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Atlantic 10 Tournament preview: St. Joe's, La Salle have tough roads

Atlantic 10 Tournament preview: St. Joe's, La Salle have tough roads

Last year, for the second time in three seasons, Saint Joseph's went to Brooklyn and came home with an Atlantic 10 championship.

But as this year's Atlantic 10 Tournament is set to begin, the battered Hawks will be significant underdogs to win another one -- or even a game. And Big 5 rival La Salle will also have its work cut out to make a deep run.

Here's a closer look at both of the league's Big 5 teams heading into the tourney, which has shifted to PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh after four years at the Barclays Center: 

Saint Joseph's

Record: 11-19 overall, 4-14 league

Seed: 13

Opener: 12th-seeded UMass (14-17, 4-4) in first round (Wednesday, 6 p.m., CSN)

Postseason hopes
The Hawks need to win five games in five days or their season is over. 

Looking at St. Joe's
It was always going to be tough sledding for the Hawks after the program lost two stars in DeAndre' Bembry and Isaiah Miles from last year's terrific team. But then things went almost comically awry when four players were lost to season-ending injuries, including the dynamic starting backcourt of Shavar Newkirk and Lamarr "Fresh" Kimble. Without their top guys, St. Joe's lost nine straight before snapping the skid with a 63-60 win over Duquesne in its regular-season finale, riding 19 points apiece from junior swingman James Demery and sophomore guard Chris Clover.

Looking at UMass
The Minutemen finished with the same record in league play as St. Joe's (both finishing a game ahead of last-place Duquesne) and have won just twice in their past 12 games. UMass is led by junior guard Donte Clark, who's averaging 13 points per game and has already eclipsed 1,000 points for his career.

Series
The Minutemen have beaten the Hawks in both matchups this season, winning by five in Amherst and by 11 in Hagan last month behind four threes from Clark in the first three minutes. Overall, the series has been very even with UMass holding a slight 36-34 edge.

Player to watch
Charlie Brown has been a bright spot for the Hawks and was just named to the 2017 Atlantic 10 All-Rookie Team. The freshman forward from Philly is averaging 12.8 points and 5.1 rebounds per game -- both second on the team. And he led the Hawks with 15 points and eight rebounds while shooting 4 for 8 from three-point range in their last game vs. UMass. 

Tourney facts
The 13-seed is the lowest the Hawks have ever had in the Atlantic 10 Tournament. ... This will be the first A-10 tourney meeting between St. Joe's and UMass since 2001. ... St. Joe's head coach Phil Martelli is 28-8 in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, including a 16-5 mark in the team's first game. 

Up next
The winner advances to face fifth-seeded Saint Bonaventure in the second round on Thursday (2:30 p.m.). 

La Salle

Record: 15-14 overall, 9-9 league

Seed: 8

Opener: 9th-seeded Davidson (15-4, 8-10) in second round on Thursday (noon, NBCSN)

Postseason hopes
The Explorers need to win their first-ever A-10 tourney title to get into the Big Dance, but a couple of wins may put them in the conversation for the CBI or the CIT.  

Looking at La Salle
The Explorers were in the picture for a top-four seeding and a coveted double-bye before losing five of their last seven games. La Salle heads into the tourney following a 66-54 win over Fordham behind 19 points from junior transfer B.J. Johnson.

Johnson (17.5 ppg), Jordan Price (15.1 ppg) and Pookie Powell (13.6 ppg) are all among the league's top 20 scorers, but the Explorers rank last in the A-10 in scoring defense, allowing 77.4 points per game.

Looking at Davidson
The Wildcats finished one game back of La Salle in the standings, losing three of their last four games. They feature two of the league's top three leading scorers in senior guard Jack Gibbs (22.0 ppg) and junior forward Peyton Aldridge (20.6 ppg), and they make over nine three-pointers per game -- a league-best. Gibbs and Aldridge are the second-highest scoring duo in the nation.

Series
La Salle beat Davidson in the only matchup this season with Price scoring 29 points in a 91-83 win. 

