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College Notebook: Win or go home

Posted by Eric Fisher On March 7

Of our local teams, only 2nd-ranked Villanova is a lock for the NCAA Tournament. The rest of the City Six almost definitely need to win their conference tournaments to earn their way into the NCAA Tournament.

Drexel is already done. After a victory over James Madison in the opening round of the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament, the Dragons appeared poised for an upset of top-seeded Charleston on Sunday, only to see a nine-point second-half lead disappear in a 66-59 loss. That loss ended the season for Drexel (13-20).

The NCAA Tournament hopes of the rest of the City Six teams are still alive – but some are barely alive. Let’s look at where they stand and what they need to do to participate in the NCAA Tournament.


The Wildcats (27-4) are going to the Big Dance. The only question is how high they will be seeded. As the second-ranked team in the country, Villanova would certainly receive a No. 1 seed if it wins the Big East Tournament. If Virginia stumbles in the ACC Tournament, Villanova could even be the top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.

But there is reason for concern. The Wildcats were just 6-3 during February, with one of their wins (and one of their defeats) coming in overtime. Villanova lost to St. John’s at Wells Fargo Center and then lost on the road to Providence and Creighton. The overtime loss to Creighton on Feb. 24 ended a six-game stretch in which Villanova was 3-3. Consequently, despite being the second-ranked team in the nation, Villanova is only the No. 2 seed in its own tournament, having finished behind Xavier in the regular-season standings.

Villanova opens the Big East Tournament on Thursday (7 p.m.) at Madison Square Garden against the winner of Wednesday night’s game between DePaul and Marquette. A victory on Thursday would earn a meeting with either No. 3 Seton Hall or No. 6 Butler. The Wildcats escaped Seton Hall with a 69-68 overtime victory on Feb. 28. Butler, of course, is Villanova’s kryptonite. An 86-75 victory on Feb. 10 ended Butler’s three-game winning streak against the Wildcats.

Villanova features guard Jalen Brunson (19.0 average), who has already picked up two national player of the year awards. Mikal Bridges (17.6) joined Brunson on the All-Big East first team, and Donte DiVincenzo (13.8) was named Big East Sixth Man of the Year. Omari Spellman (10.9) and Eric Paschall (10.2) provide the inside game, but the key for Villanova may be veteran guard Phil Booth. When Booth was sidelined by a hand injury, the dropoff in quality from Villanova’s top six players to the rest of the rotation was noticeable.

The Wildcats enter the Big East Tournament with an opportunity to cement a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But the Wildcats’ uneven February should preclude any thoughts that the Big East Tournament will be a cakewalk.


The Explorers (13-18) need to win the Atlantic 10 Tournament to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Even reaching the finals of the Atlantic 10 Tournament, which would require four wins, wouldn’t be enough to receive an invitation to the Big Dance.

La Salle, the 12th seed, begins its journey Wednesday (6 p.m.) against 13th-seeded Massachusetts at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. A win would earn a meeting with 5th-seeded George Mason on Thursday (2:30 p.m.). By beating George Mason, the Explorers would earn a rematch with 4th-seeded Saint Joseph’s, which defeated La Salle last Saturday.

La Salle can be a dangerous opponent. The Explorers beat George Mason, 69-62, on Feb. 17 and then took Rhode Island, the Atlantic 10 regular-season champion, to overtime three days later.

With forward B.J. Johnson (20.9 points, 8.5 rebounds) and guard Pookie Powell (16.9 points) leading the way, La Salle is capable of beating anyone. Isiah Deas (9.5), Amar Stukes (8.6), Saul Phiri (6.2) and center Tony Washington (7.3 points, 6.1 rebounds) have all stepped up at various times, but the Explorers can’t seem to get everyone going at the same time.

La Salle would have to win five games to win the Atlantic 10 Tournament. It would need four wins to reach the final. That’s an extremely difficult task for the inconsistent Explorers, who won their first three games of the season and then didn’t win two games in a row again until the final week of February.


The Hawks (15-15) almost certainly have to win the Atlantic 10 Tournament to advance to the NCAA Tournament. The good news for the Hawks is they only need to win three games to win the conference tournament.

Saint Joseph’s enters the Atlantic 10 Tournament on a roll, having won six of its past seven games, including the final three of the regular season. That streak, which followed a five-game losing streak, includes an improbable 30-point triumph over Rhode Island, the Atlantic 10 regular-season champion and the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament. The late-season rush elevated Saint Joseph’s (10-8 Atlantic 10) to the fourth seed in the tournament, which means a bye into the quarterfinals.

The Hawks are led by Shavar Newkirk (17.6 points, 3.8 assists) and James Demery (17.2 points, 5.5 rebounds), but the key to the turnaround is other players playing larger roles. Head coach Phil Martelli has been searching for the right combinations all season, and the pieces may have fallen into place down the stretch. Swingman Nick Robinson and forward Anthony Longpre moved into the starting lineup, with Demery and Pierfrancesco Oliva coming off the bench. Chris Clover moved in and out of the starting lineup before joining Newkirk, Longpre, Robinson and freshman forward Taylor Funk in the starting lineup. Demery’s production has not been hurt by the move, and Robinson and Funk have both led the Hawks in scoring during games down the stretch.

The road won’t be easy for Saint Joseph’s. The Hawks open tournament play Friday (2:30 p.m.) in Washington, D.C., against the winner of the game between 5th-seeded George Mason and either La Salle or Massachusetts. A win in their opener will likely earn the Hawks a rematch with top-seeded Rhode Island. Winning the Atlantic 10 Tournament is a difficult challenge, but the Hawks put themselves in a better position to achieve that goal with their late-season surge. If they can continue their roll, they could be dancing next week.


