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

No. 1 Villanova hands Georgetown worst loss in decades

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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

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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.
: 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