Fastbreak Friday: Villanova looks destined for deep tournament run again

Fastbreak Friday: Villanova looks destined for deep tournament run again

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.

La Salle (5-5) at No. 4 Villanova (9-0), Sunday, 1 p.m.
Villanova returns to the Wells Fargo Center following its most impressive win of the young season — an 88-72 thumping of No. 12 Gonzaga on Tuesday in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden. The fourth-ranked Wildcats controlled the game for the full 40 minutes and put the college basketball world on notice that they are once again legitimate national championship contenders. 

Junior forward Mikal Bridges stole the show against Gonzaga, scoring a career-high 28 points on 8 of 14 shooting from the field. Bridges punctuated the win with an incredible sequence midway through the second half — soaring for a one-handed slam over three defenders then hustling back to get a big block on the other end. Through nine games, Bridges has established himself as an All-American candidate and potential lottery pick in the 2018 NBA draft (see story)

As impressive as Bridges was on Tuesday, it was the play of junior guard Phil Booth that should be most encouraging for Villanova fans. Booth scored 20 points on 9 of 14 shooting and is averaging 17 points in his last three games. After missing all but three games last season due to a knee injury, it's become apparent that Booth is now 100 percent healthy and back to being his old explosive self that was previously seen scoring a team-high 20 points in the 2016 National Championship game. Having Booth playing at this level is huge for Villanova as they gear up for the Big East portion of their schedule.

Villanova now turns its attention to La Salle on Sunday afternoon, aiming for a 21st straight Big 5 win. La Salle played the Wildcats tough last season, losing 89-79 at the Palestra in a game that was decided in the final minutes. 

But the Explorers are sputtering a bit coming into Sunday's matchup. After beating Temple two weeks ago to improve to 4-3, they've dropped two of their last three including Thursday's 72-70 home loss to Drexel. La Salle trailed by 13 at halftime before rallying in the second half only to lose in the last few seconds. 

Senior guard B.J. Johnson scored 21 points in the loss — a shade under his season average of 21.5. But Johnson is going to need a whole lot more help than he's been getting if the Explorers are going to hang with a Villanova team that is operating on a championship-caliber level on both ends of the floor.

Look for Villanova's defensive intensity to eventually wear La Salle down, and for Wildcats junior guard Jalen Brunson to bounce back for a big game after being plagued by foul trouble against Gonzaga.

Villanova 82, La Salle 63  

Saint Joseph's (4-4) at Temple (5-2), Saturday, 2:30 p.m.
It's always fun when the Big 5 teams get together. There is so much familiarity and ire between the two fanbases and each team's players feed off the energy. And this weekend's contest between the Owls and the Hawks is certainly no different.

It's been an up and down season for both so far, but the Owls have more ups than downs at this point. If anything, it's harder to figure out this Temple team than in years past. However, a win over Wisconsin just this week has me thinking that Temple is just a team still trying to get its legs under them. Either that, or they just play really, really well against football schools. I mean, look at their schedule: wins over Clemson, Auburn and now the Badgers. That would put the Owls in the FBS Playoffs. 

Fran Dunphy's squad is starting to come together nicely and a lot of that can be attributed to the strong guard play of Shizz Alston, Jr. and Josh Brown. The two are combining to score 34 points a game. In the win over Wisconsin, Alston was steady on the court and most importantly at the free throw line. He now holds the school record for most consecutive free throws made with 52 and counting, which goes back to December of last year.

Meanwhile, on City Line Avenue, the Hawks are licking their wounds after suffering their worst loss in the rivalry with Villanova, a 41-point thorough thrashing nearly a week ago. But have heart Saint Joseph's fans, this is a fantastic, potential Final Four, veteran Villanova team. So just put that in your rear view and look ahead to the rest of the Big 5 slate and the Atlantic-10 conference schedule.