Temple (16-14) almost certainly needs to win the American Athletic Conference Tournament in order to advance to the NCAA Tournament, and it’s difficult to be optimistic about the Owls’ chances.

Temple, the seventh seed, enters Thursday’s first-round game against 10th-seeded Tulane at the Amway Center in Orlando having lost four of its previous five games. In its regular-season finale, Temple fell behind 24-0 during a loss at Tulsa. Although the Owls preceded this stretch with a five-game winning streak, the Owls also endured a five-game losing streak earlier this season.

If the Owls get past Tulane – the Owls lost by 10 points when they played Tulane at home on Dec. 28; they beat Tulane by seven points on Feb. 4 – they would meet second-seeded Wichita State in the quarterfinals. Temple has been a thorn in the Shockers’ side this season, posting an 81-79 upset victory on Feb. 1 and taking a big lead two weeks later before dropping a 93-86 decision.

That’s one of the frustrating elements to Temple’s season. The Owls seem to have the talent to win more games. Quinton Rose (14.9 points) has been the most consistent scorer. Shizz Alston Jr. (13.0) has been solid, but Obi Enechionyia (10.9) and Josh Brown (8.6) seem to be less consistent on offense. Freshman Nate Pierre-Louis (8.1) played a larger role as the season progressed, but the Owls don’t have another player averaging more than 4.5 points.

The Owls need to win the American Athletic Conference Tournament to earn an NCAA Tournament berth. And they’ve done nothing to indicate they will be successful in that challenge.


It’s conceivable that the Quakers (22-8) could earn an invitation to the NCAA Tournament without winning this weekend’s Ivy League Tournament, but don’t hold your breath. It’s difficult to imagine the tournament committee putting two Ivy League teams in the NCAA field. So Penn, which earned a share of its first Ivy League title in 11 years, needs to win the Ivy League Tournament to assure itself of an invitation to the Big Dance.

The Quakers are seeded second, but will have homecourt advantage because the tournament is being held at the Palestra. The Quakers will battle third-seeded Yale (3 p.m.) for the right to meet the winner of the semifinal between top-seeded Harvard and fourth-seeded Cornell in the championship game on Sunday.

Depth has been a strength for the Quakers all season. Ryan Betley (14.7 points per game) leads the Quakers in scoring, but unanimous All-Ivy League first team selection AJ Brodeur (12.6 points, 6.9 rebounds) is also a force. But Darnell Foreman (10.4 points), Caleb Wood (10.1), Max Rothschild (7.9), Antonio Woods (7.7), Devon Goodman (4.2) and Jarrod Simmons (2.5) have all led the Quakers in scoring in at least one game.


PLAYER OF YEAR: Villanova’s Jalen Brunson was named the national player of the year by USA Today and ncaa.com. Brunson also made the All-Big East first team, along with teammate Mikal Bridges. Donte DiVincenzo was named Big East 6th Man of the Year. Forward Omari Spellman was named to the Big East All-Freshman team.


COACH OF YEAR: Steve Donahue, in his third season as Penn’s head coach, was named the Ivy League Coach of the Year. After losing conference records in his first two seasons at Penn, Donahue led the Quakers to a 12-2 conference mark this season. The Quakers (22-8) earned a share of their first Ivy League regular-season title since the 2006-07 season.


YOUTH IS SERVED: For the first time in Ivy League history, there aren’t any seniors on the men’s first or second teams. Penn sophomore forward AJ Brodeur was a unanimous selection for the Ivy League first team. Sophomore guard Ryan Betley was named to the second team, and senior guard Darnell Foreman was named Ivy League honorable mention.


ATLANTIC 10 AWARDS: La Salle forward B.J. Johnson and Saint Joseph’s guard Shavar Newkirk were named to the Atlantic 10 second team. James Demery of Saint Joseph’s made the third team. Johnson was also named to the Atlantic 10 All-Academic team.


FRESHMAN HONORED: Temple’s Nate Pierre-Louis was named to the American Athletic Conference All-Rookie team. Owls sophomore guard Quinton Rose was named honorable mention all-conference.


HONORS FOR ISABELL: Drexel’s Tramaine Isabell, who finished second in scoring (21.1 points) in the Colonial Athletic Association, was named to the CAA second team. Dragons senior Austin Williams was named to the all-defensive team.


PALESTRA MADNESS: The Palestra will host four games Saturday as part of the Ivy League Championship. the action kicks off at 12:30 p.m. with Harvard meeting Cornell in a men’s semifinal. Penn then meets Yale in the other semifinal at approximately 3 p.m. The final game is a women’s semifinal (approximately 8:30 p.m.), with second-seeded Penn battling third-seeded Harvard.


DRAGONS HOST CHAMPIONSHIP: Top-seeded Drexel is hosting the Colonial Athletic Association Women’s Tournament this week. The Dragons (24-6 overall, 16-2 CAA) are scheduled to open play Thursday (noon) against the winner of Wednesday’s game betwee UNCW and Towson. The Dragons are undefeated (13-0) at the John A. Daskalakis Athletic Center this season.

Head coach Denise Dillon was a unanimous selection as CAA coach of the Year. Senior Kelsi Lidge and sophomore Bailey Greenberg were named to the All-CAA second team. Lidge was also named to the CAA All-Defensive team. Hannah Nihill was named CAA Rookie of the Year.


HAWKS MAKE A RUN: The Saint Joseph’s women’s team made a valiant effort to reach the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament. The Hawks won three games to reach the finals of the Atlantic 10 Tournament, where they lost to George Washington,  65-49.  It was an impressive run by the Hawks (18-14), but it’s unlikely they’ll hear their names called by the NCAA Committee.

The Villanova women’s team (22-8) will also be on the edge of its seat during the selection show after being upset by Georgetown, 63-58, in Big East quarterfinals.

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Side angle of Cody Parkey's missed field goal