Sluggish Villanova gets 'rough' win over Penn

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Sluggish Villanova gets 'rough' win over Penn

BOX SCORE

VILLANOVA, Pa. -- After catapulting into the national rankings with huge wins over Kansas and Iowa in the Bahamas over Thanksgiving weekend, Villanova returned home looking like a team that can challenge for a Big East title and perhaps even make a deep run in March.

But after a sloppy 77-54 victory over Penn at the Pavilion on Wednesday (see Instant Replay), Villanova head coach Jay Wright offered a reminder for anyone that wants to put the No. 14 Wildcats on a pedestal just yet.

“We’re not a finished product at all,” Wright said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. I like our team. We’re going to be good. But we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Wright didn’t have too many positive things to say about his team following Villanova’s Big 5 opener Wednesday -- which might seem silly when you consider ’Nova won by 23 points and never trailed.

But if you were at the Pavilion, it’s easy to understand the head coach’s concern. After jumping out to a huge first-half lead, the Wildcats fell asleep coming out of the halftime break, failing to score any second-half points for seven-and-a-half minutes and not converting a field goal until more than 10 minutes had elapsed.

“We certainly didn’t play a pretty game, but when that happens it’s always the other team that plays well,” Wright said. “We were a little bit off our game, but they were really good. They executed and they played harder than us, so we don’t look good. I give them credit and we’re going to learn from this.”

Despite Villanova’s cold streak to start the second half, the Quakers had trouble making up too much ground, only slicing the lead to single digits a couple of times. The closest they’d come was 56-48 after sophomore swingman Julian Harrell finished a pretty drive with seven minutes left.

“You know, it was crazy,” Penn head coach Jerome Allen said. “We had it to nine and had four consecutive stops. But you can’t give possessions away. Out of those four possessions for us, I think two of them ended with unforced turnovers. That’s unfortunate but we’ll learn from it. Some things you’re willing to live with so we can live for tomorrow. But you can’t play Division I basketball and continue to give teams opportunity after opportunity after opportunity because eventually they’re going to score the ball.”

For the game, the Wildcats shot just 18 for 52 from the field but did a lot of damage from the free throw line, where they made 31 of their 40 foul shots. They also avoided the upset scare, thanks to some hot shooting from Darrun Hilliard (19 points on 4 for 6 shooting from three-point range) and solid games from JayVaughn Pinkston (13 points, seven rebounds) and James Bell (14 points, eight rebounds).

Sophomore point guard Ryan Arcidiacono had another poor shooting night, going just 1 for 10 from the field.

“I think we have certain players that individually can take over,” Wright said. “We have guys that can turn it on. But that’s not a good plan for success.”

While mostly upset with his team’s performance, Wright did admit that he was pleased with the defense Hilliard and Arcidiacono played on Penn leading scorer Tony Hicks, who was held to just one point while battling foul trouble. The Villanova coach also was happy to hold Miles Jackson-Cartwright to three points in the second half after the Quakers' senior erupted for 14 first-half points, including a stretch of three consecutive three-pointers.

What he didn’t like defensively was how Villanova dealt with Penn freshman point guard Tony Bagtas, who played 36 minutes in his first collegiate start and effectively escaped trouble from the Wildcats’ three-quarters court trap.

“I didn’t even see him on film,” Wright said. “And that kid did a hell of a job. We couldn’t do anything with him. He got wherever he wanted to go.”

Coming into Wednesday’s game, it would have been hard to predict that Bagtas would play 36 minutes, considering he averaged 4.8 minutes per game through Penn’s first six contests.

But against the Wildcats’ press, Allen decided to hand the rookie the keys to the car, and Bagtas responded with seven points, nine assists and six rebounds -- although he also committed five turnovers.

“I thought he was great,” Allen said. “I thought he played at the right pace. I thought he tried to make plays for us. And he’s only going to get better.”

“I think Tony led us from the start,” Jackson-Cartwright said. “We were confident with the ball in his hands. We’ve always been confident in what he can do, and I thought he was great at being poised, keeping us all calm and setting the offense.”

While Bagtas could be the missing piece to a still-developing Penn rotation that already features senior standouts Jackson-Cartwright and Fran Dougherty and sophomore rising stars Hicks and Darien Nelson-Henry, Villanova already has all of its pieces in places, as evidenced by its impressive 8-0 start.

And with each win, the Wildcats’ status as a national power will continue to grow, as will their No. 14 ranking. But Wright knows the 'Cats can fall off their perch just as quickly.

