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College preview: Bouncing back from injuries

Posted by Eric Fisher On November 12

The City Six, with the exception of Temple, opened their seasons this weekend, and the Big Five rivalries kick off Monday when Penn hosts La Salle.

Injured players returning is a common theme. Phil Booth is back from Villanova, Josh Brown returns for Temple, and seemingly half of the Saint Joseph’s roster is returning from injuries. How much those returning players contribute could be the key to the fortunes of each of those teams.

Villanova, ranked sixth at the start of the season, is attempting to remain in the national championship picture. Saint Joseph’s and Temple have their sights set on earning an invitation to the NCAA Tournament. Penn could also receive an invitation to the Big Dance if it can win the Ivy League championship, which is an outside shot, but not a halfcourt heave.

Like Temple, La Salle finished last season with a .500 record, but the Explorers don’t have an addition to the lineup of the caliber of Brown, so their expectations might be a bit more modest than the Owls. Drexel has even more modest expectations after unexpectedly losing a key player before the season.

Let’s take a look at the outlooks for the City Six.

VILLANOVA

The Wildcats lost three key players from last year’s superb team and don’t have a senior in their main rotation, but nobody would be surprised if Villanova won its fifth straight Big East regular-season title. In fact, the Wildcats are ranked sixth in the nation.

Villanova spent a large portion of last season ranked No. 1 in the nation, but was upset by Wisconsin, 65-62, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Lost from that team, which finished with a 32-4 record, are Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds. Hart was one of the best players in the country. Jenkins was the hero of Villanova’s national championship the previous year, hitting the 3-pointer at the buzzer.

But the cupboard isn’t bare. Junior guard Jalen Brunson (14.7 points last season) is the Big East preseason player of the year and is on the Wooden Award watch list. Brunson will have more opportunities this season, but he also won’t have the luxury of having teams concentrate resources on stopping Hart and Jenkins. Brunson will be aided by the return of guard Phil Booth, who is a redshirt junior after being limited to three games last season due to a knee injury.  Booth’s shot should enhance the Wildcats’ offense.

Guard Donte DiVincenzo developed into one of the Wildcats’ most important players by the latter part of last season. The redshirt sophomore will be counted upon to play an even larger role this season. Freshman guard Collin Gillespie could also contribute in the backcourt.

The Wildcats will be particularly young at forward. After redshirt junior Eric Paschall and swingman Mikal Bridges, the Big East co-Defensive Player of the Year last season, will work with redshirt freshman Omari Spellman, and possibly freshmen Jermaine Samuels and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, as well as sophomore Dylan Painter, who was pressed into action last season after Spellman was declared academically ineligible last season.

Outlook: It may take some time for the Wildcats to gel. They have less star power than last season, but appear to have more depth. The Wildcats may win the Big East again and should return to the NCAA Tournament as a relatively high seed, but this team won’t be pushing for the No. 1 ranking. If the Wildcats get eliminated in the second round of the NCAA Tournament this season, it will be a disappointment, but not a shock.

TEMPLE

Josh Brown should be the key to Temple’s season. Brown played just five games last season due to an Achilles tendon injury. The Owls finished 16-16 without him, posting a losing record (7-11) in the American Athletic Conference and failing to win a postseason game.

With Brown back for a redshirt senior season at guard, the hope is that opens up some opportunities for fellow senior captain Obi Enechionyia, who averaged 13.1 points last season. The versatile Enechionyia (6-foot-10) can block shots and make 3-pointers.

The Owls may frequently go to three guards on offense. Junior Shizz Alston Jr. (6-4) and sophomore Quinton Rose (6-8) provide the Owls with scoring and length, which should also aid Temple at the defensive end. Sophomore guard Alani Moore (5-10) was also pressed into action last season, gaining valuable experience.

Outlook: The backcourt and Enechionyia will determine the Owls’ level of success. The wild cards are Brown’s health and whether any freshmen make significant contributions. A repeat of last season would be a disappointment. The Owls should have a winning record and reach .500 in the AAC, but whether that’s enough to earn an invitation to the NCAA Tournament is uncertain. At the very least, Temple would need to be a bubble team for the NCAA Tournament in order for this season to be considered progress, especially with two senior captains.

