NCAA

Will Villanova suffer uncharacteristic 2nd consecutive loss?

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Will Villanova suffer uncharacteristic 2nd consecutive loss?

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.

Butler (17-8, 7-5 Big East) at No. 1 Villanova (22-2, 9-2 Big East), Saturday at Noon
SK: Coming off Wednesday's home loss to a St. John's team that came in with a 0-11 conference mark, top-ranked Villanova has arrived at a crossroads of what's been a tremendous season to this point. The sky certainly isn't falling with the Wildcats sitting at 22-2 overall and 9-2 in the Big East. But the combination of injuries to a pair of starters and a difficult portion of the schedule will test Villanova in a way it hasn't been tested this season.

Phil Booth will likely miss another four weeks as he recovers from a broken hand. Villanova had been doing an admirable job playing without Booth the last two weeks, thanks mainly to its backcourt depth. Then came Wednesday's news that Eric Paschall will miss at least a week with a concussion. Paschall's absence loomed large in the St. John's loss — he's a huge part of how the Wildcats like to operate on both ends of the floor. No one else on the Villanova roster has Paschall's skill set. He had really picked up his offensive game in the last month to complement his always steady rebounding and interior defense.

Then there's freshman forward Jermaine Samuels, who just returned from a hand injury and is nowhere close to 100 percent. It's not difficult to see that the injury bug has officially taken its toll on this Villanova team.

No one is going to feel sorry for the Wildcats, who must now figure out a way to bounce back for Saturday's visit from a Butler team that not only beat them in late December but also has beaten them three straight times. I've written many times before in this column that Villanova has not lost two straight games since March of 2013. That streak will hang in the balance Saturday afternoon. Following the Butler game, the Wildcats hit the road for games at Providence and No. 5 Xavier, which currently has a half-game lead over Villanova in the Big East standings. These next three games will go a long way in determining whether the Wildcats will win a fifth straight Big East regular-season championship.

Shooting will be the name of the game in Saturday's matchup with Butler. The Bulldogs shot a blistering 68 percent from three in their win over Villanova earlier this season. The Wildcats, meanwhile, will try to rediscover their efficiency from long range after converting on just 8 of 33 three-point attempts against St. John's.

I view Mikal Bridges as the key to Villanova's being able to survive this stretch without Booth and Paschall. Specifically, a more assertive Mikal Bridges. He needs to step up his game and become a more consistent threat on the offensive end of the floor. With Bridges, Jalen Brunson and Donte DiVincenzo leading the charge, Villanova still has plenty of available firepower. Something tells me we'll see Bridges in attack mode against Butler. Expect a big game from Bridges to snap Villanova's three-game losing streak against Butler.

Villanova 79, Butler 70

Temple (14-10, 6-6 AAC) at South Florida (8-17, 1-11 AAC), Saturday at Noon
AF: Don’t look now, but the Owls are on a bit of a roll. Actually, you should look, because it seems Fran Dunphy’s team may have figured some things out. The Owls have won four in a row and six of their last seven. The lone blemish in that span is a poor performance against the top-10 ranked Cincinnati Bearcats, a game in which they never really competed. 

The biggest reason for the turnaround seems to be a more balanced scoring attack. Dunphy is finding points and second-chance points, thanks to rebounds, from some previously unlikely places. Freshman J.P. Moorman just posted his first double-double of the season against ECU, and his 12 rebounds in the win over the Pirates was the most by a Temple player all season.  The junior center Ernest Aflakpui scored in the double figures for just the third time this season, despite starting all 24 games for the Owls this year.

It’s things like that which need to go Dunphy's and the Owls' way if they want to make any kind of run in the AAC Tournament. Because, at the end of the day, making the NCAA Tournament is what it’s all about and the only way Temple gets in this year is with the automatic bid.

This isn’t a resume-padding win this weekend but it is a chance to move up in the conference standings against the AAC cellar-dweller.

