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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

Sans Spellman, challenges face Villanova in run to repeat

Sans Spellman, challenges face Villanova in run to repeat

VILLANOVA, Pa. — Darryl Reynolds said it hurt. And he wasn’t alone. 

A month ago, Reynolds and the rest of the Villanova Wildcats found out five-star freshman big man Omari Spellman would not be eligible to play in 2016-17.

And despite Spellman — at 6-foot-9 and 260 pounds — being the biggest competition cutting into Reynolds’ playing time for his senior year, Reynolds understood the ramifications from losing what was expected to be a key cog in Villanova’s next run for glory.

“We lost a — no pun intended — big piece to the puzzle,” Reynolds said Tuesday at Villanova’s media day. “He went down, but everybody else has realized that we need that much more from everybody else.

“Me and Omari are close, in more ways than on the court. It would’ve been exciting to play with him. But it also provided that much more motivation.”

Motivation because Reynolds, a Lower Merion grad, also understands what the ramifications mean for him, too. The 6-foot-9, 240-pound senior may arguably be the most important player on the 2016-17 Wildcats. 

For three years, Reynolds has largely taken a backseat, hidden by the shadow of Daniel Ochefu. Now he’s front and center.

“He battled through that,” fellow senior Josh Hart said. “Never complained. Never had any down moments. Brought it every single day. We know he can play at this level.”

Reynolds heads a position in which Villanova was supposed to have depth. Now it has question marks. Reynolds and Spellman were going to be a 1-2 punch inside and a perfect supplement to a bevy of offensive talent around them. The question marks up front include sophomore Tim Delaney and freshman Dylan Painter. How quickly the two of them get going will be big. And so, too, will be figuring out where Fordham transfer forward Eric Paschall fits in the rotation.

Coach Jay Wright, who said Reynolds would be a starter, talked more about the other pieces behind Reynolds when asked what he’d be expecting from the senior big man.

“I think part of our challenge is Tim Delaney and Dylan Painter,” Wright said. “Which one of them, if not both of them, can step up and give us the depth that Darryl gave us last year up front when we needed size? Down the stretch in big games against big-time teams, you need that size. We’ve got to develop Tim and Dylan and see how they do with that, see how Eric Paschall can do. Can he play bigger? We definitely have our challenges.”

Those challenges also include replacing leadership roles vacated by Ryan Arcidiacono, Ochefu and a trio of walk-ons.

Insert Reynolds there, too. The Wildcats will start three seniors this year. Hart and Kris Jenkins may do most of the scoring, but they’re pretty reserved off the court and when talking to the media.

“Obviously Ryan (Arcidiacono) was a great leader for us. He was our rock,” Hart said. “When you look at this team, a lot of times we look at [Reynolds]. He calms everybody down. He vocally tries to make sure everybody’s on one accord. Basketball-wise, he’s always been good. You saw the Providence game last year when we needed him to step up and he had, what, like 19 and 11?”

Hart remembers the numbers well, even if he added an extra rebound to the ledger. Reynolds was 9 for 10 from the floor and had two blocks in 36 minutes of action to help the Wildcats earn revenge with a road win after the Friars beat them in Philadelphia two weeks prior.

That game was the last of a three-game stretch in late January into early February when Ochefu was sidelined with a concussion. Reynolds’ minutes over that stretch: 29, 31 and 36, respectively.

That experience, Reynolds says, coupled with the rest of 2015-16 — when he saw an uptick in minutes from his sophomore season’s 5.4 per game to 17.1 per game — will be easy to draw from in 2016-17.

“There’s nothing like getting out there and actually playing,” Reynolds said. “You see a lot from the sidelines. You learn a lot playing spot minutes. You get different things. But just being out there throughout entire games, playing 20-plus minutes, it teaches you things that you could never have learned from another perspective. I learned a lot from those experiences and I think it made me the player that I am in many ways. It’s the same thing with this year. I’m still going to learn a ton in a sense of being out there that much more and not having Daniel. 

