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Now that the holidays have wrapped up, college basketball has returned to full strength as teams officially entered conference play, or will tipoff its respective conference openers this weekend.
It’s an interesting time as the focus shifts fully to hoops in the aftermath of college football’s bowl season culminating in Monday’s national championship game. The state of college hoops as it relates to March right now is very much a pendulum that could swing either way across a host of Big 5 men’s and women’s teams (friendly reminder that Drexel is officially a card-carrying member).
It’s even a teeter-totter for programs among the region’s smaller schools that could tip one way or the other now that the thick of conference play — and for many teams the slight chance of an at-large bid — has begun.
Expect an update from The Inquirer each week, as we look at where teams stand, the personalities driving it, and the matchups to keep an eye on for the week ahead.
Welcome to the fun time.
Dragons punching above their weight
Drexel is making a case for respect in its conference by leading it courtesy of a two-game win streak against Coastal Athletic Association competition.
A win in the conference opener against Hampton was expected given the Pirates have just four wins this season. Still, it was a nice surprise to see the Dragons (9-6, 2-0) make light work — particularly in the second half against a UNC Wilmington team on Thursday night that was favored to win.
Behind a 25-point performance from Luke House and holding Wilmington to just 29 second-half points (and 31% shooting for the game), the Dragons celebrated a 78-63 win and all of a sudden, looked a heck of a lot better than the third-place conference finish the coaches in preseason polling gave them. Next up: A road trip to William & Mary, looking to upset the Tribe’s 6-0 unbeaten streak at home.
What to make of the Wildcats
Following the loss of Maddy Siegrist, most wondered how Villanova would turn out this season. Despite being 14 games into the season, the uncertainty around the Wildcats’ collective is still a fair question.
Right now, they are riding a three-game win streak, the latest a 50-45 Big East win over Seton Hall, and have a week off before a mid-morning tipoff against Georgetown on Wednesday (11:30 a.m., FloHoops).
The group, spearheaded by guard Lucy Olsen, has been fun to watch and looked dominant in their last three contests. But 9-5 is 9-5 and not indicative of a team that had just seven losses in 2023. It’s safe to say that this team is still very much a wait-and-see.
The BIG number
4-0: The number of wins for Villanova since losing star guard Justin Moore to a knee sprain in a Dec. 5 overtime loss to Kansas State. Eric Dixon has led a collective that reeled off wins against UCLA and Creighton. The ‘Cats have been balling as Moore’s timetable remains uncertain, but with an upcoming next five that includes No. 7 Marquette (Jan. 15) and No. 4 UConn (Jan. 20), Nova Nation has to be eagerly awaiting a definitive timeline.
Looking outside the Big 5
Before being sidelined with an ankle injury, former Math, Civics and Sciences guard Wooga Poplar was the leading scorer for the Miami Hurricanes, who recently fell out of the Associated Press Top 25. He missed Wednesday’s win over No. 16 Clemson, and according to Hurricanes head coach Jim Larrañaga, he could miss Saturday’s game against Wake Forest. Poplar is second on the team in scoring with 16.2 points per game and leads Miami in assists with 2.5 per game.
Shoutout to the Jefferson women’s team, currently holding an 11-1 record, with their lone loss a three-overtime thriller at home on Dec. 9 against Bloomsburg. They haven’t just been winning; these games have been dominant displays, like Thursday night’s 71-52 win inside the Gallagher Center over St. Thomas Aquinas. The game was the eighth this season that the Rams have won by 10 points or more, largely fueled by recent 1,000-point scorer Cassie Murphy.
What to watch this weekend
Saturday is another full slate of Big 5 teams in action against conference foes. On the men’s side, Villanova looks to keep its unbeaten Big East streak intact when it hosts St. John’s (1 p.m., Fox); Penn opens Ivy play against Dartmouth (2 p.m., ESPN+); and coming off that monster win of UNC Wilmington, Drexel is right back at it in a road test against William & Mary (2 p.m. FloHoops). On Sunday, Temple hosts Wichita State (1 p.m., ESPNU).
On the women’s side, St. Joe’s looks to continue its dominance in the Atlantic 10 against Richmond (2 p.m., ESPN+); Penn will take on Columbia (2 p.m., ESPN+), and like the men, La Salle will also face Fordham, except its matchup will take place inside Tom Gola Arena (2 p.m., ESPN+).