Fastbreak Friday: Villanova-Creighton the nation's top game New Year's Eve


Fastbreak Friday: Villanova-Creighton the nation's top game New Year's Eve

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. 1 Villanova (13-0, 1-0 Big East) at No. 10 Creighton (13-0, 1-0 Big East), Saturday 1 p.m.
You could see this showdown coming for a few weeks now. As No. 1 Villanova and No. 10 Creighton continued to pile up non-conference wins, all roads led to New Year's Eve in Omaha. Once each team took care of business in its conference opener (in Villanova's case barely) earlier this week, the stage was officially set — 13-0 against 13-0 in the biggest college basketball game of the weekend.

The college football playoffs are the main course Saturday, but the Big East is providing quite the appetizer earlier in the afternoon.
Villanova almost didn't make it to Nebraska undefeated. Luckily, the Wildcats had the best player in the country on their side Wednesday in a 68-65 win over DePaul. Josh Hart scored a game-high 25 points, including 10 in the final 3:06. Hart's biggest contribution was a three-pointer that gave Villanova a four-point lead with 10 seconds to go.
Hart's heroics aside, there was plenty for Jay Wright to be concerned with following Wednesday's win. The Wildcats were uncharacteristically sloppy with the ball (14 turnovers) and inaccurate from the free throw line (18 for 26). They also shot 8 of 26 from three-point range and forced just seven DePaul turnovers.

But a win is a win. And the bottom line: Villanova has won 19 straight games dating back to last season, and its 13-0 record matches the best start to a season in program history.
Without injured guard Phil Booth, Wright is using a seven-man rotation. His top four players — Hart, Kris Jenkins, Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges — are very good. But Villanova needs more production from starting forward Darryl Reynolds and reserves Donte DiVincenzo and Eric Paschall.

Reynolds stands out the most. He played 33 minutes against DePaul and took one shot, finishing with three points and five rebounds. Reynolds is never going to be Daniel Ochefu in terms of a low-post scorer, but he has to be more of a threat offensively and that starts with looking for his shot more often. The Wildcats desperately need a more productive Reynolds to take some of the burden off of their perimeter players.
Villanova is going to have to elevate its play several notches Saturday against Creighton. The CenturyLink Center is always one of the more raucous venues in the Big East — it's never easy to win in Omaha, even when Creighton isn't particularly good. But the BlueJays are very good this season, as evidenced by that perfect 13-0 record and No. 10 national ranking.
Creighton has one of the best backcourts in the country with Philadelphia native Maurice Watson Jr. and Kansas State transfer Marcus Foster. Watson is the consummate playmaker, averaging 13.5 points and 9.1 assists. Foster has been good for a team-high 18.8 points while shooting better than 50 percent from the field.

The BlueJays have two other double-digit scorers, guard Khyri Thomas (12.9) and center Justin Patton (12.7).

Creighton is a very talented, well-coached team that will be plenty motivated to take down the No. 1 team in the country and prove they are legitimate contenders for not only the Big East title but the national championship as well.
Factor in a significant home-court advantage and everything points to a Creighton win. But until I see Hart let Villanova lose, I'm not picking against the Wildcats. Despite the considerable talents of Watson and Foster, Hart will be the best player on the floor Saturday. He has played in a ton of big games and won't be phased at all by Saturday's atmosphere — he scored 25 points at Creighton last season. I also expect Hart to get some help from fellow senior Jenkins, who is due for a big day after shooting just 31 percent in his last five games.   
Villanova 81, Creighton 78
Temple (9-5, 0-1 AAC) at Central Florida (10-3, 1-0 AAC), Saturday 4 p.m.
Who doesn't love playing Top 25 opponents? The Owls sure seem to enjoy it. Whether by design or just timing, Temple is coming off playing its fourth ranked opponent. They played well defensively against No. 23 Cincinnati, but poorly timed turnovers and an even poorer shooting night (26.7 percent from the field) doomed the Owls as they tried to earn a third win over a ranked team.

With the Cincinnati loss, the Owls start the conference portion of their schedule 0-1.
Obi Enechionyia failed to reach double figures in scoring in that game against the Bearcats. Despite leading the team with 15.5 points a game, Obi has scored in double figures just once in his last four games after starting the season by reaching that plateau in 10 straight. Fran Dunphy is going to need him to get going again because a balanced attack is how the Owls won those two games against ranked opponents in New York City. The good news however, is that Shizz Alston and Daniel Dingle have posted 10 or more points in their last five and four games, respectively.
Central Florida is a team Temple has enjoyed success against in recent years, having swept both meetings in each of the last two seasons. But the Knights are also quite familiar to the Owls and not just because they meet them twice every year in AAC play. These two shared four common opponents this season. Both UCF and Temple lost to Villanova and George Washington, while the Knights beat UMass when Temple did not. However, Temple took care of Big 5 rival Penn while UCF lost to the Quakers.
Safe to say there's plenty of game tape for each coach to watch in this matchup.
I'm going with Temple. I don't think the Owls will have another poor shooting performance like they did against Cincinnati. Let's be honest, hard to get much worse than 27 percent. But if Temple gets its shooting woes corrected, the defense is already in place. And that should equal a win.
Temple 68, UCF 62
La Salle (6-4) at Dayton (9-3), Friday 6 p.m.
I'm going to be the first to admit right here in this space that I didn't think these Explorers had it in them to take Villanova to the wire like they did a few weeks back. I was so impressed with their effort that I picked La Salle to beat Georgetown the following week. That didn't work out so well for me, but I'm still liking what I see from Dr. John Giannini's squad.

