By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
1 (Formerly: 1). Villanova (29-2, 16-2 Big East)
Previous week: W 76-72 @ Creighton, W 105-68 vs. St. John’s
Upcoming week: Thursday vs. Seton Hall/Marquette (Big East tournament – quarterfinals)
We provided a courtside recap of Villanova’s dominating season finale victory over St. John’s. Earlier in the week, the Cats completed the season sweep of old nemesis Creighton, thanks in large part to some big plays down the stretch by Ryan Arcidiacono. With his team down by one with just under a minute remaining, the Villanova point guard drove the lane, fighting through contact to finish at the rim and convert what became a three-point play. Arcidiacono finished with a game-high 23 points, also sinking all 4 of his free throws in the closing seconds to help ice the contest.
As important as quality wins against teams like St. John’s are, avoiding bad losses against the likes of Creighton is just as important in the eyes of the tournament committee. Now, Villanova looks to have a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament locked up, barring a similar upset in their first Big East tournament game like last year. Jay Wright’s squad will play the winner of Seton Hall and Marquette Thursday, then could have another matchup with St. John’s, if the Red Storm get by Providence.
Do you think the Cats will take the Big East tournament title home this weekend? Let us know in the comments section.
2 (2). Temple (22-9, 13-5 AAC)
Previous week: W 70-56 @ East Carolina, W 75-63 vs. Connecticut
Upcoming week: Friday vs. Memphis (AAC tournament – quarterfinals)
The Owls continue to build their case for an NCAA tournament bid, winning both contests this past week to head into the American conference tournament on a 3-game roll. Temple easily defeated East Carolina on the road, using a 16-4 run late in the first half to take control of the game. Will Cummings had a terrific all-around game, recording 16 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals, and 0 turnovers.
Temple had a slightly more difficult time on Senior Day against UConn. Having defeated the Huskies earlier this season with some help from a hip injury suffered by Ryan Boatright, the Owls got everything they could handle from the UConn star. Boatright finished with 25 points, with 21 of those coming in the first half as the Huskies went into the break up by 5.
However, playing their last game at the Liacouras Center, seniors Will Cummings and Jesse Morgan would not be denied one more victory, leading a huge second-half surge by the Owls. Cummings continued his outstanding play the second half of the season, dropping a team and season-high 23 points and 5 assists. Jesse Morgan, who has never seen a three he didn’t like, liked the results Saturday as well, draining 5 of 7 threes to add 17 points.
Temple will next face Memphis in the AAC quarterfinals, a team they defeated on the road by a single point earlier this season. Surely the Owls would like to reel off a couple more wins, but even if they succumbed to the Tigers, I think they’ve already done enough to warrant going to the Big Dance in a couple weeks.
3 (3). La Salle (16-15, 8-10 A-10)
Previous week: L 55-50 @ St. Joe’s, W 55-53 vs. Dayton
Upcoming week: Thursday @ Massachusetts (A-10 tournament – 2nd round)
The Explorers continued their downward spiral early in the week, losing the ‘non Big-5’ battle against rival St. Joe’s for their 4th straight loss. La Salle shot just 31.5% from the field, with Jordan Price the lone Explorer in double figures with 17 points. Price helped pull the Explorers within 1 point after a 6-minute scoreless drought had allowed the Hawks to take control of the game. However, even his scoring the last 8 points for La Salle wasn’t enough to help them complete the comeback.
Fortunately for La Salle fans, the Explorers had better luck in their regular season finale against Dayton. With the score tied at 41 in the closing minutes, La Salle went on a 7-0 to earn themselves a lead they would never relinquish. Price led the way once again with 21 points, while the frontcourt of Steve Zack and Jerrell Wright each grabbed double-digit rebounds to help the Explorers earn a 40-28 advantage on the boards.
The Explorers will need to maintain that level of play down low, especially if seniors Zack and Wright want to extend their collegiate careers after this disappointing final season. La Salle will take on the Minutemen in the A-10 tournament, after having lost both games to UMass earlier this season. Despite the results this year, La Salle has always had the talent to compete in conference play. We’ll see if they can put it all together for a miracle run this weekend.
