A year after getting one team into the NCAA tournament, Philadelphia’s historic collection of basketball schools will go at it once again in 2012-13. The Big 5, which is what it will be referred to as because Drexel does not play all of their neighbors every year, lost some great players last season when Zack Rosen, Rudy Fernandez, Ramone Moore, Maalik Wayns, Dominic Cheek, and Samme Givens graduated. With a similar starting lineup, can St. Joe’s defend its crown? Or will a deep and experienced Temple team roar back for the title? Will a dark horse like Penn, La Salle, or Villanova steal the spotlight? The real season starts when Villanova plays LaSalle on Sunday, November 25th.
Last season’s Big 5 finish in parenthesis
1. St. Joeseph’s Hawks (1)
Projected Big 5 Record: 4-0
St. Joe’s began their 2012 season with a bang by knocking off #20 Notre Dame, and they return all five starters from last season. A heartbreaking loss to Northern Iowa in the first round of the NIT gave the Hawks their 14th loss of 2011-12. During that season, they compiled 20 wins including victories over future tournament teams like Western Kentucky, Temple, and Creighton.
Carl Jones averaged 17 ppg last season and poured in 18.5 points per game through two games this season. Alongside him will be sharpshooter Langston Galloway, who shot .466 on three pointers and scored 15.5 points per game in 2011-12. But, he has only made 5 of his 20 three point attempts this year. C.J. Aiken will no doubt be a force underneath once again this season after terrorizing the A-10 with 10.9 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks in every game last season. Halil Kanacevic and Ronald Roberts Jr. round out the starting five, while Chris Wilson is the top option off the bench. A deep and athletic St. Joe’s team is likely to sweep the Big 5, as they only play A-10 rivals La Salle and Temple once.
2. Temple Owls (2)
Projected Record: 3-1
After losing their point guard and top scorer from last year’s NCAA tournament appearance as a five-seed, Temple looks to repeat.
They lost Ramone Moore, Rudy Fernandez and Michael Eric, but Kalif Wyatt, who averaged 17.1 points per game last season as a junior, returns as one of the Owls three starting seniors. Seniors Rahilr Hollis-Jefferson (9.3 ppg last season) and Scootie Randall (10.7 ppg in 2010-11) will lead the charge as well, as Randall scored 31 points in a rout of Kent State to begin the year. Randall missed all of last year with a knee injury. Sophomores Anthony Lee and Will Cummings will be role players in the starting lineup, as T.J. DiLeo comes off the bench. Temple can match St. Joe’s blow for blow in the backcourt, but Hollis-Jefferson will struggle to defend Aiken and Kanacevic as the Hawks will prevail in their date on February 2nd.
3. La Salle Explorers (4)
Projected Record: 2-2
The good news for La Salle is that they only lost one starter from a season where they won 21 games. The bad news is that it was their leading scorer, Earl Pettis. Ramon Galloway, Jerrell Wright, Tyreek Duren and Sam Mills are all back and geared up for a successful season. If the Explorers get some breaks in the Atlantic Ten tournament, La Salle could find themselves in the Big Dance. The first step would be to knock off perennial A-10 powers Temple and St. Joe’s. Galloway, who averaged 14.1 points per game last season, and Wright, who had 9.8 ppg, will lead the sharpshooting Explorers. They will be able to handle Nova and Penn, but the Hawks and Owls will be too much for a young team.
4. Villanova Wildcats (3)
Projected Record: 1-3
There is a clear gap here between the upper echelon of the Big Five, and they cellar dwellers. Villanova won just 13 games last season, and they lost their two leading scorers in Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek. Freshman Ryan Arcidiacono and sophomore JayVaughn Pinkston have showed promise, but will not make enough immediate impact to contend with the A-10 powers of Philadelphia. The Wildcats showed their deficiencies in scoring and rebounding in a loss to Columbia. This team is most likely talented enough to beat Penn on December 8th, but it will be a close game.
5. Penn Quakers (5)
Projected Record: 0-4
The Quakers looked potent in a win last season over St. Joe’s, but they lost Ivy League Player of the Year in Zack Rosen as well as Tyler Bernadini and Rob Belcore. Miles Cartwright and Henry Brooks will pick up some of the slack as they are another year older, but even this team might be able to beat Villanova. The Quakers are not expected to contend in the Ivy, and an NCAA tournament appearance would be a miracle.