Fastbreak Friday

Fastbreak Friday: No. 6 Villanova ready for big things despite key losses

Fastbreak Friday: No. 6 Villanova ready for big things despite key losses

College basketball is back and so is Fastbreak Friday. Each Friday, NBC Sports Philadelphia anchor/reporter Amy Fadool and senior producer Sean Kane get you set for all the local college hoops action over the weekend. Look for this column every Friday during the college basketball season — we'll make predictions and keep track of our records throughout.

Columbia at No. 6 Villanova, Friday 8:30 p.m.
Villanova opens up against Columbia at the Wells Fargo Center, where the Wildcats will play 12 games this season while the Pavilion undergoes renovations. This is the first time these teams have met since 2012 when Columbia beat Villanova convincingly. It was a loss that served as a turning point for the Wildcats' season that year and eventually became the springboard for this unprecedented run of success Jay Wright's program has enjoyed.  

The Wildcats lost quite a bit of firepower from last season's team that won 32 games, Big East regular season and tournament championships, and spent a good chunk of the year as the No. 1 ranked team in the country. First-team All-American Josh Hart is now playing for the Lakers, while Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds also moved on. But Wright has been through this before. During this run, he's had to replace the likes of Ryan Arcidiacono, Daniel Ochefu, Darrun Hilliard and JayVaughn Pinkston.

The faces change but the results remain — Villanova has a 129-17 record (.883 win percentage) over the last four seasons, including a ridiculous 63-9 mark in conference play. Over that span, the Wildcats have won four straight Big East regular-season titles, two Big East Tournament championships and a national championship.

There's no reason to think that high level of success won't continue this season (see season preview). Wright reloads with first-team preseason All-American Jalen Brunson leading a group that also features Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo, Phil Booth, Omari Spellman and Eric Paschall. This Wildcats team will be significantly deeper than last year when the rotation was whittled down to six or seven players at times. Villanova figures to go nine-deep this year, with a handful of starting-caliber players coming off the bench.

Booth and Spellman are the keys. If Booth can stay healthy (he played just three games last season because of a knee injury) he gives the Wildcats a dynamic scoring option on the perimeter. Spellman, meanwhile, has the potential the be the best post player Wright has coached at Villanova. His offensive skills are NBA-caliber and he spent the last year getting himself in terrific shape after he was ruled academically ineligible prior to last season.

Expect more of the same from Villanova over the course of the next five months. The Wildcats will get the ball rolling with an easy win over Columbia.

Villanova 82, Columbia 59

Saint Joseph's at Toledo, Saturday 7 p.m.
 The Hawks open the season with realistic expectations of a return trip to the NCAA Tournament (see season preview). It could’ve been back-to-back years for Saint Joseph’s, if not for the injury bug that plagued the team throughout the season, but especially late. 

The Hawks lost four players to season-ending injuries. So this year, it probably comes as little surprise to Hawks fans that they begin the year with another key loss to the starting lineup. As a freshman, Charlie Brown earned All-Atlantic 10 honors thanks to his nearly 13 points and five rebounds per game. He played in every game for Phil Martelli, starting all but one of the Hawks' 31 games. But Brown begins the season on the shelf after undergoing surgery in late October to repair a wrist fracture. He’s expected to miss several weeks. If the Hawks can get through the first month or so of the season relatively unscathed, they should be set up nicely for conference play at the very end of the year, leading into 2018. But that’s no small feat with games against Princeton, Villanova and Temple all coming in the next four weeks. 

The Hawks open up on the road against Toledo, a middle of the pack MAC team. The good news is that the Rockets lost three of their starters from last season. The somewhat bad news is that they are a scoring machine, especially from beyond the arc; and they only added to that with Tre’Shaun Fletcher, a transfer from Colorado. Fletcher shot an impressive 40 percent from three in Pac-12 play two seasons ago and is now eligible for Toledo after sitting out a year. 

