WITH THE REGULAR season nearly half over, it is now time for the city's six teams in four conferences to get serious about league play. With the Big 5 title decided before the other four teams have played a single game against any team but City Series champion Villanova, those four will now try to compete for a league championship. So will Drexel and Villanova.
The Wildcats get yet another full Big 5 title. I will award a half-title to Drexel, which also will finish the season unbeaten against Big 5 teams after beating Saint Joseph's and Penn.
Villanova and Drexel already have started league play in the Big East and Colonial Athletic Association, respectively. La Salle, St. Joe's and Temple start Atlantic 10 play tonight. Penn plays its final three City Series games over the next 17 days and then begins Ivy League play on the last weekend of January with home games against Yale and Brown.
Villanova (12-1) won its Big East opener against Rutgers and goes to South Florida tomorrow night before unbeaten Cincinnati (14-0) comes to campus on Sunday. South Florida (6-9) has lost six of seven. Its only win in that streak was against Auburn, not exactly the Chuck Barkley version. South Florida did take Connecticut to overtime on New Year's Eve so this game potentially could be more interesting than it appears.
Drexel is 9-3 and 1-1 in a very difficult CAA after losing to Hofstra Monday night at home. The Dragons get no breathers. They play at VCU (9-5) tonight, host archrival Delaware (6-6) on Saturday and then host Old Dominion (10-3) next Thursday.
After a very testing nonconference schedule, three-time defending A-10 champion Temple (9-3) plays surprising Fordham (6-6) at the Meadowlands. By the way, the Owls are not finished with non-con games. They have a little Feb. 23 test at No. 1 Duke as they head down the regular-season stretch.
La Salle (7-7) is at George Washington (7-6). On paper, these are two teams going in opposite directions. La Salle has lost four of five while GW has won five of six. In reality, this is a tossup, with very little predictability.
St. Joe's (5-8) hosts talented Duquesne (7-5). The Hawks have won two straight and are showing some positive signs, with the shot-making of guards Tay Jones, Langston Galloway and Justin Crosgile and the shot-blocking of C.J. Aiken. But the Dukes are good, having lost just one game by more than six points, and that was by 14 to Pittsburgh.
Penn (5-6) will have a chance against La Salle and St. Joe's and a serious chance in the Ivy. The nonleague games at Pitt and Kentucky and City Series games with Villanova and Temple have to get the Quakers ready for anything they will see on the Ivy road. If they can defend home court, there is no reason to think Penn can't compete with Harvard and Princeton, the favorites to win the league.
WILL FRUSTRATE ALL
One can use numbers in a variety of ways. One of my favorite stats is points-per-possession. It gives a much more accurate gauge of a team's effectiveness than points scored or points allowed. It also clues one into the true meaning of various statistics.
Take turnovers. Bo Ryan's Wisconsin teams are always among the national leaders in fewest turnovers. They simply give away nothing. This season, the Badgers average a nation's-best 8.1 turnovers per game. They also average a nation's-fewest 59.2 possessions per game. The second number clearly has a lot to do with the first.
The object never changes. Wisconsin is trying to frustrate teams. And it does just that season after season. The Badgers also do something else every season - win.
SHOOT IT, WIN IT
There are nine teams shooting 50 percent or better from the field. The combined record of Duke, Kansas, Ohio State, San Diego State, Central Florida, Saint Mary's, Georgetown, Marquette and Colorado is 113-13. The first five on the list are 69-0.
CAN ANYONE EXPLAIN TENNESSEE?
Bruce Pearl's team beat Villanova and Pittsburgh and looked very good doing it. The Vols promptly lost to Oakland, Charlotte, USC and Charleston. They barely beat Belmont and Tennessee-Martin.
After a game with Memphis tonight, Pearl begins his eight-game, SEC-mandated suspension for conference games. The way his team has been playing, the coach might not miss being on the bench.
CAN THEY STAY UNBEATEN?
I guess it's possible for one of the seven unbeaten teams to run the table in the regular season, but as good as they are, it would be hard to imagine Duke, Syracuse, Ohio State or Kansas doing it, given the conference gantlet they are about to face. Cincinnati obviously is not going unbeaten.
So what about Central Florida or San Diego State? UCF has to deal with less-than-overwhelming Conference USA. Could it win all 16 league games? Not likely, but not impossible.
San Diego State has 16 Mountain West games. Getting through without a loss will be very difficult, considering the Aztecs have home-and-homes with UNLV, New Mexico and BYU. Those three have combined records of 37-6.
By the way, seven unbeaten teams after the New Year is a very big number. So maybe it is going to happen.
THIS AND THAT
* UCLA's Pauley Pavilion opened in 1965. It took 45 years for the Bruins to lose 100 games there. Loss No. 100 was against Washington Friday. How many have they won at Pauley? 629.
* Michael Bradley, so good in his one season at Villanova and now retired after an NBA career that included a stop with the Sixers, is a high school coach in Cincinnati. His Summit Country Day squad is 7-1 and was recently in Philadelphia, where it won two games.
* Ohio State has won nine consecutive road games, dating back to last season, after winning at Iowa last night.
* Villanova is shooting 77.0 percent from the free throw line, 11th best nationally.
* La Salle is 30th nationally with 73.5 possessions per game. So the pace is hot. The defense, however, has not been so hot.
* After beating Georgetown Monday, St. John's plays nothing but ranked teams the rest of the month. The Red Storm get Notre Dame twice, Syracuse, Louisville, Cincinnati, Georgetown again and end it with an easy nonconference game against No. 1 Duke. Steve Lavin's team is 3-0 in the Big East and 0-2 against Atlantic 10 teams St. Bonaventure and Fordham.
* Kansas State has underachieved in relation to its preseason ranking. There are many reasons. One is foul shooting. K-State shoots just 56.6 percent from the foul line. That would be 344th in the country; there are 345 teams. By the way, Drexel improved to 58.2 percent during Monday night's loss to Hofstra. The Dragons are 339th and that surely could be an issue down the road.
* Remember when Gonzaga was 4-5 with losses to San Diego State, Kansas State, Illinois, Washington State and Notre Dame. Well, Mark Few's team has righted the ship with wins over Baylor, Xavier, Oklahoma State and Wake Forest. The West Coast Conference race with Saint Mary's should be excellent again.