Louisville, as many expected, made it to the top of the NCAA men’s basketball mountain.
Their road included the unwanted notoriety of Kevin Ware’s gruesome, Joe Theisman-like leg injury – though Ware ended up becoming an unexpected source of inspiration to his teammates as they headed to Atlanta for the Final Four.
The Cardinals’ head coach, Rick Pitino, became the first head coach to win the men’s basketball championship with two different schools – and you can’t get a whole lot more different than the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville.
The Cardinals’ women’s team – a #5 seed – also made it to the basketball final, but lost to perennial power UConn, 93-60. UConn defended the honor of being the only school to win the men’s and women’s championship in the same season (2004) as they claimed their 8th women’s national championship.
Kudos also to the University of Michigan for their run to the men’s national final. The Wolverines, who had occupied the top spot in the polls for the week of Jan. 28-Feb. 3 – and were in the top 5 for 16 of the 19 pre-tournament polls and in the top 10 every week – proved they were a lot closer to being the nation’s #1 team than to the #4 seed they were given entering the tournament.
No one will soon forget Florida Gulf Coast’s run to the Sweet 16 right here in Philadelphia, nor Wichita State’s shocking run from the #9 seed to the Final Four.
The only game Wichita State played in their home uniforms was a win over the La Salle Explorers to reach the Elite Eight.
La Salle played better basketball than they had in 20 years, and were nip and tuck with Big 5 brethren Temple and Villanova for local bragging rights all season long. La Salle and Temple ended up sharing the Big 5 title (at 3-1), while Villanova and Temple took #9 seeds in the NCAA tournament, leaving La Salle to have to earn their way in to the field of 64 with a First Four win over Boise State, 80-71.
The Explorers then used that win as a springboard to the Sweet 16, edging #4 Kansas State 63-61 and then #12 Ole Miss 76-74 before losing to Wichita State 72-58. That run earned them the #24 spot in the final USA Today Coaches Poll.
Temple, as they did the previous year, won its first game, 76-72 over N.C. State before succumbing to #1 seed Indiana, 58-52. The Owls tied for #36 (with Pitt) in the final USA Today Coaches Poll.
Villanova, after missing last year’s dance, did not get to face the #1 seed in its region (Kansas), instead losing its opening game to North Carolina, 78-71.
St. Joe’s suffered a first-round home defeat in the NIT, to St. John’s, 63-61.
In the end, while La Salle had to play an extra game, their road did not include a #1 seed, which helped them earn their way through the first weekend. It’s fair to say that the 3 local teams in the NCAA tournament remained relatively even in caliber, though the final PhillyPhanatics.com’s City 6 ratings shape up like this:
1. La Salle (82)
2. Temple (80)
3. Villanova (78)
4. St. Joe’s (73)
5. Drexel (59)
6. Pennsylvania (52)
Scandal at Rutgers: Back in December, Mike Rice’s 3-game suspension from his position as head coach of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights men’s basketball team was a mere footnote in the team’s horrible season on the court.
Fast-forward to April, and the video compilation of Rice screaming at his players in practice, calling them names – including anti-homosexual slurs – and throwing basketballs at them, went viral on the internet and in the media.
The public outcry over Rice’s apparent “slap-on-the-wrist” punishment not only swept Rice out of his job, it also led to the resignation of assistant coach Jimmy Martelli (son of St. Joe’s coach Phil Martelli) and athletic director Tim Pernetti – who meted out the inadequate punishment in the first place, after hiring Rice in 2010.
The university president, Robert Barchi, who was on board with the 3-game suspension, has faced demands that he be removed as well – but so far has held onto his job, even as Governor Chris Christie has tried to do damage control.
The scandal serves as a reminder that the desire to win can’t eclipse the fact that these athletes are very young and deserve support, not ridicule, when they are performing at less than their best.
Ex-Sixers head coach (and current Lakers assistant) Eddie Jordan is reported to be the front-runner to replace Rice, with an announcement likely to come very soon. Jordan played at Rutgers from 1973-77, and was an integral part of their 1976 Final Four team which played for the National Championship (won by Indiana) at the Spectrum.
Delle Donne goes out with a flourish: The University of Delaware’s women’s team mirrored La Salle in making a run to the Sweet 16, with wins on their home court over #11 West Virginia (66-53) and #3 North Carolina (78-69).
Their 27-game win streak was finally halted in Bridgeport, CT by #2 seed Kentucky, 69-62.
Departing senior Ellen Delle Donne scored 33 points in the tourney opener and repeated the feat against UNC and against Kentucky. Her effort rallying the team from a 14-point halftime deficit, cutting the Kentucky lead to 62-60 in the game’s waning moments, was the hallmark of her illustrious career.
Delle Donne finished as the 5th all-time leading scorer in NCAA women’s basketball, with 3039 points, passing Cheryl Miller, Chamique Holdsclaw and Maya Moore in her final game.
All told, the Blue Hens went 32-4 and deserve congratulations for their remarkable season.
All-Big 5 honors: As we await the official All-Big 5 team selections from the Herb Good Basketball Club, here are PhillyPhanatics.com’s choices:
G – Khalif Wyatt, Temple
G – Ramon Galloway, La Salle
G – Carl Jones, St. Joseph’s
F – JayVaughn Pinkston, Villanova
C – C.J. Aiken, St. Joseph’s
G – Langston Galloway, St. Joseph’s
G – Tyreek Duren, La Salle
G – Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova
F – Ronald Roberts, Jr., St. Joseph’s
F/C – Mouphtaou Yarou, Villanova
Big 5 Coach of the year: Dr. John Giannini, La Salle
Big 5 Rookie of the year: Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova
Big 5 Player of the year (Geasey Award): Khalif Wyatt, Temple
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