Fastbreak Friday: For Villanova, St. John's a tricky foe

Fastbreak Friday: For Villanova, St. John's a tricky foe

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. 3 Villanova (16-1, 4-1 Big East) at St. John's (8-10, 2-3 Big East), Saturday at Noon

SK: Villanova bounced back from its first loss of the season with a pair of blowout victories. The third-ranked Wildcats beat Marquette 93-81 on Saturday after leading by as many as 30 points in the second half. Villanova went on to dismantle No. 15 Xavier 79-54 on Wednesday, running their Pavilion winning streak to a school-record 46 games.

Xavier — generally considered the second best team in the Big East over the last handful of years — has been outscored by a combined 92 points in its four visits to the Pavilion.

The Wildcats arrive at a tricky spot Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden. St. John's played Villanova tough in both meetings last year, and the Red Storm is much improved this season. Just in case Jay Wright needs any motivation for his guys, all he needs to do is mention that St. John's beat Butler, the only team to beat Villanova this season. 

Expect Villanova's seniors to once again lead the way on Saturday. The trio of Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds combined to score 50 points on Wednesday against Xavier. It is especially encouraging to see Jenkins hit his stride. He's averaging 21 points in his last two games, shooting 57 percent from the field and 10 of 17 from three-point range. 

For some perspective on the Villanova senior class, it's now 113-14 in four years on the Main Line, including 52-7 in Big East play. Hart, Jenkins and Reynolds went 16-0 against Big 5 opponents and have yet to lose a game at the Pavilion. They need four more wins to break the school record of 117 career victories set last year by Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu. Factor in a national championship and three straight Big East championships, and this group is well on its way to becoming the most accomplished class in the long, storied history of Villanova basketball.

While the seniors will once again be leaned on heavily Saturday, I'll be keeping a close eye on the continued development of redshirt freshman Donte DiVincenzo. With Phil Booth out indefinitely with a knee injury, DiVincenzo finds himself playing a key role for Villanova. He's the only guard off the bench and Wright depends on him to provide a spark at both ends of the floor. 

DiVincenzo delivered the best performance of his young career against Xavier with 10 points, four rebounds, three assists and a steal in a season-high 32 minutes. He's an explosive athlete on the wing who is also capable of bringing the ball up the floor when Jalen Brunson is resting. 

If Villanova is going to make another deep run into late March and possibly early April, DiVincenzo will have to be a big part of it. Expect him to make more progress against St. John's. 

Villanova 79, St. John's 69

Tulsa (8-7, 2-1 AAC) at Temple (10-8, 1-4 AAC), Saturday at 4 p.m.

AF: The Owls were riding high earlier in the season. They beat several ranked teams en route to winning the preseason NIT, and it appeared that the young roster would be exceeding expectations, especially when you consider the injuries that have hit hard. Fun fact: The only loss on ninth-ranked Florida State's record came courtesy of the Temple Owls. But the two teams have gone in opposite directions. 

Temple is coming off a rough stretch, dropping four of its last five. Most recently was a disappointing effort this week in a 14-point loss to UConn in Temple's first ever trip to Gampel Arena (usually they play in Hartford).

Obi Enechionyia, the Owls' leading scorer and rebounder, did not come with his best effort. The junior forward played 30 minutes and scored only seven points on 3-for-17 shooting. That's just never going to work out to a win for any team. And for that team, shooting 36 percent overall from the field, it was a game they'd rather forget, on both ends of the court as UConn shot 53 percent. So let's move on. I'm sure Fran Dunphy is preaching that to his guys this week. They have only one win in the conference and this weekend is a prime opportunity to pick up a second. 

Tulsa is a streaky team. The Golden Hurricane have two wins in their last five games. In one, they scored 61 points in an overtime game; in the other, they scored 81. So good luck trying to pin down their style. The 61-59 overtime win came over UConn, the same Huskies team that put up 73 against Temple. So Temple needs to get Tulsa to play its game and slow the game down. A low-scoring game definitely can work in the Owls' favor and Tulsa can have its cold shooting nights as well.

I'm playing catch-up in the Fastbreak Friday prediction record. I feel like Tulsa probably wins this one. Temple is going the wrong way. But I also don't think Dunphy's crew puts together back-to-back poor efforts. I'm going with the Owls at home.

Temple 66, Tulsa 63

Richmond (10-6, 4-0 Atlantic 10) at Saint Joseph's (8-7, 2-2 Atlantic 10), Saturday at 12:30 p.m.

SK: St. Joe's enters this matchup following losses in two of its last three games. The Hawks are still trying to find their way without leading scorer Shavar Newkirk, who suffered a season-ending knee injury two weeks ago. It's tough to overstate just how much Newkirk meant to this St. Joe's team — his production on the offensive end of the floor simply can't be replaced.

Lamarr Kimble, James Demery and freshman Charlie Brown will each be asked to take on a bigger role moving forward. They combined for 51 points on Wednesday, but it wasn't enough in a 75-67 loss to George Mason. 