Player to watch
Davidson appears to be a good matchup for Price. On top of his season-high 29 points vs. Davidson this year, Price had 15 points, seven rebounds and six assists in a loss to the Wildcats last year and 23 against them the year before. What might the senior have in store for his final A-10 tourney?

Tourney facts
Davidson has knocked La Salle out of the last two A-10 tourneys, beating them in last year's second round and in the 2015 quarterfinals. ... Gibbs needs 33 points in the tournament to become the fourth player in Davidson history with 2,000 career points. ... La Salle hasn't been to the A-10 semifinals since 2002, and the Explorers have never been to a tourney final. 

Up next
The winner faces top-seeded Dayton in the quarterfinals on Friday (noon).

Villanova aims to keep momentum after huge win

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Villanova aims to keep momentum after huge win

NBC Sports Philadelphia anchor/reporter Amy Fadool and senior producer Sean Kane get you set for all the weekend’s local college basketball games with Fastbreak Friday. Look for this column every Friday during college basketball season.

No. 1 Villanova (15-1, 3-1 Big East) at St. John's (10-7, 0-5), Saturday at 8 p.m.
SK
: Top-ranked Villanova is coming off a surprisingly easy 89-65 win over No. 10 Xavier at the Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday. The Wildcats turned in another stellar shooting display, connecting on better than 55 percent of their field goal attempts. More importantly, they clamped down defensively, holding Xavier to 65 points after allowing an average of 92 in their first three conference games.
 
Phil Booth was terrific in the victory with a career-high 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting with four assists and four steals. Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges were their typical selves, combining for 32 points. But it's the emergence of Eric Paschall that's been the biggest development for Villanova on the offensive end of the floor. The junior forward had 14 points against Xavier and is averaging 16 per game in Big East play, shooting a blistering 73.3 percent from the field in the process. Paschall's turnaround from three-point range has been nothing short of remarkable. He made just one of his 25 three-point attempts over the first 13 games of the season. Then he somehow turned into Ray Allen from long range, knocking down six of seven attempts in the last three games.
 
Now the Wildcats hit the road for their next three games beginning with Saturday night's visit to St. John's in Manhattan. After a promising start in non-conference play, the Red Storm has struggled mightily against Big East competition. They are 0-5 in league play and to make matters worse, they just lost one of their best players for the remainder of the season. Guard Marcus Lovett has been sidelined with a knee injury for the last 10 games and earlier this week the school announced he won't play again this season.
 
St. John's head coach Chris Mullin is steering his team through choppy waters. A visit from Villanova is the last thing he needs right now. The Red Storm always gets up to play Villanova at Madison Square Garden. But the Wildcats always have more than their share of supporters at MSG as well. I'd be surprised if Villanova doesn't take care of business against a reeling St. John's team.
 
Villanova 82, St. John's 65
 
Cornell (6-7, 0-0 Ivy) at Penn (10-5, 1-0), Friday at 8 p.m.
Columbia (3-10, 0-0 Ivy) at Penn (10-5, 1-0), Saturday at 7 p.m.
AF
: Not since the 2005-2006 season have the Quakers started a season like this, reaching the 10-win point before mid-January. Penn opened up Ivy League play with an impressive win over Princeton, their fifth win in their last six games. Next up for Steve Donahue’s team is the weekend slate of Cornell and Columbia.
 
It’s actually a doubleheader with the men’s and women’s teams, playing back to back on Friday and again on Saturday. The reason for it? Princeton, Penn’s travel partner, has exams next weekend and petitioned the league for both their men’s and women’s teams stay home this weekend. To study. For exams. In the middle of the season. And that is how you know you’re in the Ivy. The league agreed and the doubleheader was booked.
 
Penn scores just over 79 points a game, best in the Ivy, and is also one of the best defensive teams in the conference. They’ll have their hands full though with Cornell’s Matt Morgan, who's fourth in the nation in scoring with 25 points per game and averages an eye-popping 51 percent shooting from the field.
 
But I think this is a great way for Penn to start Ivy play 3-0 and sweep the weekend.
 
