Fastbreak Friday: No. 1 Villanova looks to bounce back from first loss

Fastbreak Friday: No. 1 Villanova looks to bounce back from first loss

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.
 
No. 1 Villanova (14-1, 2-1 Big East) vs. Marquette (10-4, 1-1 Big East), Saturday 7:30 p.m.
SK: Villanova sets out to start a new winning streak following Wednesday's 66-58 loss at Butler that snapped a 20-game win streak dating back to last season. The Wildcats shot just 37 percent from the field at Butler with senior stars Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins combining to go 7 for 22. Villanova made 6 of 23 three-point attempts and its total of 58 points was 22 points below its season average. Add it all up and it equaled the Wildcats' first loss of the season and it will cost them their No. 1 national ranking on Monday.
 
Wednesday was a frustrating night on several fronts for Jay Wright. He became incensed after being given a first-half technical foul and had to be restrained by his players and assistant coaches from further arguing with the official. It was as animated and angry as I've seen Wright during his 16 seasons at Villanova.

To make matters worse, he was serenaded with "Jay Wright sucks" chants from the Butler student section throughout the game. However misguided the premise may have been, that’s typical stuff for a student section at a college basketball game. A "Jay Wright has carried this league for four years" chant was probably more appropriate, but it certainly wouldn't have gathered as much momentum.
 
Needless to say, Wright is anxious to move on to Marquette on Saturday night in Villanova's first game at the Wells Fargo Center this season.
 
Marquette has played well this season. The Golden Eagles have four losses against Michigan, Pittsburgh, Wisconsin and last weekend's three-point loss at Seton Hall. Marquette is a deep and balanced team, with seven players averaging nine points or more. This is Steve Wojciechowski's third season at Marquette and he's taken small steps toward leading the Golden Eagles back to Big East relevance. Marquette won 20 games last year and seems poised to match that win total this season.
 
While the Marquette program is making strides, it still isn't on Villanova's level. The Wildcats — particularly Hart and Jenkins — should be plenty anxious to atone for their first loss of the season. Expect more big things from sophomore Jalen Brunson, who is playing the best basketball of his career. Brunson followed up a 27-point outing at Creighton last weekend with 23 points at Butler on Wednesday. He's doing a masterful job of running the Villanova offense, setting up his teammates and being more and more assertive in looking for his own scoring opportunities. Brunson has established himself as one of the best point guards in college basketball.
 
The Wildcats would be well-served to get sophomore Mikal Bridges going. Bridges went scoreless against Butler and is averaging just four points in Villanova's three Big East games. The Wildcats need Bridges to be a consistent fourth scoring option for their offense to operate at a high level. Bridges' talent has never been in question; he just seems to be lacking in confidence. A big night from Bridges against Marquette would be a welcomed sight for everyone associated with the Villanova program. 
 
Villanova 82, Marquette 68   
 
Saint Joseph's (7-6, 1-1 A-10) at Fordham (6-9, 0-2 A-10), Saturday 3 p.m.
AF:  The Hawks were rocked over the New Year's holiday with the news that leading scorer Shavar Newkirk is done for the season after tearing the ACL in his left knee. St. Joe's will miss his leadership and 20.3 points per game. That was certainly evident in the Hawks' most recent game, a 30-point loss at Rhode Island this week. There was a bit of good news though, with the return of James Demery. Coach Phil Martelli will turn to his junior forward to pick up the scoring and leadership void left by Newkirk. In the loss to the Rams, Demery led the way with 17 points, so he has the potential to help the Hawks in the box score and on the court. But it's a tall task for a St. Joe's team that was already dealing with the loss of Pierfrancesco Oliva.

Before losing to Rhode Island, St. Joe's had won four of its last five games. They'd done so by limiting turnovers, shooting well and playing good defense. In those four wins, the Hawks shot 45 percent with only nine turnovers on average. But in the loss to the Rams, the Hawks shot about 40 percent and committed 17 turnovers. Now in life post-Newkirk, they'll need to duplicate those numbers in the wins in order to stay afloat in the Atlantic 10.

