Fastbreak Friday: Temple takes on St. Joe's

Fastbreak Friday: Temple takes on St. Joe's
February 1, 2013, 2:15 pm
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CSN producers Brian Brennan and Sean Kane, our resident college basketball junkies, make their predictions for this weekend's games City 6 teams. Look for Fastbreak Friday on each Friday for the remainder of the season.

Columbia (9-7) at Penn (3-15) - Friday, 7 p.m.
Cornell (9-10) at Penn - Saturday, 7 p.m.

BB: I love the Ivy League weekend double-dips; it's one of the qualities that makes the Ancient Eight so unique. Conference play can't start soon enough for the Quakers, who have had a Murphy's Law season so far. Inexperience, suspensions and a rash of turnovers have all contributed to their 3-15 record.

There are some positive signs heading into Ivy league play. The Quakers played perhaps their best game of the season in a 76-69 loss to Temple last week, a game in which they led throughout much of the second half. Junior guard Miles Cartwright had 21 points in that loss, and Penn needs his offense badly. Junior forward Fran Dougherty is expected back this weekend after missing the entire month of January with mononucleosis. Dougherty (15.7 ppg, 8.8 rpg) is the team's leading scorer and easily its best rebounder.

I think Dougherty's return will give Penn a big boost this weekend. I can't pick a team with three wins to get back-to-back victories, but I think they'll get a split against a pair of middling conference foes.

Columbia 72, Penn 65
Penn 68, Cornell 64

SK: It seems like forever since Columbia beat Villanova by 18 on the Wildcats' home floor. It was actually about nine weeks ago, Nov. 20, when the Lions hit 11 three-pointers to hand Jay Wright arguably his worst loss in 12 seasons on the Main Line. Things haven't gone quite as smooth for Columbia since that win and the sledding has been equally rough for Cornell. These are two beatable teams coming to the Palestra for the first weekend of Ivy League play.

But can a team that's won three games in three months win two games in 24 hours? I say yes. Penn's spirited effort at Temple last week should give the Quakers confidence that they can get over the hump and start closing out games against lesser competition. The significance of Dougherty's return can't be overstated. He gives Penn a reliable inside scoring presence, something Jerome Allen's team desperately needs. Dougherty and Cartwright form perhaps the Ivy League's best inside/outside tandem, and I expect them to begin proving that this weekend.

Penn 71, Columbia 68
Penn 65, Cornell 60

La Salle (14-6) at George Washington (10-9) - Saturday, 2 p.m.

BB: This is a sneaky-tough game for La Salle, which is likely a good February away from the NCAA tournament. That's rarefied air for the Explorers, but there's also plenty of pressure that comes with those sudden expectations. There's no shame in a one-point home loss to a good UMass team, but the Explorers need to bounce back against GW to regain some positive momentum.

It won't be easy. The surprising Colonials have won three straight A-10 games, starting four freshmen alongside Villanova transfer Isaiah Armwood. GW nearly beat No. 18 Kansas State and Temple, won on the road at UMass and is coming off a 28-point thrashing over a 16-4 Charlotte squad.

I think experience will trump youth. Tyreek Duren and Ramon Galloway know what's at stake, and they'll make sure La Salle adds another win to that NCAA tournament resume.

La Salle 68, George Washington 62

SK: Dr. John Giannini admitted he saw Wednesday's loss to UMass coming. His team had just experienced unprecedented success and a letdown was all but inevitable. But La Salle needs to pick itself up in a hurry because Saturday's trip to George Washington has danger written all over it. The Colonials are playing as well as anyone in the A-10, and they are especially tough to beat on their home floor. Mike Lonergan has my vote for conference coach of the year -- he has a team picked to finish 13th in the league a half-game out of first place.

This game will reveal an awful lot about La Salle's character. Truth be told, I'm wavering on which way to go with this game. But until the Explorers prove they lack that mental toughness and aren't worth believing in, I'm picking them to bounce back and squeak out a tough road win.

La Salle 70, George Washington 69

Temple (14-6) at Saint Joseph's (12-7) - Saturday, 6 p.m.

BB: Six games into conference play, Temple and St. Joe's are tied for ninth in the Atlantic-10 with identical 3-3 records. That's not where either team expected to be, and both have significant work to do to improve their positions heading into March. The Hawks' biggest issue has been a lack of consistency from their best players, particularly Langston Galloway, who needs to find ways to score even when the threes aren't falling.

Temple finally got the secondary scoring it's been lacking in Wednesday's 71-64 win over Richmond. Five Owls scored in double-figures, including Scootie Randall, who has really struggled with his shot for much of the season. Khalif Wyatt is having a fantastic senior season, but he can't do it alone.

I think this game comes down to the fact that St. Joe's has the better frontcourt. The trio of Ronald Roberts, C.J. Aiken and Halil Kanacevic has the ability to control the glass and limit Temple's second-chance opportunities. The Hawks need this one badly, with only one really good win against Notre Dame. I think they'll get it done at home.

