Fastbreak Friday: Villanova looks to extend unprecedented 5-year streak

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Fastbreak Friday: Villanova looks to extend unprecedented 5-year streak

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. 4 Villanova (7-0) at Saint Joseph's (4-3), Saturday, 5:30 p.m.
Villanova enters the latest installment of its rivalry with St. Joe's aiming for a 20th straight Big 5 win after cruising past Penn, 90-62, on Wednesday night. The fourth-ranked Wildcats’ record-setting run of dominance over their city rivals has been nothing short of remarkable. Seventeen of their last 19 Big 5 wins have come by double digits. The last time a city team came within 10 points of Villanova ... December of 2012.

It was more of the same Wednesday against Penn, with the Wildcats sprinting out to an 18-point halftime lead en route to a 28-point win. Juniors Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges continued to prove they belong on the short list of the best 1-2 punches in the country, combining for 37 points on an efficient 11 of 17 shooting.

However, the most important development from Wednesday’s win was the emergence of redshirt freshman big man Omari Spellman, who scored 10 of Villanova’s first 16 points against Penn. Spellman finished with 14 points and seven rebounds and went six of 12 from the field, including two of three from three-point range. This performance came after Spellman struggled mightily on the offensive end in Villanova’s three games in the Battle 4 Atlantis last week. Spellman is the X-factor for the Wildcats — his confidence and effectiveness will go a long way in determining the level of Villanova’s success.

Meanwhile, Saint Joseph’s is coming off an 83-70 win over Bucknell on Wednesday. Seniors James Demery and Shavar Newkirk combined for 39 points as the Hawks shook off a lackluster showing at the Wooden Legacy Tournament over Thanksgiving weekend. Saint Joseph’s is still without the services of its best player, Charlie Brown, who remains sidelined due to a preseason wrist injury.

The Hawks will be significant underdogs against Villanova but expect them to put their best foot forward playing on their home court. Hagan Arena will be rocking Saturday night, but that shouldn’t faze the veteran Wildcats and their extraordinarily poised floor general Brunson. Look for Villanova to pull away in the second half for a 20th straight Big 5 victory.

Villanova 81, Saint Joseph’s 66

Temple (4-1) at George Washington (3-4), Sunday, 2:30 p.m. on NBCSP
 It’s said those who don’t learn from their mistakes, bear to repeat them. The Temple Owls learned that very lesson this week. Once again they found themselves with an 11-point lead in the second half for the second time in a week. But on Thursday, the Owls kept their foot on the gas pedal to put away South Carolina and win by 16 points. 

Earlier in the week, an 11-point lead with 11 minutes to go was quickly erased by La Salle in a hard-fought Big 5 battle that saw the Explorers come away with the victory. 

And that feeling of what could’ve been traveled with Temple to Madison Square Garden on Thursday as they faced South Carolina in the Under Armour Reunion tournament. Temple led the Gamecocks by 11 at the half, but kept pouring it on a defensively top-ranked team and closed out the game, winning 76-60. 

Up next, it’s another tournament away from Philadelphia. In fact, the Owls have only played one game, their lone loss which came to the Explorers, in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Maybe Fran Dunphy is onto something here. 

This weekend it’s the BB&T Classic in our nation’s capital. George Washington comes into the game struggling out of the gates a bit, though the Colonials did win their most recent game against Morgan State. They are paced by Yuta Watanabe, who’s averaging nearly 15 points per game in the early season and just posted 26 in the win over Morgan State this week. 

If you think you've heard of Watanabe before, you’re right. The senior had the distinction of being the first ever Japanese-born player to receive a Division I basketball scholarship in 2014. But he’s no gimmick. So the Owls will have their hands full. 

The good news, Temple has serious depth all over the court, and maybe most notably now in their frontcourt. Sophomore center Damion Moore has been very solid off the bench and earned his first career double-double in the win over South Carolina with 20 points and 10 rebounds. 

Temple continues it’s winning streak away from Philly. 

Temple 78, George Washington 67 

La Salle (4-3) vs. Towson (6-1), Friday, 2 p.m. in Belfast Classic in Ireland
La Salle heads across the pond to take part in the Belfast Classic in Northern Ireland this weekend, beginning with Friday afternoon’s matchup with Towson. The Explorers have momentum on their side following last Sunday’s dramatic comeback win over Temple.

La Salle trailed Temple by 11 midway through the second half, only to storm back to close the game on a 32-17 run. Junior Pookie Powell and senior B.J. Johnson were terrific for the Explorers, scoring 29 and 25 points, respectively.

Friday’s game against Towson certainly won’t be a walk in the park for La Salle. Towson is 6-1 on the season, including an eight-point win over Penn. Keep in mind that La Salle needed two overtimes to beat Penn two weeks ago. But I like how the Explorers are playing right now. Expect plenty of points in this one, with La Salle eventually outlasting Towson in the opening round of the Belfast Classic.

La Salle 79, Towson 75

Rider (5-2) at Drexel (3-4), Saturday, 4 p.m.
Drexel has been on quite a ride in the early season. They beat Houston but lost to NJIT. That's not an indictment on either of those opponents as much as it's a quandary as to the identity of this Drexel team. The Dragons scored 84 points in the win over Houston but could only muster 53 in the loss to NJIT.  Points seem to be at a premium for Zach Spiker's team. In two of their four losses, they failed to crack the 60-point mark. But to no surprise, it's the exact opposite in their three wins.

Most recently, the Dragons capped off a furious second-half comeback and won the game with 13 seconds to go. Yes, it was against a winless Lafayette team, but it was a win nonetheless and one in which they needed all of their scorers to contribute. Perhaps most importantly, it was another breakout game for Tremaine Isabell. The junior was seven of 15 from the field for 19 points. He also came away with eight rebounds, four assists and two steals. Isabell is the engine that makes the Dragons go, but like any motor, it takes more than one part to get things going. Austin Williams continues to provide a consistent post presence, but Spiker needs more from veteran Sammy Mojica, who did add 10 points but on three of 14 shooting.

This weekend, Drexel will face a tested Rider squad. Rider is legit, and not just, 'Hey, we're a lower mid-major, we can play' type of legit. The Broncs have only two losses. One came in their second game, on the road, against top-25 Xavier. The second was just this week against another Big East team. But the Providence Friars needed the final minutes to take care of Rider by just four points. That tells me plenty. Well, that, and what I hear from a valued member of this website's staff who proudly attended Rider. In fact, he may have posted this very story, so, "Hi, Jordan Hall." I know that a strong contingent of Bronc supporters will be taking the Bronc Zoo to the DAC this weekend. And they should be rewarded with a win.

Rider 85, Drexel 77

Prediction Records
Sean Kane:
Amy Fadool: 3-5

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.