Key Wins: @Iowa, Southern Illinois, @Butler, @Creighton, Illinois State x3
Key Losses: @Saint Mary’s, @Southern Illinois, Bradley
Key Stat: Rookie Head Coach Keno Davis won 21 straight basketball games following a loss to St. Mary’s November 10th. His father Tom Davis actually won 18 straight in his first year at the Univeristy of Iowa (1986-1987).
Biggest Strengths: They like each other. They really like each other. The Bulldogs have a rare closeness off the court, which materializes lyrically on the court. The mark of a solid shooting team, not a team with a great shooter, is the willingness to pass up a good shot to get a great shot. Unselfish personalities help, though genuine care for one another is invaluable in this regard. Klayton Korver eagerly offers “chemistry has propelled us throughout the year.”
The sharing of the basketball is nothing new to the Tom Davis/Keno Davis tradition. Years ago the Iowa Hawkeyes ran out a strikingly similar team to the current Drake men. Remember J.R. Koch, Ryan Bowen, bomber Kent McCausland, and Dean Oliver? The names were different, but the style identical. Tall, mobile big men capable and willing to get up the floor beside forwards with tremendous range fed by guards with gritty, efficient play.
Continuing an MVC staple, Drake thrives on basketball savvy, comprehension of the easy prudent play. “They have some veteran leadership, some seniors who are playing very well,” said Bradley Head Coach Jim Les. “The best thing you can say is that they are not going to beat themselves.”
Biggest Weaknesses: Size. Sure the guards win big games in the NCAA tournament. The opposing impact of a player with the ball in his hands versus a player without the ball in his hands seems obvious. That said guards would find it difficult to do their job if they struggled to get the ball in their hands. Drake rebounds well but needs maximum effort throughout the entirety of the game to compete. Josh Young, Adam Emmenecker, and Leonard Houston can not rely on the post players to rebound. Team rebounding is a must for an undersized team, as the Bulldogs will likely be in their second if not first round matchup.
Young needs to be on or the Sweet 16 is a pipe dream. The sophomore guard possesses good basketball skills, while he continues to broaden his assets. He slipped through the cracks in Oklahoma largely because “When you are at the major conference schools you kind of have in your mind that you want a certain height and a certain athlete,” said Keno Davis. “Most major schools are looking for a 6’4” or 6’5” shooting guard.” The penetration of the guards not named Young needs work. Emmenecker drives to pass and Houston finishes best when all the work is done prior to him catching the ball. Of course the emphasis is on shooting and if DU does that well, nothing else matters.
Most Important Player: Adam Emmenecker. Surely not the best Bulldog, Emmenecker is unquestionably the most critical to the team’s success. Ironically, the team is most important to his personal success. “What he is outstanding at is penetrating with strength and vision,” observed Illinois State Head Coach Tim Jankovich. “They have four shooters around him. If you choose to go help he is great at kicking it out.”
Oddly, this senior-laden team is only recently maturing. Emmenecker himself only started two games and shot 39 times before 2007-2008. The outside shooting is a true threat primarily because AE makes the right decisions so often. Fortunately Emmenecker is able to stay on the floor too. Never in foul trouble, the senior point guard began playing 30-35 minutes every night as soon as the Valley slate began.
X-Factor: John Michael Hall. No, you are thinking of Anthony Michael Hall, the Brat Pack reject. John does little to distinguish himself either. Seven times he scored a half dozen or more, but five times he took home a donut in the points column. Fortunately, Drake doesn’t thrive on singular performances. Balance and teamwork fuel the DU engine. Even though Emmenecker plays almost every minute, Hall gives him on-court breathers by temporarily taking the point. JMH has point guard vision, still managing to put pressure on the defense at all times with the threat of the pass.
Might Lose When: Clearly a team that started 22-1 offers little in the way of a blueprint towards defeat. First look at the differences between the subpar 2006-2007 team and the current edition. The three-point shooters are 6% better. The team rebounding is on the rise. For a team to defeat the improbable yet proven Bulldogs, they must keep the guards away from the rebounds. Emmenecker, Leonard Houston, and Klayton Korver are all pulling down four rpg. Fending them off wont be easy. Drake shoots many outside shots, which tend towards long rebounds.
Also, the blue and gray backcourt is scrappy. Like ants under an upraised rock, Drake guards scurry and scramble with perceived abandon. Blocking out the elusive Bulldogs will difficult but necessary.
Might Surprise You With: Two former nobodies are now leading everybody to undreamed for success. Adam Emmenecker and Jonathan “Bucky” Cox were invited walk-ons by former Drake Head Coach Dr. Tom Davis. Each had other offers. Emmenecker had a baseball scholarship from Boston College on the table while assorted DII schools wanted Cox. The bait that lured in these moderately attractive fish was the potential for playing time. Mr. T, excuse me, Dr. T showed the then teenagers how well previous walk-ons had done in his system. Two former walk-ons, Pete Eggers and Aliou Keita both earned scholarships for Drake. Flash forward to present day. Emmenecker leads the Missouri Valley Conference in assists and Bucky may become the first Valley player since history began to lead the conference in rebounding and 3-point percentage.
Predicted finish in the NCAA’s: One and done. Final 32.