By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
1 (Formerly: 1). Villanova (6-0, 0-0 Big East)
Previous week: W 77-53 vs. VCU (neutral), W 60-55 vs. Michigan (neutral), W 78-47 vs. Delaware
Upcoming week: Wednesday @ La Salle, Saturday vs. Saint Joseph’s
Villanova faced its toughest test of the season at the Legends Classic in Brooklyn, and passed with flying colors. First, a huge second half helped them cruise by a tough VCU team, as the Wildcats not only shot 50% from the field, but only turned the ball over 9 times against the Rams’ vaunted ‘havoc’ defense. JayVaughn Pinkston had his best game of the young season, leading 4 Wildcats in double figures with 15 points and 7 rebounds.
Then, after dispatching a ranked opponent in relatively easy fashion, the Wildcats faced another ranked foe in the title game, and defeated Michigan in an instant classic. Villanova blew a 13-point second half lead to fall behind by as much as 8 points, before storming back to lead by 1 in the final seconds. Then, with Michigan in-bounding, JayVaughn Pinkston decided he wanted to feast on Wolverine for dinner.
While Pinkston’s block sealed the victory, Dylan Ennis Legends Classic took home Legends Classic MVP honors, scoring 15 points in the game, and having a tremendous block of his own.
The Wildcats finished off their week by handily defeating a Delaware team suffering through a down year. Villanova forced 17 Blue Hens turnovers, held Delaware to just 16 points in the first half, and had 5 players in double figures as Coach Wright emptied the bench. With the Wildcats entering Big 5 play this week, they appear poised to dominate the city scene once again.
2 (4). Temple (4-2, 0-0 AAC)
Previous week: W 76-67 vs. Pennsylvania, W 70-56 vs. LIU-Brooklyn
Upcoming week: Wednesday @ Saint Joseph’s, Saturday vs. La Salle (neutral)
It wasn’t the most dominating week for the Owls, but they came out on top in both contests and their only two losses remain against solid clubs Duke and UNLV. We have full recaps of both the victory over Penn, in addition to the win over LIU-Brooklyn.
3 (2). La Salle (4-2, 0-0 A-10)
Previous week: W 73-60 vs. St. Francis NY, L 64-56 vs. Virginia (neutral), L 68-55 vs. Vanderbilt (neutral)
Upcoming week: Wednesday vs. Villanova, Saturday vs. Temple (neutral)
Things began great last week for the Explorers, as we saw the official breakout game for Jordan Price. The transfer guard exploded for 30 points on 10-17 shooting, and added 6 rebounds and 7 assists in the win against St. Francis NY. Then, as La Salle headed to Brooklyn for the Barclays Center Classic, Price was able to keep things going with a game-high 20 points against Virginia. However, the La Salle big men struggled in that contest, as the Cavaliers out-rebounded the Explorers 35-23 and Jerrell Wright committed 7 turnovers. Still, La Salle fought hard throughout the contest, cutting an 18-point halftime deficit all the way down to 4 with under 2 minutes remaining, before the comeback bid fell short.
Things weren’t as promising in the consolation game against Vanderbilt, as Wright bounced back with a game-high 19 points, but Jordan Price was keyed in on and held to 3-10 shooting for just 9 points. Nevertheless, there’s no shame in dropping a pair of games to an undefeated, top-10 team in Virginia and a 5-1 Vanderbilt squad. The schedule won’t get any easier as the Explorers enter Big 5 play, hosting the undefeated Wildcats and taking on Temple at the Palestra. La Salle should be competitive in both contests and would do well to emerge with a split over those 2 games.
