A year ago, Drexel limped into the Colonial Athletic Conference men's basketball tournament, having lost nine of its previous 10 games. Not surprisingly, the Dragons concluded a 9-23 season with a first-round, 80-70 loss to James Madison.
This season, Drexel has shown improvement and enters Saturday's CAA tournament at the North Charleston (S.C.) Coliseum with a few more wins and much more confidence.
The Dragons are seeded eighth in the 10-team field and face huge odds in earning an NCAA berth in this one-bid league. At 12-19 overall and 6-12 in the CAA, the Dragons still have plenty of reasons to be more optimistic in coach Zach Spiker's second season.
For one, Drexel owns victories over the regular season co-champions, Northeastern and the College of Charleston. Both wins came at home, but when all is working, Drexel can be competitive with any team.
That doesn't mean the Dragons can win one game, let alone the four it would take to earn an NCAA bid, but it also suggests they won't be an easy out.
"I am thinking that we are making progress," Spiker said. "I think we are all a hungry group and have tasted more success than we did last year."
The Dragons couldn't open with a more evenly matched opponent than James Madison (10-21, 6-12). The two will kick off the tournament at 4 p.m. Saturday.
This season, the teams have split their games. Drexel earned a two-point win at home and suffered a two-point defeat at JMU. The Dukes' strength is in its backcourt, which isn't surprising in a guard-oriented league.
"Stuckey Mosley is one of the more honored guards in our league, and Matt Lewis has tremendous length at the point-guard position," Spiker said.
Mosley, a 6-foot-3 redshirt junior, is averaging 18.6 points and 2.2 assists. Lewis, a 6-5 freshman, averages 14.5 points and 2.2 assists.
Drexel's Tramaine Isabell has become one of the better all-around players in the CAA. The 6-1 junior guard averages 21.1 points and 7.3 rebounds and on Friday was named second-team all-CAA.
James Madison coach Louis Rowe, a former star player at the school, identified Drexel's most impressive trait with one word earlier this week on a CAA conference call: "Toughness."
Rowe says he can identify with a player such as Isabell, in his first year with Drexel after transferring from Missouri. Similarly, Rowe began his college career at a bigger school, Florida, but he became a star after he transferred to JMU.
"He did the same thing I did by transferring," Rowe said. "He transferred from Missouri, and I knew he was a really good player."
The winner of this game will face top seed Charleston in Sunday's quarterfinals.
Saturday through Tuesday, North Charleston Coliseum in North Charleston, S.C.
Defending champion: UNC Wilmington beat the College of Charleston, 78-69 in the final.
Game 2: (7) Delaware (13-18, 6-12) vs. (10) Elon (14-17, 6-12), 6:30 p.m.
Game 4: (4) William & Mary (18-11, 11-7) vs. (5) Towson (18-13, 8-10), 2:30 p.m.
Game 5: Delaware/Elon winner vs. (2) Northeastern (21-9, 14-4), 6 p.m.
Game 6: (6) UNCW (10-20, 7-11) vs. (3) Hofstra (19-11, 12-6), 8:30 p.m.
Monday semifinals on CBS Sports Network
Game 7: Winner of Game 3 vs. Winner of Game 4, 6 p.m.
Game 8: Winner of Game 5 vs. winner of Game 6, 8:30 p.m
Tuesday championship on CBS Sports Network
Nathan Knight, William & Mary, F, So., 18.1 ppg., 7.1 rpg.
Joe Chealey, Charleston, G, Sr., 18.0 ppg., 3.7 apg.
Zane Martin, Towson, G., So., 19.9 ppg.
Tramaine Isabell, Drexel, G., Jr., 21.1 ppg., 7.3 rpg.
Justin Wright-Foreman, Hofstra, G, Jr., 24.2 ppg.
Devontae Cacok, UNCW., F., Jr., 17.8 ppg., 13.8 rpg.
Grant Riller, Charleston, G., So., 18.4 ppg.
Vasa Pusica, Northeastern, G., Jr., 17.6 ppg., 5.0 apg.
Stuckey Mosley, James Madison, G., R-Jr.., 18.6 ppg.