NCAA Preview: Philly Schools

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Call it the field of 68, the big dance, or March madness. No matter what you call it everyone becomes a college basketball fan over the next three weeks, especially tomorrow and Friday when the first round games are played in what seems like a constant stream of basketball. Philadelphia area colleges offer two teams that are going dancing.

Temple Owls vs. Penn State Nittany Lions. Thursday, March 17, 2011. Tucson, AZ.

This matchup pits an experienced, and arguably overrated 10 seed in Penn State versus an A-10 conference power in Temple that is fairly upset with the seventh seed they’ve been handed. After a few disappointing appearances in the last three first round games the Owls are looking to play a second round game for the first time since 2001; which is coincidentally the last time Penn State played in the NCAA tournament, where they were able to advance to the Sweet 16.

Penn State starts four seniors, including the school’s career scoring leader Talor Battle, and certainly proved, in the Big 10 tournament, that they know how to play defense, however the Nittany Lions often struggle to find offense past the aforementioned Battle and Jeff Brooks. After a disappointing second half of the season that saw the hopes for the Nittany Lions dwindle, the team rebounded with a strong Big 10 performance where they were able to knock off Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan State, highlighted by the win over the Badgers that broke records for the lowest point total in a game since the tournaments inception 14 years ago, a 36-33 win. By the time the Nittany Lions were beaten in the championship game to national championship contender Ohio State their fate had already been sealed.

Temple University’s resume is a bit more impressive, featuring only seven losses on the season and winners of 13 out of their last 16 games. However, the Owls were unable to win their fourth straight A-10 tournament crown, as they were ousted by Richmond in the semis. Where Penn State relies on mainly two scoring threats the Owls feature the prototypical-balanced attack. Scottie Randall, Ramone Moore, and Lavoy Allen lead the team in scoring, but many players and analysts point to Juan Fernandez as the most important piece to the puzzle. Fernandez makes up for his lackluster shooting with great vision, a calming influence, and above average ball control. If Randall, who is currently questionable for the game, can play through his injury it could give the Owls a big boost.

Pick – It’s no secret that this match-up will be a low scoring affair with neither team cracking the 60s, but do not be surprised to see Temple University get off the schneid and finally stick around for the weekend thanks to their overall balance and ability to grind out wins.

Fight Fight Fight for the Cherry and the White

George Mason Patriots vs. Villanova Wildcats. Friday, March 18, 2011. Cleveland, OH

Historically there is no match-up in the NCAA tournament where the higher seeded team has a better winning percentage than the lower seeded team, except for the eight versus nine matchup. Is that possible foreshadowing? Perhaps. College basketball fans may remember the final four run made by George Mason a few years ago, which tends to play with people’s predictions a bit more than it should. Villanova, a Big East monster in recent years, is an underperforming team at the moment. Being the coldest team in the tournament means that there is only one way to go after suffering five straight losses to end the season.

George Mason gained an at large berth thanks to their deceiving record of 26-6, which featured an impressive 16 game win streak, a stretch that was eventually put to an end by Virginia Commonwealth in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) tournament. The Patriots know how to make good use of the basketball, averaging exactly 73 points per game on nearly 50% shooting, and play relatively stingy defense, allowing just over 61 points per game to opponents. Another team that features balanced scoring, six Patriot players led the team in scoring throughout the season, highlighted by senior guard Cam Long and junior forward Ryan Pearson, both of whom will be counted on to have enormous games if the Patriots look to make another long run this year. Having a notable win/loss percentage is one thing, but when you pull back the numbers and realize the Patriots won only three games against RPI Top 50 opponents, Harvard, Old Dominion, and VCU to be exact, the confidence that many people have in the Patriots may fade.

Villanova University’s basketball team is freezing, and was unable to figure out the troubles from the regular season as they entered the Big East Tournament. With some time off before their first round game coach Jay Wright is looking to correct the mistakes. Losers of 10 out of their last 15, the Wildcats are a shell of the one-time top-10 team in the land, a distinction given to the Wildcats early in the season. Shaking off the rust may be secondary to gaining the confidence that is needed for a long run. The team features two quality senior guards in Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes, both as good as any other guards they will come across, as well as sophomore upstart Maalik Wayns, a player capable of big scoring numbers when needed. With a lackluster bench and an overall average big man in Mouphtaou Yarou, the key to the Wildcats is getting transition baskets and playing fast.

Pick – Villanova is too good of a team to lose this game. With senior guards staring at their last college basketball games the idea that they want to go away quickly is unlikely. While it is doubtful that the Wildcats will make any sort of run in the grand scheme of things, this game will easily showcase the difference between competition in the CAA and the Big East, commonly known as the deepest college basketball conference in the country.

V for Villanova

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