By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
1 (Formerly: 1). Villanova (13-1, 1-1 Big East)
Previous week: W 67-55 vs. Butler, L 66-61 @ Seton Hall (OT)
Upcoming week: Tuesday @ St. John’s, Saturday vs. DePaul
After pulling within one game of the school-record for wins to start a season with a victory against Butler, the Wildcats’ undefeated season finally came crashing down in a tough loss to the Pirates. Kris Jenkins tied the game for Villanova with 2 free throws in the final minute, and after Sterling Gibbs missed a runner for the Pirates, the Wildcats got a good look from three from Darrun Hilliard, but the effort clanged off the rim. Then in overtime, Villanova didn’t even get a shot off in the final minute, as instead, Ryan Arcidiacono turned the ball over twice, sealing defeat for Coach Jay Wright’s crew for the first time this season.
Despite the loss, one huge plus was the inspired play of Daniel Ochefu, who tallied career-highs of 19 points and 24 rebounds. Ochefu kept the Cats hanging around throughout the game, as the rest of the team shot a combined 11-49 (22%). Villanova need Ochefu to provide an interior presence on a squad largely oriented around a perimeter game, so it’s a great sign for the Wildcats going forward, even if the dream of an undefeated campaign died over the weekend. The Cats have another tough road assignment coming up at Madison Square Garden against the 15th-ranked Red Storm. Villanova will have to slow down St. John’s star D’Angelo Harrison, who is 14th in the nation averaging 20.3 ppg. As the Cats learned against Seton Hall, nothing will come easy in the Big East this season, especially on the road.
2 (2). Temple (11-4, 2-0 AAC)
Previous week: W 57-53 @ Connecticut (OT), W 84-78 vs. UCF
Upcoming week: Wednesday @ Tulane, Saturday vs. Tulsa
The Owls’ conference season began how their non-conference slate ended, as Temple has now extended its winning streak to a season-high 5 games. Fran Dunphy’s squad caught a bit of a break against the defending champions, as UConn star Ryan Boatright missed the majority of the game battling a thigh injury. Temple nearly let the game slip away, as after Jesse Morgan’s three gave them a 6-point lead with 2 minutes left, the Owls twice missed the front-end of a one-and-one and failed to score the remainder of regulation. After an ill-advised Daniel Dingle three on the Owls’ next-to-last possession, Huskies forward Rodney Purvis was able to slip out for an unopposed fast-break dunk. Fortunately, the Owls picked up their defensive intensity in the extra frame, holding UConn to just 2 points in overtime to earn the great road win anyway. Morgan led all scorers with 17 points as he continues to assert himself as the go-to guy for the Owls offensively.
Temple kept their winning ways intact against UCF, closing the first half on a 16-4 run to propel themselves to victory. Jaylen Bond had a dominant effort, scoring a career-high 21 points and collecting 14 rebounds. Will Cummings added 21 points of his own and Josh Brown contributed 14 points off the bench in just 18 minutes of action. The Owls remain undefeated since transfers Morgan and Devin Coleman became eligible 5 games ago, adding a much needed element of outside shooting to help round out the Owls’ offensive attack. They’ll need all hands on deck again, with games against Tulane and Tulsa this week, the two teams aside from Temple who sit at 2-0 in conference play.
3 (4). La Salle (8-6, 0-1 A-10)
Previous week: W 84-67 vs. Pennsylvania, L 70-62 @ George Mason
Upcoming week: Wednesday vs. Massachusetts, Saturday vs. George Washington
The Explorers picked up their first Big 5 win of the season, defeating the Quakers behind a big game from center Steve Zack. Zack recorded a season-high 17 points, 9 rebounds, and career-best 5 assists, scoring 8 points during a pivotal 16-9 La Salle run to begin the second half. The big man was part of an overall dominant effort on the glass by the Explorers, who grabbed 16 offensive rebounds on the game. Jordan Price failed to score at least 26 points as he had in his previous 3 games, but had another great performance with a game-high 18 points on 5-11 shooting, including 3-5 from behind the arc; he did turn the ball over 7 times which would have hurt the team against a better opponent. Freshman point guard Amar Stukes also chipped in a career-high 13 points.
Unfortunately, La Salle’s 3-game winning streak came to an end in their A-10 opener against George Mason. The game was close throughout, and a Cleon Roberts three-pointer with 90 seconds left cut the Patriots’ lead to just 2 points. However, the Explorers would not score the rest of the way, going 0-3 with a turnover on their final 4 possessions to let the game slip away. Roberts tied game-high honors with Jerrell Wright with 16 points, and has now scored double figures in three straight games as he begins to cement his role in the starting lineup. Jordan Price had his worst game as an Explorer, going 1-11 from the field for just 2 points. Any sort of normal game from Price and La Salle would have won this one.
La Salle has a couple tough games upcoming; the Explorers lost their lone meeting against the Minutemen last season, and split the season series with George Washington. La Salle will have their hands full with UMass big men, with seniors Maxie Esho and Cady Lalanne each averaging 13 ppg on better than 50% shooting. Then, the Explorers face a Colonials squad that is one of the best defensive teams in the nation, holding opponents to just 38% shooting and 28% from behind the arc. This week should be a good test for how La Salle stacks up in the A-10 this season.
