By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
1 (Formerly: 1). Villanova (15-1, 3-1 Big East)
Previous week: W 90-72 @ St. John’s, W 81-64 vs. DePaul
Upcoming week: Wednesday vs. Xavier, Saturday @ Pennsylvania
Coming off their first loss of the season last weekend to Seton Hall, the Wildcats could ill afford to wallow in their own misery, with a tough contest at Madison Square Garden against the Red Storm. Fortunately, that’s not Jay Wright’s club’s style, and after the game was tied midway through the second half, Villanova used 9-0 and 8-2 runs over the course of about a 7-minute stretch to pull away for a comfortable victory. Darrun Hilliard led the way with 21 points, while Dylan Ennis narrowly missed his first career double-double with 15 points and a career-high 9 rebounds. Daniel Ochefu followed his dominant outing against Seton Hall with another strong performance, recording his 4th double-double of the season with 13 points and 13 rebounds.
The Wildcats didn’t wait as long to put things away back home against DePaul, as a 13-0 Villanova run early in the first half opened up a double-digit lead from which they never looked back. It was a solid win against a Blue Demons team that entered play 3-0 in the Big East. Hilliard continued his efficient scoring, again dropping 21 points on 8-12 shooting to go along with 4 steals. Ryan Arcidiacono had easily his best shooting performance of the season, hitting 4 of 5 threes to finish with 14 points. Hopefully, this outing signifies the point guard is fully over his early season wrist injury.
Not that any games are easy really, but playing in the friendly confines of the Pavilion against a Xavier team that has already lost to both Butler and DePaul (two opponents the Wildcats have handled easily), you would think Villanova will have an easier go of things this week. Their ‘road’ game this weekend means a 10-mile trip down to the Palestra to take on a Penn squad that the Wildcats have not lost to since the 2002-3 season.
2 (2). Temple (12-5, 3-1 AAC)
Previous week: W 64-56 @ Tulane, L 63-56 vs. Tulsa
Upcoming week: Wednesday vs. SMU, Saturday @ Cincinnati
The week started out in terrific fashion for the Owls, as they traveled down to the Big Easy and came away with their 6th consecutive victory. Trailing by 2 at halftime, the Owls went on a 20-8 run to start the second half and take a double-digit lead. After the Green Wave fought back to tie things up in the closing minutes, a 7-0 Temple run put the game away. It was a balanced scoring effort for the Owls with 4 starters finishing in double figures. Jaylen Bond dropped another double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds, while Jesse Morgan stayed hot from the perimeter going 4-9 from three.
However, the good vibes faded over the weekend against Tulsa, as the Owls lost to snap not only their 6-game winning streak, but their undefeated records in conference and at home on the season. It was also the first time the Owls tasted defeat since Morgan and fellow transfer Devin Coleman joined the team. The game turned when senior point guard Will Cummings went down with what looked like an ankle injury early in the second half (Temple later stated it was a strained leg muscle). The Golden Hurricane proceeded to go on a 19-1 run to take command of the game, with Shaquille Harrison repeatedly earning his way to the foul line as part of a game-high 24 points. With Cummings out, more of the offensive burden fell to Jesse Morgan, who was not up to the task on this day, going an absymal 1-17 from the field, including 0-13 from behind the arc. The lone bright spot was Jaylen Bond, who tallied his third consecutive double-double with 16 points and 14 rebounds.
With the loss, the Owls likely ruined any chance of moving into the top-25. They have a pair of difficult contests coming up this week against SMU and Cincinnati, with both opponents currently sitting at 11-4 on the season and 2-1 in conference play. The Mustangs coming to town means the annual return of Coach Larry Brown to Philadelphia; the Owls won by 7 in last year’s meeting at the Liacouras Center. Meanwhile, the Bearcats swept the two games between the teams last season, but we’ve seen a rejuvenated Temple squad this season so things could be different. They will need Cummings to make a swift recovery, however, as the point guard is currently being referred to as day-to-day.
3 (3). La Salle (9-7, 1-2 A-10)
Previous week: L 71-65 vs. Massachusetts, W 63-50 vs. George Washington
Upcoming week: Wednesday @ Dayton, Saturday vs. Fordham
Looking for their first A-10 victory against the Minutemen, La Salle lost a tight game down the stretch, continually bringing the deficit to two possessions, but unable to get the key stop or two to prevail. Defense was a difficulty all game for the Explorers, who allowed UMass to shoot 52% from the floor, led by Maxie Esho’s 19 points on 8-10 shooting (to go with 12 rebounds). The Explorers had a balanced offensive attack with 4 starters in double figures, led by Cleon Roberts with 17 points. Freshman Amar Stukes received his first career start Wednesday, and responded well with 13 points on 6-7 shooting. The lone starter to not reach that scoring threshold was the usually reliable Jerrell Wright, who struggled with his shot on the evening, finishing just 1-12 from the field.
However, the Explorers would not have to wait too long to break through in conference play, as they jumped on George Washington, leading the entire game to move to 1-2 in the Atlantic 10. The defense lacking in their last few contests was there in spades this game for La Salle, as they held the Colonials to a single basket through the first 12 minutes of the game, jumping out to a 19-2 advantage. Jordan Price led the way offensive with 20 points on 6-11 shooting, while Cleon Roberts added 15, his 5th consecutive game in double figures.
