By AARON BRACY
As we enter the final week of the regular season in college basketball, the picture is getting clearer for possible NCAA tournament entrants among the six Philadelphia Division I schools.
The two easiest cases first:
-Penn is out. The Quakers are improving but would only reach eight wins by winning their final three regular-season games. Harvard and Princeton already have nine league wins, so Penn can’t get the Ivy’s automatic bid, which goes to the regular-season chances.
-Drexel has to win the Colonial Athletic Association tournament to get in. The Dragons, who are seeded fifth, will need to win three games in three days beginning Saturday in Richmond, Va.
The next easiest case:
-St. Joe’s is almost in the same boat as Drexel, though the Hawks could find themselves on the NCAA bubble by winning their final two regular-season games and getting to the A-10 tourney final, especially if one of those victories is over a ranked St. Louis squad. That would give the Hawks 21 wins. Don’t think even that would be enough though, so figure St. Joe’s has to win the A-10 tourney to get in.
The three NCAA bubble teams:
-La Salle (20-7 overall, 10-4 Atlantic 10) is in great shape for its first NCAA berth since 1992. I think the Explorers need two more wins to get in, though one might be enough. La Salle has GW at home on Wednesday before traveling to A-10 front-runner St. Louis on Saturday. My formula: Win vs. GW, lose at St. Louis, win first A-10 tourney game. Celebrate.
-Temple (21-8, 9-5 A-10) is basically in the same boat as the Explorers. The Owls need two more wins, I believe, to earn their sixth straight NCAA berth. They should get their first one on Wednesday at Fordham, though nothing is easy for these Owls. They’ll have VCU at home on Sunday to wrap up the regular season.
-Villanova (18-12, 9-8 Big East) is in the most tenuous position among the three Philly bubble teams, with losses at Seton Hall on Monday and at Pitt on Sunday severe blows to the Wildcats’ chances. I think Villanova needs three more wins to be a sure entry, though two could be enough. Wednesday’s regular-season finale against No. 7 Georgetown at the Wells Fargo Center suddenly is a must-win. The Hoyas, by the way, are the hottest team in the country with 11 straight victories entering Wednesday.
I think La Salle and Temple will get in, but Villanova won’t. It happened about 10 feet from me on Monday and I still don’t believe it, as Seton Hall overcame a four-point deficit in the final 18 seconds to shock Nova by a point. If left out, that’s a loss that probably will be eating at the Wildcats in the offseason.
Based on what I’ve seen, I don’t think St. Joe’s can win four games in four days in Brooklyn, though I think the Hawks are talented enough to do it if they can get everything clicking.
As for Drexel, the regular season doesn’t matter to me. The Dragons have the talent to win the CAA. I liked their chances more though before I saw their seed. Don’t see Bruiser Flint’s squad winning three games against three days with George Mason and Northeastern the first two.
So, my prediction: La Salle and Temple in. Drexel, Penn, St. Joe’s and Temple out.
Let’s take a swing around the City 6:
DREXEL (13-17, 9-9 CAA)
The Dragons wrapped up a forgettable regular season with Saturday’s win over North Carolina-Wilmington. Now that the sparring sessions are over, the real fight starts for Drexel.
Fifth-seeded Drexel probably has as tough as a path as you can for a seven-team tournament, having to beat No. 4 George Mason in the tourney opener on Saturday before facing top-seeded Northeastern in Sunday’s semifinal.
Drexel is 1-3 against those two this season, though all four contests have been close:
Against George Mason
1/31 W 58-54 Away
2/14 L 68-62 Home
1/8 L 63-58 OT Home
2/2 L 59-52 Away
The Dragons do have a chance though with two of the league’s best players on their roster in Damion Lee and Frantz Massenat. Both had up-and-down seasons, but finished the regular season with respectable numbers.
Lee enters the conference tourney ranked third in the league in scoring (17.4 ppg), while grabbing 5.2 rebounds per contest. Massenat, the league’s preseason Player of the Year, finished with 14.6 ppg and 4.2 assists per game, which is second in the CAA. Also, Daryl McCoy placed fourth in the league in rebounding (8.5 rpg).
