Villanova looks to keep insane 4-year streak alive

Villanova looks to keep insane 4-year streak alive

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.

Marquette (11-4, 2-1 Big East) at No. 3 Villanova (13-1, 1-1 Big East), Saturday 8:00 p.m.
Overshadowed by the four straight conference championships, two conference tournament titles and a national championship is what I consider to be the most impressive aspect of Villanova's five-year run of sustained excellence — the Wildcats haven't lost two games in a row since March of 2013.

Villanova will look to keep that streak intact Saturday night against Marquette at the Wells Fargo Center. The third-ranked Wildcats are coming off their first loss of the season last Saturday at Butler, a 101-93 setback in which the Bulldogs shot a blistering 68 percent from three-point range. Credit Butler for one of the finest shooting performances you'll see in college basketball all season. But there have been cracks in Villanova's defense the last few weeks. Cracks that Jay Wright has had a full week of practice to repair leading into Saturday's visit from Marquette. 

Make no mistake, Marquette will provide another stiff test for Villanova defensively. The Golden Eagles are coming off a 95-90 overtime win at Providence on Wednesday. Sophomore guard Markus Howard turned in a record-setting performance, scoring 52 points on 17 of 29 shooting from the field, including 11 of 19 from three-point territory. Howard's 52-point outburst set a new school record and matched the Big East record for most points in a game.

Howard is averaging a team-high 22.6 points per game but he has plenty of help in the Marquette backcourt, namely senior Andrew Rowsey, who has been good for 22.0 points per game this season. The Golden Eagles typically go as their sharp-shooting backcourt goes. Defending the perimeter will be priority No. 1 for Villanova. 

As good as Howard and Rowsey have been, Villanova's Jalen Brunson continues to be the best guard in the Big East. Brunson matched a career high with 31 points in the Butler loss and is in the midst of putting together one of the finest seasons in school history. He is averaging 18.9 points and shooting 59.5 percent from the field and a staggering 49.2 percent from three-point range with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 5.0 to 1.3. Put simply, Brunson is putting on a clinic on how to play the point guard position.   

With freshmen Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels sidelined with hand injuries, depth is becoming an issue for Villanova — the Wildcats' top six players accounted for 96 percent of the minutes played against Butler. But they should be rested following a seven-day layoff between games. 

Normally, I'd mention that Villanova will be tempted to look ahead to next Wednesday's showdown with fifth-ranked Xavier. But the fact that they're coming off their first loss of the season should keep the Wildcats honed in on Marquette on Saturday night. The Golden Eagles' backcourt will score its share of points, but look for Villanova to get back on track with a win. 

Villanova 84, Marquette 74

St. Bonaventure (11-3, 1-1 A-10) at St. Joseph's (6-7, 1-1 A-10), Saturday 8:00 p.m.
I feel like I’ve been writing about losing streaks a lot lately, so it’s refreshing to tell you Saint Joseph’s snapped a two-game skid with a thriller Wednesday night over VCU.  

The Hawks got some bad news earlier in the week when they learned Charlie Brown would be out at least three more weeks. The sophomore guard has missed every game so far this season, dealing with a broken wrist that’s sidelined him since October. And Phil Martelli has certainly missed the scoring of his former All-Rookie conference selection from last season. 

But in the overtime win over VCU, Martelli saw this year’s potential All-Rookie selection step up. Taylor Funk poured in 19 points and hit a three-pointer late in OT to help secure the win over the Rams. 

The Hawks have back-to-back home games to ring in the new year but will have their hands full if they want back-to-back wins. 

The Bonnies come into Hagan Arena with 11 wins, off to their best start to a season in 18 years. They were picked second in the conference, right behind Rhode Island, and it’s no surprise as to why Saint Bonaventure is one of the favorites to win the Atlantic 10.

They have a two-headed scoring attack in Matt Mobley and Jaylen Adams. Mobley has started all but 14 games and averages 18.5 points a game. Adams missed the first month and a half of the season with an injury but is averaging 19.5 points in his eight games. The Bonnies actually just lost their first game with Adams in the starting lineup when Dayton beat them this week. I don’t think they’re going to lose a second in the same week. 

St. Bonaventure 77, Saint Joseph’s 70

Princeton (7-7, 0-0 Ivy) at Pennsylvania (9-5, 0-0 Ivy), Saturday 4:00 p.m.
There's no better way to tip off Ivy League play than another installment of the best rivalry in the long and storied history of a league often dubbed the "Ancient Eight." This game was initially scheduled for Friday night but was pushed back to Saturday afternoon due to unsafe travel conditions as a result of the snowstorm that hit the Delaware Valley on Thursday.

The last time Penn and Princeton met was the semifinals of last year's inaugural Ivy League Tournament — a 72-64 Princeton overtime win in which the Quakers gave the top-seeded Tigers everything they could handle. 

