NCAA

Will Villanova suffer uncharacteristic 2nd consecutive loss?

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Will Villanova suffer uncharacteristic 2nd consecutive loss?

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.

Butler (17-8, 7-5 Big East) at No. 1 Villanova (22-2, 9-2 Big East), Saturday at Noon
SK: Coming off Wednesday's home loss to a St. John's team that came in with a 0-11 conference mark, top-ranked Villanova has arrived at a crossroads of what's been a tremendous season to this point. The sky certainly isn't falling with the Wildcats sitting at 22-2 overall and 9-2 in the Big East. But the combination of injuries to a pair of starters and a difficult portion of the schedule will test Villanova in a way it hasn't been tested this season.

Phil Booth will likely miss another four weeks as he recovers from a broken hand. Villanova had been doing an admirable job playing without Booth the last two weeks, thanks mainly to its backcourt depth. Then came Wednesday's news that Eric Paschall will miss at least a week with a concussion. Paschall's absence loomed large in the St. John's loss — he's a huge part of how the Wildcats like to operate on both ends of the floor. No one else on the Villanova roster has Paschall's skill set. He had really picked up his offensive game in the last month to complement his always steady rebounding and interior defense.

Then there's freshman forward Jermaine Samuels, who just returned from a hand injury and is nowhere close to 100 percent. It's not difficult to see that the injury bug has officially taken its toll on this Villanova team.

No one is going to feel sorry for the Wildcats, who must now figure out a way to bounce back for Saturday's visit from a Butler team that not only beat them in late December but also has beaten them three straight times. I've written many times before in this column that Villanova has not lost two straight games since March of 2013. That streak will hang in the balance Saturday afternoon. Following the Butler game, the Wildcats hit the road for games at Providence and No. 5 Xavier, which currently has a half-game lead over Villanova in the Big East standings. These next three games will go a long way in determining whether the Wildcats will win a fifth straight Big East regular-season championship.

Shooting will be the name of the game in Saturday's matchup with Butler. The Bulldogs shot a blistering 68 percent from three in their win over Villanova earlier this season. The Wildcats, meanwhile, will try to rediscover their efficiency from long range after converting on just 8 of 33 three-point attempts against St. John's.

I view Mikal Bridges as the key to Villanova's being able to survive this stretch without Booth and Paschall. Specifically, a more assertive Mikal Bridges. He needs to step up his game and become a more consistent threat on the offensive end of the floor. With Bridges, Jalen Brunson and Donte DiVincenzo leading the charge, Villanova still has plenty of available firepower. Something tells me we'll see Bridges in attack mode against Butler. Expect a big game from Bridges to snap Villanova's three-game losing streak against Butler.

Villanova 79, Butler 70

Temple (14-10, 6-6 AAC) at South Florida (8-17, 1-11 AAC), Saturday at Noon
AF: Don’t look now, but the Owls are on a bit of a roll. Actually, you should look, because it seems Fran Dunphy’s team may have figured some things out. The Owls have won four in a row and six of their last seven. The lone blemish in that span is a poor performance against the top-10 ranked Cincinnati Bearcats, a game in which they never really competed. 

The biggest reason for the turnaround seems to be a more balanced scoring attack. Dunphy is finding points and second-chance points, thanks to rebounds, from some previously unlikely places. Freshman J.P. Moorman just posted his first double-double of the season against ECU, and his 12 rebounds in the win over the Pirates was the most by a Temple player all season.  The junior center Ernest Aflakpui scored in the double figures for just the third time this season, despite starting all 24 games for the Owls this year.

It’s things like that which need to go Dunphy's and the Owls' way if they want to make any kind of run in the AAC Tournament. Because, at the end of the day, making the NCAA Tournament is what it’s all about and the only way Temple gets in this year is with the automatic bid.

This isn’t a resume-padding win this weekend but it is a chance to move up in the conference standings against the AAC cellar-dweller.

