Drake freshman Rayvonte RiceWith career scoring leader Josh Young graduated, Drake is all about coach Mark Phelps. Young was the last prominent link to the magical 2008 season that put the Bulldogs into the NCAA Tournament and got coach Keno Davis a job at Providence. In his third season, Phelps will rely on his own guys. If recruiting rankings are to be believed, there is hope in Des Moines. Phelps is supposedly recruiting well. Sophomore center Seth VanDeest could turn into a good MVC big. Freshman guard Rayvonte Rice – the Illinois Gatorade Player of the Year – is supposed to be a handful – a fullback playing shooting guard. There is one senior on the roster, so the Bulldogs may be a year or two away from peaking.
1. Can the Bulldogs play defense?
VanDeest can block shots. Beyond that, the Bulldogs give up a lot of open shots in their matchup zone defense. They’re not big or particularly quick – which is why they ranked 10th in shooting defense (46 percent) and ninth in three-point defense (36.5). They also don’t rebound (last in rebound margin at minus-6.6), so they give up a lot of follow shots. The matchup zone can cause problems, but smart, experienced teams can shoot their way to victory.
2. Who is Ben Simons?
Fans who didn’ t watch Drake until January might not know. Simons looked like a Freshman of the Year early last season. He started Drake’s first 13 games and scored 24 points against Iowa State and 20 against South Dakota State. He scored in double figures in five of Drake’s first nine games and then twice the rest of the season. Simons is 6-foot-8 with a good-looking shot from outside. The Bulldogs need him to spread the floor and pull other big men away from the hoop. A year of experience should help.
3. Who plays point guard?
Junior Frank Wiseler tore his achilles tendon this summer and might not return until mid-December. It’s a guess as to how much he can play when he does return. Senior Ryan Wedel can play point guard, but that takes him away from shooting guard. Beyond Wedel, the Bulldogs possess almost no experience at point guard.