There are a few messages that don’t leave my voice mail, probably similar to all of you.
I don’t erase the message of one of my three children, then just learning to speak, singing to me. (Actually, I wish I would’ve saved more of those kind.) Anyway, I also have saved a voice mail left by former Philadelphia mayor and Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, who phoned to share my belief that games between Philly teams should be played at the Palestra.
Well, maybe I’ll be hearing from Mr. Rendell again because games between Philly teams on the campus of the home team are really starting to grow on me.
It may be sacrilegious to traditionalists – and I consider myself one of those – but the more on-campus environments I’m in, the more I’m enjoying those games. St. Joe’s-Temple on Saturday marked the fifth Philly game I’ve covered this season between two Philly teams with the contest being played on the home team’s campus, following Villanova at La Salle and St. Joe’s at Villanova, St. Joe’s at Drexel and Temple at Villanova.
The atmospheres were electric in all five, dare I say even more so than at the Palestra where 8,722 can sound like 87,222 – or more. On top of that, I’m buying in to the coaches’ beliefs that playing on campus gives the home team a better advantage than playing at the Palestra.
The home team won three games mentioned above. I doubt that would have happened had those games been at the Palestra, and definitely don’t think St. Joe’s would have defeated Temple Saturday night if the contest was on 33rd Street. No way the Hawks climb out of a nine-point deficit with 5 ½ minutes left without the support of their home crowd – and, more importantly, without a large Temple contingent razzing them.
Hawks coach Phil Martelli was the last holdout, continuing to want to play Philly teams at the Palestra, where he watched so many games as a kid. But the coach wanted a competitive advantage as well, and it’s worked. The Hawks are 4-0 in city games at Hagan Arena in the last two seasons, with a pair of wins over Temple and victories against Villanova and Drexel.
I’ll never lose my love affair with the Palestra, but playing those Philly games on campus makes sense to the home teams – and, more and more, is making sense to me.
Here’s a spin around the City 6, followed by my weekly rankings at the bottom:
DREXEL (9-13, 5-5 Colonial Athletic Association)
The Dragons’ up-and-down season continued last week. Coach Bruiser Flint complained that his team got out-toughed in Monday’s home loss to Delaware, then watched the same squad claw back from a 20-point first-half deficit in Thursday’s victory at George Mason before laying an offensive egg in Saturday’s road loss to Northeastern.
Will the real Drexel please stand up? Or is it already?
I’m afraid that the real Drexel is the team we’re seeing on the floor, capable of strong play at both ends of the floor at times but not often enough. The next five weeks are about continuing to find consistency and, Flint hopes, toughness. It’s all going to come down to the CAA Tournament the second weekend in March.
Great news for the Dragons last week was the play of Damion Lee, who followed his career-high 30-point effort against the Blue Hens with a scintillating 29-point outing that included a clutch 3-pointer late in the win over the Patriots. Saddled with foul trouble, Lee had just seven points in 22 minutes against Northeastern. But the sophomore shooter appears to be in a groove that Flint hopes continues this week with a pair of home games, Thursday vs. ODU (7 p.m.) and Sunday against JMU (7 p.m.)
LA SALLE (15-6, 5-3 Atlantic 10)
After beating ranked Butler and VCU the previous week, the Explorers followed it up with a home loss to UMass last Wednesday. While that might look bad to outsiders, the Minutemen are a good team who feature the league’s best player in Chaz Williams. Not a good loss, not that any are, but not a terrible one either.
La Salle got back to the left column with Saturday’s 80-71 win at George Washington. The Explorers showed their scoring depth with six players in double-figures, including a career-high 15 points – all on 3-pointers – from reserve wing D.J. Peterson.
La Salle gets some rest this week before returning to the court at 2 p.m. Saturday by hosting a Fordham team that dealt the Explorers a defeat last season in the Bronx.
PENN (4-16, 1-2 Ivy League)
The Quakers opened the full slate of Ivy competition with an impressive, 62-58 home win over Columbia but couldn’t sustain the momentum with Saturday’s 71-69 loss to Cornell.
The good news for the Quakers is top scorer and rebounder Fran Dougherty returned to the lineup after an eight-game absence due to mono. The bad news for the Red andBlue is it’s going to take Dougherty some time to get his legs and timing back.
Dougherty entered the weekend averaging 15.7 points and 8.6 rebounds in 31.5 minutes, but didn’t approach any of those numbers in two games over the weekend: 4.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 13 minutes. Dougherty left Saturday’s game against Cornell early due to an injury.
