Best Team: Villanova
Nova continues to hold the crown locally, with another top level recruiting class doing what they can to replace the departed JayVaughn Pinkston and Darrun Hilliard.
Ryan Arcidaicono is back to lead the Cats (and frustrate me every time I tried to spell his last name). Arch moves into a more important role this year, as the Nova offense should flow even more through his hands. For Jay Wright’s team to be among the nation’s best, that probably doesn’t mean more shots or more scoring from Archie. He has certainly seen problems in the past with bad shot selection and turnovers, so the best version of Arcidiacono would be a more controlled, more steady lead guard. Wright’s offense is so dependent on dribble drives (this is a nice way of saying Jay Wright runs a very simple offense that allows his guards the freedom to attack the basket whenever they feel like it), Arch should have the chance to penetrate and kick to shooters, or finish at the rim. If he’s shooting a lot of threes this season, the Cats won’t be at their best.
Best Player: DeAndre Bembry
Jay Wright may scoop up four and five star recruits at a rate that would make even Forest McNeil envious, but the best player in the Big 5 still resides on City Ave. Bembry is capable of doing just about everything on the court. He handles the ball when needed, he creates his own shot, he can get to the rim or step out for jumpers, and he’s long enough to be a factor on the defensive end and the glass. Were he surrounded by more capable teammates, he’d have a chance to be in the running for national awards and All-American status. The fact is, the rest of the Hawks aren’t able to relieve the pressure thrown at Bembry. He’ll guard the other team’s best swingman each night (with cracks at smaller guards and needing to battle with bigs on occasion) while being watched by all ten opponent’s eyes with the ball in his hands on the other end. Not to mention, he’ll be on the court for nearly 40 minutes every single game this year.
If the Phil Martelli can still find ways for Bembry to reach his full potential despite these obstacles or if Bembry himself is able to transcend these issues, he could have a truly special season and find his way into the first round of next June’s draft. There’s no reason scouts should be able to separate him from someone like Sam Dekker, who had the fortune of playing next to Frank Kaminsky.
Within the Big 5:
January 20, Temple vs LaSalle AND St. Joe’s at Penn (Palestra Doubleheader!)
Feb 17, Villanova at Temple
Outside the Big 5:
November 21, St. Joe’s vs Florida
December 5, Temple at Wisconsin
December 7, Villanova vs. Oklahoma (in Hawaii)
December 13, Villanova at Virginia
December 15, Drexel at South Carolina
December 19, Penn St. vs Drexel (at the Palestra)
December 22, Miami (FL) at LaSalle
February 20, Butler at Villanova
Best Newcomer: Jalen Brunson
Sorry, rest of the city. Have to touch on more Villanova, because the Jay Wright guard recruiting machine rolls on. This year, they bring in Jalen Brunson, son of former Temple great Rick Brunson.
He’s as skilled as any guard Wright has had at Nova, and that’s saying something. Brunson, though, does not fit the typical mold that we’re used to seeing on the Main Line. Wright’s teams counted on players like Allen Ray, Randy Foye, Scottie Reynolds, and Kyle Lowry for their scoring, but none of them showed the passing ability that Brunson is capable of. He is an elite level passer with extraordinary court vision for a player his age.
The ceiling on Villanova’s season rests on the shoulders of young Jalen Brunson. The quicker he assimilates to the college game and become a major factor for this team, the further into March the Wildcats can claw.
Biggest Questions About The Teams I’ve Yet to Mention
So if Drexel has another down season, how hot is Bruiser Flint’s seat?
Is Steve Donahue the answer at Penn?
Did LaSalle properly capitalize on their Cinderella run in 2013? Will the expected recruiting boom from a run like that come to fruition?
Does Temple have the talent to avoid consecutive trips to the NIT?
(Answers: Very hot… maybe?…probably not….no)
Header image via Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and writer at PalestraBack.com. He has also contributed to SALTMoney.org and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain. If you have any suggestions, tips, ideas, or questions, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.