Sixers cut down the Nets

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Philadelphia 106, Brooklyn 101 – Box Score

As the NBA season winds down and positioning toward the bottom of the NBA standings assumes more meaning with each passing game, Tuesday night’s game in Brooklyn loomed as an interesting inflection point for the Sixers. Sandwiched in between the Knicks and Magic at the 5th worst record in the league entering play, the result against the last place Nets could have major lottery implications with just weeks remaining in the regular season.

While the Nets sit comfortably with the worst record in the league, Brooklyn had actually won 3 of 4 and 5 of 9 coming into Tuesday night. Philadelphia was on its final game of a 5-game road trip. The Sixers were also only playing with 9 players, one of those being Tiago Splitter, who was only able to take the court for a few minutes in his first game since January 2016. If ever there was a chance to drop a game to the Nets, this was the situation.

But you know who was determined to make sure that didn’t happen? Joel Embiid’s Rookie of the Year pick and Tuesday night’s MVP, Dario Saric.

Saric bounced back from his first poor performance in quite some time against Indiana with a team-high 23 points and 7 rebounds. With the Sixers shorthanded, the Homie showed off his versatility, playing everything from point guard to center. Anytime Dario found himself matched up against a smaller Brooklyn defender, he took him down into the torture chamber.

As usual, the other star for the road team was Robert Covington, who finished with 21 points, tied a career-high with 13 rebounds, and recorded 2 steals and 2 blocks. Covington’s putback off a TJ McConnell airball within the final 2 minutes proved to be the game-winning bucket. Not only has Rock ramped up his scoring in the second half of the season (16.0 ppg post-All Star break), but his ability to make game-changing plays on the defensive end is virtually unparalleled across the league.

Those two players were enough for the Sixers to overcome Brook Lopez, who scored a game-high 26 points, adding 9 rebounds and 6 assists. Lopez showed off his new range, knocked down a trio of threes, and got Richaun Holmes in early, first half foul trouble. The Sixers turned to Tiago Splitter for 7 minutes, but he looked visibly gassed at times after his long injury layoff; the former Spur and Hawk recorded 2 points, 3 rebounds, and a block.

The win moved the Sixers back into a tie with the Knicks and 1 game up on Orlando. Fortunately, the Timberwolves won in the final seconds on the road against Indiana to move ahead of Sacramento. We’ll continue to sort out the standings when the Sixers get right back at it Wednesday night at home against Atlanta.

Other Game Notes:

  • Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot continued to grow his game, hitting a career-high 4 threes on 10 attempts for 17 points and 9 rebounds. The rookie has been an additional bright spot down the stretch of the season, showing off his 3-and-D potential down the road.
  • Justin Anderson doesn’t always do the right things in a basketball sense, but man, he sure makes for some exciting plays. He blocked Rondae Hollis-Jefferson at the first half buzzer…

and finished a reverse dunk off of an alley-oop feed from TJ McConnell.

It only comes in flashes, but there are certainly times when Simba is King of the hardwood jungle.

Sixers outpaced in Indiana

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Indiana 107, Philadelphia 94 – Box Score

With Luke Maye and Malik Monk traded late haymakers in the thriller between UNC and Kentucky Sunday night, there wasn’t much drama to be had for Philadelphia in Game 4 of its 5-game road trip. Facing an Indiana squad needing every win it can grab to hang onto one of the lower rungs in the Eastern Conference playoff race, the Sixers came out flat, falling behind by 9 points after one quarter and never appearing to have the gas needed to spark a comeback.

After making a push for him at the trade deadline, the Sixers likely didn’t do much to impress Paul George, who scored a game-high 21 points to go along with 8 rebounds. Meanwhile, the guy who has been playing like a superstar lately for Philadelphia, Dario Saric, shot just 3-15 from the field for 9 points, breaking his 22-game streak of scoring in double figures.

In the battle of young big men, Richaun Holmes, one of the last remaining Sixers centers with working knees, double-doubled with 11 points and 12 rebounds. Holmes got the best of Myles Turner on this vicious throwdown in the paint.

