Fastbreak Friday

Penn aims to end 11-year drought this weekend

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Penn aims to end 11-year drought this weekend

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. With the regular season ending this weekend, this will be the final Fastbreak Friday column of the season.

Temple (16-13, 8-9 AAC) at Tulsa (18-11, 11-6 AAC), Sunday at 3 p.m.
AF:
 It’s been a rough season for the Temple Owls. Yes, there was that win over ranked Wichita State in the middle of a 5-game win streak. But after the stumbles down the stretch, that seems like a distant memory. 

Of course, the bad can be washed away with an AAC tournament run, but first, the Owls need to close out on the road against Tulsa. 

Given their track record on the road, things don’t line up well for Fran Dunphy’s crew. Plus, it’s dollar dog, dollar soda and dollar popcorn night at Tulsa. That’s a delicious trifecta. 

But there is still some fight in this team. Quintin Rose and Shizz Alston have been everything the Owls have needed, and throw in Nate Pierre-Louis and you have a nice core back for next season.

Temple 71,  Tulsa 70

Pennsylvania (21-7, 11-1 Ivy) at Yale (14-14, 7-5 Ivy), Friday at 7 p.m.
Pennsylvania (21-7, 11-1 Ivy) at Brown (11-14, 4-8 Ivy), Saturday at 6 p.m.
SK:
Penn enters the final weekend of the regular season in control of its own destiny. If the Quakers beat Yale and Brown on the road they'll win their first Ivy League championship since 2007 and earn the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament, which will be played at the Palestra next weekend. It all adds up to Penn having the inside track to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 11 years.

This seems like an appropriate time to salute the job done by head coach Steve Donahue. In just his third season at Penn, he has the Quakers poised to reclaim top billing in the Ivy League. He inherited a team that finished 9-19 in the 2014-2015 season and promptly began a swift rebuilding project. Penn went 11-17 in Donahue's first season, 13-14 in his second year, and now stand at 21-7 overall and 11-1 in conference play. Look for those winning ways to continue this weekend and for Donahue and company to do some celebrating.

Penn 73, Yale 66
Penn 69, Brown 60

La Salle (13-17, 7-10 A-10) at St. Joseph's (14-15, 9-8 A-10), Saturday at 2 p.m.
SK:
La Salle and St. Joe's will each try to keep the good times rolling heading into next week's A-10 Tournament. La Salle has won three of its last four games, including a convincing 18-point win over Dayton earlier this week. St. Joseph's meanwhile has a 5-1 record in its last six games and just recorded arguably one of the most stunning victories of this college basketball season.

The Hawks went on the road and beat No. 18 Rhode Island, 78-48, on Tuesday, spoiling the Rams' senior night in the process. It was the first road win over a ranked team for St. Joseph's since 1979 and it came in shockingly easy fashion. I expect the Hawks to build on that momentum this weekend and avenge a three-point loss to La Salle earlier this season.

St. Joseph's 74, La Salle 68 

Drexel (12-19, 6-12 CAA) at James Madison (10-21, 6-12 CAA), Saturday at 4 p.m. in first round of CAA Tournament
AF:
The Dragons' season has been marked with highs and lows. While it may seem like a marginal improvement — with 12 wins to their credit compared to nine last season — they did double their conference win total. 

Also, Drexel beat the top two teams in the CAA this season as well as set an NCAA Division-I record for the largest comeback ever when they erased a 34-point deficit against Delaware. 

But the Dragons did have two separate losing streaks that would cause any coach to lose sleep, one of five straight and the other of four straight losses. 

Drexel begins the quest for its first-ever CAA tournament title against JMU, then Charleston awaits on basically home turf. Go ahead and make it a baker’s dozen, Dragons. 

Drexel 76, JMU 74

Prediction Records
Sean Kane: 30-11
Amy Fadool: 22-21

Could this be final home game for Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson?

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Could this be final home game for Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson?

