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No. 1 Villanova-Temple observations: Jalen Brunson tortures Owls again

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No. 1 Villanova-Temple observations: Jalen Brunson tortures Owls again

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For the third straight season, Big 5 blood rivals Villanova and Temple met with the Wildcats holding the No. 1 ranking in all the land.

And for the third straight season, the team from the Main Line showed just why it’s earned that distinction at the Owls’ expense.

Junior preseason All-American Jalen Brunson starred with a sparkling 31-point performance and redshirt freshman big man Omari Spellman wasn’t far behind with 27 of his own (and eight boards) as the duo led Villanova to a thorough 87-67 pasting of Temple at the Liacouras Center on Wednesday night.

Jay Wright’s Wildcats improved to 11-0 on the season while Fran Dunphy’s Owls fell to 6-3.

In the last three meetings between the squads, Villanova has outscored Temple by a 248-193 margin.

Best team in the city. Best team in the country.

• The Owls didn’t do themselves any favors out of the gate as they dug themselves a hole by starting 1 of 12 from the field, including some ugly offerings from three-point land. In the meantime, Brunson asserted dominance with 10 points in a 1:57 span as the ‘Cats jumped to a 20-5 advantage. In that span, Brunson put an Owl in the spin cycle with a spectacular spinning drive and finish. And for the cherry on top, the star junior drilled two straight treys. If anything, Brunson staked his claim to legitimately be in the National Player of the Year conversation on this night.

• Brunson was so good, here’s another observation about him: he just has a thing for sticking it to Dunphy and the Owls, whom were hot and heavy on his recruiting trail. In the spring of 2015, Brunson, then a five-star recruit out of Lincolnshire, Illinois, was choosing between Temple, Villanova and Illinois. Brunson is a Temple legacy as his father and former NBA player Rick starred under John Chaney. But he eventually signed with Villanova. In three games against his father’s alma mater, Brunson has accounted for 69 points on 23 of 33 from the field, including 13 of 20 from downtown.

• How about Spellman? Here’s about him: he was awesome on Wednesday, doing it all over the court, hitting all seven of his attempts inside the arc and then drilling four more out of it. The 6-foot-9 forward has brilliant touch on his jumper as he entered a 43 percent three-point shooter. And that number only improved after torching the Owls for 27. He’s a matchup nightmare, perhaps like no other Wright has ever had at Villanova. That’s a scary thought.

• Temple’s defeat was certainly no fault of sophomore guard Quinton Rose, Temple’s leading scorer entering the game with 17.3 points per contest. With the Owls in a huge first-half hole, Rose got things cooking with three straight three-pointers that ignited a 13-0 run and cut a 20-point lead to just seven. But that’s as close as Temple would get. But still, Rose was a huge bright spot for Temple with a team-high 27 points on 9 for 12 shooting, including 5 of 6 from downtown.

• One night after helping lead the the Sixers to an OT victory in Minnesota, Ben Simmons was back on the court ... in his courtside seat taking in the action at the Liacouras Center next to former Temple star Dionte Christmas. Simmons’ head coach, Brett Brown, was also in attendance. A few seats to the left of Simmons, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney experienced the Big 5 rivalry up close.

• A quiet night for star and NBA draft prospect Mikal Bridges. The 6-7 uber-athlete, who entered the contest as Villanova’s leading scorer with 18.1 points per night, had just seven points on 3 for 10 shooting. Yes, Brunson and Spellman ran the show on Wednesday, but Bridges wasn’t his noticeable self. A far cry from the Gonzaga game at MSG last week when he dominated the ranked Zags at every turn. But the fact the ‘Cats dominated the way they did against a solid, talented Temple team is a testament to their depth. Even if one of the stars has off night like Bridges did Wednesday, there are still so many playmakers Wright can lean on. That depth, which the ‘Cats were lacking overall last season, makes Villanova as dangerous as ever. Think about that.

• An even quieter night for versatile Temple senior forward Obi Enechionyia. In fact, barely a peep. Poor shooting and a strong Villanova defensive effort contributed to that as the senior had just three points on 1 for 7 from the field. Temple needs more from him. Heard in the crowd after Enechionyia missed a free throw in the second half: “That’s why he’s at Temple and not Villanova.”

• The victory extended Villanova’s record Big 5 winning streak to 22 games. The last time the ‘Cats lost a Big 5 game was on Dec. 5, 2012, when Scootie Randall dropped 21 points to lead Temple to a 76-61 triumph at the Pavilion. Eleven of the last 12 wins in the streak have come by at least 10 points, the only exception being Sunday’s 77-68 decision over La Salle. Ladies and gents, that’s called domination.

