Drexel coach Zach Spiker (above) has seen his Dragons make a significant change in level of play lately. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
Yes, this was a big week for the City 6. So big, in fact, that we decided to update our power rankings a week early. And just for the heck of it, we’ll do the same for the rest of the season.
Here’s how things stack up with a month left in the regular season:
6. Saint Joseph’s Hawks (Previous Ranking: 4)
Record: 9-13 (4-6 A-10)
Last Two Weeks: @ St. Bonaventure (L, 70-67), @ Penn (L, 67-56), vs. Saint Louis (L, 60-59), @ La Salle (L, 81-78)
Star Watch: Shavar Newkirk (Sr./G)
Update: We’ve tried to stay as optimistic as possible regarding St. Joe’s, especially considering it was expected that talented sophomore Charlie Brown would eventually return to the rotation after a broken arm suffered in the preseason. But Brown’s injury has been slow to heal, evident from the fact that he was originally expected to miss at most two months; early in January, it was “three more weeks,” which set a Jan. 24 re-evaluation date, and now there’s still been no change. At this point, we’d surprised to see Brown take the court this year, with only eight games left in the regular season. Phil Martelli’s squad has lost four in a row and six of eight, dropping a non-Big 5 game against La Salle on Saturday despite a 30-point, four-assist outing from Newkirk.
Next Two Weeks: @ Davidson (Feb. 6, 7 PM), vs. UMass (Feb. 10, 4 PM), @ Fordham (Feb. 14, 7 PM), vs. Duquesne (Feb. 17, 6 PM)
5. La Salle Explorers (5)
Record: 10-13 (4-6 A-10)
Last Two Weeks: vs. UMass (W, 87-72), @ Davidson (L, 84-65), vs. St. Joe’s (W, 81-78)
Star Watch: Jamir Moultrie (Fr./G)
Update: The Explorers are kind of stick in second gear at this point, playing well enough to win a few games but not enough to really put anything significant together. And now they’ve got two more on the road to try and maintain some kind of momentum off the St. Joe’s win, which saw the continuation of Moultrie becoming a significant part of the Explorer rotation. The freshman guard out of Washington D.C. was mostly a DNP-CD over the first two months of the season, but found himself getting time after injuries to B.J. Johnson and then Pookie Powell; his first double-digit minute outing was on Jan. 3 against Rhode Island, but he really broke out with 17 points in 38 minutes against Duquesne on Jan. 13. He’s played 20-plus minutes in each of the last two games, going for 19 points against Davidson and then 18 against St. Joe’s, hitting 11-of-18 from 3-point range in those two. That experience will pay off next year when he’ll be counted on much more significantly following the graduations of Johnson and starting point guard Amar Stukes, plus reserve guard Johnnie Shuler.
Next Two Weeks: @ George Washington (Feb. 7, 7 PM), @ Saint Louis (Feb. 10, 8 PM), vs. St. Bonaventure (Feb. 13, 7 PM), vs. George Mason (Feb. 17, 2 PM)
4. Drexel Dragons (6)
Record: 11-14 (5-7 CAA)
Last Two Weeks: vs. Elon (W, 83-79), vs. Northeastern (W, 68-67), vs. James Madison (Feb. 1, 7 PM), @ William & Mary (Feb. 3, 4 PM)
Star Watch: Tramaine Isabell (R-Jr./G)
Update: Look out -- the Dragons are catching fire. Drexel’s season looked like it could be promising when it was 5-4 back after beating La Salle on Dec. 7, but the next six weeks were rough, as Zach Spiker’s group lost 10 of 12 games to fall to 7-14 (1-7). But they’ve since ripped off four straight wins to move up to seventh place in the CAA, just two games back of fourth, and they get plenty of chances over their last six games to make up even more ground; if they can finish in the top six, they avoid a first-round game in the CAA tournament and would have a more winnable quarterfinal matchup, which could result in anything in a wide-open league. Towson took the last matchup between the teams 90-68 in Maryland on Jan. 18, but this “new” Drexel team has already showed past results don’t matter, as they reversed a 22-point home loss to W&M from early January with a 12-point road win on Saturday.
