Weekly City 6 observations, Vol. 10:
» READ MORE: Last week’s observations
So you’re wondering how the Penn Quakers have clinched a share of the Big 5 title, with a chance to sweep the City Series if they beat the St. Joseph’s Hawks on Saturday at the Palestra?
Go to the defensive end, which really got Penn to last year’s NCAA tournament, and has shown up this season against city rivals.
So far this season, Penn is 32nd in Division I at defending the three-pointer, fifth at giving up three-pointers as a percentage of opposing possessions. Moreover, the Quakers lead the nation — that’s right, No. 1 in D1 — at allowing assists as a percentage of possessions.
What does that mean? Opponents, especially opposing guards, often are resorting to one-on-one play to get their points.
Bringing all that to Big 5 play: Villanova star Phil Booth had his lowest offensive numbers (according to KenPom.com) in his last dozen games against Penn. La Salle made just 5 of 20 threes, and, playing without Pookie Powell, had 21 turnovers to 8 assists. Temple made just 27 percent of its threes, and if you take away the big work done inside by Owls center Ernest Aflakpui, his teammates made just 18 of 45 two-pointers.
This all doesn’t just happen through grit and determination. It takes some basketball IQ, as Penn star A.J. Brodeur indicated when asked after Penn knocked off Temple, 77-70, Saturday how the Quakers had defended Owls star Shizz Alston so well.
“Off the ball screen I assume is where he’s been getting most of his production,’’ Brodeur said. “We watched that on film, we talked about how the big has to step up on the ball screen and take away all his vision at the rim, make him pass it, make him try to go by you, because we know he excels at shooting those long mid-range jumpers. We wanted to take that away from him, while also still making it tough when he inevitably does get those shots.”
It’s one thing to pick your poison. It’s quite another to take away the poison, replace it with more generic, less-practiced, less-efficient offense.
If you’re going to try to take something away from the Hawks, it might be their ability to not turn the ball over. They lead Division I in that percentage, even while struggling more than expected at overall offensive efficiency. (Flip side: The Hawks aren’t forcing many more turnovers than they commit. They are 319th nationally at forcing them as a percentage of offense.)
With Fresh Kimble injured, you could argue that freshman point guard Jared Bynum is the most important current Hawks player. Certainly, he’s the guy who can get a quick first step to the hoop while also directing the offense. And there is no backup for what he brings.
Pookie Powell hasn’t found his long-range shooting rhythm since returning from injury. The senior guard has made 7 of 27 threes, You could also argue (if you’re in the arguing mood) that’s all right since the younger Explorers are getting involved and that’s what this season has turned out to be all about.
Drexel has won three of four Colonial Athletic Association games and is 4-4 in the CAA for the first time since 2012-13. (The last three seasons, the Dragons were 1-7, 2-6, and 1-7 through eight CAA games.)
In the last three wins, three Dragons have been the leading scorer. Early on, it looked like freshman Cam Wynter was going to lead the show all the time, but Wynter wasn’t even one of the three. It was Trevor Johns hitting threes, then Alihan Demir working inside and out, and then Troy Harper proving tough to stop.
It’s a big one for the Dragons on Saturday at Delaware, which probably hasn’t quite forgotten how things went down the last time the two rivals met. (Need a clue? Look up the NCAA record book for biggest comeback in Division-I history.)
This is not statistically significant, just surprising. Biggest press room in City 6 home gyms: Drexel. Smallest: Villanova’s new Finneran Pavilion. Drexel’s is also closest to the court, after moving up couple of years ago from the basement. Villanova’s is farthest.
(We’ll note, by the way, that small news conference rooms aren’t awful for the media — maybe the opposite, since it puts you right on top of the people you’re talking to. Tip to visiting Villanova media: If you want a little postgame writing space, go work postgame back in the press seating. Yes, the press seating moved upstairs. No, we don’t sit around griping about it. We usually only gripe about losing the Palestra press seating right by the visiting bench.)