4 (3). Saint Joseph’s (3-3, 0-0 A-10)
Previous week: W 74-70 (OT) vs. LIU Brooklyn, L 62-59 Western Kentucky (neutral)
Upcoming week: Wednesday vs. Temple, Saturday @ Villanova
There’s something to be said for being too young to know any better, so with the Hawks trailing late against a winless LIU Brooklyn team, coach Martelli drew up a play for freshman James Demery. Playing just his fifth collegiate game, Demery was not phased by the moment, sinking a three-pointer to send the game to overtime. St. Joe’s then took care of business in the extra frame, avoiding what would have been a terrible loss against a Blackbirds team that rates as one of the worst defenses in the country. The Hawks received another solid game off the bench from Aaron Brown, who scored 15 points on the evening, and remains second on the team in scoring behind DeAndre Bembry.
Bembry broke out of his shooting slump against the Blackbirds, and played a great all-around game with 17 points, 11 rebounds, and 5 assists. He followed up that strong performance with 23 points and 4 steals against Western Kentucky at Madison Square Garden, but didn’t receive much help from his teammates that time around in the loss to the Hilltoppers. After trailing most of the game, a Bembry hoop gave St. Joe’s a brief lead in the closing minutes, but the Hawks couldn’t get key stops down the stretch.
As a team, the Hawks are still shooting just 24.3% from three and 60.2% from the foul line, committing more turnovers than assists on the season. With two games this week against Big 5 rivals, they’ll need to execute much better on the offensive end and hope the shots begin to fall. Temple has looked solid outside of the Coaches vs. Classic tournament, and playing Villanova in the Pavilion would be a tough task for any team in the country. If the offense doesn’t show up this week, things might begin to spiral out of control on Hawk Hill.
5 (5). Drexel (2-4, 0-0 CAA)
Previous week: W 59-36 vs. Southern Miss
Upcoming week: U. of the Sciences
Drexel only played one game over the past week, but took full advantage in dominating the Golden Eagles Sunday night. The Dragons are now the proud owners of a 2-game winning streak, thanks to a dominating defensive effort and the scoring prowess of Damion Lee. After averaging 30 ppg over the past 2 games, Lee scored an efficient 22 points on 7-10 shooting, including a perfect 4-4 from behind the arc. Lee had 19 points at halftime, as the Dragons held a 14-point advantage before slowing the pace of the game down to a crawl in the second half to preserve the lead.
The Dragons stymied the Southern Miss scoring attack, holding the Golden Eagles to 32% shooting and just 2-13 from three; Southern Miss’ 15-point second half was easily their lowest total on the season. The only downside for the Dragons is that they’re playing better ball now, but won’t take the court again against a D-1 opponent until December 13th against La Salle.
6 (6). Pennsylvania (0-5, 0-0 Ivy)
Previous week: L 76-67 @ Temple, L 64-61 @ Wagner
Upcoming week: Wednesday @ Navy, Saturday @ Binghamton
Penn fought hard in a loss to city rival Temple (which we covered in full here), but the Quakers have to be extremely disappointed to let their first win of the season slip through their fingers over the weekend at Wagner. Penn led by 5 at halftime, and by 8 with less than 7 minutes remaining in the game, but a late 16-3 run by the Seahawks kept the Quakers winless.
Sadly, Penn could have pulled that contest out if not for a down performance from the normally reliable Tony Hicks. Hicks scored just 8 points before fouling out after just 26 minutes of game action (the third straight game he’s fouled out), and also tied a career-high with 7 turnovers. Turnovers were a problem for the entire Penn squad, as they committed 22 in total as opposed to just 10 for Wagner, a major reason the Quakers fell despite shooting 57.6% from the field.
One reason for optimism over the past week has been the improved play of big man Darien Nelson-Henry, who averaged 11.5 ppg and 8.0 rpg over the past two games. The Quakers’ two opponents this week rate among the weakest teams in the nation, and sit at a combined 3-11. It hurts that promising freshman Mike Auger will be out a few weeks due to a leg injury, but these are two spots where Penn should be able to pick up a win. To do so, they’ll need Nelson-Henry to keep things rolling down low, and Hicks to both take care of the ball and stay on the court.