Fastbreak Friday: For Villanova, St. John's a tricky foe

Fastbreak Friday: For Villanova, St. John's a tricky foe

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 (16-1, 4-1 Big East) at St. John's (8-10, 2-3 Big East), Saturday at Noon

SK: Villanova bounced back from its first loss of the season with a pair of blowout victories. The third-ranked Wildcats beat Marquette 93-81 on Saturday after leading by as many as 30 points in the second half. Villanova went on to dismantle No. 15 Xavier 79-54 on Wednesday, running their Pavilion winning streak to a school-record 46 games.

Xavier — generally considered the second best team in the Big East over the last handful of years — has been outscored by a combined 92 points in its four visits to the Pavilion.

The Wildcats arrive at a tricky spot Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden. St. John's played Villanova tough in both meetings last year, and the Red Storm is much improved this season. Just in case Jay Wright needs any motivation for his guys, all he needs to do is mention that St. John's beat Butler, the only team to beat Villanova this season. 

Expect Villanova's seniors to once again lead the way on Saturday. The trio of Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds combined to score 50 points on Wednesday against Xavier. It is especially encouraging to see Jenkins hit his stride. He's averaging 21 points in his last two games, shooting 57 percent from the field and 10 of 17 from three-point range. 

For some perspective on the Villanova senior class, it's now 113-14 in four years on the Main Line, including 52-7 in Big East play. Hart, Jenkins and Reynolds went 16-0 against Big 5 opponents and have yet to lose a game at the Pavilion. They need four more wins to break the school record of 117 career victories set last year by Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu. Factor in a national championship and three straight Big East championships, and this group is well on its way to becoming the most accomplished class in the long, storied history of Villanova basketball.

While the seniors will once again be leaned on heavily Saturday, I'll be keeping a close eye on the continued development of redshirt freshman Donte DiVincenzo. With Phil Booth out indefinitely with a knee injury, DiVincenzo finds himself playing a key role for Villanova. He's the only guard off the bench and Wright depends on him to provide a spark at both ends of the floor. 

DiVincenzo delivered the best performance of his young career against Xavier with 10 points, four rebounds, three assists and a steal in a season-high 32 minutes. He's an explosive athlete on the wing who is also capable of bringing the ball up the floor when Jalen Brunson is resting. 

If Villanova is going to make another deep run into late March and possibly early April, DiVincenzo will have to be a big part of it. Expect him to make more progress against St. John's. 

Villanova 79, St. John's 69

Tulsa (8-7, 2-1 AAC) at Temple (10-8, 1-4 AAC), Saturday at 4 p.m.

AF: The Owls were riding high earlier in the season. They beat several ranked teams en route to winning the preseason NIT, and it appeared that the young roster would be exceeding expectations, especially when you consider the injuries that have hit hard. Fun fact: The only loss on ninth-ranked Florida State's record came courtesy of the Temple Owls. But the two teams have gone in opposite directions. 

Temple is coming off a rough stretch, dropping four of its last five. Most recently was a disappointing effort this week in a 14-point loss to UConn in Temple's first ever trip to Gampel Arena (usually they play in Hartford).

Obi Enechionyia, the Owls' leading scorer and rebounder, did not come with his best effort. The junior forward played 30 minutes and scored only seven points on 3-for-17 shooting. That's just never going to work out to a win for any team. And for that team, shooting 36 percent overall from the field, it was a game they'd rather forget, on both ends of the court as UConn shot 53 percent. So let's move on. I'm sure Fran Dunphy is preaching that to his guys this week. They have only one win in the conference and this weekend is a prime opportunity to pick up a second. 

Tulsa is a streaky team. The Golden Hurricane have two wins in their last five games. In one, they scored 61 points in an overtime game; in the other, they scored 81. So good luck trying to pin down their style. The 61-59 overtime win came over UConn, the same Huskies team that put up 73 against Temple. So Temple needs to get Tulsa to play its game and slow the game down. A low-scoring game definitely can work in the Owls' favor and Tulsa can have its cold shooting nights as well.

I'm playing catch-up in the Fastbreak Friday prediction record. I feel like Tulsa probably wins this one. Temple is going the wrong way. But I also don't think Dunphy's crew puts together back-to-back poor efforts. I'm going with the Owls at home.

Temple 66, Tulsa 63

Richmond (10-6, 4-0 Atlantic 10) at Saint Joseph's (8-7, 2-2 Atlantic 10), Saturday at 12:30 p.m.

SK: St. Joe's enters this matchup following losses in two of its last three games. The Hawks are still trying to find their way without leading scorer Shavar Newkirk, who suffered a season-ending knee injury two weeks ago. It's tough to overstate just how much Newkirk meant to this St. Joe's team — his production on the offensive end of the floor simply can't be replaced.

Lamarr Kimble, James Demery and freshman Charlie Brown will each be asked to take on a bigger role moving forward. They combined for 51 points on Wednesday, but it wasn't enough in a 75-67 loss to George Mason. 

