NCAA

Even without Phil Booth, Villanova in good hands

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Even without Phil Booth, Villanova in good hands

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.

Marquette (13-7, 4-4 Big East) at No. 1 Villanova (19-1, 6-1 Big East), Sunday 1:00 p.m.
SK:
Villanova visits Marquette Sunday afternoon, returning to the scene of one of their four losses last season. The top-ranked Wildcats will do so shorthanded after learning earlier this week that they will be without one of their best players for the foreseeable future. Junior guard Phil Booth is out indefinitely after fracturing a bone in his right hand during Villanova's win over Providence on Tuesday. 

Remarkably, Booth is the third member of Jay Wright's rotation to miss significant time this season due to a hand injury. Freshman guard Collin Gillespie broke his hand in early December and just returned last week, while fellow freshman guard Jermaine Samuels remains sidelined with a fractured hand. Make no mistake — Booth's injury hurts Villanova the most. He's a terrific two-way player, averaging 11.6 points per game and shooting 43 percent from three-point range while also serving as one of the team's top perimeter defenders. Equally as important, he's a team captain and terrific leader on and off the court.

If Booth follows Gillespie's injury timeline he should return in about six weeks, which would be the start of the Big East Tournament in early March. Expect sophomore Donte DiVincenzo to replace Booth in the starting lineup. DiVincenzo is an outstanding player and previously served as a reserve in name only. As I've written in this column before, he's capable of starting for 98 percent of the teams in the country. The drop-off from Booth to DiVincenzo in the starting lineup shouldn't be too severe. But with DiVincenzo now a starter, the Wildcats bench becomes especially thin with just Gillespie and freshman forward Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree seeing meaningful minutes. 

Gillespie is the player most impacted by Booth's injury. He'll now be asked to play significantly more minutes at a critical point in Villanova's schedule. Not an easy task considering he's just returning from a lengthy absence due to his own injury.

Life without Booth begins with Sunday's visit to Marquette, a team desperate for a signature win after losing three of their last five games. The Golden Eagles are coming off an 89-70 loss at Xavier on Wednesday. Sophomore guard Markus Howard scored 33 points in the loss to increase his season average to 22.1 points per game. The Wildcats' top priority will be figuring out a way to slow down Howard, something they failed to do earlier this season when he torched them for 37 points.    

Booth's absence will be especially noticeable against Howard and Marquette's talented stable of guards. Considering that Booth is out and the Bradley Center always provides a raucous homecourt advantage, I'm tempted to pick Marquette to upset Villanova on Sunday. But I can't go against Jalen Brunson in this spot. Brunson has done it all for Villanova this season and will now be asked to do even more. Look for a big performance from him this weekend.

Villanova 84, Marquette 77

St. Joseph's (9-10, 4-4 A-10) at Pennsylvania (12-6, 3-0 Ivy), Saturday 7:00 p.m. on NBC Sports Philadelphia 
AF:
Both teams are coming off disappointing losses, though for different reasons. The Hawks had St. Bonaventure right where they wanted. Despite a 16-4 run in the second half, it was a late drought and untimely mistakes that doomed St. Joseph’s from taking both meetings with the Bonnies this year. Meanwhile, Penn just didn’t have it against Temple last weekend, and the Quakers were never really able to threaten the Owls. 

Side note, the rollout from the Penn student section in that game: “Greatness doesn’t quit but one and done-phy should” was in poor form. I get that he doesn’t have a great NCAA tournament record, but the man brought plenty of success to Penn’s program and was just inducted into the school’s hall of fame. That would be like Kentucky fans maligning Rick Pitino, who singlehandedly saved the Wildcats program from certain death... okay, okay. I get it. But still, it’s a bad look for a man who has done so much for your school. 

Back to the game: It’s the final Big 5 game in more than a month for the Quakers, with only La Salle and St. Joseph’s left on the city schedule in March. Ryan Betley continues to be the workhouse for Steve Donahue. The sophomore has posted double-digit scoring in 12 of the last 13 for Penn and only four of those were in losses. When he gets going, it’s tough for opponents to stop him and the Quakers. 

The Hawks, meanwhile, had things going in the right direction with two straight wins before their stumble against the Bonnies. They still have the talent to win plenty of games in the Atlantic 10. They still have their signature defense and low turnover margin that keeps them in games when scoring is at a premium. It’s just a matter of putting it all together for Phil Martelli’s team. And they could really use Charlie Brown, who is still sidelined with a wrist injury. 

I thought the Quakers would beat Temple last week. So I’m hesitant to pick them again. And I think that Martelli has figured something out with his team that will get them back on track.  

St. Joseph’s 70, Penn 68  

Connecticut (11-9, 4-3 AAC) at Temple (10-10, 2-6 AAC), Sunday 8:00 pm
SK:
Temple limps into Sunday night's matchup with UConn following Wednesday's 75-42 loss at No. 9 Cincinnati. The Owls are 3-7 in their last 10 games and in danger of falling out of contention in the AAC before the calendar even gets to February. Meanwhile, UConn is coming off its best win of the season, an 11-point victory over SMU on Wednesday. It was an impressive bounce-back performance following last weekend's 20-point home loss to Villanova. 

While UConn enters this weekend's game with significantly more momentum than Temple, I view these two programs in a similar light. They were both premiere programs in the not too distant past — UConn winning four national championships from 1999-2014, while Temple went to five Elite Eights under John Chaney and was a regular in the NCAA Tournament in the early years of the Fran Dunphy era. But each program has lost a sizable amount of luster the last few years playing in the AAC. Both schools joined the conference for football reasons and their basketball programs have suffered. I'm not saying a poor conference fit is the only reason Temple and UConn are struggling, but it certainly doesn't help matters.

The question for both Temple and UConn now: Can they get back on track? In each case it will take some time. As far as the immediate future, Temple needs a win Sunday if the Owls have any hopes of turning their season around and making a push towards the postseason in February. Something tells me they'll find a way to beat UConn. I watched the Huskies for 40 minutes last weekend against Villanova and came away unimpressed. Granted, Temple isn't Villanova. But the Owls are playing at home and shouldn't be lacking for motivation after getting blown out by Cincinnati.

Temple 68, UConn 64

Northeastern (14-7, 7-2 CAA) at Drexel (8-14, 2-7 CAA), Saturday, 2:00 pm
AF:
The Dragons are coming off one of their most impressive performances of the season, maybe second only to the win over Charleston. They overcame a poor shooting night from Kurk Lee and beat an Elon team that shot nearly 50 percent from the field. How, you ask? Forty points from Tremaine Isabell. Forty. The Missouri transfer went 14 for 23 and made seven 3-pointers in just 32 minutes of work. That’ll do it alright. Isabell has been so impressive this season, but the Dragons need more balance in scoring, kind of like the team they’ll face Saturday.

Speaking of, that is a matchup with the top team in the CAA in Northeastern. The Huskies have won four in a row and are averaging 82 points in that span. Not only that, they are coming off a win in which three players posted a double-double. In their win over Hofstra, Northeastern saw five different players finish with double-digit scoring. They are a complete team and that’s why they only have two conference losses. 

However, and here’s your silver lining Drexel fans, one of those two losses came at the hands of Charleston. And guess who the Huskies face right after Drexel? Yup. So there is a chance Northeastern overlooks Drexel a bit ahead of the rematch with Charleston. But I think this Huskies team has their foot on the gas pedal and is rolling through the CAA. 

Northeastern 79, Drexel 70

Prediction Records
Sean Kane:
18-8
Amy Fadool: 13-14

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.