By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
1 (Formerly: 1). Villanova (27-2, 14-2 Big East)
Previous week: W 89-61 vs. Providence, W 78-66 @ Xavier
Upcoming week: Tuesday @ Creighton, Saturday vs. St. John’s
Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome your Big East regular season champions, the Villanova Wildcats. The Cats clinched what was expected for quite some time, starting with a dominating performance on Senior Night against Providence. Fittingly, it was their two seniors that led the Wildcats to victory over the Friars. Darrun Hilliard, now considered a favorite for conference player of the year, scored a game-high 24 points by hitting 6-11 threes. JayVaughn Pinkston added 16 points on 7-11 shooting and 8 rebounds. Even though Providence was missing 7-footer Carson Desrosiers, the convincing win over a ranked team was remarkably impressive; something they’ve been able to do all season.
Nova is now 6-0 vs. tms that were nationally ranked when they played. They’ve won those 6 gms by an average of 15.7 points. #NovaNation
— Drew Dalton (@dutch4885) February 25, 2015
The Wildcats extended their winning streak to 10 games in true Villanova fashion, by seeing a completely different set of guys step up to carry the torch. Dylan Ennis and Ryan Arcidiacono scored 16 and 15 points, respectively, combining to shoot 7-14 from three and dish out 11 assists. Kris Jenkins came off the bench to drop 14 points, tying a career-high with 4 made threes on 7 attempts.
With the team’s continued success, Villanova finds itself firmly in the discussion for a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Not only have the Wildcats run through a Big East conference that ranks as the second-best in the nation, but they’ve consistently handled the class of teams they’ve going to face when the real action gets underway in mid-March.
2 (2). Temple (20-9, 11-5 AAC)
Previous week: W 66-54 vs. Houston
Upcoming week: Thursday @ East Carolina, Saturday vs. Connecticut
You can catch up on our full recap of Thursday night’s win over Houston. These final two regular season games are crucial for the Owls in terms of seeding for the AAC tournament. A win in either contest would assure Temple finishes in the top 5 of the standings, thus avoiding the Thursday play-in game in which the 6-11 seeds have to participate. Also, the Owls would like to finish in the top 3, as 4 and 5 have to play each other on Friday, but the top 3 seeds get one of the teams that played the day before. Right now, Temple is tied with Cincinnati for the third seed, with the two schools splitting their two meetings this season. The next tiebreaker is record against the conference’s top seed, which is currently Tulsa. The Owls lost both meetings to the Golden Hurricane, while the Bearcats’ only meeting against them is this week. Winning both games this week to close out the regular season would go a long way for Fran Dunphy’s squad.
3 (3). La Salle (15-14, 7-9 A-10)
Previous week: L 63-48 @ Fordham, L 59-56 vs. Rhode Island
Upcoming week: Wednesday @ St. Joe’s, Saturday vs. Dayton
In one of their worst offensive performances of the season, the Explorers shot just 18-61 (29.5%) from the field in a loss to Fordham. Two starters, Cleon Roberts and Steve Zack, combined to miss all 14 of their shot attempts, while the team was outrebounded 46-34 by the Rams. Jordan Price was one of only two La Salle players to finish in double figures with 16 points.
Then, against Rhode Island, La Salle fell behind by double digits at halftime before the play of senior Jerrell Wright brought them back into the game. Wright finished with a season-high 23 points on 8-12 shooting in addition to 8 rebounds. Thanks to Wright and fellow frontcourt mate Steve Zack, the Explorers had two chances at a game-tying three in the final seconds. Jordan Price had a good look with 6 seconds left which was off the mark; after his miss was knocked out of bounds off the Rams, each team hit 1 of 2 at the line before Cleon Roberts’ half-court shot came up short. That pair had an off night throughout the contest, combining to shoot just 1-15 from the floor and 0-9 from three.
The recent 3-game losing streak has dropped La Salle out of any contention for the double-bye in the A-10 tournament, in addition to getting to play one of the lower seeds off the play-in games as the 5th or 6th seed. If the Explorers are going to extend their season past next week, they’ll need to run off 4 games in the tournament; getting the offense back on track this week heading into the postseason would be a good start.
