Fastbreak Friday: Villanova goes for Battle 4 Atlantis championship

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Fastbreak Friday: Villanova goes for Battle 4 Atlantis championship

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.

No. 5 Villanova (5-0) vs. Northern Iowa (5-1), Friday 12:00 p.m. in Battle 4 Atlantis Championship 
Villanova has done its part in a tournament that’s been unpredictable from the outset. The Wildcats used a strong second-half performance in each of their wins to this point in the Battle 4 Atlantis — pulling away for a 66-58 victory over Western Kentucky on Wednesday before overcoming a 12-point halftime deficit Thursday against Tennessee.

Meanwhile the other ranked teams in the field — No. 2 Arizona and No. 18 Purdue — have each yet to win a game in the tournament and will meet Friday night in the seventh-place game. So rather than a much anticipated top-5 showdown against Arizona in the championship game, Villanova will face Northern Iowa. 

A win would give the Wildcats their second Battle 4 Atlantis title in the last five years. It would also mark a fifth straight in-season tournament championship for Villanova. They won the Battle 4 Atlantis in 2013, the Legends Classic in 2014, the Preseason NIT in 2015, and the Charleston Classic in 2016.

Things won’t come easy against a Northern Iowa team whose only loss of the season came at No. 9 North Carolina on opening night. The Panthers are a tough, disciplined team that likes to grind it out in the halfcourt. Expect a more deliberate, low-scoring game than the one Villanova played Thursday against Tennessee.

Northern Iowa runs its offense through star big man Bennett Koch, who averages 16 points and seven rebounds per game. UNI already has wins over SMU and NC State in the Battle 4 Atlantis and the Panthers will be eager to add a top-5 win to their resume with a victory over Villanova.

Priority No. 1 for Villanova will be staying out of foul trouble, something they failed to do Thursday against Tennessee. Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo and Omari Spellman all spent extended periods of time on the bench after picking up quick fouls. Brunson and Bridges still managed to be the difference makers — combining for 46 points despite playing just 29 and 23 minutes, respectively.

Look for more of the same from Brunson and Bridges in Friday’s championship game with a little more help from Omari Spellman, who was held to just one field goal Thursday. You should also expect Villanova to come out more focused in the first half after lackluster performances in the first 20 minutes of each of their last two games.

It should translate to another addition to what’s become a crowded Villanova trophy case.

Villanova 68, Northern Iowa 60

Temple (3-0) vs. La Salle (3-3), Sunday 5:00 p.m. on NBC Sports Philadelphia
Temple may have started its season later than most, but the Owls have come out of the gates strong. They began the year at the Charleston Classic, which they promptly won after posting three straight victories. And all three came in convincing fashion, beating Old Dominion, Auburn and Clemson by an average of 10.6 points.  

It was a team effort from the Owls, but they were powered by their senior co-captain Obi Enechionyia. The forward scored in double figures in all three wins and was the tournament’s MVP. Also, look for Enechionyia to pass the 1,000 point mark for his Temple career Sunday. He only needs two more points to reach that plateau. 

As great as Enechionyia played in the Classic, probably the best sight for Fran Dunphy and the rest of the Owls faithful on that court in Charleston had to be Josh Brown. The redshirt senior is back after missing nearly all of last year because of a torn Achilles. In the opening three games, Brown tallied 26 total points and seems to be getting his legs under him after sitting out such a long time. 

La Salle has hit a bit of a skid lately. But that’s more of a testament to the tough schedule John Giannini has laid out for his team than an actual poor performance on the court. The Explorers' three-game losing streak began with a loss to No. 20 Northwestern, it continued against Boston College and most recently came in the form of a defensive battle against No. 11 Miami. 

The game against the Hurricanes actually took place in Reading, billed as the return of hometown star Lonnie Walker, a freshman for Miami. This one was not pretty if you like offense. At the half, it was all square at 19. Nineteen whole points were all either team could muster after the opening twenty minutes. But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a good game. Two hard-nosed teams fighting to the end and fighting to reach the 50-point mark. 

But in the end, La Salle needed scoring, and with only two players really accounting for that in B.J. Johnson and Pookie Powell, it wasn’t enough. All the defense in the world won’t get it done when you can’t muster more than 50 points in a game. But seeing what that defense could do against a very good Hurricanes squad has to keep La Salle’s opposing coaches up at night. 

Temple is no slouch when it comes to pressure defense, so I don’t anticipate this one being a high-scoring affair. And as much as I’d like to go with the home squad at the Gola, it’s hard to pick against a team who’s riding the momentum of three straight wins. 

Temple 64, La Salle 60

St. Joseph’s (2-2) vs. Harvard (2-3), Friday 4:00 p.m. in Wooden Legacy
The biggest challenge for St. Joe’s will be putting Thursday’s frustrating loss to Washington St. behind them. The Hawks led the Cougars by as many as 20 points in the first half, only to be outscored by 18 in the second half in a 75-71 loss.

Shavar Newkirk led the Hawks with 24 points in the loss but needed 21 shots to get those 24 points. The Hawks continue to play shorthanded without Charlie Brown, who is still working his way back from a preseason wrist injury. Freshman forward Taylor Funk has stepped up in Brown’s absence. However, Funk was held to a season-low eight points against Washington St. — the first time he’s failed to crack double digits this season.

The Harvard program has taken a step back after dominating the Ivy League in recent years. The Crimson have lost three straight games, including Thursday’s 18-point loss to No.  21 St. Mary’s. 

Expect St. Joe’s to play angry after squandering that big lead Thursday and pull away from Harvard in the second half.

