Jerardi: Villanova winning, but defense a concern

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Villanova's Josh Hart (left) and Kris Jenkins celebrate after win over Marquette on Saturday.

MY FOUR No. 1 seeds if the NCAA Tournament selections were made now:

East: Villanova. South: UCLA. Midwest: Baylor. West: Gonzaga.

Villanova's starting five, which shot 27-for-38 (71.1 percent) overall and 14-for-20 (70 percent) from the arc, was most instrumental in building an 88-58 lead with six minutes left against Marquette Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center as the Wildcats cruised home by the deceptive final of 93-81.

Each of Villanova's starters is shooting 54 percent or better other than Kris Jenkins, who can be excused because he takes all those threes. Jenkins had 23 points and six threes against Marquette (10-5, 1-2 Big East). Darryl Reynolds only takes high-percentage smart shots and is 34-for-45 on the season, a cool 75.6 percent.

Villanova (15-1, 3-1) scored its 93 points on just 65 possessions, a 2016 NCAA Tournament-like 1.43 points per possession. The 'Cats had 24 assists on their 34 baskets.

As we hit the midway point of the regular season, Villanova is No. 1 nationally in offensive efficiency (1.22 ppp), but has fallen to 30th in defensive efficiency, a definite concern.

Owls breeze

Temple trailed East Carolina for exactly 22 first-half seconds and won easily, 81-63. The Owls (10-7, 1-3 American) shot 33-for-62 (53.2 percent) overall and 27-for-43 (62.8 percent) on twos.

Temple had five players in double figures, including a team-high 19 points from Daniel Dingle. Mark Williams and Quinton Rose came off the bench to shoot 12-for-15 as the efficient Owls got all those points on just 67 possessions, 1.21 ppp.

It is not quite clear where the Owls are headed this season. They have been really good in some games such as wins over Florida State and West Virginia and have looked very average in other games. Typically, Fran Dunphy's teams get much better in February and March, so it might be best to wait a while before making any pronouncements.

La Salle scores again

La Salle has one of the nation's better scoring trifectas in B.J. Johnson, Jordan Price and Pookie Powell. They combined for 52 points and shot 15-for-15 from the free-throw line as the Explorers (8-5, 2-1 Atlantic 10) do what they do best, outscored another opponent; this time, it was 88-81 over Duquesne (8-8, 1-2) at Gola Arena.

The Dukes were 14-for-30 from the arc, which is going to win most nights, unless your opponent makes 10 threes of its own and shoots 24-for-25 from the foul line. La Salle needed just 71 possessions to get those 88 points, a cool 1.24 ppp.

This game, in fact, was a microcosm of the Explorers' season. La Salle is all the way up to 40th in offensive efficiency but 253rd in defensive efficiency.

Ask most coaches if they have a choice of being able to score on command or hold the score down, most would pick offense. It just makes everybody feel better and lessens the frustration level. Offense also happens to be more pleasing to the eye.

200 for Martelli

Only two coaches have won 200 A-10 games - Hall of Famer John Chaney at Temple with 292 and, after his team won at Fordham, 70-55, Saint Joseph's Phil Martelli with 200.

The Hawks (8-6, 2-1 A-10) are now five halves into playing without injured star Shavar Newkirk (torn ACL). The first full game without, at Rhode Island with almost no practice time, was a predictable blowout loss. This, with James Demery getting a career-high 27 points and "Fresh" Kimble getting 12 points, nine rebounds and six more assists, was won wire-to-wire. St. Joe's led 48-31 early in the second half. Fordham (6-10, 0-3) got to within 52-47 but no closer.

Kimble and Demery were good players on the 2016 A-10 champs, but they will need to be better than good most games for the Hawks in the most unforgiving A-10.

Penn rally falls short

Penn could not have played much worse in the first half at Princeton with nine turnovers, no assists and no threes. In fact, the Quakers trailed 39-18 early in the second half and 40 points seemed like an illusion for them.

Before you say blowout, Penn hit seven threes in 10 minutes and, improbably had the game tied, 44-44. Tigers coach Mitch Henderson said after the game that he was really worried because most teams with that kind of momentum win the game. Only Princeton (8-6, 1-0 Ivy) ran off the next seven points and won, 61-52. Penn (6-6, 0-1) got a great all-around game from point guard Darnell Foreman with 17 points. The Quakers also got six threes during that run from Ryan Betley and Jackson Donahue. That they made the run without much offense from freshman star A.J. Brodeur strongly suggests Penn is maybe a bit ahead of schedule. More will be known this weekend at the Palestra on the first Ivy weekend when Yale and Brown come to town.


jerardd@phillynews.com

@DickJerardi

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