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 sweeps season series from Cornell for 5th straight win

Penn sweeps season series from Cornell for 5th straight win

BOX SCORE

ITHICA, N.Y. – Ryan Betley scored 21 points, Darnell Foreman made two crucial free throws in the closing seconds, and Pennsylvania held on to beat Cornell 69-66 on Friday night.

Penn (12-12, 5-6 Ivy League) opened up a 43-31 lead with 17:45 to go, but Cornell erased the gap over the proceeding seven minutes, taking a 53-51 lead on a Matt Morgan jumper.

The two teams remained virtually deadlocked the rest of the way, neither side held an advantage greater than four. A Wil Bathurst 3-pointer for Cornell cut its deficit to 67-66 in the final seconds. But after a Bathurst foul, Foreman sank two at the line to push it to 69-66. Morgan had a last shot to tie, but missed.

AJ Brodeur scored 13 points for the Quakers, who shot 50 percent overall.

Morgan led all scorers with 26 for Cornell (7-19, 3-8). The Big Red shot only 39.3 percent, but held advantages is 3-point shooting, free-throw shooting, and rebounding.

Villanova seniors reflect as winningest class in school history

Villanova seniors reflect as winningest class in school history

Senior Day is always one of the most anticipated days on the college basketball calendar. Second-ranked Villanova will honor its seniors prior to Friday's game against No. 23 Creighton at the Pavilion.

This year's ceremony takes on added importance. Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds have won more games than any class in Villanova history -- 123 wins, to be exact, compared to just 16 losses. The Wildcat seniors have won more than 88 percent of their games over the last four years. 

They have a 61-9 career record against Big East opponents and have won four straight regular season conference championships. They also won the 2015 Big East Tournament and of course, the 2016 NCAA Tournament. 

The list of accomplishments goes on. These Villanova seniors have a 45-1 record at the Pavilion and finished with a perfect 16-0 record against Big 5 competition. They are the first four-year class in Big 5 history to go undefeated against their city rivals.

They've accomplished plenty individually as well. Hart is the front-runner for Big East Player of the Year honors and will likely be a first team All-American. Jenkins authored arguably the most famous shot in college basketball history, knocking down a buzzer-beating three-pointer to beat North Carolina in last season's championship game. Then there's Reynolds, who blossomed from little-used reserve to a key starter on this year's national championship contender.

The mood, rightfully, will be celebratory for Senior Day on Saturday. Villanova is 26-3 on the season and is closing in on a top seed in the NCAA Tournament. But the Wildcats will also set out to atone for Wednesday's loss to Butler, the first ever loss at the Pavilion for the seniors.

I sat down with Hart, Jenkins and Reynolds to discuss their journey to this point as well as what still lies ahead.

A shared bond
Most college basketball classes are tight. But the bond between the Villanova seniors runs especially deep. It's evident listening to each of them discuss their shared friendship.

"Our relationship has grown over the years," Jenkins said. "It's continuing to grow now. We're just around each other all the time, we understand each other, we have a genuine love and we really care for each other and I think that spills onto the court."

"I don't like either of them," Reynolds joked before reflecting on the relationship he shares with his classmates. "It was something we were blessed to have, something that clicked. We found that we all had similar upbringings in many ways, which is something that contributed to it. Our parents have always taught us to realize that you're going to be a part of something bigger than you and that's OK."

The relationship between Jenkins and Hart dates back to their time as high school standouts in the Washington, D.C. area. 

"Me and Kris, being from the 301 (area code) we knew each other," Hart said. "And Darryl fit in well with us. After I committed (to play at Villanova), I remember texting Darryl during Sunday worship, I wasn't supposed to have my phone. But I wanted to know what his decision was. And he was like, 'Yeah, I'm coming'. And one of the first things he said, not to sound corny, was, 'Let's do this, I want to win.' We started from there."

The legacy
If Reynolds' goal was to win, consider it a success. In addition to being the winningest class in school history, the Villanova seniors have won more games than any class in the long and storied history of the Big East conference.

"That's definitely an honor, definitely humbling," Hart said. "The Big East is one of the best conferences in the country, not just right now but tradition-wise. You've seen all the battles, and to have that (record) is definitely cool. Something we can't really hang our hats on right now. Obviously, we have the rest of this year to keep working towards. But if we take a step back and look at that, that's something that's a great accomplishment. It's more so the hard work and everything that we put in on a day-to-day basis, it's not just the games. It's coming in, getting your shots up, working in the weight room, getting your body right. It's not just the games and that's something that means the most to us, just the grind. It's great to have it pay off in that kind of way."

