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City 6 observations start at Villanova and its historically ugly week

Also, St. Joseph's forward Taylor Funk heated up and Penn's defense is again for real.

Villanova head coach Jay Wright holds-up his finger to his team against Morgan State during the first-half at the Finneran Pavilion on Tuesday, November 6, 2018. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Villanova head coach Jay Wright holds-up his finger to his team against Morgan State during the first-half at the Finneran Pavilion on Tuesday, November 6, 2018. YONG KIM / Staff PhotographerRead moreYong Kim / Staff Photographer

My weekly City 6 observations, Vol. 2:

Wright stuff?

Record the date: Nov. 17, 2018. Not just because Villanova lost a second straight home game, two in four days, when the Wildcats hadn't lost two home games in a season since 2012-13.

Just as unusual in recent years: Jay Wright tried something, and it didn't work.

Small moves and big, Villanova's coach has been on the winning streak of a lifetime. When Wright decided to stick with veterans in the second half against Furman, he had logic on his side. None of his freshmen could complain sitting on the bench if they were all there. Let the older guys get 'Nova past a smart Furman team, after the defending NCAA champs led by five at halftime.

As you probably saw or heard, it didn't work out. Villanova's freshmen combined for one second-half minute, and Furman won that second half by five, forcing overtime, when Furman finished off the upset, earning it.

Let's argue that the loss actually provided useful information for Villanova — namely, the vets can take the team only so far. Don't start ripping the returning guys — they all made contributions to titles — but Wright needs his new guys this season. He said after the 76-68 shocker that he considered putting some in there but decided to ride it out with older players.

There are no instant solutions. In recent seasons, Villanova has been the team creating mismatches with quickness and strong shooters all over the court. It has to be jarring to hear Furman's coach say his defense did a better job guarding the dribble against Villanova than it had against Gardner-Webb.

I'd argue that Wright, having seen his team find no offensive rhythm against Michigan, had it right starting the game, shortening his rotation a bit, bringing in freshmen Saddiq Bey and Cole Swider and Albany graduate transfer Joe Cremo off the bench. It's an easy argument to make that Bey, a guy who creates matchup issues, needs to play at least 20 minutes a game. Let's bet he does.

Swider is more interesting since he is a zone-stretcher, but who comes off when he comes on? He basically is a stretch four, and that's Eric Paschall's position. Despite Paschall's rough night against Furman, he's the go-to guy. So Swider basically can either come in when Paschall or Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree needs a break. Wright tried having all three on the floor at the same time. That lineup makes it a little tougher to guard smaller opponents. Let's go thumbs down to that.

Villanova's fan base all seems to have one question: Yo, what about Jahvon Quinerly? Wasn't the freshman point guard a McDonald's All-American? Why didn't he play a minute against Furman? Wright was asked about that, asked if Quinerly was out of the rotation.

"No, we're just trying to bring the young guys along,'' Wright said. "I always want to get those young guys in. It's just, it was close, and then when you get down the stretch, you try to ride it out with the older guys, hope you can get through a game. … When you look at a game like this, and it didn't turn out, you wish you had gotten them in. It's just the way it goes sometimes."

The truth is, Quinerly is dealing with what has to be a completely new situation for him, coming off a bench, needing to produce to get more minutes. He's made only four of 16 shots, and has one more turnover than assist. If you didn't know about how highly rated he was in high school, you'd assume it makes sense to bring him along the way Wright has done with other freshmen. When you're winning, it's easy to point out that Josh Hart started only three games in his first two seasons and Mikal Bridges redshirted as a freshman, and life has worked out for them.

Before the season, Wright said there might be more talented guys who play fewer minutes early as they find their way. It will just be fascinating to see how it plays out from here. The losses change the calculus.

The good news for 'Nova: Gardner-Webb isn't on the schedule.

For Quakers, defense runs deep

Yes, backcourt injuries have seriously hurt Penn. But it turns out the Quakers have decided to play the season anyway, and have come out of the gate quickly. The best thing about the 2017-18 Ivy champs was their defense, and that looks like Penn's calling card again. Even losing Sunday to nationally ranked Kansas State, the defense held up, holding K-State to 44 percent shooting from inside the three-point arc and 28.6 percent from outside (4-for-20 three-point shooting and 19 turnovers for Penn put the upset out of reach).

Last week, I asked Quakers coach Steve Donahue if his defense could be better this season than last. "No doubt,'' he said, mentioning how big men AJ Brodeur and Max Rothschild are better than they were last season — "they cover up so many things. They protect the lane. They protect the rim. You can switch and guard anybody on a switch." Donahue then started ticking off his guards and how strong they were as individual defenders, from Dev Goodman to Antonio Woods to Jake Silpe and Tyler Hamilton. "In some ways, that makes us even better defensively than we were last year."

Hawk talk

In beating Wake Forest and then losing to expected NCAA Tournament teams Central Florida and West Virginia, St. Joseph's showed more cards, none of them unexpected. The Hawks will be competitive with every team on their schedule. UCF, the AAC favorite, might have the best defense they face, and it was enough to slow them down. Their defense, on the other hand, wasn't enough to stop West Virginia, which could match the Hawks shot for shot. Neither loss hurts St. Joe's resume — a win, however, would have provided a little Express Lane on the road toward March Madness.

Probably the biggest individual development for the Hawks was that Taylor Funk heated up, making 12 of 17 threes. That's the kind of shooting obviously that helps Charlie Brown and the other Hawks get even more room to operate.

Owls grit

We'll find out more about Temple in the weeks just ahead, but the first four games, all wins, showed a veteran team that forces turnovers and controls the boards. A great grit combo that will keep the Owls in games, while Temple's shooting might keep both teams in it. Shizz Alston and Quinton Rose's making big shots down the stretch against Georgia was a significant development.

Two shots for Drexel

Drexel at La Salle on Saturday provided another opportunity for Explorers coach Ashley Howard to get his first win as a head coach. That didn't happen because Drexel got to the foul line 40 times and converted 34, negating La Salle's strong advantage at the three-point line.

We're going to ignore Drexel's previous win over Bryn Athyn, picked to finish sixth in its Division III league, and call this the first real "W" for the Dragons, and a big one, since La Salle and Temple are the only Big 5 schools playing Drexel this season.

Great call of the week

This one goes to me. Figuring Villanova would take it to Furman after the Michigan debacle, I tweeted a court photo pregame, noting, "Not sure I'd want to be Furman today." So I made my debut appearance in @OldTakesExposed and the 70-plus "that didn't age well" comments back at me were all fully earned, and mostly polite.