NCAA

Fastbreak Friday: Villanova, St. Joe's look to stay unbeaten

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CSN

Fastbreak Friday: Villanova, St. Joe's look to stay unbeaten

CSN anchor/reporter Amy Fadool and producer Sean Kane get you set for all of the weekend's local college basketball games with Fastbreak Friday. Look for this column every Friday during the college basketball season. 

No. 3 Villanova (3-0) vs. Wake Forest (3-0), Today 1:30 p.m.

SK: Villanova takes on Wake Forest in the semifinals of the Charleston Classic on Friday afternoon. The Wildcats are seeking their fourth straight in-season tournament title after wins in the Battle for Atlantis in 2013, the Legends Classic in 2014 and the Preseason NIT last season.

Villanova was sluggish in Thursday's 11-point win over Western Michigan in the first round of the tournament. That can be excused given the 11:30 a.m. start time and the Wildcats' quick turnaround following Monday's hard-fought win at No. 15 Purdue. But Jay Wright likely isn't making those excuses for his team — he'll want to see a better effort on both ends of the floor against Wake Forest.

The Deamon Deacons hung 103 points on UTEP on Thursday and are averaging better than 92 points on the season. Danny Manning's team likes to push the tempo, something Villanova will welcome. 

Look for another big game out of Wildcats senior guard Josh Hart, who has looked very much deserving of the first team preseason All-American honor he received earlier this month. Hart is averaging 17 points and 5.0 rebounds and shooting an even 50 percent from the field.

Sophomore Eric Paschall has been effective off the bench for Villanova, chipping in a team-high 17 points in Thursday's win over Western Michigan. The Wildcats will need a similar effort from Paschall and fellow super-sub Mikal Bridges against Wake Forest.

Villanova 85, Wake Forest 76

Loyola-Chicago (3-0) vs. Saint Joseph’s (2-0), Today 12:30 p.m.

AF: The Hawks are in the sunny Virgin Islands for the Paradise Jam. It’s a four-game tournament beginning Friday against Loyola of Chicago. St. Joe’s has come out of the gates with back-to-back wins to open the season. Not just that, Phil Martelli’s team is shooting 50 percent from the field. Yes, I know it’s a small sample size, but it’s a good start nonetheless. And speaking of, Lamarr Kimble and Shavar Newkirk are pacing the Hawks, averaging a combined 40 points a game. Hard to lose many games when you are posting numbers like those. 

I don’t know that Loyola is going to give the Hawks too much of a test in the opener of this tournament, but if St. Joe’s beats Loyola, they’d face the winner of Ole Miss-Oral Roberts. On the other side of the bracket, there are teams like N.C. State, Washington and Creighton. So there is some competition in this tournament.             

If you asked Martelli at the beginning of the season about his team, his answer (and I believe an honest one) was that he didn’t know. He lost some major scoring power as well as stability on the court with leadership and experience with the departures of DeAndre’ Bembry and Isaiah Miles. But Martelli may have found two players to pick up the scoring slack in Newkirk and Kimble. Kimble is a local product out of Neumann-Goretti high school in South Philly and was named to the A-10’s all rookie team last year. His early development is key for the Hawks to repeat the success they enjoyed last season.
    
While Loyola-Chicago is also undefeated, it has faced much lesser competition. The Ramblers are averaging 98.5 points a game through their first three, all at home, and hit the 100-point mark in their second win of the season. They also just beat Eureka 97-59. Eureka. If there was a name for a team that is everyone’s tune-up for the season, Eureka would be it, right?

Fun fact: both are Jesuit universities. The one from Philly wins this one.

Saint Joseph’s 78, Loyola-Chicago 67

Texas Southern (3-0) at La Salle (1-1), Saturday 3 p.m.

SK: Hard not to think of Aaric Murray when you first glance at this matchup. The talented and mercurial Murray played for both La Salle and Texas Southern during a college career that took him to three separate schools and led to him eventually playing overseas professionally.

Murray is out of sight and out of mind for Explorers fans, who have watched their team get off to a 1-1 start this season. A bitter overtime loss to Big 5 rival Temple on opening night was followed by a workmanlike win over Delaware. Saturday presents a chance for La Salle to climb over the .500 mark and I expect them to take advantage of it.

The Explorers' transfers have been as advertised through the first two games of the season. B.J. Johnson, Pookie Powell and Demetrius Henry have combined to average better than 40 points, each making his presence felt on both ends of the floor. Combine that trio with senior guard Jordan Price's scoring and La Salle has too much firepower for Texas Southern.

La Salle 79, Texas Southern 72

Penn (1-0) at Miami (2-0), Saturday 4 p.m.

