Villanova is 16-2.
One of my favorite hoops websites (kenpom.com) projects teams' regular-season records after each game. The site crunches all kinds of relevant statistics and then projects the rest of the season. It is a snapshot, which can and will change, depending on results. At the moment, the Wildcats are predicted to finish the regular season 25-6.
And, unlike last season, 'Nova is expected to finish the regular season on a semi-roll, even with the last two games at Notre Dame and Pittsburgh.
I like this Villanova team. Not sure I love them like the 2008-09 team. The Wildcats still take some bizarre fouls and do not appear to have a cruise button. But they make free throws and nobody can keep Maalik Wayns or Corey Fisher out of the lane. Should be quite an interesting ride from here to the March 5 game at Pittsburgh.
By the way, the site projected Connecticut winning, 73-72, on Monday afternoon. The actual score was 61-59. Not bad.
Temple is projected to finish 23-7, with only one sure loss, the Feb. 23 game at Duke. That, of course, assumes a healthy Juan Fernandez. And that will be critical. Temple must play at Xavier on Saturday and at Dayton on Feb. 12. If the Owls are going to lose more conference games, those seem like the most likely venues. I have to believe the Duquesne loss was an aberration and not because the Dukes can't play. They can. But Temple is way better than it showed.
Drexel is predicted to finish 19-9, 11-7 in the Colonial. The league is brutal and, if the Dragons get to those numbers, they will have had a terrific season and should end up in the NIT. Of course, they could win the CAA Tournament. But that would require them playing far better than they have in that event in recent seasons.
Penn is projected to finish 12-16, 7-7 in the Ivy. Harvard and Princeton are very good. It will not be easy for Penn to get past them to the top. These Quakers might not be quite good enough, but, if they can handle those Ivy road trips and defend homecourt, I think they could get to 10 wins in the league and set up a run to the title next season. When I watch this team, I like a lot of what I see. What I can't explain are those losses at Manhattan and Marist. Still, this team is not going to be an easy out in the Ivy.
La Salle defies all conventional analysis. The talent is there. They just can't - or won't - defend anybody. The projection is 13-18, 5-11 in the Atlantic 10. Given that the Explorers had chances to win against Missouri, Oklahoma State and Villanova, something is clearly amiss.
The projection for Saint Joseph's is 10-20, 4-12. If that sounds familiar, it should. Last season's Hawks finished 10-20, 5-11. That does not sound like progress, but for the optimists, if they are still out there, last season's team was older and this season's team is the youngest in the modern history of the program.
THE CLASS OF 2011
On Friday, the newest Big 5 Hall of Fame Class will be inducted at the Palestra. I had the pleasure of watching all three men up close.
As a sophomore, Kerry Kittles was the best player on Villanova's NIT champions. As a junior, he was the best player on his school's only Big East championship team. As a senior, he was a first-team All-American. Scottie Reynolds took a good run at him, but Kittles still holds his school's scoring record. He won the Geasey Award as the best player in the Big 5 as a junior and senior. I am not sure there has ever been a faster end-to-end player than Kittles in my time here. When he shot the gap in the passing lanes, he didn't miss the ball much and nobody was ever catching him.
Saint Joseph's point guard Rashid Bey won the Geasey Award the 2 years after Kittles' Villanova career ended. He ran the show for the Hawks' second and most recent A-10 championship in 1997. That team went on to play in the Sweet 16 against defending national champion Kentucky. One of my favorite people to talk to, Bey was a big-moments player who got better as the stakes got higher.
I don't know if Temple's Rick Brunson was John Chaney's favorite player, but I can't imagine anybody who played more in his coach's image. He was smart, under control and had a perfect understanding of how to play the game the way his coach wanted it played. Nobody was surprised when Brunson became a coach. He was a coach at Temple, only he did it while wearing a uniform.
When Jerome Allen accepted the permanent position as Penn coach last spring, I thought his press conference was the most impressive and heartfelt I have seen in that setting. And I have seen a few of them.
I have known Jerome since he was a player at Penn. His great play sort of spoke for itself, but he was always one of the most impressive and insightful people about the game and life.
What I most admired was his passion. Which is why he wasn't happy with his team's play against La Salle last Wednesday, even though they made a great comeback to send the game into overtime before losing. Allen wasn't fooled.
"I thought overall we just played a terrible basketball game on both ends of the floor," Allen said.
He wasn't happy. There are no excuses. He isn't going to settle. He isn't going to let his team settle.
I love watching Penn's offense. The ball and player movement comes right off a chalkboard. Point guard Zack Rosen sees everything and makes passes that ordinary guards don't even consider.
What Penn does not have is enough quality athletes to compete with the better teams on its schedule. I expect that to change over time and probably sooner than most people think.
"We will get it done," Allen said at the end of that news conference. And, just in case anybody missed the point, he said it again. "We will get it done."
I believe him.
THIS AND THAT
--- Anybody staying up late to watch Blake Griffin? I will never forget the first time I saw him play at Oklahoma. He was diving over tables and dunking on everybody. The 2008-09 player of the year is putting up monster numbers in his first NBA season for the Clippers. He really does have 27 consecutive double-doubles. He really did get 47 and 14 on Monday against the Pacers. And he finishes like some combination of a young Charles Barkley and a very young Chris Webber. Only better.
--- There is no obvious P/Y like Griffin 2 years ago. If I were voting for an All-America team today, my first five would be Jimmer Fredette (BYU), Kemba Walker (Connecticut), JaJuan Johnson (Purdue), Jared Sullinger (Ohio State) and Charles Jenkins (Hofstra). In a season without a lot of really good big men, Johnson and Sullinger stand out. They both look like very solid NBA players to me.
Why Jenkins? I love his game. He forces nothing and yet still fills up the stat sheet. He probably won't be a first-team All-American because of where he plays, but that doesn't mean he is not worthy.
If somebody wanted to include Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler (Duke), Alec Burks (Colorado), Derrick Williams (Arizona) and Reggie Jackson (Boston College) on an A-A team, I would not quarrel. All should get serious consideration.
I think player of the year is still very much up for debate, but, if I had to single out one player at this point, it probably would be Fredette. And not just because he leads the nation in scoring. Love all the ways he can score. He would look very, very good in a Sixers uniform. Doug Collins would love his game.
--- John Giannini's unique perspective on his La Salle's team's defense after beating Penn: "We didn't stop at the red light, we didn't turn the light out at night."