NCAA

Villanova's Wright really loves Big East tourney

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Villanova's Wright really loves Big East tourney

NEW YORK – Jay Wright loves the Big East tournament. Really loves it. You won’t believe how much he loves it.

Really, you won’t.

“Winning this to me … we’ve never won, but winning this to me, because this is where I’m from, the East, is almost as important as going to the Final 4,” Wright said.

Umm … Jay?

“I know I’ll get in trouble for that, but it’s the truth,” Wright said. “I just love what it stands for. Everybody from the Northeast being in New York for this tournament. …

“The Big East tournament is one of the greatest basketball tournaments in the country.”

Seems like crazy talk. But Wright is trying to get across the point that he sees the Big East tournament as an important, fun, exciting few days in New York, not just a meaningless exercise that does little except cement a team’s seeding in the NCAA tournament.

Villanova opens play in the Big East tournament at noon Thursday at Madison Square Garden against Seton Hall, a 51-50 winner over Butler Wednesday night. Villanova beat Seton Hall by 16 and 17 points this year.

“This time of year is always fun, because you get a new start,” Wright said. “When you’re having a bad year and you get to this tournament, it’s not about your season, it’s about, ‘We’re going to go play in a three-day tournament and that’s fun.’ And when you have a good team it’s even more fun.”

Wright has one of his best teams ever this year. Villanova, 28-3 and ranked No. 3 in the country, is the top seed in the Big East tournament for the first time since 1997.

The conference has undergone monumental changes, losing Syracuse, UConn, Pitt and several other big-time programs and adding Creighton -- which handed the Wildcats their only two conference losses -- along with Xavier and Butler.

Villanova last won the Big East tourney in 1995. The Wildcats haven’t even made the championship game since 2004. They’re 2-5 in their last seven conference tourney games.

Although conventional wisdom has Villanova meeting No. 14 Creighton Saturday night in the title game, there are several other formidable teams in the 10-team tournament.

Providence, Xavier and St. John’s have 20 wins each and are NCAA bubble teams. They need wins in New York more than Villanova and Creighton.

“I think this tournament is going to be pretty wide open,” Wright said. “The chance of us getting to the final is going to be tough, the chance of Creighton getting to the final is tough.

“I’ve heard people talking about that, but there’s a lot of really good teams in between.”

Clearly, the new Big East conference isn’t as powerful as the old Big East, but Wright said the new conference is strong in its own way, presenting different kinds of challenges for Villanova.

Wright points to the conference’s No. 4 composite RPI, even without Pitt, UConn, Syracuse, etc.

“This was just as difficult a league in a different way,” Wright said. “Going to Creighton … Creighton was just a style we’ve never really played against. Going at Butler and at Xavier were really different environments that we hadn’t seen and different styles of play.

“It was a challenging year, it was just different. Like when we would go at Louisville or at Connecticut, we were used to that kind of play. We were built to play against that. We struggled with Butler at Butler, we won at overtime.

“It’s just a different basketball philosophy, and they play a different style. They play very cerebral, close-to-the-vest, they keep you in a close game. It was challenging in a different way.

“Playing everybody twice was really cool, but there’s a new challenge to that. By the end of the year, we all knew each other really well. I think the fans knew the teams really well.”

Best of CFB: Mayfield with 3 TDs as No. 5 Sooners top No. 2 Ohio State

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Best of CFB: Mayfield with 3 TDs as No. 5 Sooners top No. 2 Ohio State

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Baker Mayfield threw for 386 yards and three touchdowns as No. 5 Oklahoma pulled ahead in the second half to knock off No. 2 Ohio State 31-16 on Saturday night to give first-year head coach Lincoln Riley an early signature victory.

Mayfield lived up to his billing as a Heisman Trophy candidate in shifting the Sooners (2-0) into overdrive and piling up the yards in the second half as the Buckeyes' offense sputtered. Oklahoma took its first lead of the game near the end of the third quarter and cruised in the fourth (see full recap)

No. 15 Georgia outslugs No. 24 Notre Dame, 20-19
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Georgia got to Dawg Walk out of Notre Dame Stadium with a victory, dozens of its fans forming a line from the locker room to the buses to congratulate the Bulldogs after their first trip to this part of the country in more than 50 years.

Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy led a swarming Georgia defense and the No. 15 Bulldogs got enough plays from an offense starting a freshman quarterback to beat No. 24 Notre Dame 20-19 on Saturday night (see full recap).

The Bryants lead No. 3 Tigers to 14-6 win over No. 13 Auburn
CLEMSON, S.C. -- Clemson's new starting quarterback had an easy way for the third-ranked Tigers to keep winning the next several years - recruit more Bryants.

Kelly Bryant, Clemson's first-year starter, ran for two touchdowns after a scary hit knocked him to the ground and defensive end Austin Bryant had four of the Tigers' 11 sacks in a 14-6 victory over No. 13 Auburn on Saturday night.

"The Bryant guys were pretty good," said Kelly, who's not related to Austin. "We've got to keep it going."

If they do, the defending champion Tigers (2-0) might be playing in their third straight title game (see full recap).

No. 6 USC routs No. 14 Stanford 42-24 for 11th straight win
LOS ANGELES -- Steven Mitchell and Deontay Burnett caught two touchdown passes apiece from Sam Darnold, and No. 6 Southern California extended its winning streak to 11 games with a bruising 42-24 victory over No. 14 Stanford on Saturday night.

Darnold went 21 of 26 with 316 yards passing for the Trojans (2-0, 1-0 Pac-12), who snapped their three-game losing streak in this California private-school rivalry. USC racked up 623 total yards and won the first Pac-12 game of the new season by beating the hard-nosed Cardinal (1-1, 0-1) at their own physical game (see full recap).

Villanova at Temple: The return of the Mayor's Cup

Villanova at Temple: The return of the Mayor's Cup

FCS No. 6 Villanova (1-0, 0-0 CAA) at Temple (0-1, 0-0 AAC)
Lincoln Financial Field
Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ESPN3

The rivalry between Temple and Villanova moves from the hardwood back outside to the gridiron on Saturday afternoon as the Owls and the Wildcats will play for the Mayor’s Cup for the first time in five seasons.

Temple heads into the matchup reeling after a thorough 49-16 defeat at Notre Dame last week in new head coach Geoff Collins’ debut, a game that saw the Owls get handled in every facet by the Fighting Irish.

Villanova, now No. 6 in the FCS rankings, comes into the contest at 1-0 after a hard-fought 38-35 victory at Lehigh in the first game of the post-Andy Talley era.

To get you ready for Saturday’s matchup, CSNPhilly.com reporter Greg Paone and CSNPhilly.com contributor Dave Zeitlin break down all you need to know about the Owls and the Wildcats.

Scouting Temple
The Owls still have plenty of questions after last week’s shellacking at Notre Dame, but one huge one was answered in the form of a starting QB as redshirt sophomore Logan Marchi emerged victorious from the summer’s four-horse race for the starting crown. Marchi, who entered the game with only two career completions on six attempts, had some early jitters but settled in as he went 19 for 35 with two TD passes. He’ll look to keep the confidence growing and take another step forward against the Wildcats. Sophomore WR Isaiah Wright is a player to keep an eye on when the Owls’ offense is on the field. A versatile weapon who can line up all over the field, he made an impact last week when the ball was in his hands with four grabs for a team-high 78 yards. Junior tailback Ryquell Armstead toted the rock 19 times for 68 yards. Look for the Owls to feed him and attempt to get him more involved on Saturday.

