College hoops notes: Youth in ‘Nova-Temple


Villanova basketball head coach Jay Wright chuckled when he was asked recently how his freshmen players responded to their first two Big 5 games.

Sure, they performed well as the Wildcats opened their city slate with home wins over La Salle and Penn. But the coach knows it could be a whole different story for Villanovas next two city gamesa showdown with Temple on Saturday at 5 p.m. at the Liacouras Center followed by a rivalry game against Saint Josephs at Hagan Arena on Dec. 17.

Then, the young kids will find out what the Big 5 is really all about.

I think for the next two, theyll get a little different taste in unfriendly environments, Wright said. I like the way it started for them. We got two at home, now we have to go play in two crazy environments. Its good and I think theyre looking forward to it.

The Dec. 17 contest against much-improved St. Joesa fiercely intense game dubbed The Holy Warwill present its own set of challenges. But first, the Wildcats must take the floor opposite a Temple squad in a battle between whats been the two best teams in the city over the past few years.
So far this season, the Philly powerhouses are in similar positions with both relying on young, inexperienced players.

Villanova (5-3) is coming off a loss to No. 10 Missouri in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden, a game in which freshman Darrun Hilliard grew up in a hurry, scoring 13 points.

Meanwhile, the Owls (5-2) have thrown redshirt freshman forward Anthony Lee and sophomore guard Aaron Brown into the fire due to injuries to Scootie Randall and Micheal Eric. True freshman Will Cummings even made his collegiate debut in the Owls last win, a 77-58 defeat of Toledo on Wednesday.

Its not a stretch to say Saturdays contest may come down to which youngsters best handle the pressure-cooker of a big city showdown. And perhaps no player will loom larger than Lee, the Owls most formidable post presence with Eric out.

All the redshirt freshman has to do in his first Villanova-Temple game? Try to do what few others have been able to and slow down Mouphtaou Yarou, Villanovas monster power forward whos averaging 15.4 points and 8.4 rebounds per game this season.

Welcome to the big-time, freshmen.

California dreamin

The last time the Penn basketball team flew across the country to play a game in California, the Quakers enjoyed a surprising 38-point drubbing of USC.

Duplicating that kind of performance this weekend in California when the Quakers meet UCLA at the Honda Center on Saturday at 4 p.m. is almost certainly too much to ask for.
But a win may not be that unrealistic.

Although not at the same level as the 2002-03 Penn squad that routed USC, these Quakers (5-5) have plenty of experience against national-caliber opponents, falling to Temple in overtime and faring reasonably well in losses to Pittsburgh and Villanova this season. (Penns toughest game of all comes on New Years Day when it travels to Durham, N.C. to take on No. 7 Duke.)

Meanwhile, all the history and tradition that UCLA owns has not helped the 2011-12 Bruins, who have stumbled to a 2-5 overall record. Even more troubling, UCLA coach Ben Howland just suspended one of the teams top players, Reeves Nelson, indefinitely for what he called very disappointing behavior.

No matter the result, Saturdays game will be a special one for Penn fifth-year senior Tyler Bernardini, a California native who will be playing his first college game in his home state. The game is also a state homecoming for sophomore Miles Cartwright and freshman Camryn Crocker, although Cartwright is questionable for the game after sitting out Wednesdays 69-60 win over Delaware with a head injury.

The 1,000-point club

Before the season began, St. Joes guard Carl Jones talked all about how he was ready to take the next leap in 2011-12. He hoped to become a better passer, a better ballhandler, a better point guard, a better leader.

Lets not forget how well he can score though, too.

Wednesday against Boston University, Jones surpassed the 1,000-career-point plateau, an impressive accomplishment considering how early it is in his junior season.

Jones, the leading scorer in Philly last season, is currently averaging 18.3 points per game, the second highest total in the city behind Penns Zack Rosen.

Fresh off a 75-68 win over Boston U., Jones and the Hawks (6-3) host Creighton on Saturday at noon.

La Salle playing solid defense (finally)

La Salle head coach John Giannini couldnt understand what went wrong last season. He worked on defense all the time, stressing basic defensive fundamentals at every practice.

And yet the 2010-11 Explorers failed to make big stops time and again, and finished with a 15-18 overall record despite being a dangerous offensive team.

This season, at least so far, it appears to be a whole different story.

For the first time since 1950, La Salle (6-3) has held three straight opponents to 52 points or less. The Explorers most recent defensive triumph came against Bucknell on Wednesday in an 89-51 throttling.

The next team to try to solve La Salles newly improved defense is Army, which invades Tom Gola Arena for a non-conference game Saturday at 2 p.m.

We emphasized defense throughout the offseason but, believe it or not, we emphasized it the same way before last season, Giannini said earlier in the year. Its just a different team. Its just different kids.

Drexel comes home (finally)

If there was ever a team that needed to come home, its Drexel.

The Dragonswho entered the 2011-12 season with a lot of expectations after being picked to win the Colonial Athletic Associationhave struggled to so far this year, losing four of their first six games, including their league opener last weekend to Delaware.

But all six of those games were on the road, and now the Dragons finally get to play inside the friendly confines of the Daskalakis Athletic Center, where Princeton awaits for a non-conference game Saturday at 4 p.m.

Its an interesting matchup for the Dragons, who arent playing down-the-street neighbor Penn for the first time since the 1995-96 season but are playing Penns biggest Ivy League rival.

The Dragons (2-4) do have reason to be confident though: they have won their last seven home openers under head coach Bruiser Flint.

Six in the City is a weekly feature on the citys six Division I college basketball programs written by contributor Dave Zeitlin. Email him at

Contact Us