Temple 76, USF 65

Massachusetts (11-13, 4-7 A-10) at Saint Joseph's (9-14, 4-7 A-10), Saturday at 4 p.m.
AF: While Temple is one of the hotter teams in the city, unfortunately for Hawks fans, their St. Joe’s team is at the opposite end of the temperature spectrum, having lost five straight.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen injuries derail a season in such a big way, outside of the Sixers of course. But the loss of Charlie Brown coupled with Lamarr Kimble has been catastrophic for the Hawks.

Brown broke his wrist at the beginning of the season back in October and was thought to miss a few weeks. But those weeks have come and gone two to three times over. At the beginning of January, Brown’s wrist was reevaluated and doctors deemed it to be healing slowly, enough that he’s back in a cast for at least another three weeks. And here we are at the end of the first week of February and no sign of Brown.

I can only imagine the frustration he feels and that Phil Martelli feels, but the team reiterated that Brown’s health was most important. It is, and not just because Brown has NBA-caliber talent. But let’s move on to how the Hawks can break out of their longest slump of the season.

They’ve been in almost all of those losses in that stretch, and aside from their most recent loss to Davidson, the previous four were by an average of 4.5 points. Is it better to lose close games and know you had the chance, or get blown out and realize you were just not the better team? Not sure, but unfortunately for the Hawks, they have enough of a sample size of both to judge for themselves. 

UMass comes to Hagan Arena this weekend and is neck and neck with St. Joe’s in the standings. And like the Hawks, the Minutemen have been in quite a few close games, beating Davidson in double-overtime by six and losing by only two points to No. 18 Rhode Island before that.

This isn’t the ideal matchup for the Hawks, but I’m feeling the good vibes of the Super Bowl parade. I’m coming off a very good weekend in my prediction record so I shouldn’t tempt the fates, but I’m going with the Hawks. 

Saint Joseph’s 72, UMass 70 

Penn (16-6, 6-0 Ivy) at Dartmouth (4-15, 0-6 Ivy), Friday at 7 p.m.
Penn (16-6, 6-0 Ivy) at Harvard (10-11, 5-1 Ivy), Saturday at 4 p.m.

SK: Penn hits the road this weekend to put its perfect Ivy League record on the line. The Quakers are coming off a convincing 17-point win at Princeton, sweeping the season series from the Tigers and collecting their first win at Princeton in nine years in the process. Penn got typical solid performances from A.J. Brodeur and Ryan Betley in the victory, but the story of the game was Darnell Forman's career-high 21 points. The senior guard made seven of eight field goal attempts and added five rebounds and five assists.

First up for Penn this weekend: A visit to a Dartmouth team still looking for its first conference win. Then it's a trip to Harvard, which is right on Penn's heels in the conference standings. I'm tempted to pick Harvard to win on Saturday but I can't go against the Quakers considering how well they're playing at the moment. Look for Penn's offensive execution to roll along and generate a pair of wins this weekend.

Penn 71, Dartmouth 63
Penn 68, Harvard 64

La Salle (10-14, 4-7 A-10) at St. Louis (13-12, 6-6 A-10), Saturday at 8 p.m.
AF: The Explorers are so up and down right now, they might as well be on a roller coaster. That’s at least what their fans feel like. I know that because at NBC Sports Philadelphia we have one of the biggest La Salle fans in the region working here. Andrew ‘Iceman’ Greth is currently riding the high of the Eagles’ win but I know his Explorers are always on his mind. Their ‘win one, lose one’ pattern over the past six games is more than a bit frustrating.

La Salle can’t seem to string together back-to-back wins and that’s because they also have been able to string together back to back consistent efforts on either the offensive or defensive side of the ball. Some of that does have to do with injuries, and missing players from your normal rotation does affect chemistry, but there might be more to it than that. It may be just too many individual efforts and not a collective team effort that is leading the Explorers to such a varying record. As a Kentucky fan, especially this year, I can attest to having five individuals playing rather than one team and the disappointing results.