Breaking down Villanova's matchup this weekend.

Georgetown (15-13, 5-12 Big East) at No. 4 Villanova (26-4, 13-4 Big East), Saturday at 5 p.m.
Villanova will need some help this weekend to secure a share of its fifth straight Big East regular-season championship. Unfortunately for the fourth-ranked Wildcats, that help will have to come from the unlikeliest of places — last-place DePaul. If DePaul upsets Xavier Saturday and Villanova beats Georgetown, the Wildcats will split the regular-season title with Xavier. But if Xavier beats DePaul, the Musketeers will clinch the league crown outright and end Villanova's four-year run as league champs.

Xavier will be heavy favorites at DePaul. That game will be over by the time Villanova takes the floor to host Georgetown at the Wells Fargo Center. So chances are Villanova will know that a league championship is out of the question when its game starts. While that would certainly be a downer, I'd be shocked if it impacts the Wildcats' energy level one bit. There is still plenty to play for, namely a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Villanova beat Georgetown by 32 points earlier this season. It was the largest margin of victory in the long and storied history of this rivalry and it came on the Hoyas' home floor. Georgetown is playing decidedly better than it was at that point of the season, so don't expect this game to unfold in similar fashion. But look for a high-level effort from Villanova in what could very well be the last home game in the careers of Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges.

Brunson and Bridges are juniors and each has another year of eligibility remaining following this season. But both are expected to give serious consideration to entering the NBA draft this spring. When Brunson made the decision to return for his junior year, much was made of the fact he's on track to graduate early. The prevailing expectation was he'd play his junior season, graduate in the spring or summer and start his NBA career. Brunson has put himself squarely in the National Player of the Year discussion with a terrific junior year. His NBA draft stock likely won't get much higher than it is right now.

Bridges, meanwhile, is widely regarded as a first-round pick if he decides to enter the draft. Some projections rank him as high as the 10th-best prospect in this year's draft class. He's picked up his game significantly in the last three weeks and very much looks the part of an NBA-ready performer. If Bridges is in fact told he'll be drafted in the first round, Jay Wright will tell him to go. It's the right decision and at this point the likely outcome.

Look for strong showings from Brunson and Bridges on Saturday. They understand this could be the last home game of their careers. The duo has won a lot of games in the last three years — 93 to be exact. They've won Big East regular-season championships, a Big East Tournament championship and a national championship. Now they set out for what might be one last journey through March.

Villanova 82, Georgetown 65 

With little room for error, Temple looks to rebound at home

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With little room for error, Temple looks to rebound at home

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.

Central Florida (17-10, 8-7 AAC) at Temple (15-12, 7-8), Sunday at 2 p.m. 
AF: There was a time when Temple was a bubble team to make the NCAA Tournament. Only about a week ago, the Owls had rattled off five straight wins, including an overtime winner against a Top 25 team in Wichita State.

But the Owls came crashing back to reality in the last week with a disappointing effort against Houston, a game they should and could have won. Their once-promising resume took a serious hit.

All is not lost, and a win this weekend would certainly help get them get back on the right track, coupled with a very nice run in the AAC Tournament in two weeks.

Temple owes Central Florida too. In their meeting at the beginning of January, Fran Dunphy’s crew managed a measly 39 points. And yes, that was for the entire game. The Owls are a different team, but they can fall back into the doldrums that we saw earlier in the season.

The home court and the pressure of needing wins will work in Temple’s favor.

Temple 71, Central Florida 67
 
Dartmouth (6-17, 2-8 Ivy) at Penn (19-7, 9-1), Friday at 7 p.m.
Harvard (14-11, 9-1 Ivy) at Penn (19-7, 9-1), Saturday at 7 p.m.

