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

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.