By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
1 (Formerly: 1). Villanova (18-2, 5-2 Big East)
Previous week: L 78-58 @ Georgetown, W 71-50 vs. Creighton
Upcoming week: Saturday @ DePaul
As Villanova fans know, it’s not easy to go on the road in the Big East. Monday night showed why, as the Wildcats suffered their worst loss of the season in a blowout loss to Georgetown. Unlike their first defeat of the year (an overtime loss to Seton Hall where Villanova just shot uncharacteristically poor from both behind the arc and the foul line), the Cats were soundly dominated by the Hoyas in this contest. Georgetown went on a 17-0 run in the first half, making 7 straight shots from the field in the process, eventually going into the break leading by 22. Behind the hot shooting of Ryan Arcidiacono (4-6 from three for a team-high 16 points), Villanova trimmed the deficit to 12 in the second half, but between turning it over 17 times and the rest of the team (excluding Arcidiacono) shooting just 27.3% from the field, the outcome was never really in doubt.
With Georgetown taking sole possession of first place in the conference with the victory, the Wildcats needed a bounce-back effort against the Bluejays. They wasted no time, jumping all over Creighton in the early going in taking a 15-0 lead. Creighton had defeated Villanova twice last season behind the long-distance prowess of Doug McDermott, Ethan Wragge, and others; the Wildcats did a much better job this time around against a much-different Bluejays squad, holding them to 4-21 shooting from three. Darrun Hilliard paced the Wildcats offensively, dropping a game-high 24 points behind a 6-10 effort from behind the arc. With Hillard single-handedly out-shooting Creighton and the Wildcats forcing 19 turnovers while only committing 5 giveaways themselves, it was an easy win for them at the Pavilion. They’ll look to bring a similar effort on the road with them this coming weekend in Chicago.
2 (2). Temple (13-7, 4-3 AAC)
Previous week: W 73-48 vs. South Florida
Upcoming week: Wednesday @ Central Florida, Saturday vs. Tulane
With the Owls in the midst of a 3-game losing streak, they needed a boost in a big way and received it in the form of Will Cummings. The senior point guard returned to the lineup after missing a couple games with a leg injury, scoring 12 points and restoring order to the Temple offense. Cummings back at the helm took some of the pressure off Jesse Morgan, allowing Morgan to do what he does best: drain long-range bombs. He finished with a game-high 19 points, hitting 5 of 8 threes, including 3 triples during a 22-4 Temple run in the first half that gave the Owls a 14-point lead. They would lead by double digits the rest of the way. Quenton DeCosey added 14 points on 6-11 shooting.
Now back over .500 in conference play, Temple will look to string together another long set of victories against UCF and Tulane teams they already defeated earlier this month. With Cummings back in the lineup and getting closer to 100% with each passing day, the Owls should put its recent bump in the road behind them.
3 (3). La Salle (10-9, 2-4 A-10)
Previous week: L 59-47 @ Rhode Island
Upcoming week: Tuesday vs. St. Joe’s, Saturday @ St. Bonaventure
The offensive struggles continued for the Explorers this week against the Rams, as La Salle has now failed to score more than 65 points in a game in conference play. La Salle was held to just 17 points in the first half, including a 7-minute stretch where they were held scoreless. It didn’t help that the normally reliable Jordan Price struggled to just 4 points on 2-13 shooting on the game, but Jerrell Wright did his best to keep La Salle in it with 18 points on 9-19 shooting. After trailing by 11 points at halftime, the Explorers stayed within 15 points the rest of the way, but couldn’t cut the deficit below 9 points. Although he didn’t have a good game offensively, Amar Stukes had a solid defensive showing with 7 steals, while Steve Zack added 9 points and 10 rebounds.
La Salle will look to take the lid off the basket when they renew their series with A-10 and Big 5 rival St. Joe’s; each team won on the road in the two meetings last season. Then, La Salle will be looking for some revenge against a St. Bonaventure club that knocked them out of the A-10 tournament and ended their season last March.