“I like being ranked, I really do,” Wright said. “I think it’s great for the school, great for our conference, great for our fans and great for Philadelphia basketball. There’s nothing bad about it. This doesn’t have anything to do with that. It just has to do with our commitment to playing every game and every possession the same way.

“It was just a rough game,” he later added. “A Big 5 game.”

Matt Rhule's first Baylor hires include 4 Temple assistants

Matt Rhule's first Baylor hires include 4 Temple assistants

WACO, Texas -- New Baylor coach Matt Rhule has made some immediate Texas connections by hiring the president of the state's high school coaches who is a former Bears receiver.

Rhule announced his first five hires with the Bears on Friday, three days after being named Baylor's coach. They include four members from his staff at Temple and David Wetzel, the head coach and athletic director the past 13 seasons at Ronald Reagan High School in San Antonio.

Sean Padden will serve as Baylor's director of football operations, similar to his role at Temple the past four years.

Rhule didn't immediately announce the titles and job duties for Wetzel, Francis Brown, Mike Siravo and Evan Cooper. There was also no indication of when the rest of his staff would be completed.

Brown and Siravo were defensive assistants at Temple, and Cooper was director of player personnel for the Owls.

Wetzel, who has coached in the state high school ranks for 25 years, was serving as president of the Texas High School Football Coaches Association. He lettered at Baylor in 1990 and 1991 while playing for Grant Teaff, and also earned a master's degree from the school in 1994. Before Reagan, he was head coach at schools in Killeen and Austin.

Wetzel told the Waco Tribune-Herald that he expects to play a major role in recruiting, but didn't know yet if he'd be coaching offense or defense.

"Given the opportunity, it's really a unique deal," Wetzel told the newspaper. "I feel like it's God's timing for me to be in the right place at the right time."

When Rhule was introduced Wednesday in Waco, he said he had already received about 480 text messages, many from coaches. He also didn't rule out the possibility of some of the current Baylor assistants staying, but said he hadn't had a chance to meet with them. Those assistants were retained from former coach Art Briles' staff with Jim Grobe as acting head coach this season.

Note
Baylor announced Friday that Jalen Pitre, a defensive back from Stafford, Texas, signed a financial aid agreement that will allow him to enroll for the spring 2017 semester after graduating from high school early. Before Rhule was hired, Pitre was the only player verbally committed for Baylor's recruiting class in February. He had 83 tackles, six interceptions and four forced fumbles as a senior.

Fastbreak Friday: No. 1 Villanova faces huge test vs. undefeated Notre Dame

Fastbreak Friday: No. 1 Villanova faces huge test vs. undefeated Notre Dame

Fastbreak Friday is a weekly preview of the weekend's local college basketball action. CSN anchor/reporter Amy Fadool and CSN producer Sean Kane provide their analysis on all the games involving city teams and predict the outcomes. Look for this column every Friday during the college basketball season. Season prediction records can be found at the bottom of the column.

No. 1 Villanova (9-0) vs. No. 23 Notre Dame (9-0), Saturday, noon, in Newark, N.J.

SK: This isn't just the best game involving a local team this weekend, it's the most highly-anticipated matchup in the country — a pair of undefeated teams going toe-to-toe in the Never Forget Tribute Classic at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.

No. 1 Villanova and No. 23 Notre Dame bring identical 9-0 records into this renewal of an old Big East rivalry. It's an opportunity for each team to make a statement on a national stage. The Wildcats want to prove they're worthy of that No. 1 ranking, while the Irish can prove they are among the country's elite teams. This really should be a fantastic basketball game. Villanova and Notre Dame are both well-coached, veteran teams brimming with players accustomed to playing in big games.

Villanova is coming off a hard-fought 89-79 win over La Salle on Tuesday. It marked the Wildcats' 17th straight Big 5 victory. With a win over Temple next week, seniors Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds would become the first four-year class ever to go undefeated in Big 5 play. But city history can wait — Notre Dame has the Wildcats' full attention this weekend.

Jalen Brunson enters Saturday's game with no shortage of confidence. He was the difference for Villanova against La Salle, scoring a career-high 26 points on 10 of 17 shooting from the field. The sophomore point guard delivered clutch basket after clutch basket as the Wildcats held off the pesky Explorers in the second half. Despite Brunson's heroics, it's becoming more and more clear that Villanova sorely misses his backcourt mate Phil Booth.

