Philly hoops March Madness: Can Big 5 get a second team into Big Dance?

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This may be the first March Madness in a long time that includes more women’s teams from the Big 5 than men’s teams, as four of the five men’s programs still have a lot of work to do to punch their ticket to the Big Dance.

The reigning national champions, Villanova, are projected as a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament by ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi. For every other program, winning their respective conference tournament is the only thing left to save them.

No. 13 St. Joe’s (11-19, 4-14) gets things started on Wednesday night against No. 12 UMass (14-17, 4-14) in the first round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament. The Hawks, who were minutes away from a Sweet 16 bid in last year’s NCAA Tournament, are losers of nine of their last 10 games and have lost to the Minutemen twice this season.

They’ll need a heroic performance from leading scorer Lamarr “Fresh” Kimble (15.5 points per game) to advance. The winner will face No. 5 St. Bonaventure (19-11, 11-7) on Thursday at 2:30 on NBCSN.

No. 8 La Salle (15-14, 9-9), arguably the second best team in the Big 5 this season, gets things started early on Thursday with a noon matchup against No. 9 Davison (15-14, 8-10) in the second round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament.

The Explorers, who have been injury riddled for the latter half of the season, are finally back to full strength and are searching for one final push to reach the Big Dance. The Explorers beat the Wildcats, 91-83, back on Jan. 19 led by a shooting clinic from senior Jordan Price, who poured in 29 points. They’re hoping for an encore on Thursday.

The winner will face No. 1 Dayton (24-6, 15-3) in the quarterfinals on Friday at noon on NBCSN.

Following La Salle’s game on Thursday, No. 8 Temple (16-15, 7-11) will get its tournament dreams started in the first round of the American Athletic Conference Tournament against No. 9 East Carolina (14-17, 6-12) at 3:30 p.m. on ESPNU.

The Owls have had an up-and-down season, but are winners of their last two games and have a championship mentality heading into the AAC Tournament. The Owls are led by guards Shizz Alston Jr. (14 points, 4.1 assists) and Quinton Rose (10 points, 3.9 rebounds) along with forward Obi Enechionyia (12.9 points, 5.8 rebounds). The Owls have split their season series with the Pirates and were defeated 78-64 in their last meeting on Feb. 15.

The winner will face No. 1 SMU (27-4, 17-1) in the quarterfinals on Friday at noon on ESPN2.

Last to learn their NCAA Tournament fate is No. 4 Penn (13-14, 6-8) who faces off against No. 1 Princeton (21-6, 14-0) on Saturday at 1:30 on ESPNU. The Quakers will have home court advantage at the Palestra in the inaugural Ivy League tournament.

Hope looks bleak for the Quakers as they have lost both matchups with the Tigers this season, but as anyone who has seen a game in the Palestra knows, all records go out the window when two teams face in Philly’s cathedral of basketball.

The winner will face either No. 2 Harvard (18-9, 10-4) or No. 3 Yale (17-10, 9-5) at noon in the championship on ESPN2

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