Fastbreak Friday is a weekly preview of the weekend's local college basketball action. CSN anchor/reporter Amy Fadool and CSN producer Sean Kane provide their analysis on all the games involving city teams and predict the outcomes. Look for this column every Friday during the college basketball season. Season prediction records can be found at the bottom of the column.
No. 1 Villanova (9-0) vs. No. 23 Notre Dame (9-0), Saturday, noon, in Newark, N.J.
SK: This isn't just the best game involving a local team this weekend, it's the most highly-anticipated matchup in the country — a pair of undefeated teams going toe-to-toe in the Never Forget Tribute Classic at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
No. 1 Villanova and No. 23 Notre Dame bring identical 9-0 records into this renewal of an old Big East rivalry. It's an opportunity for each team to make a statement on a national stage. The Wildcats want to prove they're worthy of that No. 1 ranking, while the Irish can prove they are among the country's elite teams. This really should be a fantastic basketball game. Villanova and Notre Dame are both well-coached, veteran teams brimming with players accustomed to playing in big games.
Villanova is coming off a hard-fought 89-79 win over La Salle on Tuesday. It marked the Wildcats' 17th straight Big 5 victory. With a win over Temple next week, seniors Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds would become the first four-year class ever to go undefeated in Big 5 play. But city history can wait — Notre Dame has the Wildcats' full attention this weekend.
Jalen Brunson enters Saturday's game with no shortage of confidence. He was the difference for Villanova against La Salle, scoring a career-high 26 points on 10 of 17 shooting from the field. The sophomore point guard delivered clutch basket after clutch basket as the Wildcats held off the pesky Explorers in the second half. Despite Brunson's heroics, it's becoming more and more clear that Villanova sorely misses his backcourt mate Phil Booth.
Booth has missed the last six games with inflammation in his left knee, the same knee he underwent arthroscopic surgery on in the spring. Jay Wright is understandably being cautious with Booth, who has been listed as questionable for the last three weeks. The more time Booth misses, the more doubts there are concerning his long-term status for the season. Villanova has survived without Booth to this point, but they'll need him once Big East play begins. The Wildcats are down to a seven-man rotation without Booth, with Brunson tasked with the majority of the ballhandling responsibilities in addition to being one of the team's top scorers.
Villanova could use Booth against Notre Dame on Saturday. His status won't be revealed until a few hours before tip-off. I'd be surprised if Wright chooses this game for Booth to return. Ideally, the coach would ease Booth into a lower-stress game. If Booth does play this weekend, it will likely be on a limited role with a minutes restriction.
Notre Dame is led by the veteran trio of junior Bonzie Colson (17.1 ppg) and seniors V.J. Beachem (16.8 ppg) and Steve Vasturia (16.4 ppg). Vasturia is a St. Joe's Prep product who has become one of the best shooters in the country. He's connecting on 46 percent of his three-point attempts and he's missed just one of his 31 free throw attempts. The Fighting Irish have wins over Iowa, Northwestern and Colorado this season. But they haven't played anyone in the same weight class as Villanova, and they certainly haven't seen a player of Hart's caliber.
Hart will be the best player on the floor Saturday and I expect him to be the difference. He'll be eager to shake off a frustrating outing against La Salle. Hart finished with 21 points and eight rebounds, but missed a handful of 10-12-foot pull-up jumpers in the lane that he normally makes in his sleep. Hart will seize the opportunity to prove he belongs in the National Player of the Year conversation. The college basketball world will be watching, and Hart knows it.
Notre Dame should be able to exploit Villanova's thin frontcourt. But Hart — with some help from Jenkins, Brunson and Mikal Bridges — will make just enough winning plays to keep Villanova undefeated and atop the national polls for another week.
Villanova 77, Notre Dame 72
La Salle (4-3) vs. Georgetown (5-4), Saturday, 2 p.m., in Miami, Fla.
AF: The Explorers are coming off a heck of a game against Villanova at the Palestra this past Tuesday night. I’ll be the first to admit, I didn’t think they had it in them. I watched La Salle in several games this season, and to me it was playing more like a group of talented individual players rather than a team, a natural side effect of so many transfers.
But that game against Villanova showed me that the Explorers do have the ability to play as a team. Keeping it close down the stretch — and save for a few more made shots — they might have taken the Wildcats to overtime. Yes, Villanova won the game by 10, but it was closer than the score would indicate. And that’s a tribute to other players — like Pookie Powell, who had 27 against 'Nova — helping out the scoring department. That's something I’d imagine pleases his coach as well as the man who’s usually forced to carry that load, Jordan Price.
So, quite the momentum builder and confidence booster for Dr. John Giannini’s team as it goes on the road to the Hoophall Miami Invitational to face Georgetown. This is definitely not your father’s Hoyas team. It is reeling right now, getting punched in the gut right out of the gates of the season, losing a heartbreaker to Maryland only to follow it up with a loss to Arkansas State. Georgetown also had a pretty bad Maui Invitational late in November, losing by double digits to both Wisconsin and to Oklahoma State, the last one by 27 points. And just last weekend, the Hoyas barely beat Elon, a small school in Burlington, N.C. Go Phoenix!
I honestly have no idea which team the Explorers are going to see on Saturday. But they need to prepare like it’s Villanova, since that was by far their best effort of the season. That way, if La Salle faces the Hoyas team that lost by one point to Maryland and beat Oregon, it'll be ready. I’m going to take the Explorers, because I hope they can build off a great team effort this week.