However, that was about all that went wrong for Turner on the evening, as the young Pacers center finished with 17 points on 7-9 shooting, tying a career-high with 16 rebounds, and recording a pair of blocks.

The main bright spots for the Sixers came off the bench Sunday night. Sergio Rodriguez had a hot shooting night off the pine, hitting 4 of 6 threes for a team-high 16 points, including a buzzer-beater to end the third quarter.

https://twitter.com/sixers/status/846147874266210304

El Chacho has his deficiencies, particularly on the defensive end, but the outside shooting improvements he made in recent years have definitely carried back over stateside. His 36.5% shooting from behind the arc represents the best mark of his NBA career.

Alongside Rodriguez, Shawn Long picked up the second unit by recording his first career double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds. It was the third consecutive game in double figures for the rookie, who is shooting 62.0% from the field since being called up from the Sevens. I don’t know if Long has a long-term future in Philadelphia, but he’s certainly proving he can do much more on the court than break Ben Simmons’ foot.

With the loss, the Sixers remain in a three-way tie with the Knicks and Magic for the 4th-worst record in the NBA. Sacramento somehow came back from 18 down in the 4th quarter to beat the Clippers Sunday, so the fighting swap rights are back up to sitting with the 7th-worst record overall. Tomorrow night’s contest in Brooklyn will be a pivotal point in Philadelphia’s home stretch of tanking with less than 10 games remaining.

Sixers Win the Nerlens Noel Trade for One Night

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Philadelphia 116, Dallas 74 – Box Score

Nerlens Noel was back in Philadelphia, and all the stories in the world about him buying cheesesteaks for fans at Chickie and Pete’s or hanging out with Richaun Holmes in South Philly weren’t going to keep things from seeming weird when he took the Wells Fargo Center court in a Dallas uniform. With the Mavericks surging recently and having an outside shot at making the playoffs in the Western Conference, it was reasonable to expect a Dallas victory, buoyed by inspired play from Noel in a classic revenge game performance.

But you know who helped throw all these ideas out the window and remind folks that he was involved in that trade as well?

As Mark Cuban looked on unhappily from his courtside seat, Justin Anderson dropped a game-high 19 points and 8 rebounds, hitting 7 of 11 shots from the field and 2 of 5 from behind the arc. It was part of an unexpected, obliterating performance from the Sixers. The 42-point margin of victory was the largest for Philadelphia during the Brett Brown era and dating all the way back to 2009 when the Andre’s formed the starting backcourt.

While Noel played fairly well, tallying 9 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists in just 19 minutes, his friend Richaun Holmes was the best center on the court on the evening. Drawing the start to better match up with Dirk Nowitzki on the perimeter, Holmes brought his usual rim-wrecking savagery, slamming home many a lob pass or offensive rebound on his way to 17 points and 7 rebounds in just 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, the Sixers on the perimeter did an outstanding job stifling Yogi Ferrell, Seth Curry, and company; outside of Nowitzki, who scored 10 points, no Mavericks starter had more than 7 points on the game. Robert Covington and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot also combined to shoot 5-9 from three (TLC was a team-high +40 on the game, which is utterly ridiculous). TJ McConnell was so in control of the action that he could even afford to take a seat amongst the fans and watch Robert Covington finish off one of his assists.

https://twitter.com/Sixers/status/842899990183862272

With the Sixers win and the Kings having won 2 straight, it has not been a good week for lottery balls around Philadelphia. Still, a 42-point win is a heck of a lot of fun, and to do it against the team that had supposedly swindled the Sixers in a trade was I’m sure a nice extra boost for everybody. Hopefully, Justin Anderson builds on this performance and makes an impact on more of a consistent basis. He’s shown enough flashes to be hopeful about his future prospects. Regardless, you’ll always be in our hearts, Nerlens.