The road doesn't get any easier Saturday against Richmond, which has yet to lose a game in conference play. The Spiders are led by senior forward T.J. Cline, who is averaging 17.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists — all team-highs.

Cline is the son of legendary women's player and coach Nancy Lieberman and very much fits the part of a coach's son. He is well-schooled in the fundamentals of the game and is a terrific all-around player. I expect Cline to carry Richmond to a hard-fought road win over St. Joe's.

Richmond 71, St. Joe's 67

George Washington (9-8, 1-3 Atlantic 10) at La Salle (9-5, 3-1 Atlantic 10), Sunday at 4:30 p.m.

AF: The Explorers are coming off an impressive Rhode win (get it) over Rhode Island on Thursday night. They stormed out to a 43-22 lead at the half. You read that correctly, a 21-point lead on a Rams team that came in just ahead of the Explorers in the Atlantic 10 standings. Dr. John Giannini's team has been on quite the tear lately, and this Rhode Island win is just the latest positive feather in its cap. The Explorers have won five of their last six games and are averaging just over 86 points a game in those five wins. Talk about getting hot and at the right time. Amar Stukes, a player who was averaging about six points a game, was on fire against the Rams on Thursday night. He was 4 for 6 from the floor and made 13 of 14 free throws for a career-high 22 points. And as a team, they came out and shot a blistering 65 percent in the first 20 minutes. All the transfers seem to have gotten on the same page, and things are really clicking for this La Salle team. 

The Explorers are out to a 3-1 start in conference play and are currently third in the standings. That number could and should increase to four conference wins this Sunday when they welcome George Washington to the Gola. 

The Colonials are trending in the opposite direction of the Explorers. GW has lost four of its last five, posting 63 points on average in those losses. There was a time that it looked like the squad would make a little noise in the Atlantic 10. But after the recent losses, going back to December, has the Colonials in 10th place in the A-10. Tyler Cavanaugh, their leading scorer at over 16 points a game, only posted six against VCU in the 85-55 loss on Wednesday night. That is a blueprint for beating GW, one I think that La Salle will use.

La Salle 80, George Washington 68

Yale (8-5, 0-0 Ivy League) at Pennsylvania (6-6, 0-1 Ivy League), Friday at 8 p.m.
Brown (9-7, 0-0 Ivy League) at Pennsylvania (6-6, 0-1 Ivy League), Saturday at 8 p.m.

SK: Ivy League play officially shifts into high gear with the first of the "back-to-back weekends" that have long been a staple of this storied conference. Despite Penn's loss to Princeton in the league opener last weekend, I'm still bullish on the Quakers' chances of making some noise in the Ivy and advancing to the league's inaugural 4-team conference tournament at the Palestra in March. 

The schedule makers didn't do Steve Donahue any favors with Yale coming to town Friday on the heels of Penn's loss at Princeton. That's a brutal two games to begin conference play. 

Yale is the defending Ivy League champs, a team that won 23 games a year ago and came within a narrow loss to Duke from advancing to the Sweet 16. To be fair, the Bulldogs lost most of their firepower from last year's team. But this is still a program that has established a winning culture under James Jones.

I look for Yale to edge out Penn in a tightly-contested game on Friday. But expect the Quakers — led by freshman big man A.J. Brodeur — to get their first conference win Saturday against Brown.

Yale 65, Penn 62
Penn 68, Brown 56

Delaware (7-11, 0-5 CAA) at Drexel (6-11, 0-4 CAA), Saturday at 4 p.m.

AF: The good news in this game, one of these teams will post its first conference win of the season. And it will be a welcome relief. Neither team has posted a win in the 2017 calendar year. Both teams have lost five in a row. Most recently, the Dragons lost 92-75 to Northeastern, a team they took to overtime and lost just after the first of the year. Drexel had been getting reliable scoring from its top three players, Rodney Williams, Kurk Lee and Sammy Mojica. But if one of those is having an off night, it spells L-O-S-S for the Dragons. They need total team efforts from their top three and for another player to step up. Zach Spiker's team actually shot well in the Thursday night loss to Northeastern. The Dragons shot 47.5 percent from the field, including 41 percent from three-point territory. They were only outrebounded by four and turned the ball over eight times. Those are usually stats for a victory. But they struggled mightily on the defensive end against the Huskies. And that was the game. 

Delaware meanwhile is coming off a similarly disappointing defensive effort against Towson. The Tigers scored 83 points on the Blue Hens, 47 in the first half. The Blue Hens had only one player in double figures in that loss, as Ryan Daly had 17 points. It's no surprise he leads the team with nearly 14 points a game, but the Blue Hens have trouble scoring consistently. In four of their last five losses, they scored 56 points or less. Hard to win many games like that.

I think that's why this one will go to the home team.

Drexel 62, Delaware 58

Prediction Records
Sean Kane: 15-3
Amy Fadool: 11-6

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.