As I mentioned, it's been an up and down year for St. Joe's and you can draw a direct correlation to the Hawks' struggles by looking at an injury report. For the first eight games, they've been without Charlie Brown and you can't understate his loss. Brown is an NBA prospect. And Phil Martelli would love to go with his plan A of running the plays through him. But he's doubtful for this game as well after undergoing surgery on a fractured left wrist at the end of October.

So it's been on to plan B and maybe even plan C at this point for Martelli, thanks to the loss of Lamarr Kimble at the beginning of the season. But the Hawks do have the services of James Demery and Shavar Newkirk. The two seniors are neck and neck as the Hawks leading scorers at 16.8 and 16.5 points per game, respectively.

A bright spot for the Hawks is Taylor Funk, who's averaging three made three-pointers per game, and when you have that scoring threat from the outside, it can open up the inside lanes and the post to collect points.

I do want to point out one thing: Martelli and Dunphy are great friends. They have so much respect for one another, and together with their wives, are single-handedly responsible for the most successful Coaches vs. Cancer chapter in the country. The Philadelphia chapter has raised more than 14 million dollars since 1996 and that number grows every year.

But as for this one, well for the second straight game, I think it will be a Big 5 loss for the Hawks.

Temple 75, Saint Joseph's 68

Pennsylvania (7-4) at Dayton (4-4), Saturday, 3 p.m.
Penn ventures into what is traditionally one of the toughest places to play in all of college basketball for a matchup with Dayton on Saturday afternoon. The Quakers have momentum on their side, winning four of their last five with the only blemish during that stretch coming at Villanova.

Penn hung on for a 73-68 win at Lafayette on Wednesday. Sophomores A.J. Brodeur and Ryan Betley combined for 31 points as the Quakers improved their season record to 7-4. 

Saturday's visit to Dayton will offer a tough test for Penn but it's certainly a winnable game. The Flyers are in a transition season under first-year head coach Anthony Grant, who took over for Archie Miller after Miller left for Indiana following last season. Dayton has a 4-4 record, with those four wins coming against Ball State, Ohio, Akron and Tennessee Tech. 

I expect Penn to not only compete with Dayton but have a chance to win the game in the last handful of possessions. But I just can't get over the raucous homecourt advantage that UD Arena provides. I expect that to be the deciding factor in what should be a hard-fought, entertaining game on Saturday.

Dayton 70, Pennsylvania 68

Drexel (5-4) at Robert Morris (5-4) Sunday, 2 p.m.
Okay, I'll admit it. I cannot for the life of me figure this Drexel team out. And yes, as my co-author will tell you, my prediction record reflects that. I pick them to lose to Houston and they beat them by four. I pick Drexel to win over NJIT and they lose by a dozen. So it's no surprise that when I picked Rider to beat the Dragons that of course they won, and did so handily.

Maybe I should pull a George Costanza and just do the opposite of what my brain tells me. But I don't know if I can do it this time. Drexel looked pretty good last time out when they took down La Salle at the Gola on Thursday night. Yes, Kurk Lee came to play yet again with 23 points. But it was the second straight game where Sammy Mojica has shined. The senior is really finding his rhythm. He posted 19 in the win over the Explorers. And in the win last week against Rider, he poured in 22. That can mean only positive things for Zach Spiker's team. 

This weekend, the Dragons travel across the Commonwealth to face Robert Morris. Robert Morris. It's a team that draws up bad feelings in my stomach. The Colonials beat Kentucky (without Nerlens Noel, mind you) in the first round of the NIT And yes, you read that correctly. It was in the NIT But that was several years ago. So I won't let that color my judgment in predicting the winner of this one. But Drexel wins.

As much as I'd love to pick the Dragons just because of the 2013 NIT loss, I can actually use a common opponent as my reasoning. Robert Morris just beat Rider by three points Wednesday night. The same Rider team that Drexel beat by 12. So I'll go with that.

