MY FOUR No. 1 seeds if the NCAA Tournament selections were now.
East: Villanova. South: Duke. Midwest: Baylor. West: UCLA.
Josh Hart scored half of Villanova's 74 points Saturday at the Prudential Center in Newark against Notre Dame. He scored just about all the points as he willed the Wildcats back from their biggest deficit during the ongoing 16-game winning streak - except the two that gave them their first lead of the game midway through the second half. He could have scored those, but running the fastbreak perfectly, he made the best play, hitting Jalen Brunson in stride for a layup.
The No. 1 Wildcats, playing before a sellout crowd on CBS, overcame a near-perfect offensive first half by the Irish to lock them down in the final 10 minutes on the way to a 74-66 win that was earned in every way.
ND (9-1) scored 41 points on 30 first-half possessions, a dazzling 1.37 points per possession. That they only led 41-36 is a tribute to the Wildcats' very best attribute - a belief in themselves that can only measured by the results.
Hart had 19 in the first, 18 in the second, on the way to a career-best 37 points. His team got 1.2 ppp in each half. ND, annually one of America's most efficient offensive teams, was outscored 38-25 in the second, getting just .810 ppp against a defense that is lacking Ryan Arcidiacano's ball pressure, Daniel Ochefu's back-line intelligence and the rotation right now to press much, but none of the toughness that has been on display since Hart arrived on campus.
How do you deal with America's best free-throw shooting team? Don't foul. The 'Cats had just 10 fouls. The Irish never got into the bonus. Hart (14-for-14) made twice as many free throws as the Irish (6-for-6) attempted. Despite terrific offensive games from point guard Matt Farrell and wing guard Steve Vasturia (St. Joseph's Prep), each scoring 18 points, you always sensed Villanova was coming to get the Irish.
Hart finished 10-for-14 from the field, 3-for-4 from the arc, along with 11 rebounds, four assists and two steals. After 10 amazing games, he is averaging 19.5 points, 7.1 rebounds and 3.8 assists while shooting an insane-for-a-wing 57.3 percent overall, 46.7 from the arc and 78.4 from the line.
Tuesday night at the Pavilion against Temple, the Wildcats are in play for: 1, the longest winning streak in program history and 2, the first 16-0 four-year run in City Series history. The seniors have never lost a game on campus. And they have as their leader Josh Hart, one of the most versatile, talented and driven players in school and Big 5 history who has been played 120 college games and been on the winning side 107 times.
Temple and La Salle found themselves playing in a doubleheader at AmericanAirlines Arena, the Hoophall Miami Invitational against Big East teams.
Temple had little trouble with DePaul, leading by 25 points with nine minutes left before winning 74-65. La Salle got into a crazy game with Georgetown where 58 fouls were called and 76 free throws taken. It was tied with eight minutes left, but the Hoyas pulled away late to win 93-78.
The Owls (7-3) got an amazing performance from Josh Brown who somehow is back playing and playing great after a spring Achilles' injury that threatened his season. Brown had 11 points, seven steals and five assists.
Temple won the preseason NIT by beating Florida State and West Virginia. Without the Temple games, those teams are a combined 18-0. The Owls do have some strange losses, but good wins always trump bad losses in the eyes of the selection committee so if FSU and WVU can keep winning and the Owls do well enough in the American, those wins will really help the NCAA résumé.
Temple outscored DePaul (5-3) 27-3 from the arc, numbers that even a really good team can't overcome. And DePaul has been less than good for a long time.
La Salle's offense is good enough to give them a chance, but the Explorers' defense is dreadful, allowing teams to score 1.05 ppp, 204th out of 351 teams. Jordan Price had 23 points and B.J. Johnson 19 for La Salle (4-4). But the Hoyas (6-4) scored 1.24 ppp while shooting 18-for-35 on twos, 7-for-12 on threes and 36-for-43 from the line.
The Quakers trailed George Mason 57-55 with 7 1/2 minutes left at the Palestra. The Patriots scored the next 13 points and that was that, officially 79-60, GMU's seventh consecutive win, including three on the road.
Power guard Marquise Moore had a triple-double for Mason (8-3) - 17 points, 16 rebounds, 10 assists. Penn (3-5) was good enough to hang with a veteran team now getting used to second-year coach Dave Paulson who did such a nice job at Bucknell. But the Quakers shot just 7-for-28 from three and in Year 2 under Steve Donahue, shooting is still the biggest missing ingredient for a team that is playing a system that relies on the three to be most effective.