4 (3). Saint Joseph’s (6-6, 0-1 A-10)
Previous week: L 77-73 @ Denver (OT), L 64-60 vs. George Washington
Upcoming week: Wednesday @ Duquesne, Saturday @ VCU
It was a rough week for the Hawks, as they came out on the wrong end of two very close contests. First, St. Joe’s let a win slip through their fingers out in Denver, as they held a 4-point lead but failed to score in the final 2 minutes and the Pioneers forced overtime. Denver senior Brett Olson hit 2 free throws in the final minute to tie the game, and was a problem all game long for the Hawks. Olson scored a game-high 27 points, and sank two big 3-pointers in overtime to propel his team to victory. For the second consecutive game, Isaiah Miles had a career-high night, shooting 8-11 from the field for 24 points. DeAndre Bembry also had a nice game with 20 points and a game-high 8 rebounds.
It was a reversal of sorts for St. Joe’s against the Colonials, as they trailed by 13 at halftime, but nearly came back with a big second half. Chris Wilson scored all 15 of his points after the break, and the Hawks held GW without a field goal for the final 7 minutes of the game, but had dug too big a hole for themselves to complete the comeback. Bembry continued his strong play with 22 points, but Isaiah Miles had a huge drop-off, going scoreless before fouling out of the game.
St. Joe’s should be able to bounce back against Duquesne, as the Hawks won last year’s meeting and the Dukes are allowing opponents to shoot 37% from three against them this season. VCU may be a different story, as the Rams are among a handful of favorites to win the A-10, but if the Hawks play like they did in the second half against the Colonials, they could pull that one out as well.
5 (5). Pennsylvania (3-7, 0-0 Ivy)
Previous week: L 84-67 @ La Salle
Upcoming week: Saturday @ Princeton
As they have each and every time in recent years, the Quakers were unable to come out on top against a city rival. Like against Vanderbilt, the Quakers struggled on the glass against the larger La Salle front line, getting out-rebounded 35-21 and having particular difficulties preventing second-chance points for the Explorers. Penn also did a poor job taking care of the basketball, committing 12 turnovers in the first half to trail by 12 going into the break, and finishing with 19 giveaways.
One positive for the Quakers was the return of promising Freshman forward Mike Auger, who had missed 6 games with a foot injury. Auger was brought back slowly, playing just 23 minutes, but shot a perfect 4-4 from the field for 9 points, although he showed some rust in committing 4 turnovers. Fellow big man Darien Nelson-Henry scored a team-high 15 points, but had 6 turnovers of his own, and only grabbed a single rebound, not what you want to see from your near-7-footer. Leading scorer Tony Hicks added 10 points, but played just 16 minutes after sitting out a good portion of the first half with 2 fouls.
The Quakers will briefly begin their Ivy League schedule this weekend, when they take on arch-rival Princeton (Penn has 4 more non-conference games after before jumping into the heart of its conference schedule). The two teams split the season-series a year ago, and the Tigers have uncharacteristically struggled out of the gate this season. Fortunately for the Quakers, they shouldn’t have difficulties on the glass in this contest, as Princeton is among the 10-worst teams in the nation in rebounding. One man Penn will have to keep an eye on down low is junior forward Hans Brase, who leads the Tigers in points (12.6), rebounds (7.4), and assists (3.0). It won’t be easy on the road, but stealing their initial victory in the Ivy would give the Quakers plenty of confidence, no matter how the non-conference slate finishes out.
6 (6). Drexel (2-10, 0-1 CAA)
Previous week: L 81-62 vs. Iona, L 77-67 vs. Elon
Upcoming week: Monday vs. William & Mary, Thursday @ Towson, Saturday @ UNC-Wilmington
The nightmare season for the Dragons continued as their losing streak has now reached 6 games for just the second time in Bruiser Flint’s coaching career. With injuries leaving Drexel with just 8 healthy scholarship players, it’s looking more and more like they might finish with the worst season under Flint’s regime (previously a 12-20 record in 2008-09). Perimeter defense was a problem in both games this week, as Iona went 10-21 from three, while Elon shot 11-20 from behind the arc. The Dragons could not contain Elon’s freshman guard Elijah Bryant, who went off for a career-high 32 points.
One bright spot over the last week was the continued strong play from Damion Lee. After sharing team-high scoring honors with Tavon Allen with 18 points against the Gaels, Lee exploded for 29 points on 9-17 shooting against the Phoenix. Lee played all 40 minutes in that contest, the fifth time this season he’s gone the distance, as he does everything he can to shoulder the load for his struggling team.
While William & Mary is a solid offensive team and should also exploit Drexel’s poor perimeter defense, games against Towson and UNC-Wilmington both represent good opportunities for the skid to come to an end. The Tigers are one of the worst defensive teams in the nation, and have predictably struggled to replace the production from graduated star Jerrelle Benimon. Meanwhile, the Seahawks are annually one of the bottom-feeders in the Colonial conference, as 2010-11 was the last time UNC-Wilmington has won over 10 games in a season. Hopefully a win or two this week can have the Dragons feeling better about themselves and begin to right the ship.