Which Philly Schools Will Make It to March Madness?
If this were any other year, March Madness would already have begun.
Instead, it’s a leap year. We have to wait one more day for March. But it’s a good time to look at the city’s six Division I basketball teams, and what chances they have of making it to the NCAA tournament and beyond.
For the third straight year, Villanova is a national powerhouse. The Wildcats were ranked No. 1 until a loss last week, but they’re still in the mix for a No. 1 seed presuming they win their next two regular season games and at least make it to the Finals of the Big East conference tournament. They’re currently third in the polls, No. 2 in the RPI, and No. 2 in KenPom. The 25-4 Wildcats are a one-seed in almost every bracket.
The Wildcats are led by Josh Hart, who scores 15.1 points a game to lead a balanced offense where five players average above 10 points a contest. The Wildcats have an interesting offense: They cannot shoot the three this season, ranking 252nd in the nation in three-point percentage, but shoot 57.1 percent on 2-pointers. Likewise, they don’t draw many fouls, ranking 249th in the country in free throw rate (free throws attempted divided by field goals attempted). But they hit the highest-percentage of their free throws in the nation (78.6 percent).
Villanova has suffered crushing second-round losses — to eventual champ UConn in 2014 and to North Carolina State last year — in consecutive tournaments. Despite high seeds the last two years, the Wildcats haven’t been to the Sweet 16 since 2009. They’ll get another chance this season.
Saint Joseph’s Hawks
The Hawks haven’t won an NCAA tournament game since their run to the Elite 8 in the 2004 NCAA tournament, but this year’s team has a chance to win at least one game in March. The Hawks are around a 7-seed in most bracket projections, which should give them a pretty good first-round matchup at the very least. St. Joe’s is 26th in the RPI, 36th in KenPom and are in the “should be in” category in ESPN’s Bubble Watch.
Junior DeAndre’ Bembry is, for the second straight year, in the NCAA’s top-25 for percentage of minutes played. He takes 25 percent of shots for the Hawks, per KenPom stats, and hits 55 percent of his two-pointers. He averages 17.2 points and 8.0 rebounds per game. Those are lofty totals — but they’re actually second on the team to senior Isaiah Miles, who averages 17.9 and 8.1 rebounds per game.
The Hawks (24-5) have one last big game in the regular season, this Wednesday at St. Bonaventure; a win there should make them an NCAA tournament lock no matter what happens in the Atlantic 10 conference tourney.
The Owls survived on Saturday against UCF for the second time this season, with a late Quenton DeCosey jumper the margin of victory in the 63-61 win. Temple’s now 18-10 on the season and essentially in the same position it was last year: Squarely on the bubble. The Owls are 61st in the RPI and 91st in KenPom. But they’re also first in the American Athletic Conference, tied with SMU, and would be the No. 1 seed in the tournament if they win their last two game (SMU is banned from the postseason).
Temple plays an interesting game: Its offense is lackluster — the Owls hit just 44 percent of its two-pointers — but the team makes up for it by never turning the ball over. Temple has the lowest turnover rate in the entire country, and takes a lot of threes to make up for the 2-point troubles. On defense, the Owls are 16th best at defending the three, and barely foul at all (45th in the country). DeCosey leads the team with 16.5 points a game.
Bracket Matrix, which aggregates all the sample brackets done by media and bloggers, puts them among the first-four out.
The AAC tournament, which is at the Amway Center in Orlando this year, could be an eliminator for all the AAC bubble teams. Temple really needs to win its last two games — home vs. Memphis on Thursday and away against Tulane on Saturday — to clinch the No. 1 seed.
No matter what happens in the AAC tournament, however, Temple will be squarely on the bubble if it doesn’t win the AAC tournament.
La Salle Explorers, Drexel Dragons & Penn Quakers
Better luck next year, guys!
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