By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
1 (Formerly: 1). Villanova (10-0, 0-0 Big East)
Previous week: W 73-59 vs. Illinois, W 85-62 vs. Temple
Upcoming week: Saturday vs. Syracuse
First, they were Legends Classic champions, and now, Villanova can add Big 5 season champions to what’s sure to be a growing list of accolades following a convincing win against the Owls. In the revolving door of who steps up on a given night for the Wildcats, Josh Hart and Darrun Hilliard each scored 20 points, the first time this season anyone on the team reached the 20-point mark. Both players shot 6-7 from the field and drained 3 threes, with Hart’s 20 points serving as a career-high. Villanova shot 9-15 from three as a team; when they catch fire from three, the Wildcats are downright unbeatable.
Earlier in the week against Illinois, Dylan Ennis set a career-high of his own with 18 points on 7-10 shooting. Illinois had tied things up at 50 before back-to-back threes by Ennis helped the Wildcats build another lead and pull away for the victory. Villanova will be out for revenge this coming weekend against former Big East rival Syracuse at the Wells Fargo Center. The Orange served Villanova their first loss of the year last season and now at 10-0, the Wildcats will look to avoid a similar fate. After losing a couple more starters to the NBA, Syracuse has struggled to reload and sits at 6-3 on the year. Jay Wright’s squad could very conceivably remain undefeated with only one more non-conference game to go before Big East play kicks off.
2 (2). Temple (6-4, 0-0 AAC)
Previous week: W 76-64 vs. Towson, L 85-62 @ Villanova
Upcoming week: Thursday @ Delaware
Temple’s week started off with Coach Dunphy making a significant change to the starting lineup, having transfer Jaylen Bond out there on the opening whistle against Towson. The big man had been working his way back from an ankle injury off the bench the past few weeks, and nearly responded with a double-double in his first start, recording 10 points and 9 rebounds. Point guard Will Cummings scored a game-high 22 points, overcoming a 3-13 night from the field by making 15 of 17 attempts from the foul line, and Temple was able to tame the Tigers.
Unfortunately, while the competition ramped up with a visit to the Main Line to face the Wildcats, the Owls’ shooting remained mired in mediocrity. Quenton DeCosey and Will Cummings led Temple with 18 and 14 points, respectively, but the pair combined to shoot just 8-30 from the field. With the Wildcats connected from all over the court, there was little the Owls could do to prevent Villanova’s continued march through the Big 5.
The silver lining for the Owls was that it was the last game they would be playing short-handed, as transfers Devin Coleman and Jesse Morgan will both be available for the upcoming game against Delaware. Both players should help significantly from the outside, as Coleman shot 43% from three his year at Clemson, and Morgan went 36% on triples during his last year at UMass. If they can work their way into the rotation in short order, the Owls should really have something on their hands once the conference schedule gets going in a couple weeks.
3 (3). La Salle (5-4, 0-0 A-10)
Previous week: W 65-55 @ Drexel
Upcoming week: Tuesday vs. American, Saturday @ Towson
In the midst of a 4-game losing streak, La Salle needed a win in the worst way, and fortunately, found itself up against a reeling Drexel club. You might have expected the Explorers’ senior frontcourt to rise to the occasion, but in actuality, while Steve Zack and Jerrell Wright sat most of the game in foul trouble, it was the La Salle bench that carried them to victory. Cleon Roberts tallied a season-high 15 points on 3-7 shooring from behind the arc, the second-straight game in double figures for the redshirt sophomore transfer. Roberts finally appears to be finding his role in the La Salle offense and should be a major factor going forward. Also contributing off the bench was junior Rohan Brown, who set season-highs with 10 points and 10 rebounds, for his second career double-double.
The Explorers will look to keep things rolling with a pair of winnable games this week. They’ll first take on American, who advanced to the NCAA tournament out of the Patriot League last season, but rates as one of the poorer offenses in college basketball this season. Then, La Salle faces Towson, who just lost to Temple by double digits this past week. So while these aren’t contests La Salle can sleepwalk through by any means, it’s entirely possible for them to string a few wing together and make that 4-game losing streak a distant memory.
