VILLANOVA IS NOT up to its recent standards this season. That, however, does not mean the city dynamic has changed all that much. Whenever they are going after a local recruit, the coaching staffs at the other scholarship Big 5 schools - Temple, Saint Joseph's and La Salle - always hope that Villanova is not interested.
The reality is that if Villanova wants somebody local, it almost always gets that player. Other programs can be involved for years with a player, but if Villanova starts to show interest, they shudder.
They have all seen what happens. If the Wildcats make an offer, high school players gravitate toward the Main Line.
The latest examples? Big man Daniel Ochefu (Wesstown School) and point guard Ryan Arcidiacano (Neshaminy), both top 50 or 75 players, depending on which list you look at. Roman Catholic's Maalik Wayns, now a 'Nova junior, certainly drew major local interest.
Forward Amile Jefferson (Friends' Central) is another top 50 player. He has not made his decision yet, but he was at the Villanova-Boston University game last week.
So why do players think Villanova?
The Big East, games at the Wells Fargo Center, major television exposure, great fan interest and lots of recent postseason success.
Think about it. Temple has been very good for five seasons now under Fran Dunphy, but the Owls still can't draw at the Liacouras Center unless there is a major national opponent or St. Joe's or Villanova. And they have just that one NCAA Tournament win.
Until this season, St. Joe's and La Salle have been down, so the gap with Villanova on the recruiting trail widened.
More than anything, Jay Wright and his staff can point to this: Since 2005, the Wildcats have been to the Sweet 16 twice, the Final Eight once and the Final Four once. There have been 12 NCAA Tournament wins. Since the 'Nova run started, Temple, St. Joe's and La Salle have played in six NCAA games (five Temple, three Penn, one St. Joe's) with the one lonely win.
THE ST. JOE'S STORY
If Saint Joseph's wins at home tonight against Coppin State, the Hawks will get their ninth win. Last season, they got win No. 9 on March 5, the last day of the regular season. That got them into the Atlantic 10 Tournament. They nearly parlayed that to the championship game. They parlayed that run into this season.
This team is absolutely better and, given how young, the best may be yet to come. However, the big tests will begin when they hit the road. They are at Harvard New Year's Eve and then have seven out-of-town road games in 2012.
The Hawks won at Western Kentucky to start the season. They lost, 104-99, in double overtime, at a very good Iona team. They lost at American, 66-60, a game they would like to have back.
St. Joe's, which is all the way up to No. 12 in the RPI, has re-established its once-legendary homecourt edge. Road wins are what separate teams that want to be good from the teams that are good. Over the next few months, we will find out whether the Hawks are the former or the latter.
THE PHILLY CONNECTION
When La Salle was great 20 years ago, Speedy Morris and his staff owned the city. They got Lionel Simmons, Doug Overton, Randy Woods and Bobby Johnson from the Public League.
Now, while nobody was noticing, John Giannini and his staff have been going after under-the-radar city players who have not interested Villanova. And getting them, either out of high school or on the rebound.
Tyreek Duren and Earl Pettis (Rutgers transfer) are from the Catholic League. Ramon Galloway (South Carolina transfer), Jerrell Wright and Devon White are from the Pub. Only Sam Mills (Sunrise, Fla.) is from outside the city among La Salle's top six.
And if you think the city connection is why La Salle is 7-4 and playing serious defense, you would be correct.
AWAY FROM HOME
UCLA and Georgia Tech do not have home courts this season, as Pauley Pavilion and Alexander Memorial Coliseum are undergoing renovations.
UCLA is playing four games at the Honda Center in Anaheim and 14 at the old Sports Arena (built 1959) next to the LA Coliseum.
The Sports Arena was the site of the 1968 Final Four, which marked perhaps the greatest single-game performance in UCLA history. The Bruins avenged that regular-season loss to Houston at the Astrodome with style in the national semifinal, winning 101-69.
The Sports Arena was also the site of the 1960 Democratic Convention, which nominated John F. Kennedy.
Five of Georgia Tech's nonconference games are scheduled for the Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth. Two other noncon games and all eight ACC games will be at Philips Arena in downtown Atlanta, a few miles from the Tech campus.
Temple has won 24 straight at home. Duke has won 41 straight, Kentucky 41, Ohio State 32 and Notre Dame 27.
THIS AND THAT
* The more you think about it, the more amazing it is there was not a single midmajor program in the Final Four between 1979 (Indiana State) and 2005 but since 2006, we have had George Mason, VCU and Butler (twice).
* The two lowest average attendances among Big Six conference programs last season? USC (4,691) and Miami (4,763). Football really is king at those schools.
* Drexel's Michael Anderson and Saint Joseph's Jameer Nelson hold their respective school records for points, assists and steals. The NCAA does not keep any record of that, but I can't imagine there would be that many players who hold all three of those school records.
* Many were puzzled when Frank Haith got the Missouri job. He really had not done much at Miami. Well, the reality is that nobody has ever done much at Miami. The reality is this game is about players. Give a solid coach good players and his team will win. Missouri is 11-0. The Tigers are fun to watch and have a classic pair of senior guards in Marcus Denmon and Kim English, who will be very dangerous in March.
* Some things never change. Like Wisconsin. Bo Ryan's team leads the nation in adjusted defense, holding teams to 80.4 points per 100 possessions. The Badgers use the fewest possessions, only 58.7 per game. By contrast, VMI has the most possessions, 77.5 per game. The Badgers are so hard to play because each possession is magnified. They almost never turn it over. Your defense gets really tired guarding for 35 seconds and when you are on offense, you feel as if you have to be perfect.
* The five oldest college arenas in the country are Fordham's Rose Hill Gym (1925), Harvard's Lavietes Pavilion (1926), Penn's Palestra (1927), Minnesota's Williams Arena (1928) and Butler's Hinkle Fieldhouse (1928). I have seen games in every one but Lavietes. Rose Hill is just old. Williams has that quirky, raised floor. Hinkle really feels like a place where time has stood still.
The Palestra is better than ever. I love the new video boards. I don't know about you, but I just feel good when I walk into the place, even if I haven't hit an exacta in months.
By the way, my must-have-seen-a-college-game-there gym/arena/dome count is now up to 140.