Villanova Overcomes Horrific Start to Advance

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Villanova 76, Mount St. Mary’s 56 – Box Score

Villanova’s first round game of the NCAA tournament tipped off at about 7:10 on the east coast, but communications must have become muddled in the wake of the snow storm that hit the region, because the Wildcats didn’t really start playing until about a quarter to 8. Villanova started out the game as poorly as you could possibly imagine, going scoreless for the first six minutes of the contest.

The usual studs for the Wildcats were MIA for much of the first half; Josh Hart picked up two early fouls and spent much of the opening frame shouting encouragement from the sidelines, while Kris Jenkins missed all 7 of his first half field goal attempts.

Mount St. Mary’s appeared to grow more confident with every Villanova shot that clanked off the iron, and even after the Wildcats finally got on the board, the Mountaineers were able to maintain the lead until there was less than a minute remaining in the first half.

Fortunately for Jay Wright and company, the 1 vs. 16 matchup provides a wide margin of error for the favored side. A better team would have really seized the opportunity presented by Villanova’s shooting struggles and built a big lead. Mount St. Mary’s simply doesn’t have the sort of playmakers needed to create open looks against a defense as disciplined as that of Villanova. The Mountaineers’ lead never grew larger than eight points.

In the second half, the Wildcats wasted no time putting the first half behind them and extinguishing any hope of the 16th seed making history. After Mount St. Mary’s scored on the opening possession of the half, Villanova went on a 13-0 run to take firm control of the game for good. As the lead grew, the Mountaineers began to press, forcing up bad shots and turning the ball over, which led to easy buckets for the Wildcats. My friends and I joked that we had to shift our concern from whether Villanova would even win (a thought which had never really wavered), to whether it would cover the second half spread (-14, which they covered easily), or even the full game spread (-27, not quite, although it was a sweat for Mount St. Mary’s backers).

Wildcats faithful can thank the often unheralded bench for allowing the team to avoid disaster. Donte DiVincenzo played the game of his life, getting a career-high 37 minutes with Hart in foul trouble. DiVincenzo scored 21 points on 9-15 shooting, and had his first career double-double with 13 rebounds. The only blemishes were two missed breakaway dunks, which I’m sure he’ll be hearing about from his teammates for the rest of his college career. Eric Paschall also chipped in with 10 points in 24 minutes on 4-5 shooting.

Villanova will have to do a much better job Saturday against Wisconsin. They need Kris Jenkins to actually hit some shots; 2-13 from the field and 0-6 from three won’t fly against a good team. They need Josh Hart to stay on the floor and set the tone on both ends, like the 1st-team All-American he is. Luckily, although there are technically no warm-up games in March Madness, a 1 vs. 16 game is as close as you’re going to find.

Operation Repeat: 1 win down, 5 to go.

Villanova Kicks Off NCAA Tournament Thursday Night

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

The Villanova Wildcats have done everything possible to prove this team is as potent a unit as the squad that won the school’s second national championship last spring. A 31-3 record, Big East regular season and tournament championships, and the top overall seed are Exhibits A-D of why this year’s team is poised to make another magical run. Now, six more wins stand in between them and becoming the first school since Florida a decade ago to win it all in back-to-back seasons.

But in order for one lucky senior to receive Jim Nantz’s tie (to be clear, it would be Josh Hart), Jay Wright’s squad will have first have to go through a hellacious East bracket that includes Duke, Baylor, Florida, Virginia, SMU, and Wisconsin, all teams rated among the top-22 in the nation in Ken Pomeroy’s advanced ratings. Before they enter that gauntlet though, the Wildcats have to take care of business Thursday night against 16-seed Mount St. Mary’s.

The Mountaineers won their First Four game Tuesday night against New Orleans by the slimmest of margins, 67-66. 5’5″ point guard Junior Robinson led Mount St. Mary’s with 23 points, including hitting the go-ahead jumper with a minute and a half remaining. Averaging 14.3 ppg, Robinson is 2nd on the team in scoring behind 6-foot sophomore guard Elijah Long. Long averages team-highs in points (15.1), assists (4.4), and steals (1.6), but was neutralized by New Orleans on Tuesday with only 6 points and 4 assists.