They came back from that Georgetown loss and had to fight and grind out wins over Florida Gulf Coast and Mercer. Both of those teams have been in the NCAA Tournament in recent years, so they are no pushovers. And against the Mercer Bears, the Explorers needed three overtimes to get the win.

Now, I know you might be saying: "Amy, three overtimes against Mercer, that impresses you?" Well, yes and no. I get that Mercer isn't Villanova. But what I did like seeing was that same fight La Salle showed in the loss to Villanova. They had a letdown with that kind of spirit against the Hoyas, so it was good to see it against FGCU and Mercer. If they play tough against all of their opponents, and "get up" like they did against 'Nova, then La Salle could make a little noise in the A-10.
The Explorers open up conference play Friday night in Dayton. Always a tough place to play — those Flyers fans really enjoy their basketball. Of course, La Salle enjoyed Dayton quite a bit a few years back in the NCAA Tournament, riding the momentum from the Dayton site games to the Sweet 16.

The Flyers are once again a tough Atlantic 10 opponent. They are well-coached and they have a historic senior class. Dayton's seniors have 87 victories right now; the winningest class in UD history finished with 97. So you'd think Kyle Davis, Scoochie Smith and Kendall Pollard are going to get at least 10 more wins on the season. 
Full disclosure, my in-laws are proud Dayton alums. So, I probably know more about Dayton than I should, including their fight song, which may or may not include: "Hey, hey U-D, the Flyers can't be beat." It's safe to say I've heard that song a lot more often and more recently than my own alma mater's fight song.
I'm not sure the Flyers can be beaten this weekend. It would take a big effort from all of the Explorers, not just B.J. Johnson, who has emerged as their leading scorer at just over 20 points a game.  But if Johnson, Jordan Price, Pookie Powell, and Amar Stukes all contribute well into the double figures, La Salle can pull off the upset. I just don't know if this is the game where all four of those guys catch fire.
Dayton 75, La Salle 70
Saint Joseph's (6-5) vs. George Washington (8-5), Friday 7 p.m.
SK: St. Joe's begins Atlantic 10 play at home Friday night against a George Washington team that has won five of its last seven games. That stretch includes a win over Temple — the Colonials beat the Owls, 66-63, at the Liacouras Center three weeks ago.  
Meanwhile, the first two months of the season have been a rollercoaster ride for Phil Martelli and the Hawks. Three straight wins to start the season were followed by four straight losses, but St. Joe's has rebounded to win three of its last four. The one constant has been the play of junior guard Shavar Newkirk, who has reached double figures in all 11 games and scored 20-plus points eight times. Newkirk is averaging 21.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.6 assists and is on the fast track to a First Team All-Big 5 selection.
This will be a very difficult test for St. Joe's. George Washington is an experienced, balanced team that typically doesn't beat itself. Something tells me the Hawks will be up to the challenge on their home court. In a conference opener that features two evenly matched teams, I expect St. Joe's to find a way to win. Look for Newkirk to once again play a starring role, with some help from his backcourt mate Lamarr Kimble.
St. Joe's 72, George Washington 68
Penn (5-5) vs. Fairfield (6-4), Friday 4 p.m.
Penn picked up a second straight win Wednesday over neighborhood rival Drexel, beating the Dragons, 75-67. Freshman big man A.J. Brodeur turned in yet another impressive performance with 19 points and 6 rebounds. Brodeur may be the best player in the city that no one is talking about. He's scored in double figures in all but one of Penn's games this season and is averaging 14.4 points and 6.1 rebounds while shooting nearly 53 percent from the field.
Friday's visit from Fairfield marks the Quakers' final non-conference game before Ivy League play begins. Big 5 battles with St. Joe's and La Salle still await, but those matchups come in the midst of Ivy competition.

