Fastbreak Friday: Three teams looking to shore up their resumes

Fastbreak Friday: Three teams looking to shore up their resumes

February 22, 2013, 12:00 pm
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Our resident college basketball junkies – CSN producers Brian Brennan and Sean Kane – make their predictions for this weekend's City 6 teams. Look for Fastbreak Friday on CSNPhilly.com each Friday for the remainder of the season.

Penn (6-18) at Cornell (13-12) - Friday, 7 p.m.
Penn at Columbia (10-12) - Saturday, 7 p.m.

BB: The Quakers are taking their lumps right now, but there are some positive developments that bode well for the future. Freshmen Jamal Lewis, Tony Hicks and Darien Nelson-Henry are all gaining experience and learning what it takes to compete at the collegiate level. Those three combined for 31 points in last week's 67-57 win at Dartmouth, a nice bounce-back for Penn after getting blown out by Harvard the night before.  If Fran Dougherty comes back healthy for his senior season, the Quakers could rebound in a big way next year, given the experience the freshmen are getting now. But at this point, they're too undermanned to pull off a road sweep.

Cornell 71, Penn 64
Penn 68, Columbia 65

SK: Before I explain why it's going to be a tough weekend for Penn, a tip of the cap to Amy Fadool for filling in on Fastbreak Friday last week while Brian and I were at Phillies Spring Training. Not only did Amy fill in, but she had a perfect 7-0 record with her predictions. Granted her boldest calls were based on theories unearthed long ago in this very column -- Dunph Month, Free JVP, etc. But hey, 7-0 is 7-0. I'm just glad neither Brian nor myself have to live with Amy. I get the feeling that perfect record is all she's been talking about the past week.

As for Penn -- I just don't think the Quakers have enough ammo at this point to go on the road and pick up a pair of wins. They're best shot is Saturday at Columbia, a team they beat by four earlier this month at the Palestra. Cornell is still on the fringes of the Ivy League title race and won't take Penn for granted. I get the feeling Columbia knows there aren't many potential wins left on the schedule other than Saturday's visit from Penn. The good news for the Quakers - the youngsters playing big minutes continue to make strides. The bad news -- they'll get shut out this weekend in Ivy League play.

Cornell 70, Penn 64
Columbia 65, Penn 62

Drexel (11-16) at Towson (15-13) - Saturday, 12 p.m.

BB: The hits just keep on coming for the Drexel Dragons. After fighting back Thursday to force double-overtime against rival Delaware, Frantz Massenat's shot was blocked by Jamelle Hagins in the final seconds, sending the Dragons to a disappointing 73-71 loss. Making matters worse, officials missed a clear goaltending violation against Hagins on that final play, something that the Delaware big man admitted after the game.

That last play may not have mattered if the Dragons hadn't gotten off to another terrible start. Drexel fell behind 18-8 to start the game, and the Dragons simply don't have the offensive firepower to keep playing from behind. They're also a doughnut team offensively -- pretty good on the outside, and nothing in the middle. Daryl McCoy and Dartaye Ruffin combined for a grand total of zero points against Delaware. That lack of an inside presence will be their downfall against Towson, who have a walking double-double in 6-foot-8 Jerrelle Benimon. In their previous meeting, Benimon burned Drexel for 18 points and 16 rebounds. Expect a similar output on Saturday.

Towson 66, Drexel 65

SK: The thrilling double-overtime finish between Drexel and Delaware on Thursday was overshadowed by the Big 5 title game taking place at the Liacouras Center. The Dragons battled back and the officials didn't do them any favors in the final seconds of that second overtime. But the bottom line is that this Drexel team, tabbed as the preseason favorite in the CAA, is now five games under .500. The old Bill Parcells saying "You are what your record says you are" is harsh but accurate. Injuries and bad breaks may have gotten the Dragons here, but they're here nonetheless.

Damion Lee and Frantz Massenat can only do so much. They should be applauded for continuing to compete night in and night out during what's become a lost season. Many have pointed to the fact the CAA Tournament will only consist of seven teams as a reason Drexel still has hope. I don't see it, nor do I see the Dragons winning on the road against a very good Towson team that beat Drexel earlier this season at the DAC.

Towson 70, Drexel 64   

George Washington (12-12) at Saint Joseph's (14-10) - Saturday, 4 p.m.

