Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)
(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.
Here are (with a lot of help from KenPom.com)…
Six Statistics to Track
Drexel needs Kurk Lee Jr. (above) to help cut down on turnovers in his sophomore year. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
In Zach Spiker’s first year, Drexel played at a tempo faster than any Dragons’ team since 2004. The quicker pace led to more turnovers for a team featuring two freshman guards. After being one of the top 100 teams in taking care of the basketball during the previous three seasons, the Dragons ranked 174th in turnover rate in 2016-17. As a team, Drexel averaged 13.3 turnovers per game, which was up from 11.1 in 2015-16.
Point guard Kurk Lee Jr. was a bright spot for the Dragons during a tough first season under Spiker. As a freshman, Lee ran Drexel’s offense, averaging 14.9 points and five assists per game. He turned the ball over almost three times per game. With a year under his belt, Lee should do a better job at taking care of the ball this season. Sophomore guard Kari Jonsson, who will also handle the ball, can build off experience from his first college season as well.
La Salle: 3-Point Defense
With B.J. Johnson, Jordan Price and Pookie Powell guiding the offense, the Explorers didn’t have much trouble scoring the ball last season. Defense, however, was a problem for La Salle in 2016-17. The Explorers’ opponents made nearly 47 percent of their shots and averaged almost 77 points per game.
La Salle’s interior defense did not do much to scare opponents from going into the lane -- the team blocked just 2.1 shots per game -- but La Salle’s perimeter defense ranked even worse. La Salle was 336th out of 351 teams in three-point defense as opponents made 39.4 percent of their shots from deep against the Explorers. For comparison, Dayton, the top three-point shooting team in the Atlantic-10, made just 38.5 percent from three.
With four teams from the Atlantic-10 in the top 65 of three-point attempts per game last season, it will be imperative for the Explorers to shore up their perimeter defense.
Penn: Free-throw shooting
Only six of the 351 teams in Division I averaged fewer free throw attempts than the Quakers last season. When Penn did get to the charity stripe, things didn’t go very well. The Quakers made 65.7 percent of their free throws, which ranked 313th.
A shining example of Penn’s foul-shooting woes was the Ivy League championship game against Princeton. In the eight-point loss, Penn went 4-of-5 from the line while the Tigers went 19-of-24. With a two-point lead and 12 seconds left, the Quakers missed the front end of a one-and-one, which allowed Princeton to send the game into overtime.
Penn had some sharp shooters at the line -- Ryan Betley and Caleb Wood both shot better than 90 percent, and Sam Jones made 82 percent of his free throws -- but the Quakers’ struggled at the charity stripe for the most part. Freshman A.J. Brodeur led Penn with 84 free throw attempts and Matt Howard was second with 82 foul shots. Both players shot just better than 60 percent from the line.
With Howard gone, others will be relied upon to get to the rim and draw contact. Antonio Woods, who missed the 2016 season due to academic suspension, could be a candidate. He averaged nearly four free throws per game as a sophomore, although he converted just 53 percent of his attempts.
Saint Joseph’s: Efficiency
If the Hawks are to put last year’s 11-win season behind them, they’ll have to do a better job with their shot selection. Phil Martelli’s squad ranked 320th in effective field goal percentage last year, which was the lowest during his tenure at St. Joe’s.
Martelli’s teams haven’t been very effective from behind the 3-point line in recent years, as he hasn’t had a team shoot 33 percent or better from three since the 2014 squad. However, his teams have remained competitive by making a high percentage of their shots inside the arc. The Hawks have made more than 50 percent over their twos in all but two years since 2012. Last season and the 2014-15 campaign, when the team went 13-18, are the only exceptions.
Shavar Newkirk was efficient and effective during his 12 games last season before going down with a torn ACL. He averaged more than 20 points per game while shooting 47 percent from the field. When Newkirk went down,guard Lamarr Kimble and forwards James Demery and Charlie Brown were forced to shoulder more of the offensive load. With Kimble, Demery and Brown more experienced as primary scoring options and Newkirk potentially set to return, the Hawks should see their efficiency numbers go up.
Fran Dunphy (above) will be looking for a more complete rebounding effort from his Owls this year. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
Temple: Rebound margin
Temple felt the absence of Jaylen Bond on the glass last year. Opponents outrebounded the Owls by an average margin of 3.6 boards per game last season, which ranked 295th in Division I. While known more for his offensive game, stretch forward Obi Enechionyia led Temple with 5.8 rebounds per game. With the return of Josh Brown, Temple’s backcourt is a bit crowded this season. Enechionyia will be looked on to contribute even more on the glass if coach Fran Dunphy decides to play four guards with him.
If the Owls go with a more traditional lineup, junior center Ernest Aflakpui and sophomore center Damion Moore will have to secure the glass. Aflakpui was the team’s second-leading rebounder a season ago, averaging five rebounds in 16.5 minutes of action per game. Moore grabbed 2.9 rebounds per game in his first season of college basketball.
In each of Dunphy’s eight 20-win seasons at Temple, the Owls ranked among the top 170 teams in KenPom’s offensive rebounding percentage against. In the other three seasons his team was, the Owls ranked 260th or worse in that category.
Villanova: 2-point FG attempts
While the Wildcats’ ability to knock down threes was certainly a threat last season, Villanova was actually even more effective inside the arc. Jay Wright’s team made 59.2 percent of its two-point attempts, which ranked second in Division I behind Belmont. During Wright’s first 11 years at Villanova, his team’s only shot better than 50 percent from two-point range one time. They have shot 53 percent or better from inside the arc in the last four seasons.
Mikal Bridges (69.4) and Darryl Reynolds (68.8) both ranked among the top 12 players in two-point percentage. Jalen Brunson and Eric Paschall also ranked in the top 100.
For how well the Wildcats shot from two, only 47.1 percent of the team’s points came on two-point shots, which ranked 257th. In comparison, the Division I average was close to 50 percent. Josh Hart led the Wildcats with 280 two-point attempts and 170 free throws in 2016-17. Without Hart, it will be interesting to see if the Wildcats can continue to attack teams inside.
After sitting out last year because he was deemed ineligible by the NCAA, freshman big man Omari Spellman could help the Wildcats continue their balanced approach. Spellman, a former five-star recruit, is a serious offensive threat in the low post as well as outside.