Big 5 Tip-off Tonight; Penn, 'Nova, Joe's and La Salle All in Action

Big 5 Tip-off Tonight; Penn, 'Nova, Joe's and La Salle All in Action

It's that time again. Teams across the nation will kick off the opening night of college basketball season this Friday evening—two of them will do so on an air craft carrier.

Of the schools that comprise our local Big 5, four will be in action, with only the Temple Owls on the sidelines. They will open their season next Monday night in the official "Big 5 opener" when they take on the Penn Quakers from inside the Palestra.

Game times and opponents for each of the local team's, accompanied by a brief preview of the major story lines surrounding each program as they prepare to begin their 2011-2012 seasons, after the jump...

(1) The Villanova University Wildcats vs. the Monmouth Hawks (7 p.m.)
It seems like just about everybody is down on the Wildcats this year. I'm no exception. Though I'll be damned if I don't like watching Maalik Wayns play basketball.

This is the first year in some time where Villanova doesn't boast instantly recognizable names in its back court. The legacy of Randy Foye, Kyle Lowry, Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes is now passed to the less publicized, but still highly talented Wayns. The Wildcats were something of a flawed team last year, which perhaps was part of the reason Maalik would come and go on the offensive end, exploding one night and looking invisible another.

Chalk it up as part of the maturation process for the now-junior. In a guard heavy city, Wayns has the talent to be one the best, it's just a matter of whether he has the roster around him to help lead his team. Big man Mouphtaou Yarou will need to take a massive step forward if the 'Cats expect to do better than their preseason No. 8 in the Big East.

(2) The La Salle University Explorers vs. the Lafayette Leopards (7 p.m. / 990 AM)
Every year I write that head coach John Giannini is on the hot seat, that his emotional outbursts haven't correlated with a positive win total and that his ability to recruit very real talent hasn't led to any sort of cohesion on the floor. Still, every year I type this paragraph, because every year Dr. G remains the man in charge at the Gola Arena.

I wish I could say more for the Explorers, but with their greatest and most wildly enigmatic talent—Aaric Murray—now walking the streets of Morgantown, West Virginia, it's hard to see them being markedly better or, for that matter, worse than they've been in recent years. La Salle has made a habit of winning games it shouldn't win, losing games it shouldn't lose, and keeping you guessing about how good or bad it really is for three-fourths of the season. I don't mean to be so pithy, but unless freshman Jerrell Wright and and newcomer Ramon Galloway are ready to contribute immediately, there's little reason not to expect more of the same at Broad & Olney.

That said, Giannini seems more than excited for the season, and has not-so-subtly hinted at a dissatisfaction with his past players.

"We now have kids who will do what we tell them, and they're committed to winning and committed to defense," Giannini said, practically oozing enthusiasm. "Some teams don't have that. Last year, we didn't have that. We have great chemistry right now. These kids work hard without someone calling team meetings or without their teammates yelling at them trying to push each other."

It's tough to tell if this is the legitimate optimism of a coach with something of a fresh start, or the false hope that things will, this time, really be better. Hopefully for his staff's future, Dr. G is right about this group of Explorers, but keep on the lookout as I establish a charity fund to help stop the abuse of the folding chair seated beside the head coach.

(3) University of Pennsylvania Quakers @ the UMBC Retrievers. (7:30 p.m. / 88.5 FM)
Penn enters its season on the strength of a veteran back court, featuring senior guards Zack Rosen and Tyler Bernadini. Rosen—who has been described by his coach as "one of the best, if not the best guard in our program's history"—has the privilege of playing under Jerome Allen: one of the best, if not the best guard in the program's history.

Aiming to settle their friendly rivalry, the two recently went at it in a pick-up game of one-on-one, televised on Comcast SportsNet. The game, originally agreed to be played to three, was quickly extended when Rosen bested the coach. It quickly ended when Allen was the first to get to five. Not only does the old guy still have it, but he's also in control of when the game starts and stops.

Rosen and Bernadini will attempt to lead Penn back to the glory it so enjoyed when it's current coach was a player under Fran Dunphy. Picked to finish fourth in the preseason Ivy League polls, Penn will need to find a way to take down Harvard, Princeton and Yale if they want to make a serious run at the league title. Out of conference, watch for them to give their Big 5 rivals, and some of their other non-conference opponents, a legitimate scare.

(4) The St. Joseph's University Hawks @ the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (8 p.m. / Fox College Sports / 610 AM)
I'd have to go back to 2004 to remember the last time I was this emotionally invested in a St. Joseph's basketball team for all the right reasons. After years of wishing little but ill upon them as proud a Temple Owl, I am completely and totally in the tank for Langston Galloway. There's no way around it. I hate that he plays for the Hawks, but I firmly believe he's the real deal. And he'll need to be if they're going to succeed.

Carl Jones has more talent than he knows what to do with, but he still needs to find a way to channel that talent into an ability to make more responsible decisions with the basketball. C.J. Aiken, on the other hand, has more of a physical body than he knows what to do with. Honestly, I've never seen a basketball player with less natural physical movements. Still, he's one hell of a shot blocker—actually, he's one of the best in the nation. Just do yourself a favor Phil, teach the kid a post move. At his height, the ability to play face up should be a nice feature, not his dominant offensive weapon.

The Hawks have a lot of young talent, and their surprising run in last year's A10 tournament gives rise to optimism. Am I reall
y going to root for St. Joe's to do more than just beat 'Nova this year (which I also haven't done for the last five years)? Sheesh. Moving on...

