The NCAA tournament bracket was released yesterday, and two Philadelphia-area schools qualified for the tourney. Even better: There’s a chance for an all-Big 5 matchup in the Round of 32. How exciting! Here are the Round of 64 matchups:
- 6:55pm Thursday, TBS: (10) Saint Joseph’s vs. (7) Connecticut
- 9:25pm Thursday, TBS: (2) Villanova vs. (15) Milwaukee
Inclusion in the NCAA tournament capped a great weekend for Saint Joseph’s, who beat Dayton on Friday, St. Bonaventure on Saturday and Virginia Commonwealth on Sunday to win the Atlantic 10 Tournament for the first time since 1997. The Hawks are back in the tournament for the first time since 2008, when they lost to Oklahoma in the Round of 64.
Saint Joseph’s — who went 24-9 this season — is still led by Phil Martelli, who has been coaching the team since the 1995-96 season.
No, wait! That’s not Phil Martelli, that’s Phil Martelli’s grandson Philip, who prowls the stands dressed as his grandfather and was shown on TV during yesterday’s A-10 title game.
Gaww. Now isn’t this adorable?
Phil Martelli credits his team’s success to a preseason trip to Europe: “Well, here it is. That’s a Pope‑blessed rosary ring. That’s what worked” — laughter — “nope.” Okay, it was actually the bonding the team did on the trip. But the ring is a better story.
Among people connected to the team who actually dribble and shoot the basketball for the Hawks, Saint Joseph’s top player is senior guard Langston Galloway. Galloway hit a three with 18 seconds left to break a tie against Dayton on Friday, then hit another one with just over 2 minutes left to break a tie against VCU on Sunday. For a player who averages 17.4 points a game and plays a majority of the minutes for Joe’s, Galloway handles the ball incredibly well, averaging less than a turnover per game.
Meanwhile, Villanova went 28-4 this season, losing only to Syracuse, hot-shooting Creighton twice and Seton Hall in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament. The Wildcats have wins over Kansas, Iowa and — what do you know? — a 98-68 trouncing of St. Joe’s on Dec. 7. Jay Wright still coaches a team that’s among the most efficient shooters in the land. Villanova has been in the top-10 in most college basketball rating systems for most of the season.
The Wildcats are led by a three-headed balanced attack: Senior guard James Bell (14.9 points per game), junior guard Darrun Hilliard II (14.2 ppg) and junior forward JayVaughn Pinkston (14.1 ppg) all make major contributions. (Pinkston actually uses the highest percentage of possessions on the team. Villanova blew a lot of teams out this season, usually a sign of a good team; despite their early Big East tournament loss, they could make a run deep into the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats should easily dispatch Milwaukee, who went 7-9 in the Horizon League but won the automatic bid in the conference tournament.
Saint Joseph’s, while ending the season hot, faces a tougher challenge with 7th-seeded Connecticut on Thursday. Coached by former Sixer Kevin Ollie, UConn went 26-8 this year — including a win over No. 1 overall seed Florida. The Huskies’ Shabazz Napier is one of the top players in college basketball.
Still, it’s not like Joe’s has no chance. And wouldn’t a Saturday Joe’s-Villanova Round of 32 matchup be a blast? We can only hope it comes to fruition.
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