Your 2013-14 City 6 College Basketball Season Preview

Your 2013-14 City 6 College Basketball Season Preview

The city's first Big 5 game tips off Saturday night, when Temple meets Penn at the Palestra. Also on Saturday, La Salle hosts Manhattan, St. Joe's visits Vermont. Villanova gets going Friday night against Lafayette, and Drexel takes on No. 22 UCLA at midnight ET (Friday into Saturday).

Zeitlin's going to be back tomorrow with a City 6 predictions post, but we're both here today to provide you these quick cheat sheets.

Remember, you're going to need something to do from January through March, especially with the way the Flyers are going.

LA SALLE EXPLORERS (schedule)
Key loss: Ramon Galloway
Key returners: Tyrone Garland, Tyreek Duren, Jerrell Wright
Hey, who's that new guy? Khalid Lewis

The Explorers are coming off their first trip to the Sweet 16 in 58 years, and although they did lose their best player, Ramon Galloway, this is a team that seems poised to make a run at its second straight NCAA tournament berth.

With Galloway's 17.2 points per game gone, two seniors, Tyreek Duren and Ramon Garland, now lead the backcourt. You best remember Garland for his "Southwest Philly floater."

Much like last year, La Salle will find itself playing a lot of small ball. Big man Steve Zack and the 6-foot-8 Jerrell Wright will play together, but take a look at the roster: Only four of John Gianinni's 15 players aren't guards. So they'll try to spread you out, dictate matchups, play a lot of drive-and-kick and look for threes.

La Salle and Saint Joseph's are your two remaining big Big 5 members in the Atlantic 10, and La Salle, per usual, will not face an overly challenging non-con schedule. Even if they Explorers rack up a win total similar to what they did last year, there's still a good chance they wind up in another tenuous RPI/SOS conversation come March. A win over Villanova or at Miami in December, the latter admittedly a bit of a stretch, would do a lot to avoid that.

Impossibly early tournament projection: The Explorers are one of four or five teams fighting for maybe three or four A-10 tourney bids. If they finish top-3 in the A-10 regular season standings -- and roll the reams they're supposed to out-of-conference -- it should be enough. NCAA.

Can you spot Michael-Carter Williams?

VILLANOVA WILDCATS (schedule)
Key loss: Mouphtaou Yarou
Key returners: JayVaughn Pinkston, Ryan Arcidiacono
Hey, who's that new guy? Dylan Ennis, Josh Hart

Another team with an abundance of guards and not a lot of height. In fact, Villanova has just one player on its roster taller than 6-foot-8. Jay Wright is going to need 6-foot-11 sophomore Daniel Ochefu to take a big leap forward in Year 2 and stay out of foul trouble.

Of course, Arcidiacono, the reigning Big 5 newcomer of the year, returns to lead a loaded backcourt. James Bell, Darrun Hilliard, and Tony Chennault are all back -- although Chennault almost wasn't -- and they're now joined by freshman Josh Hart, who's really more of a wing, and Rice transfer Dylan Ennis. Ennis, unfortunately, broke his hand two weeks back, and although the initial prognosis called for maybe only a four-week absence, it's beginning to look longer.

As for where the Wildcats are playing, it's still the Big East, just not the one you're used to.  It's the seven basketball-only schools from the old league -- Villanova, St. John's, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall and DePaul -- plus newcomers Creighton, Xavier and Butler.

Villanova, like La Salle, will end up playing some four-guard, but Ochefu, the man in the middle, will end up being the key to the whole season as Wright looks for his ninth NCAA appearance in 10 years.

Impossibly early tournament projection: The new league gets a lot of national love and the teams beat each other up all year. But as long Ochefu stays healthy and productive, 'Nova can hang. A nervous at-large on Sunday, but they get in. NCAA.

DREXEL DRAGONS (schedule)
Key losses: Daryl McCoy, Derrick Thomas
Key returners: Frantz Massenat, Damion Lee, Chris Fouch, Dartaye Ruffin
Hey, who’s the new guy? Freddie Wilson, Rodney Williams

Drexel’s 2012-13 season was one of the great mysteries in college basketball last year. How could a team that won 29 games in 2011-12 return almost everybody and win just 13 games the following season?

Injuries and a lack of senior leadership certainly played a role in those struggles, with sharpshooter Chris Fouch missing most of the year with a broken ankle he suffered when he stepped on someone near the Palestra baseline (probably another reason why head coach Bruiser Flint would rather end the “Battle of 33rd Street” series with Penn than keep playing every game at the Quakers’ home gym). But Chris Fouch, who also missed the entire 2008-09 campaign with a knee injury, will return as an oh-so-rare sixth-year senior, providing leadership in a loaded backcourt that also features the heady senior Frantz Massenat (whose ridiculous half-court game-winner from last year you can watch here) and high-scoring junior Damion Lee.