(5) The Temple University Owls vs. the Penn Quakers (Monday / 7 p.m. / 1210 AM)
After every game for the last two seasons, I've listened to Fran Dunphy tell the media, "I don't know where this program would be without Lavoy Allen." And now, here we are.

The Owls absurdly talented and experienced back court is contrasted with their troublingly thin and inexperienced front court. Michael Eric not only needs to stay healthy given an expected substantial increase in minutes, but needs to continue his improvement from last year at both ends of the floor.

Expect a lot of four guard action from the Owls this season, especially when small forward Scootie Randall returns from injury. In the meantime, he'll more than likely be replaced in the starting line-up by last year's A10 Sixth Man of the Year Khalif Wyatt. We all know what the Owls have in the back court, and they figure to absolutely frightening in the open floor, but they'll need those guards to play a big part in rebounding the basketball. They'll also need substantial contributions from junior Rhalir Jefferson and red-shirt freshman Anthony Lee at the power forward position to take some of the load off Eric in the middle.

As mentioned up top, they'll kick-off the Big 5 season schedule Monday night against Penn. One night later, Villanova squares off against La Salle.

Basketball is back. No one tell the NBA.

Penn at Yale: Quakers try to keep rolling, stay atop Ivies


Penn at Yale: Quakers try to keep rolling, stay atop Ivies

Penn (3-2, 2-0) at Yale (1-4, 1-1)
Yale Bowl, New Haven, Conn.
Friday, 7 p.m., NBCSN

It’s once again time for Friday night lights for Penn, which plays its second of three nationally televised Friday matchups tonight. Here’s a look at what’s on tap:

Scouting Penn
The Quakers won their third straight game and stayed perfect in the Ivy League with an easy 35-10 victory over old friend Al Bagnoli and Columbia last week. Junior running back Tre Solomon, the Ivy League’s leading rusher, was the star of the game, rushing for a career-high 127 yards on nine carries, catching five passes for 30 yards and even throwing a 23-yard TD pass on a late trick play. 

Quarterback Alek Torgersen threw for 241 yards and three touchdowns, one going to star junior Justin Watson and two more going to sophomore Christian Pearson, who’s emerging as another dynamic explosive receiving weapon. Linebacker Colton Moskal led the best defensive effort of the season with eight tackles, 1.5 sacks and 1.5 tackles for a loss. Moskal, a Syracuse transfer, currently ranks fourth in the Ivies in tackles with nine per game.

Scouting Yale
The Bulldogs lost their first three games (including a surprising one to Cornell in their Ivy opener), snapped their slide vs. Dartmouth, and then fell back to its losing ways last week at Fordham. Yale’s defense has particularly struggled, allowing 44 points to Fordham after previously surrendering 55 points in a loss to Colgate and 63 in a loss to Lehigh. 

The Bulldogs’ scoring defense currently ranks 118 out of 122 teams in the FCS (40.4 points per game) and 117th in total defense (487.8 yards per game). But their defense does have two of the top tacklers in the Ivies in Hayden Carlson and Foyesade Oluokun. And led by the tandem of Dale Harris and Alan Lamar, Yale leads the Ivies in rushing offense, averaging 184.8 yards per game — two-tenths of a yard more than Penn.

Series history
Yale leads the overall series 47-35-1, but Penn is 18-6 in the programs’ last 24 meetings dating back to 1992. The Quakers prevailed in last year’s matchup but hasn’t won at the Yale Bowl since 2010.

Storyline to watch
The historic Yale Bowl was erected more than 100 years ago but this will be the first true night game in the history of the stadium. That will only add to the mystique for the Penn players, who beat Yale in a night game at Franklin Field last season and love Friday night games because it reminds them of their high school days. But Yale players certainly figure to be up for the unique matchup, too. 

What’s at stake?
A win would keep Penn atop the Ivies with either Princeton or Harvard, the two other unbeaten frontrunners who face off the following day. 

Alek Torgersen, Justin Watson and Tre Solomon should have a field day against Yale’s leaky defense. Penn 42, Yale 27.

Gunn's bullet points: Logan's injury, battle in the trenches and more

Gunn's bullet points: Logan's injury, battle in the trenches and more

Derrick Gunn give his take on a few keys to the Eagles-Vikings game on Sunday.

• Losing Bennie Logan (groin injury) for this game is huge. He doesn't get a lot of notoriety for the dirty work he does in the trenches, but he helps Fletcher Cox get that push up the middle.

• Keep a close eye on the matchup between Jason Kelce and Vikings DT Linval Joseph. Kelce has been overmatched by bigger, athletic guys and Joseph at 6-4, 330 pounds is one of the best in the business.

• In his first three years as an Eagle, Connor Barwin had 26½ sacks as an outside linebacker, including a career-best 14½ in 2014. Through five games this season, Barwin, now a defensive end, has just one. Fatigue might be a factor. He has played more snaps than any other Eagles defensive lineman (79 percent). Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz says reducing Barwin's playing time might keep him fresher and stronger in fourth quarters.

• WR Dorial Green-Beckham was on the field for 81 percent of the Eagles' plays vs. Washington last week. Offensive coordinator Frank Reich feels DGB is ready for an expanded role.

• Darren Sproles usually wins matchups against LBs, but that might not be the case against the Vikings. Mychal Kendricks' younger brother, Eric, has been a solid, playmaking LB for Minnesota and he has the speed to keep up with Sproles.

• I've said it once and I'll say it again: Get Kenjon Barner more touches in the run game. Barner has the fewest carries among the Eagles' four running backs but the best yards-per-carry average at 5.8.