Revenge game for Villanova in hostile environment

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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

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.