Since I'm still recovering from the Eagles' season being over and so can't get myself to write anything about football right now and baseball really isn't doing much interesting, it's time for basketball! Hey, guess what? March Madness is in two months! All the brackets and the Cinderellas and the analysts picking chalk for the Final Four and all that. So excited. Unfortunately, I really haven't paid much attention to what has been going on in the NCAA, so I can use my blogging as an excuse to do so!
However, it's a daunting task to get myself back into all of college basketball at once, so we'll start small with the Philadelphia local teams that make up the unofficial Big Five conference. Let's begin at the bottom and work our way up.
St. Joseph's Hawks (5-12, 0-4 Atlantic 10)
My, how the mighty have fallen. After achieving a 1-seed in the tournament in 2003-04 and winning the A-10 in '04-'05, Phil Martelli's Hawks have gone just 33-47 since 2008 and are looking at an even worse showing this year if the start of Atlantic 10 play is any indication (they're currently last in the conference). Losses to bad St. Louis and Western Kentucky teams don't really help the cause.
The team IS young, with only 3 upperclassmen and only one of those, senior Forward Idris Hilliard, getting significant playing time. Their leading scorer, sophomore Carl Jones, is averaging almost 18 points per game and certainly could anchor an improving team in the next couple years.
Pennsylvania Quakers (5-7, 0-0 Ivy)
Hurrah, hurrah, Pennsylvania! Um, at least my Quakers are just two wins away from improving on last year's record, right? The Quakers have not recovered from the loss of Coach Fran Dunphy to Temple (we'll discuss him a little more later), going 32-24 in the Ivies in the four years since he left after going 49-7 in the four years prior, and that includes a 13-1 year in 2006 when Dunphy's players were all still there.
Junior point guard Zack Rosen has been the main scorer for the team the last two years, but he's limited slightly in out-of-conference play by the fact that he's a red-headed Jewish kid from New Jersey. Not to say that he's talented and whatnot, but it's just hard to compete with teams that actually recruit athletes for their athleticism. And yet he is second on the team in rebounds. Senior forward Jack Eggleston is the team's second-leading scorer and leading rebounder just in time for him to graduate this year and leave us with nobody who can do anything in the paint.
At least you can blame three of their losses on a tough schedule, losing to three top-15 teams in Pitt, Kentucky, and Villanova, and they're facing Temple on Wednesday. They're trending upward, I guess, but just in time for me to graduate and not enjoy the spoils.
La Salle Explorers (8-10, 0-3 Atlantic 10)
The Magellans haven't made the NCAA tournament since 1992 and really haven't threatened the conference much in the last several years, ending the year in the bottom three in the conference twice in the last four years. They do have two big guys averaging 15 points and 8 boards per game this year, sophomore center Aaric Murray and senior forward Jerrell Williams, but a top-heavy Atlantic 10 and tough games against Baylor, Missouri, and of course Villanova are keeping La Salle down.
I really don't have much to say about La Salle other than that, though, as I have never known someone who goes there nor seen them succeed in any capacity, so on to the next one I guess. Win some games and we'll talk.
Temple Owls (12-4, 3-1 Atlantic 10, AP #19)
The 3-time reigning Atlantic 10 champions look poised to continue the trend with a 12-4 start. A loss recently to Duquesne stings because they now reside atop the conference, but it's early and Temple has the pedigree and players to get it done.
This year's team returns point guard Juan Fernandez and forward Lavoy Allen (who was the A-10 Most Improved Player last year) and also boasts an additional scoring threat in junior guard Ramone Moore, which gives them some nice balance and more varied threats than what they had in past years with just one elite scorer in Dionte Christmas. This seems to have helped them thus far as they have beaten #10 Georgetown and lost a nailbiter to Villanova.
Coach Fran Dunphy made 9 NCAA tournament appearances with Penn from 1989 to 2006, winning just one game. Many thought that when he was given greater recruiting resources at Temple he would have greater tourney success, but he has gone 0-3 in the NCAA tournament at Temple, including an upset loss to a 12-seeded Ivy League Cornell team. I like the way that the team looks this year, though, and if they can get hot at the right time or get a nice matchup in the tournament maybe Fran can get it done.
Villanova Wildcats (16-1, 4-0 Big East, AP #7)
The 'Cats are a perennial power in the Big Five and in the Big East as well, going 26-2 in the Big Five and 73-33 in the ultra-competitive Big East since 2004. After last year they lost their star point guard, Scottie Reynolds, but the Coreys (Fisher and Stokes) and big man Mouphtaou Yarou have proven to be more than sufficient in maintaining the program's status among the tops in the nation.
However, I am not confident in the team's chances in the Big East and NCAA tournament due to their relatively soft schedule so far (although they are about to play top-ten teams in UConn and Syracuse in their next two games). Their wins against Big Five competition have not been particularly impressive, winning their three games against teams not named Temple by an average of 8.7 points against teams that are a combined 18-29. I was at the Temple game and came away from it not particularly impressed.
Despite that, Jay Wright's resume with the team has been solid, earning 8 NCAA tournament bids and going 12-8 in the tournament while achieving, on average, 0.2 wins per tournament more than the expectation based on his seed, 13th among coaches who have made as many appearances (see bracketscience.com for more on that).