Yesterday we brought you a handy cheat sheet previewing the six local Division I teams to get you ready for college basketball season, which tips off tonight. Today we’re keeping the hoops coverage rolling with six predictions for the City 6 season (brought to you by the number 6).
Yes, the 2012-13 season turned out to be a great one with Villanova, La Salle and Temple all making the Big Dance and the Explorers providing one of the best stories in recent memory by winning more NCAA tournament games in one month than it had in the previous 57 years. But believe it or not, this season could turn out to be even more successful for the city teams.
For starters, Drexel and Penn will almost certainly improve upon their sub-.500 records, given that the University City neighbors both return almost everybody and are loaded with senior talent. Saint Joseph’s also has a terrific senior class in Langston Galloway, Halil Kanacevic and Ronald Roberts and may benefit from addition by subtraction with the losses of Carl Jones and C.J. Aiken. And La Salle and Villanova, while dealing with one key loss each (Mouphtaou Yarou for ’Nova, Ramon Galloway for La Salle) have enough returning talent that they can win more regular-season games than last year and perhaps breathe a little easier on Selection Sunday.
Of the six teams, the only one that’s poised for a step back is Temple. Speaking of …
Fran Dunphy is an excellent coach, a very nice guy and a handsome man, with or without a mustache. But guiding his Temple team to the NCAA tournament for a seventh straight year will be very hard, with four of the Owls’ top five scorers from last season gone, including reigning Big 5 Player of the Year Khalif Wyatt, who pretty much scored 30 points in any game he felt like. Don’t count on it happening.
The city may still see at least three teams make the Big Dance, however, as Drexel could be in line to take Temple’s place and make its first NCAA tournament appearance since Malik Rose was grabbing rebounds for them in 1996.
You could argue that Drexel’s path to March Madness is harder than some of the other schools in the city since the Dragons play in a weaker conference and got snubbed by the NCAA committee in 2012 when they won roughly a zillion games. But it’s also the most straightforward path because all the Dragons have to do is win the CAA conference tournament – which is much more doable now that it’s being moved from Virginia to Baltimore and powerhouses like VCU and George Mason are no longer in the league. Towson was picked to win the conference but look for the experienced Dragons to beat them in the CAA finals and finally put on their dancing shoes.
OK, so we’re not really going out on a limb with this one. La Salle’s silky smooth point guard may have already been the most complete player in the city last season, and he now returns for his senior season one year older and wiser. But there are certainly a ton of great guards in this city this year, and Villanova’s Ryan Arcidiacono and Saint Joseph’s Langston Galloway will push Duren for Big 5 Player of the Year honors. Big men Jerrell Wright (La Salle), JayVaughn Pinkston (Villanova), Anthony Lee (Temple), Ronald Roberts (St. Joe’s), Halil Kanacevic (St. Joe’s) and Fran Dougherty (Penn) also could contend for the honor.
Here’s my first team all-city: Tyreek Duren, Ryan Arcidiacono, Langston Galloway, JayVaughn Pinkston and Jerrell Wright.
And my second team: Frantz Massenat (Drexel), Damion Lee (Drexel), Tyrone Garland (La Salle), Anthony Lee, Ronald Roberts.
4) St. Joe’s will capture at least a share of the Big 5 crown
No, the Hawks aren’t the best team in the city. But because of a favorable schedule and a senior class that understands the value of the Big 5, St. Joe’s can easily win the city’s famed round-robin series this season.
Consider: the Hawks’ two Big 5 road games are against arguably the two weakest teams in the city: Temple and Penn. And you can hardly consider the Palestra a road venue considering they play Penn there every year anyway. They’re also catching Temple at a good time, as the two former A-10 rivals clash in early December when the rebuilding Owls will still be figuring things out.
Beating heavyweights Villanova and La Salle will be difficult but both of those Big 5 matchups will be at Hagan, where the Hawks are tough to beat. Remember the whooping they put on ’Nova there two seasons ago?
So look for St. Joe’s to at least go 3-1 in the Big 5, pick up at least a share of the title and possibly even ride that into the NCAA tournament.
Villanova head coach Jay Wright has said he plans to roll with a four-guard lineup for much of the season. This surely is an exciting proposition for ’Nova fans that remember the four-guard lineup that led the program to its first NCAA No. 1 seed in 2006.
But while fun to watch and tough to match up against, the Wildcats' four-guard lineup could begin to wear down by midseason as they compete in the daunting home-and-home series with every other Big East team. High-scoring guard Dylan Ennis will also be out for a few weeks with a broken hand, leaving the Wildcats with only four experienced guards, one of whom is still just a sophomore (Arcidiacono). And in total, Villanova only has four scholarship upperclassmen.
Is that enough to win the Big East? Maybe. But if another player goes down, the Wildcats will be in serious trouble.
OK, probably not the world. But for Penn fans looking to get excited about something, these two players are your guys. The sophomores both could have signed on to play at major programs and are both rare commodities in the Ivy League. Hicks is a slasher who can penetrate and score at will (he often did toward the end of the 2012-13 season) and Nelson-Henry is a true center with soft hands, a nice touch around the basket and a 265-pound frame that can bang with anyone down low.
The Quakers will be hard-pressed to beat out a loaded Harvard team for the Ivy title this season but they might be able to reclaim their place atop the league over the next couple of years as these two guys continue to develop into Ivy stars.