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

Drexel's Chris Crawford soaks up tradition at U.S. Open

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USA Today Images

Drexel's Chris Crawford soaks up tradition at U.S. Open

ERIN, Wis. — The U.S. Open is all about tradition. This week is the 117th playing of golf's national championship and this event more than most celebrates those golfers who play the game as amateurs. 

Soon-to-be Drexel graduate Chris Crawford has been soaking up all the traditions this week at Erin Hills. Playing in his second U.S. Open after qualifying through both local and sectional competition for the second straight year, an extremely difficult feat, the 23-year-old fifth-year senior enjoyed the amateur dinner put on by the tournament organizers with the USGA. Crawford and his fellow amateurs, a stout list including Texas' Scottie Scheffler, who shot 3-under Thursday to seize the early low amateur lead, were celebrated the entire evening — one of Crawford's early highlights in a long week here in Wisconsin. 

Crawford produced a 3-over par 75 Thursday during the first round to tie for 102nd out of a field of 156 players.

"I played OK (Thursday)," Crawford said. "I'm going to take more positives than negatives out of the round. I played really well for 14 holes and just had a few bad swings on the other four holes."

Indeed, Thursday morning started nervously for the former Drexel golf standout. On the opening par-5 first hole, he snap-hooked his drive into the weeds out of bounds to the left, resulting in a double bogey. Three holes later, he chipped one shot over the back of the fourth green and took another double-bogey, placing him 4-over through four holes. 

Although bogeys might keep many of us alive in our weekend matches, it doesn't cut it in a U.S. Open. Crawford responded well in the ensuing 14 holes, going 1-under in that stretch.

Crawford's coach Mike Dynda, who teaches him at LuLu Country Club in Glenside, Pennsylvania, said he makes a big point to prepare Crawford's mind for his big rounds.

"I texted him last night and said, 'When you got to sleep, imagine that you're on the 18th hole and you have a putt for 9-under,'" Dynda said. "It's important to go to sleep and dream like that."

On the other side, Dynda — who taught the golf team at Drexel from 2003-2015 — also told his pupil to stay away from expectations. When you're 23 and you're playing in your second consecutive U.S. Open, one might think it would be easy to get ahead of yourself. Not so with Crawford, according to Dynda.

"I've taught him to not have any expectations for the five years we've been together," Dynda said. 

Crawford had a superstar practice round on Monday, playing with Jordan Spieth, Jim Furyk and Wisconsin's own Steve Stricker.

"It was a lot of fun playing with those guys and just watching them strategize about learning a brand new U.S. Open course," Crawford said. "I think that's the biggest thing I was impressed with, was the way they talked about strategy on this golf course.

"They were all very nice with me and were very specific to ask about me and they wanted to learn a little bit about my life, so I appreciated that."

For Dynda, talking with Furyk brought back a fond memory. Furyk's father, Mike, actually sold Dynda his first set of golf clubs, Tommy Armor 845s, back in Philadelphia years ago. 

With one round in the books and the forecast calling for rain this weekend, Crawford was looking forward to having the proper mentality as he headed into Friday's second round.

"I want to go out there and just not get ahead of myself," Crawford said. "I'm going to think positively and appreciate that I'm playing in the national open."

Crawford teed off at 2:31 p.m. local time off of the 10th hole.

"This week is so cool because I never do something like this," Crawford said. "Playing in front of such large crowds is a treat and I just love the interaction with the fans before and after the rounds as well."

Last year at Oakmont, dozens of friends and family made the drive down the turnpike to see him play in his first U.S. Open. This year, Crawford estimates that he has around 15 friends and family out in the galleries cheering him on. Though coach Dynda caddied last year, those duties have gone to current Drexel golf coach Ben Feld.

It's a party this week of Drexel golf proportions.

Atlantic 10 reveals 2017-18 schedule pairings

Atlantic 10 reveals 2017-18 schedule pairings

Philadelphia basketball fans will be getting a double dip of one of the Atlantic 10 conference's best rivalries once again next season.

With the league's 18-game regular season format in place for a fourth straight year, it was revealed Wednesday afternoon that Saint Joseph's and La Salle will battle twice — once in North Philly at Tom Gola Arena and a second time at the Hawks' home just off City Line Avenue. Each team in the 14-member conference will play eight teams once and five teams twice.

The full pairings for the Explorers and Saint Joe's are listed here:

La Salle
Home: Dayton, George Mason, St. Bonaventure, VCU, Fordham, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Saint Joseph’s, Saint Louis
Away: Davidson, Duquesne, George Washington, Richmond, Fordham, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Saint Joseph’s, Saint Louis

Saint Joseph’s
Home: Dayton, Duquesne, Saint Louis, VCU, Fordham, George Mason, La Salle, Massachusetts, St. Bonaventure
Away: Davidson, George Washington, Rhode Island, Richmond, Fordham, George Mason, La Salle, Massachusetts, St. Bonaventure

It was also rumored earlier in the day that the Hawks have added a Big Five matchup at Temple for Dec. 9.