NCAA

Eagles overshadowing what may be Jay Wright's best Villanova team

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Eagles overshadowing what may be Jay Wright's best Villanova 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.

Seton Hall (17-5, 6-3 Big East) at No. 1 Villanova (21-1, 8-1), Sunday at Noon
SK: As I write this in Minneapolis while covering the Super Bowl, I can't help but think of the unique circumstances surrounding Villanova in Philadelphia right now.

The Eagles' run to the brink of the franchise's first-ever Lombardi trophy is the talk of the town, and rightfully so. The Eagles are king in Philadelphia and have been for quite some time. And when the Eagles are good — particularly Super Bowl good — they dominate the headlines and completely overshadow every other team in town.

Such is the case with Villanova right now. The Wildcats have been the top-ranked team in all of college basketball for the better part of the last two months. They have a 21-1 record and are on the fast track to a fifth straight Big East regular-season championship and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament for the third time in the last four seasons. Yet there is next to no buzz surrounding this team because of the Eagles.

Jay Wright has said many times over the years that he enjoys flying under the radar until Eagles season ends. The thinking being his team can quietly go about its business with minimal distractions until college basketball comes to the forefront in February and March.

But in my opinion, the whole dynamic is a tad unfortunate this season. I truly believe this is the best team Wright has had at Villanova. That's saying something considering he won a national championship in 2016 and went to a Final Four in 2009. 

But these Wildcats are a flat-out juggernaut, particularly on the offensive end of the floor. They torched a very good Creighton team 98-78 on Thursday, the 11th time in the last 12 games that Villanova has scored 80+ points. It was also the ninth time this season that the Wildcats have topped the 90-point mark. They've won eight straight games by an average of 17 points.

Villanova matched a school record with 19 three-point field goals against Creighton. They're now shooting a collective 42 percent from long range on the season, making an average of 12 threes per game. The numbers are staggering. Not only are the Wildcats the most offensively efficient team in the country, they're also playing at a level that hasn't been seen in college basketball a long time.

Jalen Brunson is a lock for first-team All-American honors and is on the short list of National Player of the Year candidates. Mikal Bridges is an NBA lottery pick who dominates on both ends of the floor. Donte DiVincenzo is a budding superstar. Eric Paschall and Omari Spellman form one of the best and most versatile frontcourt tandems in the country.

But not many people outside of hardcore Villanova fans are really talking about this team. That will change starting next week. 

Villanova hosts Seton Hall on Sunday. It will be a tough game against an opponent that traditionally plays the Wildcats very tough. But it's also a game that tips off 6½ before the Super Bowl. So don't expect to hear too much about the outcome, which is totally fair considering the circumstances.

But expect the Villanova bandwagon to start filling up shortly. Philadelphia is hoping beyond hope for a Super Bowl parade next week. Whether or not that happens, Villanova has a very good chance of having another parade of its own in a couple months.

Villanova 82, Seton Hall 74

Saint Joseph's (9-12, 4-5 A-10) at La Salle (9-13, 3-6), Saturday at 4 p.m.
AF: We'd be remiss if in this city college hoops column we didn't remember La Salle Hall of Famer Rasual Butler. The former Big 5 standout and 13-year NBA veteran died in a car accident, along with his wife earlier this week. All over the basketball world, not just in Philly, remembrances poured in, as Butler was clearly a beloved teammate and friend to many. 

The same day the news broke of Butler's death, La Salle faced Davidson.  And while this current Explorers team was probably too young to really appreciate Butler in his Gola glory, there's no doubt in my mind that the loss of someone so young and who had such an impact on their program weighed on the players' minds.

It was not the effort or outcome the Explorers wanted against Davidson. The Explorers were never really in the game against the Wildcats. Davidson is sitting in third in the conference standings and certainly making the most of the opportunities to move up before tournament time.  

Both the Explorers and the Hawks find themselves at the other end of the standings spectrum so it's two desperate teams meeting this weekend.

Both are coming off losses, though in different ways. While the Explorers never really challenged Davidson, the Hawks went down to the wire. A free throw with three seconds left sealed it for Saint Louis and marked the ninth single-digit loss for St. Joe's this season.

Not a Big 5 matchup for the standings, but still an important one for each team trying to salvage a season. La Salle won't put together back-to-back poor performances. 

La Salle 74, St. Joe's 70

Temple (12-10, 4-6 AAC) at Tulane (13-8, 4-5), Sunday at 3 p.m.
AF: The Owls shocked the Shockers Thursday night, and forgive the pun, but it really was a shocking win. Not because of Wichita State's being a ranked team, but in how Temple won the game. 

Temple seemingly had multiple chances to give the game right back to Wichita but managed to hold on. Shizz Alston's off-balance runner just seconds before the end of regulation propelled the game to overtime. And with about 10 seconds left in the extra session, the Owls were down two. But clutch scoring coupled with defense earned them the win. 

Yes, the students stormed the court. And they did so on the same night that Temple honored the 1988 Elite Eight team led by Mark Macon. So some might say that it's bad form when you clearly have a rich tradition of successful basketball. But as a badge-carrying member of the Court Storm police and yes, I really have a badge (thank you Taylor Shea and Jordan Strauss), I rule this as a legitimate court storm. 

This Owls team has suffered plenty of heartbreaking losses this season, as well as late-game collapses. Storm away students, celebrate. It's a great time to be in Philadelphia, and taking down the 16th-ranked team in the country deserved an on-court party.

Now Temple has to try to avoid the letdown against Tulane. I don't say that to disparage the Green Wave in any way, just that Temple has a bit of a history of coming up short after an emotional game. 