Penn 80, Cornell 76
Penn, 85, Columbia 70

 
Saint Joseph’s (7-8, 2-2 A-10) at Massachusetts (9-8, 2-2), Sunday at 5 p.m. on NBC Sports Network
AF
: As soon as St. Joe's thinks it's back on track, something comes and snatches that feeling away. It’s mostly happened because of injuries, but their most recent heartbreaker came in the form of a last-second loss to George Mason. Otis Livingston buried a deep three-pointer with one tick left on the clock to beat St. Joe’s by two.
 
The Hawks should try to focus on conference wins over VCU and St. Bonaventure last week to get that bad taste out of their mouths. Those two wins over teams above them in the standings could be a better barometer of the potential of Phil Martelli’s team.
 
This one could go either way and the last time I picked against St. Joe's they beat the Bonnies. But that was at home, road games are a different animal.
 
UMass 77, St. Joseph’s 76
 
Memphis (11-6, 2-2 AAC) at Temple (8-8, 1-4), Saturday at 2 p.m.
SK
: There are desperately needed wins, then there's Temple last-second 66-64 victory at SMU on Wednesday that snapped a five-game losing streak. The Owls needed to stop the bleeding and senior guard Josh Brown did just that, delivering the game-winner with 1.5 seconds left. It marked Temple's first AAC win of the season and could serve as a springboard with four of the Owls' next five conference games being played in the familiar confines of the Liacouras Center.
 
We'll find out if the Owls can harness any momentum Saturday afternoon against Memphis. The Tigers are a team Temple needs to beat if they have any designs of turning their season around. More consistent performances from Quinton Rose would go a long way in helping the Owls find their way. Rose erupted for 23 points against SMU after scoring four points combined in Temple's previous two games.
 
I'm not ready to give up on Temple just yet. I have faith in Fran Dunphy coaxing some more steady efforts from his team. Look for the Owls to collect a second straight win against Memphis on Saturday. 
 
Temple 68, Memphis 62
 
La Salle (7-10, 1-3 A-10) at Duquesne (12-5, 3-1), Saturday at 12:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Network
AF
: The Explorers are struggling right now at the start of conference play, having just dropped their third straight with an overtime loss to UMass. However, in that span, they’ve had the services of the A-10’s leading scorer B.J. Johnson only once. The senior only played in the loss to VCU but not against Rhode Island or the Minutemen.
 
La Salle is hoping Johnson is back for their road game this weekend against the surprising Dukes. Duquesne was picked dead last in the conference preseason poll but are currently sitting in second in the standings right behind Rhode Island. A big reason for their success is Rene Castro-Caneddy, the graduate student who nearly transferred after riding the bench for two seasons. But first-year head coach Keith Dambrot is glad the 24-year-old stayed. Castro-Caneddy has started every game this season, averaging a career-high 13.6 and racking up a team-best 56 assists. He’s reached double-figures in all four conference games, all but one of them a win.
 
Duquesne has an eight-game winning streak at home. It’s hard to pick against that, especially if Johnson is out for La Salle.
 
Duquesne 74, La Salle 70
 
Hofstra (10-7, 3-2 CAA) at Drexel (7-11, 1-4), Saturday at 4 p.m.
SK
: After finishing with a 9-23 record in Zach Spiker's first year as head coach, Drexel has shown occasional signs of improvement this season. That growth was plain to see during last Friday's surprising win at College of Charleston. The Dragons failed to build on that victory, dropping their last two games against William & Mary and Delaware.
 
Drexel is a balanced offensive team that has been bolstered by the play of junior guard Tramaine Isabell, a transfer from Missouri who is averaging a team-high 18.2 points per game. The Dragons have shown the ability to score, it's their effort on the defensive end that's been questionable. They're allowing an average of 87 points in the last five games. 
 
I expect an inspired effort from the Dragons but I can't see them getting enough stops to pull out the win.
 
