It was a lot of fun to watch the elation displayed by La Salle’s basketball players when they learned the Explorers had been selected to play in the NCAA tournament. Villanova and Temple team members were pretty darn happy, too, even though the chances of their inclusions were considered more likely than those of their fellow Big Five competitors.
Together with the good news, there was a bit of harsh reality, as all three learned their opponents’ identities. While La Salle draws a manageable Boise State squad in its play-in tilt Wednesday, it must face Kansas State—in Kansas City—if it subdues the Broncos. ‘Nova, meanwhile, will tangle with a resurgent North Carolina squad, while the Owls face high-scoring NC State.
This might anger some city hoops fans, but none of the locals will be playing next Sunday. It’s great that they made it this far, but it will be one-and-a-half-and-done for them in the 2013 tournament. In other words, La Salle beats Boise State Wednesday night, and then everybody falls on Friday.
Now, before you take my name in vain (like that would be a first), know that the trio of qualifiers represents a strong showing by the local basketball community, and losing second-round games is no disgrace. Certainly, no one wants to be eliminated quickly, but given the teams’ prospects at the beginning of the season and their relatively uneven performances throughout the year, just getting there is pretty darn good. If you dispute that, just ask Penn, Drexel and St. Joe’s whether they would accept invitations and early dismissals.
To prove that this is not some contrarian position, designed merely to agitate and attract ire, here is the breakdown of the teams’ chances and their formidable opponents.
VILLANOVA in NCAA Tournament
Some might say a prediction of North Carolina over the Wildcats comes courtesy of the Tar Heels’ name brand. If poor, little Villanova has to go up against storied UNC, it doesn’t have a chance. That’s not the case at all.
Carolina has won eight of its last 10 and 11 of its last 15, with the losses coming to Duke and Miami, both of which are two seeds in the tourney. The Heels force a lot of turnovers (15.3 a game), not the best news for a team that coughs it up 15.7 times a night. UNC makes 37.4 percent of its three-pointers, while ‘Nova allows rivals to make 36.4 percent of their treys. Again, not a good thing.
North Carolina has a pair of productive point guards (Dexter Strickland and Marcus Paige) that should handle any pressure the Villanova defense creates, and in 6-7 guard Reggie Bullock, the Tar Heels have an all-around standout who is playing his best ball of the season right now. If UNC had a fire-breather in the middle, it would be a top-three seed. That’s major weakness Carolina has, but Villanova isn’t exactly blessed with a deep crop of highly productive big men, either. If this one turns into a racehorse affair, UNC could cruise. But even in the halfcourt, Villanova is at a disadvantage.
Prediction: North Carolina 74, Villanova 67
TEMPLE in NCAA Tournament
North Carolina State isn’t the worst possible opponent for the Owls, but it’s in the discussion. The Wolfpack has a pair of interior players, C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell, capable of scoring well and pounding the boards. That’s not good news for a Temple squad that struggles to rebound (minus 1.3 margin) and doesn’t have a surfeit of big men capable of defending the hoop.
Further, NC State makes 39.1 percent of its three-point tries, while the Owls permit opponents to succeed 35.5 percent of the time from long range. And the Pack’s penurious 29.9 percent three-point defense could make life difficult for Temple, which makes only 33.4 percent of its shots behind the arc.
Five State players average at least 12 ppg, and the team heads into the tourney on a run, having captured eight of its last 11. The Wolfpack has defeated North Carolina and Duke this year and scared Miami in the ACC semis before succumbing late. The good news for Temple is that the Wolfpack will surrender some points, but the Owls will have to be at their rebounding and defending bests to keep NC State from scoring plenty itself.
Prediction: North Carolina State 72, Temple 63
LA SALLE in NCAA Tournament
Expect jumpers to be flying from all corners of UD Arena when the Explorers meet Boise State in a first-round play-in game Wednesday night. La Salle averages 20.5 three-point attempts a game, while the Broncos put up 20 a night. Both teams drain a good number of their long-range shots (La Salle 37.1 percent, BSU 39.1 percent) and have several proficient launchers from outside the arc.
La Salle defends the three better than the Broncs do, but Boise State is a better rebounding team, although neither squad is blessed with a strong collection of big men. If the Explorers can keep Anthony Drmic and Derrick Marks from getting too many good looks, they should advance into the tourney proper.
Waiting will be Kansas State—in Kansas City—and La Salle had better have its body armor on. The Wildcats play excellent three-point defense, limiting rivals to fewer than five long-distance baskets a game. KSU doesn’t turn it over much, shares the ball well and can drill the trey itself (36.3 percent). It’s not an impossible task, but beating Kansas State will be tough, especially after playing two days earlier.
Prediction: La Salle 77, Boise State 74
Kansas State 68, La Salle 62
• We’ll chalk Roy Halladay’s abbreviated St. Patrick’s Day appearance up to a stomach virus, although the Phillies will have to forgive us for not believing much of what they say about the starter. Last year, they not only lied about his compromised physical condition but also excoriated those with the temerity to report the truth. Here’s hoping Halladay feels better soon, but if his next start is cut short by a reported case of beriberi or dengue fever, pardon us for being suspicious.
• The Eagles’ decidedly unsexy free agent moves demonstrate that this team understands it has a gigantic talent shortfall and that it’s going to take a while to build things back up. So, the Birds have added stopgap performers and will turn to the draft to construct a roster capable of contending. Impatient fans may not like that, but it’s the wisest course to take—provided the team can make some solid choices in April.
• Hats off to all the area boys and girls teams that have reached the semifinals of the PIAA hoops tournament. But the sentimental choice to gain a title has to be Chester, which has little else to celebrate and could be facing a breakup if the state doesn’t find a way to keep the high school solvent.