Matthew Ryan (@matthewryan02)
Although the better part of the regular season is still ahead, a lot has come to light during the first month and a half of the college basketball year. There have been big-time wins, shocking losses, breakout performers, and slow starters.
But as conference play kicks into gear, now is an excellent time to dive into how all the City 6 squads have fared thus far.
Here’s a look at each on the men’s side; our women’s roundup can be found here:
Drexel Dragons (5-5, 0-0 CAA)
In a sentence: Coming off an NCAA Tournament appearance, the Dragons have been mostly alternating wins and losses as CAA play arrives.
Best Win: 78-75 over Saint Joseph’s (Nov. 17)
In the first City 6 game of the season, Camren Wynter and James Butler combined for 45 points to pull out the nail-biting victory at Hawk Hill. The Dragons were relatively efficient in every aspect, going 21-for-48 (43.8%) from inside the arc, 6-for-9 (66.7%) from deep and 18-for-25 (72%) from the free-throw line while only turning the ball over eight times.
Worst Loss: 73-56 to Abilene Christian (Dec. 11)
On the road in Texas, Drexel was outmatched from start to finish, barely leading at any point and falling behind by more than 20 points in the second half. Only one starter for the Dragons eclipsed double-figure points, and Lamar Oden had a team-high 12 points off the bench. Drexel shot just 17.2% from deep (5-for-29) as it lost back-to-back games for the first time this season.
Notable Number: Opponent 3PT% (37.4%)
Drexel's opponents are only shooting 33% of their field goal attempts from deep, but of those shots, 37.4% of them go in, giving the Dragons the No. 311 3-point defense in college basketball, according to KenPom. Because of the lack of volume, the Dragons haven’t been hurt terribly by that number yet, but there’s still plenty of hoops to be played.
Star Watch: James Butler (Gr./PF)
In his sixth year of college, Butler continues the production that earned him two All-CAA team selections over the past two seasons. Butler averages 14.5 points and 10.3 rebounds, registering a double-double in six of the 10 games.
X-Factor: Camren Wynter (Sr./Guard)
It’s hard to call arguably Drexel’s best player its X-Factor, but the play of Wynter during CAA competition will determine how far this version of the Dragons goes. After averaging 16.2 points per game last season, the 6-foot-2 Wynter was named Preseason CAA Player of the Year, but has taken a step back, averaging 14 ppg.
Josh Nickelberry (above) has seen a huge increase in playing time and productivity since transferring from Louisville. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
La Salle Explorers (5-5, 0-0 A-10)
In a sentence: Coming off a rather disappointing 2020-21 season, the Explorers have had their ups and downs, finishing many games — wins and losses — in last-second situations.
Best Win: 76-74 over Penn (Dec. 11)
After two double-digit victories, all five La Salle starters scored in double figures, with Josh Nickelberry leading the way with 15 points. The Explorers led by as many as 15 early in the first half, but after their lead was cut to a seven point Penn advantage, La Salle was able to make plays down the stretch to secure the victory. The win gave the Explorers their first three-game win streak since the 2019-20 season.
Worst Loss: 86-81 OT to Sacred Heart (Nov. 9)
Up by three with 21 seconds remaining, La Salle guard Sherif Kenney stepped to the line for a one-and-one. Kenney missed the front end, and after a missed three-point attempt by Sacred Heart was rebounded by Nico Gallette, Aaron Clarke drained a three at the buzzer, sending the game to overtime. Kenney’s miss was one of numerous down the stretch for the Explorers, who finished just 6-for-14 from the line. In OT, the Pioneers carried their momentum and handed the Explorers an opening-night loss.
Notable Number: 2P% (46.5%)
La Salle is a heavy three-point shooting team, with 35.7% of its points coming from behind the arc, but its success is minute when trying to get its work done inside. With a lack of forward depth, the Explorers only connect on 46.5% of their two-point attempts, ranked 270th in D-I, according to KenPom. For a team that is shooting a solid yet not elite 33.9% from deep, improving their two-point efficiency is pivotal.
Star Watch: Josh Nickelberry (Jr./G)
After spending two seasons with a limited role at Louisville, Nickelberry has gotten off to a promising start during his first season at 30th and Olney. Averaging 12.8 points on 2.4 three pointers made, Nickelberry leads the Explorers in both categories. His time at La Salle has had its ups and downs on the floor, but he has established himself as a more than viable option to put the ball in the basket.
