Going into this season, it was easy to put Villanova on top locally, since the talent level on the Main Line warranted that. After that … Penn or Temple? You didn’t know. Or, I didn’t know.
For good reason, it turned out. Penn, at its best, should give Villanova a game. But the Quakers’ on-off switch must have a motion detector or something. It’s certainly not working on a predictable timer.
Meanwhile, Temple has proved what many around here suspected. While the Owls have flaws, starting with shooting, this is a legit ball team ready to win games in Season 1 under Aaron McKie, underrated in preseason outlooks.
Let’s get to City 6 observations, Vol. 3.
That’s going to the Penn Quakers, just for the impossibility of predicting W’s and L’s based on the strength of the opponent. Based on KenPom.com rankings, you’d think Penn’s early wins would have been over Rice (ranked 160th), La Salle (216th) and Lafayette (220th) and the losses would come at Alabama (78th) and Providence (35th).
Nobody can be even surprised that two of the wins were at 78th and 35th, plus the one home game against La Salle. Meanwhile, Rice and Lafayette didn’t just beat Penn — each did it by double digits.
What’s up with that? When Penn makes 3 of 22 three-pointers, it’s tough to win on the road, including at Rice. When Rice makes 10 of 26 threes, it’s game over. At Lafayette, the Quakers made 11 of 33 threes, but Lafayette also made 11, but took only 22 tries to do it.
So it’s no mystery. When Penn adequately defends the three-point line, the Quakers are in business. That’s been a top Penn strength the last few years. Second nationally in 2017-18 when Penn reached the NCAAs, then 103rd last season, although the Quakers still shot at a better percentage than opponents.
This season, it’s the reverse, with opponents making 35.6%, putting Penn a substandard 252nd nationally, and the Quakers are making just 30.5%, 258th nationally.
Bottom line: Penn could realistically be 5-0 and be the kind of team in the at-large NCAA conversation. Instead, it is 3-2 so far, a long, contested jumper away from that conversation.
How Penn held on
The win at Providence was another impressive one, although it looked like a 17-point halftime would fully vanish as Quakers inside mainstay AJ Brodeur sat with his fourth foul with 11 minutes, 57 seconds left in the game, Penn up 10.
It’s important to remember that with freshman Jonah Charles (broken foot) and sophomore Michael Wang (tendinitis) out, if Brodeur sits, Penn essentially doesn’t have its starting frontline. On the road. At Providence. With Penn’s lead holding at a tenuous six points, coach Steve Donahue rolled the dice and put Brodeur back in the game with eight minutes left.
A smart roll. Brodeur hit Jordan Dingle with a kick-out pass for a made three, then made an inside stop without fouling; Penn’s offense flows nicely through Brodeur, and he’s the prime inside defensive stopper. The tide turned on those two possessions.
A Dev Goodman steal led to a Ryan Betley three, and Penn had enough to hang on. Betley’s early scorching hand had put the Quakers in control of the first half. Donahue’s bold move was the clincher. Brodeur never did pick up his fifth foul.
An early Drexel thought
The Dragons needed a shooter to add to other strong attributes. Zach Walton must have agreed, making 6 of 9 threes in a win over Bryant.
You knew this was coming
Temple freshman Josh Pierre-Louis has the kind of bounce in his game that draws attention. A veteran NBA scout saw just a few minutes of the guard in the first half of Temple’s opener and noted at halftime that this guy was someone he’d be keeping an eye on.
So 15 points, 3 assists, 3 steals in 16 minutes of a big W at USC showed that the younger brother of Owls star Nate Pierre-Louis is emerging from Aaron McKie’s freshman boot camp, ready to contribute. Not expecting those kinds of numbers all the time, but Josh’s upside improves Temple’s upside.
Don’t believe me ...
Listen to ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla. Collin Gillespie is a point guard, period. That’s what he was at Archbishop Wood when he was Catholic League MVP. That’s what he’s always been.
Villanova fans have mostly come around to understanding you want the ball in this guy’s hands. Sure, Gillespie can catch and shoot, and had it going in Myrtle Beach. But his court awareness is his greatest strength. He’s the top point guard in the City 6 this season, way up there on the Big East list.
What Baylor showed ...
Defending the three-point line isn’t a disaster for Villanova. Those were tough, deep shots Baylor made to create a late cushion Sunday against the Wildcats. You don’t see anyone in this Villanova group not working hard at that end. Still, a group that is more forward-oriented than ever won’t always be able to seal off the three-point line.
It might turn out to be statistically significant that against the three Power 5 opponents (W vs Mississippi State, L’s vs Ohio State and Baylor), Villanova had zero steals against the Buckeyes, four against Mississippi State and three against Baylor. The good news for Villanova: The other guys didn’t steal it much, either.
We think we’ve got it. We knew coming in that St. Joe’s could lose to anyone on the schedule. We just didn’t realize the Hawks also could beat virtually anyone on the schedule.
The wins over Bradley and at UConn showed the high end, and maybe a lack of highest energy at the end of three games in four days showed itself against Towson, when freshman Chereef Knox made 4 of 6 threes but his teammates combined for 5 of 27. You’ll need to have realistic expectations, while still allowing for being impressed with how Billy Lange’s group almost pulled out a comeback shocker against Florida in Charleston.
By now, everyone gets how Ryan Daly can create plays for himself and teammates, on the break and in tight traffic. You see the shots. Just understand he’s 26th in the nation in assists. The ball might not always go in, but it moves around, which is half the battle.
Nothing says Thanksgiving ...
... like warm-weather college hoops. When did this become a thing? When various ESPN channels needed programming.
So, yes, Temple vs. Maryland, a big-time game before the parades are even over, at 11 a.m., live from Orlando, Fla. While digesting dinner, you have Penn vs. Central Florida, 8:30 p.m., live from Anaheim, Calif. Disney World and Disneyland. Mickey Mouse was probably a hoops fan forever — it just took his company buying ESPN and adding a gazillion channels for us all to notice.