Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
The 2012-13 college basketball season is finally right around the corner, and this season has a chance to be a special one in and around the City of Brotherly Love. With so many great players and teams, so many potential stories to keep an eye on and so many exciting matchups to look forward to, it can be easy to lose track of what to look for when games tip off on Nov. 9. Here’s a (hopefully) helpful guide:
1. Going Dancing: Saint Joseph’s (Atlantic-10), Lehigh (Patriot) and Drexel (Colonial) are all conference favorites. Temple, Delaware and La Salle also have the talent to make it to the NCAAs, automatic bid or not. There’s a very good chance that at least three of the above are playing in March Madness, and it’s possible that five or even all six make it there. Are any of them good enough to match Saint Joseph’s 2004 Elite Eight or Villanova’s 2009 Final Four runs? That will depend on a lot of the following…
2. Frantz Massenat: The CAA’s Preseason Player of the Year, Massenat is the point guard on the preseason conference favorite Drexel Dragons, a team that won 27 games last season but fell agonizingly short of the NCAA tournament. In other words, no player in the city has more on his shoulders this season, but if the 6-4 junior from Trenton Catholic can handle that pressure and deliver that bid then the sky’s the limit.
3. Super Hawks: It had been a small period of darkness on Hawk Hill following the spotlight of the 2004-05 edition, who won their first 27 games behind the scoring of some guard named Jameer Nelson. Now the conference favorites, an uber-talented group of juniors leads the best squad since that Elite Eight run. By the end of the year, team captain Langston Galloway might have some people asking “Jameer who?”
4. C.J. McCollum: One of the two greatest players in Lehigh history, along with 2700-point scorer Daren Queenan, McCollum has a chance to go somewhere Queenan never went–the NBA. McCollum burst onto the national stage last season after the Mountain Hawks’ monumental upset of Duke in the NCAA tournament, another season averaging 20-plus points and 6-plus rebounds and the 6-3 guard will be a first-round draft selection next year.
5. Giannini’s redemption: Dr. John Giannini’s teams had won just 14 games per year in the coach’s first seven seasons at La Salle, but things are looking up after a 21-win year that saw the Explorers get their first postseason bid in over 20 years when they lost in the first round of the NIT. Picked seventh in the A-10 preseason poll, the Explorers are more than capable of finishing in the top three.
6. Temple’s grand finale: The Owls were picked fourth in the A-10 preseason poll, but this is a team that has the potential to finish at the top if they can put it together in their final year in the conference. Fifth-year players Jake O’Brien (Boston University transfer) and Scootie Randall are both coming off injuries that kept them off the court for the whole 2011-12 season; junior West Virginia transfer Dalton Pepper is also eligible after sitting out per NCAA transfer regulations.
7. Blue Hens Lurking: Though Drexel is the overwhelming favorite to win the CAA this season, Delaware has the talent to make their own run at a conference title. Just like their rivals, the Blue Hens have two All-Conference First Team Selections (Devon Saddler, Jamelle Hagins). Losing guard Khalid Lewis will hurt, but Jarvis Threatt and Kyle Anderson can help offset that loss with typical sophomore season improvement.
8. Can Villanova bounce back? Last year’s 13-19 record broke a seven-year run of 20-win seasons and NCAA appearances, and this year’s Wildcats still have quite a few questions. Lots of good pieces, like Wake Forest transfer Tony Chennault, sophomore forward JayVaughn Pinkston and freshman PG Ryan Arcidiacono, but it’s going to take time to come together.
9. Newbill arrives: It’s been a bit of a weird road for D.J. Newbill to get to Penn State, first committing to Marquette and then playing a year at Southern Miss before transferring, but the Philly native has big expectations in his first season as a Nittany Lion. The 6-4 guard averaged 9.2 ppg and 6.2 rpg in his only season as a Golden Eagle and was voted team captain just a few weeks ago.
