The Philly Hoops Fan’s Guide to the NCAA Tournament
The NCAA tournament is here! Officially called the National Collegiate Athletic Association Men’s Division I Basketball Championship, we shorten it to “NCAA tournament” because that’s much, much easier to say.
The beauty of the NCAA tournament is that literally every team can become your favorite in about an hour or two. At 4:30 you’d just learned of the existence of South Dakota State University, then at 6:30 you’re wearing an official team t-shirt and screaming at the TV for the Jackrabbits (good name!) to beat Maryland.
But it’s also fun to check out the local products — the players and teams and coaches you can root for because they’re from Philly. As is fitting for such a big basketball city, there are a ton of local angles to this year’s tournament. Here’s what you should look out for.
The Local Teams
Penn, Drexel and La Salle were all pretty bad this season, but the other three city teams made the NCAA tournament. They all play tomorrow.
• Villanova plays first. A No. 2 seed in the South, the Wildcats tip off at 12:40 p.m. on TruTV (channel 841 on Comcast) against the UNC Asheville Bulldogs. The Wildcats are led by Josh Hart, who averages 15.5 points a game — but five players average more than 9 points a game for Villanova. If the Wildcats make it far, expect to hear a lot about senior guard Ryan Arcidiacono. Not only is he the floor general for Villanova, he also went to Neshaminy High School. Jay Wright, best known for his fancy suits on the sidelines, has been coaching Nova since 2001. Ken Pomeroy‘s ratings give the Wildcats a 90 percent shot of winning their first game.
• Temple plays a half hour after the Villanova game ends. The 10th-seeded Owls are led by senior guard Quenton DeCosey, who averages 15.6 points a game. Tomorrow’s game against Iowa is also on TruTV. The Owls have the winningest coach in Big 5 history, Fran Dunphy. If any games are close, teams may try to foul Jaylen Bond: He’s made just 39 percent of his free throws this year. They’re playing the Hawkeyes, and Pomeroy’s ratings give them just a 23 percent chance of winning. Iowa, by chance, is coached by Philadelphia native Fran McCaffery.
As an added bonus, both Temple’s and Villanova’s games are in Brooklyn. That means there will be a lot of fans from both sides in the building. Just think of the Barclays Center as a giant, modern Palestra. If both teams win, they’ll face off in the second round.
• Saint Joseph’s plays around 10 p.m. on Friday night in Spokane, Washington. The Hawks have two NBA prospects this season, Atlantic 10 Player of the Year DeAndre’ Bembry (17.3 points, 7.7 rebounds, 4.5 assists) and Isaiah Miles (18.4 points, 8.1 rebounds). They’re coached by Phil Martelli; if they advance far in the tournament expect to see a lot of his grandson. The Hawks, an 9-seed, play Cincinnati in the first round. Pomeroy gives them a 46% chance at winning.
The Local Guys
The three Big 5 teams in the tournament are loaded with Philly players, as usual. But there are some local guys on other teams in the tournament as well.
• Ja’Quan Newton, Miami. The Neumann-Goretti grad is the leading scorer in Catholic League history, and averages 11.1 points per game in just 22 minutes. The sophomore has been improving all season. If the Hurricanes go far in the tournament, Newton could be their difference maker.
• Taylor Bessick, Iona. The big man has been lightly used this season and has dealt with a calf injury lately. But he averaged 12 minutes a year this season and could see limited action for the team that ended Monmouth’s NCAA tournament hopes. Bessick went to Frankford for a year before ending up at Philly’s Rise Academy, now called Rocktop.
Unfortunately, Duke’s Amile Jefferson — a Friends Central grad — is out for the year with a foot injury.
Games have tipped off on the first day of the tournament. Have fun! And may all your brackets not bust.
Follow @dhm on Twitter.