La Salle 76, Georgetown 72
Temple (6-3) vs. DePaul (5-2), Saturday, 11:30 a.m., in Miami, Fla.
AF: Temple unfortunately had its five-game win streak snapped this week after a close loss to George Washington. The Owls found themselves down by as many as 15 in the second half before making a comeback late in the game. But a three-pointer didn't go at the buzzer that would've tied it and Temple fell, 66-63. Certainly a heartbreaker for a team that's surprising many around the city.
In that loss to GW, the Owls made a season-high 12 three-pointers as a team, something that bodes well for Fran Dunphy's team moving forward. Long known for a defensive, perhaps even plodding offensive team, this year's Temple squad is showing it can score at a more efficient clip. Some bright spots in the GW game: 21 assists with just eight turnovers and 21 points off turnovers. Those numbers are going to keep you in, as well as, win you games. Also, you can't talk Temple unless you talk Obi Enechionyia. The junior forward has now posted double figures in scoring in all nine games for the Owls this season, and 20 or more points in five of them.
Temple, coincidentally like La Salle this weekend, heads to Miami to take part in the Hoophall Invitational. The Owls will face DePaul, which is coming off a win over Lamar. The Blue Demons are led by their two returning starters, sophomore Eli Cain and senior Billy Garrett. Garrett, averaging 12.6 points a game, is a former Big East Rookie of the Year in 2014. Cain meanwhile leads DePaul and ranks fourth in the Big East with 19.4 points.
But Dave Leitao's squad has not fared well when tested by good defensive teams in the early season. In both of their losses, the Blue Demons failed to get close to their scoring average of 72 points a game, only posting 59 and 64 points against Rutgers and Northwestern, respectively. Plus, they have yet to play in a neutral site game, something Temple has already successfully done this season.
I like the Owls to pick their momentum back up down in South Beach.
Temple 72, DePaul 66
Saint Joseph’s (3-4) at Drexel (4-4), Sunday, 4 p.m.
AF: The Dragons welcome St. Joe’s to the DAC this weekend as winners of two in a row. With eight games already played the season, this will just be Drexel’s third home game. It's coming off a nice win over High Point on the road in which Kari Jonsson more than doubled his average scoring output, pouring in 25 points, a career high. The Dragons are still paced by Kurk Lee, who’s averaging 16 points and is a decent outside threat at 12 of 31 from three-point range. Zach Spiker seems to have his players on the same page, which has shown in the last two wins, both close games on the road, winning by a combined 10 points between the victories over Lafayette and High Point.
St. Joe's, meanwhile, is coming off a drubbing at the hands of the then-No. 2 team in the country. The Hawks visited Villanova last weekend at the Pavilion and came away with an 0-2 record in the Big 5 and a 88-57 loss. Of course, Villanova is now the top team in the country and it looked every bit of it last Saturday.
If you asked Phil Martelli at the beginning of the season, he openly admitted that he knew his team would have some growing pains and that its youth in certain positions would not likely serve it well in the tougher games. You certainly saw that against 'Nova. Still, Shavar Newkirk has been a very good player for Martelli and the Hawks, showing his leadership on the court, as well as his scoring prowess. Newkirk is tallying over 20 points per game and leads the way for a total of four players who are scoring in double figures for the Hawks. I have also been impressed with the play of local kid sophomore Lamarr Kimble. The Neumann-Goretti product posted 15 points to lead the Hawks against Villanova, no small feat against that team.
There haven’t been too many meetings between these two city rivals in which you find that Drexel is averaging more points a game than St. Joe's. But that is the case for this year’s game, with Drexel posting more than five points a game above the Hawks. That, coupled with it being a home game, I think should work in the Dragons' favor. The only issue is, you can’t underestimate a Hawks team that felt embarrassed by a 31-point defeat last time out. I think Martelli rights the ship in a close one at the DAC.
Saint Joseph’s 74, Drexel 72
George Mason (7-3) at Pennsylvania (3-4), Saturday, 2 p.m.
SK: This is a sneaky good game Saturday at the Palestra. George Mason has won six straight, including a huge 19-point win at Penn State on Wednesday. The Patriots trailed by one at halftime before roaring back to outscore the Nittany Lions by 20 in the second half. The six-game win streak is the longest in four years for George Mason.
Marquise Moore has been the driving force behind the Patriots' success, averaging 18.1 points and 10.3 rebounds. For the senior guard — listed at 6-2 — to be averaging more than 10 rebounds is remarkable. Moore had 25 points and 13 rebounds in George Mason's win over Penn State.
Penn is coming off an impressive win as well, beating Lafayette by 29 on Wednesday. That win came on the heels of a hard-fought loss at Temple last weekend. Don't be fooled by the 3-4 record — Steve Donahue's team is making progress. The Quakers' losses this season have come to No. 1 Villanova, Miami, Temple and Navy by two points. Freshman big man A.J. Brodeur continues to show why he'll be a star in the Ivy League for the next four years. Brodeur had 22 points on 10 of 13 shooting against Lafayette and added seven rebounds and five assists. He plays with a maturity well beyond his years, and Donahue is wisely running his offense through Brodeur on the low block more and more.
I'd be surprised if this game doesn't come down to the last handful of possessions. I'm a big believer in what Donahue is doing at Penn, but I just don't see him having the horses to win this game against George Mason.
George Mason 76, Penn 72
Amy Fadool: 6-1
Sean Kane: 5-3