Famously, no 16-seed has ever defeated a 1-seed in the tournament and with Villanova sitting as 27-point favorites, I don’t believe there’s any chance that run will be broken here. The Mountaineers are one of the worst offensive teams in the nation, shooting only 44.6% from the field; for comparison, Villanova has shot 49.7% on the season. The Wildcats’ weakness, if you even want to consider them having one, is a lack of depth in the frontcourt. However, Mount St. Mary’s only has two rotation players taller than 6’6″ and is the 11th-worst team in the entire country in terms of rebounding margin. There are teams out there who could hurt Villanova on the boards, but the Mountaineers are not one of them.

You never want to overlook an opponent, but let’s be honest, Thursday’s night game is little more than a tune-up for Jay Wright and company. Barring a catastrophically poor shooting performance, Villanova should have no trouble winning, and winning big. Then, they’ll move on to face the winner of Wisconsin and Virginia Tech Saturday, and the madness will really get underway.

Sixers Blow Big Lead in Loss to Warriors

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Golden State 106, Philadelphia 104 – Box Score

With former GM Sam Hinkie in Oracle Arena Tuesday night to watch his former charges take on the 2-time Western Conference Champions, you had a feeling it wasn’t going to be the run-of-the-mill game for the Sixers.

It certainly was a memorable performance from the Sixers, even in, in classic Hinkie-era fashion, the team collapsed in crunch time to come away with the short end of the stick on the scoreboard.

Since the Kevin Durant injury, Golden State has not been playing its best ball, even losing three straight coming into last night. The Sixers were more than happy to take advantage for the bulk of the game, led by Dario Saric, whose Rookie of the Year resume gets stronger by the day. Saric finished with a fat stat line of 25 points on 11-20 shooting, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals, and 2 blocks. Across 8 games in the month of March, Saric is now shooting 47.3% from the floor for averages of 20.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 4.3 assists.

Let’s forget the sublime passing ability, which we all had an inkling was part of the Saric skillset. But raise your hand if you watched the Homie at the beginning of the season and thought by March, he would repeatedly be the team’s option to can a tough jumper with the shot clock winding down. Now keep your hand raised, because my next question is who is lying. The rookie from Croatia’s game has grown by leaps and bounds these last couple months; it’s really been a fun storyline amidst a dismal end of the season for Philadelphia.

The Sixers also received great games from both of their remaining centers. Jahlil Okafor had 22 points on 8-15 shooting and 4 blocks in 23 minutes of action. It was the second straight 20-point game for Mr. Roll Out of Bed and Get 20 & 10, the 1st time he’s reached the mark in consecutive games this season. He also avoided the type of defensive lowlights that get you on Deadspin, at least generally giving effort on that side of the floor.

Okafor’s tag team partner for the evening, Richaun Holmes, showed up with a big outing as well, adding 14 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 blocks in 21 minutes. Holmes plays with such an abundance of energy; he’s the perfect bench guy to come in and kick up the intensity after the first units have gotten worn down. I don’t think Klay Thompson expected anyone to come in out of nowhere and block this shot.

https://twitter.com/Sixers/status/841865982629056514

So generally playing very well, the Sixers led by 16 with a couple minutes left in the third quarter. Unfortunately, that’s when the Warriors remembered they won 73 games last year, and about 6 minutes of game time later, a 19-2 Golden State run had the Warriors back in front. On his 29th birthday, people will focus on Steph Curry finally knocking down some shots. He finished with a game-high 29 points, but shot just 8-23 from the field and had as many turnovers as assists with 5 of each.

Really though, Draymond Green was the reason the Warriors were able to come back. The former Defensive Player of the Year winner was in top form on that end, suddenly shutting everything down on that end as the Sixers were held to just 14 points in the 4th quarter. Green missed a vaunted 5×5 game by a single steal, ending the night with 20 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists, 4 steals, and 6 blocks.