Booth has missed the last six games with inflammation in his left knee, the same knee he underwent arthroscopic surgery on in the spring. Jay Wright is understandably being cautious with Booth, who has been listed as questionable for the last three weeks. The more time Booth misses, the more doubts there are concerning his long-term status for the season. Villanova has survived without Booth to this point, but they'll need him once Big East play begins. The Wildcats are down to a seven-man rotation without Booth, with Brunson tasked with the majority of the ballhandling responsibilities in addition to being one of the team's top scorers.

Villanova could use Booth against Notre Dame on Saturday. His status won't be revealed until a few hours before tip-off. I'd be surprised if Wright chooses this game for Booth to return. Ideally, the coach would ease Booth into a lower-stress game. If Booth does play this weekend, it will likely be on a limited role with a minutes restriction.

Notre Dame is led by the veteran trio of junior Bonzie Colson (17.1 ppg) and seniors V.J. Beachem (16.8 ppg) and Steve Vasturia (16.4 ppg). Vasturia is a St. Joe's Prep product who has become one of the best shooters in the country. He's connecting on 46 percent of his three-point attempts and he's missed just one of his 31 free throw attempts. The Fighting Irish have wins over Iowa, Northwestern and Colorado this season. But they haven't played anyone in the same weight class as Villanova, and they certainly haven't seen a player of Hart's caliber.

Hart will be the best player on the floor Saturday and I expect him to be the difference. He'll be eager to shake off a frustrating outing against La Salle. Hart finished with 21 points and eight rebounds, but missed a handful of 10-12-foot pull-up jumpers in the lane that he normally makes in his sleep. Hart will seize the opportunity to prove he belongs in the National Player of the Year conversation. The college basketball world will be watching, and Hart knows it. 

Notre Dame should be able to exploit Villanova's thin frontcourt. But Hart — with some help from Jenkins, Brunson and Mikal Bridges — will make just enough winning plays to keep Villanova undefeated and atop the national polls for another week.

Villanova 77, Notre Dame 72       

La Salle (4-3) vs. Georgetown (5-4), Saturday, 2 p.m., in Miami, Fla.

AF: The Explorers are coming off a heck of a game against Villanova at the Palestra this past Tuesday night. I’ll be the first to admit, I didn’t think they had it in them. I watched La Salle in several games this season, and to me it was playing more like a group of talented individual players rather than a team, a natural side effect of so many transfers.

But that game against Villanova showed me that the Explorers do have the ability to play as a team. Keeping it close down the stretch — and save for a few more made shots — they might have taken the Wildcats to overtime. Yes, Villanova won the game by 10, but it was closer than the score would indicate. And that’s a tribute to other players — like Pookie Powell, who had 27 against 'Nova — helping out the scoring department. That's something I’d imagine pleases his coach as well as the man who’s usually forced to carry that load, Jordan Price. 

So, quite the momentum builder and confidence booster for Dr. John Giannini’s team as it goes on the road to the Hoophall Miami Invitational to face Georgetown. This is definitely not your father’s Hoyas team. It is reeling right now, getting punched in the gut right out of the gates of the season, losing a heartbreaker to Maryland only to follow it up with a loss to Arkansas State. Georgetown also had a pretty bad Maui Invitational late in November, losing by double digits to both Wisconsin and to Oklahoma State, the last one by 27 points. And just last weekend, the Hoyas barely beat Elon, a small school in Burlington, N.C. Go Phoenix!

I honestly have no idea which team the Explorers are going to see on Saturday. But they need to prepare like it’s Villanova, since that was by far their best effort of the season. That way, if La Salle faces the Hoyas team that lost by one point to Maryland and beat Oregon, it'll be ready. I’m going to take the Explorers, because I hope they can build off a great team effort this week.

La Salle 76, Georgetown 72

Temple (6-3) vs. DePaul (5-2), Saturday, 11:30 a.m., in Miami, Fla.

AF: Temple unfortunately had its five-game win streak snapped this week after a close loss to George Washington. The Owls found themselves down by as many as 15 in the second half before making a comeback late in the game. But a three-pointer didn't go at the buzzer that would've tied it and Temple fell, 66-63. Certainly a heartbreaker for a team that's surprising many around the city. 

In that loss to GW, the Owls made a season-high 12 three-pointers as a team, something that bodes well for Fran Dunphy's team moving forward. Long known for a defensive, perhaps even plodding offensive team, this year's Temple squad is showing it can score at a more efficient clip. Some bright spots in the GW game: 21 assists with just eight turnovers and 21 points off turnovers. Those numbers are going to keep you in, as well as, win you games. Also, you can't talk Temple unless you talk Obi Enechionyia. The junior forward has now posted double figures in scoring in all nine games for the Owls this season, and 20 or more points in five of them.