4 (4). Saint Joseph’s (5-4, 0-0 A-10)
Previous week: W 68-42 vs. Loyola-Maryland
Upcoming week: Saturday @ Marist
For Hawks fans concerned about the slow start to the season for star wing DeAndre Bembry, Tuesday’s game against Loyola-Maryland was a welcome reminder of what the talented sophomore can do on the court. Bembry entered play leading St. Joe’s in scoring, but struggled with efficiency all season. However, that was not the case against the Greyhounds as he went off for a game-high 21 points on 8-11 shooting, and chipped in a team-high 7 rebounds to lead the Hawks to victory.
Bembry and the rest of the Hawks did a good job getting easy points in transition throughout the contest, an appreciated tonic for a squad that’s struggled to shoot the ball on the year. Those fast break points helped the Hawks erase a 18-7 lead for Loyola. After holding a slim lead at halftime, St. Joe’s started the second stanza on a 18-4 run to start the second half to put the game away. Phil Martelli’s club did a great job defensively, with the Greyhounds finishing the game shooting just 28.3% from the floor.
St. Joe’s should maintain momentum when they next take on Marist, who just lost to Penn over the past week. The Red Foxes will once again be without their starting backcourt, as leading scorer Khallid Hart has been out with a left foot injury, and point guard T.J. Curry has his right hand in a cast. Also for Marist, second-leading scorer Chavaughn Lewis may still be out after missing the last three games with an ankle injury. Look for the Hawks to take advantage of that walking wounded club in Poughkeepsie.
5 (5). Pennsylvania (3-5, 0-0 Ivy)
Previous week: W 59-42 vs. Marist
Upcoming week: No games scheduled
After an 0-5 start to the season, few people would have expected Penn to go ahead and rip off three straight victories. Still, here we are, as the Quakers continue their season turnaround with a dominating win over Marist. Defense was the story for the Quakers, as they held the Red Foxes to 21.2% shooting and forced 21 turnovers. It certainly helped that Marist was without its top two scorers due to injury, but it was nonetheless impressive to see Penn lead 30-7 late in the first half.
It wasn’t a perfect outing from the Quakers offensively, as they turned the ball over 20 times themselves. Tony Hicks had 5 of those giveaways and was really off his game with just 4 points on 1-8 shooting. Fortunately, he and the Quakers were picked up by the hot shooting of Sam Jones. The freshman scored a career-high 19 points, hitting 5 of 6 from behind the arc. It was the second-straight game in double figures for Jones, who seems to have found his stroke from the outside after an early-season slump. Senior Greg Louis also chipped in with career-highs of 13 points and 9 rebounds in the winning effort.
Penn has no games over the next week as they’re off finals (they actually care about that stuff in the Ivy League). The Quakers will need the added time to focus on their next opponent, as they’ll be facing their most difficult road test of the season in Vanderbilt on the 22nd.
6 (6). Drexel (2-6, 0-0 CAA)
Previous week: L 65-55 vs. La Salle
Upcoming week: Tuesday @ Buffalo, Saturday vs. Penn State (neutral site)
Coming off a loss to D-2 University of the Sciences, the Dragons needed a win badly, and were looking to rise to the occasion against city rival La Salle. Instead, Drexel went almost 10 minutes in the first half without so much as scoring a single point, and were never to able to recover in their second-straight loss. As usual, it was Damion Lee doing his best to keep the Dragons in the game, finishing with a game-high 19 points. Tavon Allen returned to the lineup from his knee injury, and scored 14 points, although it was on just 5-15 shooting with 4 turnovers.
Turnovers were a problem for the Dragons throughout the game, as freshman point guard Rashaan London gave it away 6 times himself, and Drexel continues to struggle to replace long-time starter Frantz Massenat. The Dragons will have to clean things up this week with a pair of competitive matches on slate, starting with a contest against the 5-2 Bulls. Then, they’ll face the Nittany Lions at the PPL Center in Allentown, looking to derail a 10-1 Penn State squad with an at-large tournament bid on its mind down the road. With just three games left before entering Colonial play, it’s crunch time here for the Dragons to turn things around on their disappointing season.