Drexel will have to overcome offensive struggles to punch its NCAA ticket, as the Dragons’ 63.3 points per game as a team tied for ninth in the 11-team CAA. If you’re wondering why just seven teams are playing in the tourney, it’s because ODU and Georgia State, which are leaving the CAA after this season are ineligible, as are Towson and North Carolina-Wilmington due to academics.
What’s left for Drexel: Saturday at CAA Tourney vs. George Mason, 3:30 p.m.; Sunday and Monday CAA semifinals and final.
LA SALLE (20-7, 10-4 Atlantic 10)
The Explorers need one win in their two remaining regular-season games to assure themselves of a bye in the Atlantic 10 tournament and an automatic entry into the quarterfinals. More importantly, as mentioned above, I believe La Salle needs two wins to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1992.
Really, it’s no surprise what La Salle has done this season. Ramon Galloway is a Player of the Year candidate in the Atlantic 10 and I’d doubt league coaches would rather have many other point guards than Tyreek Duren.
Galloway averages 17.4 points per game, ranking third in the A-10, while shooting 42 percent from the arc. Duren’s numbers aren’t as important as his leadership, something we saw last month in the Explorers’ loss at Temple when Duren was sidelined for much of the first half in foul trouble, but he net 14.9 points per game and hits 40 percent from the arc.
A junior, Duren has shown continued improvement in each of his three seasons in scoring and 3-point shooting: Freshman 9.8 ppg, 32.1 3PT%; Sophomore 13.2 ppg, 39.2 3PT%; Junior 14.9 ppg; 40.0 3PT%.
The Explorers, who ended a 20-year postseason drought last season with an NIT appearance, are third in the league in scoring (73.2 ppg) and have an awesome offense/defense 3-point combination, ranking fourth in 3-point percentage defense (37.3 percent) and first in 3-point percentage defense (30.4 percent).
What’s left for La Salle: Wednesday vs. George Washington, 7 p.m.; Saturday at St. Louis, 1:30 p.m.
PENN (8-20, 5-6 Ivy League)
No team in the city has suffered more losses this season, though coach Jerome Allen isn’t into excuses. The Quakers started the season knowing they wouldn’t have all-everything guard Zack Rosen, who graduated, but not thinking they’d be minus star big man Fran Dougherty (illness/elbow injury) for most of the season.
The Quakers haven’t thrown in the towel, though, and had an impact on the Ivy picture with Saturday’s surprising win over league contender Harvard.
Allen has some nice pieces to work around going forward in freshman guard Tony Hicks and rookie big man Darien Nelson-Henry. Hicks continued his hot play of late, scoring 24 points in Saturday’s 75-72 win over the Crimson. He is averaging 10 points in 22.8 minutes for the season, but has netted 23.4 points in his last four games.
Nelson-Henry has cooled of late after a stellar seven-game stretch, but his 18 points and 11 boards were huge against Harvard. For the season, he’s getting 7.7 points and 4.3 rebounds in 17.9 minutes.
What’s left for Penn: Friday at Brown, 7 p.m.; Saturday at Yale, 7 p.m., March 12 vs. Princeton, 7:30 p.m.
SAINT JOSEPH’S (16-11, 7-7 Atlantic 10)
The Hawks bounced back from Wednesday’s loss at St. Louis that wasn’t a bad defeat but was very much needed with Saturday’s shellacking of Fordham. Afterward, coach Phil Martelli took issue with anyone focusing on the fact the Hawks haven’t clinched an A-10 tourney berth.
Not sure why, though, because it’s certainly a big story for the league’s preseason favorite to be in position to fail to make the conference tourney, which includes 12 of 16 teams, with three games remaining. The Hawks still haven’t clinched a spot in Brooklyn, though they are in great position now. St. Joe’s needs one win in their final two regular-season games to lock up a berth in the A-10 tourney.