Temple 76, USF 65

Massachusetts (11-13, 4-7 A-10) at Saint Joseph's (9-14, 4-7 A-10), Saturday at 4 p.m.
AF: While Temple is one of the hotter teams in the city, unfortunately for Hawks fans, their St. Joe’s team is at the opposite end of the temperature spectrum, having lost five straight.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen injuries derail a season in such a big way, outside of the Sixers of course. But the loss of Charlie Brown coupled with Lamarr Kimble has been catastrophic for the Hawks.

Brown broke his wrist at the beginning of the season back in October and was thought to miss a few weeks. But those weeks have come and gone two to three times over. At the beginning of January, Brown’s wrist was reevaluated and doctors deemed it to be healing slowly, enough that he’s back in a cast for at least another three weeks. And here we are at the end of the first week of February and no sign of Brown.

I can only imagine the frustration he feels and that Phil Martelli feels, but the team reiterated that Brown’s health was most important. It is, and not just because Brown has NBA-caliber talent. But let’s move on to how the Hawks can break out of their longest slump of the season.

They’ve been in almost all of those losses in that stretch, and aside from their most recent loss to Davidson, the previous four were by an average of 4.5 points. Is it better to lose close games and know you had the chance, or get blown out and realize you were just not the better team? Not sure, but unfortunately for the Hawks, they have enough of a sample size of both to judge for themselves. 

UMass comes to Hagan Arena this weekend and is neck and neck with St. Joe’s in the standings. And like the Hawks, the Minutemen have been in quite a few close games, beating Davidson in double-overtime by six and losing by only two points to No. 18 Rhode Island before that.

This isn’t the ideal matchup for the Hawks, but I’m feeling the good vibes of the Super Bowl parade. I’m coming off a very good weekend in my prediction record so I shouldn’t tempt the fates, but I’m going with the Hawks. 

Saint Joseph’s 72, UMass 70 

Penn (16-6, 6-0 Ivy) at Dartmouth (4-15, 0-6 Ivy), Friday at 7 p.m.
Penn (16-6, 6-0 Ivy) at Harvard (10-11, 5-1 Ivy), Saturday at 4 p.m.

SK: Penn hits the road this weekend to put its perfect Ivy League record on the line. The Quakers are coming off a convincing 17-point win at Princeton, sweeping the season series from the Tigers and collecting their first win at Princeton in nine years in the process. Penn got typical solid performances from A.J. Brodeur and Ryan Betley in the victory, but the story of the game was Darnell Forman's career-high 21 points. The senior guard made seven of eight field goal attempts and added five rebounds and five assists.

First up for Penn this weekend: A visit to a Dartmouth team still looking for its first conference win. Then it's a trip to Harvard, which is right on Penn's heels in the conference standings. I'm tempted to pick Harvard to win on Saturday but I can't go against the Quakers considering how well they're playing at the moment. Look for Penn's offensive execution to roll along and generate a pair of wins this weekend.

Penn 71, Dartmouth 63
Penn 68, Harvard 64

La Salle (10-14, 4-7 A-10) at St. Louis (13-12, 6-6 A-10), Saturday at 8 p.m.
AF: The Explorers are so up and down right now, they might as well be on a roller coaster. That’s at least what their fans feel like. I know that because at NBC Sports Philadelphia we have one of the biggest La Salle fans in the region working here. Andrew ‘Iceman’ Greth is currently riding the high of the Eagles’ win but I know his Explorers are always on his mind. Their ‘win one, lose one’ pattern over the past six games is more than a bit frustrating.

La Salle can’t seem to string together back-to-back wins and that’s because they also have been able to string together back to back consistent efforts on either the offensive or defensive side of the ball. Some of that does have to do with injuries, and missing players from your normal rotation does affect chemistry, but there might be more to it than that. It may be just too many individual efforts and not a collective team effort that is leading the Explorers to such a varying record. As a Kentucky fan, especially this year, I can attest to having five individuals playing rather than one team and the disappointing results.

And now I’ve managed to reference the Wildcats and our co-worker without getting into the Explorers’ next game. But you needed to know those things to see why this one against the Billikens isn’t going to help solve the Explorers woes.

Saint Louis is a very good defensive team, holding opponents in the mid-60s in scoring and the Billikens are on a good stretch, winning five of their last seven. No surprise their leading scorer is Michigan State transfer Javon Bess, but he’s not dominating the stats. There are four other Billikens within five points on average behind Bess. So they present a balanced scoring attack and will wear you down defensively to make you play their style of game. 