At this week’s Coaches vs. Cancer preseason luncheon, Coach Martelli said that defense isn’t as important as people think, cracking the joke that no championship has ever been won 2-0. But the other five city coaches in attendance all countered that notion, most notably Jay Wright, who pointed out that Martelli’s teams are always some of the best defensive teams in the country. Wright talked about the number of defensive rebounds the Hawks average and how St. Joe's also is a leader when it comes to not committing fouls.

That stingy and sound defense is going to help carry the Hawks through some tough games early on without one of their star players.

Saint Joseph’s 71, Toledo 68

Pennsylvania at Fairfield, Saturday 1 p.m.
I'm bullish on this Penn team. Bullish with a capital "B". They showed what they're capable of towards the tail end of last season when they made a surprising run to the Ivy League tournament and nearly knocked off top-seeded Princeton in the semifinals. I'll get my first prediction of the season out of the way — the Quakers will win the Ivy League this season and return to the NCAA Tournament. 

Penn will go as far as sophomore big man A.J. Brodeur takes them. I mean this as a compliment — Brodeur has no business playing in the Ivy League. He's the type of player who would more than hold his own in the Big East, ACC, Big Ten, or any other power conference. Brodeur led the team in scoring and rebounding last season as a freshman while setting a new program record for blocked shots in a season. He's poised to dominate the Ivy League as a sophomore.

Then there's Ryan Betley, who was the key to the Quakers' late-season surge a year ago. Betley missed the first month of his freshman season with a broken hand but returned to show why head coach Steve Donahue is so high on him. Betley is a fierce competitor with perimeter scoring skills to match. Factor in sharpshooter Jackson Donahue and the return of Antonio Woods, and this Penn team has the look of a 20-win team.

Look for the Quakers to start the season with a win at Fairfield on Saturday. 

Pennsylvania 71, Fairfield 60

St. Peter's at La Salle, Saturday 3 p.m.
It's a fresh start for La Salle, a team that endured its share of ups and downs last season. The Explorers ended up with a 15-15 record and 9-9 mark in A-10 play. It was the type of mediocre season than Dr. John Giannini plans to avoid this time around. 

Giannini has the talent on his roster to finish in the top half of the league standings. B.J. Johnson, Pookie Powell and Amar Stukes are a talented and experienced trio that should be able to hold their own against anyone in the A-10. The supporting cast will ultimately tell the story of this La Salle season — who steps up to make the difference in those close games the Explorers generally tend to find themselves in. 

La Salle opens up with St. Peter's, a team that won 23 games and a CIT title last season. One of the Peacocks' key players is Nnamdi Onechionyia, the brother of Temple senior Obi Onechionyia. The Onechionyia connection aside, this is a game La Salle should win. Expect the Explorers to start the season on a winning note Saturday afternoon.

La Salle 77, St. Peter's 68

Bowling Green at Drexel, Friday 7 p.m.
The Dragons enter this season in Year 2 with Zach Spiker at the helm and I expect improvement. And not just because they failed to reach the double-digit win total last year with a 9-23 record. But Spiker can win. He won at his previous stop, Army, and it is not an easy task to win games at a service academy. But Spiker did and was named 2013 Patriot League Coach of the year.  

One of the things working in Spiker’s and Drexel’s favor: Kurk Lee. Last season, he broke Drexel’s freshman scoring record with 478 points while posting top- CAA numbers in points, steals and assists. Lee will be the Dragons’ leading scorer and I expect Sammy Mojica to be right behind. The senior, who’s posted quality minutes since his freshman year, rounds out a good senior core with Miles Overton and Austin Williams. 

Drexel opens at home Saturday and that’s a good thing because Spiker’s squad was not a road warrior last season, going 4-14 away from the DAC. But they welcome in a Bowling Green team who also had a tough time on the road last year, winning only three away games. 

Drexel 68, Bowling Green 61

Fastbreak Friday: No. 2 Villanova looks to lock up top seed in East Region

Fastbreak Friday: No. 2 Villanova looks to lock up top seed in East Region

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. With the regular season ending this weekend, this is the final Fastbreak Friday column of this college basketball season.

