CSN anchor/reporter Amy Fadool and producer Sean Kane get you set for all of the weekend's local college basketball games with Fastbreak Friday. Look for this column every Friday during the college basketball season.
Providence (13-7, 3-4 Big East) at No. 1 Villanova (18-1, 6-1 Big East), Saturday at noon
AF: This is a first. In the three seasons that I have been privileged to co-author this column, I've never written about Villanova. Today, that drought ends. Thank you to all who made this possible, which really is just one person: Sean Kane.
I think one of the reasons that he relinquished his iron grip, just for one week, is that a new, young fan is now on board with this Villanova team and will be attending his first Wildcats game this weekend. When I say that our 2-year-old son is a fan, that may be understating it a little bit. He knows the entire roster, from Josh Hart to Donte DiVincenzo, and every player in between. He knows the fight song, and proudly belts out V for Villanova. Of course, I'm proud of my son. I do wish he could sneak in a few bars of "On, On U of K" or know one other Kentucky player besides Malik Monk. But that's enough of the background of why I finally broke through and am writing about Villanova this week.
The Wildcats returned to the No. 1 ranking this week as they welcome Providence to the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday. The Friars have given Jay Wright's teams fits over the past few seasons. You don't need to look much farther than last year when you check the numbers of a Ben Bentil or Kris Dunn. In fact, in the last three seasons, Villanova has lost one home game, and almost a year ago exactly that loss came courtesy of Providence. On Jan. 24, 2016, Bentil owned the low post and poured in 31 points, while the high-low game was working to perfection because Dunn racked up 14 assists. Of course, neither Dunn nor Bentil are on this year's Providence squad and that is a good thing for 'Nova.
The Friars come into this game on a short, two-game winning streak, but that's bigger than it may seem. Before that, they dropped five of their previous six games, including a heart-breaking one-point loss to DePaul.
Nothing seems to get Providence back on track better than Georgetown, already sweeping the season series with the Hoyas. Ed Cooley's team seems to do this every year — have a lull only to explode in March. The Friars did it three years ago, when Villanova crushed them by 30 in January, only to see Providence steamroll its way through the Big East Tournament. So I'm never ready to count out a Cooley team.
But Villanova is rolling after it's lone loss of the year, falling to Butler on the road after a spectacular performance at Creighton. Sean wrote in this very column last week that the Wildcats needed to get more from their bench, specifically DiVincenzo. No, I don't think Donte reads this (though he should; it's fun!), but it was as if he did. In the decisive victory over Seton Hall this week, DiVincenzo posted 10 points, two rebounds and a monster block in 29 minutes of work, a solid effort off the bench.
In the game before, at St. John's last weekend, DiVincenzo had starter-like numbers in a two-man bench effort with Eric Paschall. DiVincenzo tallied a career-high 19 points in the win at the Garden. And if the Wildcats are getting numbers near that from him, they should start thinking about a return trip to the Final Four.
March is all about depth. Hart is going to get his. But you need other players to step up (see: Phil Booth in the title game). DiVincenzo could be that guy for Wright this year. This team certainly looks primed to go far in March.
The spotlight on the Wells Fargo Center will shine on the Wildcats and another win.
Villanova 80, Providence 66
La Salle (11-5, 5-1 A-10) at VCU (14-5, 4-2 A-10), Sunday at 2 p.m.
SK: Which city team has the longest winning streak? It's not top-ranked Villanova. The correct answer would be the La Salle Explorers, winners of five straight games and seven of their last nine. The good times kept rolling Thursday night with a 91-83 victory over Davidson at Tom Gola Arena.
Four different Explorers scored 12 or more points in the win, and the one starter who didn't — junior Demetrius Henry — provided three critical baskets in the closing minutes.
Henry's contributions aside, the night belonged to Jordan Price. The senior guard scored 29 points on 9-of-14 shooting. Price knocked down 4 of 6 three-point attempts and went 7 of 8 from the foul line. The Explorers' leader is hitting his stride, averaging 26 points in the last two games while shooting 72 percent from the field.
La Salle now sets its sights on a Sunday showdown at VCU, which has a 14-5 record under second-year head coach Will Wade. The Rams will be hungry for a win, having dropped back-to-back road games at Davidson and Fordham. Wade has done an admirable job maintaining the success of the VCU program following the departure of Shaka Smart to Texas following the 2014-15 season. The Rams advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament a year ago and have a good shot at making their way into the Field of 68 again this season.
The Explorers shouldn't be phased by VCU's raucous homecourt advantage. La Salle won in double overtime in its last trip to Richmond against VCU two years ago.
I can honestly see this game going either way, and would be surprised if things weren't decided in the final minutes. But I'm riding the hot hand with the Explorers and Price. La Salle is a confident team right now; look for them to figure out a way to win a sixth straight game on Sunday.
La Salle 81, VCU 78
Pennsylvania (6-8, 0-3 Ivy League) at Saint Joseph's (8-9, 2-4 A-10), Saturday at 7 p.m.
AF: The Quakers are in the midst of a tough stretch. They opened up Ivy League play with rival Princeton two weeks ago, and it started a three-game losing streak — first to the Tigers, then home losses to Yale and Brown. But it's not as if Penn hasn't been in these games. In the loss to Brown, the Quakers cut it to just a two-point deficit with under eight minutes to play, but a great defensive stand by the Bears led to Penn's missing its next seven shots.
Next up for Steve Donahue, a Big Five matchup with Saint Joseph's, a team also reeling a bit.
In it's most recent game, a five-point loss at UMass, St. Joe's shot 32 percent, including an abysmal 26 percent in the second half.
Once again, the Hawks did get a solid effort from James Demery. The junior had a career-high 11 rebounds to go with his team-high 19 points in the loss. One would think that if Phil Martelli keeps getting efforts like that from Demery, the Hawks will break through on a win soon. They are just short-handed with injuries right now.
This game will be played at the Palestra, which contrary to a silly Duke tweet this week, is the greatest home court in college basketball. Fun fact: Penn has enjoyed more success against Saint Joseph’s than any other Big 5 opponent in recent years, with three wins over the last six meetings.
But I don't know if that fun fact continues this weekend. Both teams are playing with a little desperation, and I think that the shooters for the Hawks will step up in this one.
St. Joseph's 62, Penn 60
Drexel (7-12, 1-5 CAA) at UNC Wilmington (18-2, 7-0 CAA), Sunday at 4 p.m.
SK: To say this is a tall order for Drexel would be an understatement. The Dragons have dropped six of their last seven games, including a 20-point loss at Elon Thursday night. Meanwhile, UNC Wilmington enters Sunday's game with an 18-2 record and a perfect 7-0 mark in CAA play. The Seahawks' two losses this season came at Clemson and against a very good Middle Tennessee State team.
The UNC Wilmington program has enjoyed a remarkable turnaround under third-year head coach Kevin Keatts, who previously served as Rick Pitino's assistant at Louisville. The Seahawks won 25 games and made it to the NCAA Tournament last year, losing a tightly contested game to Duke in the first round. After establishing themselves as the class of the CAA once again this season, it would come as a major surprise if they're not back in the Big Dance this March.
UNC Wilmington has three players averaging 15 points or more — C.J. Bryce (17.5), Chris Flemmings (15.9) and Denzel Ingram (15.5). The Seahawks simply have too much firepower for a Drexel team struggling to find its way under first-year head coach Zach Spiker. For the Dragons' sake, I hope I'm wrong, but I don't see this being much of a contest.
UNC Wilmington 77, Drexel 59
Sean Kane: 18-4
Amy Fadool: 13-7