Villanova's Jay Wright set for emotional game vs. former team

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Villanova's Jay Wright set for emotional game vs. former team

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.

Hofstra (7-4) vs. No. 1 Villanova (11-0), Friday 8:30 p.m. at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York
This will be top-ranked Villanova's final non-conference game before the Big East portion of the schedule begins next week. For the sake of accuracy, the Wildcats do have an additional non-conference matchup remaining — a late January visit to UConn that is sandwiched in the middle of conference play. But for all intents and purposes, Friday night's game with Hofstra signifies the end of the first chapter of Villanova's season. 

This is technically a home game for Villanova, albeit one that will be played significantly closer to the Hofstra campus. While it's a game the Wildcats should win handily, it's also a night that will have tremendous meaning for Villanova head coach Jay Wright.   

Wright was the head coach at Hofstra for seven seasons — from 1994 until 2001 — when he left to become the head coach at Villanova. This will be the first time he faces his former team during his 17-year tenure at Villanova. Wright's stay at Hofstra was brief but significant. He took over a program that had fallen on tough times and transformed it into one of the top mid-major programs in the country. Wright's final two seasons with the Pride ended with consecutive conference championships and trips to the NCAA Tournament.

Wright’s career path nearly took a detour that would have prevented him from making the move from Hofstra to Villanova. He was the frontrunner for several head coaching positions in the spring of 2001, most notably Rutgers. Wright was very close to accepting the Rutgers job. So close that Villanova decided to part ways with Steve Lappas in an 11th-hour effort to try to bring Wright back to Villanova, where he was an assistant under Rollie Massimino from 1987-1992.

In the end, the choice was an easy one. Villanova was home for Wright and the Wildcats head coaching position represented his dream job. He accepted Villanova’s offer in March of 2001 and the rest is history.

Since signing on with Villanova, Wright has built the program into a national power and established himself as one of the premier coaches in the country. It’s simply a matter of time before he will be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. 

His résumé speaks for itself. This will be the 13th time in the last 14 years that Wright has guided Villanova to the NCAA Tournament. He’s been to five Sweet 16s, two Final Fours and won a national championship in 2016. 

Villanova has won 140 games since the start of the 2013-2014 season, the most in the country over that time period. This recent run of success also includes four straight Big East championships, two Big East Tournament titles and an unprecedented 22-game Big 5 winning streak. This is the third straight season that the Wildcats have reached No. 1 in the national polls.

There is no disputing Wright is presiding over the best era in the history of Villanova basketball. He’s been able to do so thanks to a head coaching foundation that was formed during his seven years at Hofstra, a school and program that will always hold a special place in his heart.

Villanova 84, Hofstra 65

Temple (7-3) at Georgia (8-2), Friday, 1 p.m.
 Temple is headed out of the city once again to face an opponent on the road. The Owls had six days off after squeaking by Drexel last weekend and face Georgia in their building Friday afternoon. Temple might welcome a change of scenery too because its last two games in Philadelphia weren’t exactly ones to write home about. 

First, there was the 20-point loss to Villanova. Yes, the Wildcats are the top team in the nation, so you could look past that one. But then it was a holding-on-for-dear-life type of win over Drexel last Saturday that might be more worrisome for Fran Dunphy. Temple allowed the Dragons to go on two separate and substantial runs in the second half to get back in the game they were all but out of. In fact, with a little over a minute to go, it was all tied up. If not for some timely foul shooting by Obi Enechionyia, the Dragons would’ve completed the comeback to take down their Philadelphia neighbors. 

Against the Dragons, the Owls shot poorly from the field — just 39 percent — and even worse from behind the arc at 28 percent. They can’t afford to have too many off nights like that if they hope to make any run in conference play. And the Owls definitely can’t keep letting teams back in games where they have a double-digit lead. 

Next up, a date with Georgia in Athens. And before you say it, yes, Georgia has a basketball team. It’s not only football down there, but it is mainly football. 

Mark Fox has done a commendable job in Athens and he has more coming down the pike. Georgia actually just received a commitment from a bonafide five-star recruit. Fox knows he’ll never beat football, but he wants the Bulldogs to at least compete for attention. Fox came to Georgia as a Coach-of-the-Year winner while at Nevada. And he got the Bulldogs back to the tournament. So they are not just a fluke football school. They also just downed their arch-rival Georgia Tech by 21 points. 

I expect this one to be tight and that usually favors Temple. Perhaps the Owls like the challenge. But this one might be too much as Georgia has yet to lose at home this season. I think that trend continues. As much as I’d like for Temple’s success on the road to come into play, it won’t. 

Georgia 79, Temple 73 

La Salle (6-6) at Bucknell (5-7), Friday, 7 p.m.
 The Explorers bounced back nicely from the hard-fought, close loss to Villanova with an impressive shooting performance against Mercer. 

In the win over Mercer, the Explorers made a season-high 16 three-pointers, just two shy of the school record. With 10 long-range shots going down in the first half, they jumped out to a 20-point halftime lead. Mercer did mount quite a comeback, going on a 17-2 run in the second half. But the Explorers withstood the barrage and that showed me something. At other times this season, when an opponent came back or took a lead, La Salle has struggled to maintain its poise. But as it's approaching conference play, it seems as though the team is coming together.

The Explorers' last game before Atlantic-10 play is Bucknell. The Bison showed early promise the season, with a two-point loss to Maryland and hanging tough with North Carolina. But they’ve struggled as of late. They are a senior-laden team with three veteran players who lead the way. Zach Thomas averages over 22 points and nearly nine rebounds. So the Explorers will have to contend with him as well as Nana Foulland and Steven Brown. 

But I like La Salle in this one, even on the road. It's rounding into form as a team and I think it'll finish its non-conference schedule strong. 

La Salle 76, Bucknell 70

Prediction Records
Sean Kane:
Amy Fadool: 5-8

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