No. 2 Villanova (27-3, 14-3 Big East) at Georgetown (14-16, 5-12 Big East), Saturday, Noon
SK: Second-ranked Villanova pays a visit to Georgetown on Saturday having already wrapped up a fourth straight Big East regular season championship. But the Wildcats still have plenty to play for -- namely the No. 1 seed in the East Region of the NCAA Tournament.

A win Saturday followed by a Big East Tournament title would lock up the top seed in the East for Villanova. But a loss at any point jeopardizes things depending on how other top teams around the country fare in their conference tournaments. 

There is also the possibility that the Wildcats could play Georgetown twice in the next five days thanks to a potential Big East quarterfinal matchup looming next week at Madison Square Garden. With that in mind, Villanova won't want to give the Hoyas any confidence heading into the postseason. Add it all up and there is plenty at stake for 'Nova on Saturday afternoon.

This game could be best summarized as a tale of two coaches. On one hand, there is Jay Wright, fresh off a national championship and guiding a 27-3 team into the regular season finale. Wright has had Villanova ranked in the Top 5 all season long, and he's done it without the services of two of his projected top seven players. Junior guard Phil Booth played just three games before knee soreness sidelined him for the remainder of the season. Then there's star freshman big man Omari Spellman, who was ruled academically ineligible in late September.

Factor in a rib injury to starting forward Darryl Reynolds three weeks ago (Reynolds is expected to return Saturday after missing the last five games) and Wright has been using a six-man rotation. Yet here are the Wildcats, in prime position to become only the third repeat national champions in the last 25 years. Wright has done some terrific coaching jobs during his 16 seasons at Villanova. This year ranks near the top of the list in my book.   

On the other hand, there is Georgetown's John Thompson III, presiding over a second straight dismal season that is destined to end without a NCAA Tournament appearance. Hoyas fans aren't accustomed to missing out on the Big Dance in back-to-back years, and the collective patience for Thompson has grown thin. 

Georgetown's 2007 Final Four run is a full decade old now and the Hoyas haven't advanced out of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament since. Georgetown was supposed to be a pillar of the new Big East when the league formed four years ago. Instead, it's been one of the worst teams in the conference the past two seasons and it seems the only thing saving Thompson's job at this point is his father's legendary status in the Georgetown program.

Villanova should finish the regular season strong at Georgetown's expense. Look for big outings from Washington, D.C. natives Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins accompanied by the typical steady play from point guard Jalen Brunson.

Villanova 80, Georgetown 70

Temple (15-15, 6-11 AAC) at South Florida (7-20, 1-15 AAC), Sunday 2 p.m.
AF: Temple had a bit of recent bad luck but is looking to end the season on a high note, facing the worst team in the American Athletic Conference. Before getting a win last week over Tulane, the Owls dropped two heartbreakers to Central Florida and UConn by a combined three points. 

That's how things have been for Temple this season. Call it snakebitten or just the way the cookie crumbles, it's not been an easy season for Fran Dunphy. But there is sunshine in the clouds, Tampa sunshine. Temple will travel to Tampa this weekend to face South Florida. The Bulls have only one conference win, and they lost by nine to the Owls last month. 

To add insult to injury, on the trip home from a loss to Houston last week, South Florida accidentally left two of its players behind at the airport. The guys had fallen asleep and no one realized they weren't on board until the flight was taking off. How's that for a metaphor of the Bulls' season? The players caught the next flight. And at least it wasn't a holiday like Christmas when they missed their flight. My co-author of this column knows all about that. But it's still not a great look for a struggling team. 

Shizz Alston continues to impress in his freshman season on North Broad. He's certainly seemed to be relishing the role of scorer as well as leader on the court. Look for big things from him next season. 

Temple will get a much-needed win this weekend before heading to Hartford for the conference tournament next week. 

No heartbreak here, only sunshine and a W for Temple. 

Temple 78, USF 68

Fordham (13-17, 7-10 A-10) at La Salle (14-14, 8-9 A-10), Saturday 2 p.m.
SK: It's a matchup of two middling A-10 teams to close out the regular season at Tom Gola Arena on Saturday. La Salle and Fordham occupy ninth and 10th place respectively in the conference standings.

