Sean Kane

5 biggest Big 5 questions that need to be answered

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5 biggest Big 5 questions that need to be answered

College basketball is officially back. Four of the city's Big 5 teams begin their seasons tonight. La Salle is the lone exception — the Explorers open up on Saturday against Iona. With a new season set to tip-off, here is a look at the five biggest questions that need to be answered in the Big 5. 

Will Villanova's youth movement pay dividends?

Villanova has established itself as one of the premiere programs in college basketball thanks to a steady diet of veteran leadership. The Wildcats averaged 32 wins over the last six seasons and won national championships in 2016 and 2018 because they constantly had a wealth of experienced upperclassmen leading the way.

That won't be the case this season. There won't be a single senior in Jay Wright's rotation. Villanova's junior class of Collin Gillespie, Jermaine Samuels and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree will be counted on to provide guidance for the youngest roster the Wildcats have fielded in quite some time.

Sophomore Saddiq Bey might be Villanova's best all-around player and is poised for a breakout season. Fellow second-year players Cole Swider and Brandon Slater will also be asked to play significant minutes.

But this team will rely on freshmen far more than most Villanova teams under Wright.

Forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl was the preseason Big East Freshman of the year and lived up to the billing during the Wildcats' exhibition schedule. Guard Justin Moore will be a big part of the backcourt. Bryan Antoine is the most highly-touted player in Villanova's freshman class. But Antoine is still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and likely won't see game action until mid to late December.

With the departures of Phil Booth and Eric Paschall last season, this truly feels like the start of a new era at Villanova. The mainstays of the championship era have all moved on and it will be fascinating to watch this current group write its own chapter.

Is this Steve Donahue's best team at Penn?

For the first time in six years, Villanova isn't the reigning Big 5 champion. That distinction belongs to the Penn Quakers, who snapped Villanova's 25-game Big 5 winning streak last season on the way to a perfect 4-0 record against their city rivals.

Steve Donahue will work with the most talented roster he's had at his disposal in five years as Penn's head coach. Not only are the Quakers talented, they are also deep, versatile and experienced. That tends to be a winning formula in college basketball.

Senior big man A.J. Brodeur is the frontrunner for Big 5 Player of the Year honors. He led Penn in scoring, rebounding, assists and blocks as a junior. Ryan Betley and Devon Goodman join Brodeur to headline the Quakers' dynamic senior class. Expect Betley to provide a significant boost after suffering a season-ending knee injury in Penn's first game last year.

Penn was picked to finish second behind Harvard in the preseason Ivy League poll. Look for the Quakers to battle with the Crimson all season for the regular season championship and accompanying top seed in the Ivy League Tournament.

How will the new coaches fare?

Aaron McKie and Billy Lange are tasked with replacing a pair of Big 5 legends. McKie takes over for Fran Dunphy at Temple, while Lange replaces Phil Martelli at Saint Joseph's. Dunphy and Martelli were mainstays on the local college basketball scene for the last quarter-century. They combined for more than 1,000 career wins and 24 trips to the NCAA Tournament.

McKie is better positioned than Lange for immediate success. He inherits a team that won 23 games and advanced to the NCAA Tournament last season. The Owls will lean heavily on senior guard Quenton Rose, who averaged 16.5 points last year. Junior Nate Pierre-Louis earned Most Improved Player honors in both the AAC and Big 5 last season and will be one of the top two-way guards in the city.

Temple was picked to finish 7th in the AAC. It wouldn’t come as a surprise if the Owls exceed those expectations in McKie's first season as a head coach.

Lange, meanwhile, faces a far more daunting rebuilding project on Hawk Hill. St. Joe's lost its top four scorers from last season and was picked to finish 13th in the 14-team Atlantic 10.

Transfer Ryan Daly will be the focal point of the Hawks' offense. Daly sat out last season after transferring from Delaware, where he averaged 17.5 points during the 2017-18 season. Junior forward Taylor Funk will also do some heavy lifting on the offensive end after an inconsistent sophomore year.

Wins may not be plentiful early on as Lange builds the foundation for his program.

Will La Salle take a step forward in Howard's 2nd season?

This time last year, it was Ashley Howard making his Big 5 head coaching debut. La Salle finished with a 10-21 record in Howard's first year but improved as the season progressed, going 7-7 in the final 14 games. Now the question becomes: Will that improvement carry over into Howard's second season leading the Explorers?

Howard has some nice pieces to work with. Senior Isiah Deas and junior David Beatty will provide scoring punch in the backcourt, while forward Ed Croswell is expected to make a significant leap as a sophomore.

Freshmen guards Christian Ray and Sherif Kenney will play big minutes in their first seasons in La Salle uniforms, as will Clemson transfer Scott Spencer.

The Explorers were picked to finish 10th in the Atlantic 10. Surpassing that prediction would be a good indication of the La Salle program moving in the right direction under its second-year head coach.

Who will make the NCAA Tournament?

Villanova seems like a safe bet to reach the NCAA Tournament for the 15th time in the last 16 years. The Wildcats' youth will likely experience some growing pains early in the season but this is a talented enough team to contend for another regular season championship in a much-improved Big East.

Penn and Temple each have legitimate chances to get into the NCAA Tournament. Both teams have the requisite amount of talent and experience.

Three teams hearing their names called on Selection Sunday would represent a banner year for the Big 5.

2019 NBA draft profile: Why Sixers might want to keep Eric Paschall in town

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2019 NBA draft profile: Why Sixers might want to keep Eric Paschall in town

Eric Paschall was an integral part of Villanova’s unprecedented success over the last four years. After transferring from Fordham, he redshirted during the Wildcats’ 2016 national championship season. His role gradually expanded within the Villanova program over the next three years. That culminated this past season with a First Team All-Big East selection.