La Salle will have their most difficult conference test thus far Wednesday, facing a Dayton team on the road that’s undefeated in conference play and has received top-25 votes. The Flyers are a solid two-way basketball team, led offensively by former Ohio State transfer Jordan Sibert. The Explorers should have an easier go of things when they return home to face a Fordham team still looking for its first win in A-10 play.
4 (4). Saint Joseph’s (6-8, 0-3 A-10)
Previous week: L 71-68 @ Duquesne, L 89-74 @ VCU
Upcoming week: Wednesday vs. Fordham, Sunday @ St. Bonaventure
Down 13 with just under 3 minutes against Duquesne. the Hawks nearly pulled off a terrific comeback bid. After DeAndre Bembry brought St. Joe’s within 3 with a triple, the Dukes’ Jeremiah Jones missed the front end of a one-and-one, giving the Hawks a chance to tie. Unfortunately, both Chris Wilson and Bembry missed potential game-tying threes, and the Hawks fell for the third straight game. Bembry ended the contest with a team-high 18 points, while Aaron Brown tied a career-high with 15 points off the bench. St. Joes’ perimeter defense was ultimately the culprit in the defeat, as Duquesne shot 11-20 from behind the arc.
Then, the Hawks season-worst losing streak was extended to 4 games in a blowout loss to a ranked VCU Rams squad. Perimeter defense let St. Joe’s down once again, with VCU making 12 of its 23 three point attempts, including a combined 10-13 from Melvin Johnson and Treveon Graham. The Hawks also turned the ball over 20 times, with Chris Wilson committing 6 giveaways. Bembry and Brown once again led the scoring charge, as Bembry finished with 16 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 blocks, and Brown recorded 14 points and 6 rebounds.
Wednesday’s game will match two of the three teams still without a win in A-10 play; Fordham has shot just 28.7% from three on the season, so that should not be an area of difficulty again for the Hawks. St. Joe’s then faces a St. Bonaventure team they defeated in both contests last season, including in the A-10 tournament. If the Hawks are going to make any noise in conference play this year, they have to start this week.
5 (5). Pennsylvania (3-8, 0-1 Ivy)
Previous week: L 78-74 @ Princeton
Upcoming week: Tuesday @ Niagara, Saturday vs. Villanova
In their Iv League opener, the Quakers let a win over the rival Tigers slip through their fingers. With Penn leading by as many as 15 points in the second half, a 9-2 Princeton run got the Tigers back into things, powered by back-to-back threes from Spencer Weisz (20 points). The Quakers were still leading by one with a minute left, 71-70, when Henry Caruso (game-high 23 points) drew a foul and sank both free throws to put Princeton ahead. Tony Hicks missed a three and turned the ball over on Penn’s next two possessions, and the Tigers sank their last 6 free throws to seal the victory. In the losing effort, Hicks tied for the team-lead with 18 points, but also committed 5 turnovers, while Darien Nelson-Henry also dropped 18, going 8-10 from the field.
The loss was the third straight for the Quakers, coinciding with the beginning of a 4-game road stretch that concludes against Niagara. The Purple Eagles sit at just 3-11, only shooting 39.4% from the field, representing a good opportunity for Penn to to break their skid. They would likely need to do it then, because their return to the Palestra comes against the mighty Wildcats. With lopsided losses to other Big 5 opponents Temple and La Salle already behind them, there’s little reason to think next weekend will be any different.
6 (6). Drexel (3-12, 1-3 CAA)
Previous week: L 73-47 vs. William & Mary, W 55-41 @ Towson, L 64-57 @ UNC-Wilmington
Upcoming week: Thursday vs. James Madison, Saturday @ Delaware
The Dragons began the week losing their 7th straight game, the longest drought ever under Coach Bruiser Flint’s 14-year tenure. Drexel hung around for the first half, heading into the break down just 5, but a 22-5 Tribe run to begin the second half put the game out of reach. With 4 freshmen in the injury-ravaged 8-man rotation, it’s up to the Dragons upperclassmen to carry the load. Unfortunately, junior Tavon Allen did the opposite, missing 13 of his 14 shot attempts on the night. Damion Lee had a solid performance with 18 points on 6-13 shooting, but was outdueled by William & Mary star Marcus Thornton, who finished with 23 points and 6 assists.
However, Drexel finally got back in the win column with a dominant defensive effort against Towson. The Tigers went just 2-11 from behind the arc, and scored just 19 points after halftime as the Dragons pulled away. Drexel also turned the ball just 3 times, and received another 16 points from Damion Lee, albeit on just 4-12 shooting. Freddie Wilson added a season-high 14 points off the bench, doing a great job getting to the line and making 8 of 12 attempts. The victory was a breath of fresh air for a team that’s really since its season spiral out of control with key players dropping like flies.
Lee did everything he could to make it an actual winning streak for his club, tying a season-high with 32 points against the Seahawks. Unfortunately, the rest of the team combined to shoot just 8-28, while UNC-Wilmington shot over 50% as a team and led the entire second half. Facing James Madison and Delaware this week, the Dragons will need a complete team effort, but can certainly pull out another victory. The Dukes sit above .500 on the season, but have played a fairly weak schedule and don’t have any quality wins. Meanwhile, Delaware has actually gotten off to a worse start than Drexel at 2-13, and the Dragons can hopefully get their offense going against one of the worst defenses in college basketball.