• Villanova is back in action next Thursday with a visit to Nassau Coliseum to face Hofstra, Wright’s former school where he coached from 1994-2001. Temple stays in the City 6 to host Drexel this Saturday.

Villanova aims to keep momentum after huge win

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

Alabama reclaims national title with epic OT comeback

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Alabama reclaims national title with epic OT comeback

ATLANTA -- To add another championship to the greatest dynasty college football has ever seen, Alabama turned to its quarterback of the future, and Tua Tagovailoa proved that his time is now.

The freshman quarterback, who had played mostly mop-up duty this season, came off the bench to spark a comeback and threw a 41-yard touchdown to DeVonta Smith that gave No. 4 Alabama a 26-23 overtime victory against No. 3 Georgia on Monday night for the College Football Playoff national championship.

Tagovailoa entered the game at halftime, replacing a struggling Jalen Hurts, and threw three touchdown passes to give the Crimson Tide its fifth national championship since 2009 under coach Nick Saban.

"He just stepped in and did his thing," Hurts said. "He's built for stuff like this. I'm so happy for him." The Tide might have a quarterback controversy ahead of them, but first Alabama will celebrate another national title.

For the third straight season, Alabama played in a classic CFP final. The Tide split two with Clemson, losing last season on touchdown with a second left.

What was Saban thinking as the winning pass soared?

"I could not believe it," he said. "There's lots of highs and lows. Last year we lost on the last play of the game and this year we won on the last play of the game. These kids really responded the right way. We said last year, `Don't waste the feeling.' They sure didn't, the way they played tonight."

Smith streaked into the end zone and moments later confetti rained and even Saban seemed almost giddy after watching maybe the most improbably victory of his unmatched career.

After Alabama kicker Andy Pappanastos missed a 36-yard field goal that would have won it for the Tide (13-1) in the final seconds of regulation, Georgia (13-2) took the lead with a 51-yard field goal from Rodrigo Blankenship in overtime.

Tagovailoa took a terrible sack on Alabama's first play of overtime, losing 16 yards. On the next play he found Smith, another freshman, and hit him in stride for the national championship.

This game will be remembered for Saban's decision to change quarterbacks trailing 13-0.

"I just thought we had to throw the ball, and I felt he could do it better, and he did," Saban said. "He did a good job, made some plays in the passing game. Just a great win. I'm so happy for Alabama fans. Great for our players. Unbelievable."

Saban now has six major poll national championships, including one at LSU, matching the record set by the man who led Alabama's last dynasty, coach Paul Bear Bryant.

This one was nothing like the others.

The all-Southeastern Conference matchup was all Georgia in the first half before Saban pulled Hurts and went with the five-star recruit from Hawaii.

The Tide trailed 20-7 in the third quarter after Georgia's freshman quarterback Jake Fromm, hit Mecole Hardman for an 80-yard touchdown pass that had the Georgia fans feeling good about ending a national title drought that dates back to 1980.

A little less than a year after the Atlanta Falcons blew a 25-point lead and lost in overtime to the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl, there was more pain for many of the local fans. Two years ago, Georgia brought in Saban's top lieutenant, Kirby Smart, to coach the Bulldogs and bring to his alma mater a dose of Alabama's Process.

Smart, who spent 11 seasons with Saban, eight as his defensive coordinator, quickly built Alabama East. It was Georgia that won the SEC this season. Alabama had to slip into the playoff without even winning its own division.

With the title game being held 70 miles from Georgia's campus in Athens, Dawg fans packed Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but it turned out to be sweet home for Alabama.

But not without angst.

Alabama drove into the red zone in the final minute and Saban started playing for a field goal that would end the game and win it for the Tide. A nervous quiet gripped the crowd of 77,430 as `Bama burned the clock. With the ball centered in the middle of the field, Pappanastos lined up for a kick to win the national championship. The snap and hold looked fine, but the kicked missed badly to the left.

For the second straight week, Georgia was going to overtime. The Bulldogs beat Oklahoma in a wild Rose Bowl in double overtime to get here, and after Jonathan Ledbetter and Davin Bellamy sacked Tagovailoa for a big loss on the first play, Alabama was in trouble -- second-and-26.

Not for long. Tagovailoa looked off the safety threw the biggest touchdown pass in the history of Alabama football.