Fordham is coming off back to back losses, though both by single digits. The Rams are averaging around 68 points per game and shooting 42 percent from the field, so on paper it looks like it's a more even matchup for the Hawks. But in the last two games, despite both being losses, Fordham shot close to 50 percent from the field and passed the 70 point plateau. That could be a problem for Phil Martelli's crew, as they will have trouble scoring and stopping opponents without Newkirk on the court. 

It's a new world for Martelli and the Hawks, one that will focus on the younger players on the roster. The good news is that they will get experience. The bad news is, wins will be harder to come by with a 20-point scorer on the bench.

Fordham 70, St. Joe's 58 

Temple (9-7, 0-3 AAC) vs. East Carolina (9-7, 1-2 AAC) , Saturday 12 p.m.
SK: Temple limps into this matchup after losing its first three conference games by an average of 12 points. Scoring has been hard to come by for the Owls, who are averaging just 56 points during this three-game losing streak. The absence of senior point guard Josh Brown -- who has missed the last five games with soreness in his Achilles -- continues to hurt Temple. He initially returned from offseason Achilles surgery to play in five games from late November to mid-December before the soreness became too significant to play through.
 
Brown is a key cog in the Temple lineup and his presence goes a long way towards the Owls' effectiveness on both ends of the floor. In addition to Brown not being available, Temple's best player is struggling. Junior forward Obi Enechionyia averaged 18.6 points in the Owls' first 10 games. But in the six games since, he's averaging 8.5 points while shooting just 31 percent from the floor. Enechionyia showed signs of regaining his form on Wednesday at SMU, scoring 16 points and knocking down 4 of 9 three-point attempts.
 
Temple picked a bad time to get in a funk. The Owls' first three opponents in conference play -- No. 22 Cincinnati, UCF and SMU -- have a combined 37-8 record on the season. So you can excuse shorthanded Temple for losing its last three games. But Fran Dunphy has never been into excuses and he's undoubtedly been searching for answers to get his team back on track.
 
Relief could be arriving in the form of East Carolina. The Pirates have lost five of their last seven games and averaged 44.5 points in their last two games. I look for Temple to come out inspired and get a big game from Enechionyia, who should benefit from the confidence boost the SMU game provided.
 
Temple 64, East Carolina 58
 
Pennsylvania (6-5) at Princeton (7-6), Saturday 7 p.m.
AF:  What better way to kick off Ivy League play than with the best rivalry in the league in Penn vs. Princeton. It's the 235th meeting between these two storied rivals and this one takes place in the Tigers' gym. Princeton has enjoyed this matchup lately, winning five straight over the Quakers. But here's a fun fact: under Steve Donahue, Penn is undefeated when leading at the half, going 5-0 this season, and 11-0 in the last two. How about that? You thought it would be just this season, but I told you it was fun. 

Penn has won its last three games and is rounding into form, finding a good shooting stroke with 38 percent from beyond the arc in that span. Matt Howard leads the team in that category at over 44 percent three-point shooting efficiency.  But as a team, the Quakers are also limiting opponents to just 66 points per game. When you have that kind of defense, you are usually going to give yourself a fighting chance to win. 

In the two meetings last year, Penn lost by a combined three points with one of those losses going to overtime. Princeton is the preseason Ivy League favorite because three of its four leading scorers return from last season. Seniors Steven Cook and Spencer Weisz average 16 and 10 points, respectively, but it's sophomore Devin Cannady who's carried over his scoring streak from his freshman campaign. Cannady is the fastest Tigers player to reach 500 points in his Princeton career in over six seasons. Those three will be a tough test out of the gates for the Quakers. 

If this game was at the Palestra, I'd pick Penn in a heartbeat, and honestly, I'm tempted to pick them even though it's at Jadwin. But I think that while stopping one or even two of Princeton's scorers might be possible, the Quakers won't be able to hold all three to under double digits.