BB: You can put a nail in the coffin of St. Joe's chances for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Last Saturday's home loss to La Salle ensures that the Hawks won't have enough quality wins to get on the right side of the bubble, especially with losses to Fairfield, St. Bonaventure and Dayton. The quest now for St. Joe's is to try and get hot heading into the Atlantic-10 Tournament and catch lightning in a bottle. Of course, the Hawks have to qualify for the conference tournament first. Only 12 of the A-10's 16 teams will make it, and right now the Hawks are tied for 10th. There's still work to be done.

I see two big issues with St. Joe's this season. First, they're essentially a six-man team, and that lack of quality depth has really hurt them. Second, the starting backcourt has just not played well enough. Langston Galloway is shooting 40 percent from the field this season, down from 48.8 percent last season. That's a huge drop-off, and he's struggled badly in some of their losses. Carl Jones has also had some really bad games when the team couldn't afford it. I'll take the Hawks to rebound against a young GW team, but they've done little to give me a great deal of confidence in that pick.

Saint Joseph's 72, George Washington 64

SK: I heard somewhere that the Hawk Will Never Die. But for this season at least, he's teetering on the edge. The natives on Hawk Hill grew even more restless following last weekend's loss to La Salle. St. Joe's has now dropped three of four since beating Temple three weeks ago, and suddenly the team picked to win the A-10 finds itself a game below .500 in conference play and four games behind front-running St. Louis. The Hawks have the pieces, there is no disputing that. Whether those pieces not fitting together is a matter of coaching (a vocal portion of SJU fans would say yes) or simply poor chemistry is the question.

The fact that there is so much talent on this roster has me refusing to quit on St. Joe's. I really think this team can do some damage at the A-10 Tournament in three weeks, but the Hawks need to pick up some momentum before they get to Brooklyn. They'll start to do so Saturday against George Washington. The Colonials only wins in February have come against Duquesne and Fordham. GW won't have the horses to keep up with St. Joe's at Hagan Arena.

St. Joseph's 73, George Washington 63

No. 17 Marquette (19-6) at Villanova (17-10) - Saturday, 6 p.m.

BB: This is the first of four games that could make or break Villanova's season. The Wildcats sit precariously on the NCAA Tournament bubble, with a résumé featuring great wins (Louisville, Syracuse at UConn) and equally bad losses (swept by Providence, Columbia). The good news is they've shown they can beat the top Big East teams at home, and they'll get another chance Saturday night. It would help if freshman point guard Ryan Arcidiacono plays like he did last Saturday at UConn, when he led the way with 25 points on 8-for-12 shooting from the field, including five three-pointers. Like his team, Arcidiacono has been a little bit up and down, but the highs have been spectacular. He looks like the next great Jay Wright guard.

Surprising Marquette enters this game in a three-way tie atop the Big East with Syracuse and Georgetown. It's a typical Buzz Williams team -- tough and tenacious on the glass. But I like the matchup for Villanova for a few reasons. Marquette is just 3-5 on the road this season, and we've already seen Villanova knock off better teams at home. The Wildcats are a bigger team than in years past, which will allow them to hold their own in the rebounding battle. And Villanova gets to the line. The Wildcats are second only to Indiana with 18.7 free throws made per game. Add it all up, and I think Villanova has the edge.

Villanova 76, Marquette 70

SK: If I had a say in the Big East Coach of the Year voting, I'd vote Buzz Williams first and Jay Wright second. Marquette lost its two best players from last year's Sweet 16 team in Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom, yet here the Golden Eagles are with a share of the conference lead at 10-3 and 19-6 overall. Hard, unselfish play has been the hallmark of Marquette under Williams and his predecessor Tom Crean. This year's team epitomizes that perfectly and has arguably the top inside-outside combo in the conference in Davante Gardner and Vander Blue.

The CBS Sports Network's Jon Rothstein was a guest analyst on CSN's 'Big Men on Campus' this week and called this season Jay Wright's best coaching job during his 12 years at Villanova. I'm still partial to his work with the 2009 Final Four team, but Rothstein's point is not without merit. The Wildcats were picked to finish 12th out of 15 teams in the Big East and rely on a host of freshmen and sophomores to play leading roles. The end result: Villanova needs two wins in it's last four games to reach 10 Big East victories, a benchmark that almost always bodes well come Selection Sunday.

