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.

Andrew Knapp's long homer a bright spot for skidding Phillies as rookie pushes Cameron Rupp

Andrew Knapp's long homer a bright spot for skidding Phillies as rookie pushes Cameron Rupp

Hidden in the Phillies' sub-par Sunday was one bright spot: Andrew Knapp.

The young backup catcher blasted a long home run into the Phillies' bullpen that gave them an early lead they would soon relinquish in an 8-4 loss to the Reds. The long ball comes on the heels of Knapp's first back-to-back starts earlier in the week.

"The more playing time you get, the better you feel," he said. "That's just the way it goes. I'm just trying to take my opportunities and take advantage of them. Unfortunately, we didn't win today, but the more at-bats I get, the better I feel."

The 25-year-old rookie was handed a prime opportunity in the second inning with two men on and one out. Starter Scott Feldman put him behind 0-2 with consecutive fastballs and tried to put him away upstairs. Knapp stayed poised and laid off both pitches, waiting for a mistake.

And the mistake came with a belt-high curveball that Knapp barreled 434 feet for a three-run homer.

"I wasn't really looking for it," he said. "I knew he liked to throw it with two strikes. It was kind of in the back of my head. But I was just looking for something out over the dish. He was pounding me in, but I was going to make him beat me away. I thankfully got that one out in front a bit."

Knapp is now 53 at-bats into his MLB career and has an impressive .264/.371/.509 batting line with three home runs and seven RBIs. He's played well enough to push starting catcher Cameron Rupp for more playing time and earn himself some extra starts beyond day games after night games.

"I feel good," Knapp said. "I'm learning a lot. Each at-bat in itself is its own thing and you can't really have much rollover. At the same time, the more I get in there, the better I feel and the more experience I get. So I feel good so far."

Rupp has been solid at the plate, although he dealt with some issues defensively last week. As Knapp got consecutive starts, Rupp sat out both Tuesday and Wednesday against the Rockies. He rebounded with a three-walk game Thursday afternoon.

With Knapp swinging the bat well, manager Pete Mackanin hopes it will only push Rupp to level his game up.

"Competition is great for pitchers and for position players and I think it's good," Mackanin said. "Knapp hit that home run today. He's been swinging the bat pretty well, catching pretty well and that's only, in my opinion, going to make Rupp better."

On Friday, Mackanin said he would give Knapp more playing time, looking to possibly split starts between Rupp and Knapp at four and three starts, respectively, per week. That's how it worked out during this past homestand.

The manager was unsure what the upward limit on Knapp's starts could be, but he was pleased about his catching situation despite the team's overall issues.

"Cam hasn't been swinging the bat that well lately, but they're both going to get playing time," Mackanin said. "Cam will get the brunt of the playing time. For me, it's a great situation. Now we have two guys that we think a lot of."

Nico Hischier recounts meteoric rise in draft stock as Flyers do their homework

Nico Hischier recounts meteoric rise in draft stock as Flyers do their homework

WINDSOR, Ontario -- Ever since the Flyers shot up the selection order at last month’s NHL draft lottery, prospect and Halifax Mooseheads center Nico Hischier has been familiarizing himself with the Flyers' organization.

The Flyers entered the lottery with just a 2.2 percent shot at the first overall pick after finishing the season with a 39-33-10 record but climbed 11 spots from the 13th selection to No. 2 in the draft, which takes place June 23-24 in Chicago.

“I know it’s a sports city — they have the NHL, NBA and all those sports,” Hischier said Saturday at the Memorial Cup. “It’s a really nice city and I know Mark Streit played there and Jakub Voracek played in Halifax as well.”

The Flyers' brass has wasted no time familiarizing themselves with the 18-year-old, who spent this season playing with the Mooseheads in the QMJHL.

“We had already a little meeting together, but I think at combine we’ll see each other again,” said Hischier, who is ranked second amongst North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting. “It was just that they want to know me better as a person. They asked me some personal questions and that’s about it.”

A native of Naters, Switzerland, Hischier grew up playing soccer. He was also an avid skier and snowboarder before his older brother, Luca, turned him on to hockey.

“I used to ski a lot,” Hischier said. “First skiing, and then snowboarding, but my brother played hockey, he’s four years older than me, then I just wanted to play hockey as well.”

Last season, Hischier followed his brother to Bern, where he played 15 games in the Swiss pro league with several former NHLers while he was coached by current Senators bench boss Guy Boucher.

The six-foot, 174-pound center registered one assist in his brief stint with the club but gained valuable experience in the process.

“I think that helped me a lot because they’re all older guys and they gave me some good tips, too,” he said. “I really could learn from them and it’s great that I could play with them.

“I think I learned a lot (from Boucher). He brought Canadian hockey to Switzerland, I think. His practices were hard and I could really learn from him.”

Halifax used the sixth selection at last year’s CHL import draft to pick Hischier, and after a little convincing, the lanky forward made the decision to make the move to North America.

“I just came to Canada to try to become a better hockey player and I worked hard,” he said. “I had great teammates, and Halifax is a great organization.”

Adjusting to the smaller rinks in North America admittedly took time for Hischier, but he adapted well leading all CHL rookies in scoring with 38 goals and 48 assists in 57 games. On Saturday, he was named the CHL’s rookie of the year (see story).

“I think I improved my game in the corners,” Hischier said. “You have to dump more pucks over here on North American ice, and chase the puck more behind the net. At the end, I would say my play in the corners (improved the most).”

Growing up, Hischier watched former Red Wings star Pavel Datsyuk closely, trying to model his game after the Russian forward.

He spent time this season playing both the wing and center positions and isn’t afraid to go to the net hard despite his slender frame. His offensive talents coupled with his ability to play both ends of the ice is what caused his draft stock jump from 26th on ISS Hockey’s rankings in November to a top-three position in January.

Internationally, Hischier made a splash at this year’s Under-20 world junior tournament in Toronto and Montreal, scoring a team-leading four goals and seven points in five games.

The highlight came in the quarterfinals where Hischier nearly single-handedly upset the Americans, scoring two goals in a 3-2 loss.

The performance led to a glowing review from U.S. coach Bob Motzko.

“He was the best player we’ve seen in this tournament,” Motzko said following the game. “We tried all four lines against him and I thought he was playing every shift because every time he got out there, the ice was tilted. It was the first thing we said when we got into the locker room: ‘That’s the best player we’ve seen in the tournament.’”

After the Mooseheads' first-round playoff exit, Hischier once again donned his country’s colors, registering one assist in five games at the U-18 tournament.

However, he skipped out on an opportunity to represent Switzerland at the senior men’s tournament in favor of relaxation.

“It was really important (to recover),” he said. “I went a couple days away from Switzerland to the beach (in Italy) and just relaxed. It was really great. Had to refill my tank and it was just great.”

Hischier will get another opportunity to meet with the Flyers’ front office this week in Buffalo at the NHL’s scouting combine. It’s believed Hischier could make the jump to the NHL in the fall, but he knows he still has some work to do this summer to make his dream come true.

“Get some pounds on, I want to get stronger,” said Hischier. “I think that’s the most important thing and I work hard towards that.”