St. Joseph’s 74, Harvard 63 

Drexel (2-3) vs. NJIT (2-2), Saturday 4:00 p.m.
I owe the Dragons, Zach Spiker and the Drexel basketball fans an apology. I did not think this team had a snowball’s chance in a desert of beating Houston. Last week in this column, I predicted (extremely incorrectly) that Houston would dispatch the Dragons by double digits. They did not. Instead, Drexel outscored the Cougars, 46-35, in the second half and won by four points. Nicely done. I won’t mention the clear hangover-type letdown of a 20-point loss to Mercer the very next night. Let’s be positive. 

In the final game of the Paradise Jam, it was a double-overtime heartbreaker at the hands of Drake (not the rapper, but a school in Iowa) to close out the tournament. 

This one against New Jersey Institute of Technology should be easier for the Dragons to bounce back with a victory. NJIT did enjoy some Division-III success a number of years ago, reaching that level’s Final Four. But NJIT is better known for fun things like applied mathematics, biomedical engineering, and solar-terrestrial physics. Yes, I looked that up.  

Drexel 79, NJIT 68

Penn (4-3) vs. Monmouth (2-3), Saturday 7:00 p.m.
The Quakers enjoyed their time in Florida this past week and it wasn’t just because of the warm sun, clear skies and beach sand. They won two out of three in the Gulf Coast Showcase. In fact, Penn has won four of its last five games. And they’ve done it all away from home. Steve Donahue’s team won’t return to the historic confines of The Palestra until after Christmas, on Dec. 27th. 

In the tournament, A.J. Brodeur was the only Penn player to post double-figure scoring in all three games. The dynamic duo of Brodeur and Ryan Betley is the engine that makes the Quakes go. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t give some kudos to Darnell Foreman. The senior guard has done everything asked of him, and he’s become a key factor, scoring over 11 points on average, with four assists per game. 

Monmouth is probably better known for its crazy bench mob and not making the NCAA tournament a few years ago than anything else. They’ve had better seasons, or at least better starts to their seasons. But with only two wins so far, and by a combined nine points, King Rich is still searching for a way to get Monmouth going. 

Penn 72, Monmouth 70

Prediction Records
Sean Kane:
Amy Fadool: 2-3

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.

Penn aims to end 11-year drought this weekend

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Penn aims to end 11-year drought this weekend

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. With the regular season ending this weekend, this will be the final Fastbreak Friday column of the season.

Temple (16-13, 8-9 AAC) at Tulsa (18-11, 11-6 AAC), Sunday at 3 p.m.
 It’s been a rough season for the Temple Owls. Yes, there was that win over ranked Wichita State in the middle of a 5-game win streak. But after the stumbles down the stretch, that seems like a distant memory. 

Of course, the bad can be washed away with an AAC tournament run, but first, the Owls need to close out on the road against Tulsa. 

Given their track record on the road, things don’t line up well for Fran Dunphy’s crew. Plus, it’s dollar dog, dollar soda and dollar popcorn night at Tulsa. That’s a delicious trifecta. 

But there is still some fight in this team. Quintin Rose and Shizz Alston have been everything the Owls have needed, and throw in Nate Pierre-Louis and you have a nice core back for next season.

Temple 71,  Tulsa 70

Pennsylvania (21-7, 11-1 Ivy) at Yale (14-14, 7-5 Ivy), Friday at 7 p.m.
Pennsylvania (21-7, 11-1 Ivy) at Brown (11-14, 4-8 Ivy), Saturday at 6 p.m.
Penn enters the final weekend of the regular season in control of its own destiny. If the Quakers beat Yale and Brown on the road they'll win their first Ivy League championship since 2007 and earn the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament, which will be played at the Palestra next weekend. It all adds up to Penn having the inside track to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 11 years.

This seems like an appropriate time to salute the job done by head coach Steve Donahue. In just his third season at Penn, he has the Quakers poised to reclaim top billing in the Ivy League. He inherited a team that finished 9-19 in the 2014-2015 season and promptly began a swift rebuilding project. Penn went 11-17 in Donahue's first season, 13-14 in his second year, and now stand at 21-7 overall and 11-1 in conference play. Look for those winning ways to continue this weekend and for Donahue and company to do some celebrating.

Penn 73, Yale 66
Penn 69, Brown 60

La Salle (13-17, 7-10 A-10) at St. Joseph's (14-15, 9-8 A-10), Saturday at 2 p.m.
La Salle and St. Joe's will each try to keep the good times rolling heading into next week's A-10 Tournament. La Salle has won three of its last four games, including a convincing 18-point win over Dayton earlier this week. St. Joseph's meanwhile has a 5-1 record in its last six games and just recorded arguably one of the most stunning victories of this college basketball season.

The Hawks went on the road and beat No. 18 Rhode Island, 78-48, on Tuesday, spoiling the Rams' senior night in the process. It was the first road win over a ranked team for St. Joseph's since 1979 and it came in shockingly easy fashion. I expect the Hawks to build on that momentum this weekend and avenge a three-point loss to La Salle earlier this season.

St. Joseph's 74, La Salle 68 

Drexel (12-19, 6-12 CAA) at James Madison (10-21, 6-12 CAA), Saturday at 4 p.m. in first round of CAA Tournament
The Dragons' season has been marked with highs and lows. While it may seem like a marginal improvement — with 12 wins to their credit compared to nine last season — they did double their conference win total. 

Also, Drexel beat the top two teams in the CAA this season as well as set an NCAA Division-I record for the largest comeback ever when they erased a 34-point deficit against Delaware. 

But the Dragons did have two separate losing streaks that would cause any coach to lose sleep, one of five straight and the other of four straight losses. 

Drexel begins the quest for its first-ever CAA tournament title against JMU, then Charleston awaits on basically home turf. Go ahead and make it a baker’s dozen, Dragons. 

Drexel 76, JMU 74

Prediction Records
Sean Kane: 30-11
Amy Fadool: 22-21