It will be Senior Day for Jordan Price and the rest of the Explorers' seniors. Price sure could use a strong performance to wrap up the regular season -- he's averaging just 5.7 points and shooting 26.9 percent from the field in the last three games.

As a whole, La Salle has sputtered down the stretch. The Explorers are 3-9 in their last 12 games, a span of futility that began with an embarrassing 38-point loss at VCU and most recently featured a 15-point loss at lowly Saint Louis. There is some good news entering Saturday's matchup -- La Salle won by 15 at Fordham a month ago. 

The recent history between these two teams combined with the Senior Day festivities at Gola Arena has me leaning towards the Explorers. Loyal readers of this column know that La Salle has let me down several times this season, but I'm riding one last time with Price and company. The Explorers finish the regular season on a high note before heading west to Pittsburgh for the conference tournament next week.

La Salle 74, Fordham 68

Dartmouth (6-19, 3-9 Ivy League) at Pennsylvania (12-13, 5-7 Ivy Legaue), Friday 7 p.m.

Harvard (18-7, 10-2 Ivy League) at Pennsylvania (12-13, 5-7 Ivy Legaue), Saturday 7 p.m.
AF: It's a big weekend for Penn. The Quakers are vying for the fourth seed, the final spot in the first-ever Ivy League tournament. Of course, they made it tougher on themselves last weekend with the loss to Columbia, a team they are tied with since both are 5-7 in the conference. 

The good news first. Penn is at home this weekend while Columbia is on the road and has to play at Yale. But there is some not-so-good news. Penn has to face Harvard, the second best team in the Ivy. Ideally, Penn needs two wins this final weekend, however, there are plenty of scenarios where the Quakers can get in, going down to a third and fourth tiebreaker that relies on the team's ranking in things like the RPI, Sagarin and KenPom ratings.

Yes, that's how complicated this could become for the fourth seed to be named to the Ivy League tournament. Bottom line, Penn needs to win, especially against Harvard. Of course, the Quakers have to beat last-place Dartmouth, and they need Columbia to lose either to Yale or to also-last-place Brown. Because if Penn beats Dartmouth but loses to Harvard, all Columbia would need is one of the two wins. The Lions split with Harvard this season, and Penn would have been swept by the Crimson and that would be that. 

I don't mean to dismiss the Dartmouth game because the Big Green beat Penn by three points a month ago. But I think this will come down to Saturday's game for the Quakers.

So let's focus on the Harvard matchup. The Crimson only have two losses in Ivy League play, one I just mentioned to Columbia and the other to Princeton. Two conference losses by a combined four points. Harvard faced Princeton a month ago and lost on a last-second shot. The Crimson are hoping for a sweep on their end and having Princeton get swept for a chance at the top spot, but that's another whole scenario. Harvard has won six in a row, winning by an average of nearly 12 points in that span. Tommy Amaker's crew is also scoring more than 80 points a game in those six wins. On the flip side, Steve Donahue's team has won five of its last six games, the lone loss at Columbia. In their last six games, the Quakers are scoring nearly 76 points and in their wins were by an average of about 11.5 points. So this is setting up to be quite the game. 

I'm an optimist. I like a good story. And I am picking the Quakers. From starting 0-6 in the conference to fourth place and a spot in the first-ever Ivy League tournament at the Palestra.

Penn 75, Harvard 73

Penn 72, Dartmouth 68

Saint Joseph's (10-19, 3-14 A-10) at Duquesne (10-20, 3-14 A-10), Saturday 2 p.m.
SK: St. Joe's limps into the regular season finale riding a nine-game losing streak. Following Wednesday's 19-point home loss to Rhode Island, Phil Martelli issued a massive indictment of his team's effort. "That was participation, that wasn't competition," Martelli told reporters. 

To be fair, the Hawks have been ravaged by injuries, including a season-ending torn ACL for leading scorer Shavar Newkirk and a fractured foot for starting point guard and second-leading scorer Lamarr Kimble. Newkirk and Kimble are the two best players on the St. Joe's roster and it's unrealistic to expect the Hawks to win consistently without them.

