Preseason Q&A with Philly.com's Jonathan Tannenwald

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We thought we were done with these, but Jonathan Tannenwald from Philly.com (yes, the Soft Pretzel Logic guy) went to the Big East Media Day and went "A-HA! Basketball! Syracuse! Billy Edelin! Oh shit...that damn guy from the blog! I gotta get back to him!" And he followed through. Jonathan talks about guard-centric Villanova, the Palestra, and shows the A-10 some love.

 

1. Where could we find you this summer? On the beach, on the golf course, or in a gym filled with DI prospects? I was definitely on the beach a lot. I also took a cross-country train trip (for the second straight summer), from Philly to Chicago to Seattle to L.A. (last year I went from Philly to San Francisco by way of the Rocky Mountains, which is spectacular).

While in Seattle I saw the Sounders play FC Barcelona. I'm really into soccer as well as college sports, and that was one of the best atmospheres I've ever seen in person. For soccer or much of any other sport, to be honest.

2. Quickly, your reflections on last year. Was a thin NBA draft just proof that the 2008-2009 college basketball season lacked excitement and raw talent? For me, the college basketball season did not lack excitement. That's in part because of Villanova's run to the Final Four - okay, it was in large part due to that. It got people talking about college hoops in Philly quite a bit, which was really nice considering how much the Eagles dominate the local sports media landscape.

But in general, I don't care much about or for professional basketball. A college basketball season is exciting for me in and of itself. Even when it's 20 degrees in February and I'm walking down Thayer Street in Providence, R.I., after the Penn-Brown game, I'm pretty happy.

I'm lucky. I get to spend a lot of my winter nights in the Palestra. I'm supposed to be objective about this stuff, but there's no better place to watch a basketball game. Just about anyone who's been there will tell you the same thing.

3. What do you expect from Kentucky? How many years until they play for a national title? And, when his tenure is over, will John Calipari leave the program in good hands, or in disarray like he did with Memphis and UMASS? From Kentucky I expect a lot of loud shouting by their fans. Obviously they're at a fever pitch already, and if they get off to a good start it won't get any quieter. I haven't seen John Wall in person or on film, but I've read reports that he is as good as advertised.

It won't surprise me if they make a really deep run. They have a combination of upperclassmen and talented freshmen that seems to be a good mix. And Calipari can coach. That much is for certain, even if we don't know what the freshmen will do.

4. How does Jay Wright handle all the talented guards on his roster this year? Will there be an odd man out?  I don't envy the situation Jay Wright finds himself in with the backcourt. I talked to him, Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher at Big East Media Day, and they all said they didn't think it would be a problem. Winning certainly takes care of a lot of that, and Wright showed he could manage the situation pretty well last year. He also hasn't been afraid to let players go from the program if they don't buy in, with Malcolm Grant a recent example.

Wright may have inadvertently acquired some latitude with this when Reggie Redding was suspended for the semester after being caught with marijuana. Obviously, Wright would rather have Redding on the team, as would anybody. But it's something to keep in mind.

The other thing worth noting is that most of Villanova's new players this season are coming into the front court, most notably Mouphtaou Yarou and Taylor King. The preseason hype is that Yarou is the big guy Wright has needed to finally get the program over that last big hurdle, and there can't be many hurdles left if they made the Final Four with last year's squad.

The freshman guards are big names, Dominic Cheek and Maalik Wayns. But I would expect them to play second-fiddle to the upperclassmen for a while. As they're both from relatively close to Philly (Cheek is from Jersey City and Wayns is from Philly itself), I would think they knew what the situation would be coming in.

5. Outside of The Palestra, what is your favorite venue in college basketball? I'm going to split that question in two parts, if I may. My favorite non-Palestra venue in the country is Allen Fieldhouse, because it's so historic and so loud.  It edges out Maryland's Comcast Center, an arena that proves you can create a modern facility without compromising the atmosphere that makes college basketball what it is.

My favorite arena that I've been to is probably Yale's John J. Lee Amphitheater. It's built into one side of Yale's athletics center, which looks like a big Gothic cathedral. The inside of the arena has a pressed ceiling and semi-cylindrical wooden bucket seats.

It also has balcony-style seating behind the baskets, and bleachers for the students right along courtside. When the place is packed, it gets really, really loud.

I took some pictures of the place for my blog the last time I was up there. I don't think I can let you use them because my company owns the rights to them and is really picky about that stuff, but you can definitely link to it.

6. Your premature surprise team of the season... I would pick Dayton or Temple but I know too much about them to consider them surprising. So I'll go with Marquette. With Lazar Heyward back, I didn't expect them to be picked 12th in the Big East. St. John's is picked higher than the Golden Eagles. As young as Buzz Williams' team is on the whole, I expect them to do better than that.

7. My premature Final Four picks... I have no idea. I don't even like picking Final Fours on Selection Sunday until I've gone all the way through the bracket. But I'll give you four teams I think can get there: Kansas, West Virginia, Michigan State and Villanova.

8. Because of the name of our blog, we ask all journalists who come on here and give us the time of day to name their favorite forgotten college basketball player. Name a few of your favorites who never established themselves at the next level.  My forgotten player has to be Penn's Ugonna Onyekwe. A player with athleticism and skill way above the usual Ivy League level, and there hasn't been anyone like him in the league since. He led the Quakers to Ivy League titles in 2002 and 2003, and an outright Big 5 championship in ‘02 (4-0 record) as well. Granted, it was a down year for some of the other programs in the city, but that's still an accomplishment for Penn.

Onyekwe had a legit shot at being a lower NBA pick. But he struggled at the draft camps, and ended up in Europe. He's done pretty well there from everything I've read. He comes back to Philadelphia every once in a while, and very few people recognize him - especially among the current students.

7. Finish this sentence: I like using twitter because...I like using Twitter because it's a great way to get my content out there, and it‘s an even better way to engage in great conversations with fellow college basketball writers and fans. It's why I created the Big Dance widget, and I'm hoping to find other ways to use the platform throughout this season.

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