To call Temple’s rushing defense last week porous would be doing it an injustice. The Owls were gashed for 422 yards on the ground by the Irish, who had three players with over 100 yards on the ground. Tailback Josh Adams had a game-high 161 yards, while fellow RB Dexter Williams had 124 yards and QB Brandon Wimbush had 106 yards of his own. The Irish had five rushing TDs on the day. Temple held Notre Dame’s passing attack in check, though, as the Irish had only 184 yards and a single score through the air. Redshirt junior safety Delvon Randall led the way with 11 total tackles for the Owls. - Paone

Scouting Villanova
As always, the Wildcats will be a power in the Colonial Athletic Association, arguably the best conference in the FCS, as well as on the national FCS scene. The Wildcats ascended to the No. 6 ranking after opening their season with a 38-35 win over Lehigh in Mark Ferrante’s first game as head coach. Ferrante, a longtime Villanova assistant, took over for Talley, who retired after 32 years on the job.

In the win, Villanova was led by quarterback Zach Bednarczyk, who threw for two touchdowns and ran for another as he looks to come into his own in his third year starting under center. Senior running back Matt Gudzak, who shares carries with Aaron Forbes, ran for a career-high 142 yards and two touchdowns, while tight end Ryan Bell and big-play receiver Taurus Phillips combined for 175 receiving yards. Defensively, Villanova is paced by preseason All-American safety Rob Rolle and senior linebacker Ed Shockley, the latter of whom had a career-high 14 tackles (13 solo) in the opener. - Zeitlin

History
The Wildcats hold a 16-15-2 all-time advantage over the Owls in a series that dates back to 1928.

Temple has won the last three meetings, the most recent of which was a 41-10 decision on Aug. 31, 2012. In those last three meetings, the Owls have outscored the ‘Cats by a 114-41 margin.

Villanova’s last victory came in 2009 when the ‘Cats stunned the Owls, 27-24. The Wildcats are 3-18 all time against FCS foes and two of those three wins have come at the expense of the Owls (2003, 2009).

Storylines to watch
Temple: If one’s a coincidence, is two a trend with the rushing defense?

As noted above, the Owls were absolutely gashed by the Fighting Irish last week to the tune of 422 rushing yards, the most Temple has given up to a non-option team in the last nine years. Not pretty at all, obviously, but Notre Dame is a different animal that features some of the best talent in the nation.

Still, defensive coordinator Taver Johnson’s group needs to rebound against the Wildcats before other teams start to get the book on the Owls’ weaknesses. Especially before AAC play begins in two weeks with a trip to conference darling South Florida.

But just because Villanova is an FCS squad doesn’t mean that will be an easy task for Temple as the Wildcats feature a formidable duo at tailback in Gudzak and Forbes. - Paone

Villanova: Defensive litmus test

After surrendering five touchdowns vs. Lehigh, it’s clear the ’Cats have some work to do to try to match the level of their FCS-leading defense from a year ago. But can they pick up the pace against an FBS opponent that has the kind of offensive weapons they’re not used to seeing? One interesting thing to watch will be to see if their two defensive stars and captains — Shockley and Rolle — can show they belong. Both are from South Jersey and know a lot of guys on Temple, and Rolle in particular is motivated by the Owls passing on him during the recruiting process (see story). - Zeitlin

What’s at stake?
Temple: Pressure of the dreaded 0-2 hole

The last thing Collins and the Owls need as they gear up for conference play in a couple weeks is the added pressure that comes with falling in an 0-2 hole. If they lose Saturday to Villanova the questions will come in a fast and furious manner. That can be an issue for a young team and its new head coach, both of which are trying to smooth out the bumps that come with a new starting QB and replacing seven starters on defense. It’s way too early to call this a “must-win” for Temple, but it will be a long week at 10th and Diamond Streets if the Owls drop this one. - Paone

Villanova: FBS spotlight

A loss would do little to damage the Wildcats’ playoff hopes, but a win over the Owls on Saturday afternoon may give them the kind of national attention they don’t usually get at the FCS level. - Zeitlin

Predictions
Paone: Villanova is very good team and the Owls will have egg on their faces if they think any differently just because the ‘Cats play at the FCS level. But a focused Temple team comes to the Linc on Saturday with just too much firepower in hand for Villanova to handle.

Temple 31, Villanova 20

Zeitlin: Villanova may be able to keep it close as it has vs. FCS programs in the past. But, in the end, the talent and depth differences will be too much to overcome.

Temple 35, Villanova 24