By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
1 (Formerly: 1). Villanova (8-0, 0-0 Big East)
Previous week: W 84-70 @ La Salle, 74-46 vs. Saint Joseph’s
Upcoming week: Tuesday vs. Illinois (neutral), Sunday vs. Temple
After dispatching a couple of the better teams in the country in the Legends Classic, Villanova faced a different sort of challenge this past week with a pair of games against Big 5 rivals. Just like they have on every occasion this season, the Wildcats rose to the challenge and kept marching along on their undefeated season. Heading into Gola Arena to face La Salle, Villanova jumped out to an 18-point halftime lead and never led by less than 11 in the second half. Five different Wildcats scored in double figures, headlined by 15 points and 9 assists from emerging leader Dylan Ennis.
As one-sided as the La Salle game was, the difference between city foes was even more pronounced in Villanova’s lopsided victory over St. Joe’s. This time, it was the Wildcats defense stepping to the forefront, as Jay Wright’s squad forced 21 Hawks turnovers, and held St. Joe’s to 30.5% shooting, including just 1-10 from behind the arc. Villanova will next take its balanced attack on the road to take part in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden. They’ll take on a ranked Illini team that returns all 5 starters from last year’s NIT squad. That contest in addition to a home game against a frisky Owls squad certainly makes for a competitive week, but the way the Wildcats are playing, there seems to be no slowing them down.
2 (2). Temple (5-3, 0-0 AAC)
Previous week: L 58-56 @ Saint Joseph’s, W 58-57 vs. La Salle (neutral)
Upcoming week: Wednesday vs. Towson, Sunday @ Villanova
Nothing speaks more to the fierce rivalry among Philadelphia college basketball programs quite like the last week for Temple. The Owls played two Big 5 games of nearly identical scores, each of which could have gone either way in the closing moments. With Temple trailing by two on the final possession against St. Joe’s, the Hawks’ DeAndre Bembry blocked Will Cummings’ potential game-tying runner. After the loose ball scramble, Quenton DeCosey had one more chance to tie things up but his final shot attempt fell short. That final look was about all that didn’t go right for DeCosey on the evening, as the junior wing hit 7 of 11 shots (3-5 from three) to lead all scorers with 22 points, in addition to helping hold Bembry to 3-15 shooting.
Luckily for DeCosey and the Owls, fortune reversed itself at the Palestra over the weekend against La Salle. This time, it was Temple holding the slim lead and the Explorers who couldn’t tie the game up, as Jordan Price’s jumper was off the mark with 11 seconds left. Josh Brown then sank two clutch free throws to seal the victory for the Owls before a meaningless last-second three-pointer by the Explorers. DeCosey remained hot, hitting all three of his three-point attempts and scoring a game-high 19 points. He’s now hit 3 threes in each of his last three games, and leads the team in scoring at 14.1 ppg. Temple also received a bounce-back game from big man Jaylen Bond, who had 11 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 5 steals, after being held scoreless against the Hawks.
Temple will need DeCosey to keep up the torrid shooting over the next week. The Owls host a Towson team that’s started 7-2 (albeit against very weak competition), before facing another huge Big 5 test with Villanova at the Pavilion. The game against the Wildcats and a meeting with Kansas in a couple weeks are the last two chances for the Owls to earn a marquee win in the non-conference schedule.
3 (3). La Salle (4-4, 0-0 A-10)
Previous week: L 84-70 vs. Villanova, L 58-57 vs. Temple (neutral)
Upcoming week: Saturday @ Drexel
The slide continued for the Explorers as La Salle lost both games this week to its city foes and dropped back to .500 on the season after its 4-0 start. Against the Wildcats, the Explorers were victimized by Jerrell Wright picking up two fouls within the first three minutes, and the big man sat out the one-sided first half. The interior was the one area La Salle might have held an advantage over Villanova, and Wright rallied to score 17 of his game-high 19 points after halftime. However, his teammates on the perimeter couldn’t do enough in his absence early on, as the Explorers shot just 4-15 from behind the arc, and couldn’t slow down the dangerous Villanova offensive attack.
Wright had another strong performance against the Owls, recording 15 points and 8 rebounds. After a slow start to the season, he’s now back around his usual production, with averages of 12.5 points and 7.3 boards. Sophomore Cleon Roberts had his best game since transferring to La Salle, scoring 12 points off the bench, and Jordan Price had 13 points, but unfortunately for the Explorers, couldn’t hit the tying jumper on the final possession. La Salle will take on Drexel at the DAC for the first time since the 1982-83 season. With Drexel suffering a loss to the D-2 U. of the Sciences squad this past week, the Explorers have a real chance to get things back on track.
