Now that the Eagles are done, I need to find other things to blog about other than the Flyers. Which is why I am very thankful for college basketball. This has the potential to be a very big year for Philadelphia schools, in addition to Penn State. The first couple days of March Madness are much more fun when there are multiple local teams that I can support and root for. And that may very well be the case this year. Here's a team by team look at the Big 5 schools thus far and some others in the area.
Villanova: Even though I like quite a few, Villanova is my favorite college basketball team, and this year they could very well be in the running for a spot in the Final Four. While they are just entering the heart of their Big East schedule now, they are playing very good basketball and in their last game had a very impressive showing against a good Louisville squad. With 1st and 2nd round games in Washington D.C. and Sweet 16 and Elite games in Newark, New Jersey, Villanova could find themselves surrounded by a lot of their own supporters should they perform good enough for the NCAA to reward them with these close cities.
Temple: Even though Temple is not my #1 favorite, they are #2, in large part because of the multiple family ties I have to that school. Add to that the fact that Fran Dunphy is their coach, and you have a winning combination. Oh, and that team is real good as well. Juan Fernandez and Lavoy Allen are beasts. Temple is currently ranked in the Top 25 and could conceivably earn a Top 4 seed if they continue to play well in the A-10.
Penn State: I pick on Penn State basketball a lot. They are an easy target, especially for someone who has spent his college basketball watching life a Villanova fan. But they are not that bad this year. In fact, they defeated Michigan State and Illinois in consecutive games, the first time they beat ranked teams back-to-back since the 1950s. They may get knocked down back to earth a little bit when they play Ohio State on Saturday. Sure they lost to Maine earlier this year, but if they can continue to win games in the Big 10 and maybe win some games in the Big 10 tournament, and Penn State may finally crack the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001.
Drexel: Drexel comes from the same conference similar to George Mason. And despite having six teams in the RPI top 100 and five in the RPI top 75, the CAA does not have the respect that a similar conference, the A-10 does. And Drexel may find themselves as a much talked about bubble team if they do not win the CAA tournament. This is a team that has a good non-conference schedule and has beaten Louisville this year. Of all the teams here, Drexel may be the most interesting team to follow. Drexel is a very good engineering school in Philadelphia not really known for its athletics. Even if Drexel gets in and ends up a 16 seed and loses 103-51 to Duke, just getting there would be a huge accomplishment.
Bucknell: The engineering school known for it's NCAA tournament has a decent out of conference record and could threaten for the Patriot League title. It goes without say that this conference won't get any at larges.
Lehigh: They won the Patriot League title last year.....
Lafayette: Lost the Patriot League championship last year to their bitter rivals, the aforementioned Lehigh. This team is a no-hoper unless they make an improbable run at the Patriot League tournament.
Saint Joseph's: My how this team has fallen since the days of Jameer Nelson. 5-11 overall, 0-2 in the A-10. Barring a miraculous tournament victory, you can count out the Hawks this year.
La Salle: A slightly better team than St. Joe's, but again, a team that probably has no chance at an at-large bid. Once again, the only hope here is an NCAA Tournament bid.
Pennsylvania: When Fran Dunphy left, so did Penn's NCAA tournament appearances. Coincidence? I think not.
Right now if I were to make a prediction, I would say that Villanova, Temple, and Penn State get in the tournament, with everyone else on the outside. I think Drexel will end up just short because the NCAA does not like the CAA, and there is too much competition in that conference to beleive that Drexel will win it.