Josh Hart (above) and Villanova carried the torch for the City 6 last year. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
CoBL Staff (@hooplove215)
(Ed. Note: This article is part of our 2017-18 season coverage, which will run for the six weeks preceding the first official games of the year on Nov. 10. To access all of our high school and college preview content for this season, click here.)
The countdown is on to the start of the 2017-18 college basketball season, with less than six weeks of practices remaining until the country’s 350-plus Division I programs take the court for meaningful action for the first time since April.
This week, we’ll be going through the City 6 from a number of lenses, taking a look at some big-picture storylines before we go through each program in detail over the next couple of weeks.
Six Quick Look-Backs
Haven’t paid attention to City 6 hoops lately? Here’s a quick guide to get you right back in the mix.
The 2016-17 Drexel basketball team was one filled with new faces. The most notable new face around the program was head coach Zach Spiker. Spiker, who was the head coach at Army the previous seven seasons before coming to Drexel, took over the team after the program had fired 15-year head coach Bruiser Flint.
Drexel brought in four new freshmen to play for the program including Kurk Lee Jr. Lee made an instant impact his freshman season. Playing in every game, Lee led the team in minutes, (32.9), assists, (5.0) and (1.6) and finished second on the team in points per game (14.9). One of Drexel’s most productive players from last season, Rodney Williams, led the team in points per game (15.6) but his presence will be missed as last season was his senior year. Some key contributors from last season’s team including Sammy Mojica, Kari Jonsson, and Miles Overton.
The Dragons ended up finishing with a 9-23 record (3-15 in the CAA), a slight improvement from the 6-23 record the year before, but lost in the first round of the 2017 CAA Tournament to James Madison University.
La Salle Explorers
Coming into the season, there was much anticipation for the Explorers to do well in the A-10. Much of the hype was due to the fact that La Salle’s three transfers were eligible to play after sitting out a year. B.J. Johnson (Syracuse), Pookie Powell (Memphis) and Demetrius Henry (South Carolina) were at the forefront of what many people was going to be a pretty successful season on 20th & Olney. And indeed, Johnson (17.6 ppg) and Powell (13.7 ppg) were two of the top three scorers for the Explorers -- senior Jordan Price averaged 15.3 ppg -- but the team struggled with consistency.
La Salle’s season was highlighted by wins over NCAA Tournament teams including Bucknell, Florida Gulf Coast and Rhode Island but some bad losses against sub-.500 teams including Penn (13-15), Saint Joseph’s (11-20), UMass (15-18), and Saint Louis (12-21). If La Salle had won each of those three, they would have been 12-6 in league play, which would have been good for 5th place in a league that sent three teams to the NCAA tournament. As it was, they finished 15-15 (9-9), bowing out to Davidson in the second round of the A10 Tournament.
While the Quakers did not finish with a winning record last season, there was plenty to be excited about for the future of Penn basketball. After starting the season off 0-6 in Ivy League play (7-12 overall), the Quakers looked lost on the floor. Then the freshmen took over.
A.J. Brodeur, Ryan Betley, and Devon Goodman led the team to a five game winning streak after their abysmal start. Betley, a 6-5 shooting guard from Downingtown West. averaged nearly 18 ppg over his final eight, while Brodeur, a 6-8 post, was the leading scorer (13.8) rebounder (6.9) and shot-blocker (2.4) for Penn on the season. Goodman, a 5-10 point guard out of Germantown Academy displayed promise towards the final stretch of the regular season, averaging 8.6 ppg in the team’s final nine games.
Aside from the freshmen, Penn received a major contribution from senior guard Matt Howard, who was the team’s second leading scorer (12.5 ppg) and rebounder (6.8 rpg). The Quakers also received additional support from junior guard Darnell Foreman, who led the team in assists with 3.4 per game, and sophomore guard Jackson Donahue.
The Quakers finished the season with a 13-15 record (6-8 in the Ivy League) and lost to Princeton in the semi-finals in the inaugural Ivy League tournament.
