La Salle, Temple and Villanova Make the NCAA Tournament…Can They Advance?

La Salle head coach John Giannini celebrates with his players after their name was announced on Selection Sunday.For the first time in five years, three Big 5 teams saw their names appear on the NCAA Tournament bracket on Selection Sunday. After a brief one-year hiatus, Villanova is back in the Big Dance for the eighth time in the last nine years, and Temple is dancing for the sixth straight season. While the Wildcats and Owls were relatively certain of their status as tournament participants on Sunday, La Salle wasn’t quite as sure after missing two big opportunities to solidify their resume at the end of the season, losing to both St. Louis and Butler.

Huddled together in a small room at Tom Gola Arena, the Explorers waited anxiously as the field of 68 was being announced on national television on Sunday. The first three regions came and went without La Salle’s name being called, and as more time elapsed, the more tense the atmosphere in the room became. Finally, when it looked as though the Explorers were going to be left out of the tournament yet again, and for the first time since 1992, they heard their name. The room erupted in celebration, as La Salle’s twenty-one year NCAA Tournament drought had come to an end.

They were one of the last teams chosen, and as a result, will participate in a first round “play-in” game against the Boise State Broncos (21-10) on Wednesday night in Dayton, Ohio at 9:10 PM to determine the 13th seed in the West region. The winner will then square off with 4th-seeded Kansas State (27-7) on Friday.

“We’re thrilled to be in the NCAA tournament and hear our names called with the best teams in the country,” La Salle head coach John Giannini said. “We think we deserve to be there. You can’t win unless you’re there … a big step for our program is being part of this very special event, but also being recognized as one of the best teams in the country.”

Boise State comes from the Mountain West Conference with the likes of UNLV, Colorado State, San Diego State and New Mexico, the other teams from the MWC that made the NCAA Tournament this year. They’re led by a pair of sharpshooting Sophomore guards, 6’6 Anthony Drmic and 6’3 Derrick Marks, who averaged 17.3 and 16.3 points per game, respectively, during the regular season.

The major difference between the Broncos and Explorers is on the boards, although it’s quite a large disparity. Boise State is a very good offensive rebounding team, grabbing 24.6 percent of their own misses according to kenpom.com, good for third-best in the country. They average an overall rebounding margin per game of +4.2, ranking 55th. The Broncos are also very efficient from beyond the arc, shooting 38.7 percent from there as a team, ranking 15th-best in the country.

La Salle has not rebounded the ball very well this year, averaging three less boards per game than their opponent, ranking 278th in the nation. The good news for the Explorers is that they have defended the perimeter very well this season, holding the opposition to just 29.9 percent shooting from three-point range, good for 20th-best in Division I, which should help neutralize the Broncos’ effectiveness from long range.

La Salle will need to keep pace with Boise State from beyond the arc, something they should be able to do considering the fact that La Salle is also a very good three-point shooting team. They will also need to hold their own on the defensive glass, which may prove to be more difficult considering the large disparity between the two teams in that area.

The Explorers will also need to force the Broncos to turn the ball over while not turning it over themselves, which sets up well for La Salle as they’re one of the better teams in the country in terms of both taking care of the ball and forcing giveaways. Boise State has been prone to turnovers over the course of the season and haven’t been able to force that many from their opponents, so this may be a key factor, especially considering the speed and quickness advantage the Explorers’ guards have with Ramon Galloway, Tyreek Duren and Tyrone Garland.

This game will come down to which team is making its threes and who is doing a better job of grabbing the long rebounds on the treys that don’t go. If La Salle can defend the perimeter, not get killed on the boards and win the turnover battle, they have a good shot at moving on to face 4th-seeded Kansas State on Friday.

The last time Villanova and North Carolina squared off with one another was in the 2009 Final Four. UNC won that game, 83-69, and eventually went on to win the National Championship. The two teams will meet again in this year’s NCAA Tournament, this time in the first round in Kansas City, Missouri on Friday night at 7:20 PM, with Villanova coming in as the 8 seed in the South region, and the Tar Heels (24-10) coming in as the 9 seed.

North Carolina, out of the Atlantic Coast Conference, is led by 6’9 Sophomore forward James Michael McAdoo and 6’5 Sophomore guard P.J. Hairston. Both players averaged over 14 points per game during the regular season, and McAdoo also led the team in rebounding, grabbing 7.4 boards a game.