4 (4). Saint Joseph’s (4-4, 0-0 A-10)
Previous week: W 58-56 vs. Temple, L 74-46 @ Villanova
Upcoming week: Tuesday vs. Loyola-Maryland
The Hawks experienced a week of highs and lows as first, DeAndre Bembry’s late block helped ensured the victory over old A-10 rival Temple. While Bembry struggled from the floor, it was Isaiah Miles who stepped up offensively, recording a career-high 20 points, in addition to 9 rebounds and 4 assists. Unfortunately, Miles couldn’t keep that strong play going over the weekend against the Wildcats, as he went scoreless while fouling out in just 9 minutes of game action. The entire Hawks team was MIA for that contest, as the team struggled against Villanova’s pressure defense and was held to their second-lowest point total on the year (the blowout against Gonzaga being the smallest total).
It’s never good when you have the Wildcats’ student section coming at you with ‘The Hawk is Dead’ chant and there’s nothing much you can say about it, but a game early in the week against Loyola-Maryland should quickly help the Hawks forget it. St. Joe’s defeated the Greyhounds by 11 in the road last season, and should handle the 3-5 club this year on Hawk Hill. It would help if Bembry could get things going offensively, as the sophomore has struggled with the additional burden placed on him this season, shooting just 35% from the field and 19% from three. Of course, the flip side of that would be that there’d be less pressure on him with more help from his teammates. We’ll see how things play out Tuesday night.
5 (6). Pennsylvania (2-5, 0-0 Ivy)
Previous week: W 57-46 @ Navy, W 79-70 @ Binghamton
Upcoming week: Tuesday vs. Marist
The Sixers weren’t the only basketball team in Philadelphia to see a long winless streak come to an end this past week, as the Quakers earned not one, but two victories on the road to finally get their season going. Penn played its best half of the season Wednesday in Annapolis, jumping out to a 17-point halftime lead against Navy. Darien Nelson-Henry continued his strong play of late, recording his first double-double of the season with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Tony Hicks was able to stay out of foul trouble (a problem for him of late), and although he struggled from the field, he led the Quakers with 14 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists.
Then, the Quakers weren’t satisfied with just one tally in the win column, as they kept the Bearcats at arms-length for the majority of the game to start their season’s first winning streak. The usual suspects were at it again, with Nelson-Henry just missing another double-double with 16 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 blocks, and Tony Hicks dropping a game-high 18 points in just 16 minutes of play. Hicks once again struggled with foul trouble (which is such a strange problem for a guard to have, he really needs to stop reaching), but luckily, was picked up by a trio of freshmen. Darnell Foreman, Antonio Woods, and Sam Jones each recorded 11 points in the win, a great sign for a Penn team desperate for consistent help outside of Hicks and Nelson-Henry. The Quakers will hope these trends continue against an easily beatable Marist team that sits at just 1-6 on the season.
6 (5). Drexel (2-5, 0-0 CAA)
Previous week: L 54-52 vs. University of the Sciences
Upcoming week: Saturday vs. La Salle
I’m sorry, but if you lose to a D-II team, you drop to the bottom of the rankings. Those are the rules I just made up. Granted, there were some extenuating circumstances for the Dragons, as Tavon Allen sat out due to some lingering knee trouble, and the team only had three players available off the bench. Still, there’s no question this result was a shock for Bruiser Flint’s club, who became the first D-1 program to fall victim to a non-D-1 team this season.
Division-II Preseason Player of the Year Garret Kerr torched the Dragons for 27 points and 10 rebounds, hitting the game-winning three-pointer off an in-bounds play with just seconds left in the ball game. The near-buzzer-buzzer didn’t portend some fluky victory though, as the Devils controlled the action for much of the game, even leading Drexel by 6 at halftime. Rodney Williams had his best game of the season against the undersized U. Sciences club, recording 14 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 blocks. However, while Damion Lee was solid (but not his usual spectacular self) with 17 points, the rest of the starters combined to shoot just 4-17 from the floor.
After Drexel had started feeling good about itself coming off its first two wins of the season, this loss was a real reality check. The injuries piling up have made team depth a major concern; Lee can carry the Dragons some nights but he’s going to need a lot more help. The Dragons’ second and final game against a city rival comes this weekend against La Salle. Hopefully, the added rest will have Allen back approaching full strength, because Drexel needs to turn things around fast, starting at home against the Explorers.