One week of City 6 hoops down.
Here are some observations:
1. The St. Joseph's Hawks are who you thought they could be. Not a Goliath, rolling over anything in their path. Just a team with multiple and varied offensive weapons. A tough cover, with a point guard who is as savvy as they come, a special wing player who has added layers to his game, a point forward who sees the game like a veteran point guard, and a new freshman who showed up ready to play.
Hawk fans can easily match up the names to the descriptions. A) Fresh Kimble. B) Charlie Brown. C) Pierfrancesco Oliva. D) Jared Bynum.
Let's start with the new guy. Bynum and Kimble make for a small-ish backcourt, but it's in no way surprising that coach Phil Martelli will live with smaller to go with quicker. (Think Kimble and Shavar Newkirk in the past.) Bynum has a lightning-quick first step, matched by his second and third steps. Friday night, he was unafraid to use them driving into the teeth of Old Dominion's defense. Leave him open and he'll take the three. He made both he tried against ODU.
Kimble, meanwhile, is back and looks better than ever. His stat line featured nothing otherworldly, including 5 of 12 shooting, except he controlled the game without heating up from the outside, and he's in the best shape of his life, shown by some big-time baseline moves that resulted in hoops. Brown led St. Joe's with 20 points, made 4 of 6 threes, including the one that kind of nailed down the game, on a feed from a driving Bynum.
Oliva had shown in past years that he sees the game with an eye for angles. Martelli related a story that shows Oliva's maturity, how the redshirt junior had gone to the coach before the game and said he was OK coming off the bench, knowing the Hawks would go with a three-man rotation for the two inside spots, with Anthony Longpre and Taylor Funk.
Oliva added, however, that he hoped unlike in past seasons, Martelli wouldn't take his starting five as set, that he would go with the efficient hand. Martelli liked what he heard, and agreed to it, and Oliva started Friday's second half for Funk. He'd earned it, and his play was more responsible than anybody for St. Joe's, picked second in the Atlantic 10, getting a working margin in the 79-64 opening win over a team picked to finish third in Conference USA.
2. Before Penn represented the Ivy League in last season's NCAA Tournament, I wrote about the Quakers' incredible guard depth, how they never ran out of backcourt players, how former starters were seeing limited minutes and more than making the best of it, but contributing even just in practice.
Depth of players, of course, is difference from depth of talent. When Ryan Betley went down minutes into Penn's season opener with a ruptured patella tendon, which will cause last season's leading scorer to miss this season, the Quakers suffered a hit that changed the season.
Consider that Penn had four double-digit scorers last season, three were guards, and all three are now gone, since Darnell Foreman and Caleb Wood graduated.
Penn had a guard who is considered as talented as any of them in Jelani Williams, who missed his freshman season with a knee injury. You could have penciled Williams in to start this season, until he tore the ACL in his other knee this summer.
Penn still has guards, starting with Antonio Woods, assuming his own knee injury Friday night isn't serious. Freshman Bryce Washington moved into the starting lineup Friday and made 3 of 6 three-pointers. Penn still beat Rice, but Rice is picked to finish last in Conference USA. Penn also won at George Mason without Betley, and that's a big-time win, since George Mason is picked to finish fourth in the A-10.
So the season isn't over, but outsiders should adjust their expectations, look to see whether Penn can get into the top four of the Ivy regular season and advance to the anything-can-happen Ivy playoffs, this year at Yale.
3. Watching Drexel on my phone the other day, I also called up a roster on another screen to help figure out who was who among the new guys. The Dragons have a lot of new guys. Can any of them shoot? That was last season's issue, and an obvious point of emphasis for Zach Spiker and his staff.
The new-look Dragons don't seem as if they'll run anybody off the floor with athleticism. But despite losing their opener at Eastern Michigan, they really impressed since they had a three-pointer to go ahead with a dozen seconds left against a team picked to win its division of the Mid-American Conference.
The good news: Drexel made 13 of 34 threes (38.2 percent), a legit improvement on last season's 32.5 percent.
The other news: The Dragons will have to keep doing that, since they made only 8 of 23 two-pointers against EMU and that included Alihan Demir's 5 of 9.
Drexel shot even better Sunday at Rutgers but still got run out of the gym since the Dragons couldn't stop the Scarlet Knights at all, giving up 95, including 29 in the opening 10 minutes. Rutgers starters made 11 of 16 threes.
That's promising for Rutgers. For Drexel, it suggests they've won half the battle — improving on the offensive end, which will put the Dragons in many more games, especially in CAA play. What exactly that translates to on the scoreboard will be determined, but put them down, at least, for a better product.
4. You can see La Salle's talented newcomers figuring out how they fit in. You can also see senior Pookie Powell is one savvy player. One obvious thing all the guards need to figure out is how to help with the rebounding, since La Salle is undermanned and that won't change. According to KenPom.com, the Explorers are 303rd in Division-I offensive rebounding percentage, which maybe you can live with based on your system. However, they also are 272nd in allowing offensive rebounds. Those two facts together put them behind the eight ball, giving up too many extra possessions.
5. Nice start for Temple, but Temple needs nicer starts. Credit to the 2-0 Owls for overcoming an early 15-6 deficit to La Salle and a 13-2 deficit to Detroit Mercy. It takes resilience to play from behind without panicking, but it's still a tough way to live.