The question might seem moot now, what with Drexel falling to Penn on Saturday (although Drexel was playing on very short rest). But the Dragons created some buzz with their run in the NIT Season Tip-Off. Drexel got to MSG on the strength of a win at Princeton and then against a Sam Houston State team that themselves had just won at Missouri. While in NYC, Drexel made #1 Duke uncomfy for about 39 minutes, and had #16 UCLA beaten before deciding to get charitable in the last 15 seconds.
Anyone seeing those two games in the Garden certainly had to believe Drexel was a solid team, and that if they truly were the seventh-best team in the CAA as the conference’s media forecasted, then the Colonial was on par with the ACC. This is where we learn about the danger of sample size. Remember the team that produced the following results on consecutive November days not too long ago?
That team was Ball State, and they debuted in the AP poll on the following Monday at #16. By March, the Cardinals were NIT-bound.
And don’t think that the pre-season tournament fluke is a mid-major malady. The next season, UNC rolled through the Pre-Season NIT, easily beating #2 Kansas and Stanford at MSG. UNC was coming off the infamous 8-20 season and was unranked going in. They came out of it ranked #12. Ultimately, like Ball State, they were also bound for the post-season NIT.
I’m guessing this is the usual drill when a team shocks us for a couple of November games. (Although, in the interest of full disclosure, recent counter-examples are ‘01-‘02 Arizona and ‘03-‘04 Georgia Tech.)
The starting point for our preseason opinions is usually the portfolio of 30 games or more a team played last season. Good teams can sustain great play for 80 minutes, or even just look great for that long, every now and then. And when it flies in the face of what we previously know, a little skepticism is necessary. I’d still like to wait a couple of weeks before making any serious judgments about surprise teams.
I’ll get to the past week’s Lines o’ the Night – or Line o’ the Nights? – tomorrow.