Fairfield is coming off an 89-83 win over Boston College last week and is led by dynamic junior guard Tyler Nelson, who is averaging 20.2 points.
Penn fans should be familiar with Fairfield head coach Sydney Johnson, who previously coached and starred as a player at Princeton. Johnson was the 1997 Ivy League Player of the Year before leading Princeton to the 2011 Ivy League title as head coach. Johnson will have his work cut out for him beating his former rival on Friday at the Palestra. Penn is starting to hit its stride as conference play approaches, and I expect the Quakers to continue the positive momentum with a hard-fought win over Fairfield.
Penn 68, Fairfield 61
Drexel (6-7) at James Madison (2-11), Saturday 2 p.m.
The Dragons are coming off a valiant comeback effort against Penn this week. Down by as may as 13 points in the second half at the Palestra, Drexel cut that to just two points with 5:30 to play. It wasn't enough in the end to earn the victory but there were a few bright spots.

This game was on CSN Philly, shameless plug, and it was the first time I'd watched a complete Drexel game in a few weeks. I have to say that Miles Overton has found his shooting stroke. He transferred into Drexel with the reputation of a shooter and out of the gates of the season he hadn't displayed that stroke. Well, apparently the Palestra or the CSN Philly cameras did the trick. Overton made five three-pointers en route to a season-high 19 points. This has to be a good sign for head coach Zach Spiker to get that kind of contribution from Overton. It is probably a case of the team's finally coming together and working out the kinks of a new system and new coaches.
The Dragons start conference play before the ball drops on New Year's Eve. And they draw a good opponent to open CAA play. I'll tell you this about James Madison: The Dukes are playing for the FCS national championship next Saturday, the seventh against Youngstown State. That's about all you need to know about JMU. Oh, and our very own Ron Burke went there, that's a fun fact. As for their basketball team? Let's just say it's been a forgettable start to the season. The basketball Dukes have two wins … two. But the silver lining is that one of those wins came in their most recent game. Hey, you gotta start somewhere. A highly likely scenario is that the football Dukes earn more wins than the basketball Dukes. I may check back on this in March.
But they won't start a win streak to close out 2016.
Drexel 78, JMU 66
Prediction records
Amy Fadool: 9-3
Sean Kane: 9-3

Penn State holds off Marquette to reach NIT semifinals

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Penn State holds off Marquette to reach NIT semifinals


MILWAUKEE -- Lamar Stevens tied his career high with 30 points, Tony Carr added 25 and Penn State beat Marquette 85-80 on Tuesday night to advance to the NIT semifinals.

The Nittany Lions (24-13) will face Mississippi State (25-11) at Madison Square Garden in New York on March 27. They advanced to the NIT semis for the first time since winning the 2009 tournament.

Stevens hit three crucial buckets in the final three minutes, including a dunk off an alley-oop pass from Josh Reaves for an eight-point lead with one minute left. The 6-foot-8 Stevens then maneuvered through a couple Marquette players to secure a rebound off Andrew Rowsey's missed 3 with 46 seconds left.

Carr went 5 of 8 from the foul line over the final 30 seconds to give Marquette another chance. Rowsey hit a 3 and a layup to get the Golden Eagles as close as 83-80 with six seconds left before the Golden Eagles ran out of time.

Shep Garner scored 19 points and set two Penn State records, including most 3s in a season (112). Garner's 73 career wins are the most in a four-year span since Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1992-93.

Rowsey, a senior, scored 29 points for Marquette (21-14).

The Golden Eagles had whittled a 14-point deficit early in the second half to 72-68 with 2:39 left on three foul shots by Rowsey. Penn State went nearly three minutes without a bucket and got sloppy with the ball and the sharpshooting Golden Eagles started hitting 3s to get back in the game.

Villanova, Penn with polar opposite NCAA Tournament draws

Villanova, Penn with polar opposite NCAA Tournament draws

No surprises on the Main Line and well, the Quakers have quite the hill to climb to advance.

Villanova on Sunday night was awarded the 1-seed in the East Region and will face the winner of the LIU Brooklyn/Radford game Thursday in Pittsburgh. Tip-off is scheduled for 6:50 p.m. on TNT.

The Wildcats have been a top-two seed since 2014 and it's the second straight year they're a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Villanova was the No. 1 overall seed in last year's tournament.

Penn was named the 16th seed in the Midwest Region and will face the No. 1-seeded Kansas Jayhawks on Thursday at 2 p.m. on TBS in Wichita, Kansas.

Steve Donahue has the Quakers back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007 in his third season as Penn's head coach.

The Quakers are 24-8 and this will be their 24th-ever appearance in the tournament.

'Nova survived a scare from Providence on Saturday night to win its second straight Big East title and its third in the past four years.

If the Wildcats beat LIU Brooklyn/Radford, they'll face the winner of the No. 8-seeded Virginia Tech and No. 9 seed Alabama. Purdue is the No. 2 seed in the East.

Also in the East are No. 3 Texas Tech and No. 4 Wichita State.