Obviously, Penn is a better team with Dougherty at his best. But Dougherty’s absence has been a blessing in disguise for some of Penn’s young players, particularly big man Darien Nelson-Henry, who has scored in double-figures in seven straight games and now ranks third on the team in scoring at 7.7 points per game.
SAINT JOSEPH’S (13-7, 4-3 Atlantic 10)
Hawks coach Phil Martelli starts just about every postgame press conference by alluding to a statistic as a reason for a victory or a loss. Like Martelli, I also like investigating the numbers to see how it affects a team’s performance.
The number that jumps out at me game after game is the amount of 3-point attempts by the Hawks. St. Joe’s is in the bottom half in the country in 3-point percentage, ranking 150th out of 347 teams at 34.2 percent (151-for-441). And, yet, 40.2 percent of the Hawks’ shots this season have come beyond the arc. This despite the fact St. Joe’s is shooting better than 50 percent (333-for-655, 50.8 percent) on two-pointers this season.
I broke down every game this season and found that the Hawks average only 11.3 more two-point attempts per game than 3-point tries this season. In Saturday’s 70-69 victory over Temple, the Hawks tried a season-best 32 more two-pointers than treys. Percentage-wise, only 21.4 percent of St. Joe’s field-goal tries against the Owls came from beyond the arc – easily the lowest percent of 3-point attempts this season.
In fact, St. Joe’s has had four games this season where less than 30 percent of their shots from outside the arc and one could argue that those were four of the best offensive outings of the season: vs. Yale (28.6 percent), vs. Notre Dame (29.3 percent), at Morgan State (28.6 percent), vs. Temple (21.4 percent). The Hawks’ record in those games? 4-0.
St. Joe’s shouldn’t abandon the 3-pointer, by any means, but I think Saturday’s win clearly shows how much more effective this team can be without living and dying by the long-range shot.
TEMPLE (14-7, 3-4 Atlantic 10)
The question was asked to me after Saturday’s loss to St. Joe’s whether Khalif Wyatt was doing too much. My impression, based on what I saw Saturday, was no.
Wyatt is doing what Temple needs him to do, which is score. I don’t see a player ball-hogging, taking bad shots and not trying to involve his teammates. Actually, I saw Wyatt try to get passes inside on several occasions Saturday only to watch frustratingly as they mishandled or misread his passes.
The numbers say that Wyatt is about 25 percent of Temple’s offense, which I’d guess is about what you want from a player of his caliber. He has scored 26.8 percent of Temple’s points (390 of 1,457) and attempted 23.5 percent of its field goals (286 of 1,216).
No, I think guys like Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson and Anthony Lee, in particular, have to work more to get involved.
I’ll never forget what Drexel great Samme Givens told me two seasons ago when I asked him why he was such a good rebounder, saying it was because he wasn’t getting the ball on one team as a youth. “My mother always told me that if you go get the rebound, you don’t have to worry about him passing the ball,” Givens said.
Wyatt has missed 166 shots this season, so there are plenty of opportunities for other Owls to crash the boards and score on putbacks.
VILLANOVA (13-9, 4-5)
It would’ve been hard to believe the Wildcats had another upset in them Wednesday at Notre Dame, but after beating Lousville and Syracuse the previous week, Villanova took the Fighting Irish to the finish in a hard-fought 65-60 loss Wednesday at South Bend.
No shame there for Villanova. But the Cats dropping Sunday’s home contest to Providence, their second loss to the Big East also-ran Friars this season, sapped any momentum those upsets brought.
Freshman Ryan Arcidiacono struggled last week, scoring five points in both games while combining to shoot 4-for-16 (25 percent) from the field, including 2-for-9 (22.2 percent) from the arc. His scoring averaged dropped to 11.1 points per game.
Villanova has a chance, on paper, for a 2-0 week with a game at DePaul on Tuesday and home against South Florida on Saturday.
Aaron Bracy’s City 6 Rankings (Through Games Feb. 3)
1. La Salle
2. St. Joe’s
-Rankings chatter: Despite Wednesday’s loss to UMass, La Salle clings to the top spot in the city. St. Joe’s is the hottest of the City 6, having won three in a row. Home wins over Xavier and Temple, sandwiched around a road victory over Fordham, were solid but not quite impressive enough to vault over La Salle. The Explorers still maintain the city’s top RPI, at 27, followed by Temple (56), Villanova (74), St. Joe’s (78), Drexel (185) and Penn (305). The Wildcats took two steps down in my rankings after a pair of losses this week. The Notre Dame defeat wasn’t bad, but the loss to Providence bumped them below Temple, which beat a good, not great Richmond team on Wednesday before losing at St. Joe’s on Saturday.