(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 Guys Who Need to Step Up
Drexel: Austin Williams
As we wrote about earlier in the week, the Dragons have no shortage of talent in the backcourt. But up front, there are much bigger questions. Gone is Rodney Williams, a four-year contributor and 6-7 forward who averaged a team-high 15.6 ppg and 6.8 rpg during his senior campaign. Mohamed Bah, another four-year contributor up front, though not nearly as productive as his classmate, has also moved on. Behind them were a pair of juniors, Austin Williams and Tyshawn Myles, who now represent the only big men on the roster with any Division I experience.
Williams was one of the most pleasant surprises on the Drexel squad last year, as the 6-9 forward went from having barely played in his first two seasons (0.7 ppg, 1.9 rpg in 38 games) to suddenly averaging 7.1 ppg and 6.3 rpg in 31 games (26 starts) as a junior. A physical presence in the post, Williams got most of his production on put-backs and dump-offs, not needing the ball in his hands to help his team out. With Rodney Williams now gone, the Dragons need Austin Williams to step up his production yet another tick as well as help freshmen forwards Timmy Perry Jr. and Jarvis Doles transition to college life.
La Salle: Tony Washington
As a redshirt sophomore back in 2015-16, Tony Washington was La Salle’s starting center, averaging 7.7 ppg and 7.4 rpg on an Explorers squad that was brutally bad, winning just nine games thanks to a shorthanded rotation and several injuries. Last year, he split the starting duties with Demetrius Henry, seeing his production drop to 5.0 ppg and 4.0 rpg with his minutes cut nearly in half (26.7/game to 15.9/game). It looked like the two big men were going to platoon yet again, before Henry made the decision to turn pro back in August, leaving Washington as yet again the only true post player on the Explorers’ roster who’s got any experience.
According to college hoops stat guru Ken Pomeroy, Washington was actually the better rebounder of the two last year, grabbing more boards than Henry in terms of available rebounds on both the offensive and defensive end, though the advantages were small in both. At an athletic 6-10 with good reach and timing, Washington has the requisite size to be a solid rim-protector and floor-runner, which is just about all he needs to be with the bevy of offensive options that La Salle coach John Giannini has at his disposal. But behind Washington at the ‘5’ position are 7-2 redshirt freshman Cian Sullivan and 6-9 freshman Miles Brookins, and if the Explorers have to rely on either for an extended stretch of time, even the perimeter players like B.J. Johnson and Pookie Powell might not be enough to get them through the rugged Atlantic 10.
Penn's Ryan Betley (above) averaged 17.8 ppg over the Quakers' final eight games of the year, and is primed for a big sophomore season. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
Penn: Ryan Betley
It took a little while for Betley to emerge last season -- partially because the freshman missed the first nine games with an injury -- but once the Downingtown West product found his mojo, he went off, scoring 17.8 ppg over the last eight games of the year and finishing at the Quakers’ third-leading scorer (11.9 ppg). This year, Betley will be a major part of the offense for a full season, and that should mean a huge step up in production.
Considering the effectiveness with which he scored last season, Betley was underused, with Matt Howard and A.J. Brodeur gobbling up the majority of the possessions. Howard’s graduation frees up a boatload of minutes and touches, many of which will now go to Betley, who is ready to take a step up from using just 18.9 percent of Penn’s possessions while on the floor.
If what we saw at the tail end of last season is any clue, Betley could lead Penn in scoring this year, and a significant uptick in offensive production should be expected at the very least. One of the most efficient players in the Ivy League, he’ll be given the minutes to match his ability, and if he takes advantage of the extra touches, the Quakers will be a very dangerous side.
Saint Joseph's: Chris Clover
The 2015 Catholic League MVP out of St. Joe’s Prep, Chris Clover is still trying to find the same level of production that made him a star for Speedy Morris at the Prep. A muscular 6-3 wing guard who spent his first two years in high school as an undersized ‘4’ before making the move out to the perimeter, Clover barely saw the court as a freshman in 2014-15 at SJU, scoring a total of 10 points in 65 minutes. Last year, thrust into a more featured role due in part to the Hawks’ spate of injuries, Clover averaged 7.8 ppg and 2.2 rpg in 30 games (18 starts), playing 22.7 mpg.
The Hawks’ backcourt depth should be restored, especially now that sophomores Charlie Brown and Nick Robinson have a full year of college hoops under their belts. But there’s no doubt that Phil Martelli and staff are hoping that Clover can finally start to string together consistent outings, after having a few flashes as a sophomore; he scored 20-plus points twice in Atlantic 10 play last year, including a 21-point, five-assist outing in a win over La Salle where he needed to take just 11 shots. That kind of scoring punch off the bench would be a welcome addition on a regular basis.
Temple: Quinton Rose
In terms of raw talent, Rose is fairly clearly the best prospect that’s come through North Broad in several years. A 6-foot-6 wing guard, Rose can legitimately play the ‘1’, ‘2’ or ‘3,’ with his length, ability to create and pass off the bounce as well as score the basketball. Last year, he averaged 9.7 ppg, 3.0 rpg and 1.8 apg, though there were a few games where he showed he’s capable of so much more. Against Florida State at Madison Square Garden, he went for 26 points, six rebounds and four assists; he also had 10 double-digit scoring outings during league play, and grabbed at least five boards six of those times.
This offseason, Rose got quite a confidence boost, with an invitation to try out for the USA Basketball U19 squad. Though he ultimately was among the final few players cut, by all accounts Rose had a strong showing at the camp, and the Rochester (N.Y.) native could be poised for a breakout season. The advantage the Owls have is they don’t need him to score 20 a game, with redshirt senior Josh Brown, junior Shizz Alston Jr. and sophomore Alani Moore II all returning in the backcourt plus stretch forward Obi Enechionyia up front, but if Rose can take a significant notch up in production and efficiency (he shot 30 percent from 3-point range last year) they’ll be a rather dangerous group.
Donte DiVincenzo (above) caught fire during Villanova's two NCAA Tournament games in 2017. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
Villanova: Donte DiVincenzo
With Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins graduating, taking their combined 31.8 ppg with them, there’s quite a scoring gap that needs to be filled in the Villanova rotation. And by far the most likely candidate to see a massive step up in bucket-getting will be Donte DiVincenzo, a bouncy 6-5 redhead out of Salesianum School (Del.). DiVincenzo got a taste of high-level Division I basketball in 2015-16, when he played in nine games (one start) as a true freshman before a broken bone in his foot sidelined him the remainder of the season. Eligible for a redshirt, DiVincenzo got to repeat his freshman season last year and became an invaluable member of the Wildcats’ bench.
Playing in all 36 games (25.5 mpg) last year, DiVincenzo averaged 8.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg and 1.7 apg, hitting a solid 46 percent overall and 36.5 percent of his 3-point attempts. Though he had several impressive individual performances, like dropping a career-best 25 points against St. John’s in the Big East quarterfinals, he saved his best for last. In two NCAA Tournament games, DiVincenzo scored 36 points, grabbed 19 rebounds and dished out four assists while shooting 14-of-26 from the floor and 6-of-8 from 3-point range. If that kind of production becomes more the norm than the exception, he could be in for an all-conference type of season.