Saturday doesn’t just mean a visit from this week’s No. 1 team in the country, bringing the sounds of Rock Chalk Jayhawk inside the Wells Fargo Center.
Kansas-Villanova on South Broad Street is kind of a midterm test for Villanova, telling us a little more about where things stand for this team going into the Big East schedule. We’ll start there with City 6 observations, Vol. 6.
Yes, they pass terrifically, and they can shoot. Jay Wright has had more dominant defensive teams, but also young teams that have struggled more defensively at this point in a season. Let’s see what it all adds up to Saturday against the top-ranked Jayhawks.
So far, Saddiq Bey has offered some big, big games, as expected. Freshman Jeremiah Robinson-Earl has been a big-time, as expected. Collin Gillespie has been an upper-level point guard, as expected. Jermaine Samuels is important to this team, as expected.
The biggest surprise: How much impact freshman guard Justin Moore has had. Since moving out of the starting lineup, Moore hasn’t missed a beat, averaging 18 points a game as the top substitute. He’s taken over a role handed down from past Villanova players such as Josh Hart, Mikal Bridges and Donte DiVincenzo, as essentially a sixth starter, providing an offensive boost. Moore has done it his own way, making his share of threes, but causing the most trouble by getting into the paint when he has a matchup that allows it. An interesting midterm for him Saturday, too.
Villanova is one of only two teams in Division I in the top 35 in the nation in three-point percentage, two-point percentage and free-throw percentage. The other team, surprisingly, is 5-5 Northeastern. (In case you hadn’t heard, defense is half the game, too.)
Would Isiah Deas find his place within La Salle’s revamped team as a senior? It was a question going into the season, and Deas has answered it, moving into the starting lineup after La Salle’s third game. Saturday, Deas exploded for 31 points against Morgan State -- including 17 in a row in the first half -- making 6 of 11 threes, adding a couple of assists and a couple of steals, with no turnovers in 26 minutes.
Has to go to Temple’s defense against St. Joseph’s. Or should it be Temple’s offense against St. Joseph’s? Obviously, everything worked when the final score was 108-61. Nate Pierre-Louis led the defense, as tends to do, doing what nobody from UConn or Villanova or Florida had done, sealing off Ryan Daly. If you’re looking for a Big 5 defensive player of the year, so far nobody is close to Pierre-Louis.
As soon as we saw the Hawks, we put them down for winning five Atlantic 10 games this season, quickly adding, who knows what games? Not ready to get off that prediction yet, even as St. Joe’s stands at 2-9, since staying within range of Villanova and Florida easily could have been wins in league play, especially at home.
That said, the prediction came before Taylor Funk’s thumb injury that has caused him to miss four games, with Funk’s return at all this season unclear. Funk had been playing a pretty good two-man game at times with Ryan Daly, and also offered another badly-needed taller body inside. It was obvious from the start that with a diminished number of bodies, the margin for error was so small. That’s proven to be true lately, as the Hawks have dropped eight straight.
Hawks aside, the league has had a big start to this season, This week the NCAA released its first NET rankings, its newer self-made version of the old RPI rankings. It heavily factors in strength of schedule, and opponents’ strength of schedule. The A-10’s strong start is reflected Dayton slotted at 10th, Duquesne 20th, Richmond 22nd. The league has seven teams in the top 75, compared to eight for the Big East and five for the AAC.
A reminder that the rankings themselves aren’t heavily used by the NCAA tournament selection committee. They are used more as a measuring device, with wins and losses vs. good and bad quadrants particularly important. The more chances you have for good wins, the better the odds you make the tournament if you win enough of them.
Here are the NET rankings:
Penn State tops the state right now. In addition to making the Associated Press for the first time since 1996, the Nittany Lions are 18th in the Net. They’ll be at the Palestra Jan. 4 playing Iowa.
Another state tidbit: Anybody who had 6-2 Lafayette (165th in Net) ahead of 7-4 UCLA (167th), you win.
… in the top 50 in defensive rebounding percentage. If you had Drexel’s James Butler, congrats. For bonus points, name the City 6 player who is in the top 50 in assist rate according to KenPom.com while making over 40 percent of their threes. If you had Drexel’s Cam Wynter, congrats.