VILLANOVA is playing at a top-10 level again. The rest of the Big 5 is rebuilding and/or trying to discover exactly how to maximize the strengths of their players while covering up their weaknesses.
So, it was no shock when the Wildcats, playing at home Saturday, jumped Saint Joseph's at the start and never looked back, winning 74-46.
It was 17-2 after 6 minutes. Weeks before the season began, Hawks coach Phil Martelli said his team's biggest issue was shooting. He knew his team. SJU missed 18 straight shots straddling the halves. Freshmen James Demery and Shavar Newkirk went 1-for-17. SJU (4-4, 1-1 Big 5) shot 18-for-59 (30.5 percent). The Hawks made one three, 'Nova made nine. That would be 27-3 on the scoreboard.
Villanova (8-0, 2-0) always plays the game correctly. And when the Wildcats shoot threes at a reasonable level, they are good enough to beat just about anybody because of their veteran starters and high-octane, talented bench. The 'Cats, who struggled from the arc early in the season, are 18-for-41 (43.9 percent) in their last three halves and made them when they had to against VCU in Brooklyn.
Jay Wright's team dominated the city over the previous 10 years, going 33-7 in Big 5 games. Home, road, Palestra, it does not seem to matter. Villanova is at one very high level and everybody else is trying to catch up.
Temple (5-3, 2-1) is probably going to end up being better than its early play suggests, but, after beating the Explorers 58-57 at the Palestra, Fran Dunphy's team has been winning anyway. The Owls are likely to win a lot more when Jesse Morgan and Devin Coleman become eligible after the first semester and big man Jaylen Bond gets fully healthy and more playing time.
The Owls were brilliant offensively in the first half against La Salle (4-4, 0-2) and then had to hold on at the finish. Temple won despite shooting just 6-for-24 in the final 20 minutes.
The Owls got 19 points from Quenton DeCosey. They shot 18-for-20 from the free-throw line. They got 14 assists on their 17 field goals.
La Salle, which led for just 68 seconds, was always scrambling to catch up, a hard way to play. The Explorers got four in double figures, Jerrell Wright getting 15 points and eight rebounds.
There is a lot to like about John Giannini's roster. Yes, the Explorers have lost four in a row, but what a team looks like on the first Saturday of December is rarely what that team looks like on the first Saturday of February. Let's see what La Salle does between now and then.
Jerome Allen's young team snatched defeat from the jaws of victory a few times, but the Quakers were clearly more competitive than last season. They got their reward last week with a win at Navy and then another Saturday at Binghamton, 79-70.
Penn (2-5) shot 26-for-51 (51 percent) and 9-for-19 from the arc. Yes, the Quakers had 18 turnovers which made the game closer than it needed to be. But they did get four starters in double figures, including junior inside/out stars Darien Nelson-Henry (16 points, nine rebounds) and Tony Hicks (18 points) who got their 34 points on just 19 shots.