Next Two Weeks: vs. Towson (Feb. 8, 7 PM), @ College of Charleston (Feb. 10, 4 PM), @ Northeastern (Feb. 15, 7 PM), @ Hofstra (Feb. 17, 4 PM)
Antonio Woods (above) and Penn have won 10 of 12 but have seven of the next nine on the road. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
3. Penn Quakers (2)
Record: 15-6 (5-0 Ivy League)
Last Two Weeks: vs. Saint Joseph’s (W, 67-56), vs. Brown (W, 95-90 OT), vs. Yale (W, 59-50)
Star Watch: Caleb Wood (Jr./G)
Update: Is it fair that we dropped Penn down a spot despite the fact the Quakers have won 10 of their past 12 games and are off to their best start in a dozen years? Maybe not. We’ll get into the rationale in just a minute, but don’t take this demotion has any real kind of negative sign about what’s going on at the Palestra this year. Penn is well on its way towards a second consecutive appearance in the second-ever Ivy League tournament, but even more than that, they’re in sole possession of first place so far, with only Harvard (4-1) a game behind; Princeton has already taken two losses, and Penn has a chance to make it three on Tuesday night. Penn’s defensive improvement in the KenPom rankings under head coach Steve Donahue has been impressive, from 226th in the country (107.7 ppp) in 2015-16 to 133rd (102.8 ppp) last year and now 48th (.981 ppp) this season after holding Yale to 50 points on Saturday night. The offense still goes through its droughts, but as long as the defense keeps up, they’ll be in a lot of games. Seven of the final nine are away from home.
Next Two Weeks: @ Princeton (Feb. 6, 6 PM), @ Dartmouth (Feb. 9, 7 PM), @ Harvard (Feb. 10, 4 PM), @ Columbia (Feb. 16, 7 PM), @ Cornell (Feb. 17, 6:30 PM)
2. Temple Owls (3)
Record: 13-10 (5-6 AAC)
Last Two Weeks: @ Cincinnati (L, 75-42), vs. Connecticut (W, 85-57), vs. Wichita State (W, 81-79 OT), @ Tulane (W, 83-76)
Star Watch: Nate Pierre-Louis (Fr./G)
Update: Just when Temple needed to start playing good basketball to save its season, the Owls seem to have snapped out of hibernation. After a five-game losing streak -- including the first four games of AAC play -- looked like it could be too much to overcome both mentally and in terms of building an NCAA Tournament-worthy resumé, Fran Dunphy’s team looks like they’ve finally snapped out of it with wins in six of eight, including three straight. None have been bigger than what they pulled off on Thursday, as the Owls held off No. 16/17 Wichita State for an 81-79 overtime win which was good enough to bump them up a spot, then traveled down to Tulane and exacted revenge for an 85-75 defeat on Dec. 28. Up next are two very winnable games against the bottom two teams in the conference, before Temple’s first trip to Wichita State as a member of the AAC. Even if they drop that one, if Temple can win the four that follow, they’ll be 19-11 (11-7) and very much in the bubble discussion. PIerre-Louis’ emergence has been a big reason why; the 6-3 freshman from Roselle Catholic (N.J.) had double-figure scoring off the bench in the last three wins (41 points total).
Next Two Weeks: vs. East Carolina (Feb. 7, 7 PM), @ South Florida (Feb. 10, Noon), @ Wichita State (Feb. 15, 7 PM), vs. Houston (Feb. 18, 4 PM)
1. Villanova Wildcats (1)
Record: 22-1 (9-1 Big East)
Last Two Weeks: vs. Providence (W, 89-69), @ Marquette (W, 85-82), vs. Creighton (W, 98-78), vs. Seton Hall (W, 92-76)
Star Watch: Jalen Brunson (Jr./G)
Update: The VIllanova train continues to thunder onward, no matter what opponents step in front of it. The latest victims, Seton Hall and Creighton, both put up good fights initially, but nobody really has been able to solve a ‘Nova attack that’s one of the best in the nation in recent memory, with an adjusted offensive efficiency (130.8 ppp) that would be the best in KenPom’s recorded history (2001-02 to present). KenPom’s site assigns an individual offensive rating to players, where 100 is approx. average; Brunson is at a 137.7, but the rest of the team: Cosby-Roundtree (131.6), Bridges (128.0), Booth (128.7), Gillespie (123.4), DiVincenzo (122.2), Spellman (120.9) Paschall (119.8). No matter who’s in the game, the Wildcats’ attack is multi-faceted, efficient and deadly. Good luck to St. John’s and Butler, the next two to visit Wells Fargo Center, where ‘Nova is 8-0 this season and hasn’t won by fewer than nine.
Next Two Weeks: vs. St. John’s (Feb. 7, 7 PM), vs. Butler (Feb. 10, Noon), @ Providence (Feb. 14, 7 PM), @ Xavier (Feb. 18, 4:30 PM)