4 (4). Drexel (11-18, 9-9 CAA)
Previous week: L 58-44 vs. Delaware, W 80-66 @ William @ Mary
Upcoming week: Friday vs. College of Charleston (CAA tournament)
As if it wasn’t bad enough that Drexel lost star Damion Lee to a broken hand, the Dragons also had Sammy Mojica suffer a knee injury by slipping on a wet spot of the court in practice. With 5 players now lost for the season due to injury, Drexel went into their contest with rival Delaware with just 7 healthy players. Not surprisingly then, the Dragons looked overwhelmed, and struggled to shoot just 30% from the field. The only healthy perimeter players, Tavon Allen, Freddie Wilson, and Rashaan London all played the full 40 minutes, but combined to shoot just 11-46 (23.9%).
All of which made their win against William & Mary Saturday all the more impressive. Facing a Tribe squad fighting for first place in the conference, the Dragons managed to jump out to a 16-point halftime lead despite playing a total of just 6 players during the game. Drexel was on fire from deep, with Freddie Wilson (career-high 24 points) and Tavon Allen (season-high 22 points) combining to shoot 11-19 behind the arc. Rodney Williams also had a superb game on the interior, tallying a career-high 18 points and 9 rebounds.
Despite the win, Drexel still finished 7th in the CAA and will have to face Charleston in one of the play-in games Friday, with the winner to face UNC-Wilmington Saturday. Given the loss of one of the best scorers in the nation in Damion Lee and the overall depletion of the Dragons roster due to injury, it seems unlikely they would get past that point. At least given their performance against William & Mary, fans know they won’t go down without a fight.
5 (5). Saint Joseph’s (12-16, 6-10 A-10)
Previous week: W 82-71 @ Massachusetts, L 63-57 vs. Richmond
Upcoming week: Wednesday vs. La Salle, Saturday @ Rhode Island
DeAndre Bembry had a couple late-game situations go against him last week. Wednesday night in Massachusetts, he played like he wanted to make sure things never came to that. Bembry played arguably the best game of his career against the Minutemen, scoring a career-high 33 points, to go along with 14 rebounds and 4 assists against just 2 turnovers. The Hawks star was hyper-efficient all game, hitting 10 of 18 shots and going 10-11 at the charity stripe. He also put the game away with two straight baskets after UMass had cut the St. Joe’s lead to 5 with just over a minute left. It was the first road win in conference play for the Hawks.
Unfortunately, Bembry cooled off over the weekend, as Richmond held him to just 6 points on 3-14 shooting, his second-lowest total on the season. Aaron Brown led the Hawks with 15 points, as 15 St. Joe’s offensive rebounds kept the team around despite the team’s poor shooting. The Hawks even tied the game with just under 3 minutes left, but couldn’t string a few good possessions together to pull out the victory.
Right now, the Hawks sit in 10th place in the conference, one game ahead of Duquesne, who they lost to in the only meeting between the teams earlier this season. St. Joe’s will want to avoid falling to 11th and have to play in one of the Wednesday play-in games in the A-10 tournament. With the Dukes having one of their final games against tied-for-first-place Davidson, one victory in the last two games for the Hawks should allow them to avoid that scenario.
6 (6). Pennsylvania (7-18, 2-9 Ivy)
Previous week: L 75-69 @ Brown, L 55-50 @ Yale
Upcoming week: Friday vs. Columbia, Saturday vs. Cornell
With the season winding down, the Quakers’ nightmare year shows no signs of abating, as their losing streak has reached a season-worst 7 games. Tony Hicks returned to the lineup against Brown following a team-imposed 2-game suspension, coming off the bench for a game-high 23 points on 8-12 shooting. Antonio Woods also had a strong game offensively, recording 15 points and a career-high 8 assists, but Penn couldn’t defend the Bears on the perimeter, allowing Brown to hit 9-16 threes on the evening.
Opposing long balls also proved to be Penn’s undoing the following game against Yale. The Quakers had never trailed against the first-place Bulldogs, still leading by 4 with 4 minutes left in the game. However, over Yale’s next three possessions, Jack Montague sandwiched two threes around a pair of Javier Duren free throws. Suddenly, the Quakers found themselves down 4 and the upset bid was over. The freshman Woods had another nice outing with 14 points on 7-11 shooting and 6 assists.
Just three games remain in the Quakers’ season and it looks like Penn will have a third straight year finishing with single-digit wins. With no postseason tournament in the Ivy, all the Quakers have to play for is trying to build toward next season. Continued strong play from Antonio Woods, who looks to be the point guard of the future, would be one positive from this lost year.