College basketball tips off tonight; here’s what you need to know about all six Philly teams
Here is everything you need to know about the 2018-19 college basketball season.
Sorry, Wildcat fans: Villanova isn't expected to repeat, but that doesn't mean we aren't in for an exciting ride this winter.
Tuesday is the first day of the 2018-19 college basketball season. St. Joe's and Penn are expected to finish near the top of the Atlantic Ten and Ivy League, respectively; Drexel and La Salle are hoping to see some improvement; Temple will try to cut through a crowded conference field; and Villanova, of course, is once again expected to finish first in the Big East.
We've got previews of all of Philadelphia's six teams, plus what you need to know from a national perspective and how the women's teams are expected to fare.
With nearly 150 games on the docket, Tuesday is bound to be a fun way to usher in the new season. The action will tip off as early as 12:30 p.m. ET, when you can watch Green Bay take on Division III Wisconsin Lutheran. But more importantly: Three local teams will be in action Tuesday night.
Villanova begins its title defense against Morgan State at 7 p.m. from the newly renovated Finneran Pavilion. If you don't plan to head out to the Main Line, you can watch on FS1.
La Salle will travel down North Broad Street to start its season against the Temple Owls at 6:30 p.m. Penn is playing at George Mason at 7 p.m.
Nationally, opening night is headlined by the Champions Classic in Indianapolis, featuring two marquee games: No. 10 Michigan State at No. 1 Kansas at 7 p.m. followed by No. 4 Duke at No. 2 Kentucky at 9:30 p.m. Both games will be on ESPN.
What can you expect from the national scene this year? Joe Juliano broke down the players to watch, the storylines to know (could this really be Penn State's year?) and all the key dates right here.
A new challenge on the Main Line
For the first time since he took over the program in 2001, Jay Wright doesn't have a group of juniors and sophomores to step up. After winning their second title in three years, the Wildcats lost two — Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges — who were expected to head for the draft, and a couple of others — Donte DiVincenzo and Omari Spellman — who weren't.
Wright was left with fifth-year seniors Phil Booth and Eric Paschall — whose job is to help things stay the same — and brought in the first grad transfer of his 'Nova career in Albany's Joe Cremo.
But even with the upheaval, things are still predicted to go well for Villanova: It was picked to finish the Big East regular season in first place.
Around the league, Marquette, Providence and St. John's are expected to challenge the Wildcats. The Red Storm hope hometown hero Chris Mullin can finally bring the program back to the glory days.
Season opener: Tuesday vs. Morgan State, 7 p.m., FS1
Old faces, new look for St. Joe’s
For nearly all of the 2017-18 season, Saint Joseph's was without perhaps its best two players in Charlie Brown and Lamarr "Fresh" Kimble: Brown had a wrist injury that refused to heal; Kimble went down with a foot injury in the season opener.
Now, with both players back, Hawks coach Phil Martelli has high expectations for his team.
Kimble reshaped his body in the time he was forced to spend off the court, dropping 15 to 20 pounds and turning baby fat into lean muscle. Brown has noticeably grown up, learning how to become a more dedicated defender and keep his poise on the court.
The power is shifting around the A-10, with St. Louis picked to finish first and familiar faces Rhode Island, Davidson and St. Bonaventure missing out on the top two spots.
Season opener: Friday vs. Old Dominion, 7:30 p.m.
Program of his own
There's a far-less optimistic prediction for La Salle in the Atlantic Ten — the Explorers were picked to finish 12th out of 14 teams.
But that prognosis doesn't scare Ashley Howard.
The first-year head coach — fresh off another national title won as an assistant for Jay Wright at Villanova — thinks people are underestimating the talent on his roster.
The Philly native (he attended Monsignor Bonner before playing at Drexel) is high on Pookie Powell, who was able to gain a sixth year of eligibility by lobbying the NCAA.
The pair will look to bring La Salle back to the NCAA Tournament for just the second time since 1992.
Season opener: Tuesday at Temple, 7:30 p.m.
Dunphy’s swan song
The Owls want to send head coach Fran Dunphy out with another visit to the NCAA Tournament.
The head coach is stepping down after the season, and Shizz Alston — a member of Dunphy's final senior class — has the perfect idea for a retirement gift.
Alston will be joined on the court by Quinton Rose, who tested the NBA draft waters last spring before opting to return to Temple. It was a move Dunphy and Rose agree has made him a better player.
All the better: This year, the American Athletic Conference will be a competitive one. Central Florida — with 7-foot-6 center Tacko Fall and preseason player of the year B.J. Taylor — was picked to finish first. Cincinnati and Houston, two NCAA Tournament teams a season ago, round out the top three while Temple is expected to finish in the middle of the pack.
Season opener: Tuesday vs. La Salle, 7:30 p.m.
On the women's side, Alliya Butts lost her 2017-18 season because of a torn ACL. She's looking to rebound and lead an Owls team with just one senior, two juniors and 10 underclassmen.
Penn beat Harvard in the second Ivy League Tournament final in March after the two tied for the regular-season title.
Expect another dance between the schools this year, as the Crimson and Quakers were picked one-two in the league for the 2018-19 season.
Penn coach Steve Donahue is optimistic that last year's success — a conference title and berth in the NCAA Tournament, which ended an 11-year tournament drought — can lead to good things.
"You put all of those things together last year, you hope that now you continue to grow your program based on those standards," he said.
Donahue's optimism is warranted. He returns his top two scorers in Ryan Betley and A.J. Brodeur, who won most outstanding player in last year's Ivy League tournament and is looking forward to going back to the championship game.
Standing in his way will be Seth Towns, last year's Ivy League player of the year. He returns for the Crimson, who were picked to finish first.
Season opener: Tuesday at George Mason, 7 p.m.
Improvement is key
Zach Spiker is entering his third season at Drexel, and he's not necessarily counting the Dragons' improvement by wins and losses.
He wants to watch them improve defensively, and thinks they can do that this season.
Led by local product Troy Harper and Kurk Lee, who was fourth in minutes played in the Colonial Athletic Association last season, Drexel will look to improve on its 13-20 season last year.
Drexel was picked to finish ninth in the CAA — a little behind Delaware, which was picked seventh. Northeastern is expected to edge out the College of Charleston for the regular-season conference title.
Season opener: Friday at Eastern Michigan, 11 a.m.
On the women's side, Bailey Greenberg hopes she can help the Dragons jump from the WNIT to the Big Dance.