Shavar Newkirk (above) tore his ACL last season, part of a rough spate of injuries for the Hawks. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Saint Joseph's Hawks
Saint Joseph’s caught a really bad case of the injury bug last season as players were getting sidelined constantly. Shavar Newkirk, Lamarr Kimble, James Demery, Pierfrancesco Oliva, and Lorenzo Edwards all saw significant time on the bench, unable to play. There is not much a team can do about injuries, but injuries to a squad that was projected to finish ninth in the A10 preseason poll pretty much sealed the Hawks fate of not making back-to-back NCAA Tournaments. These injuries were a main part of why the Hawks finished with an 11-20 record and 4-14 record in the A10, which was the second worst record in the conference. They ended the season losing in the first round of the A10 tournament to UMass, pretty much the complete opposite of the team that finished with a 28-8 record (13-5 in A10 play) and lost by five points to the No. 1 seeded Oregon Ducks in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Before he tore his ACL, Newkirk was leading the team in scoring with 20.3 ppg and steals with 1.3 spg. Kimble was the second leading scorer with 15.5 ppg and led the team in assists with 4.5 apg. Demery was the third leading scorer with 14.5 ppg and led the team in rebounds with 6.5 rpg.
Maybe one of the only positive things about Saint Joseph’s season was the emergence of freshman wing Charlie Brown. Brown, who was one of just four players to play in all 31 games for the Hawks last season, finished the year with 12.8 ppg (fourth on the team) and 5.0 rpg (second on the team). When all are 100 percent healthy, a lineup with Kimble, Newkirk, Demery and Brown -- plus a healthy Pierfrancisco Oliva and more -- can be a very dangerous one.
The 2016-17 Temple Owls basketball season started off smoothly. A 9-4 non-conference record that included wins over two NCAA Tournament teams; Florida State, and West Virginia. But then conference play happened. With six losses in seven games to open the conference season, Temple was looking at a 10-10 overall record and an absolutely horrid 1-6 conference record. By season’s end their record was 16-16 and 7-11 in American Athletic Conference play, losing to ECU in the first round of the AAC Tournament. After losing three of their four top scorers from the season before, the Owls were projected to finish 6th in the conference. They ended up finishing eighth.
Temple saw a significant stride made by sophomore guard Shizz Alston Jr. After averaging only 2.1 ppg the season before, Alston Jr led the team in scoring with 13.9 ppg and led the team in assists as well with 4.1 apg, a 3.5 apg increase from the previous season’s 0.6 apg. Temple also saw the debut of their two new freshmen guards; Quinton Rose and Alani Moore as both finished in the top 5 on the team in individual scoring.
Just like Saint Joseph’s, Temple also went from being in the NCAA Tournament to not participating in any postseason tournaments.
For the 2016-17 Villanova Wildcats, there was not much they could possibly do to top the National Championship season the year prior. Record-wise, they were better than the 2015-16 team by one game in their overall record (32-4), they won the 2017 Big East Tournament and obtained the overall 1 seed in the big dance, but as recent Villanova history had shown, they found a way to lose to a team seeded lower than them in the second round of the tournament. The Wildcats lost once again in the second round to a Wisconsin team who many believed was much better than an 8-seed.
This Villanova team always found a way to win. Whether it was dealing with the lingering knee injury to Phil Booth or to the ineligibility of incoming 5-star recruit Omari Spellman, when life threw the Wildcats lemons, they made lemonade. Villanova was led by their senior trio of Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins and Daryl Reynolds. Last season, this senior class broke the Villanova record of wins by a class with 129 total victories spanning over four years.
After being used as a two guard during their championship season, Sophomore point guard Jalen Brunson took over the starting point guard role and absolutely shined. Brunson averaged 14.7 points per game, 4.1 assists per game while shooting 54 percent from the floor and 88 percent from the stripe. Villanova also received key contributions from bench players such as Donte DiVincenzo, who filled in for the injured Booth and Eric Paschall who filled in for Reynolds while he was sidelined with a shoulder injury in February.
Coming Next: 2017-18 Storylines to Track