Temple is still the cream of the crop in Philly. At 15-5 the Owls have positioned themselves for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament should they fail to win the Atlantic 10 tournament in Atlantic city. Temple boasts the 13th best RPI in college basketball, helped substantially by wins over ACC opponents Duke and Maryland. Recently Temple beat city rivals La Salle and St. Joe’s at the Liacouras Center. Though those were not technically Big 5 games they certainly had a city championship environment.
The Owls have been led by Philadelphia products Ramone Moore and Khalif Wyatt. Moore leads the team in scoring, averaging 17.4 points a game. Wyatt contributes 16 points a game. Scoring has not been a problem for the vaunted Temple backcourt that includes senior Juan Fernandez (11.8 ppg, 4.1 apg), but Coach Fran Dunphy will tell you that the Owls’ success starts on the defensive end. Temple is the second best in the A-10 in opponent’s points per game and third in opponent field goal percentage. The return of inside presence Micheal Eric will only improve the Owls chances of locking up another A-10 title. Temple should continue to move towards the top of the conference with upcoming games against Fordham, Rhode Island and George Washington.
The Explorers have to be the biggest surprise in the city this season. Originally picked to finish 13th in the 14 team A-10, the Explorers find themselves currently in a three way tie atop the conference with UMass and St. Bonaventure (what? Yes, those are the current conference leaders all with 5-2 records). La Salle suffers from a very weak out of conference schedule, not helped out by Pittsburgh and Villanova’s recent struggles. La Salle’s best out of conference win was probably a 78-52 dismantling of current Patriot Conference leader Bucknell (17-6), but can you blame Dr. John Gianinni for the weak schedule? It helped his young team gel and build confidence through early season wins.
Head Coach Bruiser Flint has declared the Dragons as the best team in Philadelphia. I do not believe him. Drexel might be able to pull off upsets against Temple and La Salle, but in a seven game series, played right now, Drexel loses both. Flint is a bold, loud, and demanding coach so who can be surprised at his proclamation? He needed to make a statement because Drexel never gets the respect of the other city teams, even when the teams are down, because they are not a member of the Big 5. However, the Dragons are on fire. They lost one game in the entire month of January and that came on the 2nd. Drexel’s defense held Towson to 27 points. Granted Towson is 1-22, but 27 points? The average high school team scores at least 50.
Drexel’s most impactful player has perhaps been freshman 6-6 guard Damion Lee who averages almost 12 points a game and 4.5 rebounds. The freshman has reached double figures in 14 of the Dragons’ games including two times dropping a career high of 21. Drexel has a chance to improve its at-large standing with an ESPN Bracket Busters matchup at Cleveland State, currently the number one team in the Horizon League. The Dragons hit the road for their next three games visiting conference opponents Northeastern, Towson, and James Madison.
Penn’s record might not be the most impressive in the city, but they played an incredibly difficult schedule early on to prepare them for Ivy League play. Penn visited Davidson (back on the up this season) and Duke in the same week over winter break. After losing to La Salle on January 10th, the Quakers are on a 4 game winning streak including a win over city rival St. Joe’s and 3 important wins in the Ivy League. Penn’s record won’t impress any committee members so their only chance at the post season is to beat out Harvard for the Ivy crown—no small task.
Any conversation about the Quakers starts with their senior backcourt in Zach Rosen and Tyler Bernardini. Rosen averages 18.8 points and 6.2 assists per game. A self-described gym rat, Rosen has the ability to play against anyone Division I opponent due to his quickness and floor vision. Rosen has my vote for best point guard in the city, even though in his first three years he has never led his team to an Ivy League Championship. Rosen’s backcourt partner, Bernardini average 15.6 point and 5.6 rebounds a game. Penn hits the road this weekend and faces Ivy foes Yale and Brown, before an all important home game against league favorite and #23 in the country Harvard. If Penn can continue its winning streak over the next 3, they would be in the driver’s seat and control their own destiny for the Ivy League.
The Hawks started the season strong with impressive wins over Creighton, Villanova, and Drexel, but recently they have hit a bit of a speed bump. Losing 4 out of their last five St. Joe’s finds themselves tied for 8th place in the Atlantic 10. Beating the Hawks at Hagan Arena has been an incredibly difficult task for the visiting team. St Joe’s is 9-1 in the building and their sole loss was to Charlotte over winter break; however, St. Joe’s going 2-7 in true road contests. The Hawks certainly have a quality RPI (53) and strength of schedule (26), but continually take steps back. Sandwiching an impressive home win against Dayton were losses to city rivals Penn and Temple. Temple embarrassed St. Joe’s and exposed them. Despite their talented roster the team is soft and still needs to gain confidence is they are to make any run towards the top of the A-10. Is St Joe’s really the second to worst team in the city? Probably not, but they are playing like it right now.
The Hawks talent begins in their backcourt where Langston Galloway and Carl Jones both average around 16 points a contest. Plymouth Whitemarsh product C.J. Aiken averages an eye popping 4.1 blocks a game, but the team is barely winning the battle on the glass averaging .1 more rebounds than their opponent. St. Joe’s travel to Richmond on Wednesday before hosting La Salle at the Palestra on Saturday in the only regular season matchup between the city rivals.
The Wildcats started strong with a 4-0 start to the season including an impressive come from behind, overtime victory against La Salle; however, after an early season trip to the Anaheim 76 classic Nova has not been the same. The Wildcats will finish 2-2 in the Big 5 and have struggled early in the Big East--getting off to a 3 and 7 start. Coach Jay Wright has been frustrated with his upper upperclassman who have not come through in the clutch like anticipated in the preseason. Villanova has attempted to work 5 freshman into its rotation--not an easy task in a league like the Big East (even in a "down year") and their inexperience has shown.
Despite the play of Maalik Wayns (18.4 ppg) the Wildcats find themselves tied for 14th place in the Big East and find themselves at the bottom of the City 6 rankings due to their performance in the second half of their recent game against Marquette. The Wildcats blew an 18 point lead on the way to dropping their second straight. Nova's struggles should continue throughout the remainder of the season, but with rebuilding will come progress. The Wildcats will be young again next year, but they will have leadership in Wayns and a core of returning experienced players to surround Maalik. The upcoming schedule does not get any easier for Nova with games against Notre Dame, UConn, and Georgetown remaining on the docket.
Follow Mike on Twitter: @Mc_Money_Cabe
Or Email him: Mccabe@WhizWitSports.com
Follow Whiz Wit on Twitter: @WhizWitSports