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College preview: High hopes for young ‘Cats

Posted by Eric Fisher On November 6

Is Villanova rebuilding or simply reloading? The Wildcats try to defend their national championship with a young team, but, despite having to replace their top four scorers, they are ninth in the nation in the preseason rankings.

Saint Joseph’s must replace its top two scorers, but two players sidelined by injuries last season return to lead the Hawks this season.

Temple and Penn both return their top two leading scorers. The Quakers are trying to qualify for the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season while the Owls are trying to get back to the Big Dance in head coach Fran Dunphy’s final season.

La Salle and Drexel appear to be in rebuilding mode. Progress for the Explorers and Dragons shouldn’t be measured solely by wins and losses.

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


Head coach: Jay Wright (18th season as Wildcats’ head coach)

Last season: 36-4 (14-4 Big East), national champions

With four players selected during the first 33 picks of the 2018 NBA Draft, Villanova lost a lot of talent. It would be unrealistic to expect the Wildcats to compete for their third national championship in the past four seasons, but that doesn’t mean the cupboard is bare.

The Wildcats are the preseason pick among Big East coaches to win the conference. They are ranked ninth in the preseason AP college basketball poll.

How good the Wildcats will be is debatable. What’s indisputable is that they will be young. Fifth-year seniors Phil Booth and Eric Paschall are expected to start, and senior guard Joe Cremo transferred from Albany, but the rest of the Wildcats expected to battle for significant playing time are sophomores and freshman.

Redshirt sophomore Dylan Painter (6-foot-11, 224 pounds) and sophomore Jermaine Samuels (6-7, 220) are expected to start at forward with Paschall, and sophomore Collin Gillespie (6-3, 183) is expected to join Booth in the starting backcourt

Paschall (10.6 points) and Booth (10 points) are the only returning players who averaged five points or more last season, when Villanova captured the national championship. Paschall, Booth, Cremo and the younger players will have to step to fill some of the void left by the departures of Jalen Brunson (18.9), Mikal Bridges (17.7), Donte DiVincenzo (13.4) and Omari Spellman (10.9).

Sophomore forward Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, freshman guard Jahvon Quinerly and freshman forwards Cole Swider, Brandon Slater and Saddiq Bey could make an impact, but it may take time for the freshmen to adjust to the college game and the Wildcats’ style.

Outlook: Villanova doesn’t seem to have the star power it has had the past several seasons. On the other hand, nobody considered DiVincenzo a star before last season, and he ended up being named the Outstanding Player in the Final Four and was the 16th player selected in the NBA Draft. It may take time for the freshmen to get comfortable, which means that Villanova should be a better team at the end of the season than it will be at the beginning. If a star or two develop, the Wildcats could once again be a team to be reckoned with when the NCAA Tournament rolls around.


Head coach: Phil Martelli (24th season as Hawks’ head coach)

Last season: 16-16 (10-8 Atlantic 10)

This is a year of redemption for the Hawks. It’s not that Saint Joseph’s was awful last season. The Hawks finished at .500 and reached the Atlantic 10 semifinals. But many of its players are trying to bounce back from significant injuries.

Redshirt junior guard Lamarr Kimble is actually coming back after two injuries. He broke a bone in his foot in February of 2017. He returned last season, but only played one game before reinjuring the foot and missing the rest of the season. Redshirt sophomore forward Charlie Brown didn’t even make it to the first game last season. A fractured wrist suffered before the season began turned into a season-ending injury. Kimble and Brown are both back this season, and they hope to fill some of the void created by the departure of senior guard Shavar Newkirk (17.4 points) and senior forward James Demery (16.9).

Kimble and Brown should be complemented by a fine supporting cast. Taylor Funk averaged 11.8 points last season as a freshman. Senior guard Chris Clover averaged 8.8 points and redshirt junior forward Pierfranceso Oliva averaged 6.6. Forward Anthony Longpre Longpre (6-foot-10, 246 pounds). The Hawks could also receive a boost from graduate student Troy Holston, a 6-4 guard from South Florida who should fit right in after missing last season due to an injury.

Outlook: As I wrote last season, if the Hawks can stay healthy – and that’s a big if – they could make some noise in the Atlantic 10 and an NCAA bid isn’t out of the question.


Head coach: Fran Dunphy (13th and final season as Owls’ head coach)

Last season: 17-16 (8-10 Atlantic 10)

The focus this season will be on Fran Dunphy, who will be coaching the Owls for the final time before turning over the reins to assistant coach Aaron McKie, who starred for the Owls and played for the 76ers.