If Drexel can stay healthy, some of the five newcomers emerge as viable rotation guys (Wilson, a transfer from Seton Hall, won’t be eligible until the end of the fall semester) and Ruffin gets a little help in the paint, the Dragons should look more like they did two years ago than they did last year.

Impossibly early tournament projection: We know from past seasons that the Dragons need to win the CAA conference tournament in March to make the Big Dance. This is the year they’ll do it. NCAA.

SAINT JOSEPH'S HAWKS (schedule)
Key losses: Carl Jones, C.J. Aiken
Key returners: Langston Galloway, Halil Kanacevic, Ron Roberts
Hey, who's that new guy? DeAndre Bembry
Hey, who's that with the hair? Javon Baumann

St. Joe's was supposed to enter this season with four starting seniors but lost one sooner than expected. Big man and block specialist C.J. Aiken opted for the pros. The team's leading scorer, Carl Jones, is also gone. The point guard responsibilities fall to junior Chris Wilson and either of Kanacevic or Roberts will play center.

This is a St. Joe's team that was picked as the preseason favorite to win the Atlantic 10 last year but proved too inconsistent to do any better than 18-14 overall and 8-8 in the league. With Aiken back, it was hard not to like Hawks' chances of finally getting it together with this promising group of seniors. But he's not back, and the team isn't all that deep without him.

If sophomore Isaiah Miles and freshman DeAndre Bembry contribute as expected, the Hawks still have enough going for them to make a run at an at-large bid. But Aiken, Kanacevic and Roberts were a matchup nightmare together. It's a shame they didn't stay together to give it one more try.

Phil Martelli hasn't made it to the NCAA tournament since 2008. If is the year he makes his return, the Hawks are going to have to take down a La Salle, VCU or Saint Louis in league play -- and have 20 other wins.

Impossibly early tournament projection: The Hawks need a run in the A-10 tourney to nab a late at-large selection or an autobid and fall short. NIT.

TEMPLE OWLS (schedule)
Key losses: Khalif Wyatt, Scootie Randall, Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson, Jake O'Brien, T.J. DiLeao
Key returners: Anthony Lee, Will Cummings, Quenton DeCosey
Hey, who's that new guy? Josh Brown, Mark Williams

Where'd everybody go? And who's left?

Anthony Lee and Will Cummings were big parts of this team last year, but here's the important stat: Four of Temple's five leading scorers from last season -- Wyatt, Randall, O'Brien and Hollis Jefferson -- are gone, and so are their 50.9 points per game that made up 71 percent of the Owls' total output.

Temple has only 10 eligible players on its 2013-14 roster and maybe only eight of them can be counted on to play. Foul trouble will be a constant worry and one injury could spell big trouble.

Temple enters its first season in the American Athletic Conference with a very inexperienced roster. It's not impossible that the Owls could surprise everybody, but it would be a surprise. The inexperience aside, these kids are going to be learning against a crazy schedule that features home-and-homes with Louisville, UConn, Memphis and Cincinnati. The non-con slate doesn't give them a lot of time to learn either.

This is a team that might just need a year to find itself and grow. The Owls have a very strong young nucleus with Quenton DeCosey, Dan Dingle, Devontae Watson and Josh Brown. Lee and Cummings will be seniors next year, and junior transfer Jaylen Bond will then be available.

But in the meantime, a seventh straight NCAA tournament appearance for Fran Dunphy seems like a stretch.

Impossibly early tournament projection: The challenges prove too great, but there's a lot of optimism about 2014-15. NIT?

PENN QUAKERS (schedule)
Key losses: None
Key returners: Miles Jackson-Cartwright, Fran Dougherty, Tony Hicks, Darien Nelson-Henry
Hey, who’s the new guy? Tony Bagtas, Matt Howard

While everyone’s been talking about Harvard cruising to an Ivy League championship on its way to becoming the greatest Ivy team ever, Penn head coach Jerome Allen has quietly assembled a dangerous and confident team that could challenge the Crimson for league supremacy.

Leading the charge for the Quakers will be a pair of standout seniors in guard Miles Jackson-Cartwright and forward Fran Dougherty, the latter of who was enjoying a breakout year in 2012-13 before a bout with mono and a dislocated elbow derailed his season.