But it's clear that Martelli isn't happy with his team's effort, injuries or no injuries. The Hawks have a chance to get back in their head coach's good graces Saturday against the only team below them in the A-10 standings. Like St. Joe's, Duquesne is 3-14 in conference play and has lost 12 of its last 13 games. 

Both teams will be out to get some much-needed momentum heading into next week's A-10 Tournament. Something tells me the Hawks will answer the bell in this matchup. They're in desperate need of a win and have had their competitive spirit questioned by none other than their coach. Expect strong efforts from Charlie Brown and James Demery in a narrow St. Joe's victory. 

St. Joseph's 63, Duquesne 60    

Drexel (9-22, 3-15 CAA) at James Madison (9-22, 7-11 CAA), Friday 8:30 p.m. -- First round of CAA Tournament
AF: Drexel had a tough first season under Zach Spiker. The Dragons did win nine games in the regular season, three more than last year. But they finished with an identical 3-15 conference record. Still, there were bright spots, namely two freshmen in Kurk Lee and Kari Jonsson. 

Lee is only two points away from setting the Drexel record for points as a freshman. He also is fourth in the CAA with nearly 5 assists per game. 

Jonsson, the freshman from Iceland, made an incredible 63 three-pointers this year. And that's with missing the last three games. The experience these freshmen received will pay dividends for Spiker in seasons to come. 

Next up for Drexel, the first round of the CAA tournament. They'll face JMU, with the Dukes having swept the Dragons this season. Like Drexel, JMU only has nine wins, but it has double the number of conference wins. JMU also just beat the Dragons on their senior day. So while there will be a revenge factor in mind, as well as trying to salvage something positive for next season, I just don't think Drexel has enough left in the tank. The good news is that Jonsson should play in this one, and he can be a difference maker.  

JMU 77, Drexel 70

Prediction records
Sean Kane: 28-11
Amy Fadool: 23-15

Fastbreak Friday: No. 2 Villanova hopes to rebound vs. No. 23 Creighton

Fastbreak Friday: No. 2 Villanova hopes to rebound vs. No. 23 Creighton

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. 23 Creighton (22-6, 9-6 Big East) at No. 2 Villanova (26-3, 13-3 Big East), Saturday, 3 p.m.
SK: Second-ranked Villanova takes another crack at securing a fourth straight outright Big East regular season championship on Saturday against No. 23 Creighton. The Wildcats couldn't capitalize on their first opportunity to do so, losing 74-66 to Butler on Wednesday. The loss snapped Villanova's 48-game win streak at the Pavilion, a run of success that dated back to February of 2013. 

Despite the setback, Villanova just needs one win in its final two games to clinch the outright league title as well as the accompanying top seed in the Big East Tournament in two weeks. The Wildcats also remain in prime position to earn the No. 1 seed in the East Region of the NCAA Tournament.

But there is cause for concern -- namely, the absence of senior forward Darryl Reynolds. A rib injury has sidelined Reynolds for each of the last four games, forcing Jay Wright to play with essentially a six-man rotation. Freshman forward Dylan Painter has seen spot minutes but played just one minute Wednesday against Butler. As a result, three Wildcats -- Josh Hart, Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges -- played 37 minutes in the loss. 

Playing with a six-man rotation can wear a team down eventually. Particularly a six-man rotation with no players taller than 6-6. And there's no denying Villanova looked gassed in the second half against Butler. Their offensive execution was uncharacteristically sloppy and defensively they allowed Butler far too many open looks at the basket. The Wildcats have survived this season without freshman big man Omari Spellman (academically ineligible) and junior guard Phil Booth (knee injury), but Reynolds' absence is beginning to catch up with them. 

Reynolds will once again be a game-time decision for Saturday's game against Creighton. It will be Senior Day, so Reynolds will undoubtedly be eager to take the Pavilion floor one last time with classmates Hart and Kris Jenkins. Meanwhile, Hart and Jenkins will be eager to atone for lackluster performances against Butler. Hart finished 7 of 18 from the field and 0 for 4 from the foul line, while Jenkins went 1 for 8 overall and 1 for 5 from three-point range.