SK: This is a tall order for Penn — on the road against a Miami team that advanced to the Sweet 16 last season. The Hurricanes lost quite a bit of scoring from last year's team but are still plenty talented. Junior guard Ja'Quan Newton leads the way, averaging 14.5 points and 4.5 assists through the season's first two games.

Newton's name is a familiar one to local basketball fans. He was a four-year star at Neumann-Goretti High School before deciding to (pardon the expression) take his talents to South Beach. Newton is part of a new pipeline that has emerged from Southeastern Pennsylvania to Miami — the Hurricanes just received a commitment from 5-star guard Lonnie Walker of Reading High School.

But back to the business at hand for Penn. Freshman big man A.J. Brodeur sure looked like a difference-maker in the Quakers' season-opening win at Robert Morris. Expect Brodeur to have another big impact performance against Miami, but it won't be quite enough as Penn drops it's first game of the season.

Miami 77, Penn 68

Hartford (1-2) at Drexel (0-2), Today 7 p.m.

AF: Drexel will be happy to see the friendly confines of the DAC this weekend when it welcomes Hartford. The Dragons are winless in their opening two games of the season, both on the road. Zach Spiker’s team has come out of the gates a bit flat in scoring, but it is early.  

Miles Overton went pretty cold in the loss to Rutgers, shooting just 2 for 14 for five points. More distressing to Spiker is probably the 38 percent overall shooting from his team, as well as the 13 turnovers to 14 assists. Neither of those are a recipe for a win. Luckily, Hartford is coming to town. The Hawks have just one win in their first three games and just lost by 16 to Rider. 

The player for the Dragons to watch out for on Hartford’s roster though is definitely Jalen Ross. The senior, in his second year for the Hawks after transferring in from Eastern Michigan, has scored in double figures for 17 straight games. He’s also posted 20-plus points two games in a row. Hartford’s issue has been defense. That’s not usually a problem for the Dragons, but they’ve allowed 78 and 87 points, respectively in their first two. Drexel has yet to reach 70 on the scoreboard. So this one likely will be a low scoring affair. But I think Drexel rewards their home fans with a win.

Drexel 70, Hartford 67

Manhattan (0-2) at Temple (1-2), Sunday 2 p.m.

AF: The Owls are reeling right now after opening the season with an exciting overtime win over La Salle. This week has seen back-to-back losses for Fran Dunphy’s crew starting Monday with the 57-52 defeat at the hands of New Hampshire. Perhaps that could have been overlooked as a blip on the radar if Temple hadn’t followed it up with another loss. This one on the road, so there is some solace in that I suppose. But leading by two points with under a minute to go usually bodes well for a win. Granted UMass got a bit lucky on its three-pointer to put the Minutemen ahead, but the Owls really dropped the ball on their final play to try and tie the game.

Next up, the Owls will try to get that bad taste out of their mouths with a win over Manhattan. The Jaspers come to the Liacouras Center winless on the young season, but they have a pretty tough schedule to open the season. That is typical of Steve Masiello, a disciple of Rick Pitino who’s a coach that enjoys tough non-conference opponents. Of course, Fran Dunphy has certainly been known to run a tough slate out of the gates for his team too.
               
But right now, the Owls are having a tough time getting out of their own way. They are led by Obi Enechionyia, the junior forward, who is averaging 22 points a game. But Temple is shooting just 39 percent from the field in their first three games, and a woeful 59 percent from the free throw line. Both of those numbers have to improve. Plus the usually stingy defense Dunphy preaches was not up to snuff in the loss to UMass, allowing the Minutemen to shoot almost 50 percent from the field.

A chance to get back on track this weekend and salvage a win before next week starts. Manhatten has a game on Friday night, hosting Hofstra, so fatigue from that could work in the Owls favor.

Temple 71, Manhattan 68

Prediction Records:

Amy Fadool: 1-1

Sean Kane: 1-2

Temple, Drexel battle for first time in a decade

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USA Today Images

Temple, Drexel battle for first time in a decade

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 the college basketball season.

Drexel (5-5) at Temple (6-3), Saturday, 5 p.m.
AF:
The Owls are a good team, maybe frustrating at times, maybe one-dimensional at other times but they are a good team. All you had to do was watch their most recent game, a 20-point loss to top-ranked Villanova, to see that in full effect. Temple was down the entire game but climbed back in it to cut the deficit to seven at one point thanks to the hot shooting of Quinton Rose. The sophomore shot a scorching 9 of 12 overall, including 4 of 5 from beyond the arc. But Villanova shut down pretty much every other offensive threat from the Owls. And one man alone cannot stop that Wildcats squad. 