In the final minute of the game, it was a flashback to the late game Sixers of old when they stopped looking like they are a professional basketball team in the clutch. Three consecutive possessions in a one-possession game featured TJ McConnell blocked on a drive by Green, Richaun Holmes stepping out of bounds, and McConnell having a pass stolen by Matt Barnes. It was a tough note to go out on for a Sixers team that played well enough as a whole to earn a tough road victory.

The good news is that the Knicks won last night, so the Kings are back to having the 6th-worst record in the league (the Sixers are 5th). Going toe-to-toe with a championship-caliber team like the Warriors is even more impressive with Philadelphia’s top two prospects in street clothes, and at least one top pick is soon to be on the way. 15 games left.

Sixers Out-Tanked by Lakers, Win by 2

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Philadelphia 118, Los Angeles 116 – Box Score

Entering play 3 games ahead of the Lakers in the standings, Sunday night was Philadelphia’s last chance to realistically fall behind the Lakers in the Great Tank War of 2016-17. Whether or not Los Angeles finishes 2nd or 3rd-worst overall in the standings means the difference between a 44.2% or 53.1% chance of that top-3 protected draft pick conveying to the Sixers this summer. Not to mention, there are lottery ball implications for every loss by the Sixers in this stage of the season. These are our great battles.

Philadelphia even pulled out the big guns, sitting Robert Covington with knee soreness to make sure the entire game was a no-defense affair by both sides. In the end though, you can’t hold a scrappy Sixers squad down.

Not when they have TJ McConnell, who has been called more clutch than Michael Jordan, making his only field goal of the game on a fadeaway jumper with 50 seconds left that put the Sixers ahead for good. Talk about saving it for when it really matters.

Or when Joel Embiid’s pick for Rookie of the Year, Dario Saric, is out there doing everything for the team once again, tallying a career-high 29 points by knocking down 3 of 7 shots from three, grabbing 7 rebounds, and dishing out 5 assists. I wrote many words Saturday about how Saric is saving the end of this Sixers season from a watchability standpoint; they all applied Sunday night. Wonderful player, wonderful human being.

Filling in for the resting Covington, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot had the best game of his short NBA career, hitting 7 of 11 shots from the field for a career-high 18 points. TLC drained 2 of 4 from behind the arc and converted a number of difficult shots around the basket. He has a great knack of timing his cuts and getting open at the right moment heading to the hoop. His game keeps developing by leaps and bounds across this rookie season. First, he adjusted to the defensive side of the ball and now the offense is appearing on the scene. The Sixers look to have a keeper on their hands.

Even Jahlil Okafor got in the action, showing off against one of the two teams that decided to pass on him in the draft. Jah had an effective game offensively, scoring 23 points on 8-12 shooting, and mostly not playing painfully slow on that side of the ball to bog down the team’s action. The other side of the ball was business as usual for Jahlil, but it being a Lakers game, poor defensive effort fit right in out there.

Jordan Clarkson did everything in his power to get his team the victory, recording 30 points on 10-16 shooting, 6 rebounds, and 8 assists off the bench. Presumably, he wants no part of a top-3 pick coming in next year and stealing any more of his minutes. D’Angelo Russell, however, is the consummate team player. He drove lead tank by shooting 5-17 from the field and making the two biggest bone-headed plays of the game.

With 25 seconds left in the game and Lakers down 1, Russell completely forgot how much time was left on the shot clock coming out of a dead ball, in-bounds situation. As he casually dribbled away from the basket, he finally looked up and saw 1 second left on the clock, having to toss up a 30-footer which was no good. That was the last best chance for the Lakers to win the game, and even that play didn’t top this trainwreck of a play right before halftime.

https://twitter.com/BleacherReport/status/841119951343767552

My favorite part is Russell being so embarrassed that he starts blaming his teammates, as if they were the reason is starting playing soccer with the ball. That’s some next-level tanking.

With the Sixers victory, the Lakers seem increasingly likely to only finish ahead of Brooklyn in the standings. On the plus side, Sacramento has lost 8 straight and is now right ahead of the Sixers with the 6th-worst overall record. And the 2018 unprotected Lakers pick has a pretty good ring to it, should it come to that.

