Revenge game for Villanova in hostile environment

AP Images

Revenge game for Villanova in hostile environment

 Updated 4:30 p.m. 

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. 1 Villanova (13-0, 1-0 Big East) at Butler (11-3, 1-0 Big East), Saturday at  4:00 p.m.
This marks the back end of a two-game road trip to begin Big East play for top-ranked Villanova. The Wildcats improved to 13-0 on the season with an impressive 103-85 win at DePaul on Wednesday. They flew directly from Chicago to Indianapolis, where they will visit Butler at historic Hinkle Fieldhouse on Saturday afternoon.

Villanova's offensive execution continues to be a thing of beauty — the Wildcats are averaging 95 points in their last three games. The performance against DePaul was particularly impressive. Seven Villanova players reached double figures, led by Mikal Bridges' 20 points. Jay Wright's team shot a collective 54 percent from the field, 48 percent from three-point range and had 23 assists on their 38 made field goals. The Wildcats share the ball as well as any team in the country.

From a big picture perspective, the play of freshman Jermaine Samuels was especially encouraging, but it was announced Friday that he suffered a fractured bone in his right hand during the game and will be out indefinitely. Samuels scored a career-high 11 points in 16 minutes. He was slow to find his footing early in the season, but Samuels was developing into a reliable contributor off the bench before the injury. 

"We're all very disappointed for Jermaine," Jay Wright said. "He has impressed our staff and his teammates with his intelligence, work ethic, and skills. It's taken him some time to adapt to our system but he's made great progress in the last few weeks, as we saw at DePaul. We know he'll work hard in his rehab to be ready for his return to the court."

This weekend the Wildcats return to the scene of their first loss of last season. Villanova was swept by Butler a year ago, including a 66-58 setback at Hinkle Fieldhouse that knocked them from the ranks of the unbeaten. It was only the second time since the formation of the new Big East five years ago that an opponent swept Villanova in the regular season. Doug McDermott and Creighton also swept the Wildcats in 2014.

Wright typically has Villanova laser focused entering every game but the revenge factor will certainly add a little extra motivation. It also doesn't hurt that this isn't the same caliber of Butler team that we've seen the last handful of years. The Bulldogs needed a furious comeback in regulation and two overtimes to beat a rebuilding Georgetown team on Wednesday. Butler is in a transition year under new head coach LaVall Jordan, who replaced Chris Holtmann after Holtmann left for Ohio State last spring.

It's never easy to pick up a win at Hinkle Fieldhouse. The atmosphere should be electric with the No. 1 team in the country in town. But when push comes to shove, Villanova is a significantly better basketball team than Butler. The Wildcats will pull away in the second half and stay undefeated on the season. 

Villanova 81, Butler 66

Temple (7-5, 0-1 AAC) at Houston (11-2, 1-0 AAC), Saturday at 6:00 p.m.
 Starting the season with wins in four out of their first five games seems like a distant memory for Temple. In its place, a more recent memory of the struggles the Owls are going through. 

That was the case Thursday night when Fran Dunphy’s team opened American Conference play with a ten-point loss to Tulane at home. Dunphy is experimenting with some lineups and rotations in order to jump-start his Owls squad, but nothing seems to be working so far. And since winning four of the first five, Temple has only won three of its last seven games. The Owls trailed the entire game against Tulane and were unable to handle anything inside from the Green Wave. 

Houston will prove to be a formidable opponent for the Owls to try and bounce back against. The Cougars boast a potent scoring attack, averaging 81 points a game. They are paced by preseason first-team all-conference selection Rob Gray, who led the AAC in scoring last year. Gray averages just under 20 points a game and he’s joined by two others in the double-digit scoring average, Devin Davis and Corey Davis, and no they aren’t brothers. But those three are quite the triple threat for Kelvin Sampson. He also has two other players who are just off a 10-point average. Couple that scoring potential with the fact that Houston shoots over 48 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point land and it's easy to see why they are 11-2. 

I wish that a trip to a warmer climate would do wonders for the Owls. But the weather might be the only thing they enjoy on their visit to Houston. 

Houston 82, Temple 70

Toledo (7-5) at Pennsylvania (9-4), Friday at 4:00 p.m.
Don't look now but the Penn Quakers are picking up steam. They've won six of their last seven games including Wednesday's 105-52 drubbing of Delaware State. I wrote before the season in this column that I envision big things for this Penn team. The Quakers are starting to make that prognostication look spot-on with improved play on both ends of the floor. 