“In many ways he taught me a lot. So not having him, not having that voice in my ear, not having that guy to go against in practice, it will make me grow up. 

“Nothing wrong with that,” he said with a smile.

Doug Pederson not afraid to get aggressive with play-calling

Doug Pederson not afraid to get aggressive with play-calling

Talk to Doug Pederson and he comes across … what’s a nice way to put it … dry?

Very nice guy. Very friendly. Very down to earth. But not the most dynamic personality in public.

Which is why his personality on gameday has been so surprising.

Pederson is a risk-taker as a play-caller. Aggressive and fearless.

Whether it’s going for it on fourth down with the lead, going for two after a successful PAT or throwing deep in a situation that doesn’t necessarily call for it, Pederson has proven to be the proverbial riverboat gambler that Chip Kelly was expected to be but never became.

“My personality is probably a little more conservative by nature, I think,” Pederson said Monday. “You'd probably agree with that.”

Pederson got a laugh with that comment because his public persona is exactly the opposite of his gameday demeanor.

It only took one day before we all got a taste of Pederson’s fearlessness.

In the season opener against the Browns, with the Eagles clinging to a 15-10 lead and a rookie quarterback making his first NFL appearance and a 4th-and-4 at the Browns’ 40-yard line, he kept the offense on the field.

Carson Wentz responded by connecting with Zach Ertz on a five-yard gain to move the chains, and one play later, the Eagles took command on Wentz’s 35-yard TD pass to Nelson Agholor.

Six weeks in, the Eagles are 5 for 5 on fourth down. Only the Falcons have converted more fourth downs in the NFL this year, and they’re 6 for 10.

In the win over the Bears, the Eagles were 3 for 3 on fourth down, their best fourth-down conversion day in nine years.

This is the first time in 14 years the Eagles have converted five or more fourth downs through six games.

According to Pro Football Reference, the Eagles are one of only seven teams in NFL history to attempt five or more fourth-down plays through six games and still be at 100 percent. The Lions are also 5 for 5 this year.

Pederson said analytics are a big part of his decision-making process, but he also trusts his instincts.

“I think it's both,” Pederson said. “But I trust our guys and I trust our offensive line and I think it sends a great message to the rest of the team, to the defense and special teams, that, ‘Hey, if we can convert this and stay on the field,’ it sends a good message.

“And on the other side of that, if you do convert, [it’s about] the message you send to the other team and the fact that you're going to stay aggressive.”

The Eagles are 29th-best in the NFL on third down at just 34 percent. But they’re one of only three teams that’s at 100 percent on fourth down.

“It's kind of a crazy deal when you're not great on third down, but you can be 5 for 5 on fourth down and convert them,” Pederson said. “It's a weird deal. But credit to the guys for the execution.

“I'm going to continue to look at it. I don't ever want to be in a position that I'm going to jeopardize the team at the time [by being too aggressive]. Looking at the five fourth-down decisions this year, I don’t think they put us in any harm at that time.”

Wentz is 3 for 3 for 21 yards on fourth down, with the four-yard completion to Ertz, a seven-yard first down to Jordan Matthews in the Bears game and a nine-yarder to Dorial Green-Beckham, also in the win in Chicago.

He also rushed six yards for a first down on a 4th-and-2 Sunday in the win over the Vikings. The Eagles’ other fourth-down conversion this year was Ryan Mathews’ one-yard TD on a 4th-and-goal against Chicago.

Pederson said as an assistant coach under Andy Reid, he always found himself asking himself whether he would be conservative or aggressive in crucial situations.

We’re all learning the answer now.

“Yeah, you definitely put yourself in those situations, as a coordinator and a position coach,” he said. “Putting yourself in those spots, it's a lot easier when you're not making the decision obviously to go, ‘Oh, yeah, I would have not gone for it there or not gone for it there.’

“Now, being in this position, it's my tail on the line if we don't convert.”