While Jackson-Cartwright and Dougherty represent a strong duo, the inside-outside tandem of highly skilled sophomores Tony Hicks and Darien Nelson-Henry is even more promising for Penn fans. Throw in another strong freshman class for Allen, who seems to be hitting his recruiting stride in his fourth full season at the helm, and you can see why Penn was picked to finish second in the Ivies despite stumbling to a 9-22 overall record last year.

Impossibly early tournament projection: In a one-bid, no-conference-tournament league like the Ivy, the only true path to the Big Dance is to win the regular-season conference crown. That’s a lot to ask and Penn’s NCAA tourney drought will likely hit seven years – although some sort of postseason berth certainly looks doable. CBI.

Joel Embiid says he's '100 percent' back from foot injury, excited to play with Ben Simmons

Joel Embiid says he's '100 percent' back from foot injury, excited to play with Ben Simmons

Avalon, N.J. -- Joel Embiid has been waiting since 2014 to make his NBA debut. Two years later, the former third overall pick is nearing that day.

“I feel a hundred percent,” Embiid said Saturday at the Sixers Beach Bash. “I’m ready to get started. My summer has been great. We’ve been working out a lot this past summer, just getting some runs in. I’ve gotten a chance to play a little bit against the guys.” 

Embiid’s pro career has been sidelined by injuries, undergoing two foot surgeries in as many years. The first was to repair a stress fracture in his right navicular bone. The second, a bone-graft operation on the same bone. 

The 7-foot-2 big man has been rehabbing since then, traveling as far as Qatar in the process. This offseason Embiid was cleared for monitored, five-on-five drills. He joined the Sixers during the Las Vegas Summer League to continue his recovery away from game competition.

“It’s been really tough,” Embiid said. “The main thing is, I haven’t gotten a chance to get on the court and play, or help my teammates, or play in front of Sixers fans. I look forward to it and I can’t wait.”

Embiid said he “definitely” plans to be a go for training camp. He expects there will be a transition period once cleared to play given the length of his rehab, but notes he is a quick learner. Embiid also anticipates having restrictions, but has not discussed the specifics with the Sixers. 

“Probably,” he said. “But I think the restrictions would probably be about the fact that I haven’t played in two years. It’s not going to be about because people are worried that I’m going to re-injure myself, which I don’t think is going to happen.”

One player who is eager for Embiid’s return is rookie first overall pick Ben Simmons. The two have been friends since high school. They easily gel off the court, and plan to do the same in games. 

“He has great footwork, he has great touch, so I’m looking forward to playing with him,” Simmons said, continuing, “Off the court, we’re like brothers. We have fun.” 

Embiid has been present with the Sixers for games and practices. He has had numerous conversations with head coach Brett Brown about his days on the San Antonio Spurs coaching staff and how the organization achieved success with fellow big Tim Duncan, one of Embiid’s basketball role models. 

With an abundance of bigs, the Sixers will have to determine how they share the floor. For Embiid, who can also knock down long-range shots, he plans to fill whatever role the coaches outline for him.

“I think I’ll take a couple threes, but I’ll do what’s best for the team and whatever I’ll feel comfortable doing,” he said. “Obviously they’re going to need my presence inside and that’s what I’m going to do. But when I’m open, I might fire some threes.”

After a series of setbacks, Embiid is enthusiastic about the thought of making his NBA debut. 

“It feels great,” he said. “Especially after the past two years, I haven’t been able to do what I love. It just feels great.”  

A.J. Ellis still adjusting, learning names as he joins the Phillies

A.J. Ellis still adjusting, learning names as he joins the Phillies

NEW YORK – It wasn’t easy leaving the only professional organization he’d ever been part of, but new Phillie A.J. Ellis, acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Carlos Ruiz trade Thursday, is coming to terms with it.

“To find out that the trade went down, it was hard,” Ellis said upon reporting to his new club Saturday. “It was so immediate and sudden, really hard to say goodbye to a lot of relationships I had been blessed to forge for more than a decade.

“But the waves of emotion are getting farther and farther apart, which is a good thing.”

Ellis, 35, was drafted by the Dodgers in 2003 and rose to the majors with them in 2008. With the Phillies, he will serve a similar role to the one he played with the Dodgers – backup catcher. Ellis wasted no time getting to know the pitching staff he will now work with. He arrived at Citi Field early Saturday afternoon and caught Jake Thompson and Jerad Eickhoff in their between-starts bullpen sessions.

Ellis said “Eichorn” when referring to Eickhoff. He’s forgiven. It’s been a whirlwind week.

“See?” he said. “I’m still learning names.”

