In Atlantic City at 6:30 this evening the Temple Owls begin their run at an A-10 final berth and an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament, as they face off against city rival the La Salle Explorers. The Owls come into today’s quarterfinal game after having the luxury of a first round bye. The Explorers are fresh off there thrilling 82-79 win over Duquesne yesterday after senior guard Darnell Harris drilled a 27 foot three-pointer to give the Explorers a two point lead. After a defensive stop and a made free throw La Salle advanced with the three point victory, setting up the Big 5 rivalry match.
There is no distinct advantages in having a quarterfinal bye besides gaining a day of rest and preparation. The team playing on back to back days doesn’t necessarily have the tired legs yet from tournament play, and they also have had a chance to play in the arena and adjust and settle in with the surroundings. They are already in game mode and pumped about yesterday’s thrilling victory. The team coming off the bye, Temple, has all this working against them as we head into tonights game.
With that said, Fran Dunphy seems to have his squad’s focus in the right place, and after coming off a solid finish to their season, the Owls now realize the opportunity is there for a tourney birth with a good showing in AC. Look for the Explorers to keep it tight through the first half, with Temple pulling away to a double digit win in the second half to move into the semifinals Friday night where they will play the winner of the Charlotte-UMass quarterfinal game.
As we steamroll towards the final weekend of the regular season of college basketball and prepare for the major conference tournaments to start next week, all of the Big 5 schools are in danger of failing to make the big dance. This would make the city of Philadelphia un-represented in the NCAA tournament for the first time in over three decades. Here is the tale of the tape for the Big 5 (6 schools) and their chances at getting into the field of 65.
First, let’s get the obvious out of the way:
- U of Penn OUT – Cornell wrapped up the Ivy League title last week. The Ivy League has never sent multiple participants to the Tournament.
- Drexel OUT — The Dragons are 12-19, sitting in the 11th seed in the Colonial Athletic Conference at 5-13. The only way they can cash in a ticket to the dance is by winning 4 games in 4 nights next week at the CAA conference tournament to capture the automatic berth.
- La Salle DOUBTFUL — The Explorers still have an outside shot at a first round bye in the A-10 tournament in Atlantic City next week, and that will be a helpful boast. The only way we see La Salle making into the field of 65 is with a conference tournament title as well.
Now, the three semi-legit contenders:
Villanova QUESTIONABLE — The ‘Cats too, will need to do some work in their conference tournament next week in the Big Apple. Of all the Big 5 teams, Villanova being in the Big East tournament gives the Wildcats the best opportunity to make a splash with a couple wins. With only two quality wins over ranked opponents this year (Pitt and UCONN) combined with a weak strength of schedule and a recent double digit loss to city rival St Joe’s, ‘Nova’s bubble might have already burst.
St. Joseph’s QUESTIONABLE — The Hawks have been playing themselves right out of the big dance the past couple weeks. Once a solid number two in the Atlantic Ten, a recent slide has moved the Hawks out of that position. Combat that with a low RPI, and a handful of embarrassing loses (at Creighton & Holy Cross) and it all might be too much to overcome. The silver lining is the Hawks still appear to have their fate in their own hands, with two strong opponents left on the Hawks schedule (Xavier and Dayton). If St. Joe’s can run the table all the way to the A-10 final, they could find themselves in the field of 65.
Temple QUESTIONABLE — Lead by senior co-captain Mark Tyndale, junior Dionte Christmas, and Suburban One League’s own Pennsbury grad, freshman LaVoy Allen, the Owls are playing their best basketball at the right time. A classic victory over St. Joe’s followed up with win Wednesday night vs. Duquesne and the Owls have a decent chance to finish 11-5 and in sole possession of second place in the Altantic Ten. Their win over Duquense last night clinched a first round bye next week in Atlantic City. An impressive 35th ranked strength of schedule might be filled with too many loses (7) to carry much weight, and again it might take a run to the A-10 final for the Owls to be invited to the dance. Of all the Big 5 teams, the Owls have the best shot at representing the city when the field of 65 is revealed Sunday March 16th.