CSN producers Sean Kane and Brian Brennan, who bring you Fastbreak Friday each week during the college basketball season, are down in Clearwater for Phillies spring training. Filling in for the dynamic duo is none other than Comcast SportsNet anchor Amy Fadool.
Big 5 Matchup of the Weekend
La Salle (17-6, 7-3 A-10) vs. Saint Joseph's (14-9, 5-5)
Saturday, 1 p.m. -- The Palestra
The Explorers are coming off a dramatic overtime win against St. Bonaventure. Perhaps needlessly dramatic, since La Salle led by 16 at the half. It was a frenzied finish that saw the Bonnies tie it up with under 30 seconds to play. But in the end, St. Bonaventure miscues and made free throws by La Salle helped it get the OT win.
The Explorers have somewhat made a habit of letting teams come back on them, but for the most part Dr. John Giannini’s team has been able to win those close games. And that’s important as we near crunch time in the college basketball season. Now is when bracket previews are published and teams are jostling for conference seeding.
Saturday afternoon, La Salle will meet the City 6 team that I think has the most sheer talent on its entire roster: Saint Joseph’s.
I watch a lot of college basketball ... a lot. And I’m not sure I’ve seen a more confounding team than this year’s Hawks squad. They’ve looked very good at times (Feb. 2 in a one-point win over Temple), and then looked pretty bad, like in the 18-point loss at UMass. So will the "real" St. Joe’s team please stand up?
That remains to be seen. And, as they say, they don’t play these games on paper. Talent is one thing; playing up to your talent is another. But if this St. Joe’s squad gets it together, it could do something special.
Since we've yet to see it consistently, I’m going with the City 6 team that’s skyrocketing up the RPI rankings: La Salle, sitting at a very impressive 33 right now.
La Salle 76, Saint Joseph’s 70
Temple (16-8, 5-5 A-10) at UMass (16-7, 6-4)
Saturday, 6 p.m. -- Mullins Center
Earlier this month we saw perhaps the biggest RPI upset since the RPI became a thing -- No. 237 TCU over No. 7 Kansas. It was the Horned Frogs' first and only Big 12 win.
Then, locally, we saw then No. 327 RPI Old Dominion post its first conference win of the season, beating Drexel.
This week, it happened again. An A-10 winless Duquesne team came into the Liacouras Center, a place the Dukes have never won, and took down Temple. Honestly, Temple shouldn’t have been in the game to the point of winning it. The Owls were down eight points with a little over a minute to go. Once again, they called on their Mr. Everything, Khalif Wyatt, who poured in 35 points, including a big ‘and-one’ to give Temple the lead with seven seconds left. But the Dukes were fouled and iced their free throws for the one-point victory.
Two weeks ago in this very column, it was said that February is Dunph Month. Temple head coach Fran Dunphy was an impressive 21-3 in the month of February since 2010. You'll note the past tense, because right now in February 2013, Dunph is 2-2. No longer Dunph Month, now in the month of Valentine's Day, it's been a heartbreaker. The Owls' four February games have all been decided by just a single point each. Ouch.
Next up for Dunphy’s squad: a Saturday date with a UMass team which just got trounced at VCU, 86-68. Temple has been so up and down, I almost don't want to count on them or count them out. They did beat Syracuse. A road game in Amherst may be too much for a struggling Owls squad, but I'm going on Dunph Month alone.
Temple 82, UMass 81 (a fifth straight one-point game)
Villanova (15-10, 6-6 Big East) at UConn (17-6, 7-4)
Saturday, noon -- XL Center
The Wildcats failed to win their third in a row when they traveled to Cincinnati earlier in the week and suffered an 18-point loss. It was disappointing to see, since the 'Cats looked like they had made strides in their previous two games. But at this point in the year it's on to the next, and 'Nova needs to get to that 20-win mark before Selection Sunday.
Jay Wright's squad has picked up some big wins to help its tournament resume over the likes of Louisville and Syracuse. But there are only six regular season games left for Villanova, and a win in Hartford would certainly help their case for an at-large bid.
UConn is coming off a very nice home win over Syracuse. The XL Center, where the Huskies play their bigger games, is a tough place to play. Of their seven games so far this season in Hartford, UConn has just one loss there. But I think the Wildcats will make it two on Saturday. It's a noon tip time, and Villanova did quite well with an early start time earlier in the season.
My recommendation: Give JayVaughn Pinkston the ball, and more minutes, and Nova can grind out the win. There aren't many programs where you see the team's leading scorer and second-leading rebounder fifth in minutes played. But such is the case for JVP.
Villanova 68, UConn 64
Drexel (10-15, 6-7 CAA) vs. Hofstra (6-19, 3-9)
Monday, 7 p.m. -- Daskalakis Center
Earlier in this column, I wrote there wasn't a more confounding team than Saint Joseph's. Well, there isn't a more disappointing team than Drexel, and I have a feeling that Bruiser Flint would agree.
The Dragons were picked to win the CAA. They are 6-7 in the conference now after Thursday night's loss to George Mason at the DAC. Yes, they've been hit with some injuries, but the chemistry just doesn't seem to be there. If there was one thing you could always say about a Flint-coached Drexel team, it was that they played hard and they played great defense. If you've watched the Dragons this year, you'd be hard pressed to find either of those hallmarks. In the last two losses, both at home, Drexel let opponents shoot better than 47 percent.
Flint's squad has the weekend off, and I wouldn't want to be one of his players at practice during this layover. Next up is their second-to-last home game of the season against Hofstra on Monday. The Pride are near the bottom of the CAA standings, but that hardly matters (see: the aforementioned loss to RPI No. 327 Old Dominion). That said, the extra time off should help the Dragons come to play on President's Day.
Drexel 64, Hofstra 55
Penn (5-17, 2-3 Ivy) vs. Harvard (13-7, 5-1) -- Friday, 7 p.m., Lavietes Pavilion
Penn vs. Dartmouth (6-14, 2-4) -- Saturday, 7 p.m., Leede Arena
"Rebuilding year" doesn't even begin to describe what Penn is going through this season. That would be if the Quakers had their leading scorer, Fran Dougherty. The junior missed a number of games with mononucleosis and then almost as soon as he returned to the court had his season ended by an elbow injury.
That was two-and-a-half games ago. The Quakers have had other players step up in Dougherty's absence, posting their second Ivy League win last weekend in a decisive home victory over Brown. This weekend, however, Penn goes on the road. First up: a meeting with the conference-leading Harvard Crimson.
Harvard won its first five Ivy league games before dropping its only conference contest last weekend. That was a 15-point loss at Columbia, a team Penn beat two weeks ago at the Palestra. The Crimson boast three players averaging double-figures, including the Ivy's leading scorer, Wesley Saunders. He is a lot to handle, averaging 16.8 points a game, and his 37.4 minutes a game are fourth-most in the country. I'm afraid this won't be close for the Quakers.
On the flip side, Dartmouth has a similar league record to Penn. Before they meet the Quakers, the Big Green will face a good Princeton squad.
In Penn's recent win over Brown, the Quakers shot an impressive 60 percent from three-point land. If the Quakers shut down Dartmouth like they did against Brown, and shoot that well, they will earn their third Ivy League win.
Miles Cartwright stepped up, scoring a career-high 28 in last Saturday’s win. Penn will need more of that from him and a solid effort from guards Tony Hicks and Dau Jok in order to take at least the split.
Harvard 80, Penn 65
Penn 67, Dartmouth 64