Saint Joseph's 78, Temple 70

SK: The best thing St. Joe's has going for it is the homecourt advantage of Hagan Arena. Prior to last season, Phil Martelli had been sticking with tradition and playing all of his Big 5 home games at the Palestra. But with wins suddenly at more and more of a premium, Martelli made the wise decision to move his games against Villanova and Temple to the Hawks' on-campus arena. It paid dividends last season with an emphatic win over Villanova. Will it make a difference Saturday against Temple? I have my doubts.

After all, it's February now, and February is "Dunph Month." Temple is 21-3 in February since 2010. This is the time of the year when Fran Dunphy's teams put it all together and make a push towards the A-10 and NCAA tournaments. (We'll leave it to CSN producer and noted college basketball elitist Casey Feeney to point out that March hasn't always been a "Dunph Month.") But Dunphy's February record is no coincidence. It's the mark of a great coach to have his team playing its best basketball down the stretch.

Dunphy was a guest this week on CSN's Big Men on Campus, and when asked who can give Wyatt help in the scoring department, he was quick to bring up Anthony Lee. Dunphy says Lee needs to be a more consistent scorer and rebounder. Lee (11.8 ppg, 7.7 rpg) is poised to develop into the next great Temple big man. Look for him to make a statement Saturday against Saint Joseph's terrific frontline.

Temple 68, Saint Joseph's 61   

Drexel (9-12) at Northeastern (13-8) - Saturday, 6 p.m.

BB: There aren't many players in America playing better than Damion Lee right now. Here's what Lee's done in the last two games: 30 points on 10-for-21 shooting in a two-point loss to Delaware, followed by 29 points on 11-for-19 shooting in Thursday's win at George Mason, including a tie-breaking three-pointer with 23 seconds left. The 6-foot-6 sophomore can do it all offensively, combining three-point range with the ability to get to the basket and a solid mid-range game. You won't find many players with his skill set in the CAA. Check him out Saturday on The Comcast Network.

The Dragons have now won four of five games, climbing above .500 in conference play. They're three games behind CAA-leading Northeastern, which beat the Dragons in overtime back on Jan. 8, thanks to a ridiculous, double-clutching three-pointer by Quincy Ford that forced overtime.

I'm still a Drexel believer. The Dragons have nine more games to work out the kinks before the CAA tournament in Richmond. I think they'll win a majority of those, including Saturday's game in Boston.

Drexel 66, Northeastern 63

SK: In this column last week, I pointed to Frantz Massenat's halfcourt buzzer-beater at Hofstra as a potential turning point for Drexel's season. Then the Dragons followed up a home win over Georgia State with a home loss to Delaware. Now we have the 20-point comeback at George Mason on Thursday. It was truly a remarkable victory and a testament to Bruiser Flint that his players never stopped believing they could win the game. But we ask the question again now - will it serve as a turning point to the season? I'm not ready to go there.

Lee has been nothing short of phenomenal. He's in one of those zones right now where he honestly feels nobody can guard him and every shot he takes is going down. But I've been burned too many times by the Dragons to back them on Saturday. Winning at Northeastern is an extremely tall task and the Huskies won't be taking Drexel lightly given Thursday's win at George Mason and what transpired in the first meeting of the season between these two teams.  

Northeastern 64, Drexel 60

Providence (10-11) at Villanova (13-8) - Sunday, 12 p.m.

BB: Like La Salle, Villanova is a good February away from the NCAA tournament. Every Wildcats fan would have signed up for that scenario before the season, and it shows just how much Wright has done with his young team. Villanova lost 65-60 at Notre Dame on Wednesday, but the Wildcats played well. They had only nine turnovers and fought the Irish to a standstill in the rebounding department. Villanova simply fell victim to some hot three-point shooting, which happens to a lot of teams against the Fighting Irish.

Sunday's game presents an opportunity for a little payback. The Wildcats lost 69-66 to Providence back on Jan. 19, turning the ball over 24 times against just nine assists. They've played much better basketball since, and gained plenty of confidence from those Top-5 wins over Louisville and Syracuse. Villanova will take care of business.

Villanova 74, Providence 68

SK: Villanova has improved more than any team in the city from the beginning of the season. Wright is in the midst of perhaps his best coaching job at Villanova. This season was hanging off a cliff following November losses to Columbia and La Salle and a historically bad second half against Temple in early December. But here the Wildcats are as February arrives, with a pair of Top-5 scalps in their pocket and firmly in the NCAA tournament discussion.

The individual improvement of players like Darrun Hilliard, James Bell and Mouphtaou Yarou is evident. But more impressively, Wright has everyone buying into his system. One of the head coach's favorite sayings is "everyone has different roles, but we all have the same status." It's that line of thinking that has enabled Villanova's best offensive player, JayVaughn Pinkston, to accept his role as sixth man, and why transfer Tony Chennault is OK with sporadic minutes spelling Hilliard and Ryan Arcidiacono.

Villanova needs to win its next three games - home against Providence, at DePaul, home against South Florida - to remain on solid footing with the NCAA tournament selection committee. The Wildcats will cross off step one by getting revenge on Providence.

Villanova 70, Providence 66