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 (17-1, 5-1 Big East) at Connecticut (10-8, 3-3 AAC), Saturday, 12:00 p.m.
SK: Villanova and UConn renew an old-school Big East rivalry on Saturday afternoon, the first meeting of a three-game series that extends to the 2019-2020 season. The two teams have not met since the second round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament when the Huskies upset the Wildcats en route to a national championship.
While top-ranked Villanova has flourished in the revamped Big East, UConn's basketball program has become somewhat of an afterthought the past three years in the AAC under Kevin Ollie. The Huskies finished with a 16-17 record a year ago and are a middling 10-8 this season. UConn enters Saturday's matchup fresh off a 24-point loss at Memphis on Tuesday.
Villanova, meanwhile, is coming off arguably its most impressive performance of the season an 88-56 drubbing of Georgetown on Wednesday. The Wildcats dominated the Hoyas in their own building from start to finish, leading by as many as 44 points in the second half. Jalen Brunson finished with 18 points to lead six different Villanova players in double figures. They shot a collective 60 percent from the field and 51 percent from three-point range.
Sophomore sixth man Donte DiVincenzo continued his torrid pace with 13 points on 6 of 9 shooting from the field. DiVincenzo's performance came on the heels of his career-high 25-point outburst at St. John's last weekend, a game in which he connected on six three-point field goals. The fact that DiVincenzo isn't in the starting lineup speaks to the strength of the Villanova program. It's not an exaggeration to say that DiVincenzo would start for 98 percent of the teams in the country.
Villanova's improvement defensively is a welcomed sight for Jay Wright. After allowing an average of 92 points in their first three conference games, the Wildcats have clamped down considerably on the defensive end — surrendering an average of just 64 points in their last three games. Look for that defensive resurgence to continue on Saturday against UConn, a team that has struggled to score as of late.
Villanova 79, UConn 65
Temple (9-9, 2-5 AAC) at Pennsylvania (12-5, 3-0 Ivy), Saturday, 2:00 p.m. on NBC Sports Philadelphia
AF: This is always one of my favorite games to write about because of the connections between the two schools. Steven Donahue coached at Penn under Fran Dunphy, who enjoyed a lot of success as the Quakers head coach.
Before I get to the success that Penn has enjoyed this season, I have to discuss the Owls' string of recent heartbreak.
They’ve only won two of their last six games. But here’s the rub; if you throw out the loss to UCF, which I’m sure Coach Dunphy would appreciate, Temple has had those remaining five games decided by a combined 11 points. One basket, that could have been the deciding factor in turning one or more of those losses into wins.
So up next, a tough test at the Palestra, Dunphy’s old stomping grounds. Penn is off to its best start to a season since, you guessed it, Fran Dunphy was the coach. Just like back in the 2002-2003 season, the Quakers are also 12-5 at this point. That year, Penn went undefeated in Ivy play. So far this season, Penn is undefeated in Ivy play.
Yes, they have a long way to go in order to stay that way, but the Quakers are looking like the team to beat right now in the Ivy League. A.J. Brodeur is coming off his best game of the season, a 30-point effort with six three-pointers in the win over Columbia. Penn has two Big Five matchups before continuing league play in February, Temple then St. Joseph’s.
This weekend I think Penn keeps the good times rolling and the former assistant gets the best of his mentor.
Penn 72, Temple 70
Fordham (6-12, 1-5 A-10) at St. Joseph's (8-9, 3-3 A-10), Saturday, 1:00 p.m.
SK: St. Joseph's rebounded from a pair of agonizing losses to George Mason and UMass to defeat Dayton, 81-65, on Wednesday. The Hawks are currently 3-3 in A-10 play but could easily be 5-1 if those heartbreaking losses turned out differently, which they easily could have.
The senior duo of James Demery and Shavar Newkirk combined for 36 points in the win over Dayton, while freshman forward Taylor Funk added 18 points and six rebounds. Then there's sophomore Pierfrancesco Oliva, who recorded a bizarre but beneficial stat line of 0 points and 15 rebounds.
St. Joseph's should be able to build on the momentum of Wednesday's win against Fordham on Saturday. The Rams have lost four straight games and six of their last seven, generally not showing much fight in the process. Expect the Hawks to set the tone early and cruise to a second straight victory.
St. Joe's 74, Fordham 59
La Salle (8-11, 2-4 A-10) at Richmond (5-13, 3-3 A-10), Saturday, 2:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Network
SK: Before I get to how this matchup of struggling A-10 teams will play out, a salute to Dr. John Giannini.
The La Salle head coach recorded his 500th career win with the Explorers' 75-67 victory over Fordham on Wednesday. Giannini has endured his share of ups and downs during his 14-year tenure at La Salle. But the bottom line remains; he's done an admirable job in less than ideal circumstances. Any realistic La Salle fan will admit that recruiting is a challenge, something Giannini has dealt with by pursuing a number of transfers in recent years. In most cases, these transfers are Philadelphia kids who are looking for more playing time — guys like B.J. Johnson, Tyrone Garland and Ramon Galloway. It's a formula that helped Giannini take La Salle to the Sweet 16 in 2013 with Galloway and Garland playing key roles.
On occasion, you'll hear or see La Salle fans on social media calling for a coaching change. I don't understand that logic. I continue to believe Giannini is a good fit at La Salle and he deserves the opportunity to get the program back to where it was five years ago.
As for this Saturday's visit to Richmond, it will be a challenge for the Explorers. The Spiders are down this season but have found their footing over the last week with wins over George Washington and VCU. I expect Richmond to make it three straight wins at La Salle's expense this weekend.
Richmond 70, La Salle 65
Drexel (7-13, 1-6 CAA) at James Madison (5-13, 1-6 A-10), Saturday, 4:00 p.m.
AF: After picking up a marquee win over the College of Charleston two weeks ago — which was also their first conference win — the Dragons have hit a serious slump and dropped four straight games.
Zach Spiker’s squad is certainly struggling with scoring, but perhaps more importantly, is getting beat on the glass, sometimes almost two to one by their opponents. And any coach will tell you second-chance points are a real killer, not only to the momentum of the game but also for team morale.
In Drexel’s most recent loss, falling 90-68 at Towson, the rebounding differential was 46-25 in the Tigers' favor. It could be a problem for the Dragons this weekend against James Madison.
The Dukes are coming off a marquee win of their own, when they beat Elon in overtime Thursday night. They erased a 10-point deficit in the final 90 seconds to take down the Phoenix, which also was their first CAA win.
A player of note in this one, JMU’s Stuckey Mosley is averaging 19.5 points and one of four Dukes who average double figures. Neither team is going to contend for the CAA this year, but both have shown flashes. The road has not been kind to the Dragons.
I hesitate to pick against them because they win when I predict a loss, and lose when I predict a win. So I’ll go a little reverse psychology and say that they will win ... and I really mean lose.
JMU 78, Drexel 75
Amy Fadool: 12-13