La Salle beat Saint Louis pretty handily over a month ago, but these two are much different than at the end of 2017.

Saint Louis 67, La Salle 65

Drexel (11-15, 5-8 CAA) at College of Charleston (19-6, 10-3 CAA), Saturday at 4 p.m.
AF: Talk about teams who’ve been on streaks, and you have to mention Drexel. The Dragons have earned some seemingly improbable wins in the last month, beating teams above them in the CAA standings like Northeastern and Elon. They’ve put together a four-game winning streak, which is impressive in its own right, but even more so when before that, they were on a five-game losing skid. It took a double-overtime effort from Towson to snap Drexel’s winning streak, or it too would be five games long.

Next up is a visit to College of Charleston, the team leading the way in the Colonial.  Drexel already took down the Cougars a month ago, but since then Charleston has been on a tear winning seven straight. I don’t see the Dragons snapping that, but if you look at their recent history, they might be just the team to do it.

Charleston 82, Drexel 70

Prediction records
Sean Kane: 21-9
Amy Fadool: 17-16

Big East game of the year on tap for Villanova

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Big East game of the year on tap for Villanova

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.
 
No. 3 Villanova (23-3, 10-3 Big East) at No. 4 Xavier (24-3, 12-2), Saturday at 4:30 p.m.
SK
: Villanova limps into Saturday's Top 5 showdown with No. 4 Xavier in both a literal and figurative sense. The third-ranked Wildcats will once again be without Phil Booth as he recovers from a broken hand. Eric Paschall is still rounding into form after returning from the concussion protocol in Wednesday's loss at Providence. Then there's Omari Spellman, who played against Providence with a facemask after suffering a facial fracture last weekend.
 
Injuries are the norm this time of year — every team in the country is dealing with them in some fashion. But there's no doubt that injuries to key players have taken their toll on the Wildcats, who have lost two of their last three games and didn't play particularly well in the one game they managed to win.

Wednesday's 76-71 loss to Providence was Villanova's worst performance of the season. The Wildcats turned the ball over 19 times, shot just 3 of 20 from three-point range and missed a handful of critical free throws. As a result, they trailed for the vast majority of the game, fighting an uphill battle they weren't able to win because of an uncharacteristic number of mental and physical mistakes.
 
But this is no time for Jay Wright's team to harp on the past. Regular-season games don't get much bigger than Saturday's visit to Xavier. Let's run through the checklist of what's at stake. The winner hops into the driver's seat in the race for the Big East regular-season championship, a title that Villanova has claimed in each of the last four seasons. If Villanova loses Saturday, it would fall two games behind Xavier in the loss column in the league standings. The Musketeers have just three games remaining after Saturday, so a two-game lead with three left pretty much wraps up the league title for Xavier. If Villanova wins Saturday, it would pull even with Xavier in the loss column but would own the tiebreaker thanks to a season sweep of the Musketeers. In that case, the Wildcats could win a fifth straight Big East regular-season championship by winning their remaining four games.
 
In addition to the regular-season league title, the accompanying No. 1 seed in the Big East Tournament also hangs in the balance. Most importantly, No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament are also on the line. At the moment, both Villanova and Xavier are projected as 1-seeds in the Field of 68 next month. Saturday's winner will strengthen its grip on a No. 1 seed by adding a Top 5 win to its resume. The loser will be in serious jeopardy of missing out on any chance to be on the top line come Selection Sunday.
 
There's also the possibility of Villanova losing two straight games for the first time since March 2013. The Wildcats take a lot of pride in being able to bounce back following a poor performance. They'll have a golden opportunity to display that characteristic yet again in front of a national audience on Saturday.
 
The Wildcats are well aware of the importance of this weekend's matchup with Xavier. But that doesn't mean they'll treat the game any differently than the rest of their games this season. The one-game-at-a-time mindset has served the Villanova program well over the last five years. Jalen Brunson personifies that approach, and I expect him to come out extra motivated following his worst game of the season at Providence.
 