In addition to the conference championships and the national title, one particular accomplishment stands out: Entering Saturday's game against Creighton, this group has yet to lose two games in a row during its college career. The seniors have never experienced a losing streak; they always bounce back following a loss.

"We have great coaches and we have players that want to learn and want to get better and want to improve," Jenkins said. "So when we lose, we learn from that just as if we won. When we win a game, we go back and watch film and come back and get better the next day. We do the same thing when we lose, nothing changes."

That approach is part of a winning culture that Reynolds believes is the root for all of Villanova's success over the past four years.

"The thing that I'm most proud of is the culture here," Reynolds explained. "There's a million programs out there and there's a million ways of doing it. Everybody has a different idea of how to do it. There's so many different ways to look at this game and approach this game. The fact that with all of our success, we've never bailed out on our culture, never bailed out on what this program is all about. The fact that we've stuck to our core values throughout these years is the thing you have to be most proud of because a million things can be thrown at you. There's different trials and tribulations throughout the year. The fact you can stick to what you do and still be successful through that is a blessing in itself."

And while outsiders tend to focus on all the wins and the national championship, the players themselves find deeper meaning in the bonds they've developed.

"It's been a lot of fun. Obviously, we've had some very successful years here," Hart said. "Winning always makes things a little more fun. The national championship, that's something no one can take away from us. But the thing we value more than that national championship is the relationships. That's something we're going to take for the next 20, 30, 40 years. The (championship) rings, those can be lost, those can turn up missing. But the relationships are what we really take pride in, that's something we're always going to have."

A Villanova senior
Rarely does Hart give an interview without mentioning the role of the Villanova seniors. Following games, he's quick to point out what the seniors did well, or in most cases what they could have done better.

"Your role (as a senior) isn't to be the leading scorer or the one that's always going to get to play," he said. "It's to make sure you teach the younger guys how to be a Villanova basketball player, how to be men, how to grow up and be successful in this program. That's day by day -- you bring it in practice, you bring it every game and they see that and say 'OK, this is what a Villanova senior is supposed to be like, this is someone who is not going to break no matter what adversity he faces.' That's something we want to pass down to the younger guys." 

Seniors have become a dying breed in big time college basketball. But not at Villanova, where four-year players are the backbone of Wright's program. Reynolds best sums up the unique mindset of a Villanova senior. 

"A Villanova senior is all about everything but himself," he said. "You hear about so many times guys become seniors in different places and they focus on themselves and their next step. Your job as a senior here is to make sure everyone else is OK, that this culture is staying alive. That this team is where it needs to be, that you and coach are on the same page. So it honestly is a role of selflessness in its purest form."

Jenkins expands on the importance of the leadership provided by the senior class.

"We all take a great deal of pride in it because when you get to this point a lot is expected of you," he said. "These younger guys look up to you, they believe in you. And the guys that were seniors before us set the standard real high and they expect nothing less. So we owe it to not only those guys but the younger guys and to ourselves to give it our best shot and make sure we continue to hold this program up high and be great Villanova seniors."

Finishing strong
The goal from here on out would appear to be obvious -- defending last year's national championship. It's a task this group realizes but doesn't emphasize. They prefer to stick with the mentality that has served them so well to this point.

"We're anxious to get to this last little stretch," Reynolds said. "As scared as we are of it, because we realize this our last stretch, we'll just approach it like we always have. Focus on what is at hand at the moment and over time it builds and builds and builds. We'll look up and hopefully it will be a month and some change later and we'll be where we want to be as a Villanova basketball team."

"We owe it to each other to finish this year out the right way," Hart said. "That might not be winning it all, but that's making sure we're all on the same page, making sure we're giving it up for each other. We're not going to judge this season on the last month. We're going to make sure we're the best Villanova basketball team at the end of the year and that's something we're going to judge ourselves on. 

"If we don't make it all the way but play the best we can, play the Villanova basketball way, we'll be able to look each other in the eye in the locker room. Obviously, we'll be sad, probably be some tears being shed, but we'll be able to look each other in the eye knowing we gave it up for each other. I think that's the biggest thing and the best feeling -- that we battled to the last second for our brothers."