charleston
Fri., Dec. 31 @ UNCW
Mon., Jan. 3 vs. Towson
Wed., Jan. 5 vs. James Madison
Tue., Jan. 11 vs. Delaware
Sat., Jan. 15 @ Northeastern
Mon., Jan. 17 @ Hofstra
Thurs., Jan. 20 vs. Elon
Sat., Jan. 22 vs. William & Mary
Thurs., Jan. 27 @ James Madison
Sat., Jan. 29 @ Towson
Sat., Feb. 5 @ Delaware
Mon., Feb. 10 vs. Hofstra
Wed., Feb. 12 vs. Northeastern
Mon., Feb. 17 @ William & Mary
Wed., Feb. 19 @ Elon
Mon., Feb. 24 vs. UNCW
Wed., Feb 26 vs. Charleston