My weekly observations, Vol. 9:
Villanova has trailed more than it has led in three of its first four Big East games, yet the Wildcats won all four. Noteworthy? So far, more than that — it’s season-defining. Consider that last season, Villanova trailed more than it led in only four Big East games, but lost three of them.
It’s not like Villanova is trailing in a back-and-forth way. Against DePaul, the Blue Demons were up for more than 30 minutes; Villanova, for less than 8; the rest of it was tied. The St. John’s game was even more of a heavy-lifting effort. Villanova won despite leading for less than 3 minutes. Saturday, Creighton was more back and forth, but Creighton led for more than 19 minutes and Villanova, a little more than 18 minutes.
This isn’t news by now that Villanova has developed a culture that goes beyond focusing on the score of a game. And maybe the stats will go the other way by the end of the season. But right now, a little bit of a lead against Villanova is just that, with little statistical relevance to the final score.
Let’s stick with Villanova, since a home game against St. John’s and a road test at Creighton both were passed and make the Big East regular-season title a realistic goal. The Wildcats might look back at this week as its best of the regular season. Right now, Villanova is the only undefeated team left in conference play.
Playing a little smaller seems to be effective for Villanova. The lineups change by the game and the opponent, and the Wildcats are certainly giving up something inside to gain better matchups at both ends, but the results suggest it’s effective.
As a singular achievement, it’s tough to top Temple’s over Houston, even if it hadn’t been decided by a last-second charge call. To be in NCAA contention, you need quality wins. Houston topped the list of possibilities for the Owls, since ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi has the Cougars 16th even after losing to Temple.
A win at Charleston represented the first time Drexel had won a road game against a team ranked in the top 120 of the Ken Pomeroy rankings since it beat William & Mary in 2015-16. Charleston was ranked 109th. What’s the big deal? Drexel is 254th. That’s a very big sign of progress. Trevor John’s making 5 of 9 threes popped out on a stat sheet with all sorts of pop.
For the second straight week, there’s no question it’s the St. Joseph’s Hawks, who got drilled at St. Bonaventure from the start. A trip to Duquesne made for a much better effort, except a one-point loss included far worse news, with Pierfrancesco Oliva going down with a serious knee injury and Fresh Kimble also leaving. Monday’s news: Oliva will miss the rest of season facing knee surgery (ligament damage in addition to dislocation). Kimble out is indefinitely with a hand fracture, surgery possible.
Are we grading La Salle on a curve after its 0-10 start? No, but jumping out to a lead at VCU and battling preseason league favorite St. Louis does tell you the Explorers are still moving in the right direction even if the games were losses.
The Penn Quakers pause their Ivy League start, now 0-2, for Big 5 games against Temple and St. Joe’s. Can they regain their equilibrium?
Freshman Michael Wang, a serious contender for Big 5 freshman of the year, is back from injury, 100 percent according to his coach, but Wang didn’t have an offensive rhythm in either loss to Princeton. It’s not just Wang looking to get back in stride. Point guard Devon Goodman’s efficiency numbers also have dropped recently, but, watching Goodman play, it’s reasonable to argue that his efficiency will rise and fall based on how his teammates perform, since his guard play still looks stellar. One caveat: Goodman’s three-point shooting has dropped during Penn’s current four-game losing streak.
The biggest statistical issue for Penn, however, remains its free-throw shooting. The Quakers are 333rd in the nation, making 62.5 percent.
Wish I had a dollar for every time a college hoops fan yells out “Follow your shot.” … Never heard anyone yell about floor balance. (Translation: Following your shot is just likely to result in a fast break for the other guys.)
Maybe Villanova’s Phil Booth and Temple’s Shizz Alston should play one-on-one for Big 5 player of the year. (Yes, there’s a long way to go, and ‘Nova’s Eric Paschall would probably like to be in that game, too.)