NCAA

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

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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.
SK:
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.
AF:
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.
AF:
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.
SK:
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.
AF:
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

Temple-UConn observations: Despite valiant effort from Marchi, Owls lose 1st homecoming game since 2008

Temple-UConn observations: Despite valiant effort from Marchi, Owls lose 1st homecoming game since 2008

BOX SCORE

That’s why football is a week-to-week game. Forget about momentum.

Temple found that out the hard way. After coming alive in a big road win over East Carolina last week, the Owls were humbled when a fourth-quarter rally fell short Saturday in a 28-24 homecoming loss to Connecticut at Lincoln Financial Field.

The Owls had one final shot at the victory with a drive in the final minute, but a Logan Marchi heave to the end zone was broken up.

The loss dropped Temple back under .500 at 3-4 (1-3 American Athletic Conference). UConn moved to 2-5 (2-2) with the victory.

• Say what you want about Temple quarterback Marchi (and you surely will after this game), but the guy is a fighter. Whether things are going his way or not, he continues to try to search for his receivers and attempt to squeeze the ball into those windows on the field. He made it two consecutive games with 300-plus yards passing as he was 33 of 54 for 356 yards with one touchdown and one interception Saturday.

• The game marked Temple’s first homecoming loss in nearly a decade. TU hadn’t suffered a homecoming defeat since a 7-3 loss to Western Michigan on Sept. 27, 2008. On that day, former Eagles DB Jaiquawn Jarrett was beaten in coverage on a double move in the third quarter for the game’s lone touchdown. Coming into Saturday, the Owls had won eight straight homecoming matchups by an average margin of 19.3 points.

• There was a rare sighting for Temple at the Linc: a rushing touchdown from a tailback. In fact, there were two. David Hood, who became the first Owls tailback to score on a run this season in last week’s rout of East Carolina, punched it in from one yard out to open the scoring in the first quarter. Ryquell Armstead weaved his way into the end zone for a 10-yard TD on the first play of the fourth quarter.

• Delvon Randall is simply a playmaker. The Owls’ leading tackler, Randall added another five stops in Saturday’s win. The junior DB also made a beautiful play along the sideline in the first quarter when he undercut an out route for an interception. It marked Randall’s third straight game with a pick. The Owls only have four interceptions this season and Randall has three of them.

• My colleague Greg Paone touched on college football’s targeting rule a couple of weeks ago (see story)We agree on pretty much all of the nuts and bolts of the rule. I’m glad it’s in place to protect players from violent and unnecessary hits. However, the more I see it called each week — and it seems like there is at least one in every game now — the more I’m starting to dislike the implementation. Temple defensive lineman Sharif Finch was ejected for targeting on Saturday when he went high on Huskies quarterback Bryant Shirreffs on a third-quarter touchdown pass. Shirreffs sold the hit by jerking his head back as he fell to the ground, but it was definitely worthy of a penalty. Was it a late hit? Yes. A bone-headed hit? Absolutely. But one worthy of Temple losing a top defensive player for the remainder of the game? I don’t think so.

• Speaking of Shirreffs, it’s easy to see why the Huskies have the best passing offense in the AAC. He didn’t show it with yardage in this tilt (just 105), but he was able to connect on three touchdowns through the air. He also added 39 yards on the ground, including a key run up the middle late in the fourth quarter.

• The Owls simply aren’t a good enough team to overcome 12 penalties for 117 yards.

• Like any other major college football game around the country, Saturday’s matchup at the Linc had scouts from NFL teams listed to attend. Of course, the Eagles were listed for several scouts in their home stadium. While the Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers were also among those expected to have representatives at the game, there was only one other team labeled for more than one scout besides the Eagles — the New York Giants. At 0-5, they can certainly use all the help they can get right now.

• Temple will look to rebound when the Owls travel to play their final non-conference opponent in Army at 12 p.m. next Saturday.

Temple eyes streak, Penn looks to dethrone Columbia, Villanova on the road

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USA Today Images

Temple eyes streak, Penn looks to dethrone Columbia, Villanova on the road

Temple (3-3, 1-2 American) vs. UConn (1-4, 0-3 American)
Lincoln Financial Field, ESPNews
Noon Saturday

Last time out
Temple beat East Carolina, 34-10, last Saturday.

UConn lost to Memphis, 70-31, last Saturday.

Scouting report
Last week, quarterback Logan Marchi finally got on track with his first 300-yard game of the season against East Carolina. This week, the redshirt sophomore will face UConn, the team he initially committed to in high school under former coach Paul Pasqualoni. Marchi was then denied after a coaching change was made. The Huskies have the worst passing defense in the AAC, giving up 399.8 passing yards per game, and have allowed 19 touchdowns through the air in 2017. If Marchi can play well for a second week in a row, look for Temple’s offense to put up some points. 

Another matchup to look at is UConn’s passing attack against Temple’s defense. The Huskies’ boast the best passing offense in terms of yards in the AAC, averaging 325.8 yards per game, but have only scored nine touchdowns this year. Temple, on the other hand, allows the eighth-most passing yards in the conference (253 yards per game), but is ranked fourth in the conference in scoring defense, allowing 26 points per game. Connecticut must convert drives into touchdowns against this Owls defense if it wants to compete.

What it means
Temple’s hopes to reach the AAC championship game might not be realistic anymore but its bowl hopes are still alive. A win against UConn would put the Owls just two victories away from becoming bowl-eligible, which after their start would be good for Owl fans.

Series history
Temple holds the 12-5 series advantage over Connecticut, and is currently on a three-game win streak.

What’s next?
Temple travels to Army.

UConn hosts Tulsa. 

Penn (2-2, 0-1 Ivy) at Columbia (4-0, 1-0 Ivy)
Robert K. Kraft Field at Lawrence A. Wien Stadium
1:30 p.m. Saturday


Last time out
Penn lost at Central Connecticut State, 42-21, Saturday.

Columbia defeated Marist, 41-17, Saturday.

Scouting report
Penn’s strength is its rushing attack. They rank second in the Ivy League averaging 204 yards per game on the ground. Karekin Brooks has 543 yards rushing and five touchdowns so far this season. Getting the ground game going will be key for the Quakers this week.

Columbia defense has been strong so far this season. The Lions rank second in the Ivy League in total defense only allowing 316 yards per game and are third in the Ivy in pass defense. The Lions allow 194.8 yards per game through the air.

Series history
This is the 96th meeting between the teams. The Quakers hold a 73-21-1 advantage and have won the last 19 editions.

What’s next?
Penn hosts Yale.

Columbia is at Dartmouth.

Villanova (4-2, 2-1 CAA) at James Madison (5-0, 2-0 CAA)
Bridgeforth Stadium
6 p.m. Saturday


Last time out

Villanova defeated Maine, 31-0, Saturday.

James Madison beat Delaware, 20-10, Saturday.

Scouting report
Villanova has allowed just 1.6 yards per carry and 52 rushing yards per game this season. The Wildcats boast a strong scoring defense as well, the best in the Colonial allowing only nine points per game.

James Madison boasts the second-best rushing offense in the CAA averaging 223 yards per game and is second in scoring defense. The Dukes allow just 10 points per game to opposing offenses. Look for this game to be defensive showdown.

Series history
This is the 26th meeting between the teams. James Madison leads the series 14-11 and won 20-7 last season.

What’s next?
Villanova hosts Elon next Saturday.

James Madison travels to William & Mary next Saturday.