Six in the City: Gearing up for the Madness

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Six in the City: Gearing up for the Madness

Friday, February 25, 2011
Posted: 5:42 p.m.

By Dave Zeitlin
CSNPhilly.com Contributor

Check your calendars the best month for any college basketball fan is almost upon us. But before the madness of March truly begins with postseason tournaments, teams around the nation will try to polish up their rsums and stamp their credentials for the Big Dance. With that in mind, heres a look at what each of the citys six Division I teams have done through February and what they can do, if anything, to enjoy the fruits of March.

Villanova Wildcats

Record: 21-7 overall, 9-6 Big East
RPI: 30 (14 Pomeroy)
On tap: vs. St. Johns, Wells Fargo Center, Saturday, 2 p.m.
Signature win: Jan. 22 at Syracuse, 83-72
Worst loss: Feb. 9 at Rutgers, 77-76

What theyve done well through February: The Wildcats have been ranked all season, thanks to the two Coreys, who have both lived up their billing in their senior seasons. Corey Fisher is averaging 16 points and five assists per game, while Corey Stokes is averaging 15 points per game and shooting 42 percent from three-point range.

What they need to do better in March: Villanovas third star guard, sophomore Maalik Wayns, has been up-and-down since head coach Jay Wright decided to bring him off the bench. If the Wildcats wants to slow down their Big East skid theyve lost six of their last 11 and make a deep NCAA run, theyll need all of their guards to be at their best at the same time.

Realistic expectations: Anything short of the Sweet 16 would be a disappointment for these Cats, and a trip to the Elite Eight is certainly attainable if things break right. But advancing to the Final Four is probably a stretch for a team skidding at the wrong time.

Temple Owls

Record: 21-6 overall, 11-2 Atlantic 10
RPI: 32 (36 Pomeroy)
On Tap: at George Washington, Saturday, 2 p.m.
Signature win: Dec. 9 Georgetown, 68-65
Worst loss: Nov. 25 California, 57-50
What theyve done well through February: The critics have been hard on Lavoy Allen all season, but the Temple senior is a college star, plain and simple. In the past week, Allen set the programs all-time rebounding record in an Owls win over St. Joes and followed it up with a 17-point, 13-rebound output against No. 1 Duke on Wednesday. He is the main reason why the Owls have once again won over 20 games.

What they need to do better in March: Its very simple: the Owls must get healthy and stay healthy. Micheal Erics season-ending knee injury stung, but even worse is the loss of junior swingman Scootie Randall, who was having a breakout season. Randall has missed the last two games with a foot injury and his return is uncertain. Without him, leading scorer Ramone Moore, point guard Juan Fernandez and Allen will have to be almost perfect for the Owls down the stretch.

Realistic expectations: Again, this all depends on Randalls return, but the Owls will certainly be gunning for their fourth straight Atlantic 10 tournament championship. At least one win in the NCAA tournament would also be a boon for the program and for head coach Fran Dunphy, who has lost 11 straight NCAA games dating back to 1994.

Drexel Dragons

Record: 19-9 overall, 10-7 Colonial Athletic Association
RPI: 59 (94 Pomeroy)
On Tap: at Towson, Saturday, 4 p.m.
Signature win: Dec. 14 at Lousiville, 52-46
Worst loss: Feb. 15 at UNC Wilmington, 51-43

What theyve done well through February: The Dragons have been among the best teams in the nation all season in two very important categories: defense and rebounding. Theyre holding opposing teams to less than 60 points per game, while averaging just over 40 rebounds per game one of the top 10 totals in Division I.
What they need to do better in March: The Dragons will never light teams up offensively, but theyll need to avoid going ice cold from the floor. In their last loss, an ugly 51-43 loss to lowly UNC Wilmington, they shot just 26 percent from the field.

Realistic expectations: This is a very solid Drexel team. The Dragons showed that with back-to-back wins over Kent State and VCU in the past week. The next step now is to try to win the CAA tournament, which begins next Friday. With conference powers George Mason and Old Dominion standing in their way, it will be a very difficult task but very likely the only way for the Dragons to make the Big Dance. If not, an NIT bid awaits.
Penn Quakers

Record: 11-12 overall, 5-4 Ivy League
RPI: 168 (171 Pomeroy)
On Tap: vs. Columbia, tonight, 7 p.m.
Signature win: Nov. 13 Davidson, 69-64
Worst loss: Dec. 29 at Marist, 66-57

What theyve done well through February: Although its not going to translate into an Ivy League title this season, the Quakers are showing signs of improvement following last years dreadful six-win campaign. Junior guard Zack Rosen and senior forward Jack Eggleston have been among the best players in the Ivy League, and senior sharpshooter Tyler Bernardini has been lights-out after a slow start.
What they need to do better in March: Losing close games has been an issue for the Quakers, whose Ivy title hoops were doomed with three straight overtime defeats earlier this month to Harvard, Princeton and Cornell. All of those games played out the same way with Penn falling behind early, storming back to force overtime and then making critical errors down the stretch. The key for Penn going forward is not getting into such a big hole to begin with.

