Drake no Fake - One of Most Profitable Teams in Nation
by Trevor Whenham - 02/07/2008
There have been some great stories and some big surprises in the college basketball season so far, but no story is better or more surprising than the success of Drake. They moved to 21-1 with their 20th consecutive victory on Tuesday night, and at 15-3 ATS they have been the most reliably profitable team in the country for college basketball betting. I don't know any of your friends, but if you have any friends who say that they could have seen that coming then be careful, because they are huge liars. For much of the year this anonymous team from the Missouri Valley Conference has been flying under the radar, but they are starting to be noticed because they are becoming increasingly hard to ignore. If you don't know much about this team, you should. Here's the story in a nutshell to get you up to speed.
Drake is not a program that is used to success. The team went just 17-15 last season, but that must have seemed like they had won the national championship to their beleaguered fans - that was their first winning season in two decades. Expectations were not any higher coming into this season. It looked like they would be in a rebuilding year this year, and that seemed generous to many observers. Keno Davis is in his first year as head coach, but he was familiar to the team and its losing ways - he had been an assistant under his father Tom since 2002. Tom had picked a fine time to bow out - the team returned just one full-time starter and one part-timer. That wasn't a comforting situation for a team that plays in a conference that has been solid for quite a while now. The conference has sent three teams to the Sweet Sixteen in two years, including Southern Illinois last year. It ended up sixth in the RPI rankings last year, and sent four teams in total to the postseason. The MVC is one of the main reasons why the term mid-major makes less and less sense. It didn't look like a very friendly place for Drake to be.
The one saving grace the team had was that the full-time starter they were returning was a good one. Sophomore Josh Young was the highest scoring freshman in the conference last year, and he peaked at the right time by hitting his career high for points in his team's first round conference tournament win. He's done everything that could be hoped for this year - his scoring average is up almost six points per game over last season, and the guard is leading the team in playing time. Joining him as the voices of experience is senior Klayton Korver. He started 18 games last year, and has been consistent and reliable, though not spectacular, all year. His last name isn't a coincidence - his older brother is the NBA's Kyle, and younger brother Kaleb is at Creighton.
Leonard Houston is new to being a regular starter, but as a senior he's no stranger to the program. He's part of the hidden reason for the success of the team - they may have lost three starters, but they returned seven solid contributors. In fact, besides Young, the team's seven leading scorers are all at least juniors. A team that doesn't have to rely on freshmen, unless those freshmen are blue-chippers, has a distinct advantage, and that advantage is obviously more significant if the players who are asked to step up have been around long enough to be familiar with the coach and the basic system. That means that the team was able to hit the ground running despite the changes. Houston certainly has - he's played considerably more minutes already this year than he did all of last season, and his scoring has jumped from a forgettable 4.5 points per game to an impressive 14.7. The story is the same for other major contributors this year - junior forward Jonathan Cox has more than doubled his points and rebounds, and senior guard Adam Emmenecker has gone from non-factor to offensive key, and his role is growing in importance as the season goes along. It appears that the key to this team's success had been warming the bench for a few years.
The team has rarely met a spread they couldn't cover - they have covered as favorites nine times, and as a dog six times. They have been favored by as much to 29.5 (they covered), and underdog by as much as 11.5 (they covered, too). That game in which they were big dogs was their only loss, and it came in their second game of the year against another upstart program - St. Mary's. Creighton and Illinois State are the other two teams in the conference that are emerging as powers, and Drake has won and covered against both of them twice each - at home and on the road. All three of the games that they haven't covered have been followed by at least two that they have covered nicely. In other words, they bounce back well from slightly sub-standard performances, and they clearly don't seem to be reading their own press clippings. Their most recent win, at Illinois State, tells the story of this team's success. They were behind by 11 in the second half in a hostile gym, yet they managed a 17-2 run to win by three as four-point underdogs. If that's how they treat their best competition then this is a team that we certainly haven't heard the last of. It may have been 37 years since they have been to the tournament, but they are ranked 15th and rising, and unless something changes they will head into March with a seeding that would have seemed ridiculously impossible a few months ago.