In fact, after watching 'Nova so far this season, I’m questioning what team will beat the Wildcats. But that is for my co-author Sean Kane to ponder. Let us focus on this week’s matchup for the Owls, and that is Drexel. 

These two haven’t faced each other in 10 years. In fact, almost exactly to the date. Back on Dec. 15, 2007, Temple beat Drexel 64-51 at the Palestra. 

I have written about Drexel for every Fastbreak Friday thus far this season. In fact, I’ve written about Drexel for nearly every Fastbreak Friday since I started co-authoring this column four years ago. And this year’s team is as confounding as one I’ve encountered. 

Last week, I picked them to beat Robert Morris, a team I felt they should’ve easily handled even on the road. But they didn’t. The Dragons lost by double digits. Earlier that same week, they faced La Salle at the Gola. As a mid-week game, it was not subject to my prediction but I would’ve gone with the Explorers at home. But once again, I would’ve been wrong. Drexel led wire to wire and won at La Salle, 72-70. It gave Drexel its third win in a row at the time and the senior Dragons became the school’s first class ever to beat La Salle twice at Gola.

So who to pick this week? Temple is good. I covered that Drexel is confounding. I’m going with the Owls. The loss to Villanova wasn’t pretty. But we could be seeing a championship Wildcats team, so I'll throw it out the window.  

Temple 72, Drexel 65

Mercer (6-4) at La Salle (5-6), Sunday, 4:30 p.m.
SK:
La Salle is coming off its most impressive showing of the season — a 77-68 loss to top-ranked Villanova. It's not often you can point to a loss as an encouraging performance but that was exactly the case for the Explorers last Sunday. They had the lead at halftime and generally outplayed Villanova for the first 35 minutes of the game. If La Salle can duplicate that type of effort the rest of the season, the wins should start piling up. 

The Explorers had a full week to prepare for a Mercer team that won't be a pushover on Sunday afternoon. The Bears' four losses have come against UCF, Colorado, Tennessee and Memphis. And they beat Drexel by 19 in mid-November. That's the same Drexel team that won at La Salle a week and a half ago. 

La Salle doesn't lack for talent. That was on display against Villanova when B.J. Johnson, Amar Stukes and Pookie Powell combined for 49 points. The Explorers can play with anyone, it's simply a matter of attention to detail and bringing a consistent energy level each game. 

I like La Salle in this spot on Sunday. The combination of getting a confidence boost from the Villanova game, having a whole week to prepare and playing at home should be a winning formula for the Explorers. Mercer will put up a fight but in the end, I expect the Explorers' talent to prevail. 

La Salle 76, Mercer 70  

Maine (3-8) at Saint Joseph's (4-5), Sunday, 4:30 p.m.
SK:
Coming into play with a 4-5 record, Saint Joseph's gets a golden opportunity to climb back to .500 with a home game against a Maine team that only has one win this season against a Division l opponent. This is a game the Hawks should win comfortably.

The absence of sophomore forward Charlie Brown continues to be a big storyline for Saint Joseph's. Brown is the Hawks' best player and has yet to play this season due to a preseason wrist injury. There is no official word on his availability against Maine on Sunday. On the surface, it appears this would be a good game for Brown to be eased back in, but Phil Martelli could opt to hold him out until the start of Atlantic 10 play on Dec. 30. Or he could be sidelined even longer than that. The only certainty is St. Joe's needs Brown back in the lineup. 

Senior guard Shavar Newkirk has done an admirable job of sparking the offense in Brown's absence. He had 18 points and six assists in last Saturday's loss to Temple and is averaging a team-best 16.7 points per game. Factor in senior forward James Demery (16.6 ppg) and freshman forward Taylor Funk (14.7 ppg), and the Hawks have a nice stable of scorers. This has the makings of an explosive lineup once Brown returns. 

With or without Brown, look for Saint Joseph's to collect an easy win against Maine on Sunday.    

Saint Joseph's 81, Maine 60

Prediction Records
Sean Kane:
7-4
Amy Fadool: 4-8

Jalen Brunson, Omari Spellman give Temple nightmare as No. 1 Villanova rolls

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Jalen Brunson, Omari Spellman give Temple nightmare as No. 1 Villanova rolls

BOX SCORE

In every play, there are protagonists and antagonists, heroes and villains. And some of us are drawn to the heroes while others revel in the villains.

And in the latest act of the historic Villanova-Temple rivalry Wednesday night in North Philly, a well-known Villanova hero and loathed Temple villain left his footprint yet again.

But this time, he was joined at the hip by an emerging jersey and shorts-wearing hero from the Main Line and a new North Broad Street villain who drew his first taste of Temple blood.

