The Drake Bulldogs received national recognition after starting the season 18-0. Unfortunately, the Bulldogs’ saw multiple key players get injured, leading to several losses. Drake still sits at 25-4 and made the NCAA Tournament. Belonging to the First Four, Drake expects to get a key player back for Thursday’s game against Wichita State. The Bulldogs will be capable of a March Madness run being at nearly full strength.
Drake is known for their explosive offensive averaging 76.2 points per game. Ranked 19th in offensive efficiency, the Bulldogs are one of the best offensive mid-majors. Furthermore, Drake took care of most opponents by averaging a scoring margin of +11.2, which is 14th in college basketball. The Bulldogs have multiple impressive shooting stats including 36.6% from three, 54.4% on two-point shots and 48.8% on all shots. Also, Drake is 13th with 29.3 made field goals per contest.
One key during March Madness is taking care of the ball, Drake passes this with flying colors. With only 10.1 turnovers per game, the Bulldogs are 10th in turnovers per game. In result, Drake also has an elite turnover percentage of only 13.2%.
Drake has five double-digit scorers including Tremell Murphy with 10.2 points, D.J. Wilkens with 10.6 points, Roman Penn with 11.2, Joseph Yesufu with 12.1 points and ShanQuan Hemphill with 14.1 points. However, Drake is without Hemphill and Penn after they both went down with foot injuries.
Plagued by Injuries
On 2/21, Penn hurt his foot against Evansville. Penn had season-ending surgery after contributing 11.2 points per contest. This has surely been a big loss for the Bulldogs since Penn was also their lead assist man. Thankfully, Drake has seen one guard elevate his play since Penn went down.
Yesufu was the Missouri Valley Sixth Man of the Year this season. After Penn’s injury, Yesufu immediately increased his point total big time. In the same game Penn got hurt, the sophomore guard exploded for 32 points while shooting 85.7%. In their first full game without Penn, Yesufu had a career-high of 36 points while shooting 61.1%. Since Penn’s injury, Yesufu has averaged an astounding 23.7 points while shooting 47.4% and a lethal 47.2% from three. Clearly, Drake will hurt less without Penn if Yesufu continues this output.
Before Penn’s injury, Drake’s lead scorer Hemphill hurt his foot 2/10 against Northern Iowa. Hemphill is the Bulldogs’ starting forward averaging 14.1 points. With Hemphill, Drake was an impressive 19-1. After the senior forward’s injury, the Bulldogs have went 6-3. Of course, 6-3 is still pretty good, but it doesn’t compare to Hemphill’s winning percentage of 95%. Hemphill was initially declared out for roughly four weeks, on Tuesday it was reported the forward “is on track to play” in the First Four.
Drake's ShanQuan Hemphill (foot) "is on track to play" in the First Four on Thursday versus Wichita State, per Darian DeVries. Averaged 14.1 PPG and 6.3 RPG. Led the team in scoring and rebounding.
Has not played in weeks.
Significant First Four news.
— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 16, 2021
With Hemphill potentially returning from injury, Drake becomes a very dangerous mid-major team in the NCAA Tournament. Especially with Yesufu’s recent offensive production. If Hemphill can come back and play even decent, Drake should get past the First Four.
Drake is of course apart of the First Four. As a No.11 seed, they will face Wichita State on Thursday. If victorious, the Bulldogs will then face the No.6 seed USC. The NBA prospect Evan Mobley could be a matchup problem for Drake. With Hemphill, Drake’s tallest starters are 6-foot-6 and 6-foot-10. Mobley stands at 7-foot and is extremely athletic.
From 2011-2018, one First Four team at least advanced to the Round of 32. Half of the First Four teams are sixteen seeds, so they will likely lose in the Round of 64. Two No.11 seeds will be from the First Four teams. If Drake beats Wichita State, they have a great chance to pull off an upset in the first round. Currently, Wichita State is favored by one point, but this could easily change if Hemphill returns. Drake is a different team with Hemphill and 23.7 points per game Yesufu, with this they could make a Sweet Sixteen.
All stats courtesy of ESPN, Kenpom, NCAA and Team Rankings.