CoBL Staff (@hooplove215)
(Ed. Note: This article is part of our 2018-19 season coverage, which will run for the six weeks preceding the first official games of the year on Nov. 6. 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 2018-19 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.
Jay Wright (above) will have his biggest retooling project in some time on the Main Line. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Six Pressing Questions
The answers to these will say a lot about how the season turns out for the City 6
1. How will Villanova handle the loss of four NBA draftees?
There’s no denying that Jay Wright has built himself a powerhouse on the Main Line, taking a program that certainly had a noteworthy history -- that 1985 championship was no small feat, after all -- but certainly taking the Wildcats to a new level or three. And they’ve put together one of the most dominant five-year stretches in Division I history, despite the graduations of key players every year: Hilliard and Pinkston in 2015, Ochefu and Arcidiacono in 2016, Hart, Jenkins and Reynolds in 2017. Each time, the next group of seniors was ready to carry on the torch, win another 30-plus games and a few titles along the way -- Big East, Big 5, national champions.
But this offseason, Wright and the Wildcats lost more than they ever have before. Though last year’s national champs didn’t have a single scholarship senior, four different players each declared early for the NBA Draft, and all heard their names called amongst the top 33 picks in June. That national POTY Jalen Brunson (picked No. 33 by Dallas) and surefire lottery pick Mikal Bridges (No. 10, Phoenix) left with one year of eligibility remaining was no surprise, as each had already won two titles and earned his degree; it was the decisions made by redshirt sophomore guard Donte DiVincenzo (No. 17, Milwaukee) and redshirt freshman forward Omari Spellman (No. 30, Atlanta) that left Wright with his biggest rebuilding project in some time.
While on its face that might make it sound like the rest of the Big 5 finally looks ready to snap a 22-game losing streak dating back to December 2013, the ‘Nova cupboard is far from bare. Two of the team’s six double-digit scorers are back in seniors Phil Booth and Eric Paschall, the former of which has been the MVP of a national championship game (2016) while the latter is on national player of the year watchlists. There’s a big-time recruiting class arriving on campus, including a five-star point guard (Jahvon Quinerly) and high-scoring wing forward (Cole Swider), plus a couple local sophomores in Wood’s Collin Gillespie and Neumann-Goretti’s Dahmir Cosby-Roundtree who are ready to jump into more significant roles after getting their ankles and knees wet a year ago. But overall, it’s the most untested group that Wright has coached in several years, and more than any other of late they’ll have to prove themselves early on.
2. How does Penn handle the graduation of Darnell Foreman?
In terms of recent local collegiate stars, there might not have been a less likely candidate than Darnell Foreman. Coming out of small-school Pitman (N.J.), the 6-1 point guard didn’t have a Division I scholarship offer, but got a late opportunity from former coach Jerome Allen to join the Quakers’ roster, and took it. Though he started 16 games as a freshman on a nine-win squad, his numbers (3.5 ppg, 1.4 apg, 25.6 3-point shooting) left much to be desired offensively. Then head coach Steve Donahue came in, and in his own words, figured he “better get somebody better than Darnell Foreman” if he was going to win a championship. “And sure enough,” the former Cornell and Boston College head coach added, “every stinking day he proved me wrong.”
By his senior year, Foreman’s 3-point shooting hadn’t gotten any better, as he made just 28.4 percent from deep. But the introspective, focused, hard-working guard had become the heart and soul of the team, averaging 10.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg and 3.1 apg as a senior; his value was evident in the Ivy League championship, when he scored 19 first-half points to lead the Quakers over Harvard and back into the NCAA Tournament. He wasn’t the most talented player on the team, nor its leading scorer, but there’s no doubt that the intangibles he brought to the floor played as big a role in Penn’s resurgence over the course of Donahue’s first three seasons. With him gone, someone like senior forward Max Rothschild, junior forward A.J. Brodeur or junior guard Ryan Betley will have to step up and be that guiding force on the floor.
The heir apparent to Foreman at point guard was supposed to be Jelani Williams, a 6-3 guard out of Sidwell Friends (Md.), the same school that had produced former Villanova star Josh Hart, among others. But Williams tore his left ACL his senior year of high school, forcing him to miss his whole freshman year of college; then, this summer, tore his right one during a charity game in July, and underwent another season-ending surgery. That means the point guard spot will go either to junior Devon Goodman, a speedy 5-10 Germantown Academy product who’s averaged 4.1 ppg and 1.6 apg in 49 games (three starts), or senior Jake Silpe, the former Cherry Hill East star who played in 28 games with 19 starts as a freshman but has appeared in only 36 contests the past two years (7.4 mpg), averaging 1.9 ppg and 1.0 rpg.
Lamarr Kimble (above) has only played one game since Feb. 2017 due to injury. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
3. Can Saint Joseph’s stay healthy?
There exists an NCAA tournament-caliber squad on City Avenue. That’s been the case for the last three seasons, actually, though the Hawks’ 27-36 overall record (14-22 A-10) during that span wouldn’t exactly attest to that fact. But following a March Madness appearance in 2016, St. Joe’s got bit by the injury bug, and it didn’t let go for two full years.
