Big 5 talking points
When I spoke recently with Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli and La Salle head John Giannini, I was suprised at how firm -- and frank -- they were in their conviction that Penn and Villanova are now a cut above the rest of the Big 5.
This was a Penn team, remember, that had let leads slip away in crucial games with both the Hawks and Temple, both of them at the Palestra.
But this is also not the typical year for Philadelphia hoops. Just look at how its members are viewed in their own conferences.
In 2004, St. Joe's was the favorite to win the Atlantic-10 East -- and that was in the post-Jameer Nelson era, when the Hawks had one four straight A-10 East titles. They went 14-2 in the league. Not bad.
But expectations have gone down on Hawk Hill since. Martelli's squad was picked an anemic sixth in the now-14-member A-10 the next year, and it barely managed a .500 conference record at 9-7. Now, A-10 coaches think eight is a good number.
Temple has also been on a downward swing lately, epitomized by the sad fact that Mardy Collins never made an NCAA Tournament despite talents that gave him a ticket to the NBA. With Collins now gone and two key contributors out for now as well, things won't get easier. Temple was picked to finish second in its division in 2004, to garner third place in the conference last year (it finished eighth), and to occupy the nine-hole this time around.
La Salle will likely be a nonfactor this year as it tries to find the pieces for a comeback later on.
If you're a former Brown coach trying to get some bragging rights -- and recruiting presence -- in the Philadelphia area, you've got to like those numbers.
For some even better talking points, check out a Big 5 preview in the Daily Pennsylvanian basketball supplement on Nov. 10.
Also, a correction for today's story about sought-after forward Josh Owens.
It was brought to my attention that Stanford has missed the NCAA Tournament only once in the past four years, while today's story said that the Cardinal had missed the Big Dance three times in that stretch.
Stanford does now have a relatively green coach in Trent Johnson, who enters his third year. Mike Montgomery, the previous coach, left for bigger and better things with the Golden State Warriors. (Penn's coach left, but the next step up was the A-10, not the NBA.)
But that does mean that Penn shares another thing with the Cardinal -- in addition to a roster spot for Owens, an academic reputation, and a recent propensity to lose to teams it should beat.