4 (4). Saint Joseph’s (8-10, 2-4 A-10)
Previous week: W 62-56 vs. Massachusetts, L 56-52 vs. Pennsylvania (neutral)
Upcoming week: Tuesday @ La Salle, Saturday vs. Davidson
It would appear that if the Hawks are going to be competitive in A-10 play, they’ll need superhuman efforts from DeAndre Bembry. Fortunately, Wednesday night against UMass, that’s exactly what they got, as Bembry had his best all-around performance of the season with 25 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, 5 steals, and 3 blocks. The sophomore scored the first 13 points for the Hawks in the second half, to help them open up a manageable lead over the Minutemen. Isaiah Miles added 18 points on 7-12 shooting, helping Bembry hold off UMass down the stretch and earn their second victory in conference play.
Saturday night in the Palestra, Bembry continued his strong play, scoring a game-high 25 points. Unfortunately, he didn’t get much help on the offensive end from his teammates, as no other Hawk scored more than 6 points with the rest of the team shooting just 10-37 (27.0%). St. Joe’s was held scoreless for the final 7 and a half minutes of the first half, allowing Penn to take a lead going into halftime. The Hawks never again led in the contest. St. Joe’s will be in A-10 conference play the rest of the way, looking for some guys to step up consistently alongside Bembry.
5 (5). Pennsylvania (5-10, 0-1 Ivy)
Previous week: L 71-56 vs. Monmouth, W 56-52 vs. St. Joe’s (neutral)
Upcoming week: Friday vs. Dartmouth, Saturday vs. Harvard
Coming off a win against Niagara and a competitive loss to powerhouse Villanova, Penn fans might have expected a better effort from the Quakers against Monmouth. Instead, Penn never led against the Hawks, falling behind 10-2 right away, and going into halftime down 19, never to see a single-digit deficit again. Sophomore guard Matt Howard led the Quakers with 14 points, while their two leaders, Tony Hicks and Darien Nelson-Henry, struggled to take care of the ball, committing 9 of Penn’s 15 turnovers combined.
Things turned around in a hurry for the Quakers over the weekend, as they squeaked past St. Joe’s for their first win in Big 5 play since 2012, which was also against the Hawks. The victory ended an 11-game losing streak in the city series for Penn. St. Joe’s was technically the home team despite the game taking place in the Palestra, making it an odd sight to see the Quakers wearing their road blues on their home court. Maybe it’s a look they should stick with after this performance. Hicks and Nelson-Henry combined for 29 points, 25 of which came after halftime to help Penn hold off the Hawks. Greg Louis chipped in with 10 points and 9 rebounds.
The Quakers have nothing but Ivy League play ahead of them the rest of the season. Hopefully, the thrill of their first Big 5 victory in a few years will give Penn a nice confidence boost to help them get off to a strong start in conference play.
6 (6). Drexel (5-14, 3-5 CAA)
Previous week: L 86-58 @ Hofstra, W 53-51 vs. College of Charleston
Upcoming week: Wednesday vs. Northeastern, Saturday vs. UNC-Wilmington
Drexel is one of the worst shooting teams in the country, while Hofstra is one of the highest-scoring teams in the nation. If the Dragons were to hang around against the Pride, things would have to change for at least one night. They did not. Drexel shot just 35.3% from the floor, while Hofstra was a blistering 50.7% from the field in a game that became a blowout after halftime. Damion Lee did his usual yeoman-like work trying to keep the Dragons competitive, scoring a game-high 27 points on 6-13 shooting. With a 13-13 effort from the charity stripe, Damon Lee’s night was actually just the fourth time a Drexel player was perfect from the foul line with at least 13 attempts, as pointed out by Adam Hermann via Vinny Simone.
Luckily for the Dragons, they then faced a College of Charleston team last in the CAA standings, and some Damion Lee heroics were just enough to pull off the victory. Drexel again struggled from the field, shooting just 34.1%, but turned the ball over only 5 times and was effective from both behind the arc (9-22) and the foul line (14-16). Trailing by 2 points in the closing moments, Coach Flint called a play for who else, Damion Lee (game-high 21 points), who responded by draining a corner three with 12 seconds left to put the Dragons ahead. After Charleston turned it over on the ensuing possession, Mohamed Bah made one of two at the foul line. A Cougars desperation heave at the buzzer was no good, sealing a Dragons victory.
As bad as the Dragons have looked for long stretches this season, they’re certainly right in the thick of things in the conference at a not-terrible 3-5. It’s now sink-or-swim time for Drexel, who will face Northeastern and UNC-Wilmington this week, both of which are tied for first place in the Colonial at 6-2. The Dragons are playing well in certain facets of the game, so maybe, just maybe, they can hit a few shots for a change and squeeze out a win.