The Green Wave are coached by Mike Dunleavy, Sr. You'd be hard-pressed to find a coach with a more storied, successful and longer resume in the college ranks whose last name doesn't start with a K. And Dunleavy has Tulane trending in the right direction. They are not a good shooting team, particularly from beyond the arc. But they are finding ways to win. And scrappiness like that is hard to guard against.

This game is on Super Bowl Sunday. So you know I'm going with the birds. 

Temple 73, Tulane 68

Brown (9-8, 2-2 Ivy) at Penn (13-6, 3-0), Friday at 7 p.m.
AF: Penn is coming off a great Big 5 win over Saint Joseph's thanks in part to a double-double from A.J. Brodeur and team defense. 

The Quakers are actually the top team in the Ivy in three-point field goal defense, and they lead the league in rebounding at nearly 40 boards a game. As anyone will tell you, the more rebounds you get, naturally the more chances you have at scoring. 

But non-conference time is over for Penn and they put their undefeated Ivy record on the line this weekend beginning with Brown. It actually caps off a nine-game homestand, as the Quakers don't return to the Palestra after this weekend until Feb. 23. 

Brown just lost to the only other undefeated Ivy League team in Harvard last Saturday but did split the weekend with a buzzer-beating win over Dartmouth. The player to watch for in Friday night's game is Desmond Cambridge. The Bears' freshman is one of the reasons Brown leads the Ivy in scoring at just over 77 points per game.

Also this weekend, Penn welcomes Yale to the Palestra. The Bulldogs are right with the Bears in the Ivy standings at 2-2, having also just taken down Dartmouth and lost to Harvard like Brown last weekend. 

Penn is showing this season it can pull through scoring slumps, defensive miscues and some sloppiness during a game. They are finding ways to win and I think this weekend it's a clean sweep. Tuesday at Princeton will be one to watch, as will next weekend at Harvard. 

But once again, I'm riding with Philly teams this weekend. 

Penn 75, Brown 73 
Penn 68, Yale 63

Drexel (10-14, 2-7 CAA) at William and Mary (15-7, 8-3), Saturday at 4 p.m.
SK:
Drexel enters this matchup riding the momentum of a three-game winning streak thanks to a thrilling 76-74 win over James Madison on Thursday. The game wasn't decided until the final seconds when Austin Williams rejected a potential game-tying layup. 

Next up for the Dragons: A visit to William & Mary on Saturday afternoon. The Tribe is putting together a solid season as evidenced by their 15-7 record and 8-3 conference mark. William & Mary beat Drexel by 22 in Philadelphia back in early January.

This isn't the same Drexel team as the one William & Mary saw earlier this season. The Dragons are hitting their stride thanks to a number of key contributors emerging. They'll give William & Mary everything they can handle on Saturday, I just can't see them getting over the hump and securing a road win against a very good team.

William & Mary 79, Drexel 73

Prediction records
Sean Kane: 20-8
Amy Fadool: 13-16

Knicks will reportedly reach out to Jay Wright about coaching job

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Knicks will reportedly reach out to Jay Wright about coaching job

Fresh off a second national championship in three years, this was bound to happen. Jay Wright is a hot name. 

And according to the New York Daily News, the Knicks plan on reaching out to Wright about their vacant head coaching job. 

Just don’t expect Wright to be interested. 

The 56-year-old coach has been determined to build Villanova into a powerhouse since he took the head coaching gig way back in 2001 and he’s finally done that. On the surface, maybe some think that would be enough to make him want to take his coaching to the top league in the world. Not so fast. 

In a recent interview with The Athletic, Wright said pretty flatly that he’s staying at Villanova because he loves it there. 

“The NBA does intrigue me,” Wright said. “That challenge is appealing but it’s not worth giving up working with these guys. The whole thing is, to take a new challenge you have to give up what you have. I don’t want to give up what I have. Would I like to coach in the NBA? Yes. But I have to give this up in order to do that, and I don’t see that happening.”

In that interview, Wright talked about his time at Hofstra and quoted Jim Valvano, who once said, ‘Don’t mess with happy.’ That was true at Hofstra until the Villanova job came around, so maybe there’s a chance the Knicks could blow him away. It just doesn’t seem likely. 

The Knicks just fired head coach Jeff Hornacek after a 29-53 record in 2017. The Knicks haven’t had a winning record since 2012-13. 

The New York Daily News cites a source, who said the Knicks believe Wright would be a “perfect candidate for a rebuilding club.” The Knicks might be right, but don’t bet on them getting Wright. 

Jalen Brunson hires agent, declares for NBA draft

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Jalen Brunson hires agent, declares for NBA draft

Villanova is losing its second star player in two days. 

Guard Jalen Brunson has decided to hire an agent and enter the 2018 NBA Draft, he wrote in a letter to Nova Nation on ESPN. He will forego his senior season at Villanova after an incredible college career. 

This news comes a day after his teammate Mikal Bridges announced he will also head to the NBA draft.

“It is with great honor and privilege that I have called Villanova University my home for the past three years,” Brunson wrote in ESPN. “When I decided to commit to Coach Jay Wright and the basketball program, I was driven by three goals: getting my education, competing at the highest level and winning a national championship. While I pride myself on remaining disciplined and focused to achieve these goals, I have grown as a man and have established lifelong relationships with my teammates, classmates, members of the basketball staff, fellow student-athletes and the wonderful educators and administrators of this prestigious university.”

Brunson leaves Villanova as one of the greatest players in Wildcats history, helping lead Villanova to its second national championship in three years. 

The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 18.9 points, 4.6 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game this season. Brunson was named the Big East Player of the Year and was the Wooden Award and Naismith Award winner this season.