Realistic expectations: Without a conference tournament to fall back on and with Harvard and Princeton dominating the league the Quakers dont have much of a chance to play in the postseason. For them, beating archrival Princeton in their final regular-season game would be a great finale and could also spoil the Tigers NCAA hopes. With all of their top guards coming back next season, the Quakers would also be wise to keep developing freshman forwards Cameron Gunter and Fran Dougherty, both of whom will likely be major contributors in 2011-12.

La Salle Explorers

Record: 12-16 overall, 4-9 Atlantic 10
RPI: 179 (195 Pomeroy)
On Tap: Sunday vs. UMass, 2 p.m.
Signature win: Nov. 23 Providence, 84-73
Worst loss: Dec. 29 Towson, 93-90, OT

What theyve done well through February: Offense has never been an issue for the Explorers, who rank 31st in the nation with 76.6 points per game. Sophomore center Aaric Murray (14.9 ppg), senior forward Jerrell Williams (13.9 ppg) and senior guard Ruben Guillandeaux (12.3) are all scoring in double figures, and guards Tyreek Duren (9.9 ppg) and Earl Pettis (9.7 ppg) are not far behind.

What they need to do better in March: Its been a season-long struggle for head coach John Giannini to get his team to defend, especially in key spots when they need a big stop. Theyve been giving up just about 80 points per game, and thats just not going to cut it in March.

Realistic expectations: The season began with a lot of promise after near misses against Missouri, Oklahoma State and Villanova. But the Explorers have sputtered in conference play, losing five of their last six. At this point, La Salles goal should be to win their first-round game in the Atlantic 10 tournament and then try to spring an upset in the conference quarterfinals in Atlantic City.

Saint Josephs Hawks

Record: 7-20 overall, 2-11 Atlantic 10
RPI: 200 (214 Pomeroy)
On Tap: Saturday, vs. Saint Bonaventure, 4 p.m.
Signature win: Nov. 26 Rutgers, 76-70
Worst loss: Nov. 12 Western Kentucky, 98-70

What theyve done well through February: Sophomore Carl Jones has been the top scorer in the city for most of the season, and highly touted freshmen Langston Galloway, C.J. Aiken and Ronald Roberts have all shown flashes of promise.

What they need to do better in March: With such a young team, you expect some growing pains but at the same time, all of the losses have been hard to bear for the SJU faithful who have come to expect winning on Hawk Hill. At this point, the only thing the Hawks can do is keep trying to come together as a team as they build for the future.

Realistic expectations: Just being one of the 12 teams to qualify for the A-10 tournament is important for the Hawks. To do that, they will likely need to beat Charlotte next weekend in their final regular season. Both SJU and Charlotte are currently tied for the 12th place in the 14-team league.

Six in the City is a weekly feature on the citys six Division I college basketball programs written by CSNPhilly.com contributor Dave Zeitlin. You can email him at djzeitlin@gmail.com.

Freshman A.J. Brodeur leads Penn to 29-point rout of Lafayette

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Associated Press

Freshman A.J. Brodeur leads Penn to 29-point rout of Lafayette

BOX SCORE

Steve Donahue has been coaching long enough to know there are always doubts as to how players adjust to the college game.

But as he heavily recruited A.J. Brodeur, the Penn coach began to realize he was looking at as close to a sure thing as there can be. 

So far, he’s been right.

On Wednesday at the Palestra, the Penn freshman continued his torrid start to his college career, exploding for 22 points, seven rebounds and five assists to lift the Quakers to an 81-52 rout of Lafayette.

“I’ve known A.J. since 9th grade,” Donahue said. “I probably saw 100 to 200 of his games. And I was pretty sure we were getting a really good basketball player that was going to fit and really help us build this program.”

Brodeur was actually relatively quiet in the first half, scoring six points as he dealt with Lafayette double-teams. And the Leopards, who never led, pulled within one at 24-23 near the end of the first half.

But the 6-foot-8 forward helped key a 10-0 spurt with two buckets to help the Quakers gain a comfortable nine-point halftime cushion, before accounting for half of the team’s points during a 16-0 second-half run that put things away.

For the game, Brodeur shot 10 for 13 for the field while Lafayette center Matt Klinewski, one of the Leopards’ top players, shot 1 for 10 and finished with four points.

