By Sean Kennedy
12:00 PM: Temple (5-10, 0-5 AAC) @ La Salle (10-6, 3-0 A-10) – ESPN2
Two Big 5 teams heading in opposite directions will meet Saturday afternoon, with the Owls trying to reverse course on what has been a miserable season thus far. A bevy of injuries, lack of depth, and some plain old bad luck has led Temple to an unthinkable 0-5 start in the American. Point guard Will Cummings may once again sit out with concussion-like symptoms (how that’s different than a concussion I may never know), bringing the already-thin Owls roster to Calista Flockhart level. Guys like Dalton Pepper, Anthony Lee, and Quenton DeCosey and playing their hearts out but it’s tough to play nearly a full 40 minutes with such heavy responsibility to carry the offense.
On the other side, La Salle is peaking at the moment, having won 4 straight games and generally looking to regain last season’s Sweet 16 form. On top of that, seniors like Tyreek Duren and Tyrone Garland are going to be hungry to beat a Temple program that they’ve never defeated in their time at the collegiate level. La Salle is not necessarily more talented than the Owls, but I feel like the combination of their desire to finally end that losing streak to Temple and the disparity in the depth available to both teams just point things too heavily in the Explorers’ favor.
2:00 PM: Drexel (9-7, 1-2 CAA) @ UNC-Wilmington (6-13, 0-4 CAA)
The hobbled Dragons limp their way down to Carolina Saturday hoping that a matchup with perennial cellar-dweller UNC-Wilmington will be the tonic for what ails them. With three starters injured and doubtful to play once again against the Seahawks, Drexel will have to rely heavily on Chris Fouch and Frantz Massenat to carry the scoring load. In the wake of this slew of injuries, the Dragons have lost 4 of 5 games, but still have a very good chance of defeating the UNC-W team they defeated by 16 in their regular season finale a year ago.
The Seahawks are struggling yet again, entering play on an 8-game losing streak and shooting a horrific 40.5% from the field on the year. They play a small 3-guard lineup, which should benefit Drexel given that the Dragons are likely to be without their entire starting frontcourt. However, it’s forward Cedrick Williams that’s the lone Seahawk capable of scoring efficiently, leading the team at 13.9 ppg on 56% shooting. Williams is a tenacious offensive rebounder (over 3 o-boards per game) and keeping a body on him at all times will be a key to victory for the Dragons. Even playing shorthanded, if Drexel limits Williams, the other Seahawks aren’t going to do much damage and the Dragons should come away with a victory.
4:00 PM: Villanova (15-1, 4-0 Big East) vs. DePaul (10-8, 2-3 Big East) – Fox SportsNet
The Wildcats proved they can prevail on the road in the new-look Big East with wins over Seton Hall and St. John’s in the past week and a half. Now, they will return home to the friendly confines of the Pavilion, where they typically raise their game to a whole other level. That’s bad news for a DePaul squad that enters play confident following an impressive double overtime win at Butler and a close victory over St. John’s.
The ferocious trapping defense of the Wildcats should have a field day against a Blue Demons team that ranks among the worst teams in the nation with 15 turnovers per game. Senior big man Cleveland Melvin is the star on the offensive end for DePaul, averaging close to 17 points and 7 rebounds, in addition to ranking top-30 nationally in 3PT% at 49%. The former Big East rookie of the year is unlikely to be drafted next year, projecting as a classic tweener, but he’s certainly a dominant force at the collegiate level. I’m sure Villanova will have plenty of bodies surrounding Melvin defensively in a game that should see the Cats move to 5-0 in conference play.
7:00 PM: Saint Joseph’s (11-5, 2-1 A-10) @ Pennsylvania (3-10, 1-0 Ivy)
Both of these teams enter play looking for their first win in Big 5 play, and coming off arguably their most impressive wins of the season. St. Joe’s cast a spell on the baskets causing them to triple in size, and drained 12 of 18 three pointers in the first half of their easy win over Duquesne. As if the surface-of-the-sun-hot shooting of Langston Galloway and the rest of the Hawks weren’t enough to contend with, they’ll also receive a huge boost as star forward Ronald Roberts, Jr. is expected to make his return to the lineup after missing 2 and a half games with back spasms. Roberts, Jr. sits second on the team in both scoring and rebounding, and makes the Hawks much more of a dual threat on the offensive end with his ability to work inside the arc.
The Quakers will have to rely on a key returnee of their own, as Darien Nelson-Henry returned to the lineup in their huge upset win over Princeton after missing 4 games with a concussion. Between Nelson-Henry and senior forward Fran Dougherty, Penn should hold their own on the glass, but will need the inconsistent shooting of their perimeter players to be on point if they’re going to hang with a Hawks team hitting its stride. The Quakers shot nearly 50% from the field last game against the Tigers and will need to approximate that level of efficiency tonight against St. Joe’s. I’d expect the Hawks to take this game just based on their superior shooting ability alone, but either way, Penn can still say for another week that they’re in first place in the Ivy league. Such a statement would have been unthinkable when they were losing 7 straight games.= just a week ago.