League play gives City Six a second chance to make impact

ASSOCIATED PRESS Khalif Wyatt stars for Temple in win over Syracuse, one of only two 'quality' wins for local teams so far this season.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Khalif Wyatt stars for Temple in win over Syracuse, one of only two 'quality' wins for local teams so far this season.
Posted: January 03, 2013

GIVEN ALL the players who were back in the city from last season when five teams won 20 or more games for the first time in the same year, this season really looked promising. As we close on the end of the nonconference schedules, I count exactly two "quality" wins among the City Six - Temple's upset of then-No. 3 Syracuse at Madison Square Garden and Saint Joseph's overtime win against Notre Dame in Brooklyn. And there were more than a few "bad" losses.

I think La Salle is playing the best at the moment, but the Explorers' best win was over Villanova. The Wildcats are playing better, but their best win was over SJU. Drexel has decent wins against Princeton and Davidson, but no wins that really resonate and a few losses that are unexplainable. Penn, with one of the youngest teams in the country, was not expected to be good, but 2-9 is nowhere near good.

So what is the deal here?

If NCAA bids came out now, there is a chance that none of the city teams would get an at-large bid. Temple would get the most consideration because of the Syracuse win. That is the bad news.

The good news is that conference play is around the corner and it is a second chance for the City Six, a group that definitely did not capitalize on a first chance.

Big East play began New Year's Eve. Villanova starts with a home game against St. John's, one of five league games Wednesday night. There will be numerous opportunities for "quality" wins. In what almost certainly will be the final season of the Big East as we know it, the problem is that no wins will come easily. 'Nova was picked nowhere in the Big East in the preseason. I am thinking somewhere rather than nowhere, but still not expecting enough good wins to get anywhere near the NCAA.

One Colonial Athletic Association game was played on Dec. 1 (William & Mary beat Old Dominion), but it really gets serious Wednesday with three games, including Drexel at Georgia State. The Dragons were picked to win the league, but the league looks a bit more competitive than imagined and Drexel has not been nearly as good as predicted. Drexel finished last season with 17 consecutive league wins. That would be asking a lot this time. Drexel obviously has to win the CAA to get to the NCAA, but the good Drexel can do that.

The Atlantic 10 will be very difficult, so nothing will be easy for Temple, La Salle or SJU. Still, there are enough "good" wins in the league to make an NCAA run for a team that gets them.

A-10 play does not begin until next Wednesday, and the newcomers (Butler and VCU) might even be better than advertised. The Bulldogs, currently ranked No. 17, have wins over then-No. 1 Indiana and North Carolina. VCU is 10-3, with its losses (by a combined 14 points) against Duke, Wichita State and Missouri, teams with combined records of 34-3.

Best of the best

I don't think there should be much debate about the best college program. Not just today, but over time.

You will hear arguments about Duke, North Carolina, Indiana, Kansas and UCLA - all worthy programs.

It has to be Kentucky. And, yes, there was basketball in Lexington before John Calipari. In fact, five coaches have won the school's eight national championships - Adolph Rupp, Joe B. Hall, Rick Pitino, Tubby Smith and Calipari.

Why Kentucky? Well, the fan base demands it. And there is that history and all those numbers. UK has won the most games (2,098), won the most NCAA Tournament games (111) and gotten the most NCAA invites (52). Its eight titles are second only to UCLA's 11.

And UCLA won 10 titles over 12 years with the incomparable John Wooden. That won't be repeated. Technically, Kentucky could get caught, but I doubt it.

The Kentucky effect

The Southeastern Conference is all about football these days, but its tradition of basketball actually does go beyond Kentucky and more recently Florida. It has been a very good basketball conference for a long time.

Kentucky under John Calipari obviously has changed the paradigm of how you assemble a basketball team. It also changed how one evaluates conferences.

I used to look to see how many returning 1,000-point scorers a league had each season. UK may never have another one, so you can forget that method of evaluation.

Without peeking, can anybody name the SEC's three 1,000-point scorers as conference play is about to begin? Didn't think so.

They are: Frankie Sullivan (Auburn), Murphy Holloway (Mississippi) and Kenny Boyton (Florida). Nice players, but not stars and not household names. All the SEC (read Kentucky) stars are already in the NBA, and that showed during nonconference games.

The SEC is 2-6 vs. the ACC and 4-12 against the Big East. Last season's UK team could have taken on an All-Star team of both leagues and I would have liked Kentucky.

Serious Mountain West

The A-10 and Mountain West are in a serious battle for best non-BCS conference. The top six teams in the MWC (New Mexico, San Diego State, Wyoming, Colorado State, UNLV and Boise State) are a combined 68-10. Many of the 68 wins have come against serious teams, including Cincinnati, Illinois State, Creighton, Davidson, Connecticut, Colorado, Washington, Virginia Tech, UCLA and LSU.

This and thad * 

So which is the best conference - the Big East or Big Ten? It has been the Big East for years, but, this season, the Big Ten looks better. There is no doubt these are the two best leagues.

The irony of all this is hard to overlook. The reason for all this realignment is football.

The Big Ten was historically awful in football this year. Big East football has slipped into irrelevancy. Wonder where we would be now if Big East officials had listened to Joe Paterno back in the 1980s when he wanted to get Penn State into the Big East for all sports? Got to think this whole bizarre scene would look a lot more geographical, not to mention rational.

* Glad to see UConn gave Kevin Ollie that 5-year extension. One of the nicest people in basketball, he is a link to the glory years with none of the baggage. Now, if UConn can just find a league to play in.

* Former Penn assistant and Brown alum Mike Martin might have a job for life at his alma mater. Brown got crosstown rival Providence on campus for the first time in 30 years last Friday, made three treys in the final 45 seconds, scored nine of the game's final 10 points and upset the Friars, 69-68.

* Butler is 5-0 against teams from Indiana this year. Under Brad Stevens, Butler is 25-7 against in-state teams.

* Delaware big man Jamelle Hagins, who is drawing some NBA interest, has nine double-doubles this season. With 887 rebounds, he is only 30 from the school record.

Email: jerardd@phillynews.com

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