Princeton 69, Penn 67

La Salle (7-5, 1-1 A-10) vs. Duquesne (8-7, 1-1 A-10),  Saturday 8 p.m.
SK: La Salle is starting to pick up steam with wins in 3 of its last 4 games, including Wednesday's 21-point win over St. Louis. The usual suspects led the way for the Explorers against St. Louis with senior guard Jordan Price and junior forward B.J. Johnson combining for 30 points. Halfway through their first season playing together, Johnson and Price have established themselves as one of the top scoring duos in the country.
 
Sophomore guard Pookie Powell has developed into a reliable third option for La Salle. Powell is averaging 18.6 points in the last three games and has boosted his season average to 13.6 points per game. He also contributes 4.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists. Powell is a well-rounded player who is playing a valuable role for the Explorers.
 
Duquesne had its four-game win streak snapped Wednesday at home against VCU. Mike Lewis had 23 points in the loss and leads Duquesne with 12.8 points per game. The Dukes have the luxury of not relying on one guy -- they have six players averaging between eight and 13 points.
 
Duquesne is a solid team who should earn its share of wins in the Atlantic 10. But I don't like their chances of getting one on the road against a La Salle team playing solid basketball. Chalk up another win for the Explorers.
 
La Salle 79, Duquesne 72
 
Drexel (6-10, 0-3 CAA) at William & Mary (8-6, 2-1 CAA)
AF: At the bottom of every Fastbreak Friday column is our prediction records. And up until last week, I was in the lead. I don't want to point fingers, but I will point out that Drexel let me down last week when I lost the lead. Come on Dragons! James Madison? Really? The Dukes had only two wins on the season. But I guess they were tired of being outshined by their football team, as JMU is playing for the FCS national championship this Saturday. But that was a disappointing loss for Zach Spiker and his team. I'm sure that it's been much discussed, maligned and then moved on from.  And I'm not just talking about me and my prediction record.

Drexel is coming off facing the top two teams in the CAA. Monday resulted in a five-point overtime loss to Northeastern, then an 18-point loss to UNCW on Thursday night, both games at home. Those made for a rough start to conference play for the Dragons. They are getting good contributions from Rodney Williams, Kurk Lee and Sammy Mojica, their top three scorers who are all in the double figures.  As I mentioned in this space last week, Miles Overton is finding his stroke as well, as he's averaging about 10 points per game now too. But the defensive effort isn't where it should be for this club. That is something the Dragons are clearly still working on, with teams averaging over 75 points against them.  The Northeastern game was there for Drexel to win, but failure to get big defensive stops forced the game to overtime and a loss.

William & Mary has won two in a row, both over CAA opponents. More importantly, the Tribe is a perfect 6-0 at home this season. No surprise, as seniors Daniel Dixon and Omar Prewit are pacing William & Mary with 15 and 14 points per game. Dixon is not only the Tribe's leading scorer, but he's their best sharp shooter too, at nearly 35 percent from beyond the arc. That's an area of the court the Dragons have had trouble defending.

With this game on the road and William & Mary on a win streak, it does not bode well for Drexel.

William & Mary 76, Drexel 66

Prediction Records
Sean Kane: 12-3
Amy Fadool: 10-5

Penn, Villanova back for more championships at Penn Relays

Penn, Villanova back for more championships at Penn Relays

Like many people who come from nearby high schools, Penn senior Chris Hatler has been running at the Penn Relays since he was 15. But his initial experience at the famed meet did not go exactly as planned

“The first relay ever, I fell in the first 100 meters,” he said, “and made a fool of myself.”

Such can be the dangers of overwhelmed teenagers competing at a competition that also features college and professional stars — a three-day track & field carnival that is the oldest and largest of its kind in the country.

But last year, Hatler became one of those college stars himself, helping Penn to a dramatic win in the 4xmile — the host school’s first win in that event since 1950 and its first championship in any of the meet’s marquee distance relays since 1974.

