Duke of Drake

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It happened a week ago, when long-suffering Drake finally beat the Hawkeyes, ending 27 years of frustration against its in-state nemesis. The atmosphere in Des Moines was electric, and a sellout crowd at the Knapp Center exploded at the conclusion of a relatively easy 75-59 Drake victory.

"Certainly the in-state thing by itself creates enthusiasm, and when we had been on the short end for 27 years, it magnifies that," said Davis, who is in his fourth year at Drake. "It was pretty exciting. Drake is a small university. Something like that is bigger on a smaller campus."

Davis himself casts quite a shadow after becoming one of the nation's most well-known coaches during his 13 years at Iowa. In 1999, at age 60, the popular Davis was forced out in Iowa City and replaced by Steve Alford.

For four years, Davis "tried out retirement," always keeping his eyes open but never really pursuing another job. He played lots of golf, traveled, watched his son, Keno, as an assistant coach at Southeast Missouri State. He even taught a class for Central Michigan at their Kansas City campus.

When Drake, which had experienced 17 consecutive losing seasons, came calling in 2003, Davis decided he would give it a shot. He was still revered in the state, the pressure and expectations would certainly be different in Des Moines than in Iowa City, and it offered him an opportunity to work with his son.

"I had been in his ear for a long time about joining him on his staff," said Keno, who was a grad assistant for his father at Iowa before coaching at Southern Indiana and Southeast Missouri State. "When he got this job, I was in his ear quite a bit."

The deal has worked out as well as Davis could have hoped. The Bulldogs have made steady improvement, culminating in this year's 8-2 squad which starts four seniors. Keno has been guaranteed the head job with a four- or five-year contract when Davis decides to leave. And he is enjoying coaching basketball for the sake of coaching basketball.

"It is no longer my career," he said. "It is more just something I want to try to do because it would be fun to see if we could get something going at Drake. When you go back under those grounds, you don't worry about what you are going to do next year. You just do it and have fun with it, and then when it is not fun, you stop doing it. It takes a lot of pressure off that you put on yourself when you are in the midst of your career."

Davis leans heavily on his staff, wanting them to be fully prepared when he hands over the reins. At age 68 with a senior-laden team, a solid three-man recruiting class coming in next year and Keno in line to take over, it would not be a shock to see Davis step aside at the end of the season, especially if Drake can accomplish its first winning season since 1986-87.

Speculation as to when Davis will exit has not hurt the program with Keno, the program's chief recruiter, in line to take over.

"I can talk to our recruits about the consistency that is going to be in our program," Keno said. "Most of the time, the coach will either have a chance to move on and go somewhere else, or you're worried about whether you are going to be there. We have a good situation here."

Good enough to be in the running for the unofficial state championship. Both Drake and Northern Iowa have swept Iowa and Iowa State this season, leaving the two Missouri Valley schools to battle for the mythical crown.

"When I was the coach at Iowa at first, I used to say, 'There's no state championship,'" Davis said. "But you quickly realize [the other schools] are playing for the state championship. It only took me a year at Iowa to realize it. So if [Northern Iowa or Drake] sweeps, one of us has it. If we split, we'll share it."

Drexel has knocked off Villanova, Syracuse and Temple during its seven-game winning streak, and coach Bruiser Flint isn't surprised.

"I think we have a good team, to be honest with you," Flint said after the Syracuse win. "I think we are coming into these games thinking we have a good chance to win."

Junior center Frank Elegar had 27 points and 10 rebounds in the 84-79 victory at Syracuse, Drexel's first win over a ranked opponent since 1996.

In addition to the two Big East wins, Drexel beat Saint Joseph's, 72-56, in early December. It has been a great month after a rough November, during which Drexel lost to Rider and Penn.

"We weren't preparing well," said Flint, whose team is one of the favorites to win the Colonial Athletic Association. "Like I said, 'Don't cheat yourself', because I felt we had a team that could win these type of games."

Defending America East champ Albany is 5-4 after nine games -- its best record at this point in school history -- but coach Will Brown feels his team is not where it needs to be.

"We're so far away from our potential it is ridiculous," Brown said. "That is why I look at the 5-4 and don't get excited. There are some teams out there that are playing well that may be getting close to leveling off. We're not even close to scratching the surface. That is what is so exciting."

