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Atlantic Ten race wide open, after Rhode Island | City 6 observations

Can the Hawks still be a factor in the Atlantic Ten? And in the American, is that some resilience we're seeing from Temple?

Taylor Funk, left, of St. Joseph’s walking off the court arm-in-arm with teammate Charlie Brown Jr. after a victory over Princeton in November.
Taylor Funk, left, of St. Joseph’s walking off the court arm-in-arm with teammate Charlie Brown Jr. after a victory over Princeton in November.Read moreCHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

You might have noticed, the Atlantic Ten conference is up for grabs. Not first place. Rhode Island was picked to win the A-10, is undefeated in the conference, and looks likely to lock up an NCAA at-large spot before the A-10 tournament. After this weekend's play, Drexel Hill's favorite bracketologist, Joe Lunardi, had the Rams 25th overall, solidly in the NCAA field.

Everybody else? They need to win that tournament, which this year is in Washington.

If you look at the preseason vote of coaches and media and match them up with the current standings, it's almost as if somebody threw all the teams other than Rhode Island in a bag and began blindly drawing them out. Almost every game between any two of those teams is up for grabs.

Davidson, picked sixth, is now second. Duquesne, picked 14th — also known as last — is now third. Richmond, picked eighth, is tied for fourth.

Which brings us to St. Joseph's. The Hawks were picked third for a reason, and that reason didn't include point guard Fresh Kimble and top scorer Charlie Brown sitting out. It's completely obvious by now that at full strength, St. Joe's would have been a major contender in this season's A-10.

As it is, the Hawks remain contenders, tied for fourth with Richmond and VCU through Monday's games, all at 4-3 in the league. The way to look at the A-10 tournament, securing one of the top regular-season places is important since those four schools will have to play only three games in Washington.

Which brings us to  Brown. You might be tempted to wonder if it is worth it for him to return this season from wrist surgery that originally was supposed to keep him out for only a few weeks in October.

If he's not healthy enough to play, obviously a medical redshirt makes sense. But if Brown gets cleared to play even a small portion of regular-season games, his presence could make the Hawks a major contender in the A-10 tournament. As for his own future, it's legitimate to wonder if a player who expects to make money from playing basketball down the road would even want to stay in college for five years.

All in all, this is a development worth watching. On Saturday, I asked Phil Martelli for a progress report on Brown. "A CAT scan was done Thursday and read. He's meeting with the doctor early this week to decide," Martelli said.

So stay tuned, Hawks fans.

Gillespie’s back

You might think the return of Villanova's Collin Gillespie after he fractured his hand in December wouldn't be a big deal for the nation's top-ranked team. Let's argue it's a very big deal. You saw last season how Villanova got worn down by a short rotation. Having the freshman from Archbishop Wood, last season's Catholic League player of the year, back to grab some  minutes at guard leaves Jay Wright with enough bench options to ensure proper rest throughout his rotation.

For Gillespie, 15 minutes against Georgetown and 10 minutes against Connecticut pretty much matched the 13-minute average he was playing before the injury. Adding another ball handler to the mix is hardly a bad thing, especially one who can shoot.

Important Quaker

The key stat for Penn senior Caleb Wood isn't necessarily minutes. It's three-pointers, taken and made. Even averaging 15 minutes a game, Wood is second on his team in three-pointers made because he has hit 42.6 percent of his threes, best of the eight Penn players averaging double-figure minutes.

Penn's starters have all proved why they are starting and the result has been first place in the Ivy League, but Wood's bench contributions shouldn't be undersold.

Owls bounce back

Call it what you want. I'll call it resilience. For a crucial stretch of the season, the Owls seemed to lack that quality. From the outside, they got off to a hot start and seemed to believe they were good enough to show up and win the games they were favored to win. (We're talking about Tulane at home.) When that didn't happen, a tailspin ensued.

Since losing their first four American Athletic Conference games, Temple has demonstrated that it will be playing teams tough for 40 minutes. Giving additional minutes to some spirited freshmen has turned out to be a good thing. Nobody is guaranteed time. None of this erases the tough Temple stretch, but the Owls haven't folded their tents.

Wednesday's game at Cincinnati and a visit Sunday from Connecticut will show if all this is a trend or a blip. It has been hard to project with this year's Owls, long term or short.

Road woes

It's obvious by now that Drexel doesn't have the ability yet to win road games consistently, or even semi-regularly. An early-December victory at Gola Arena looks like a blip now, since it's the only true road game the Dragons have won. They've been close all sorts of times, including at Temple and Delaware. But they haven't been closing.

The wins at La Salle and on a neutral court against Houston show the possibilities, but it's tough to win too often on the road when you're making only 32.1 percent of your three-pointers, last in the Colonial Athletic Association. In conference games, that falls to 30.7 percent. Since the Dragons are also giving up the most points in league games, that's a recipe for last place, where Drexel sits.

Johnson’s return

With B.J. Johnson back playing full minutes, look for La Salle to be in most A-10 games. (See above.) Looking at Ken Pomeroy's statistical analysis, La Salle is ranked 159th overall, probably about where you'd expect. The Explorers are within range of that in most sub-categories, except for one in which they are 311th in the country.

That category is simply titled "luck." It attempts to measure all the scores for a team and how those points should translate into wins and losses. For La Salle fans, there's probably no shock value at all in this stat. Except with a talent such as Johnson in your lineup, luck has a better chance of finding you. We'll keep watching this.