X-Factor: Khalil Brantley (Fr./G)
Playing in a bench role for Ashley Howard’s squad, the 6-1 Brantley has shown some of that electric scoring he was known for in high school. He has put together three double-digit scoring performances and is averaging 7.1 points and 2.1 rebounds in just 15.7 minutes per game.
Penn Quakers (3-10, 0-0 Ivy)
In a sentence: After missing last year due to the pandemic, the Quakers struggled to find their footing in non-conference play.
Best Win: 85-57 over Lafayette (Nov. 16)
Penn’s blowout victory was a total team effort, as 17 players saw the floor and 11 scored. Jonah Charles led the charge with 18 points, followed by Nick Spinoso and Clark Slajchert, who had 12 and 11 points, respectively. The Quakers led for all 40 minutes and saw their lead balloon to as many as 32 late in the second half.
Worst Loss: 87-66 to George Mason (Nov. 12)
After giving up 105 points to Florida State, the Quakers again put together a poor defensive performance (more on this later). Five George Mason players reached double figures, and the Patriot’s shot an impressive 65.5% from 2 and 46.2% from 3. Only two Penn players eclipsed eight points: Jordan Dingle with 20 and Charles with 18.
Notable Number: Opponents’ PPG (76.7)
The defensive side of the ball has been the key factor to Penn’s struggles this season. Giving up 76.7 ppg, the Quakers have the 327th ranked defense in college basketball, according to Sports Reference. In all 10 losses, Penn has given up at least 70 points, and it gave up more than 80 in four of those contests.
Star Watch: Jordan Dingle (Soph./G)
After a stellar freshman campaign and then a year off because of the pandemic, Dingle is making up for that lost time. The 6-3 bucket getter is averaging 20 ppg on 43.3/36.2/76.9 shooting splits while adding 3.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists.
X-Factor: Michael Wang (Sr./F)
In eight games this season, Wang has shown some of the rust that comes with not playing a competitive game in over two years. After averaging 8.5 points on 45.5/31/70.8 splits as a freshman, Wang, who missed his sophomore campaign with an injury and last season to COVID, has seen his scoring drop to 6.4 ppg on 40.4/11.8/60 splits. Standing at 6-10, his presence down low will play a pivotal role in how well this team plays come conference time.
Jordan Hall (above) is having another standout season for the Hawks. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
Saint Joseph’s Hawks (6-5, 0-0 A-10)
In a sentence: In the third season under head coach Billy Lange, the Hawks have built off the promise they showed at the end of last season, although it hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows.
Best Win: 77-74 over Georgetown (Nov. 26)
In the third place game of the Paycom Wooden Legacy tournament, Taylor Funk erupted for a season-high 29 points on 8-of-10 shooting from deep in St. Joe’s upset victory. Joining Funk in double figures was Ejike Obinna with 17 points and Jordan Hall, who had 13 points to go along with his eight assists. The win snapped a three-game skid for the Hawks and ignited a 4-1 stretch that propelled them to an above .500 record.
Worst Loss: 87-75 to Monmouth (Nov. 20)
After leading by 11 with under nine minutes to go in the first half, Monmouth went on a mammoth 25-11 run to close out the half, and, in the final 20 minutes, outscored St. Joe's by nine. According to KenPom, St. Joe’s had an 85% chance of winning at one point. Monmouth’s 87 points are the most it has scored all season, and the most St. Joe's have given up all year.
Notable Number: 284th
According to KenPom, the Hawks’ defensive steal percentage (7.9%) and block percentage (6.4%) are both ranked 284th in D-I. The defensive side of the ball is an area of improvement as Lange’s squad is giving up over 70 points per contest.
Star Watch: Jordan Hall (Soph./G/F)
After the departure of standout guard Ryan Daly from last season's team, the keys to the offense were undoubtedly handed to Hall, a 6-8 do-it-all unicorn. While he started the season slowly, Hall has since shown why he’s a candidate to head to the NBA after this year. He is averaging 16.6 points, 6.5 rebounds and 6.4 assists while shooting 41.1% from the field and 36% from deep. Hall’s assists numbers rank top-10 in the nation, and, of everyone ahead of him, no one is taller than 6-2.
X-Factor: Ejike Obinna (Gr./F/C)
Transferring in from Vanderbilt, the 6-10 big man has made an immediate impact for the Hawks, averaging 13.3 points and 6.7 rebounds this season. Over Obinna’s first four games at St. Joe’s, he averaged a solid 10 ppg, but since then, he has been scoring more than 15 points a game while shooting over 65.7% from the field. When the big man enters double digits scoring, the Hawks are 6-3, and when he doesn’t, they’re 0-2.