The Owls want to send Dunphy out on a high note, and a lot of that will depend on the starting backcourt of Quinton Rose and Shizz Alston. Rose (14.9 points) returns for his junior season after testing the NBA waters last spring and then withdrawing his name from the draft. Alston (13.3) was the Owls’ second-leading scorer. Alston and Rose will also have to fill the leadership void left by the departure of senior captains Obi Enechionyia and Josh Brown, who were third and fourth, respectively, in scoring last season.

Sophomore guard Nate Pierre-Louis (7.5) will help significantly if he can develop into a reliable third scorer. Senior center Ernest Aflakpui (6-10, 240) needs to fill some of Enechionyia’s role, particularly with the Owls relying heavily on their guards to produce points. Forward Arashma Parks and guard Quentin Jackson could contribute as freshmen.

Outlook: Temple needs to ride its backcourt this season. The Owls would love to reach the NCAA Tournament, which would be a nice parting gift for Dunphy, but a lot has to go right for that to occur.


Head coach: Ashley Howard (1st season as Explorers’ head coach)

Last season: 13-19 (7-11 Atlantic 10)

The most noteworthy loss is swingman B.J. Johnson, who led the Explorers in scoring (20.8) and rebounding (8.2) last season. The most noteworthy newcomer is head coach Ashley Howard, who was an assistant with Villanova’s national championship team. The most noteworthy returnee is guard Pookie Powell (16.0 points), who successfully petitioned the NCAA for a sixth season of eligibility.

Guards Isiah Deas (9.5) and Saul Phiri (6.2) are also back, but there isn’t much else returning in terms of proven college players. The backcourt may be bolstered by three Division I transfers: Traci Carter (Marquette), David Beatty (South Carolina) and Cheddi Mosely (Boston University). Freshman guard Jack Clark (6-8) could contribute after missing his senior season at Cheltenham High School due to injury.

Outlook: Expectations shouldn’t be too high for the Explorers, who are clearly in rebuilding mode. If a few of their freshman forwards make an immediate impact, it will take some of the pressure off the backcourt. But it appears as if La Salle will struggle against teams with formidable frontcourts.


Head coach: Steve Donahue (4th season as Quakers’ head coach)

Last season: 24-9, (12-2 Ivy League)

After qualifying for the NCAA Tournament, and putting a scare into top-seeded Kansas, last season, Penn is looking forward to going back to the Big Dance this season. Leading scorer Ryan Betley (14.3 points) and second-leading scorer (13.1) and top rebounder (7.2) A.J. Brodeur return, which is nice foundation for the Quakers. And, as juniors, they should be back again next season.

Senior forward Max Rothschild (7.5 points, 5.7 rebounds), senior guard Antonio Woods (7.7 points) and junior guard Devon Goodman are three returning players who were part of the rotation last season. The Quakers home players such as sophomore such as guard Eddie Scott and forward Jarrod Simmons make significant contributions. Freshmen worth keeping an eye include 6-10 forward Michael Wang and guards Bryce Washington, Griffin Ryan and Alex Imegwu.

Outlook: The Quakers made tremendous strides last season after finishing 13-15 the previous season. One of their secrets was balanced scoring. It appears they might have to rely more heavily on Brodeur and Betley this season, but, if they can develop balance and quality depth, they might get past Harvard once again and represent the Ivy League in the NCAA Tournament.


Head coach: Zach Spiker (3rd season as Dragons’ head coach)

Last season: 13-20 (6-12 Colonial Athletic Association)

The Dragons catch a bit of a bad break with leading scorer (21.0) Tramaine Isabell transferring to St. Louis for his final year of eligibility. The versatile Sammy Mojica (11.1 points) and Austin Williams (9.4) are also gone. But guard Kurk Lee (12.4) returns to lead the offense.

Lee, who also led the Dragons’ in assists, will be counted upon to score more, as will junior forward Alihan Demir. Senior guard Troy Harper, who started 10 games last season, will also be counted upon more than last year. The Dragons are also hoping for contributions from transfers James Butler (forward, Navy) and guard Trevor John (Cal Poly) and freshman guard Coletrane Washington.

Outlook: If the transfers and freshmen don’t step up to fill the spaces around Lee, this could be a long year for the Dragons, who will certainly miss Isabell’s scoring.

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