The Sixers will play at Golden State Tuesday night. I don’t think that one will be as close.

2017 March Madness Challenge

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

It didn’t take a leaked bracket this year to know that defending national champion and Big East tournament champion Villanova would receive the top overall seed. The Wildcats will have a tough road ahead if they hope to win it all again, and so will you in our 2017 contest.

Few things can match the thrill of the NCAA tournament, especially when you’re rooting for the teams you selected to advance in your bracket. As always, our bracket challenge is free to enter and we pay out money to the top-2 finishers. What do you have to lose? Sign up for the 5th annual Philly Fast Break March Madness challenge now!

Rules: 

  • Entry is free for all participants.
  • To be eligible for the prize pool, you must:
  • In addition to topping the rest of the field, you must defeat the official Philly Fast Break entry in order to win.

How to Enter:

  • Join our group at ESPN.com; group password is ‘embiid′.
  • Use your twitter handle or facebook profile name as your bracket entry name to accurately identify yourself.

Prize Pool:

  • Total prize pool will be $100. 1st place = $80; 2nd place = $20.

Good luck to everyone and enjoy March Madness!

Sixers Open West Coast Trip with OT Loss to Blazers

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Portland 114, Philadelphia 108 (OT) – Box Score

For those Sixers fans staying up late to watch the team on the West Coast, they were treated to an unexpectedly exciting game out in Portland, with the only downside being Philadelphia ended up on the short end of the result. With 19 seconds left in regulation, Robert Covington unnecessarily fouled CJ McCollum (with McCollum sinking both free throws), putting the Sixers down 2. Covington would make up for it though by tipping in a missed Gerald Henderson shot at the buzzer to send the game to overtime. Bonus basketball! Your sleep was already messed up for the night anyway.

Unfortunately, the Blazers pulled away in the extra session, as Jusuf Nurkic scored the first 7 points of overtime for Portland. The Bosnian Beast caused havoc for the Sixers big men all game long, finishing with 28 points, 20 rebounds (7 offensive), 8 assists, 6 blocks, and 2 steals. Jahlil Okafor had a solid offensive game, tallying 16 points and 8 rebounds of his own, and it’s unfair that he was thrown right back out there for big minutes (29 in total) coming off missing games with a sore knee. Still, Nurkic’s absurd stat line is Exhibit 14, subheading 5 in the chapter of Okafor’s scouting book, entitled ‘offers no interior defense whatsoever’.

Carrying the heavy lifting for Philadelphia were the usual suspects at the two forward positions. Dario Saric has emerged in recent weeks as the emotional leader of the team, and had one of the best games of his young NBA career with 28 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 steals. Saric finally had his outside shot working, hitting 4-7 from three, which brought out the finger guns (a little nod to old Westerns on the West Coast trip). Saric got big points for the Sixers in crunch time, was the catalyst of the team’s 9-0 run in the second half to get back in the game, and even played some center. The man is doing it all right now. Bovada is right to have the Homie as the Rookie of the Year favorite, Malcolm Brogdon’s efficiency be damned.

Meanwhile, Robert Covington had a game himself, recording 24 points, knocking down 4 threes of his own on 8 attempts, and grabbing 13 rebounds. It was the 6th game of the season Covington rolled out of bed for an Okafor (that’s a 20 & 10 game for those of you not involved with Sixers twitter inside jokes). Dumb foul in the closing seconds aside, Rock was great defensively once again, and keeps adding a little more each night to his offensive repertoire. His three-point percentage continues to climb, now up to 33.7% on the season after his awful start. The Northern Liberties resident is going to be able to have any warehouse-converted loft he wants when his next contract rolls around.

Having lost three straight, the Sixers are now below Orlando for the 4th-worst record in the league. With the Kings losing 6 straight of their own, Philadelphia’s hoard of lottery balls continues to grow. They’ll next take on the Clippers in a Saturday matinee.

