Bring On the Madness

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Each Sunday night/Monday morning, we take the pulse of the college scene around the city of Philadelphia with our City 6 power rankings. This will be the last set of rankings for the season, as March Madness has begun!

1) Villanova – (Overall Record: 29-5 City 6 Record: 4-0)

In the Big East tournament, the Wildcats churned through Georgetown and fought off a pesky Providence club, setting the stage for the Big East tournament championship Saturday against Seton Hall. In one of the most exciting college basketball games of the season, the Pirates prevailed 69-67, behind a dominant 26-point performance and a late and-one from Isaiah Whitehead. Josh Hart looked like he was fouled on one of Villanova’s final possessions, which would have given him a chance to put Villanova back ahead at the line, but it went uncalled. It was a tough loss considering the Cats were playing without a full-strength Daniel Ochefu, who only tallied 19 minutes while battling an ankle injury.

Unfortunately, that loss had serious ramifications for the Wildcats’ NCAA tournament. Instead of a #1 seed in the East, where they could have played at the Wells Fargo Center in the Sweet 16 round, the Wildcats received a #2 seed in the South. Somehow Xavier received the #2 seed in the East instead of Villanova, even though Villanova won the regular season Big East title and advanced beyond where the Musketeers did in the conference tournament. It may work out fine for the Wildcats though. After Villanova plays (and presumably beats) UNC-Asheville Friday in Brooklyn (not sure how Brooklyn is in the South, but whatever), they would face the winner of Iowa and Temple Sunday. Iowa has really struggled late in the season and the Owls are already a team the Wildcats have proven better than this season. Even if the South bracket is stacked, the path to the Sweet 16 looks navigable, and by that point, there are basically only good teams left anyway.

2) Saint Joseph’s – (Overall 27-7, City 5-1)

After completing a double-digit comeback against George Washington, and surviving a close contest against Dayton, the Hawks played arguably their best game of the season Sunday in Sunday’s A-10 tournament championship game against VCU. Mirroring this terrific Hawks season perfectly, DeAndre Bembry and Isaiah Miles carried the load for St. Joe’s. The star duo combined for 56 points on 24-32 shooting (30 on 13-16 for Bembry, 26 on 11-16 for Miles). Even more impressively, neither player committed a turnover in the process, as the Hawks only gave the ball away 7 times as a team in the victory.

Somehow, the tournament committee did not take too kindly to the Hawks’ 27 wins or the tournament title; perhaps, the A-10 should look into not having that game on Sunday. Whatever the reasoning, St. Joe’s only ended up with a #8 seed in the tournament and will have to travel to Spokane, WA as part of the West region. The Hawks will face Cincinnati Friday night, who we last saw being shocked by UConn in the AAC tournament on a full-court heave to force a fourth overtime. Even if the Hawks survive the meeting with a Bearcats squad that rates top-10 defensively in the nation, it’s hard to imagine a tougher second-round assignment than an Oregon team playing in practically their own backyard. Still, the Hawks have been battled-tested all season long, and Bembry and Miles can certainly stand toe-to-toe with anybody out there. It should be a fun weekend.

3) Temple – (Overall 21-11, City 2-2)

The Owls were crushed by Connecticut in the AAC tournament semifinals, but fortunately, a regular season conference title proved enough to grant Temple entrance to the field of 68. Phil Martelli’s squad earned the #10 seed in the South region, where they’ll face Iowa before a potentially second round meeting with Villanova. If nothing else, the Wildcats are at least a group the Owls are familiar with and wouldn’t be intimidated against.

However, first Temple will have to go up against Iowa, a team that for all their struggles of late was considered a top-5 team earlier in the season. Senior forward Jarrod Uthoff is projected as a second-round pick in the draft, and leads the Hawkeyes with 18.9 ppg, 6.4 rpg, and 2.7 bpg, while shooting 45.2% from the field and 39.2% from three. Junior wing Peter Jok can also light it up from the outside, averaging 16.2 ppg on 41.2% shooting from behind the arc. The metrics rate Iowa as a top-20 team in the country; Temple will have a very tough assignment to even make that Big 5 matchup against Villanova a reality.

4) Penn – (Overall 11-17, City 1-4)

Penn had a chance to end their season on a high note, coming back from a 18-point deficit against Princeton on the road with a chance to win it on their final possession. Unfortunately, the Quakers turned it over, giving the Tigers a 1-point win in the season finale for both teams. Penn senior Darien Nelson-Henry ended his exemplary collegiate career with a 13-point, 8-rebound, 3-block performance.

However, the big news out of the Ivy League was the announcement that they’ll be moving to a 4-team tournament next year to determine the automatic qualifier for the conference, with at least next year’s tournament to be held at the Palestra. Penn finished one game out of fourth place in the Ivy this season and looks to be a program on the rise; the Quakers could find themselves competing on their home court with a trip to the NCAA tournament on the line next March.

5) La Salle – (Overall 9-22, City 0-6)

The Explorers played their best game of the season in the opening round of the A-10 tournament, dropping 88 points in a 15-point win over Duquesne. Jordan Price finished one shy of his career-high with 36 points. However, there would be no cinderella run for the Explorers, who were easily dispatched the following night against Davidson, ending their season. All indications are that head coach Dr. John Giannini will still be around next season to see if the program can get back on track, when all the transfer players he has brought in will be eligible to play.

6) Drexel – (Overall 6-25, City 2-1)

Drexel’s season ended last weekend, but of course, the school was in the news earlier in the week with the announced firing of head coach Bruiser Flint. A committee has been dispatched to find the next person to roam the sidelines for the Dragons. Whoever that person is will be looking to bring the Dragons to the point where their name will be called on Selection Sunday. As much good as Flint did for the program over the years, that was one thing he was unable to accomplish in his 15-year tenure at Drexel.

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