Xavier has plenty going for it on Saturday. First and foremost, the Musketeers will be super motivated to essentially wrap up their first-ever Big East regular-season championship. Xavier is led by a senior class of Trevon Bluiett, JP Macura, Sean O'Mara and Kerem Kanter, a group that would like nothing more than to end their careers by dethroning Villanova as kings of the Big East. Xavier is also playing at home against a team that beat them by 24 points earlier this season, so the revenge factor is strong.
 
But I think the character of the Villanova program ends up carrying the day. Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo and Paschall have played in and won plenty of big games. For the first time in their careers, they are being doubted by people on the outside. I expect the Wildcats to seize this opportunity to show they're still the class of the Big East despite their recent struggles. Look for a few big plays from Brunson down the stretch.
 
Villanova 78, Xavier 75
 
Houston (20-5, 10-3 AAC) at Temple (15-11, 7-7), Sunday at 4 p.m.
AF: The Owls have found something at this point in the season, and it couldn’t come at a better time because February is the month it seems that the NCAA Tournament selection committee pays attention to the most. 
 
So it would have been a huge resume-builder if Temple was able to keep that lead over Top 20 ranked Wichita State on the road Thursday night. The Owls rained down 11 threes in the first half to build a 15-point lead. They scored 56 points in the opening frame, a season high. There was a game a month ago when Temple scored only 39 in the entire game.
 
The Shockers defense didn’t let that scoring continue in the second half, and they shut down Obi Enechionyia down the stretch. The senior did finish with 17 points, but he scored 11 of the Owls' first 13 points after the opening tip-off.
 
It was the first loss in six games for Fran Dunphy’s team. Coming in, the Owls had won five in a row and seven of their last eight. If they want to get back on the winning streak, they’ll have a tough test this weekend with Houston.
 
The Cougars just took down No. 5 Cincinnati for the program’s first win over a top-five team in over 20 years. It also gave Houston its 20th win of the season. One of the key factors in the upset win for Houston was offensive rebounds — 11 of them led to 17 second-chance points. When you are supposedly overmatched, taking advantage of those opportunities is key for pulling off the upset.
 
The good news is that Temple has been playing well and shooting well. The bad news is that so is Houston. But this one is at the Liacouras Center and it’s Hooter the Owl’s birthday party. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a sucker for mascots.
 
Temple 71, Houston 68
 
Penn (17-7, 7-1 Ivy) at Columbia (6-15, 3-5), Friday at 7 p.m.
Penn (17-7, 7-1 Ivy) at Cornell (9-12, 3-5), Saturday at 6:30 p.m.

SK: Penn has reached the midway point of the Ivy League schedule deadlocked with Harvard atop the conference standings. The Quakers missed an opportunity to take control of the league last weekend when they suffered their first conference loss at Harvard. But this weekend offers a chance to get back on the winning track against a pair of middling teams in Columbia and Cornell. Granted both games are on the road and as even the top-ranked teams in the country can attest, road games are no bargain this time of year.
 
The Quakers have no margin for error if they hope to win the Ivy League title and earn the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament. Penn beat both Columbia and Cornell earlier this season at the Palestra but both games were tightly contested. Sophomore big man AJ Brodeur continues to play the role of steadying force for Penn, averaging 17.0 points and 7.7 rebounds in his last three games. Brodeur put up a season-high 30 points in the first meeting of the season against Columbia. Look for another big effort by Brodeur on Friday to get Penn's weekend road trip off to a winning start.
 
Penn 70, Columbia 63
Penn 67, Cornell 60

 
Duquesne (15-11, 6-7 A-10) at Saint Joseph's (11-14, 6-7), Saturday at 6 p.m.
AF
: The Hawks picked up a rare road win this week when they took down Fordham Wednesday. Yes, the Rams are at the bottom of the Atlantic 10 standings, but a win is a win, and it snapped an eight-game road losing streak for St. Joe’s.
 
The Hawks are back home this weekend with a chance to make it three wins in a row when they welcome Duquesne to town. The Hawks' last two wins have come against teams below them in the conference standings. That will not be the case for the rest of February when they’ll face teams either tied with or above them in the A-10.
 