“He’s so much bigger than us,” said Lafayette coach Fran O’Hanlon, who was an assistant at Penn alongside Donahue in the early 1990s. “Matt couldn’t really handle him.”

A lot of players have struggled to handle Brodeur so far this season, no matter the competition level. Just this past Saturday, the Penn freshman scored 17 points against Temple while outdueling Owls star Obi Enechionyia for much of the way.

But although he’s hit double figures in six of his first seven games, including a career-high 23 in his collegiate debut vs. Robert Morris, Brodeur isn’t entirely satisfied yet.

“I’m definitely happy with the way I’ve been playing,” Brodeur said. “Obviously there’s always room for improvement. My game is still not where I want it to be or where I need it to be for us to be a championship team this year.”

Whether or not Penn (3-4) can contend for an Ivy League championship remains to be seen, but it certainly is promising that all three of their wins have been by lopsided margins — something that rarely happened under previous coach Jerome Allen. 

And the Quakers showcased a lot of balance and defensive tenacity against a young Leopards team Wednesday, finishing with 21 assists and 10 steals with 11 different players scoring.

Guards Jackson Donahue and Jake Silpe, last year’s starting backcourt, combined for 23 points off the bench. And senior Matt Howard took over the game in the first half, skying for rebounds, getting his hands in the passing lane and, at one point, throwing down a ferocious one-handed dunk after starting the break with a steal.

Howard, who’s endured three straight losing seasons, finished with 14 points, eight rebounds, four steals and three assists.

“He’s been through ups and downs for three years,” Donahue said. “I think he finally feels that he can really be the best player on the court and help us win games — which probably hasn’t happened before. I think that’s what you saw at the beginning of the game.”

Temple's Josh Brown returns to form, but defensive lapse costly in loss

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USA Today Images

Temple's Josh Brown returns to form, but defensive lapse costly in loss

BOX SCORE

Josh Brown began looking like his old self on Wednesday night.

Temple’s senior guard missed the Owls' first six games while recovering from surgery he had on his Achilles tendon in May. He returned to the court one week ago in the Owls’ win at St. Joe’s. 

Brown showed some signs of rust in his first two games. He had four points and an assist against the Hawks in 14 minutes of action. On Saturday against Penn, Brown played 11 minutes and scored five points.

In Wednesday’s 66-63 loss to George Washington at the Liacouras Center, Brown played a season-high 24 minutes. He scored 10 points on 4 of 5 shooting and added one assist and made some key plays for the Owls down the stretch in the close loss (see Instant Replay).

“He played great,” coach Fran Dunphy said. “He didn’t play great against Penn. Tonight, he was ready to go. He did some really good things for us. It’s nice to have. It’s a nice comfort.”

Brown helped Temple close a large deficit late in the game. He hit a three-point shot from the corner on the fast break with 5:28 left to bring the Owls within three. He hit another three-point shot at the top of the key with 2:44 left to bring Temple within six. 

Less than a minute later, he assisted on a Daniel Dingle three, which made the score 61-58. On Temple’s next defensive possession, Brown grabbed a rebound before Dingle hit another three on the other end of the court to tie the game at 61 with 1:31 left.

With the Owls trailing by three on the game’s final possession, Brown almost drew a foul behind the three-point line before finding Dingle for another open look that hit the back of the rim.

“When I was out there, I was just trying to be in the moment, be in the now,” Brown said. “That’s what I was doing. I wasn’t thinking about anything else. When you do that, you’re focused, and when the shot comes, your preparation takes over.”

Despite his clutch play on the offensive end, Brown was critical of a mental lapse on defense during the game’s most crucial moment. After playing tight defense for almost all of the shot clock, Brown let George Washington forward Tyler Cavanaugh slip to the corner and put up a three-point shot with one second on the shot clock.

Cavanaugh’s three-point attempt with 8.2 seconds left in the game proved to be the game-winner on Wednesday night.

“I lost focus for a little bit,” Brown said. “I helped off for a slight second and that’s all he needed. I give props to that guy for hitting a tough shot, but I could’ve just stayed and not even helped.”

Wednesday’s loss ended a five-game winning streak for Temple, now 6-3 on the season. With defenses focusing on junior forward Obi Enechionyia, who scored 12 points against the Colonials, Brown will be looked at to steady the Owls' offense.

Brown was the only Temple player besides Enechionyia to score more than one basket in the first half as the Owls went into the break trailing 31-25.

“Him being out there, he adds intensity to the game,” Dingle said. “When he goes in the game, the energy goes up. Defensively and offensively he’s a general out there.”