With the Sixers struggling mightily, basketball fans in Philadelphia need to turn elsewhere to see some solid basketball. Luckily for us, the Big 5 resides in Philadelphia, a collection of 5 major college programs packed tightly together plus Drexel, sharing a history deeper than can be found anywhere else in the country.
Over the next few days, I’ll offer up previews for each of these teams, starting with Penn and Drexel this evening. The reasoning behind the order in which I will post the previews is based on national relevance, which is why Temple and Villanova will be last.
The Dragons are still working to rebuild from senior laden teams of a few years ago which were fixtures in ESPN’s BracketBusters Showcase. Bruiser Flint’s team this year will feature 6 underclassmen in its top 7 rotation as the look to improve on last year’s 16-16 finish. Likely to lead the Dragon’s is Academy of New Church product Samme Givens, a junior forward who averaged 8 points and 8 boards last season. Don’t let last year’s stats fool you… as a result of the dismissal from the team of last year’s leading scorer, Jamie Harris, this team is suddenly Givens’, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Givens has a natural ability to rebound the basketball despite his smaller size (6’5″), and is a gifted scorer in the paint. Also returning is CAA Freshman of the Year Chris Fouch. Fouch will provide Drexel with a scoring spark off the bench to start this season, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he plays his way into the starting lineup as he is Drexel’s leading returning scorer.
Freshman Guard Franz Massenat assumes the starting point guard role, and much of Drexel’s success hinges on his ability to assimilate to the college game. If Massenat can prove himself to be wise beyond his years, expect Drexel to finish in the top half of the Colonial Athletic Association.
This year will be key to Drexel’s future success with so many young players playing vital roles on this team. It gives Flint the opportunity to lay a solid foundation to build upon in the next few years.
Drexel will play a very difficult nonconference schedule this year that features matchups away against Big East powers Louisville and Syracuse as well as a trip to visit an improving Rhode Island squad, and home games against St. Joe’s and recent BracketBuster mainstay Niagra.
Penn looks to rebuild in their first season under newly minted head coach and former Penn star Jerome Allen, whom coached over half the season last year with an “interim” tag attached to his name. Unfortnately, this is not a Dunphy-esque Penn team, as former coach Glen Miller failed to fully stock the cupboard in his 3+ seasons as head man at Penn. The Quakers are picked to finish fourth in the Ivy League, which isn’t saying much consdering the conference traditionally lacks firepower from the 3rd place team on down. If there is any good news for Allen, it’s that potential All-Ivy League swingman Tyler Bernardini has fully recovered from a foot injury that kept him out of action for much of last season. Allen has a major rebuilding project on his hands, but his understanding of the dyanamics of the local basketball scene should help him to get the job done quickly.
Penn’s schedule is stacked this season, increasing the odds against the Quakers making a surprise run at the tournament. Aside from the traditionally difficult Big 5 matchups, Penn will travel to Pitt and Kentucky, both ranked in the preseason Top 25.