That loss marked the third time that Penn lost to Princeton last season. Needless to say, the Quakers will be eager for a little payback Saturday at the Palestra. Penn won't have much momentum heading into the game following last weekend's disappointing 13-point home loss to Toledo. Princeton, meanwhile, has won five of its last six games following a 2-6 start to the season. 

What these teams have done to this point in the season won't mean much once the ball goes up on Saturday. Ivy League play is a whole different animal, particularly when it comes to this rivalry. Penn has the motivation and home-court advantage on its side. Not to mention, the more talented roster. I expect the Quakers to pick up a long overdue win over Princeton. 

Pennsylvania 73, Princeton 68

Temple (7-7, 0-3 AAC) at Central Florida (11-4, 2-1 AAC), Sunday 12:00 p.m.
 Temple had a chance to snap a three-game losing streak in a big way Thursday night. But Cincinnati’s first-round NBA draft prospect had other ideas. 

Jacob Evans hit the game-winning jumper just inside the three-point line with less than a second to go and the 19th-ranked Bearcats escaped the Liacouras Center with a win. 

But it could’ve been a huge boost to a struggling Temple squad, which has now has dropped four straight. 

The Owls are now tasked with going on the road to face a UCF team that returns three starters from a 24-win squad last year. There is some good news Fran Dunphy can take away from the loss to the Bearcats. The Owls equaled their best defensive effort of the season, holding Cincinnati to just 55 points. That was against a Bearcats team that previously averaged 81 points per game.

But with the good, comes the bad. Temple only made one field goal in the last seven minutes of the game. The Owls saw a game in which they led for nearly the entire second half derail in front of their eyes. That’s not easy to come back from, for any team. 

UCF is entering its second year under Johnny Dawkins. The Knights reached the NIT semifinals last season after doubling its win total from the previous year. 

They are led by preseason first-team AAC selection B.J. Taylor at the point and boast the tallest player currently in college basketball, 7-foot-6 Tacko Fall on the inside.

But more important is the balance the Knights have on the floor. Both Taylor and Fall average 12 points and A.J. Davis is right behind with 11.5. And like the Owls, they’re stingy on defense, holding opponents to about 60 points a game. 

This weekend is a good time to head to Florida with the high temperatures here in Philadelphia in the teens. And it could be a good time for the Owls to regroup after a heartbreaker. They showed they have the ability to handle the better teams and talented players in the conference. Yes, they will have some trouble with Fall’s size. But if they play like they did against the Bearcats, they’ll come out of the sunshine state smiling. 

Temple 66, UCF 64

VCU (9-6, 1-1 A-10) at La Salle (7-8, 1-1 A-10), Saturday 2:00 p.m.
Following an overtime loss at Saint Joseph's on Wednesday, VCU wraps up a two-game swing through Philadelphia with Saturday's visit to La Salle. The Explorers are coming off a 12-point loss at Rhode Island on Wednesday, a game in which they were once again without the services of leading scorer B.J. Johnson.

Johnson has missed the last three games due to an ankle injury and is questionable for Saturday's matchup with VCU. His absence is understandably starting to catch up to the La Salle offense — the Explorers managed just 62 points and shot 43 percent from the field and 23 percent from three-point range against Rhode Island. 

Sophomore guard Isiah Deas was a bright spot in that loss with 17 points and seven rebounds. That performance came 12 days after Deas scored a career-high 24 points against Bucknell. His emergence gives the Explorers yet another scoring option on the perimeter. 

Obviously, Johnson's status will go a long way in determining the outcome on Saturday. I don't feel comfortable going with La Salle to win this game not knowing whether Johnson will play. But I'm putting my faith in the Explorers to pull out a narrow victory at home.     

La Salle 79, VCU 76

Charleston (11-3, 2-0 CAA) at Drexel (6-9, 0-2 CAA), Friday 7:00 p.m.
Drexel has the honors of welcoming in the CAA’s top team into their building for the Dragons' conference home opener. 

Drexel is coming off a disappointing defensive effort against UNC-Wilmington, a team that’s really struggled out of the gates. It wasn’t that long ago the Seahawks were the cream of the CAA crop. And by not that long ago, I mean last year. But their win over Drexel Tuesday was just UNCW’s fourth win of the season. 

So the Dragons need to regroup. Coming home to play at the DAC is a good start. But hosting College of Charleston isn’t the opponent to see first. 

The Cougars were picked to win the Colonial. They have won nine of their last 10 games and their three stars are three of the best scorers in the conference. Joe Chealey, Grant Riller and Jarrell Brantley form the Cougars' triumvirate. Chealey leads the way with 18 a game and Riller and Brantley are on his heels, averaging over 16 points a game. Not only does Charleston score, they defend well by holding opponents to 65 points a game. 

Zach Spiker will get to see his team’s mettle in this one. And any learning experience gained against the Cougars should help Drexel in other conference games down the road. 

College of Charleston 80, Drexel 66

Prediction Records
Sean Kane:
Amy Fadool: 8-10

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

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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

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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.