SAINT JOSEPH’S

No team was hit harder by injuries last season than the Hawks, so Hawks fans can’t be happy that sophomore forward Charlie Brown is sidelined at the start of the season by a fractured wrist. On the positive side of the ledger, the Hawks have four players who were hindered by injuries last season back in the lineup.

Guard Shavar Newkirk was averaging more than 20 points per game before tearing his ACL last season. Lamarr Kimble did a nice job picking up some of the scoring slack until he broke his foot in February. Forward James Demery missed 10 games and forward Pierfrancesco Oliva missed the entire season due to knee surgery.

It may take a little time, of course, for all of the pieces to mess together. All of the injured players, especially Oliva, may have some rust to work off. But, if Newkirk and Kimble can excel in the backcourt, the Hawks should rebound from an 11-20 record last season.

The Hawks may also receive some help from freshman forwards Anthony Longpre and Taylor Funk. Longpre started Saturday’s season-opening loss to Toledo. Funk came off the bench to score 16 points in his debut.

Outlook: If the Hawks can stay healthy – and that’s a big if – they could make some noise, particularly after Brown returns. An NCAA bid isn’t out of the question, which is an amazing statement to make about a team that only won four Atlantic 10 games last season.

LA SALLE

Senior swing B.J. Johnson, the team leader in scoring (17.6) and rebounds (6.3) last season, leads the Explorers this season as they try to moving into winning territory after being .500  last season , both overall (15-15) and in the Atlantic 10 (9-9).

Johnson will be complemented by redshirt junior guard Pookie Powell (13.7 points) and guard Amar Stukes, who is a graduate student.  The experienced Explorers are also counting on contributions from redshirt senior Tony Washington (6-10, 230 pounds), who started 25 games as a sophomore.

One issue for the Explorers is they don’t have much experience beyond the four players already mentioned. Sophomore Saul Phiri started the season opener, a win over St. Peter’s. Freshman guard Jamir Moultrie, freshman center/forward Miles Brookins and sophomore guard Isiah Deas also played extended minutes in the season opener.

Outlook: Johnson and Powell should keep the Explorers competitive. The big question concerns how well the young players fill in the gaps on the roster. The Explorers might be right around .500 again this season, although rapid development of young players might boost them to a winner record.

PENN

Sophomore forward A.J. Brodeur, who led Penn in scoring (13.8 points) and rebounding (6.9) as a freshman, returns to lead the Quakers in their pursuit of an Ivy League title.

Sophomore Ryan Betley (11.9 points), who made a difference after missing the first month of his career with a broken hand, and senior Darnell Forman, who averaged 8.3 points and led the team in assists last season, form a solid backcourt. The Quakers should also benefit from the return of junior guard Antonio Woods, who excelled during the first half of his freshman season before being declared academically ineligible. Outside shooter Jackson Donahue, Caleb Wood and Devon Goodman add plenty of depth in the backcourt.

There are questions about frontcourt scoring after Brodeur. Perhaps freshman Jarrod Simmons might be part of the answer.

Outlook: With Brodeur and a talented and deep backcourt, Penn could challenge – and win – the Ivy League title one year after posting a 6-8 league record (13-15 overall). If Brodeur misses any significant time, however, the Quakers could find themselves in trouble in the frontcourt.

DREXEL

The Dragons lose two starters from last season’s 9-23 squad. Leading scorer Rodney Williams was in his senior season, but the Dragons expected to have guard Kari Jonsson (10.1 points) back. Unfortunately, Jonsson returned to Iceland.

Fortunately, the Dragons still have sophomore Kurk Lee, who was second on the team in scoring (14.9) and led the team in assists (5.0) while starting 30 games as a freshman. They also return seniors Austin Williams, the versatile Sammy Mojica (11.2 points) and Miles Overton (9.5 points), who help form a solid foundation for the Dragons.

The question for the Dragons is where else will they receive significant help. Guard Troy Harper and guard Sam Green started the opener, a loss to visiting Bowling Green. Perhaps freshman Tim Perry Jr., the son of the former Temple start and 76ers player Tim Perry, will make a difference. It’s too early to tell.

Outlook: With the loss of Williams and Jonsson, the Dragons may not finish with a much better record than last season. A championship, or even title contention, is an unrealistic goal. The Dragons’ season should be about sending the seniors out on the best note possible, the development of Lee and finding younger players to fill in the gaps.

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