10. Replacing Rosen: Last year’s Penn Quakers went as Zack Rosen went. The 6-foot dynamo of a point guard, now playing professionally in Israel, was the best player in the city last year, averaging 18.2 ppg and 5.2 apg even though opposing defenses knew he was options one, two and three on the Quakers. Now, it’ll be up to junior Miles Cartwright to take on that lead-scorer’s mentality, though he’ll have help from a number of other players, notably Fran Dougherty and Tony Hicks.
A Dozen Names to Know
C.J. Aiken (Jr., SJU)
Aiken is a unique player on the court. A 6-foot-10 forward, he averaged 10.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg and 3.5 bpg but is a half-decent 3-point shooter (30.5 percent) who’s much more than a stereotypical post. Big impact on both ends of the court.
C.J. McCollum (Sr., Lehigh)
The most likely NBA player on this list, McCollum is an incredible athlete who was the only player in Patriot League history to win both Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year, in 2008-09. Has 2074 points and 636 rebounds already.
Devon Saddler (Jr., Delaware)
In his first two years at UDel, Saddler proved he can score–1014 points already. Now he needs to cut down on the turnovers (3.2/game), though having a strong supporting cast will help his decision making and shot selection.
Frantz Massenat (Jr., Drexel)
As said above, Massenat has a lot on his shoulders this season. He’s got the tools–great length at 6-4, a sweet jumper that hit 45 percent from 3-point range, plus a great feel for the game of basketball and the way Bruiser Flint wants it to be played.
JayVaughn Pinkston (Soph., Villanova)
At 6-7 and 260-pounds, with an above-average handle and a tough inside-out game, Pinkston is a matchup problem in that he’s too quick for bigs to guard and too big for guards to stop. Watch for a big breakout season.
Jerrell Wright (Soph., La Salle)
If he can cut down on his fouls and stay on the court, Wright could average a double-double easily. A 6-8 forward, Wright had a strong offensive rating for a freshman (105.9) and was an excellent rebounder, especially on the offensive end of the court.
Khalif Wyatt (Sr., Temple)
Wyatt has gone from a little-used freshman to A-10 Sixth Man of the Year and then Second Team All-Conference last season. Is a conference MVP award in the works? The Norristown grad is one of a few favorites in a loaded league.
Langston Galloway (Jr., SJU)
One of the most fun players to watch because he never takes a single play off, Galloway hits the boards very well for a 6-2 guard (4.5/game in 2011-12) and is a deadly 3-point shooter (46.6 percent). Could be a 2000-point scorer when it’s all said and done.
Miles Cartwright (Jr., Penn)
The Van Nuys (Ca.) native has the ability to average 15 points or more in his junior season, and was voted as one of three team captains before the season began. Now that he’s no longer the third option on offense, Cartwright could shine.
Ramon Galloway (Sr., La Salle)
Galloway’s arrival from South Carolina played a huge role in La Salle’s resurgence on the defense end (1.5 spg); now he’s got one final year to make the NCAA tournament. The Explorers are good enough but they’ll need their senior to better his 14.1 ppg.
Scootie Randall (Sr., Temple)
After sitting out the entire 2011-12 season following offseason knee surgery, Randall has had a great training camp and will be a critical versatile role for the Owls. At 6-6, Randall is capable of guarding the ’1′ to the ’4′ and could average 15 ppg.
Tim Frazier (Sr., Penn State)
Frazier nearly tripled his scoring average from 2010-11 (6.3 ppg) to the following year (18.8 ppg), establishing himself as a top-level guard in a defensively tough Big 10. Having Newbill in the backcourt will certainly take some pressure off.
A Dozen Non-Conference Games to Watch
Lehigh @ Baylor, Nov. 9
Mountain Hawks get their season started on the road against the top-20 Bears.
Drexel vs. Illinois State, Nov. 15
This matchup between two of the best mid-majors in the country has NCAA implications.
Saint Joseph’s vs. Notre Dame, Nov. 16
The Hawks get their chance to prove themselves against an improved Irish squad.
