College hoops fever taking over Philly

Nova-Joe
Villanova and Saint Joseph’s are bubble teams for the NCAA tournament, but strong finishes in their conference tourneys could punch tickets in March.
Paige Ozaroski/Metro

Before the season started, it seemed feasible to believe that four teams among the City Six — or Big Five, plus one — could earn a berth in the coveted NCAA tournament.

Those four were Saint Joseph’s, Drexel, La Salle and Temple. Villanova and Penn didn’t seem to be in the mix at all.

Fast forward and it appeared that no team would be repping Philadelphia in the Big Dance, something that hasn’t happened since 1977.

In mid-November, La Salle lost at home to Central Connecticut State. A month later, Temple was beaten by Canisius at the Liacouras Center. Then Saint Joseph’s lost to Fairfield at Hagan Arena. Drexel, an NCAA lock before the season began, struggled mightily with home losses to Towson, Northeastern and Rider. And Villanova was dropped at home by Columbia. Yes, Columbia.

But it all changed with a crazy week.

Villanova defeated No. 5 Louisville and No. 3 Syracuse in the same week. La Salle, which hasn’t been to the Big Dance since 1992, downed No. 9 Butler and No. 19 VCU.

Amazing.

What it also proves is that basketball in this city wasn’t as bad as many previously thought.

Fast forward to today and La Salle, Villanova, Temple are all in the tournament discussion. Saint Joseph’s is on the outside, but hardly eliminated. Penn is virtually out as it continues to struggle through a difficult season — unless the Quakers rally with an unlikely run through the Ivy League.

One team out of the City Six will likely wind up in the tournament. Wouldn’t it be something special to see three or four in the field of 68?

Fast forward a little more to Selection Sunday and we’ll find out. It should be a fun ride.

Here is a review of the city’s recent success:

La Salle » Hasn’t been to NCAAs since 1992, when it lost in first round to Seton Hall
Temple » Has advanced to five straight NCAAs under Fran Dunphy
Saint Joseph’s » Hasn’t been to Big Dance since 2008, when it lost in first round to Oklahoma
Villanova » Missed NCAAs last season, but had appeared in seven consecutive prior to that, including a Final Four run in 2009
Penn » Searching for first berth since 2007
Drexel » Looking for first berth since 1996



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