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City 6 observations: Penn up next for Villanova in Big 5 play, and this could get interesting

If Penn gets Villanova on the ropes, as La Salle and Temple did, the Quakers might just be the ones who finish the job.

Devon Goodman, left, and his Penn teammates will have a big test Tuesday against Villanova.
Devon Goodman, left, and his Penn teammates will have a big test Tuesday against Villanova.Read more

My weekly City 6 observations, Vol. 5:

Did you underestimate Penn?

Or was it just me? The thinking had logic behind it. It’s hard to lose your MVP point guard and an instant-offense guard off the bench to graduation, then lose your top scorer to season-ending injury -- that’s now three of your top four 2017-18 scorers gone -- and also lose an expected starting guard, a real talent, to his second straight season-ending injury. … All that, you’re going to take a step back, right?

So far, Penn might have taken a step to the side, but not back. It’s not a shock that Dev Goodman has stepped into the point-guard role. The junior had shown enough as a backup to make you think he was ready. The surprise might be that freshmen Bryce Washington and, especially, Michael Wang are ready to be big contributors offensively without Penn falling back defensively.

The Quakers were terrific defensively last season, and Antonio Woods and Max Rothschild, both back, are terrific defenders. Woods, at his best, is a true stopper. You’ll see that at the Palestra Tuesday night against Villanova. Never hurts to acknowledge that side of the ball. (We mention all that without pointing out AJ Brodeur is playing at an all-Big 5 level.)

So an upset is brewing? Seriously, who knows? Let’s go this far: If Penn gets Villanova on the ropes, as La Salle and Temple did, the Quakers might just be the ones who finish the job. We’ll see, since Villanova has enough wild cards of its own.

An effective Villanova combo

The last two games, Jermaine Samuels was a big factor off Villanova’s bench. Going small, putting Samuels basically at the four, is effective, especially when he is paired in a small-ball lineup with Eric Paschall. Opponents already know how dangerous Paschall is inside and out. If a center guards him, he’ll both take him outside and hit jumpers, and go around him. The obvious counter is to guard him with a forward.

Well, if you have a center in the game, he’s got to guard somebody, and it’s natural to think that person should be Samuels, who had made just 4 of 20 threes going into the last two games. How dangerous could he be?

The sophomore answered that question. Villanova probably doesn’t beat Temple without him, and he was a handful against St. Joe’s, too.

Let’s state the obvious

St. Joe’s isn’t dangerous enough without Charlie Brown and Pierfrancesco Oliva. Brown, who had sprained his ankle at Princeton, sat out at Villanova, which means the Hawks were basically missing a quarter of their offense, their most efficient quarter. When La Salle missed Pookie Powell against Villanova, it was a little different since Traci Carter could pick up the slack. There’s just no replacing what Brown does for the Hawks.

There’s also no replacing what Oliva does. Find a big man who does a better job of threading passes and also hitting the defensive boards. He’s out with a concussion.

Phil Martelli was harping on missed layups after the Villanova game, how that crushed his team. Fair enough, although missing three-pointers also crushed the Hawks. Despite a late run, St. Joe’s just didn’t have the firepower needed to make you think an upset could happen Saturday at the Pavilion.

Temple was good enough ….

… to get ahead of Villanova. But a couple of bad things happened. Temple’s offensive stars maybe wanted this one too much and forced shots early in the shot clock in the second half after the Owls had the lead. Also, Temple’s defense didn’t hold up down the stretch. The Owls have been great at forcing turnovers this season, but when Villanova declined to turn it over, Temple’s halfcourt D didn’t hold up down the stretch, failing to get stops.

When might La Salle get a win?

Friday, the winless Explorers will face equally winless Alabama A&M in the first round of a tournament in Atlantic City. While La Salle is ranked 253rd in the latest rankings, Alabama A&M is 352nd among 353 Division I teams. (Congrats to Delaware State, No. 353.) The prediction model gives La Salle an 88 percent chance of winning.

This counts as good news

Madison Square Garden extended its agreement to hold the Big East tournament there through 2028. The key to the deal is the timing of the tournament. Other leagues can hold their tournament there, but not the last weekend into Selection Sunday. The Big East keeps the key dates.

That’s how it should be. MSG has something with the Big East and doesn’t need to sell out to have the Big Ten or ACC there sporadically.

The Dragons shot well enough ...

… to beat UMBC, almost 60 percent from two-point range, almost 40 percent from three-point range, but four starters' combining for 15 turnovers is a problem, especially when the other guys are putting up 91 points, making 71 percent of their two-pointers.

RIP, Tom Maloney

Tom Maloney covered all sorts of sports for KYW radio, but it was always impressive how many college games he got to, or Temple football news conferences even in the days when the Owls could barely scratch a win together. Tom had a sharp wit that always made him a pleasure to sit next to, even when a certain Temple beat writer from the Daily News was always threatening to grab Tom’s press-row phone to call in the next game update. (Tom laughed, and protected his phone.)