The Dukes are one such team at 6-7 in the standings, but they do have an overall winning record, something the Hawks nor their most recent opponents can say. Duquesne is much improved this year, already posting five more wins at this point than it had all of last season. Keith Dambrot has been a home-run hire for the Dukes, and if that name sounds familiar, you are either a big MAC fan, a big Akron Zips fan or a huge LeBron James fan. Dambrot coached LBJ in high school and is the winningest coach in Akron history.
 
So there are your fun facts for the day. I’d like to think that St. Joe’s has also turned a bit of a corner but they had a lackluster second half in the win over Fordham, a team much less talented than the Dukes squad coming in this weekend.
 
Duquesne 72, Saint Joseph’s 67
 
George Mason (12-14, 6-7 A-10) at La Salle (10-16, 4-9), Saturday at 2 p.m.
SK
: La Salle hasn't been showing much punch as the regular season winds down. The Explorers have lost three in a row and are 3-9 in their last 12. The latest setback came in the form of an 11-point home loss to St. Bonaventure on Tuesday. Sophomore guard Saul Phiri was a bright spot, scoring a career-high 22 points and knocking down 5 of 9 threes. It was an impressive performance for a guy averaging a little over six points per game on the season.
 
Saturday's visit from George Mason represents a chance for La Salle to rediscover a little winning mojo. The Patriots are only a couple games ahead of the Explorers in the A-10 standings but they've won three of their last four. It will be telling if the Explorers come out swinging Saturday afternoon or if they've already packed it in for the season. I expect a spirited effort. La Salle is every bit as talented as George Mason and more importantly in desperate need of some good vibes at this point in the season. Expect the Explorers to pull out a tight one and end their three-game losing skid.
 
La Salle 77, George Mason 74
 
Drexel (11-17, 5-10 CAA) at Hofstra (16-11, 9-6), Saturday at 4 p.m.
AF
: Earlier, I gave you some fun facts about Duquesne and its improvement from last season. So let’s continue that theme with Drexel. The Dragons already have two more wins than they did all of last season, and more importantly, they also already have two more conference wins than they earned all of last season. 
 
They’ve done that with some improbable wins over teams that, on paper, they should have lost handily to.
 
Thursday, it was almost another one of those type of wins for Drexel when it nearly took down one of the top CAA teams on the road with a narrow loss to Northeastern. Now, a chance to do it against Hofstra. The Pride are close to the top of the CAA, with a winning record and wins over Northeastern and William and Mary under their belts.
 
Yes, on paper this should be a Hofstra win. But I have picked Drexel to lose too many of these games this year and seemingly every time I do that, I get it wrong. So if I’m going down, I’m going down swinging. The Dragons are showing fight and firepower. They can score and defend with the best teams in their conference. Yes, it’s on the road, but I like them to snap their three-game losing streak.
 
Drexel 75, Hofstra 74
 
Prediction records
Sean Kane: 23-10
Amy Fadool: 21-16

Misery continues for lowly Delaware

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Misery continues for lowly Delaware

BOX SCORE

TOWSON, Md. -- Mike Morsell had 19 points and Brian Starr added 15 as Towson held Delaware to two points over the final four minutes to win 67-65 on Thursday night.

Delaware's Ryan Allen pulled up to shoot a 3-pointer in the final seconds, but Eddie Keith II blocked it to secure the win.

Trailing 63-61, Keith hit a jumper with 3:33 remaining to tie and Alex Thomas split a pair of free throws to give the Tigers a 64-63 lead with 2:49 left. Keith added another free throw and Starr dropped in two more before Delaware's Ryan Daley scored on a fast break to close to 67-65 with 14 seconds left.

Delaware had a 32-30 halftime advantage but the Tigers (18-10, 8-7 Colonial Athletic Association) won the second period 37-33. There were 16 ties and 12 lead changes in the game.

Morsell hit 3 of 6 from distance and Starr made 4 of 7 from the floor with two treys.

Ryan Daly and Anthony Mosley had 18 points apiece to lead Delaware (11-17, 4-11), who have lost nine straight.