The good news for Villanova continues to be the play of sophomore Jalen Brunson, who is performing as well as any point guard in the country. Brunson scored a game-high 24 points on 9-of-13 shooting against Butler and is averaging 20.2 points in his last four games. He scored a career-high 27 points at Creighton on New Year's Eve.   

Look for Brunson to keep rolling on Saturday, and get some help from Hart and Jenkins on Senior Day. The Villanova seniors still haven't lost two games in a row in their careers. That shouldn't change on Saturday.

Villanova 84, Creighton 72

La Salle (14-12, 8-7 A-10) at Massachusetts (13-15, 3-12 A-10), Sunday, 1 p.m.
The Explorers book end their month of February with UMass. They will once again face the Minutemen, a team they beat by 10 points at home on Feb. 1. In that game, it took a combined 49-point effort from Jordan Price and B.J. Johnson to put the game away. At the time, that put La Salle in the upper quarter of the Atlantic 10 standings at 6-3. But this month has not been too kind to Dr. John Giannini's team. Losses to Saint Bonaventure, Richmond and George Mason have seen La Salle slip down to the middle of the pack in the conference. 

But there are still three games to play and the A10 tournament. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying the Explorers can run the table into the NCAA Tournament, but they can salvage a few wins and end a once-promising season on a high note. 

Meanwhile, UMass has lost eight of its last 10 games and while the only wins in that span came against a Philadelphia team, it was not La Salle but St. Joe's. In their previous meeting with the Explorers, the Minutemen shot very well, better than 55 percent from the field, including five three-pointers, in the first half to jump out to a lead. So, La Salle needs to guard against another hot start in Amherst. 

I would like to see more from Price too. This team, full of transfers, has seemed to get away from Price. It could be because his role as the leading scorer or the best player on the team has been taken over, but Price needs to show that he can still score the ball effectively like he did last season. 

You never know which La Salle team will show up. Will it be the one who beat Rhode Island on the road, or the one who lost to St. Joseph's? I'm going with road warriors. 

La Salle 76, UMass 66

Tulane (5-22, 2-13 AAC) at Temple (14-15, 5-11 AAC), Saturday, 12 p.m.
The hits just keep coming for Temple. The Owls lost each of their last two games in the final minute, or in the case of Sunday's loss to UConn -- the final seconds. Temple has lost three straight and has lost 11 of its last 16 games. Fortunately, a visit from Tulane on Saturday offers a much-needed chance for the Owls to regain some positive vibes. The Green Wave has just five wins all season and are 2-13 in conference play. 

Temple handed Tulane a 79-71 win back in late January behind 18 points from freshman guard Quinton Rose, who was coming off the bench at the time. Rose has since moved into the starting lineup and the results have been tangible. He's averaging better than 12 points in his last five games to boost his season average to an even 10 points. Meanwhile, Obi Enechionyia continued his uneven season over the course of the last two games -- following up a two-point outing against UConn with a team-high 17 points on Wednesday against UCF.

I'd be surprised if Enechionyia and Temple don't take out their frustration on Tulane on Saturday. The Green Wave has all of two wins since Dec. 10. They're not getting one at the Owls' expense this weekend. 

Temple 75, Tulane 60

Saint Joseph's (10-17, 3-12 A-10) at Saint Louis (9-19, 4-11 A-10), Saturday, 4:30 p.m.
 Has there been a team more snake bitten in one season? Former Drexel coach Bruiser Flint might tell you yes, but even he didn't have to suffer through three players out for the season, two of them leading scorers at the time of injury. 

The Hawks have been decimated by devastating, season-ending injuries. But the band must play on. Phil Martelli will be the first one to tell you that. So as SJU winds down it season, the coach, players and fans alike are looking for positives. And one of those is the playing time opportunity the injuries have bestowed upon younger members of the roster. Freshman Charlie Brown and sophomore Chris Clover have seen their roles increased and that should pay dividends for the Hawks in the future

Back to the here and now, it's a visit to Saint Louis this weekend. And pretty much the only reason the Billikens have been in the national news this season was because of a stolen bus. Tough times out in Saint Louis for a program that was once seen, under Rick Majerus, as a rising star among the mid-majors. Travis Ford, the former Oklahoma State coach has a chance to get their program back on the map, for something other than a drunk bus driver that tried to make off with their gear and bus. 

