If somebody had told you this was possible before the season, you really could not have imagined it. St. Joe's was coming off consecutive 20-loss seasons. La Salle was picked 13th in the Atlantic 10. Penn was an afterthought in the Ivy race.
If somebody had told you that five teams could win 20 and Villanova would not be one of them, now that really would have seemed preposterous. But here we are, in the final days of the regular season. Temple and Drexel are not surprises, but each is playing even better than I would have imagined.
Villanova is the outlier. Whatever could go wrong has gone wrong. You would not know it by the record, but the Wildcats actually are getting better. If Maalik Wayns comes back soon, the Wildcats actually could be a dangerous team in the Big East Tournament. None of that, however, is going to make anybody on the Main Line happy at the moment.
So, in a fascinating season in the city, the flagship program, coming off seven consecutive NCAA appearances, is the only team that has done less than expected. Which shows again that predictions are fun, but the results are decided on the court.
If 'Nova was even having a decent season by its recent standards, the City 6 record against non-City 6 teams, already very good at 94-45, would be off-the-charts good.
DOWN TO TWO
I am down to two for Big 5 Player of the Year - Penn senior point guard Zack Rosen and Temple senior shooting guard Ramone Moore.
Rosen got off to an amazing start. Moore had an equally amazing 5 weeks starting in early January.
As they play different positions and are asked to do vastly different things for their teams, comparisons are not easy. But here goes.
Moore averages 18.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.4 turnovers. He shoots 44.1 percent overall, 40.3 percent from the arc and 77 percent from the foul line in 36.1 minutes. Rosen averages 18.1 points, 3.4 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 2.7 turnovers. He shoots 45.7 percent, 40.4 percent from three and 88 percent from the foul line in 38.3 minutes.
Each has 10 20-point games. Rosen's 10-game start to his season - 26, 27, 19, 19, 23, 22, 15, 20, 21, 29. Moore's 11 games from Jan. 7 to Feb. 15 - 17, 18, 17, 17, 20, 18, 21, 22, 25, 30, 19.
When Temple (without Khalif Wyatt) played at the Palestra on Nov, 14. Rosen shot 9-for-17, 7-for-10 from three and had 27 points to go along with six rebounds, six assists and three turnovers in 45 minutes. Moore was 6-for-20, 2-for-5 for 15 points, along with four rebounds, one assist and five turnovers in 44 minutes. The Owls won the game, 73-67 in overtime.
Moore scored 32 against Villanova and 30 against Xavier in prime-time ESPN Saturday night games. The bigger the moment, the better he has played. In each of those games, there was no chance anybody was going to slow him down, much less stop him. It was two classic performances by a classic Philly guard.
Last Friday against Cornell, with his team trailing 49-45 and 10 minutes left, Rosen proceeded to do the following: layup, jumper, assist on a three, assist on a three, a three himself, two free throws, another three, another three, an assist on a three and two free throws. That would be 26 straight points he either scored (17) or made the pass that led to a score (nine). Penn went from four down to seven up.
Temple has played the more difficult schedule (60th toughest according to RealTime RPI, while Penn's is 94th), but also has far more overall talent. There are nights when, if Rosen does not get it done, Penn does not have much chance. Moore, playing alongside Wyatt and Juan Fernandez, has a higher margin for error.
Still, it is almost impossible to separate these two. There are still games to play. And the postseason counts. So perhaps one player will separate himself. But if not, and the votes say Ramone Moore and Zack Rosen should share the Geasey Award, that would be more than reasonable.
It will be hard to top Penn's game-winner against Columbia Saturday as the City Play of the Year. Penn coach Jerome Allen told me he had the play on his office board since September, but never discussed it with his team or practiced it. With 1.5 seconds left in a tie game, Allen diagrammed what he wanted and his players executed it perfectly.
Penn assistant Mike Martin slowed it down for me yesterday so I could see it develop. Miles Cartwright was throwing the ball in from in front of Penn's bench. Zack Rosen and Steve Rennard were in the lane near the basket. Fran Dougherty was just outside the lane, not far from Cartwright. Rob Belcore was across the court.
Rosen went across the lane from the ball side to set a screen for Rennard, who immediately cut to the corner on the ball side, causing a switch, getting Columbia's best defender away from Rosen and out of the play. Belcore took his man to the top of the key. Rosen then reversed course and headed back into the lane toward Dougherty, making it look like the flow of the action was headed toward the ball.
As Rosen moved to the center of the lane, his man and Dougherty's man both focused on Rosen. Zack did not even have to set a screen as the defenders completely ignored Dougherty, who rolled around the three players and headed toward the rim on the other side of the lane. Before Dougherty was anywhere near the rim, Cartwright took the ball behind his head and lobbed a pass that hit Dougherty in stride on the other side of the rim. He caught it and, in one motion, laid it in off glass.
You could practice a play a million times, never run it better and never get a better reaction from an opponent, which had to think the ball was going to Rosen. Before they realized it wasn't, the ball was in the basket.
THIS AND THAT
-- Temple plays at La Salle tonight and at St. Joe's Saturday. The Owls will have few friends in what will be frenzied, sold-out environments. So this should do nothing but help Temple simulate anything unusual they might face in the NCAA next month.
-- Temple beat La Salle, 76-70, on Jan. 18. The Owls shot 51.9 percent, passed the ball beautifully and got a great game from Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson (19 points). La Salle was right there, but Temple had answers at all the right moments.
-- On Jan. 28, Temple beat SJU, 78-60. And it wasn't that close, The Owls shot 60 percent and dominated. The Hawks are playing much better than they were then. Their fans will be wild as their team is not all that far from NCAA at-large consideration. A win could get them to 20 (if they beat Richmond at home tonight) and perhaps push them squarely into the tournament committee's discussions.
-- Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli is legendarily superstitious. One of his more bizarre superstitions is that he won't let his team check out of their hotel until after a road game, even if they are going home that night. Which prolongs rides home. Just about every other team checks out before the game, puts all their stuff on the bus and heads home right after the game.
Well, Martelli relented last week at Rhode Island. Instead of going all the way back to their hotel in Newport (a half-hour ride) and putting another hour and change onto the long ride home, the coach said they could try it the normal way. The Hawks won. So they did it again Saturday at George Washington. They won again. Everybody involved with the Hawks program is really hoping they win next week at St. Bonaventure. It could establish a precedent for next season.