Paschall averaged 16.5 points and 6.1 rebounds as a senior, establishing himself as a fringe first-round NBA Draft prospect. He’s a winning player — he enters the NBA with a pair of national championship rings and a 94-18 record in his three seasons on the court at Villanova.

He was overshadowed at times during his college career by the likes of Jalen Brunson, Josh Hart, Mikal Bridges and Donte DiVincenzo. But Paschall has proven he is capable of shining when the lights are brightest. His 24 points on 10 of 11 shooting against Kansas in the 2018 Final Four is one of the greatest single game performances in Villanova history. 

  • Position: Forward
  • Height: 6-8
  • Weight: 255
  • School: Villanova

Strengths 

Versatility, athleticism and intangibles come to mind. Paschall will be able to play and defend multiple positions in the NBA. His perimeter shooting and passing ability should enable him to be utilized as a center in a small ball lineup, similar to how the Warriors use Draymond Green. 

Paschall’s strength and athleticism will serve him well on the defensive end of the floor. He has a sturdy frame and won’t be pushed around by too many NBA forwards. Paschall is also a tremendous finisher around the basket; he takes a backseat to no one when it comes to leaping ability. 

His mindset and work ethic may be his two greatest assets. Paschall is cut from the same cloth as former Villanova teammates Ryan Arcidiacono, Hart and Brunson, guys who were either drafted late in the first round, early in the second round or in Arcidiacono’s case, weren’t drafted at all. They all worked themselves into valuable NBA contributors. It’s a safe bet that Paschall will do the same. 

Weaknesses 

Paschall needs to prove that he can be a consistent perimeter shooter at the NBA level. He was a streaky shooter in college, prone to cold stretches. His ballhandling remains a work in progress. Paschall handled the ball quite a bit in college but still has plenty of room for improvement in that area of his game.

Paschall’s age could work against him. He’ll be 23 in November. NBA evaluators tend to prefer younger prospects who they believe have greater “upside.”  

His advanced age for a prospect shouldn’t be seen as a hinderance or an indication of limited potential. Paschall is a mature and experienced player who will be ready to contribute immediately for whichever team drafts him.

Fit

Paschall would be a great addition to the 76ers’ roster. He was impressive during a workout for the team earlier this month. Paschall would be a solid complementary piece and would have no trouble accepting and playing a supporting role.

Whether the Sixers consider Paschall a possibility with the 24th pick remains to be seen. But he would be a terrific option if he’s still available in the second round. 

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2019 NBA draft profile: Carsen Edwards' elite scoring ability a perfect fit for Sixers

2019 NBA draft profile: Carsen Edwards' elite scoring ability a perfect fit for Sixers

Position: Guard

Height: 6-0

Weight: 199

School: Purdue

Carsen Edwards was on the short list of the best players in all of college basketball the last two years. A two-time First Team All-Big Ten selection, he was the face of the Purdue program during his sophomore and junior seasons. 

Edwards averaged 24.3 points this past season as a junior and cemented his status as a legit NBA prospect during Purdue’s run to the Elite Eight in March. He averaged just under 35 points in the Boilermakers’ four NCAA Tournament games - including 42-point performances against Villanova and Virginia, two programs that have combined to win three of the last four national championships. 

Edwards turned 21 in March and enters the NBA with three years of experience at the highest level of college basketball. He projects as a late first-round to early second-round selection. His elite scoring ability combined with his impressive work ethic should enable him to carve out a successful 10-12 year NBA career.

Strengths 

Jay Wright came up with a fitting description of Edwards before Villanova’s NCAA Tournament game against Purdue - a thick Allen Iverson. 

At just under 200 pounds, Edwards is sturdier than the former Sixers superstar. That’s not to say Edwards will follow the same career path in the NBA as Iverson, but the skill sets are similar. 

Edwards can score the ball. That’s his biggest asset as he makes the transition to the professional level. He can score with the ball in his hands and he can score playing off the ball. Like Iverson throughout his career, Edwards has been relied upon heavily to carry his team on the offensive end of the floor. 

Edwards attempted nearly 20 shots per game as a junior at Purdue. He connected on 39.4 percent of his field goal attempts, including 35.5 percent from three-point range. His efficiency numbers were down from his sophomore season, when he was a 40.6 percent three-point shooter.

In addition to being an extremely talented offensive player, Edwards is a fierce competitor who puts forth maximum effort on the defensive end. His foot speed, lateral quickness and 6-6 wingspan should enable him to become a more than adequate perimeter defender.

Weaknesses

Decision making stands out here. Edwards had more turnovers than assists last season at Purdue. He has the tendency to try to do too much offensively, something he will have to reign in at the NBA level. 

He measured at just over 6-feet in shoes at the NBA Combine, so he’ll be undersized for a guard. It also remains to be seen how he transitions from being “the man” in college to playing a complementary role in the pros. Can he be effective with a significantly lower usage rate? 

Fit

Edwards would be a tremendous fit with the Sixers. He’s a dynamic scoring guard capable of creating his own opportunities. He shoots effectively off the dribble. These are traits that the Sixers’ offense lacked last season. 

He would be a terrific spark off the bench and could also blend in nicely with Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and the rest of the first unit. He has a winning mentality, the type of guy you want in your locker room.

Edwards should be available when the Sixers make the 24th pick in the first round. There’s a slim chance he could still be on the board early in the second round. He impressed the Sixers at his pre-draft workout last week, so it shouldn’t be a surprise if they target him on draft night.

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