Temple, coincidentally like La Salle this weekend, heads to Miami to take part in the Hoophall Invitational. The Owls will face DePaul, which is coming off a win over Lamar. The Blue Demons are led by their two returning starters, sophomore Eli Cain and senior Billy Garrett. Garrett, averaging 12.6 points a game, is a former Big East Rookie of the Year in 2014. Cain meanwhile leads DePaul and ranks fourth in the Big East with 19.4 points. 

But Dave Leitao's squad has not fared well when tested by good defensive teams in the early season. In both of their losses, the Blue Demons failed to get close to their scoring average of 72 points a game, only posting 59 and 64 points against Rutgers and Northwestern, respectively. Plus, they have yet to play in a neutral site game, something Temple has already successfully done this season. 

I like the Owls to pick their momentum back up down in South Beach.

Temple 72, DePaul 66

Saint Joseph’s (3-4) at Drexel (4-4), Sunday, 4 p.m.

AF: The Dragons welcome St. Joe’s to the DAC this weekend as winners of two in a row. With eight games already played the season, this will just be Drexel’s third home game. It's coming off a nice win over High Point on the road in which Kari Jonsson more than doubled his average scoring output, pouring in 25 points, a career high. The Dragons are still paced by Kurk Lee, who’s averaging 16 points and is a decent outside threat at 12 of 31 from three-point range. Zach Spiker seems to have his players on the same page, which has shown in the last two wins, both close games on the road, winning by a combined 10 points between the victories over Lafayette and High Point.

St. Joe's, meanwhile, is coming off a drubbing at the hands of the then-No. 2 team in the country. The Hawks visited Villanova last weekend at the Pavilion and came away with an 0-2 record in the Big 5 and a 88-57 loss. Of course, Villanova is now the top team in the country and it looked every bit of it last Saturday.

If you asked Phil Martelli at the beginning of the season, he openly admitted that he knew his team would have some growing pains and that its youth in certain positions would not likely serve it well in the tougher games. You certainly saw that against 'Nova. Still, Shavar Newkirk has been a very good player for Martelli and the Hawks, showing his leadership on the court, as well as his scoring prowess. Newkirk is tallying over 20 points per game and leads the way for a total of four players who are scoring in double figures for the Hawks. I have also been impressed with the play of local kid sophomore Lamarr Kimble. The Neumann-Goretti product posted 15 points to lead the Hawks against Villanova, no small feat against that team.

There haven’t been too many meetings between these two city rivals in which you find that Drexel is averaging more points a game than St. Joe's. But that is the case for this year’s game, with Drexel posting more than five points a game above the Hawks. That, coupled with it being a home game, I think should work in the Dragons' favor. The only issue is, you can’t underestimate a Hawks team that felt embarrassed by a 31-point defeat last time out. I think Martelli rights the ship in a close one at the DAC.

Saint Joseph’s 74, Drexel 72

George Mason (7-3) at Pennsylvania (3-4), Saturday, 2 p.m.

SK: This is a sneaky good game Saturday at the Palestra. George Mason has won six straight, including a huge 19-point win at Penn State on Wednesday. The Patriots trailed by one at halftime before roaring back to outscore the Nittany Lions by 20 in the second half. The six-game win streak is the longest in four years for George Mason.

Marquise Moore has been the driving force behind the Patriots' success, averaging 18.1 points and 10.3 rebounds. For the senior guard — listed at 6-2 — to be averaging more than 10 rebounds is remarkable. Moore had 25 points and 13 rebounds in George Mason's win over Penn State.

Penn is coming off an impressive win as well, beating Lafayette by 29 on Wednesday. That win came on the heels of a hard-fought loss at Temple last weekend. Don't be fooled by the 3-4 record — Steve Donahue's team is making progress. The Quakers' losses this season have come to No. 1 Villanova, Miami, Temple and Navy by two points. Freshman big man A.J. Brodeur continues to show why he'll be a star in the Ivy League for the next four years. Brodeur had 22 points on 10 of 13 shooting against Lafayette and added seven rebounds and five assists. He plays with a maturity well beyond his years, and Donahue is wisely running his offense through Brodeur on the low block more and more. 

I'd be surprised if this game doesn't come down to the last handful of possessions. I'm a big believer in what Donahue is doing at Penn, but I just don't see him having the horses to win this game against George Mason.

George Mason 76, Penn 72

Prediction records

Amy Fadool: 6-1

Sean Kane: 5-3