For the Hawks, having James Demery and Brown, the two remaining double-digit scorers still healthy, step up and take the reins is a positive sign. In their recent loss to Saint Bonaventure, Demery poured in 21. Brown struggled a bit scoring, but was effective on the defensive end. The Hawks just didn't have enough to stop a guy like the Bonnies' Matt Mobley on a career night, but still only lost by six. 

I know they are down players on the roster. I know that turnovers have plagued them in close games. I know their shooting percentage has been down. But I think the Hawks could get a win this weekend on the road. Call me crazy, but I like "the little engine that could" mentality of this team right now. 

St. Joe's 72, Saint Louis 70

Pennsylvania (11-12, 4-6 Ivy) at Cornell (7-18, 3-7 Ivy), Friday, 7 p.m.
Pennsylvania (11-12, 4-6 Ivy) at Columbia (10-13, 4-6 Ivy), Saturday, 7 p.m.
Don't look now... but here come the Penn Quakers, winners of four straight following an 0-6 start in conference play. Steve Donahue's team isn't just winning, they've been steamrolling the competition. Penn has won its last four games by an average of just under 17 points. As a result, the Quakers have moved into a tie for fourth place in the conference with a 4-6 record against Ivy League opponents. 

In previous years, Penn's fourth-place standing in the conference wouldn't have mattered much. Until this season, the Ivy League did not have a conference tournament and would simply send its regular season champion to the NCAA Tournament. This year that would have likely been Princeton, which has a perfect 10-0 league record and a two-game lead over second place Harvard. But times have changed. The first ever Ivy League Tournament will be played next month, with the top four teams squaring off at the Palestra for the right to earn the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. So not only does Penn have a shot at playing their way into the Big Dance, they could potentially do so with a homecourt advantage. 

But first things first. Penn hits the road this weekend to visit Cornell on Friday and Columbia on Saturday, a pair of teams the Quakers beat two weeks ago. Things figure to be tougher on the road, but I'm not betting against this resurgent Penn team. They'll be focused on improving their chances of advancing to postseason play -- particularly against Columbia, who is tied with Penn for fourth place in the conference. 

Expect more big things from freshman guard Ryan Betley. The Downingtown native is averaging a shade under 21 points in his last three games and has given the Quakers a sorely needed consistent perimeter threat to complement freshman big man AJ Brodeur. Betley, Brodeur and company will creep closer to an invitation to the Ivy League Tournament with a pair of wins this weekend.

Penn 71, Cornell 66
Penn 73, Columbia 70

Drexel (9-21, 3-14 CAA) at Charleston (22-8, 13-4 CAA), Saturday, 5 p.m.
 This is it for the Drexel Dragons. Senior day earlier this week wrapped up the home portion of the schedule. But it was not a happy send off as JMU spoiled the seniors final game at the DAC, winning by six. Once again, however, a freshman stole the show for Zach Spiker's group. Kurk Lee led the Dragons with 18 points. He's really coming into his own, both shooting and defensively. Lee has shown range as well, making four three-pointers in that loss to the Dukes and shooting 50 percent from the field. 

Next up, a tough ending on a even tougher season. A visit with Charleston, who has kept pace with conference leader UNCW. If you're looking for a fun, sleeper team in the NCAA Tournament, do yourself a favor and tune in for the CAA title game. These two are on a collision course and are playing great right now. One of the two will be in the NCAA tournament and providing they aren't a 16-seed, could win their first-round matchup. 

This one won't be pretty for Drexel. It's Charleston's senior day and the Cougars are looking to go into the CAA tournament with momentum.   

Charleston 83, Drexel 65

Prediction Records
Sean Kane: 25-10
Amy Fadool: 22-13