By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
First, let’s pour one out for the two City 6 schools who have seen their seasons already come to an end.
Coming off the worst season in former head coach Bruiser Flint’s Drexel tenure, it was reasonable to expect a long road ahead for new head coach Zach Spiker. That proved to be the case as the Dragons finished 9-23, ending up dead last in CAA play with a 3-15 conference record, and bowing out to James Madison in the opening round of the conference tournament. The team will have a hole to fill next season after 3rd-team All-CAA senior Rodney Williams graduates; he led the team in both scoring and rebounding. The bright spot for the future came in the form of 5’10” freshman point guard Kurk Lee, who made the CAA All-Rookie team while averaging 14.9 ppg and a team-high 5.0 apg.
After losing DeAndre Bembry and Isaiah Miles from the Hawks team that won the A-10 tournament last year, anyone would have predicted a step back for St. Joseph’s this season. What no one could have predicted was the amount of injuries that would strike the Hawks; most notably, the team’s top three leading scorers, Shavar Newkirk, Lamarr Kimble, and James Demery all missed significant chunks of the season. The good news is that all three will return to Hawk Hill next year, and with A-10 All-Rookie team freshman Charlie Brown having another year of experience under the belt, things should be much improved for the Hawks from this season’s 11-20 campaign.
Now, on to those schools still looking to dance.
The defending national champions have not missed a beat this season, led by Big East player of the year and current Naismith semifinalist Josh Hart, who averaged 18.7 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 3.2 apg, and 1.5 spg, while shooting a sparkling 50.7% from the field and 40.4% from three. Mr. Big Shot Kris Jenkins continues to do his thing from behind the arc, and Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges both had no problem assuming larger roles this season. Crucially, starting center Darryl Reynolds returned to the line-up in the regular season finale after missing 5 games, so the Wildcats are more or less back to full strength. Jay Wright’s squad should have no problem advancing to Sunday, where they’ll potentially meet the Butler squad that has served them 2 of their 3 losses this season. Revenge for those defeats while winning the Big East tournament title and securing a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament would be pretty sweet.
La Salle was able to avoid the double play-in game that claimed victim to St. Joseph’s, but a late season swoon where the Explorers lost 5 of their last 7 meant they cost themselves a chance a top-4 seed and the all-important double bye. La Salle will have to get past Davidson (who they beat in the teams’ only meeting) before taking on top-seeded Dayton. Led by junior B.J. Johnson and senior Jordan Price, the Explorers have the talent where a tournament run wouldn’t be the most surprising thing in the world. However, winning 4 games in 4 days is very tough, and having to play on Thursday may be La Salle’s downfall.
Ken Pomeroy does not like the Owls’ chances of making a miracle run and I have to agree. Temple first needs to win an opening round play-in game over East Carolina, a team against whom the Owls split their two regular season meetings, before taking on top-seeded SMU in the quarterfinals. The Mustangs (17-1 in American conference play) defeated the Owls by 14 and 16-point margins in their two games this season. For a young Owls team that saw a freshman, Shizz Alston, Jr., lead the club in points, assists, and steals, I don’t feel like this is their year.
For the first time in conference history, the Ivy League will have a postseason tournament! The Quakers were just able to sneak in thanks to winning 6 of their last 8 games, including a game-winning three in the final seconds of the regular season finale to send them to the 4-team field. That’s the good news. The bad news is Penn will first play Princeton, who went 14-0 in conference play, beating the Quakers 64-49 and 61-52 in the teams’ two meetings. To get by the Tigers and face the winner of Harvard/Yale, Penn will need a huge effort from freshman AJ Brodeur, who led the team in scoring, rebounding, and blocks on his way to 2nd-team All-Ivy. Ken Pomeroy gives the Quakers a decent chance to go dancing, both because they only have to win two games, and because those two games come on Penn’s home court at the Palestra.