City 6 Conference Tournaments Primer

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

First, let’s pour one out for the two City 6 schools who have seen their seasons already come to an end.

Coming off the worst season in former head coach Bruiser Flint’s Drexel tenure, it was reasonable to expect a long road ahead for new head coach Zach Spiker. That proved to be the case as the Dragons finished 9-23, ending up dead last in CAA play with a 3-15 conference record, and bowing out to James Madison in the opening round of the conference tournament. The team will have a hole to fill next season after 3rd-team All-CAA senior Rodney Williams graduates; he led the team in both scoring and rebounding. The bright spot for the future came in the form of 5’10” freshman point guard Kurk Lee, who made the CAA All-Rookie team while averaging 14.9 ppg and a team-high 5.0 apg.

After losing DeAndre Bembry and Isaiah Miles from the Hawks team that won the A-10 tournament last year, anyone would have predicted a step back for St. Joseph’s this season. What no one could have predicted was the amount of injuries that would strike the Hawks; most notably, the team’s top three leading scorers, Shavar Newkirk, Lamarr Kimble, and James Demery all missed significant chunks of the season. The good news is that all three will return to Hawk Hill next year, and with A-10 All-Rookie team freshman Charlie Brown having another year of experience under the belt, things should be much improved for the Hawks from this season’s 11-20 campaign.

Now, on to those schools still looking to dance.

Villanova

KenPom: 51.5%

The defending national champions have not missed a beat this season, led by Big East player of the year and current Naismith semifinalist Josh Hart, who averaged 18.7 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 3.2 apg, and 1.5 spg, while shooting a sparkling 50.7% from the field and 40.4% from three. Mr. Big Shot Kris Jenkins continues to do his thing from behind the arc, and Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges both had no problem assuming larger roles this season. Crucially, starting center Darryl Reynolds returned to the line-up in the regular season finale after missing 5 games, so the Wildcats are more or less back to full strength. Jay Wright’s squad should have no problem advancing to Sunday, where they’ll potentially meet the Butler squad that has served them 2 of their 3 losses this season. Revenge for those defeats while winning the Big East tournament title and securing a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament would be pretty sweet.

La Salle

KenPom: 0.6%

La Salle was able to avoid the double play-in game that claimed victim to St. Joseph’s, but a late season swoon where the Explorers lost 5 of their last 7 meant they cost themselves a chance a top-4 seed and the all-important double bye. La Salle will have to get past Davidson (who they beat in the teams’ only meeting) before taking on top-seeded Dayton. Led by junior B.J. Johnson and senior Jordan Price, the Explorers have the talent where a tournament run wouldn’t be the most surprising thing in the world. However, winning 4 games in 4 days is very tough, and having to play on Thursday may be La Salle’s downfall.

Temple

KenPom: 0.8%

Ken Pomeroy does not like the Owls’ chances of making a miracle run and I have to agree. Temple first needs to win an opening round play-in game over East Carolina, a team against whom the Owls split their two regular season meetings, before taking on top-seeded SMU in the quarterfinals. The Mustangs (17-1 in American conference play) defeated the Owls by 14 and 16-point margins in their two games this season. For a young Owls team that saw a freshman, Shizz Alston, Jr., lead the club in points, assists, and steals, I don’t feel like this is their year.

Penn

KenPom: 17.5%

For the first time in conference history, the Ivy League will have a postseason tournament! The Quakers were just able to sneak in thanks to winning 6 of their last 8 games, including a game-winning three in the final seconds of the regular season finale to send them to the 4-team field. That’s the good news. The bad news is Penn will first play Princeton, who went 14-0 in conference play, beating the Quakers 64-49 and 61-52 in the teams’ two meetings. To get by the Tigers and face the winner of Harvard/Yale, Penn will need a huge effort from freshman AJ Brodeur, who led the team in scoring, rebounding, and blocks on his way to 2nd-team All-Ivy. Ken Pomeroy gives the Quakers a decent chance to go dancing, both because they only have to win two games, and because those two games come on Penn’s home court at the Palestra.