Does Anyone in Philly College Hoops — Besides Villanova — Have a Shot at the March NCAA Tourney?
The January break is over, and all six of the area’s Division I men’s college basketball teams have started division play. With no hope of sporting glory among the pro ranks — except maybe the hard-charging Flyers — it’s now time for Philly sports fans to turn their attention to the college hardwood. So who would make a run to the NCAA tournament this season?
As has been true for every year for about a decade now, the best team among the Big 5 is Villanova. The Wildcats (12-2) are 11th in the AP Top 25, a rank that’s sure to rise when the next poll is released today. Nova is coming off a 2-0 week that included a road win over Butler yesterday.
But Villanova is ranked even higher among computer polls. The Wildcats are the No. 1 team in the nation in RPI, which is the tool the selection committee uses to help them select the bracket. They’re also No. 2 in the Kenpom rankings and No. 7 in ESPN’s BPI.
The Wildcats trailed by 7 in yesterday’s game about three minutes into the second half, but Ryan Arcidiacono sparked a 17-4 run. Villanova led by as many as 9, and held off a late Butler charge to win 60-55. Josh Hart had 22 points on 10-of-15 shooting in the win. The Wildcats do pretty much everything well this season except shoot threes. But as college hoops scribe Ken Pomeroy has persuasively argued, there’s reason to think they may improve.
Villanova is already 4-0 in the Big East, a conference with enough quality teams that a solid campaign in it could land the Wildcats another No. 1 seed. Now, about March …
Meanwhile, Saint Joseph’s is off to a 12-3 start — their best opening to a season since the 2004 team opened 27-0. The Hawks don’t have any bad losses so far, and are 37th in the RPI. St. Joe’s coughed up a late 13-point lead last Tuesday in a loss to VCU, but rebounded to beat Rhode Island yesterday. Junior DeAndre Bembry, St. Joe’s top player, scored 22 in the win.
But although Joe’s doesn’t have any bad losses, the Hawks are going to have to play themselves into the NCAA tournament. Joe Lunardi, who works for St. Joe’s, doesn’t have the Hawks in the tournament in his latest bracket.
Meanwhile, Temple is 3-1 since Christmas to improve to 8-6. The Owls played a lot of tough teams in their non-conference schedule. Unfortunately for Temple fans, though, the team lost pretty much all of them: Their best non-conference win was over 6-10 Minnesota. Things have looked up for Fran Dunphy‘s squad since entering conference play: The Owls got pasted by Houston at home, but have already picked up road wins over Cincinnati and UConn. Without any good non-conference wins, Temple is looking at the NIT unless it pretty much runs the American Athletic Conference tournament or wins the conference tourney.
No other local school is headed to the postseason. Though La Salle upset 25th-ranked Dayton on Saturday, the Explorers are just 5-8. Drexel is 3-12 and hadn’t beaten a team outside the city limits before Saturday. Meanwhile, Penn coughed up an 11-point lead late and lost to Princeton this weekend and saw one of its best players declared ineligible academically for the rest of the year.
What this all means: If you’re looking for a sure-bet rooting interest this March, you have to look to the Main Line.
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