Columnist Kevin Cooney (above) has high hopes for Temple in Aaron McKie's first season. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Kevin Cooney (@KevinCooney)
On Thursday morning, most of us will head back to work with bleary eyes and the knowledge that the holiday bills are going to start rolling into the old e-mail box.
On Saturday, there will be the taking down of the decorations. And probably by the time the Eagles/Seahawks game is done on Sunday night, the New Year’s resolution will be shot as well.
While January can often be the longest month of the year –– with its bleak nights, snowy days and frigid cold –– it is also a month of rebirth and hope. We start fresh and we turn our attention to things that just mixed together in the days of yuletide cheer.
While college basketball has been going on for almost two months –– yeah, it starts way too early –– and high schools are a month into play, this is the time when most people start to pay attention closely to the hardwood. Conference schedules are ramping up on the higher education circuit, while league play in the scholastic ranks goes at a breakneck speed because the PIAA district playoffs are just 40 days away. (The District One seeding meeting is February 9.)
Call it predictions. Call it observations. But this is what 2020 has in store locally. And if this is wrong, I’ll deny any knowledge of this column.
Villanova gets to the second weekend: The Wildcats are a weird team to get a hold off. When they looked bad at Ohio State, they looked like a bubble squad. There are times against La Salle and St. Joseph’s where you wondered that as well. And yet, they play such a suffocating defensive style – as witnessed against Kansas- that you can easily see a deep tournament run as well. The bet here is a Sweet 16 bid in the East before bowing out at the Garden.
One other note here: Jay Wright’s on the ballot for the Naismith Hall of Fame for the first time this year. He will get in at some point- even if this year isn’t the year.
Temple makes the NCAA Tournament, Penn falls short: Joe Lunardi has the American getting just two bids (Memphis and Wichita St.) in his pre-Christmas rankings. In a normal year, that would seem about right. However, it seems low this year. And the Owls –– 9-3 (1-0) after beating UCF on New Year’s Eve –– have enough talent to see the bubble expand and get through an extremely competitive conference that should get at least a third team. That would be huge for Aaron McKie’s program going forward, especially in recruiting.
Penn is another story. The Quakers are good enough to win the Ivy. However, the one thing that has been clear since the Ivy went to a post-season tournament is having home-court advantage is huge. This year, that edge belongs to Harvard––who is arguably one of the top two teams with Yale in the tournament. Penn should make the tourney as a Top 4. However, it’s tough to see them beating the Crimson.
The call for a shot clock in the high school game will increase: The Friends School Leagues are using it already. And as teams have traveled to tournaments in other locations that are using it, more coaches seem to be in favor of the switch. With the sport across the board starting to move towards a more streamlined set of rules- wider lanes coming to the college game, a deeper 3-point line- it only makes sense that high schools begin to streamline their rules. The biggest hurdle is costs- another person to run another clock at a game, plus the addition of the clocks to most gyms. But the time has come.
The Catholic League will be a grind: Josh covered it in his five questions about the high school slate extremely well. It is conceivable that four state champions could come from this group in 2020 from Roman in Class 6A to Neumann-Goretti in 3A. The one concern: the regular season grind gets too much and the tanks are empty at the end of the rope.
The PIAA has to reevaluate its championship venues: Attendance for most state games is awful. While the Giant Center isn’t an awful place to play or watch a game, it has the charm of an abandoned factory. The PIAA has been searching for years a way to connect- especially in the Philadelphia market where they haven’t solved the riddle. One way- a four-year rotation that has the title games rotate between Philadelphia (the Palestra or Liacouras Center), Pittsburgh (Peterson Events Center), Hershey and Penn State (Bryce Jordan). It allows for a festival weekend to take place and perhaps to sell the state’s final contests in a better way.