Temple Owls (6-5, 0-1 American)
In a sentence: In the third season of the Aaron McKie era, Temple has shown some hope, but a season-ending foot injury to standout guard Khalif Battle has put a damper on the Owls’ expectations.
Best Win: 72-68 OT over Vanderbilt (Dec. 7)
Already on a four game win streak, guard Tai Strickland led the Owls to the upset victory, scoring a career-high 21 points off the bench. In overtime, Temple saw itself in a five point hole, but clutch plays down the stretch gave the Owls a victory over the 76th ranked KenPom team.
Worst Loss: 68-49 to Saint Joseph’s (Dec. 11)
Following their win over Vanderbilt, the Owls felt the effects of their top scorer being sidelined with an injury. St. Joe’s led almost the entire game, and Temple trailed by as many as 24. The loss snapped Temple’s longest win streak since the 2017-18 season, and the 49 points scored were the least the Hawks had given up in almost three years.
Notable Number: 3PT% (28.5%)
Although just 36.5% of Temple’s shots are from 3, it is shooting them at just a 28.5% clip, 322nd in the nation, according to KenPom. In the five games since losing their best three point shooter in Battle, the Owls have shot over 30% from deep just once.
Star Watch: Damian Dunn (R-Fr./G)
In the five contests with Battle on the sideline, Dunn has stepped into the number one option for McKie’s squad, averaging 17 points per contest. During that span, the 6-5 Dunn is shooting 42.2% from the field and grabbing six rebounds a game to go along with his two assists and 1.4 steals. He is looking more and more like his freshmen year self, which is a good thing for the Owls.
X-Factor: Zach Hicks (Fr./F)
Playing just 13.2 minutes per game, Hicks hasn’t played a huge role during his freshman campaign, but last week he showed what he’s capable of in an emphatic fashion. Against Delaware State, Hicks, who is 6-7, tied a Temple freshman record, scoring 35 points, and set a program high with 10 three pointers made. With Battle out and his offensive explosion a recent memory, Hicks will play a bigger part in the Owls’ rotation as conference play approaches.
Eric Dixon (above) has seen his minutes per game triple this season versus last year. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Villanova Wildcats (8-4, 1-1 Big East)
In a sentence: The Wildcats entered the season ranked No. 3 in the nation, but after three early non-conference losses against top-5 teams and a 20-point defeat to Creighton on the road, the Wildcats see themselves hanging on to their ranking by a thread, ranked No. 23 as of Dec. 19.
Best Win: 71-53 over No. 17 Tennessee (Nov. 20)
In their first game of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic, the Wildcats, ranked No. 4 at the time, picked up their first ranked win of the season in a contest where they led from start to finish. Collin Gillespie, Jermaine Samuels and Brandon Slater all had a team-high 14 points, followed by Justin Moore, who had 13.
Worst Loss: 57-36 to No. 2 Baylor (Dec. 12)
While losing to the No. 2 team in the nation isn’t necessarily a shocker, how Jay Wright’s squad fell to the Bears was. As the Wildcats entered halftime, they looked up at the scoreboard and saw they had mustered just 15 points. They shot an abysmal 20.8% in the first 20 minutes, and in the final frame were not much better. Villanova scored just 21 more points while shooting 23.3% in the second half, and its 36 points were the least in Wright’s 21-year tenure on the Main Line.
Notable Number: Block % (6.0%)
As mentioned above, frontcourt depth is a significant hole for this year’s Wildcats, and with that lack of true size down low comes a lack of shot-blocking. According to KenPom, Villanova is blocking just 6% of opponents’ two-point shots, ranking 300th in all of college basketball. While the Wildcats entered the season with championship aspirations, their minuscule presence in the paint is proving to be a significant issue.
Star Watch: Collin Gillespie (Gr./G)
Entering his fifth season at Villanova, Gillepise was awarded honors, being named a Preseason All-American and Preseason Big East Player of the Year. While there’s still a long way to go, the reliable 6-3 Gillespie has shown he warrants that high praise, averaging 16.2 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists. He is the undisputed leader on a team with serious title hopes.
X-Factor: Eric Dixon (R-Soph./F)
With Jeremiah Robinson-Earl off to the NBA, Dixon, who is 6-8, has seen an increased role in the Wildcats’ frontcourt this season, going from 8.2 minutes per game a year ago to 24.7 minutes a game. When on the floor with the starters, Dixon is mostly the fifth option, but for a team that lacks any real size down low, his development throughout the season will play a big part in the Wildcats making a deep run come March.