IF TEMPLE'S Scootie Randall and Micheal Eric are going to miss a substantial slice of the season, what looked like a one-team Big 5 race becomes more unpredictable than it has in years. The first two Big 5 games were decided in overtime, the third by eight points.
If any team gets through this 4-0, I will be surprised. The teams just look too evenly matched. No great teams, but five good-to-very good teams. It has been a while since one or two of the teams have not been overmatched. Not so, this season.
And once Chris Fouch gets back into form, Drexel figures to be every bit the team that was the preseason pick to win the CAA.
This is not only a good city, it is also a young city. Neither Villanova nor Saint Joseph's has a senior. La Salle and Drexel each have one senior. Temple is the oldest team and the logical favorite, if Eric and Randall get back. And Penn's Zack Rosen, another senior, is playing better than anybody.
Cal's 'Cats again
Kentucky plays ridiculous defense. It might let teams make some shots in one half, but never two, not even North Carolina.
Freshman big man Anthony Davis grew 6 inches between his junior and senior years of high school and lost none of his skills. Mark him down as the likely No. 1 pick in the 2012 NBA draft. He is an NBA team-changer and gives Kentucky every chance to cut down the nets at the Superdome in New Orleans.
There was actually a recent headline on ESPN.com that read: "Harvard, Ivy's Best Ever?"
The story really did not suggest that. If it had, it would have been absurd. Go back in time to Bill Bradley and the Final Four Princeton team (1965) and Penn's 1971 team that was unbeaten until that man-bites-dog loss to Villanova in the regional final.
More recently, how about the Jerome Allen/Matt Maloney Penn teams that went 42-0 in the Ivy in their three seasons together, the Princeton team that lost one regular season game in 1997-98, and the Cornell Sweet Sixteen team from 2010.
Harvard (8-0) is very good, but this group still has not made an NCAA Tournament. Its signature game this season is a 46-41 1win over offensively challenged Florida State in the Bahamas. Let's see how the Crimson does at Connecticut tomorrow night. If they win, look for them on the cover of "Sports Illustrated." And if they get big "SI" play, the setup for Ivy defeat will be complete.
Through eight games, St. Joe's has 69 shot-blocks, 40 by amazing sophomore C.J. Aiken. Opposing teams shoot just 37.7 percent.
Hawks coach Phil Martelli promised his young team was ready to win this season. The early returns are promising. Starting tonight against Boston University, the Hawks play their next five games at home, including a game against Creighton (7-0) on Saturday and their first-ever Hawk Hill game against Villanova next Saturday.
This team does not have the talent of the 2002-2003 Hawks (no Jameer Nelson or Delonte West), but the interior defense reminds me of that team. Those Hawks were very big up front and led the nation in field-goal defense. They allowed just 87.7 points per 100 possessions, 12th best nationally. This team is also not that team because it does not have lockdown on-ball defenders like West or Tyrone Barley.
If West had not gotten hurt late in 2003, I feel confident those Hawks would have won the Atlantic 10 and made a very deep NCAA run. The Auburn team that beat them in a first-round overtime game lost to eventual champ Syracuse by a point in the Sweet 16.
These Hawks? It's still early. Getting from 22 losses to 22 wins is not likely. But they are definitely better.
The Hurley effect
I could not have been more impressed by how Wagner played in its 75-68 defeat of Penn at the Palestra on Nov. 22
In just his second season, Dan Hurley and his top assistant, bother Bob, have this team playing textbook defense, right out of the St. Anthony's manual perfected by Bob Hurley Sr.
That said, Dan's sideline act is over-the-top. In the first half, he argued every call. His team never committed a foul. The ball never went out of bounds off his team. Penn fouled on every possession.
Just before halftime, a whistle blew on a play not far from the Wagner bench. Dan was so upset with the call that he floated a towel my way on press row. I caught it as he apologized, saying "My bad" as I explained the foul was called on Penn. He was shocked. He shouldn't have been.
I really thought Hurley intimidated the officials and helped tilt the game his team's way. If you are in the whatever-it-takes camp, he helped his team win.
I am not in the camp. I like to see the players decide the games and the coaches coach the players.
Atlantic 10 deal
Xavier is the best team. We already knew that. Winning at Vanderbilt and beating Georgia and Purdue (after trailing by 19 with 10 minutes left) at home confirmed it.
Still, who saw Saint Louis winning the 76 Classic in Anaheim and Dayton winning the Old Spice in Orlando?
Both teams, however, had serious hangovers. Saint Louis stayed on the West Coast and lost at Loyola Marymount 2 days after winning the 76 title. I was told Rick Majerus then called up a former assistant, wondering exactly why he scheduled that game.
Dayton returned home where it doesn't lose often and promptly got buried by Buffalo, 84-55, in the early season's most bizarre score.