Friday's visit from Toledo will be Penn's final non-conference tune-up before Ivy League play begins next week against defending conference champion Princeton. I expect the Quakers to have a clear-cut advantage over Toledo. Penn sophomores Ryan Betley and AJ Brodeur will be the two best players on the floor. Betley and Brodeur complement each other perfectly, both playing a winning brand of basketball that will serve Penn well as conference play heats up over the coming months. 

Look for the Quakers to continue their upward trajectory and pick up their 10th win of the season at Toledo's expense on Friday. 

Penn 74, Toledo 63

St. Joseph's (5-6, 0-0 A-10) at George Washington (7-6, 0-0), Saturday at 4:00 p.m.
Could this be the game that star forward Charlie Brown makes his much-anticipated season debut for St. Joe's? Time will tell. Brown was scheduled to have his injured wrist examined Friday morning and if all goes well, he could be cleared to play in the Hawks' Atlantic 10 opener on Saturday. 

It's been a frustrating two months for Brown, who injured his wrist during preseason workouts in October. He is the best player on the St. Joe's roster and the Hawks have struggled to maintain any type of consistency early in the season without him. The start of conference play would be a terrific time for Brown to make his return.

With losses in three of their last four games, the Hawks find themselves one game below .500 on the season. They'll try to even up their record Saturday against a George Washington team with a 7-6 record. The Colonials tested themselves with a grueling non-conference schedule that included games against Florida State, Xavier, Kansas State and Miami.

George Washington is a solid team with the benefit of homecourt advantage on Saturday. If I knew for sure that Brown was playing, I'd be tempted to pick St. Joe's here. But considering the uncertainty over Brown's status, I'm going with GW.

George Washington 77, St. Joseph's 70 

St. Louis (7-6, 0-0 A-10) at La Salle (6-7, 0-0 A-10), Saturday at 2:00 p.m.
 La Salle opens up conference play after more than a week off during the holidays. And the break could be just what the Explorers need. They went into the layoff losing three of four and needed 95 points to take care of Mercer in the lone win during that span. A break can be a good thing or a bad thing, the old rust vs. rest adage. But I think for La Salle, it should help them regroup. Unfortunately, it didn’t help them get healthy. The team’s leading scorer B.J. Johnson, who was injured in the Mercer win, sat out the loss to Bucknell and is still listed as day-to-day with an ankle injury. He’s questionable to play against Saint Louis this weekend. 

The good news is that the Billikens could be a good team to host when you are not only looking for a win, but need to manage a short-handed lineup. Saint Louis has really struggled out of the gates, though they did pick up a nice win against Virginia Tech earlier this season. Despite the addition of Michigan State transfer Javon Bess, the Billikens only average about 65 points a game. However, though they don’t boast a regular player over 6’8”, the Billikens do rebound at a good rate, so La Salle will have to be mindful of crashing the boards and those all-important second-chance points. 

La Salle is a better scoring team, a better rebounding team, and has more size and talent. So judging from their season so far, they should lose this game. But I’m not ready to be negative Nancy just yet. 

Yes, Saint Louis is coached by former Kentucky point guard Travis Ford. Folks in Philadelphia will remember him kneeling in front of the bench during Christian Laettner’s shot at the Spectrum nearly 26 years ago. And yes, I think Ford can coach, proven at both Eastern Kentucky and Oklahoma State. But this one should be all La Salle. I’m going with the Explorers again, even though I think they’ve proved me wrong every time I’ve picked them this year. (And I sure did get a Kentucky mention in there. Sneaky, aren’t I?). 

La Salle 71, Saint Louis 66

Drexel (6-7, 0-0 CAA) at Elon (8-5, 0-0 CAA), Saturday at  2:00 p.m.
 Like La Salle, Drexel went into its holiday layover on a down note. The Dragons also had more than a week off after dropping three of their last four. But it was especially hard for the Dragons to swallow their latest loss. 

In the game against Loyola, a team who came in with just one win, Drexel took a one-point lead with just over three and a half minutes to play. But they only made one bucket from the field the rest of the game, certainly not a recipe for success. Zach Spiker is going to need a lot more from a veteran like Sammy Mojica. But Tremaine Isabell continues to be a revelation, with over 19 points per game and Kurk Lee is the Dragons most dynamic player. Watching Lee play, you just know he is capable of doing something impressive every time he touches the ball. But getting those touches continues to be a work in progress. 