Once there, the Hawks will need to get hot if they want to make their first NCAA berth since 2008 – and, surprisingly, their second since the great Elite 8 run of 2003-04. The good news for St. Joe’s is the Hawks will have some good feelings at the Barclays Center, site of the league tourney.
St. Joe’s played probably its best game of the season in a 79-70 overtime win over Notre Dame on Nov. 16 before losing the following day to Florida State 73-66. Ronald Roberts was particularly lethal in Brooklyn, combining for 36 points and 27 rebounds in the two games.
Roberts has been the Hawks’ standout this season and he leads the A-10 in offensive rebounding (3.5) while placing third in total rebounding (8.4). He also gets 11.7 points per contest.
The Hawks will need more scoring, in general, to make any noise in Brooklyn as they rank 11th in the conference in scoring (67.8 ppg).
They’ll also hope for a healthy return of big man C.J. Aiken, who missed Saturday’s game against the Rams with back and wrist soreness. Aiken leads the A-10 in blocks at 2.9 rejections per game.
What’s left for St. Joe’s: Wednesday vs. Rhode Island, 7 p.m.; Saturday at Charlotte, 7 p.m.
TEMPLE (21-8, 9-5 Atlantic 10)
Nothing has come easy for the Owls this season. It’s easy to see why, as Temple doesn’t defend well. Home losses to Duquesne and Canisius proved that, as did the Owls’ season-long habit of letting teams stay close. That happened in Saturday’s win over Rhode Island, though Temple got late-game heroics again from Khalif Wyatt to stay in the NCAA picture.
The Owls are 12th in the 16-team A-10 in scoring defense (67.9 ppg) and give up 35.2 percent from the arc, ranking 13th in the league. On the plus side, Temple is fifth in the conference in scoring (72.3 ppg).
A big reason for that is Wyatt, who is the best player in the city and should get the league’s Player of the Year award. The senior leads the A-10 in scoring at 19.6 points per game.
The good news for Owls fans, though, is Wyatt has been getting some big help of late from Scootie Randall. After starting well, Randall went through a lengthy slump but has busted out of it in a big way of late.
The senior wing has scored in double-figures in each of his last six games, scoring 15.3 points per game while hitting 47.9 percent (34-for-71) from the field and 41 percent (16-for-39) for the arc. The surge has helped up his season averages, which sit at 11.7 ppg, 38.9 FG% and 30.8 3PT%.
What’s next for Temple: Wednesday at Fordham, 7 p.m.; Sunday vs. VCU, Noon.
VILLANOVA (18-12, 9-8)
The Wildcats had a four-point lead with 1:26 left at Pitt and four-point lead with 18 seconds left at Seton Hall. They couldn’t hold either and the result, unfortunately for Nova Nation, could mean Villanova won’t hear its name called on Selection Sunday.
Villanova will have to figure out how to stop white-hot Otto Porter Jr. and Georgetown, which has won 11 straight games – four of which came over ranked opponents.
In case you’re wondering, here are some probable bubble teams the Wildcats (and La Salle and Temple) are trying to fend off: Boise State (20-8, 8-6 Mountain West), Iowa State (19-10, 9-7 Big 12), Tennessee (17-11, 9-7 SEC), Alabama (19-10, 11-5 SEC), Baylor (17-12, 8-8 Big 12), Kentucky (20-9, 11-5 SEC), Southern Mississippi (22-7, 11-3 Conference USA), Mississippi (21-8, 10-6 SEC), Maryland (20-9, 8-8 ACC), Arizona State (20-10, 9-8 Pac 12), Arkansas (18-11, 9-7 SEC), Providence (16-12, 8-8 Big East).
What’s left for Villanova: Wednesday vs. Georgetown, 7 p.m. (Wells Fargo Center).
-Philly teams’ RPI rankings: 1. Temple 42, 2. La Salle 45, 3. Villanova 55, 4. St. Joe’s 83, 5. Drexel 207, 6. Penn 278.
Aaron Bracy’s City 6 Rankings (Through Games March 3)
2. La Salle
4. St. Joe’s