The road doesn't get any easier Saturday against Richmond, which has yet to lose a game in conference play. The Spiders are led by senior forward T.J. Cline, who is averaging 17.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists — all team-highs.

Cline is the son of legendary women's player and coach Nancy Lieberman and very much fits the part of a coach's son. He is well-schooled in the fundamentals of the game and is a terrific all-around player. I expect Cline to carry Richmond to a hard-fought road win over St. Joe's.

Richmond 71, St. Joe's 67

George Washington (9-8, 1-3 Atlantic 10) at La Salle (9-5, 3-1 Atlantic 10), Sunday at 4:30 p.m.

AF: The Explorers are coming off an impressive Rhode win (get it) over Rhode Island on Thursday night. They stormed out to a 43-22 lead at the half. You read that correctly, a 21-point lead on a Rams team that came in just ahead of the Explorers in the Atlantic 10 standings. Dr. John Giannini's team has been on quite the tear lately, and this Rhode Island win is just the latest positive feather in its cap. The Explorers have won five of their last six games and are averaging just over 86 points a game in those five wins. Talk about getting hot and at the right time. Amar Stukes, a player who was averaging about six points a game, was on fire against the Rams on Thursday night. He was 4 for 6 from the floor and made 13 of 14 free throws for a career-high 22 points. And as a team, they came out and shot a blistering 65 percent in the first 20 minutes. All the transfers seem to have gotten on the same page, and things are really clicking for this La Salle team. 

The Explorers are out to a 3-1 start in conference play and are currently third in the standings. That number could and should increase to four conference wins this Sunday when they welcome George Washington to the Gola. 

The Colonials are trending in the opposite direction of the Explorers. GW has lost four of its last five, posting 63 points on average in those losses. There was a time that it looked like the squad would make a little noise in the Atlantic 10. But after the recent losses, going back to December, has the Colonials in 10th place in the A-10. Tyler Cavanaugh, their leading scorer at over 16 points a game, only posted six against VCU in the 85-55 loss on Wednesday night. That is a blueprint for beating GW, one I think that La Salle will use.

La Salle 80, George Washington 68

Yale (8-5, 0-0 Ivy League) at Pennsylvania (6-6, 0-1 Ivy League), Friday at 8 p.m.
Brown (9-7, 0-0 Ivy League) at Pennsylvania (6-6, 0-1 Ivy League), Saturday at 8 p.m.

SK: Ivy League play officially shifts into high gear with the first of the "back-to-back weekends" that have long been a staple of this storied conference. Despite Penn's loss to Princeton in the league opener last weekend, I'm still bullish on the Quakers' chances of making some noise in the Ivy and advancing to the league's inaugural 4-team conference tournament at the Palestra in March. 

The schedule makers didn't do Steve Donahue any favors with Yale coming to town Friday on the heels of Penn's loss at Princeton. That's a brutal two games to begin conference play. 

Yale is the defending Ivy League champs, a team that won 23 games a year ago and came within a narrow loss to Duke from advancing to the Sweet 16. To be fair, the Bulldogs lost most of their firepower from last year's team. But this is still a program that has established a winning culture under James Jones.

I look for Yale to edge out Penn in a tightly-contested game on Friday. But expect the Quakers — led by freshman big man A.J. Brodeur — to get their first conference win Saturday against Brown.

Yale 65, Penn 62
Penn 68, Brown 56

Delaware (7-11, 0-5 CAA) at Drexel (6-11, 0-4 CAA), Saturday at 4 p.m.

AF: The good news in this game, one of these teams will post its first conference win of the season. And it will be a welcome relief. Neither team has posted a win in the 2017 calendar year. Both teams have lost five in a row. Most recently, the Dragons lost 92-75 to Northeastern, a team they took to overtime and lost just after the first of the year. Drexel had been getting reliable scoring from its top three players, Rodney Williams, Kurk Lee and Sammy Mojica. But if one of those is having an off night, it spells L-O-S-S for the Dragons. They need total team efforts from their top three and for another player to step up. Zach Spiker's team actually shot well in the Thursday night loss to Northeastern. The Dragons shot 47.5 percent from the field, including 41 percent from three-point territory. They were only outrebounded by four and turned the ball over eight times. Those are usually stats for a victory. But they struggled mightily on the defensive end against the Huskies. And that was the game. 

Delaware meanwhile is coming off a similarly disappointing defensive effort against Towson. The Tigers scored 83 points on the Blue Hens, 47 in the first half. The Blue Hens had only one player in double figures in that loss, as Ryan Daly had 17 points. It's no surprise he leads the team with nearly 14 points a game, but the Blue Hens have trouble scoring consistently. In four of their last five losses, they scored 56 points or less. Hard to win many games like that.

I think that's why this one will go to the home team.

Drexel 62, Delaware 58

Prediction Records
Sean Kane: 15-3
Amy Fadool: 11-6

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

USA Today Images

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