My weekly City 6 observations, Vol. 3:
So Villanova headed to Florida for Thanksgiving — because what says Thanksgiving dinner more than an Orlando hotel ballroom? The answer: ESPN needs programming — and three games down there didn't just mean we'd find out more about the Wildcats after the Michigan and Furman debacles. They'd also find out more about themselves.
What they found was pretty positive. Oklahoma State, even a young Oklahoma State team, and Florida State, a ranked Florida State team with players back from a Sweet 16 team that narrowly lost to Michigan in last season's NCAA Tournament, represented opponents that would take advantage if you couldn't get yourself straight.
Watching those two games, the biggest takeaway was that Villanova's defense looked vastly improved, with a real commitment to help defense, the kind you've gotten used to seeing from this program. Villanova isn't going to be the quickest team in the country, at either end. But you're not going to out-tough them and you're not going to out-think them. Helping on defense, finding the open man. You saw Villanova looking like Villanova this weekend.
You saw Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree taking a real step up as a starting center. In three games, the sophomore had as many offensive rebounds as defensive boards. Since he had 17 boards at each end, that was very good news. Many of those he converted into hoops, making 13 of 14 shots. Funny to think opposing recruiters once tried to tell Cosby-Roundtree he wouldn't have a role at Villanova, causing him to ask for a meeting with all of Villanova's coaches.
Fellow sophomore Collin Gillespie righted his own ship, looking polished on offense, scoring 17 against Florida State, and much better at the defensive end. He's never going to be Mikal Bridges as a stopper, but you saw why Jay Wright wants him on the floor, why freshman Jahvon Quinerly is waiting his turn.
Veterans Eric Paschall and Phil Booth played like veterans. You know their games. So do opposing coaches. They still combined for 42 points against Oklahoma State and 27 against Florida State.
With freshman Saddiq Bey cementing his place in the starting lineup, Villanova's rotation makes sense. You'd expect to see newcomers Joe Cremo and Cole Swider making more shots — Villanova's bench was 2-for-13 on threes in the Oklahoma State and Florida State games — but those two guys can shoot. They have the green light to keep shooting.
Another bottom line: Smaller and quicker is the best way to play against Villanova.
The next stretch for the Wildcats will be fascinating. Four straight Big 5 games. Can anybody get them?
St. Joseph's found out a little more about itself, and it wasn't good for the Hawks. Losing to Central Florida and West Virginia on neutral courts is all right. Both should go to the NCAA Tournament. Losing a 20-point lead at William and Mary is not all right, especially when Charlie Brown looked unstoppable, scoring 37 points.
Watching that one down the stretch, St. Joe's didn't give up points for lack of effort. But William and Mary made 21 of 32 shots from inside the arc to go with hot-enough outside shooting, making 11 of 24 threes.
So that's it for St. Joe's NCAA at-large chances? No, the path has just already narrowed to a tight squeeze. The Hawks now probably have to win the Atlantic 10 regular season, win most of its Big 5 games, and win a couple of games in the A-10 Tournament. That's a much tougher collective task than winning three straight in Brooklyn in the tournament.
… Unless you want to spend a night at an airport. That's what some members of Penn's traveling party did getting to the Paradise Jam, and the whole group did coming home. The Quakers survived that bit of torture — it sounded as if director of operations Brad Fadem was the hands-down MVP of the trip — and still managed to beat Northern Iowa in the first game inside the Virgin Islands Sport and Fitness Center. They stayed within range of Kansas State and Oregon State but didn't make enough threes to beat either.
Seven games in, La Salle still is looking for its first "W," after losing three more in the Wooden Legacy Classic, to Miami, Northwestern and Grand Canyon. The Explorers have talent, just not enough of it spread around at different positions, and certainly not enough to keep opponents away from the rim.
Shooting 2-for-25 on threes against Miami meant that was never going to be a game. Watching the second half against Grand Canyon, you could see La Salle had its chances, but it was such a narrow path. An open three, for instance, to narrow a seven-point second-half lead didn't fall. Not making a couple of shots that could have put pressure on Grand Canyon kept the pressure on La Salle. And let's face it, trying to get a first win is pressure. There was no lack of effort from anybody. There also is no easy fix.
A split with VCU and California puts Temple at 5-1 with the most important nonconference portion of the schedule just ahead, starting with a trip Tuesday to Missouri, followed by St. Joe's and Villanova.
Are the Owls an NCAA contender? We're about to find out. So far, they've looked good enough defensively and good enough at getting more possessions than opponents. Let's see if that trend holds, forcing more turnovers than they commit, grabbing more rebounds than they give up.
It still comes down eventually to making shots, and Temple is 267th in Division I at three-point shooting.
A win over Boston University and a loss at Bowling Green lead us in the same direction, telling us Drexel is trending the right way, if not ready to be an upper-level Colonial Athletic Association team.