Star junior point guard Jalen Brunson sparkled with 31 points on 11 of 16 from the field, including 6 for 10 from downtown, and redshirt freshman Omari Spellman scorched the nets for 27 points of his own as that duo led No. 1 Villanova to a thorough 87-67 beatdown of Temple at the Liacouras Center (see observations).

The victory extended the record Big 5 win streak to 22 games for the Wildcats, now 11-0 on the season. Temple fell to 6-3.

After the game, all eyes, lights, cameras and recorders were on the dominant twosome, and rightfully so.

“I was just able to make my shots,” said Brunson, whose 31 points Wednesday were a career high. “I tried to make the right play at the right time. They were taking away certain plays and certain passes, so I was just trying to be aggressive.”

That ruthless aggression was on full display in the first half when Brunson came blazing out of the gate. He scored 10 straight Villanova points in a 1:57 span to ignite a 15-1 Wildcats run that pushed an eight-point lead all the way to a 20-point lead.

On that 10-0 personal run, Brunson showed his shifty elusiveness by dazzling a Temple defender and the crowd with a spinning layup and then showing his range with two treys. As the half went on, Brunson was scoring with every blink of an eye. He finished the half with 22 points.

With redshirt junior Phil Booth, who entered averaging 12.7 points per night, limited with a virus, Villanova head coach Jay Wright had a feeling Brunson would take command of this one.

“He was incredible,” Wright said. “It’s really no surprise to us. He can do that every night, but we like to keep balance. With Phil Booth being out … I knew [Brunson] was going to be more aggressive. They did a really good job taking away our perimeter guys, so it forced somebody to go create shots.

“He made the shots tonight and that was the difference.”

The Liacouras Center is always hostile territory for anyone wearing blue and white, but especially so for Brunson, who spurned the Owls to sign with the Wildcats three years ago out of high school even though his father, Rick, is a Temple legend who starred under John Chaney in the early 1990s.

Temple fans haven’t forgotten and peppered Brunson with every word and name in the book on Wednesday, just as they did two years ago when he made his first trip to North Philly as a Wildcat. That game two years ago was his true freshman arrival as he dropped 25 points in a spectacular performance. He’s a Temple menace as he’s dropped 69 points on 23 of 33 shooting, including 13 of 20 from downtown in three games against the Owls.

“It is what it is,” Brunson said of the not-so-flattering words from fans. “I try to keep the same mindset throughout every game. Being aggressive, trying to set the tone defensively, tell my teammates and the younger guys that we make sure to play through the full 40 minutes.

“It’s being aggressive and just trying to be a killer. Tonight was just one of those nights I got it going.”

On to his partner in crime Spellman, who lit up the scoreboard in a variety of ways in his first exposure to this heated rivalry. The 6-foot-9 redshirt freshman torched the Owls for his 27 points on 11 of 14 from the field — 7 for 7 inside the arc and brilliant touch on 4 for 7 outside the arc. He’s a matchup nightmare, perhaps unlike Wright has ever had on the Main Line.

“It definitely helps to be around players that are as good as my teammates are every day,” Spellman said.  

“We know we need an inside presence, and we know he can do that,” Wright said of Spellman. “As we’re doing that with him, we’re working on footwork and we’re watching him. We chart our shooters and we said, ‘This kid is one of our best shooters. What are we doing?’

“We can’t disregard the fact he’s one of our best shooters. With Phil down tonight and losing (Colin) Gillespie, we said to him, ‘Yo, you gotta do this.’ I’m sure he’s been waiting for it. He’s never asked. But he showed he can do it tonight.”

The performances of both Brunson and Spellman are testaments to the rich depth Villanova has. Booth was limited and leading scorer Mikal Bridges had an off night with just seven points. He averaged 18.1 coming in.

Still, Villanova barely had to look back. Quinton Rose’s career-high 27 points guided Temple’s efforts, but it wasn’t nearly enough. Not even his three straight threes in the first half that cut Villanova’s lead to seven and his subsequent shout for his teammates to "Wake up!" did the trick.

“They’re a team that just goes on some killer runs and they did that, obviously in the first half, which hurt us greatly,” Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. “We got it back to seven in that first half and then they go on a 10-0 run that spaces them again. … You can’t make a mistake, and when you do, they take great advantage of it. Those runs are just devastating.

“They’ve got a lot of weapons and Bridges wasn’t a dominating player here. He can be dominating. Phil Booth can be dominating. Tonight it was Brunson and Spellman. They’re just a really good basketball team.”

Dunphy is a Big 5 lifer who’s seen it all in this game. And he said those quotes with an exasperated tone to his voice. His guys gave Villanova their best shot on this evening and still fell the way they did.

That right there should tell you just how good and scary this Villanova team is.