Just 10 undefeated Division I men's basketball teams remain and none of them have more wins this season than Drake. The Bulldogs are 13-0 and sit alone atop the Missouri Valley Conference standings with a 4-0 record. In the first two years of coach Darian DeVries's tenure, the Bulldogs went 24-10 and 20-14, and now they're off to one of the hottest starts in the country this season.
In the 2016 and 2017 seasons, Drake won a total of 14 games. The Bulldogs won 13 games by the first week of January this season.
Here are the stats and metrics that explain why Drake is this season's surprise team so far.
They're the best 3-point shooting team in the country
Well, that's a pretty good ingredient to the recipe for being the season's surprise team, right? The Bulldogs are shooting 43.5 percent from deep through their first 13 games, which is an improvement of nearly nine percentage points compared to last season, when they shot 34.9 percent.
As a program, Drake has had really good 3-point shooting teams in the not-too-distant past — namely, No. 5 nationally in 2015, No. 7 in 2014, No. 11 in 2001, No. 24 in 2013 and No. 25 in 2002 — but this year's squad currently has the best mark of any Drake team dating back to the 1997 season, which is the oldest one available in kenpom.com's archives.
The player who leads the team in 3-point attempts, junior guard DJ Wilkins (60 attempts), also leads the team in makes (32) and 3-point percentage (53.3 percent), which is a dangerous combination for opponents. Four of his teammates — Okay Djamgouz, Roman Penn, Joseph Yesufu and Jonah Jackson — shoot better than 40 percent from behind the arc and Tremell Murphy makes just under 38 percent of his treys.
You could make that case that Drake isn't shooting enough 3-pointers, or maybe the Bulldogs have just found the perfect amount of threes to take. Through Jan. 12, they rank 297th nationally in 3-point attempt percentage, which measures what percent of a team's shots are threes. Just 31.3 percent of Drake's shots are 3-pointers and only roughly 30 percent of their points come from threes, so either the Bulldogs' 3-point success is because they're taking the right threes, or they're potentially limiting just how dangerous they can be from outside.
Their tempo might help their 3-point efficiency
In the last two-plus decades, Drake has had more teams whose tempo ranked among the slowest 100 nationally than among the fastest 100. So the Bulldogs's No. 275 adjusted tempo ranking on kenpom.com (as of Jan. 13) isn't necessarily a new development, but it might benefit their low-attempt, high-efficiency approach to 3-point shooting. As we mentioned, Drake is making a higher percent of its threes than any other team in the country, while attempting fewer 3-pointers than all but 50 or so teams nationally.
By taking a slower approach to the game, Drake might be maximizing its potential. If the Bulldogs played faster, therefore playing more possessions in a single game, then they might be forced to take more threes, and worse ones, too. The Bulldogs have been making their opponents really work to get off a good shot as their average defensive possession lasts 18 seconds, per kenpom.com, which ranks 316th nationally. Drake ranks 47th in defensive assist rate, too, as more than 55 percent of opponents' baskets are unassisted.
Logic would tell you that over a larger sample size (read: more possessions), the better team will win more often, and Drake has been the better team in all 13 of its games this season, but similar to the Bulldogs's 3-point attempt rate, maybe they've found the sweet spot with their tempo — certainly lower or slower than the national average, but just right for them.
Their tenacity on the offensive glass
Relative to the rest of the country, there aren't many missed shots from the Bulldogs. Through Jan. 12, they ranked fourth in effective field goal percentage (59.6 percent), thanks to both their 43.5 3-point percent and their 57-percent shooting inside the arc. But Drake also does a great job of grabbing the shots it does miss.
It has a 36.4 offensive rebounding percentage, which ranks 16th nationally, so the Bulldogs grab more than one out of every three missed shots, on average.
Consider too that they're better than average at limiting turnovers, with an 18-percent turnover rate, and Drake's offense is efficient for a multitude of reasons.
They limit opponents' shots, good shots and second chances
While Drake's offense leads the way, with an adjusted efficiency ranking of No. 46 as of Jan. 13, the Bulldogs's defense is respectable, too. It's ranked No. 84 nationally in terms of efficiency and No. 1 in Missouri Valley Conference play.
Drake is about two percentage points above the national averages for both steal percentage and defensive turnover percentage — metrics in which it ranks No. 35 and No. 72 — plus opponents only make 29.7 percent of their threes and 45.5 percent of their twos. Drake is pretty stifling on the defensive glass, grabbing 77.4 percent of available defensive rebounds.
So, on the whole, opponents sometimes struggle to even get a shot up without committing a turnover first, then to make the shots they do take or to grab the shots they miss.
Drake's next scheduled game is at home Jan. 30 against Illinois State. Games against Loyola and Missouri State were postponed because of positive COVID-19 test results in the program.