With the 2012-2013 regular season complete and Selection Sunday just six days away, three schools from the Philadelphia Big 5 find themselves in position to earn trips to this year’s NCAA Tournament. The last time that happened was five years ago in 2008, when Temple, St. Joe’s and Villanova participated, with the Hawks and the Wildcats earning at-large bids, and the Owls qualifying automatically by virtue of winning the Atlantic-10 Conference tournament. St. Joe’s will be on the outside looking in this year, however, and the La Salle Explorers should be taking their place for the first time since 1992. Joining them will be Villanova and Temple who, unlike La Salle, are well-acquainted with the madness in March, as the Owls would be going to their sixth straight tournament, and the Wildcats would be going to their eighth in the last decade.
None of these three teams are locks to make the Big Dance, however, at least as of right now. The NCAA Tournament selection committee has a difficult job, and there is always a team or two that is either chosen or omitted that leaves people scratching their heads. With conference tournaments taking place this week, all three teams have a chance to improve, as well as damage, their resumes. Any one of them could put to rest any doubt of making the NCAA Tournament by winning their respective conference tournament, which would qualify them automatically. Villanova travels to Madison Square Garden for the Big East Tournament starting on Tuesday, March 12th, while Temple and La Salle visit the Barclays Center in Brooklyn for the A-10 Tournament starting on Thursday, March 14th.
Picked to finish 12th in the preseason Big East coach’s poll, Villanova ended up in 7th place with a 10-8 conference record, a 19-12 record overall, and an RPI of 51 (RPI stands for rating percentage index, a tool used by the NCAA selection committee to help them choose the tournament field of 68). Playing an extremely hard schedule, ranked 18th in the country in terms of difficulty, the Wildcats improved dramatically from month to month as the year went along. When the regular season ended, they had wins against five teams ranked in the top-50 in RPI, beating Louisville, Syracuse, Marquette and Georgetown at home, and Connecticut on the road. At the time they played, Louisville, Syracuse and Georgetown were ranked in the top-5 in the country. No other team currently on the NCAA Tournament bubble has as many quality wins as Villanova, however, their resume is not without blemishes either. A mid-November loss at home to Columbia by 18 points, a team who finished the year ranked 270th in RPI, is certainly damaging. The Wildcats also lost to Seton Hall on the road in February, a team ranked 132nd in RPI, which could have ended any chance at making the NCAA Tournament had they not beaten Georgetown the following week.
As a whole, Villanova is a team that deserves to be in the NCAA Tournament. Jay Wright has done a masterful job with his young squad, and he has them playing their best at the most important time of the year. The Wildcats will take on St. John’s (16-14 overall, 8-10 Big East) on Wednesday, March 13th at 7:00 PM, in the second round of the Big East Tournament. A Villanova win in that game would almost certainly lock up a tournament bid for them, and even if they lose, they should still be safe from missing out on the Big Dance.
Temple found themselves on shaky ground in terms of their NCAA Tournament hopes after a February 14th loss to Duquesne at the Liacouras Center, a team who finished the year with an RPI ranking of 219. The Owls then reeled off seven straight victories to end their season, including wins over UMass, La Salle and 21st-ranked VCU, to firmly place themselves back on the right side of the tournament bubble. They finished tied for 3rd place in the Atlantic-10 Conference with an 11-5 league record, and an impressive 23-8 record overall. Led by A-10 Conference player of the year candidate Khalif Wyatt, Temple possesses ten wins over the RPI top-100, including four in the top-50. A December victory over Syracuse, who finished the season ranked 19th in the country, highlights the Owls’ resume as their best win. Aside from their loss to Duquesne, Temple has two other damaging defeats against Canisius and St. Bonaventure, both at home. With RPI rankings of 116 and 136 respectively, the Owls may need to win a game or two in the Atlantic-10 Conference Tournament in order to securely lock up an NCAA Tournament bid, although they should have enough quality wins on their resume to earn an invitation if they don’t.
By earning a first-round bye, Temple plays their first game on Friday, March 15th, against the winner of Thursday, March 14th’s matchup between UMass and George Washington, both being teams the Owls defeated during the regular season. Tip-off is scheduled for 9:00 PM.
La Salle didn’t help itself by losing to 16th-ranked St. Louis by 24 points this past weekend, however, because the game was on the road against a ranked opponent, the loss isn’t fatally damaging to the Explorers’ resume. The team with the least amount of quality wins of the three potential NCAA Tournament Big 5 squads, La Salle has the most work left to do in their conference tournament this week. With just five wins against the RPI top-100, the Explorers have a potential matchup with Butler this week that would give them a much-needed quality win. Butler, ranked 20th in RPI, takes on Dayton on Thursday, March 13th, with La Salle playing the winner. Because the Explorers only have 1 bad loss, a November defeat to Central Connecticut State, a tournament win over the Bulldogs may be enough to get them into the Big Dance. A loss, however, would leave head coach John Giannini and his players quite apprehensive come Selection Sunday this weekend.
Overall, it’s been a great season of college basketball in the city of Philadelphia. Despite the off-years for St. Joe’s and Penn, La Salle, Temple and Villanova should be representing the Big 5 in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, and they certainly deserve to. With the talent and toughness that each squad brings to the table, it will be exciting to see which one can get the furthest, and exactly just how far that will be.Tags: Big 5, Jay Wright, Khalif Wyatt, La Salle, March Madness, NCAA, St. Joe's, Temple, tournament, Villanova