Anthony Bellino (@Bellino_Anthony)
There’s no denying it was an upsetting weekend when it came to the City of Brotherly Love and conference tournaments. La Salle, Temple and Villanova, all teams considered on the bubble or just in the tournament each lost in the quarterfinals of their respective tournaments.
Sunday though had a different feel for the three schools as none of them saw their bubble burst and each received a bid into the NCAA Tournament.
For the Explorers (21-9, 11-5 A-10) and head coach Dr. John Giannini it’s their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 21 years–a good number of the university’s students weren’t alive the last time La Salle danced, so regardless of how far they go this year will be remembered for a long time on Olney Avenue.
La Salle had the longest wait of the three to be announced as a 13-seed in the West Bracket; they’ll play fellow 13-seed Boise State on Wednesday in a play-in game in Dayton. The winner will advance to face Kansas State in the second round on Friday.
Wins over VCU and Butler among others helped offset an early loss to Central Connecticut State and had the Explorers off the bubble and firmly in the field of 68 at the end of January. La Salle ended up back on the bubble after losing their final two games including a blowout loss at the hands of A-10 regular season champion Saint Louis to end the regular season and the loss against Butler in Brooklyn.
Temple (23-9, 11-5 A-10) will once again head into the NCAA Tournament immediately following a loss to Massachusetts in the A-10 quarterfinals; they’re the No. 9 seed in the East bracket where they’ll face No. 8 NC State (24-10, 11-7 ACC) in the second round in Dayton on Friday.
“Getting in is the first step and now we’ve got to do a job on Friday,” Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. “Our job is to play the best basketball we can; they know they now have a second chance so we need to work like crazy the next couple of days to be the best team we can be.”
The Owls have been next-to-impossible to get a read on all season as to whether they were a team that could do some serious damage in March or if they were destined to play in the N.I.T. Wins over then-No. 3 Syracuse and No. 19/21 ranked VCU were enough to punch the Owls ticket for the sixth consecutive year and the 31st time in the programs history.
“This was a little different in that we had a disappointing effort on Friday and there was some angst as to whether we were going to get in here,” Dunphy said. “But it never changes the excitement that the kids feel and the fans feel and everybody around the program, hopefully Philadelphia feels good.”
Temple received a bid despite home losses to Canisius, Saint Bonaventure and Duquesne. The Owls benefited from a seven-game win streak following the Duquesne loss that saw them win over two tournament bound teams in La Salle and VCU. The one thing Temple has going for them heading into the tournament is they know what it’s like to play a nail-biter–from Feb. 2 until Feb. 16 Temple played in five consecutive one-point games and went 3-2 in that stretch.
The Wildcats got the No. 9 seed in the South region, and will play No. 8 seed North Carolina (24-9, 12-6 ACC) in the second round in Kansas City. The Tarheels made it to the ACC final before falling to national No. 9 Miami (Fl.).
Way back in November, Villanova (20-13, 10-8 Big East) lost back-to-back games to Alabama and Columbia by 22 and 18 points, at that point fans in “Nova Nation” might’ve thought it was a re-building year. Five months and three wins over top-5 opponents (Georgetown, Syracuse, and Louisville) later and the Wildcats are dancing after a one-year hiatus.
“We’re honored and humbled they’d give us a 9 seed, we’re proud of that,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “To play one of the greatest programs in college basketball and the NCAA tournament, it doesn’t get any better than that.”
With this years’ bid, Villanova has been to eight of the last nine NCAA Tournaments. Wright’s squad, which relies on freshman point guard Ryan Arcidiacono to play 34 minutes per game, has proven they can hang with any team in the nation it now comes down to can they do it on the biggest stage of them all.
This year marks the first time in five years that three Big 5 schools all made the NCAA tournament in the same season. Even the most casual of fans knows that this year has been a crazy season not just in Philadelphia but from coast-to-coast in college hoops; don’t be surprised if the glass slipper fits La Salle, Temple or Villanova and one of them makes a memorable run in March Madness.