4 (5). Saint Joseph’s (13-17, 7-11 A-10)
Previous week: W 55-50 vs. La Salle, L 78-68 @ Rhode Island
Upcoming week: Thursday @ St. Bonaventure (A-10 tournament – 2nd round)
The Hawks are set to begin A-10 tournament play, hoping to duplicate the 3 straight wins they earned a year ago to advance to the NCAA tournament. Before that goes down, let’s look back at the final week of their regular season. On Senior Night against La Salle, senior Chris Wilson ensured his last time taking the court at Hawk Hill would be a happy memory. Wilson carried St. Joe’s offensively, scoring a game-high 22 points behind a 5-8 night from behind the arc. One of those threes was a huge dagger to extend the Hawks’ lead to 4 with one minute left. St. Joe’s also collected a whopping 15 offensive rebounds, led by DeAndre Bembry with 5, outrebounding La Salle 48-39 on the game.
St. Joe’s would have no momentum heading into the conference title however, dropping the regular season finale in Rhode Island. The Hawks were up 5 early in the second half, before allowing the Rams to go on an 11-0 run to take control of the contest. Bembry led the way for St. Joe’s with 21 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists, although he did commit 5 of the Hawks’ 16 turnovers (against just 8 for Rhode Island). The sophomore has now had 5 turnovers in three straight games, probably a sign he’s pressing to try and do too much for a St. Joe’s squad without many secondary options.
Although the Hawks did succeed in this situation last year, as we’ve seen all season, that A-10 tournament championship squad was completely different from this year’s group. Also, as the #4 seed last year, St. Joe’s earned a double bye, but will have to start any tournament run on Thursday this time around. The Hawks lost both matchups this season with their initial opponent, St. Bonaventure. Based on the body of work all season, it would be surprising if the campaign didn’t end there. But maybe Coach Phil Martelli has a little tournament magic left to coax out of this group.
5 (4). Drexel (11-19, 9-9 CAA)
Previous week: L 56-48 vs. College of Charleston (CAA tournament – 1st round)
The Dragons gave it everything they had, but for a team that’s dealt with as many injuries as they have, their simply wasn’t enough left in the tank to keep the season alive. Drexel led for the majority of the game and still found itself up 2 with just inside of 4 minutes left. However, only having 2 players available off the bench and being pressured full court by Charleston the majority of the game finally caught up with the Dragons. The Cougars went on a 12-2 run to finish the game, advancing to the next round of the CAA tournament and ending Drexel’s season in the process.
Senior Freddie Wilson led the Dragons with 17 points. After he tallied 24 in the regular season finale, it’s safe to say he saved the best for last in the final moments of his collegiate career. Tavon Allen added 15 points, as both guys played all 40 minutes for Drexel. We’ll have the full season recap on Drexel’s season up on the site tomorrow.
6 (6). Pennsylvania (9-18, 4-9 Ivy)
Previous week: W 54-46 vs. Columbia, W 79-72 vs. Cornell
Upcoming week: Tuesday vs. Princeton
Penn has informed coach Jerome Allen that his tenure as Quakers coach is over following regular season, sources told ESPN. Story coming.
— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) March 7, 2015
That news item just about sums up the Quakers’ season. The school later tried to spin it that Allen was resigning, but it’s pretty obvious the school hasn’t been satisfied with the lack of success for the program in recent years. He does have the chance to end his coaching tenure on a bit of a high note, as the Quakers not only snapped a 7-game losing streak Friday night against Columbia, but followed that win up with another against Cornell for just their 3rd winning streak of the season.
Defense was the key to success against the Lions, as the Quakers held Columbia without a field goal for over 13 minutes in the first half and just 9 points total before halftime. Columbia shot just 27.5% overall from the field on the evening. Offensively, Tony Hicks led the way with 19 points, while freshman Sam Jones rewarded Coach Allen’s recent decision to move him into the starting lineup, recording 14 points behind a 4-6 mark from three.
Then against Cornell, it was again a long defensive stand that allowed Penn to pull off the victory. The Quakers held Cornell without a field goal for 6 minutes in the second half, going on a 20-2 run to stretch a 2-point lead to 20. Freshman point guard Antonio Woods had arguably his best game of the season, finishing with 15 points and a career-high 11 assists. Sam Jones was hot from the outside once again, draining 3 threes to chip in 13 points.
The Quakers will conclude their season and Jerome Allen’s coaching tenure Tuesday against Princeton. We’ll see if the players rally to win one for the gipper.