Hofstra 76, Drexel 70
 
Prediction records
Sean Kane: 13-7
Amy Fadool: 8-13

Alabama reclaims national title with epic OT comeback

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USA Today Images

Alabama reclaims national title with epic OT comeback

ATLANTA -- To add another championship to the greatest dynasty college football has ever seen, Alabama turned to its quarterback of the future, and Tua Tagovailoa proved that his time is now.

The freshman quarterback, who had played mostly mop-up duty this season, came off the bench to spark a comeback and threw a 41-yard touchdown to DeVonta Smith that gave No. 4 Alabama a 26-23 overtime victory against No. 3 Georgia on Monday night for the College Football Playoff national championship.

Tagovailoa entered the game at halftime, replacing a struggling Jalen Hurts, and threw three touchdown passes to give the Crimson Tide its fifth national championship since 2009 under coach Nick Saban.

"He just stepped in and did his thing," Hurts said. "He's built for stuff like this. I'm so happy for him." The Tide might have a quarterback controversy ahead of them, but first Alabama will celebrate another national title.

For the third straight season, Alabama played in a classic CFP final. The Tide split two with Clemson, losing last season on touchdown with a second left.

What was Saban thinking as the winning pass soared?

"I could not believe it," he said. "There's lots of highs and lows. Last year we lost on the last play of the game and this year we won on the last play of the game. These kids really responded the right way. We said last year, `Don't waste the feeling.' They sure didn't, the way they played tonight."

Smith streaked into the end zone and moments later confetti rained and even Saban seemed almost giddy after watching maybe the most improbably victory of his unmatched career.

After Alabama kicker Andy Pappanastos missed a 36-yard field goal that would have won it for the Tide (13-1) in the final seconds of regulation, Georgia (13-2) took the lead with a 51-yard field goal from Rodrigo Blankenship in overtime.

Tagovailoa took a terrible sack on Alabama's first play of overtime, losing 16 yards. On the next play he found Smith, another freshman, and hit him in stride for the national championship.

This game will be remembered for Saban's decision to change quarterbacks trailing 13-0.

"I just thought we had to throw the ball, and I felt he could do it better, and he did," Saban said. "He did a good job, made some plays in the passing game. Just a great win. I'm so happy for Alabama fans. Great for our players. Unbelievable."

Saban now has six major poll national championships, including one at LSU, matching the record set by the man who led Alabama's last dynasty, coach Paul Bear Bryant.

This one was nothing like the others.

The all-Southeastern Conference matchup was all Georgia in the first half before Saban pulled Hurts and went with the five-star recruit from Hawaii.

The Tide trailed 20-7 in the third quarter after Georgia's freshman quarterback Jake Fromm, hit Mecole Hardman for an 80-yard touchdown pass that had the Georgia fans feeling good about ending a national title drought that dates back to 1980.

A little less than a year after the Atlanta Falcons blew a 25-point lead and lost in overtime to the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl, there was more pain for many of the local fans. Two years ago, Georgia brought in Saban's top lieutenant, Kirby Smart, to coach the Bulldogs and bring to his alma mater a dose of Alabama's Process.

Smart, who spent 11 seasons with Saban, eight as his defensive coordinator, quickly built Alabama East. It was Georgia that won the SEC this season. Alabama had to slip into the playoff without even winning its own division.

With the title game being held 70 miles from Georgia's campus in Athens, Dawg fans packed Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but it turned out to be sweet home for Alabama.

But not without angst.

Alabama drove into the red zone in the final minute and Saban started playing for a field goal that would end the game and win it for the Tide. A nervous quiet gripped the crowd of 77,430 as `Bama burned the clock. With the ball centered in the middle of the field, Pappanastos lined up for a kick to win the national championship. The snap and hold looked fine, but the kicked missed badly to the left.

For the second straight week, Georgia was going to overtime. The Bulldogs beat Oklahoma in a wild Rose Bowl in double overtime to get here, and after Jonathan Ledbetter and Davin Bellamy sacked Tagovailoa for a big loss on the first play, Alabama was in trouble -- second-and-26.

Not for long. Tagovailoa looked off the safety threw the biggest touchdown pass in the history of Alabama football.