The earliest start to the season gave us a chance for some glimpses at what college basketball will look like around here this season.
There were some surprises, and some impressive debuts by City 6 freshmen. Let’s get started. Here are my weekly City 6 observations, Vol. 1.
Villanova. Despite the loss of two former Final Four stars in Phil Booth and Eric Paschall, mark the Jay Wright-ers down as potentially more dangerous this season than last because they have more varying offensive parts. The ball should move around well because even the young guys have flashed strong basketball IQs.
Drexel. You have to respect teams that have different but complementary parts. The Dragons now fit that description in a lot of ways. This group will battle, as shown at Temple, and it got a couple of wins in winnable games.
La Salle. Watching the Iona opener, you saw the talent and also saw how a team with two freshman point guards splitting the position will look a little loose at times. You saw a strong defensive unit, but one that gave up too many offensive rebounds down the stretch in regulation. You also saw a team that did not panic as a big lead frittered away. David Beatty, Saul Phiri, and transfer Scott Spencer all played calmly out there. Beatty and Spencer combined for seven assists and one turnover.
St. Joseph’s. If you expected a bunch of walk-ons out there when players left after the coaching change, slow down. The Hawks in the rotation are all Division I players. Bradley found that out opening night, as the Hawks pulled off maybe the biggest local surprise so far, with Ryan Daly a handful. That said, this still isn’t the most athletic group around, so defense will be an issue. We knew that.
Temple. The Owls have enough talent and grit to contend for an NCAA spot. Can they heat up enough from the outside and properly defend the interior? We’ll find out. Opponents won’t be having fun hunting jump shots against this group.
Penn. The Quakers were probably supposed to go 1-1 over their first two on the road. They just flipped the W and the L, surprising with a barnburner upset at Alabama and surprising with a loss that wasn’t close at Rice. So, intriguing from the start.
A lot of contenders, but Penn guard Jordan Dingle takes that honor with 24 points in last week’s win at Alabama, which was picked sixth in the Southeastern Conference preseason, making the Tide a legit NCAA contender. There were a number of strong freshman starts for City 6 teams, but Dingle drove for the game-winner against Alabama so you have to give it him. He also scored 22 Saturday at Rice.
The Quakers made 3 of 22 three-pointers, which is no way to win on the road, even against a team picked 13th of 14 in Conference USA. Dingle and Quakers big man AJ Brodeur combined for 42 points, which means everyone else combined for 19.
Maybe that means we already have a key to Penn’s season. Quakers guards Devon Goodman and Ryan Betley have had past success, and Bryce Washington flashed his ability early last season. These three getting in a rhythm with Dingle and Lucas Monroe, another freshman guard seeing time … this all seems key. You expect it to happen since those guys all know how to play the game. We’ll see if there are any other surprises Wednesday when the Quakers host La Salle at the Palestra.
If Dingle doesn’t have a game-winner already under his belt, you could make a strong case for Villanova’s Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, since the Wildcats once again have an inside player who is a handful. Robinson-Earl made 9 of 11 two-pointers against Army and had 6 offensive rebounds. He just needs to cut down on the 5 turnovers he accumulated, which at least indicated there’s room for progress.
Not surprising to Drexel probably, but T.J. Bickerstaff showed agility and fearlessness against Temple. He’ll be a handful in the CAA.
Shot selection. It’s fine to play with pace, fine to want three-pointers — and helpful that Cam Wynter plays such a calm game at point guard — but there were some contested Dragons threes early in the shot clock that didn’t seem like high-percentage shots, mostly because they weren’t. (Flip side: When James Butler is grabbing rebounds, the likelihood of such shots converting to points goes up.)
Maybe assists. The Hawks lost their two veteran point guards to transfers, but they’ve shared the ball so far, with 17 assists in each of their first two games.
No, Villanova had 22 against Army, and La Salle had 20 against Iona (admittedly, in 45 minutes, but only the 20th came in OT).
Since we were there to peel our eyeballs off the ceiling, we’ll go with Quinton Rose’s dunk against Drexel. SportsCenter Top Ten plays went with it.
Not from the City 6, but a City 6 sports information director printed it out over the weekend, so close enough. Final score Saturday: Utah 143, Mississippi Valley State 49. Mississippi Valley’s Michael Green led his team with 20 points, but ended up with a minus-79 plus-minus. Also, Utah had 41 assists. Craziness all the way around.
Maybe not for November, but Temple’s Josh Pierre-Louis will be by the end. (Big brother had the big week, with Nate Pierre-Louis taking the first AAC honors for player of the week.) Watch little brother for two plays, and his talent stands out. Expect Villanova guards Bryan Antoine and Justin Moore also to be in that conversation.
AJ Brodeur or Saddiq Bey. Good enough for you?
Villanova will have games in which Robinson-Earl is the best player, or Collin Gillespie, or Jermaine Samuels, or one of the freshman guards, or somebody else. As good as Dingle has gotten out of the gate, Penn starts with Brodeur every night.