Pierfrancesco Oliva missed the entire 2016-17 season with a knee issue that required surgery. Shavar Newkirk tore his ACL midway through that year; Lamarr Kimble fractured his foot that February and then missed all of 2017-18 when he did it again last fall. Charlie Brown also sat out last season with a fractured wrist that just wouldn’t heal. Several other players, like James Demery and Lorenzo Edwards, missed significant chunks of time over the two years as well. Collectively, the injuries decimated Phil Martelli’s depth, forced him to play a number of guys out of position and kept the Hawks from being able to string together enough wins in a dangerous Atlantic 10 conference.
At the moment, all is looking good at St. Joe’s. Kimble is fully healed from his foot injury, and looks in the best shape of his life. Brown is back on the court, trying to build on a freshman season that saw him average 12.8 ppg and 5.0 rpg in 2016-17. Though Newkirk and Demery have graduated, the lineup is bolstered by the addition of South Florida grad transfer Troy Holston Jr. -- who’s missed two seasons due to injury already, including last year. Martelli and the rest of the Hawks are certainly hoping it’s all in the past. If they are, Martelli’s eighth NCAA appearance is within reach.
4. How will Temple’s unique coaching situation affect the Owls?
There are two things for certain regarding Temple’s head coaching situation this season. First, both current head coach Fran Dunphy and his named replacement, Aaron McKie, will insist that it’s business as usual despite the fact that Dunphy was practically forced out this offseason but allowed to get one more shot, with McKie taking over as soon as the 2018-19 season is done. Dunphy is one of the most well-respected in the coaching ranks for a reason, and he’s not going to speak ill of his employers or the situation while he’s still there, and probably not afterwards as well.
Second, they’ll be lying.
That’s not to say that it’s going to be a volatile situation or anything like that; Dunphy and McKie have been sharing a bench for the last four years, and while both can raise their voice to a player when someone does something wrong, neither are exactly high-temper personalities. But you can bet that the dynamic will be slowly changing as the program prepares for its first coaching swap in 13 years, especially after missing out on the NCAA Tournament in four of the last five seasons.
What’s unclear is just how much that could or will affect the locker room; whether it does or doesn’t, Dunphy and McKie will both refuse to use their situation as any kind of excuse.
New La Salle coach Ashley Howard (above) was part of two national championship teams at Villanova. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
5. What can Ashley Howard accomplish in his first season at La Salle?
It’s unclear at this point just what exactly the expectation should be for the new Explorers regime. Howard came back to La Salle, where he previously served as an assistant coach from 2004-08, with much fanfare after five years as a Villanova assistant, during which time he recruited several of the Wildcats’ top recruits and helped coach them to two national championships. Recognized for several years as one of the top future head coaches in Division I, Howard will certainly try to bring the same kind of confident, team-first mentality that has permeated the entire Villanova program, but that can take a few years, especially considering his first high school recruits won’t step foot on campus until next fall.
Former head coach John Giannini might not have been able to find the same success he had since 2013, when his Explorers reached the Sweet 16, but he left Howard with a decent crop to work with. Senior guard Pookie Powell is back after averaging 16.9 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists, and Marquette transfer Traci Carter is now eligible after sitting out last season due to NCAA regulations; plus, the freshmen trio of Ed Croswell, Jared Kimbrough and Jack Clark should make a sizable contribution in the Atlantic 10 over the course of four years. On top of that, Howard brought in grad transfer Cheddi Mosely, who’s battled through injuries the last couple seasons but averaged 13.3 ppg in as a sophomore at Boston U in 2015-16. Twenty wins might be too much to ask from this group right away, but they certainly could finish better than the 13-19 (7-11 A-10) mark from a year ago, even with B.J. Johnson (20.8 ppg, 8.3 rpg) and Amar Stukes (8.5 ppg, 3.1 apg), among several others, having exhausted their eligibility.
6. Who becomes ‘the guy’ for Drexel?
Tramaine Isabell was everything the Dragons’ coaches could have hoped for when he took the court last season, after sitting a year out following his transfer from Missouri. The former high-major recruit lit up the CAA, averaging a team-best 21.0 ppg to go along with 7.5 rpg and 3.4 apg, the rebounding numbers especially impressive for a 6-3 guard. Whenever DU needed a bucket in a late-game or shot-clock situation, it tended to be Isabell, who could launch from deep or attack the rim with equal effectiveness. With one year of eligibility remaining, Isabell decided to leave Drexel, enrolling as a grad transfer at Saint Louis and leaving the Dragons looking to fill his production gap.
More than just the scoring or rebounding, though, it was Isabell’s willingness to demand the ball in those tight situations and get a shot off that will be most difficult to replace. Junior guard Kurk Lee Jr. might be the most obvious solution, as the speedy 5-9 guard will be entering his third year as a full-time starter, but he only shot 38.5 percent from the floor last year, despite making 34 percent of his 3-pointers. It could be junior forward Alihan Demir, who averaged 10.7 ppg and 5.4 rpg in his first season at DU last year, making 36.5 percent overall and 48 percent overall. The other likely candidate is JUCO transfer Zach Walton, a 6-6 wing who averaged 20 ppg at Edmonds (Wash.) CC and scored the ball at a decent rate on the team’s Australia trip in August. There are several others who will certainly contribute, including senior guard Troy Harper, but it’s likely to be one of the above three who emerges as the Drexel leader this year.