The Villanova and Marquette programs have been mirror images of each other the past decade. These games are always tightly contested and tend to swing on a loose ball here or bad bounce there. Saturday will be no different. But the Wildcats need it more, and they'll ride the unflappable Arcidiacono and JayVaughn Pinkston to get it done.

Villanova 69, Marquette 67

La Salle (18-7) at Rhode Island (8-17) - Sunday, 2 p.m.

BB: All is not lost in Explorer Nation after Thursday's loss to Temple, which cost La Salle an outright Big 5 title. It's certainly not a dreaded "bad loss" at this point of the season, and the bigger goal of reaching the NCAA Tournament is still very much within reach. There are reasons for concern, however. Temple manhandled La Salle on the glass all night long, finishing with a 42-27 rebounding advantage. The Explorers also could not get stops during an 18-1 first-half run that ended with Temple taking a 14-point lead at halftime. Part of the reason La Salle couldn't get stops was that Temple was getting offensive rebounds and easy putbacks. I'm quite sure the Explorers will focus heavily on blocking out heading into Saturday's game at Rhode Island.

La Salle has stayed on the right side of the bubble this season with signature wins against Butler and VCU, but also by avoiding bad losses. Rhode Island would be a bad loss. The Explorers will take care of business.

La Salle 78, Rhode Island 64     

SK: As Dr. John Giannini deftly pointed out after Thursday's game, La Salle picked a bad time to play one of it's worst games of the season. I wasn't surprised by the outcome -- Temple absolutely needed to win while La Salle had some breathing room in terms of its standing with the NCAA Selection Committee. Now we find out whether Thursday was just a bump in the road for the Explorers or if it will trigger a downward spiral.

On paper, Saturday at Rhode Island looks like a win. I'm here to tell you that isn't the case. The Rams have gone toe-to-toe with the A-10's elite (see a overtime loss at St. Louis and narrow setbacks against VCU and at Butler). As full disclosure, I've been a fan of the Hurley family for a quarter-century now. Danny Hurley is in his first season as the head coach at Rhode Island. I watched as he turned St. Benedict's High in Newark, N.J. into a national power, then, along with older brother Bobby, transformed Wagner from a five-win team in 2010 to a 25-win team last season. The Hurley brothers can coach, and more importantly, they can recruit. I have no doubt Rhode Island will be in the running for a A-10 title two years from now.

As for the present, this isn't a good spot for La Salle. Rhode Island is getting closer and closer to that signature win of the season, and I think it happens Saturday at La Salle's expense.

Rhode Island 68, La Salle 67

Temple (18-8) at Charlotte (18-7) - Sunday, 4 p.m.

BB: Where have these Temple Owls been for the last month? After an up and down last few weeks, Fran Dunphy's team showed up with a vengeance on Thursday night, dominating La Salle for much of the game in an 82-74 win. Don't be fooled by that final score, because it wasn't really that close. The Owls destroyed the Explorers on the glass, led by Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson's career high 18 boards, and played like the hungrier team. Quite frankly, Temple's ceiling is higher than La Salle's, especially when the big men are active. The Owls have the best scorer in the A-10 in Khalif Wyatt, and they're hard to deal with when the supporting cast plays like it did against the Explorers. Temple had five players score in double figures against La Salle. If you had told me that before the game, I would have guaranteed an Owls win.

Now we'll find out if this consistently inconsistent supporting cast puts up a similar effort in Charlotte. The last meeting was an 89-88 Temple win at the Liacouras Center back on Feb. 6. Expect fewer points this time around, especially if Temple defends the way it did for key stretches against La Salle.

Temple 76, Charlotte 72

SK: Dunph Month keeps picking up steam. Temple has now won four of it's last five following Thursday's dominating performance against La Salle. It was a textbook win for the Owls, getting production from all kinds of sources. Hollis-Jefferson really is a key for Fran Dunphy's team. He's not going to give you 23 and 18 every night, but he is capable of raising his offensive game to match his always steady work on the defensive end.

Jake O'Brien is another X-factor. He's reached double figures in four of the last five games and has a unique skill set for a big man. If Temple's complimentary parts continue to pitch in, this is a team that no one will want to see at the conference tournament. Charlotte is a solid team that's lost just once on its home floor all season. The 49ers gave the Owls all they could handle earlier this month in Philadelphia. This will be a very tall order for Temple. But Dunphy is doing it again -- getting his team to come together at just the right time. Chalk up another win.

Temple 74, Charlotte 70

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