Drexel 75, Robert Morris 70

Prediction Records
Sean Kane:
Amy Fadool: 3-7

No. 1 Villanova hands Georgetown worst loss in decades

USA Today Images

No. 1 Villanova hands Georgetown worst loss in decades


WASHINGTON -- After watching Villanova make 3-pointer after 3-pointer and build a hard-to-fathom lead -- 20, then 30, eventually all the way up to 44 -- Georgetown coach Patrick Ewing did not want to offer any sort of assessment about what this game indicates about his team's status in relation to the No. 1 Wildcats.


"I'm not even thinking about that," Ewing said. "All I'm thinking about is that they're a good team and tonight was their night. That's it."

Wright and Villanova gave Ewing a rude welcome back to the schools' rivalry, handing the Hoyas their worst loss in more than 40 years, 88-56 on Wednesday night.

"I've had my butt kicked before -- fortunately it was as a player -- and all I can do is get ready for the next one," Ewing said. "You can't dwell on it. Just got to look at the film and make adjustments and get ready for the next game."

Jalen Brunson led the way with 18 points and seven assists for Villanova (17-1, 5-1 Big East), which finished 17 for 33 on 3s, while Georgetown went 4 for 15.

Mikal Bridges scored 17 for the Wildcats, winners of seven consecutive games against the Hoyas, Villanova's longest streak in a series that dates to 1922.

"I'm just happy to be on this side of it. I've been on the other side. I feel for those guys, because we've been there," Villanova coach Jay Wright said.

"Patrick's doing a great job with this program. They're very organized. They know what they want to do," Wright said. "And he's going to build this thing."

The last time Ewing faced Villanova in any capacity was in the last game of his college playing career at Georgetown, a surprising 66-64 victory for the underdog Wildcats in the 1985 NCAA championship game. It was quite clear, quite quickly, on Wednesday that there would be no such tight outcome --nor any chance of an upset by Georgetown (12-6, 2-5).

Villanova went on an 18-0 tear to go ahead 31-8 and that was that for any semblance of drama.

"This is our first game where we were just blown out from the beginning," said Jessie Govan, who led the Hoyas with 12 points.

Aided by a 1-2-2 press that Brunson said he thought "may have got to them a little bit," Villanova led 42-20 at halftime. Until then, Georgetown had more turnovers (nine) than made baskets, shooting 8 for 26, including 0 for 8 on 3s.

Asked about the 18-point run, Ewing replied: "I don't even remember."

This is his first season as a head coach at any level, and he opted to go with an easy-as-can-be non-conference schedule to try to build his players' confidence. Now that league play is underway, especially against a foe like Villanova, the gap between the Hoyas and the best teams is obvious.

Villanova just kept pushing the margin after the break, going up by 30, then 40, and then reaching the apex at 88-44 on a layup by Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree with about 3 minutes remaining. Less than a minute later, Wright finally sent on the subs and pulled any remaining starters.

"It's always fun," Brunson said, "when our team's making shots."

Big picture
Villanova: Since its only loss, 101-93 at Butler on Dec. 30, Villanova has won four games in a row, propelled by an efficient offense that gets a lot of its work done from beyond the arc.

Georgetown: This was the Hoyas' largest margin of defeat since a 33-point loss to Maryland, 104-71, on Dec. 10, 1974.

Injured and ill
Villanova: Collin Gillespie returned from a broken hand and had two points, three rebounds and two assists in 15 minutes. ... Reserves Tim Delaney and Jermaine Samuels sat out with a virus.

Georgetown: Backup PG Trey Dickerson left in the first half with a back spasm and did not return.

Up next
Villanova: Travels to UConn on Saturday in a matchup between former Big East rivals and the Wildcats' first game at Hartford in five years. Villanova is 12-0 in non-conference games heading into the last one on their schedule.

Georgetown: Hosts St. John's on Saturday, the teams' second meeting in less than two weeks. The Hoyas won 69-66 at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 9.

Villanova aims to keep momentum after huge win

AP Images

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.
: 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.
: 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
: 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.
: 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
: 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.
: 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