Which Local Teams Will Make It to the NCAA Tournament?

Sorry, Villanova. It's definitely not you.

Monday night, Villanova found out exactly what it is like to get a 30-foot knife in the throat, when Shabazz Napier completed UConn’s gigantic comeback by draining a long-range heartbreaker with 0:00.6 left to lift the Huskies to victory. It was the second straight game in which the Wildcats had coughed up a huge lead, and it was the perfect metaphor for a season that has gone horribly wrong.

But the ‘Cats are the only city disappointment this year, and that has no doubt produced smiles from North Broad to Hawk Hill to University City, where fans can delight in their teams’ accomplishments while partaking in the schadenfreude of seeing a long-time neighborhood bully take it in the shorts.

Fewer than three weeks remain until Selection Sunday, and aside from the Wildcats’ disaster, post-season hope abounds throughout the Philadelphia basketball scene. It’s possible that as many as four local teams could find their way into the NCAA tournament, and five should be playing in some sort tourney ball. Here, in reverse order of potential Round of 68 happiness, is an assessment of the locals as the regular season heads to its conclusion.

6. Villanova
NCAA chances: Do you believe in miracles? No!

The Wildcats could well find themselves playing in the NCAA tournament. All they have to do is win the Big East championship, which would require five triumphs in five days in New York. Jay Wright could certainly handle a stretch like that sartorially, but it’s unlikely his squad, which has struggled with injuries and inconsistency, could get it done on the court.

Villanova is 11-16 and can’t finish .500 for the season unless it wins its three remaining regular-season contests and reaches the Big East semis. Thanks for stopping by, fellas. The ‘Cats lack reliable scoring beyond injured Maalik Wayns–although JayVaughn Pinkston has come along of late–and can’t hold onto leads, as evidenced by their recent travails against Marquette, Notre Dame and Connecticut, over whom they held sizable advantages. ‘Nova fans are going to have to reminisce about the good times, because ’11-12 is just about over.

NCAA Odds: 500-1

5. La Salle
NCAA chances: Just another roll of the dice.

While the Explorers have performed well in Atlantic 10 play, their pillow-soft non-conference slate killed their RPI and forced them to win the conference tournament in Atlantic City in order to reach the Big Show. Saturday’s win at Massachusetts stopped a three-game losing streak and proved La Salle could actually win on the road, but the Explorers can’t count on an at-large bid. They have to get the conference’s automatic berth or settle for the NIT.

That wouldn’t be the worst fate, considering the Explorers have been struggling to gain traction the past several seasons. The most important thing is for La Salle to finish strongly in its final four games–beginning Wednesday against visiting Temple–in order to get a good seed for the A-10 version of madness. Once there, anything can happen. La Salle hopes it does.

NCAA Odds: 25-1

4. Pennsylvania
NCAA chances: Weekend in New England.

It all comes down to this weekend for the Quakers, who must somehow stay focused on Dartmouth Friday night before their showdown in Cambridge with Harvard Saturday. Penn is one back of the Johnnies in the Ivy League loss column and dropped a tough decision at the Palestra to the Crimson on Feb. 10.

Zach Rosen continues to be the main man for the Quakers, even if his numbers haven’t been spectacular of late. (You try scoring 20 points when you’re being quadruple-teamed.) But he needs help. One of his usual wingmen, Tyler Bernardini, has a stress fracture, so he’s iffy. If Penn is going to beat Harvard–and win the rest of their remaining five games—Rosen needs help. Big help.

NCAA Odds: 15-1.

3. Saint Joseph’s
NCAA chances: Getting better all the time.

Since Saint Joseph’s has lost 10 straight to Temple, it’s not a stretch to say Saturday’s game against the Owls at Hagan Arena is one of the most important in recent history for the Hawks. St. Joe’s has won three straight and five of six, rebounding strongly from a dismal January and reentering the NCAA tourney discussion.

Now, it’s time to close the deal. SJU has three games left before the A-10 tourney, and winning all three would provide a great resume boost. Although an NIT berth wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, considering the Hawks haven’t played in the post-season in three years, there’s no reason to settle. A strong finish could complete a great turnaround, and a win over Temple would help end an ugly chapter in the school’s basketball history.

NCAA Odds: 10-1

2. Drexel
NCAA chances: Better safe than sorry.

The Dragons are on a major roll. They’ve stomped all comers in the CAA, added to Cleveland’s woes by hammering Cleveland State last Saturday in a Bracket Buster showdown and have played defense that would have made Donny Rumsfeld proud. But the Dragons’ RPI is shaky, and this year’s CAA doesn’t figure to get the same love from the Selection Committee as last year’s version (three bids) did.

So, the Dragons had better win the conference tournament. Given the team’s balance of offense and defense, that is absolutely possible. But nothing can be taken for granted in the wacky CAA, where high seeds routinely fall in the tournament. So, while Drexel’s regular season has been remarkable, its NCAA hopes are likely riding on four days in Richmond at the beginning of March.

NCAA Odds: 8-1.

1. Temple
NCAA chances: Done deal.

The Owls’ recent 10-game winning streak has secured a berth in the Round of 68. Now, it’s all about seeding. Right now, Temple is hovering in the 4-6 range, but wins in their final four league contests (including this week’s visits to La Salle and Saint Joseph’s) and winning the A-10 tournament crown could bump Temple into the top three. The Owls are a pleasure to watch play, because they share the ball and shoot it so well.

Temple is in great shape, and it can improve its lot even more by continuing its recent success. It has been a while since the Owls reached the second weekend of the NCAA tourney, and this year could change that.

NCAA Odds: What don’t you understand about “done deal?”



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