Albany's top player, six-foot guard Jamar Wilson, is leading the league in scoring (18.2 ppg), is second in rebounding (7.4 rpg) and is third in assists (5.4). Still, Brown wants more.

"He's not nearly at the level he is capable of playing at," Brown said. "He's deferring to his teammates too much. I think any coach would take his statistics right now, but I'm not a statistics guy. I'm more into him doing what we need to be successful, and right now he is playing unselfishly to a fault."

Bucknell is starting to get its act together during its brutal pre-conference schedule. Wednesday's 68-67 win at Xavier was the Bison's third straight and pulled them to 5-5 before heading to Texas Tech. Among Bucknell's first 11 games this year (only two of which were at home) are three mid-majors that made the tournament last year (Albany, George Mason, Northern Iowa) plus Wake Forest, Penn State, St. Joseph's, Xavier and Texas Tech. ... Score another big upset for the America East. Binghamton, in its sixth year of D-I ball, won at Miami 79-74, with Richard Forbes leading the way with 27 points. It was win No. 2 for the league against the ACC, joining Vermont's upset of Boston College. ... Appalachian State put together a nice run at the San Juan Shootout this week, winning the eight-team tournament with victories over Virginia, Central Florida and Vanderbilt. Houston Fancher, who was a Vanderbilt assistant under Jan van Breda Kolff, has the Mountaineers at 10-3, with those losses all coming on ACC home courts (Clemson, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech). Virginia transfer Donte Minter scored 27 points in the overtime win over Vanderbilt in the final. Appalachian State is the second Southern Conference team to beat Vanderbilt this year, joining Furman. ... Finally, as promised, an update on St. Francis (N.Y.). The Terriers snapped their 12-game losing streak to open the season, but it wasn't easy. Jamaal Womack hit a three-pointer with 1.5 seconds to play in overtime to beat Manhattan on Thursday. St. Francis is now 1-12, leaving only Delaware and Iona as the only Division I schools without a win.

There have been increasing submissions to the mailbag, so it is time to give recognition to some loyal readers who have taken time to send in their thoughts.

This is about the five or sixth time you mentioned the Big South in your articles. Can you be like your fellow SI.com writer and come to one of Winthrop's ball games and watch us Eagles bring these high and mighty conference foes back to reality? You can even sit next to the student section where I'll hold a sign of your face up for all to see "The Greatest College B-Ball Writer EVER" -- Elijah, Beaufort, S.C.

Elijah, That is a difficult invitation to turn down, but sadly, the bosses haven't been flying me around the country lately. If you send me the sign, I'll hang it in my office and bring it to my annual review, however.

I have one serious problem with your column. PPG for and against really don't mean much. Of course VMI gives up a lot of points; their games include A LOT of possessions for both teams. What you need to do is something like this: OTS = FGA + FTA*.45 + TO - ORB OffEff = Pts/OTS

You'll get much more meaningful numbers that way. It amazes me that people who write about basketball for a living talk about PPG and shooting percentage as if they meant very much, when a much more meaningful metric is available with a few minutes of work. -- Ed Auburn, Ala.

Ed, Unlike my colleague Luke Winn, I'm not a big believer in the sabremetrics of basketball. I'm a semi-believer of their place in baseball, but there are too many variables in hoops. Plus, how fast or slow a team plays doesn't mean much to me. If you consider offensive rebounds as part of a single possession, each team gets the same amount of possessions each game. So whether that number is 100 or 50, it doesn't really matter. It all boils down to how many points you score, right? And to that end, shooting percentage is a pretty important stat. I realize I may be oversimplifying, but multiplying free-throw attempts by .45, adding that number to field-goal attempts and turnovers while subtracting offensive rebounds is going to give me a number that I have no idea what to do with or how to put in context. How many points a team scores. That is a number I understand.

But Ed, I will say I love the passion. And I love that you only have one serious problem with my column.

Thank you for writing about the MVC. But one would think that you would know that there are four Div. I teams in Iowa as you cover mid-major schools. Drake also beat Iowa State and has a good shot against Iowa this weekend. Don't crown UNI State Champs before they play Drake. -- Owen, Des Moines, Iowa

Owen, You were proven correct and I admittedly jumped the gun in my proclamation that Northern Iowa was indeed state champs. That crown will be decided when Drake and Northern Iowa hook up on Jan. 27 and Feb. 8. I hope I am back in good graces at Drake with the above feature.