Villanova vs. Temple, Dec. 5
The last time this will be a non-conference game, as the Owls join the Big East next year.
Temple @ Duke, Dec. 8 (IZOD Center)
The Rematch: Can the Owls beat the Blue Devils two years in a row?
Drexel vs. Davidson, Dec. 22
Another great mid-major matchup for Drexel, this time they’re in the comfy confines of the DAC.
Temple vs Syracuse, Dec. 22 (Madison Square Garden)
The second of three high-major matchups for Temple comes on basketball’s most sacred court.
Saint Joseph’s @ Drexel, Dec. 31
The A-10 and CAA preseason favorites meet up in a rematch of last year’s 62-49 SJU home win.
La Salle @ Miami (Fl.), Jan. 2
The Explorers dont have many big names early on but the Hurricanes are an ACC dark horse.
Lehigh @ Virginia Commonwealth, Jan. 5
Can McCollum and Mackey McKnight figure out the ‘Havoc’ defense? This should be a good one.
Temple @ Kansas, Jan. 6
Temple’s on this list a lot, but for good reason; the Jayhawks are seventh in the first Coaches’ Poll.
Other Names You’ll Be Seeing Often
Brandon Taylor (Fr., Penn State)
Taylor is a 6-7 Philly native who should chip in immediately at State College.
Chris Fouch (Sr., Drexel)
The best sixth man in the CAA, Fouch is healthy for the first time in years.
Damion Lee (Soph., Drexel)
Lee, a solid jump-shooter with great length, averaged 12.0 points his freshman year.
Daniel Dingle (Fr., Temple)
The Bronx native, a versatile 6-7 forward, was picked All-Freshman in the A-10.
D.J. Newbill (Soph., Penn St.)
The Nittany Lions’ captain was an All-Conference Rookie Team pick in his one year at Southern Miss.
Fran Dougherty (Jr., Penn)
The Archbishop Wood grad had a strong summer and could have a big year in the Ivy League.
Gabe Knutson (Sr., Lehigh)
The versatile forward already has 1110 points and 554 rebounds in his Mountain Hawk career.
Halil Kanacevic (Jr., SJU)
Kanacevic is the rare player to lead his team in both rebounding (8.2) and assists (3.7).
Henry Brooks (Soph., Penn)
Athletic, 6-9 forward is finally fully recovered from a high school ACL tear.
Jake O’Brien (Sr., Temple)
The grad student and Boston University transfer fills two needs for Temple–size and shooting.
Jamelle Hagins (Sr., Delaware)
First Team All-CAA selection is a double-double machine and great shot-blocker.
Jarvis Threatt (Soph., Delaware)
Threatt scored 30 points twice in the Blue Hens’ final 15 games last season.
Mackey McKnight (Jr., Lehigh)
After scoring 8.8 ppg in his sophomore season, look for McKnight to break double-figures.
Mouphtaou Yarou (Sr., Villanova)
At 6-10, Yarou has the size to be a dominant center but thus far has only shown flashes.
Ronald Roberts, Jr. (Jr., SJU)
The most athletic player in the city, Roberts will be a matchup nightmare for the whole A-10.
Ryan Arcidiacono (Fr., Villanova)
Will start at PG for ‘Nova even though he missed his whole senior season with a back injury.
Seth Hinrichs (Soph., Lafayette)
The 6-7 forward shot 46.4 percent from 3-point range and could break out this year.
Tony Johnson (Jr., Lafayette)
Johnson was a Second-Team All-Patriot selection despite playing just 11 games last season.
Ty Garland (Sr., La Salle)
The Virginia Tech transfer will be eligible in December; scored 2000+ points at Bartram.
Tyreek Duren (Jr., La Salle)
Duren, one of the more underrated guards in the city, averaged 13.0 ppg and 4.0 apg last year.
