The Big Five: Conference Tournament Outlooks for Villanova, Penn, and three Underachievers
Let’s talk about college basketball.
We really haven’t done much of anything on it this season, outside of the occasional Villanova mention, because we were preoccupied with your Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.
And outside of the Wildcats, it was a down year for the Big 5 and Drexel, a crop that isn’t putting multiple teams in the big dance without pulling some Jon Dorenbos-level conference tournament magic, starting tonight and tomorrow. Temple and Saint Joe’s didn’t give us much this season, while Penn put together an excellent year amid very little press and fanfare.
Let’s take a look at where each squad stands, as we begin what I think is one of the best sporting weeks of the year. I put the conference tournament brackets below each section, courtesy of CBS Sports.
Villanova: 27-4, (14-4 Big East*)
tournament status: locked
Nova looks set for a #1 seed despite a home trip-up against Saint John’s. The road losses at Providence, Creighton, and Butler are whatever; all three of those teams finished well above .500. The Wildcats beat regular season champion Xavier twice while rolling to a 13-0 out of conference mark.
They’re the #2 seed in the conference tournament, so tomorrow they’ll play the winner of tonight’s DePaul/Marquette game. From there they’d play the Seton Hall/Butler winner. Nova went 7-1 against those four teams with a pair of close road wins at Hall and Marquette, so I obviously like their chances to meet Xavier in the tournament final.
Right now a lot of brackets project Villanova and Xavier to both snag #1 seeds in the dance, so I don’t know what happens to the loser of that likely conference tournament final, a 28-5 team. One of Duke and Michigan State bombing out early probably allows both Nova and Xavier to get top seeds, otherwise it’s in the hands of the committee:
*It’s not the Big East without UConn, Syracuse, Pitt, and maybe WVU. I don’t care what anyone says. That doesn’t mean I disrespect the conference, because I don’t, I think it’s an excellent conference, but it’s just not the same without those teams. Throw in Louisville, Notre Dame, and Cincy, too. Those were the days.
Temple: 16-14 (8-10 AAC)
tournament status: incredibly doubtful
A disappointing season for the Owls, who lost four of five down the stretch to finish 7th in the American.
They’re not participating in March Madness unless they win the conference tournament, which begins tomorrow night in Orlando against Tulane. Temple split the season series with the Green Wave, so I like their chances to win the 7/10 game on a neutral floor.
Wichita State follows, a team that the Owls really should have beat twice this season. They knocked off the Shockers in overtime in North Philly but blew a 14-point halftime lead in the road loss. I actually like this as an underrated Friday night matchup, assuming Temple gets there.
Beyond that, I just don’t think they can get past Houston or Cincy, right? 18-15 isn’t gonna do it. They might win a game or two before inevitably heading to the NIT:
Saint Joe’s: 15-15 (10-8 Atlantic 10)
tournament status: incredibly doubtful, but better than Temple
A five-game losing streak that started in January and ended in February killed off the marginal at-large tournament hopes that Saint Joe’s still had. They didn’t help themselves with a 4-5 start, struggling in the out of conference slate with losses to Toledo and Washington State.
The Hawks did finish a respectable 10-8 in the A10, ending on a three-game win streak to earn a double-bye in the conference tournament. They play on Friday against one of George Mason, UMass, or La Salle. They would meet #1 seed Rhode Island in the semis before having to beat Saint Bonaventure or Davidson in the final.
Saint Joe’s lost twice to Mason this year, but the margins were small, just two points on the road and three at home. The A10 tournament is in Washington, about 30 minutes from the GMU campus in Fairfax, so it might feel a bit like a road game if that matchup happens.
Like Temple, two wins and a loss in the conference tournament isn’t enough. But the A10 sees a big dropoff after URI and the Bonnies, so I like the Hawks’ chances a lot better than the Owls’ chances:
La Salle: 13-18 (7-11 Atlantic 10)
tournament status: life support
La Salle plays tonight against UMass in the 12/13 game. They actually did alright in the Big 5 this year, beating Temple at home, winning at Penn, and splitting with Saint Joe’s.
Everything else was pretty bad.
The Explorers would have to win five tournament games in a row to qualify for March Madness, so, no, it ain’t happening.
Penn: 22-8 (12-2 Ivy League)
tournament status: it’s there for the taking
It looked like another disappointing year for Penn after an 0-2 start and a double overtime home loss to La Salle.
But they turned it around drastically, going 22-6 the rest of the way and finishing 12-2 in the Ivy League to share the conference title with Harvard. They’ll be the #2 seed in the four-team conference tournament, which begins Saturday at the Palestra. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m actually really excited for Penn/Harvard round three on Sunday.
The Quakers have to get by Yale first, with whom they split the season series. Penn held Yale to 50 points in a 9-point home win back in February, then lost by one on a road buzzer beater about a week ago. Penn is the better team, so I expect them to get it done Saturday.
Neither Penn nor Harvard has a good enough resume to qualify for an at-large bid, so winning the conference tournament is the only way in:
Drexel: 13-20 (6-12 Colonial)
tournament status: squashed
Drexel lost in the second round of the CAA tournament on Sunday.
The Dragons had another sad year, but we can always remember the historic 34-point rally to beat Delaware: