If you haven't been paying attention, No. 10 Villanova is really good at basketball right now

If you haven't been paying attention, No. 10 Villanova is really good at basketball right now

They're so good, they miraculously found -- and then won -- the lost city of Atlantis. ... We're pretty sure. (USA Today Images)

Coming into the season, this Sunday’s Villanova-La Salle game figured to be a clash between the city’s two best teams, with the Explorers -- coming off a Sweet 16 berth in 2012-13 -- maybe even holding the slight edge.

But after a month-and-a-half, one thing has become clear: Villanova is by far the best team in the city… and perhaps one of the best teams in the nation.

Just take a look at some of the numbers:

  • The Wildcats are unbeaten in nine games, thumping teams by an average of 18 points per game
  • They beat two nationally ranked teams – then-No. 2 Kansas and then-No. 13 Iowa – away from home (at a neutral site)
  • They rank fifth in the Pomeroy Ratings, seventh in the RPI and 10th in the AP poll, out of 351 Division 1 teams
  • JayVaughn Pinkston has emerged as one of the country’s most efficient players, scoring 17.8 points per game on 52 percent field goal shooting, while attempting more than eight free throws per contest
  • Unlike many other powerhouse programs that reel in one-and-done players, Villanova has a reliable star senior in James Bell, who’s slowly improved every season and is now averaging 17.6 points per game in his final year
  • Transfer Dylan Ennis and junior Darrun Hilliard are both shooting over 40 percent from three, making up for the shooting struggles of Ryan Arcidiacono, who has still buried some clutch shots and only figures to get better as the year progresses
  • Freshmen Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins are giving Jay Wright valuable depth, combining for 12 points in 34 minutes per game
  • The Wildcats have been excellent at both taking care of  and sharing the ball, as evidenced by their turnover margin (plus-3.9 per game, 31st in the nation) and their assists per game (16.7, 20th in the nation)
  • They’re holding opponents to 37.8 percent field goal percentage (22nd in the nation)

There are other stats that paint an impressive picture of Villanova’s start, but perhaps nothing has been as telling as the Wildcats’ last two Big 5 games. This past Saturday, Villanova went into tiny Hagan Arena and stomped a solid St. Joe’s team by 30, pouring in a whopping 59 points in the second half. Three days before that, in their Big 5 opener, the Wildcats cruised past Penn by 23 points despite Jay Wright saying that the Quakers played harder and executed better. (Wright has a habit of gushing about the team he just destroyed, but it’s still a good sign when a team can sleepwalk to an victory over a team they should easily beat.)

At this point, it’s hard not to think of La Salle as being anything but a big underdog against Villanova, especially on the road. And considering that the new Big East isn’t nearly as good as the old Big East (perhaps not even as good as the Atlantic 10?), the Wildcats will probably be favored for most of their games from here on out, barring a showdown at Syracuse on Dec. 28.

If the Wildcats can beat the Orange and then follow that up with a New Year’s Eve win over Butler, Villanova might very well go into 2014 not only as the favorite to win the Big East but as a legitimate Final Four contender.

Instant Replay: Warriors 119, Sixers 108

Instant Replay: Warriors 119, Sixers 108

BOX SCORE

Stephen Curry shot 0 for 11 from three and it didn't even shake the Warriors.

In spite of the star's long-range woes, the Warriors beat the Sixers, 119-108, on Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

The Sixers hung tight with the Western Conference powerhouse in the first half. They trailed by just one after the first quarter and three after the second following a 10-0 run. Klay Thompson led all players with 15 points in the first half while Gerald Henderson and Kevin Durant were right behind him with 12. Meanwhile, Curry went 2 for 11 (including 0 for 7 from long range and a pair of airballs) in his first 18 minutes.

The Warriors, though, opened the third with a 12-3 burst to take a 12-point lead. They scored 34 points in the quarter even as Curry's shooting woes continued (0 for 10 from three through three). Durant scored 22 points through three. The Sixers trailed by 13 heading into the fourth.

The Sixers fought until the buzzer, but were never able to overcome that third-quarter spurt. The Warriors won their 50th game of the season (50-9) while the Sixers dropped to 22-37.

Inside the box score
• Curry went scoreless from three for the third time this season and 37th game of his career. He shot 0 for 10 against the Lakers on Nov. 4 and 0 for 8 on Dec. 7 against the Clippers.

• Durant led all players with 27 points to go with eight rebounds and four assists.

• Draymond Green recorded a 14-point, 11-assist double-double along with six rebounds.

• Jahlil Okafor picked up his fifth foul with 9:44 to go in the third. As a result of his foul trouble, Richaun Holmes logged 28 minutes and scored 15 points with four rebounds. Okafor, meanwhile, committed seven turnovers, scored four points and grabbed three rebounds in 17 minutes.

• Dario Saric led the Sixers with 21 points and seven assists, while snatching seven rebounds.

• Robert Covington pulled down a team-high eight boards.

Saric bounces back
Saric hit the ground after being struck in the face by David West in the fourth. He walked off the court on his own and stayed in the game. West was issued a flagrant 1 on the play (see video).

Grab-and-go defense
What's the key to defending the Warriors? Grab whoever is open. Brett Brown didn't want the Sixers to get locked into one-on-one matchups when each player can be a threat.

"You have to accept switching," Brown said. "You have to accept that it's going to be a generic-type gym in relation to matchups don't matter a lot in our early offense. You just have to find Klay wherever he is and whoever it is. You've got to find Steph. You've got to find Kevin. Draymond is a runaway train when he rebounds and leads the break. It's really the instruction that you're not a prisoner to have to guard your original matchup. You're going to see a lot of people on a lot of different people."

Bogut era ends
As expected, the Sixers waived Andrew Bogut on Monday after acquiring him in the Nerlens Noel trade from the Mavericks (see story). Brown has known Bogut since the center was in high school thanks to their Australian connection. He would have liked to have coached Bogut but understands Bogut's interest to sign with a contender.

"I spoke with him at length. His goals aren't aligned with ours," Brown said. "He really feels, and I agree with him, he wants to go play on a playoff team at this stage in his career and make an impact from that sort of vision lens, more playoff-oriented than trying to build something. I respect his candidness. I would have liked to have had him."

Hart in the house
Watch Philadelphia native Kevin Hart ring the ceremonial bell before the game.

Up next
The Sixers travel to Miami to face the Heat on Wednesday. They snapped the Heat's 13-game winning streak in their last meeting. 

Bryan Colangelo on Joel Embiid setback: 'We're reacting in a way that's proactive'

Bryan Colangelo on Joel Embiid setback: 'We're reacting in a way that's proactive'

The timetable for Joel Embiid's return to the court keeps getting murkier.

Embiid was ruled out indefinitely on Monday and will now have an MRI on his injured left knee (see story). He initially suffered a bone bruise on Jan. 20 and it was revealed on Feb. 11 that he had a minor meniscal tear.

The Sixers previously had a plan of rest and rehab in place and targeted a March 4 return for the big man. 

"With respect to what's developed over the last couple of days, it's quite simple, Joel developed a little bit of swelling and soreness," Sixers president Bryan Colangelo said during Monday's edition of Philly Sports Talk. "We're reacting in a way that's proactive. We wanted to be more communicative with our fans. We wanted to make sure that there's less question about whether or not he would be available. This is literally changing out for the next two games now to out indefinitely."

That's a quick change of events. As recently as Friday, Embiid was on track to be back in uniform this week.

"I was in a situation where the latest update on Friday was that he was doing well through his planned progression toward returning to play," Colangelo said. "In recent days, his training has developed a reaction with swelling and soreness, and thus we wanted to take a step back, put him on ice for a minute and make sure that we do everything possible, including getting another scan done."

Embiid initially suffered the injury against the Portland Trail Blazers on Jan. 20. The rookie sensation missed three games before coming back vs. the Houston Rockets in a national TV matchup on Jan. 27. He has missed all 13 games since facing the Rockets.

Even with Embiid’s diagnosed tear of his meniscus and recent flaring up of the knee after rehab sessions, the Sixers are being supremely cautious when it comes to any potential procedures. The team is not in a rush to put the center back under the knife after he missed the first two seasons of his career because of a pair of foot surgeries.

"With all due respect, medical injuries are injuries that require care and attention," Colangelo said. "When I take information that comes from the medical team, including doctors and the training staff and the physiotherapists, we apply it as instructed and we do that to protect the athlete. In a case of jumping into someone's knee to operate, when the circumstances are known but the conditions and how he's reacting to certain things are still unknown, I think you go through the planned progression of steps as prescribed and evaluated by doctors."

The quick decision to label Embiid out indefinitely is a sharp contrast to prior updates on the phenom. Just last week, Embiid lamented how the Sixers never announced a true timetable for his return (see story).

Now just days later, Embiid has a prognosis that could technically keep him out for the remainder of the regular season. 

Embiid has proven his worth in 31 games this season by averaging 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in 25.4 minutes a night. But with only 23 games left on the schedule, will he suit up again this season?

"Out indefinitely means just that. It's indeterminate at this point," Colangelo said. "I think we're all hopeful to get him out there. It would be beneficial for the fans to see him again. It would be great for us as a unit to have him out there as we continue to strive toward winning as the season concludes.

"But at the end of the day, the health and performance of our athletes is first and foremost. We don't want to jeopardize the long-term health."