Villanova took the Big 5 … no shock value there. Penn dropped a big one in the Ivy League, then won a big one in the Ivy League 23 hours later. Those were the big City 6 headlines of the week.
Penn’s Ivy fortunes really is the big, local, ongoing, follow-into-March men’s story. (If we’re just counting City 6, since Herb Magee’s Jefferson University team is top-10 nationally in Division II and Robbie Heath just scored 50 for West Chester in D-II and Swarthmore remains unbeaten and top-ranked in the country in D-III).
But within the City 6, let’s look at the Quakers most closely for City 6 observations, Vol. 14.
That’s the way the Ivy League has broken down. Yale and Princeton are 6-2. Brown, Penn and Harvard are 5-3. Six games to go for all. Four of the five will advance to the Ivy playoffs, at Harvard this season.
Forgetting the rotating-venue issue, the Ivy format of having only half its teams qualify for the postseason tournament is the single greatest formatting innovation in recent college hoops. Every game is just crucial.
The KenPom.com prediction model has Penn and Brown ending up tied for fourth, the last spot coming down to tiebreakers. That would make Penn’s visit to Brown on Feb. 29 just massively important, after Brown already pulled off an upset this past Friday at the Palestra.
Of course, the prediction models didn’t predict that upset or some others, so there will be wrinkles in this final week. But if Penn gets into the playoff, the Quakers might look at Saturday’s win over first-place Yale as the catalyst. (If they miss by a game, an opening Palestra clunker against Princeton will be remembered for a long time.)
Facing Yale, Penn was just up against the wall, having already lost the home games to Princeton and Brown, with four of its last six games on the road.
“Critical,’’ Quakers coach Steve Donahue said Saturday night about getting out of the Palestra with a split by beating Yale. “You think about it, you’ve got the best team in the league. That’s a big win because there are a lot of tiebreakers stuff that comes in. That can be one of those. The other part, we go on the road for four games. If you lose two at home, go on the road …”
He didn’t finish that thought, probably didn’t want to. Instead, Donahue pivoted to the idea of the four-team playoff.
“This is the only league in the country that does this,’’ Donahue said. “I think it’s great for fans. It’s unbelievably exciting because you eliminate four teams at some point over the next six games. … I think the coaches in our league wish there were eight teams. I just think it’s something people should recognize, that the Ivy is doing this, and it’s great for the fans.”
Then Eddie Scott’s contributions off the bench for Penn will not be forgotten. His 18 points in 24 minutes were his highest total since scoring 21 as a freshman in a four-OT epic win over Monmouth way back in November 2017. This time, Scott shot 6-for-7, including a couple of three-pointers, and some free throws that helped put Yale away. He added a couple of assists.
“Big spark off the bench,’’ Quakers star AJ Brodeur said. “We know what he’s capable of; we see it every day at practice. He’s battled a lot the last couple of years, like injuries, playing time. We always knew what he provides. That athleticism, those good hands, the ability to finish around the rim. He heard his number called today, and he really showed up for us, in a big spot, too.”
Jay Wright mentioned after Villanova beat Temple — after Temple made just 2 of 16 three-pointers — that his team still had to guard the Owls closely on the three-point line. That’s an important point. Sometimes, teams can look at opposing players and say, eh, not a shooter, we can leave him open. And sometimes that can be the best way a player can get hot. Covered tightly, probably not.
Obviously, Villanova’s scouting report knew an Owls player such as Alani Moore is a threat from the outside. He got covered. Villanova’s defense this season hasn’t created a lot of turnovers, but opponents are shooting just 31.8% from three. That’s done by a team-wide commitment to keeping opponents honest. (Temple has done the same thing, by the way. The Owls and La Salle are both even stronger than Villanova at defending the three.)
Scott Spencer has the top offensive rating on the Explorers, and the lowest turnover rate. His 17 points Saturday in a loss at St. Louis tied his season high.
With Ryan Daly sitting out Saturday’s game at Rhode Island with an injury, St. Joseph’s spread the scoring around, but it’s just not enough, with 10 points by Myles Douglas going down as the team high in a 73-55 loss.
It’s a broken record to say reinforcements are coming next season, but in a sense, this year’s group is playing to continue to be part of the mix next season. You haven’t seen any Hawks letting down, with halftime scores often reflecting that. Freshman Rahmir Moore has the second-highest offensive rating, behind Daly.
The road hasn’t been kind to Drexel, which has lost six of its last seven, five of the losses on the road. The Dragons will be home for an interesting pair of games Thursday and Saturday against Hofstra and Northeastern. Drexel has been scoring, averaging 72 points over its last five games. But that means opponents have been, too. The other guys have averaged 75.
How close is Brodeur to Penn’s all-time scoring record? Penn sports information director Mike Mahoney got out his calculator and figured out that Brodeur needs 103 points to tie Ernie Beck on top of Penn’s all-time list. That, Mahoney notes, would be a 17.166 average over the last six regular-season games. His average through the first 21 games this season? 17.095.