The Dragons open up CAA play with a tough opponent in Elon. The Phoenix return all five starters from a season ago, one in which they won 18 games. Although Elon’s headliner coming into this season was second-team all-CAA selection Tyler Seibring, another junior has become the scoring threat for the Phoenix. Dainan Swoope averages just under 15 points a game while Seibring is a few points under his 14-point average from a season ago. 

Elon was picked third in the CAA preseason poll, but I expect them to contend with College of Charleston for the Conference crown.  

Elon 77, Drexel 62

Prediction Records
Sean Kane:
Amy Fadool: 6-9

Saint Joseph's comeback bid comes up short vs. Florida

AP Images

Saint Joseph's comeback bid comes up short vs. Florida

CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Keyontae Johnson saw Florida’s big lead shrink to almost nothing in the final minute. He made sure his teammates didn’t let this one get away from the Gators.

Johnson had a career-high 22 points to lead the Gators to a 70-62 victory over Saint Joseph’s at the Charleston Classic, playing without ejected leading scorer Kerry Blackshear Jr. on Thursday. Not that it came easily as Florida (3-2) saw its 18-point lead cut to 64-62 in the final minute.

“We just communicated, told everyone to stay together,” Johnson said. “We stayed locked in.”

The focus proved the difference as Florida hit six foul shots down the stretch while Saint Joseph’s missed two shots and committed a pair of turnovers.

“Down the stretch, I thought we showed a tremendous toughness,” Florida coach Mike White said.

The Gators needed it with Blackshear missing almost all of the game. He played three minutes in the first half after picking up two fouls. Then he was thrown out when he was battling underneath and his elbow looked like it hit Saint Joseph’s guard Taylor Funk. Blackshear, who came in averaging 14 points and 12 boards, was called for a flagrant two foul and sent off the court.

Blackshear’s departure seemed to energize the Hawks (2-3), who trailed 43-27 when the Florida star left the court. That’s when St. Joseph’s went on a 29-16 spurt to cut it to three points on Funk’s basket with six minutes left.

But Johnson followed with a basket and Andrew Nembhard made another to extend the lead.

St. Joseph’s had one last charge, slicing things to 64-62 on Ryan Daly’s layup in the final minute. The Hawks had several chances to tighten things, but could not. “We’re not going to go down easy,” Daly said.

Florida will take on Miami here Friday for a spot in the Charleston Classic finals.

The Hawks face Missouri State on Friday.

Johnson also had a game-high 12 rebounds. Nembhard added 16 points.

Florida took control quickly and appeared to make this a runaway as Noah Locke had two 3-pointers and Nembhard also hit one from behind the arc as the Gators went ahead 11-2 less than two minutes in and steadily built its lead.

St. Joseph’s had hit 34 first-half 3s combined its first four games. It made just one of its 14 long-range attempts this time as it fell behind.

Daly led the Hawks with 25 points.

Swider scores 26, No. 17 Villanova routs MTSU 98-69

USA Today Images

Swider scores 26, No. 17 Villanova routs MTSU 98-69

CONWAY, S.C. -- It’s been awhile since No. 17 Villanova shot this well from long range. Cole Swider has never scored like this.

Swider scored a career-high 26 points with six 3-pointers, and the Wildcats routed Middle Tennessee 98-69 on Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Myrtle Beach Invitational.

Collin Gillespie added 16 points and hit four 3s, Justin Moore finished with 15 points and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl had 11 rebounds to help Villanova (3-1) - which never trailed, led by 35 and shot 57% while winning its second straight following a 25-point loss at No. 10 Ohio State.

And yet, another number in the box score caught coach Jay Wright’s eye - Swider’s seven rebounds.

“He’s more than just a shooter,” Wright said.

And the Wildcats have plenty of those. They made 18 3s - one shy of the school record, and their most since they also had 18 in a victory over Kansas at the 2018 Final Four.

“They have elite size with great shooters,” Middle Tennessee coach Nick McDevitt said, “and any short close-out or decent close-out results in three points.”

Eleven of them came during a first-half barrage that pushed the lead well into the 20s. Swider hit his fifth 3 from the corner shortly before the buzzer to put the Wildcats up 53-28 at halftime.

Saddiq Bey then took the lead to 30 with a 3-pointer two minutes into the second half.

Donovan Sims scored 18 points and C.J. Jones had 16 for the Blue Raiders (3-2). Leading scorer Antonio Green, averaging 23.5 points going into the game, finished with four points on 1-of-7 shooting while dealing with foul trouble.

“They’ve got a lot of interchangeable parts, so they were switching just to never let him see space,” McDevitt said.