When the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament kicks off Friday, Drexel's odds to make a run will certainly be long.
The Dragons, under first-year coach Zach Spiker, finished the regular season in last place in the 10-team conference with a 3-15 record and 9-22 overall mark. And they head into the tourney having lost five straight and nine of their last 10.
Nevertheless, Spiker has noticed under-the-radar improvements and is eager to see how his young team will perform when it faces James Madison in a first-round matchup on Friday night (8:30/CAA.tv) at the North Charleston Coliseum in South Carolina.
"Our guys have worked really hard all season," Spiker said this week. "Do the results reflect that from a win-loss standpoint? They don't. But I do think there are a lot of other metrics to show the progress we're doing."
Spiker specifically pointed to a better defensive approach, improved defensive field goal percentage numbers and a positive spirit in the wake of some injury issues -- a common theme in Drexel land even before Spiker replaced unlucky former coach Bruiser Flint.
And if you look at some recent scores, you can see Drexel isn't far and away the worst team in the league, despite its record. Of its last seven losses, five have been by six points or less.
What might that say about his team?
"There's no award for a close loss," said Spiker, who arrived at Drexel after spending the previous seven seasons as Army's head coach. "What we prefer is a close win. It means you've got to keep working. A close lose means you keep working. You keep pounding the rock and grinding away and doing whatever you can to figure it out to be on the other side."
One reason for optimism is the play of Kurk Lee, the diminutive freshman point guard who leads the team in minutes (32.9 per game), assists (4.9) and steals (1.6), and is second in scoring (15.0).
Spiker admitted he wasn't sure how much of an impact Lee would have in his first collegiate season but is certainly "grateful he hit the ground running" to help a program in transition.
"Statistically, the numbers speak for themselves," the Drexel coach said. "I think Kurk has grown in his approach and his maturity every day -- to do things as well as he can. It's been a joy to coach him. To lean on a freshman point guard to do as much as he's done is unbelievable."
While Lee headlines a promising crop of underclassmen that also includes classmate Kari Jonsson, a sharpshooter from Iceland, the Dragons have also leaned on senior Rodney Williams, who leads the team in scoring (15.9 ppg) and rebounds (6.8 rpg).
"Rodney is a good basketball player," Spiker said. "He's got a unique game. He's got the ability to score the ball in different ways. He's having about as consistent a season as he's ever had."
And now, after going through a lot of ups and downs and one big coaching change, Williams is preparing for his final conference tournament.
With his career winding to a close, will Williams be able to conjure a little bit of March magic? Can the rest of his teammates -- who Spiker said "could have folded the tent" when the injuries piled up but didn't -- follow suit?
"Everyone's excited this time of year," the Drexel coach said. "That's the beauty of a new season, for sure."