Now, with the 123rd running of the Penn Relays set to kick off in full Thursday — the same day that the NFL draft begins across town — Hatler is ready to add another wheel before graduating, along with fellow senior Nick Tuck.

“Last year was exciting to win the 4xmile, but I kinda felt like for the seniors last year, it was their win, it was their wheel,” said Hatler, who also helped the Quakers set a school record in last year’s distance medley relay. “I know Nick and I kinda have a little grudge here. We want our own wheel for ourselves our senior year. So we’re gonna come out and see what we can do.”

Although the USA vs. the World races Saturday to highlight the meet, the college relays are often the most exciting with wild sprints to the finish line occurring in front of packed Franklin Field crowds. Last year, in between Team USA races, then-senior Thomas Awad chased down two other runners in the 4xmile to give Penn the victory on national TV, before being mobbed by Hatler, Tuck and Keaton Naff. 

Hatler couldn’t quite see the track from where he was standing but had a feeling that Awad — one of the most accomplished athletes in Penn’s track & field history — would come through on the final lap of his Penn Relays career.

“You never bet against Tom at the end of the race,” said Hatler, who earlier this year cracked the 4-minute-mile barrier. “We kinda knew it was gonna happen.”

Few other people expected it because the host school hasn’t always been competitive in the college championships at Penn Relays. But another local school always is — Villanova.

And the Wildcats are glad to get some more competition from their Big 5 rival.

“It was thrilling for me to see it happen,” Villanova men’s track coach Marcus O’Sullivan said. “This is really the home school. We’re happy to be sharing the stress of Penn [Relays] every year with the real home school.”

As for his own team, O’Sullivan said the Wildcats are dealing with injuries so it may not be in top form for the men’s distance medley relay (Friday, 5:30 p.m.), men’s 4xmile (Saturday, 1:15 p.m.) and the men’s 4x800 (Saturday, 4:40 p.m.), the first two of which will be broadcast on NBC Sports.

But he touted the talent of redshirt freshman Logan Wetzel, among others, and seems ready to throw some youngsters into the fire.

“I always say Penn is a defining arena for kids to grow up,” said O’Sullivan, who ran the Penn Relays as a student at Villanova. “You really start to learn. You prepare a year for Penn. 

“My junior year, we were annihilated, lost everything, and it one of the most humiliating moments of my life because so much is expected of you and you drop the ball. I spent a whole year just waiting for Penn, just training for Penn. The year I made the Olympic team, I kid you not, running at Penn, winning at Penn, was way more important for me at that time of my life. That’s how big it is.”

Villanova women’s coach Gina Procaccio also ran the Penn Relays in college and has similar feelings about the significance of the meet. And she’s ready to lead her powerhouse teams to more championships in the women’s distance medley relay (Thursday, 5:30 p.m.), the women’s 4x1500 (Friday, 1:20 p.m.) and the women’s 4x800 (Saturday, 4:10 p.m.).

Those relay teams will be led by Angel Piccirillo, a fifth-year senior who redshirted last year, and junior Siofra Cleirigh Buttner — two of the best distance runners in the NCAA. But it won’t be easy for them as this year’s field will be stacked with the likes of Oregon and Stanford.

But no one has done better at Penn Relays than the Villanova women, who have won 14 DMRs all time, including four straight from 2012-2015.

“I’m not one to shy away from the competition,” Procaccio said. “I like to earn those wins.”

Big 5 Hall of Fame inducts 'maybe the greatest class we've ever put together'

Big 5 Hall of Fame inducts 'maybe the greatest class we've ever put together'

About midway through Monday night's Big 5 Hall of Fame ceremony, the oldest inductee of this year's class paid homage to the youngest.

That's how much hoops legend George Raveling, a 1960 Villanova graduate, was blown away by Penn alum Ibrahim Jaaber's impassioned speech that ended with a powerful poem about how basketball saved him.

"It kept running through my mind that you represent everything good about sports," Raveling said to Jaaber. "And I hope you'll continue to use your wisdom, your influence, to make the game better, to make the world better. As a 79-year-old-man, soon to be 80 in June, I want to tell you that if I come back in the next life, I want to be like you."