The Tar Heels feature an up-tempo, high-octane offense, averaging 77.2 points per game, the 14th-most in the country. They shoot 37 percent as a team from three-point range, good for 50th in the nation, and take very good care of the ball. One area of vulnerability for UNC is at the free-throw line, where they make just 67.3 percent of their attempts, which ranks outside the top-250 in Division I. They’re also not an especially good defensive team, allowing their opponents to score an average of 69.1 points per game, ranking 242nd in the country.

Contrarily, the Wildcats are statistically a mediocre offensive team that is among the most turnover-prone squads in the country, giving the ball away on an alarming 22.9 percent of their offensive possessions, the 34th-worst rate in the nation.

To win, the ‘Cats badly need Freshman point guard Ryan Arcidiacono to get back on track. After a very good month of February, he has struggled of late, shooting just 32 percent in his last six games, with close to three turnovers per contest. His defense has been very solid all season. If he can take care of the ball and heat up from beyond the arc, he’s capable of taking over a ballgame.

Villanova will also need to make the most of its size advantage. With regulars Mouphtaou Yarou and Daniel Ochefu at 6’10, plus the wide-bodied, 6’7 JayVaughn Pinkston, the Wildcats would be wise to get the ball inside and get to the foul line, something they do better than any team in the country, ranking 1st in free-throw rate. The Tar Heels have just one semi-regular taller than 6’9, however, he averages less than 11 minutes a game.

This will not be an easy game for ‘Nova by any stretch of the means, but if they’re able to take better care of the ball, limiting UNC’s chances to score in transition, they should be able to keep it close. If they defend the perimeter better and get to the foul line, the possibility is absolutely there for them to move on to the next round, where they will most likely be matched up with Kansas, the number 1 seed in the region.

Temple is one of only eight programs - along with Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Louisville, Marquette, Michigan State and Wisconsin - to make the NCAA Tournament in each of the last six years. That said, the Owls are 1-5 in their last five trips and only beat Penn State in 2011. They have not advanced to the Sweet Sixteen since John Chaney‘s final tournament run in 2001. Current head coach Fran Dunphy has made the tournament a very impressive 15 times in 24 seasons at Penn and Temple, but owns just a 2-14 record once there. He has never made it out of the opening weekend.

This year, the East region’s 9th-seeded Owls will square off with the 8th-seeded North Carolina State Wolfpack (24-10) in the first round on Friday afternoon at 1:40 PM.

Unlike last year’s brutal match-up against USF, expect a high-scoring game between the two teams. The Wolfpack score the fifth-most points per game in the country, and neither team is strong defensively.

Temple center Anthony Lee, who was just recently cleared to play after suffering a concussion in the Owls’ A-10 Tournament quarterfinal game against UMass, will play a huge role in battling N.C. State’s length under the basket. 6’9 Junior forward C.J. Leslie leads the Wolfpack in scoring with a 14.9 points per game average, and 6’8 Senior forward Richard Howell leads the ACC in rebounding, grabbing 10.7 boards per game.

N.C. State ranks fifth in the country with a 49.4 field-goal percentage, and 11th in the nation from beyond the arc, where they drain 39.3 percent of their attempts. This does not bode well for Temple, who ranks outside the top-250 in defending the three-point line.

To beat N.C. State, the Owls will need a healthy Lee, strong rebounding contributions from Scootie Randall and Rahlir Jefferson, and hot shooting from Jake O’Brien and A-10 Player of the Year Khalif Wyatt from the outside. A few forced turnovers and missed foul shots by the Wolfpack would also help.

Temple has shot itself out of games this year, frequently missing and continuing to shoot from long range. They won’t be able to do so on Friday against an N.C. State team with a rebounding advantage. It’s not an impossible task, but many of the statistics match up in the Wolfpack’s favor. Whichever team plays better defense likely gets No. 1 Indiana on Sunday.

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Andrew Dalton

Andrew grew up and still resides right outside Philadelphia in Montgomery County and has been a die-hard Philly sports fan for as long as he can remember. One of his earliest sports memories, unfortunately, was watching Joe Carter hit the World Series winning homerun off Mitch Williams in 1993 with his Dad. All that did however, was make the Phils' 2008 World Championship that much sweeter. You can follow him on Twitter @dutch4885.