Ellis, who served as the personal catcher for Dodgers’ ace Clayton Kershaw, was blindsided by the trade.

“When I was summoned to the ballpark, that’s never really a good thing, especially when the front office wants to meet with you as far as where you’re at with the club, you know some kind of transition is happening,” he said. “The first 12 hours were definitely the hardest.

“But to arrive here and arrive in the clubhouse, meeting the staff, I’m starting to feel re-energized, refilled with a sense of purpose as to why I’ve been placed here, and why this is where I need to be at this time. I’m excited about that.

"I know I have huge shoes to fill. Carlos Ruiz is such a fixture in the Phillies organization. The work that he’s done here behind the plate, you can’t fill. This guy is a world champion catcher who has been back there for so many great baseball memories. So it’s up to me to do my part to fill the void.”

Manager Pete Mackanin thought about putting Ellis in the lineup Saturday night then had some mercy when he figured facing hard-throwing Mets right-hander Noah Syndergaard might not be the best indoctrination for a guy who just flew cross-country. Ellis is likely to start Sunday afternoon’s series finale and catch Vince Velasquez.

That doesn’t mean he wasn’t asked to make a contribution to Saturday night’s game. Mackanin said he wanted Ellis to speak with the Phillies hitters about the weaknesses the Dodger pitchers tried to exploit.

“We talk to them about this stuff all the time, but it might help to hear it from an outside source,” Mackanin said.

Ellis left a first-place club for a rebuilding team. That’s not easy. He has come to terms with that. He likes the young talent on the Phillies’ roster and hopes to help it come to flower.

“Guys are playing for their careers,” he said. “Guys are playing to make their mark in this game and create a winning franchise once again in Philadelphia. 

"You see the talent, you see their desire to learn, their desire to get better. You just know the youth on this staff, the talent level on this staff. And if I can in some short time here impact some wisdom on those guys, share some of the wisdom along the way that I’ve picked up from some great mentors I’ve had in my time in the game, I need to pay it back, from what all has been given to me.”

Ellis hit just .197 with a .285 on-base percentage in 53 games for the Dodgers this season. That’s one of the reasons the Dodgers acquired Ruiz – to get more production from their right-handed-hitting backup catcher. Ruiz had a .369 on-base percentage at the time of the trade.

Phillies’ general manager Matt Klentak was “adamant” that Ellis come back on the deal because he wanted someone who could fill Ruiz’ void on (behind the plate) and off (with clubhouse leadership) the field. Ellis’ time with the Phillies might be short. He will be a free agent at the end of the season and his playing time might be scant as September unfolds. The Phils will probably add prospect Jorge Alfaro to the catching mix sometime during that month. Management seems eager to get a look at him while still getting No. 1 catcher Cameron Rupp the game reps he needs.

Carson Wentz goes through lengthy pregame warmup in Indy

Carson Wentz goes through lengthy pregame warmup in Indy

INDIANAPOLIS -- Carson Wentz isn't playing on Saturday night against the Colts, but the No. 2 overall pick might have a chance to play in the preseason finale on Thursday, which has been the hope all along. 

Wentz went through a lengthy pregame warmup -- about an hour -- on Saturday as his teammates prepared to face Andrew Luck and the Colts. Long after Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel went into the locker room, Wentz continued to throw. 

This week's pregame warmup was much more intense than the one he was put through last week in Pittsburgh. On Saturday, he dropped back to throw and looked smooth throwing on the run, even across his body. Quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo put Wentz through the hour-long workout on Saturday. Leaving the field after the workout, offensive coordinator Frank Reich agreed that Wentz looked good. 

The real test will be the X-ray, because no matter how good he feels or how much he lobbies, he'll need to be cleared before he's allowed to return. Shortly after the injury, Wentz said practice would be determined by his pain tolerance and game action would be determined by medical personnel. If he doesn't play against the Jets, it could be a while before Eagles fans get to see their quarterback of the future. 

Another hurdle is the short week of practice thanks to a Thursday game coming after a Saturday game. 

"It's interesting because next week we only got really two days of practice," Doug Pederson said earlier in the week. "We'll see. We'll evaluate him through the weekend. [We’ll] take him on this trip and work him out a little bit when we get to Indy [Indianapolis], and then again next Monday and Tuesday. We've got to at least get a day's work with him in order for him to go in the game next Thursday."

Along with Wentz, there are several other Eagles who won't play against the Colts: Aaron Grymes, Alex McCalister, Joe Walker, Jordan Matthews, Isaac Seumalo and Mike Martin.