Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

College Notebook: Wildcats bounce back

Posted by Eric Fisher On February 3

One week before Christmas, Villanova was sitting at 8-4, having just lost consecutive games to Penn and Kansas. The road loss to Kansas was understandable. The loss to Penn was a bit of a shock.

That was the second time the defending national champions had dropped consecutive games this season. The previous time both losses were at home, a blowout loss to Michigan and an overtime loss to Furman.

The reports of Villanova’s demise, however, appear to have been premature. The Wildcats have won 10 straight games since their loss at Kansas and have risen to No. 14 in the national rankings.

The Wildcats’ revival has been led by redshirt seniors Phil Booth and Eric Paschall. Booth is averaging 18.5 points and four assists. He is making 41 percent of his shots from 3-point range. Paschall is averaging 17.4 points and 6.3 rebounds while shooting 36.6 percent from 3-point range.

It can be argued that Villanova is becoming too reliant on Booth and Paschall. But it’s hard to argue that leaning in the Booth-Paschall duo isn’t working for the Wildcats.

Perhaps sophomore Collin Gillespie, a reliable third option, could join the top duo to form a triple threat. Gillespie poured in 30 points Sunday during a 77-65 win over Georgetown, which stretched the Wildcats’ winning streak to 10 games.

The argument could be made that the 10-game winning streak reveals the weakness of the Big East as much as it does Villanova’s prowess. The Big East certainly isn’t on the same level as the top leagues in the country. On the other hand, Villanova should receiver credit for handling its business in its league.

Gillespie is averaging 12.1 points per game, but no other Wildcat is above 7.8. Villanova will probably need more bench scoring in order to make some noise in the NCAA Tournament. Meanwhile, it’s top duo – with some help from Gillespie – is getting the job done.


MAKING HISTORY: With victories over Temple and Saint Joseph’s, Penn wrapped up its first Big Five title since 2002. The Quakers put themselves in position to win the city crown by shocking Villanova in December.

AJ Brodeur led the Quakers against Temple with 16 points, but the most surprising contribution during the 77-70 victory came from junior Jacob “Kuba” Mijakowski. Mijakowski, who had never scored more than eight points in game while at Penn, scored 14 points during the first half as the Quakers built a 10-point lead.

The victory over the Owls clinched a share of the Big Five title. One week later, the Quakers clinched the title outright by beat Saint Joseph’s, 78-70. Brodeur scored 20 points, but freshman guard Bryce Washington paced the Quakers with 23 points.


POISON IVY: Although Penn won the Big Five title, it has struggled in the Ivy League. The Quakers lost back-to-back games to Princeton, 68-65 in overtime and 62-53, in early January as part of a four-game losing streak. The Quakers then lost to Cornell on Friday, 80-71, dropping them to 0-3 in the Ivy League. Penn finally secured its first Ivy win Saturday, barely slipping past Columbia, 72-70.

Penn can’t afford many more losses or else it won’t qualify for the Ivy League Tournament at the end of the regular season. If Penn wins the Ivy League Tournament and gets into the NCAA Tournament, wins over Villanova, Temple and Miami should help its seeding, but the Quakers are in danger of not even qualifying for the Ivy League Tournament.


CROSWELL BOOSTS EXPLORERS: After opening the season with a 10-game losing streak, La Salle has put together its second three-game winning streak. The Explorers posted wins over Fordham, Massachusetts and Richmond, and will try to stretch that streak to four on Tuesday (7 p.m.) when it hosts Saint Joseph’s.

The Explorers have received a boost the past two games from freshman forward Ed Croswell, a St. Joseph’s Prep graduate. Croswell scored nine points and grabbed 11 rebounds during a 60-51 win over Massachusetts, and then scored nine points and snared 16 rebounds during Saturday’s 66-58 win over Richmond.


LITTLE MARGIN FOR ERROR: January wasn’t kind to Saint Joseph’s. The Hawks lost their first four games in 2019 and finished with a 2-5 record in January. Injuries, which have plagued the Hawks the past few seasons, have sidelined guard Lamarr Kimble and forward Pierfrancesco Oliva, who suffered a season-ending knee injury.

The Hawks have been left with little margin for error, as was evident Saturday during a 64-62 victory over Massachusetts, which was a good way to begin February. If we go back to late December, none of the Hawks’ last five wins have been by a combined 12 points, with no margin of victory larger than four.


TOURNAMENT RUN: Temple’s NCAA Tournament hopes have taken a hit with three losses in its last five games. The losses came against Penn, Cincinnati and Houston. The Owls handed 13th-ranked Houston its only of the season earlier in January, but Houston got revenge Thursday with a 73-66 victory.

There’s no shame in losing to Houston or Cincinnati, but Temple, at 16-6, can’t afford many more defeats if it wants an at-large invitation to the NCAA Tournament. Sunday’s victory over Tulane, which lost for the 11th straight time, won’t impress the tournament committee. The Owls need to win at least seven of its remaining nine games and advance a round or two in the American Athletic Conference Tournament in order to have a legitimate shot at an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.


SETTING GOALS: With seven games remaining before the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament, a reasonable goal for Drexel would be to get above .500, both overall and in the CAA, before the postseason tournament. The Dragons are 11-13 with a 5-6 record in the CAA. Five of the remaining seven games are at home, where the Dragons are 7-4.


LOOKAHEAD: This was a successful weekend for the City Six. After Penn’s loss to Cornell on Friday, all of the City Six teams except Villanova won a game on Saturday, and the Wildcats posted a win over Georgetown on Sunday. A Big Five team will have to lose Tuesday when La Salle tries to defeat visiting Saint Joseph’s for its fourth straight win.

Villanova will try to extend its winning streak to 12 when it hosts Creighton on Wednesday (8 p.m.) and then visits Marquette on Saturday (2:30 p.m.). Temple hosts Connecticut on Wednesday (6 p.m.) and visits Tulsa on Saturday (noon). Penn takes to the road Friday and Saturday against Brown (7 p.m.) and Yale (7 p.m.). Drexel hosts UNC-Wilmington on Thursday (7 p.m.) and Charleston on Saturday (4 p.m.). After visiting La Salle, the Hawks are back home on Friday (7 p.m.) against St. Louis. The Explorers return to action on Sunday (2 p.m.) at George Mason.

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