That touching moment, in many ways, was a perfect encapsulation of the ties that bind the Big 5, from one generation to the next. But aside from Raveling and longtime Philadelphia Inquirer sportswriter Bill Lyon -- who, despite battling Alzheimer's, courageously gave an acceptance speech to a standing ovation at the Palestra -- this year's class was filled with contemporary guards who clashed in some great Big 5 games not too long ago.

Among them were two current NBA players in Saint Joseph's icon Jameer Nelson (class of 2004) and former 'Nova star Randy Foye (2006), as well as Temple's Lynn Greer (2002) and Jaaber (2007). La Salle women's player Carlene Hightower (2008) was the other member of the star-studded class defined by tough, gritty Philadelphia guards.

"The inductees here for the Hall of Fame have got to be maybe the greatest class we've ever put together," said Villanova head coach Jay Wright, who closed the night by accepting the Big 5 Coach of the Year award right after Josh Hart took home Player of the Year honors. "I grew up in Philadelphia and we always talk about what a great place the Palestra is -- and it is. But when you listen to Lynn, Randy, Coach Rav, Ibby, Jameer, you know why this is a great place. It's because of all the great man that have played here -- outstanding, humble, articulate, intelligent men that understand they're part of something that's bigger than themselves. That's what makes the Big 5. That's what makes the Palestra."

Nelson, the National Player of the Year during St. Joe’s historic 2003-04 season, certainly showed what kind of person he is, inviting all of his old Hawks teammates who were in attendance to stand behind him as he accepted his Hall of Fame award. And he even choked up at one point as he described what those teammates, coach Phil Martelli and Saint Joseph's University have meant to him as he's forged a long and fruitful NBA career.

"Without them, none of this would be possible," said Nelson, the Hawks' all-time leader in points (2,094) and assists (713). "These guys mean the world to me."

Nelson, now with the Denver Nuggets, just wrapped up his 13th season in the NBA, calling it an "unbelievable ride" for a 5-foot-11 kid from Chester. That's two more years spent in the league than Foye, who Nelson thanked for forcing him to be better back in their college days. He also called Greer one of his "great friends" and said that Jaaber's speech "touched me in so many different ways, I wish more young kids could hear it."

"I'm very grateful to be inducted with you guys," Nelson said, although he did point out that when he was at St. Joe's, the Hawks had Villanova down 43-9 at halftime one year. 

"But those next couple years, we paid y'all back," said Foye, now with the Brooklyn Nets, during his own speech.

Those rivalries were especially meaningful to Foye, who also played against Jaaber in both high school and college.

"Being from North Jersey, you never hear about the Big 5," said Foye, a first-team All-American and Big 5 Player of the Year in 2006. "For me coming here and witnessing it up close and personal, it's just something truly amazing."

Foye added that everywhere he goes, he tries to embody what a Philly guard is -- "small but play big," as he put it -- while reminding people that he's proud to be a Villanova alum. The same can be said of Raveling, a longtime college coach and executive who was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015.

"I'm so proud to say I'm a Big 5 product -- and a proud graduate of Villanova University," Raveling said. "I look back many times and realize the wisest decision I ever made in my lifetime was to enroll at Villanova University."

Just as he opened his speech, Raveling also closed it by saying he was "proud" to enter the Big 5 Hall of Fame the same year as Jaaber, whose remarks touched on spirituality, family and a unique journey from Morocco to New Jersey to Penn.

Jaaber also made sure to thank the person who perhaps embodies the Big 5 more than anyone else: former La Salle player, former Penn coach and current Temple coach Fran Dunphy.

"I don't think I could have had a better coach for me in my situation than my Coach Dunphy," said Jaaber, the 2006-07 Big 5 Player of the Year and the all-time Ivy League leader in steals (303). "I'm almost embarrassed to be inducted into the Hall of Fame before Coach Dunphy."