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

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.