(All stats courtesy of Ken Pomeroy)
Drexel: The Dragons were efficient on both sides of the ball, ranking 46th in offensive efficiency (1.097 points per possession) and 61st in defensive efficiency (0.951 ppp). Drexel’s biggest strength was limiting teams’ from getting second chances, with a defensive rebounding percentage of 73.2 percent that was 16th in the country; if they can keep that number above 70 percent and raise their turnover percentage (18.3 percent, 272nd), the Dragons could have a top-50 defense.
Delaware: The Blue Hens were 150th in offensive efficiency (1.020 ppp) and 201st in defensive (1.031 ppp), with obvious areas for improvement on both sides. Offensively, Delaware did a good job of getting to the line but struggled in offensive rebounding (28.8 percent, 271st), while defensively they only forced turnovers on 15.7 percent of possessions, 341st in the country. Led by Hagins, they did limit teams defensively to 42.0 percent on their 2-point attempts, the ninth-best mark in the nation.
La Salle: It was bombs away for the Explorers last year, who shot 40.6 percent from beyond the 3-point arc, the fourth-best mark in the country. Sharpshooters Galloway (68-of-154, 44.2 percent) and Sam Mills (65-of-156, 41.7 percent) are both back so expect that number to stay high; look for them to improve on their 294th-best offensive rebounding/257th-best defensive rebounding marks of 27.6 percent/65.7 percent with more two-forward sets than last year.
Lafayette: Last year’s issues mostly came on the defensive end, where the Leopards’ 1.109 ppp against was 318th in the country. They allowed teams to shoot well (53.0 eFG percentage, 313th), didn’t force turnovers (18.3 percent of possessions, 271st) and didn’t hit the boards particularly well either (67.1 Dreb percentage, 210th). Offensively, their good shooting (52.4 eFG percentage, 49th) should stay high with Seth Hinrichs (62.4 eFG percentage) taking on a much larger role in his sophomore year.
Lehigh: The Mountain Hawks were 213th in offensive rebound percentage (31.0) but otherwise ranked in the top third of all programs in all of Pomeroy’s “Four Factors” (Effective FG percentage, turnover percentage, rebounding percentage and free-throw ratio) on both sides of the ball. Offensively, though McCollum stole the show, it was Knutson with a team-best 117.3 offensive rating that was 136th in the country.
Penn State: Defensively, the Nittany Lionis’ 0.973 ppp mark was 94th in the country thanks in large part to a defensive rebounding percentage (72.1 percent) that was 32nd in the country. The offense was held back by poor shooting, both from 3-point range (31.1 percent, 296th) and 2-point range (44.0 percent, 303rd); the departure of the team’s worst shooter in Cammeron Woodyard should help.
Pennsylvania: The Quakers’ biggest offensive deficiency last season was going to the free-throw line, with a FTA/FGA ration of just .296, 317th in the country. Substituting slashers Cartwright and Tony Hicks for Tyler Bernardini and Rob Belcore should help that immensely. What Belcore and Bernardini did well was force steals, helping Penn force turnovers on 22.1 percent of opponents’ possessions (76th nationally).
Saint Joseph’s: The only major red flag on St. Joe’s statistical profile was their ability to force turnovers (15.5 percent, 342nd nationally), which coincided with a very low steal percentage (7.1, 327th). Having Roberts in the lineup more than Daryus Quarles should help the offensive rebounding percentage (30.2, 240th)
Temple: The Owls had one of the most efficient offenses in the country last year (1.120 ppp, 27th) thanks to a 39.7 percent effort from beyond the arc (11th), but this will be almost a completely different Temple team. They should be better on the defensive end, where they only forced turnovers on 19.4 percent of possessions (208th) but still were 96th nationally in defensive efficiency (0.974 ppp).
Villanova: Another team that will be wildly different from last year’s version, Villanova should be much-improved in 3-point shooting (31.5 percent, 281st) thanks to the addition of the sharpshooting Arcidiacono and the departure of Cheek. Defense is still a big question mark; the Wildcats are short (literally) on the wing behind James Bell, and Pinkston’s best contributions tend to come on the offensive end of the court.