SK: There's a good chance the Ivy League regular-season championship will be decided Saturday at the Palestra. Penn and Harvard enter the penultimate weekend of the Ivy League schedule with identical 9-1 conference records, four games clear of third-place Yale. Harvard beat Penn 76-67 back on Feb. 10 on the Crimson's home court in Massachusetts. It remains Penn's only conference loss of the season, one the Quakers will be eager to atone for this weekend.
 
Penn needs to be careful not to overlook last-place Dartmouth on Friday night but the Quakers can survive against Dartmouth with just an average effort. The true test comes Saturday against Harvard, a game that will likely determine the regular season champion and top seed in the Ivy League Tournament. I expect Penn to put forth its best performance of the season against Harvard. The Quakers are the best team in the conference and they'll prove it on Saturday night, hopping into the driver's seat in the Ivy League title race in the process.
 
Penn 75, Dartmouth 62
Penn 77, Harvard 67

Saint Joseph's (12-15, 7-8 A-10) at Richmond (9-18, 7-8), Saturday at 6 p.m.
AF: There are teams who have a run of bad luck and there are teams who are positively snake-bit and cursed.

I hate to say it, but I think St. Joe’s falls into that latter category. Take out the roster-altering injuries for a moment, and what really sticks out are the Hawks' 11 losses by six points or less. If you give them just half of those wins, they're 17-10. And that is a whole different outlook on the season.

One of those close losses came this week on a buzzer-beater against George Mason. Not only did it erase a valiant 20-point comeback by the Hawks, it was also déjà vu to the previous meeting. George Mason also nailed a buzzer beater to beat St. Joe’s back on Jan. 10. The hits keep coming.

But Phil Martell’s team has a lot to be proud of, even if their record says otherwise. They are still one of the top teams in the nation in several defensive categories and lead the country in fewest turnovers.

Here’s hoping the skies are sunny in Richmond this weekend.

Saint Joseph’s 75, Richmond 70
 
La Salle (11-17, 5-10 A-10) at Fordham (9-18, 4-11), Saturday at 4 p.m.
SK: La Salle is coming off a heartbreaking 95-93 overtime loss to No. 18 Rhode Island at home on Wednesday. Senior guard B.J. Johnson was tremendous in the loss with 29 points and a career-high 23 rebounds. Johnson's performance marked the first time a La Salle player had more than 20 points and 20 rebounds in a game since legend Lionel Simmons in 1990. Johnson's 23 rebounds were one short of the Atlantic 10 record set by George Washington's Yinka Dare in 1993.
 
Johnson's heroics weren't enough to secure a win for La Salle. The Explorers have dropped four of their last five and are 4-10 since the calendar turned to 2018. Despite those recent struggles, I see a victory on the horizon for La Salle at Fordham Saturday. The Explorers beat the Rams, 75-67, at home six weeks ago, and they should have some additional confidence from their strong showing against Rhode Island.
 
La Salle 74, Fordham 70 

UNC-Wilmington (9-19, 6-10 CAA) at Drexel (12-18, 6-11), Saturday at 4 p.m. 
AF: WOW! Is it weird to start that way? Not if you saw the Drexel-Delaware game Thursday. Historic would be another one-word introduction, too. In case you missed it, Drexel pulled off the largest comeback in NCAA Division I history. Down 34 points, the Dragons came all the way back to beat their CAA rivals. Thirty-four points is an astronomical number in college basketball. As mentioned above, there was a game this year Temple scored 39 total.

The biggest thing about that comeback win wasn't Tremaine Isabell’s 29 points, it’s the fight the Dragons showed Zach Spiker and the Drexel faithful.

This has been an up-and-down season for Drexel — five straight losses in early January, followed by four straight wins and then another four losses. They could have easily packed it in, but they did not, despite trailing Delaware by that massive margin.

It’s senior day for the Dragons this weekend and I’m feeling the love from the DAC after that historic performance. 

Drexel 78, UNCW 70
 
Prediction records
Sean Kane: 27-10
Amy Fadool: 21-19

For the preview of No. 3 Villanova at Creighton, click here