And now I’ve managed to reference the Wildcats and our co-worker without getting into the Explorers’ next game. But you needed to know those things to see why this one against the Billikens isn’t going to help solve the Explorers woes.

Saint Louis is a very good defensive team, holding opponents in the mid-60s in scoring and the Billikens are on a good stretch, winning five of their last seven. No surprise their leading scorer is Michigan State transfer Javon Bess, but he’s not dominating the stats. There are four other Billikens within five points on average behind Bess. So they present a balanced scoring attack and will wear you down defensively to make you play their style of game. 

La Salle beat Saint Louis pretty handily over a month ago, but these two are much different than at the end of 2017.

Saint Louis 67, La Salle 65

Drexel (11-15, 5-8 CAA) at College of Charleston (19-6, 10-3 CAA), Saturday at 4 p.m.
AF: Talk about teams who’ve been on streaks, and you have to mention Drexel. The Dragons have earned some seemingly improbable wins in the last month, beating teams above them in the CAA standings like Northeastern and Elon. They’ve put together a four-game winning streak, which is impressive in its own right, but even more so when before that, they were on a five-game losing skid. It took a double-overtime effort from Towson to snap Drexel’s winning streak, or it too would be five games long.

Next up is a visit to College of Charleston, the team leading the way in the Colonial.  Drexel already took down the Cougars a month ago, but since then Charleston has been on a tear winning seven straight. I don’t see the Dragons snapping that, but if you look at their recent history, they might be just the team to do it.

Charleston 82, Drexel 70

Prediction records
Sean Kane: 21-9
Amy Fadool: 17-16

NCAA adopts college basketball reforms for NBA draft, agents, more

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NCAA adopts college basketball reforms for NBA draft, agents, more

INDIANAPOLIS — College basketball players who participate in the NBA combine and go undrafted will be allowed to return to school and play as part of sweeping NCAA reforms in the wake of a corruption scandal.

The NCAA announced Wednesday that its Board of Governors and Division I Board of Directors have adopted numerous proposals, including changes to the enforcement process for rules violations and allowing NCAA-certified agents to work with college basketball players who test the waters in declaring for the NBA draft. 

Agents will have at least a limited place within the NCAA structure when it comes to college basketball.

The NCAA's rule changes include allowing players to work with an agent while declaring for the NBA draft. College players would have to request an evaluation from the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee on their draft prospects. The rules would also allow elite high school players to work with an agent if the NBA removes its one-and-done rule.

The agent would have to be certified by the NCAA no later than August 2020. Until then, agents certified by the NBA players' union would qualify.

Agents would be allowed to cover minimal expenses such as meals and transportation tied to meetings or workouts with pro teams. The agent's work would stop if the player enrolls in or returns to college.

The changes reflect the recommendations made in April by the Rice Commission.

The Rice Commission, led by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, was formed in response to an FBI investigation into payments from shoe companies to coaches for steering players to certain schools.

The NCAA is also adopting changes it hopes will improve its enforcement process when handling cases of rules violations.

The policies adopted by the NCAA's Board of Governors and Division I Council include the appointment of independent groups to handle and resolve complex cases. That was one of the recommendations from the Rice Commission appointed in the wake of an FBI investigation into corruption within college basketball.

The changes also allow the NCAA to accept during investigations outside information that has been "established by another administrative body or a commission authorized by a school." The NCAA says that will save time since investigators would no longer have to independently confirm information outlined by other agencies or outside investigations.

In addition, school presidents and athletics staff will be required to commit "contractually" to cooperate fully with investigations.

The process to adopt recommendations for NCAA reforms from the Rice Commission was a swift one by the governing body's standards.

In a teleconference with reporters Wednesday, Georgia Tech president and Board of Governors chairman Bud Peterson said those changes would "normally take us about two years through the governance process."

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.