La Salle, Villanova improve NCAA tournament resumes

La Salle, Villanova improve NCAA tournament resumes
January 28, 2013, 10:45 am
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A week ago I thought there was a real possibility that the Philadelphia schools would be shut out from the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1977. But now after a wild weekend of college hoops, I‘m not so sure about that.

There are seven weeks until selection Sunday and teams across the country will rise and fall each week as we approach March Madness. One team which is making a serious run for national recognition is the La Salle Explorers.

Over a 72-hour period, La Salle did something the university has not seen in more than 60 years, beating ranked opponents in back-to-back games after disposing of No. 9 Butler and No. 19 VCU. That win over Butler was the Explorers' first victory over a Top 10 team since 1980. Dr. John Giannini, in his ninth season at 20th and Olney, is finally able to see all of his hard work pay off on the court. LaSalle’s RPI is currently at 27, highest in the city and higher than perennial national programs like UConn, UCLA, North Carolina, Georgetown, Wisconsin and Notre Dame. That is no small feat.

As impressive as the Explorers' accomplishments were, Villanova did the impossible. Never before in the long history of Villanova basketball has a Cats team beaten top five opponents back to back in the regular season. A friend of mine asked me which win was more impressive, beating number five Louisville after coming off three straight losses or maintaining focus four days later to stun third-ranked Syracuse?

Villanova has scratched and clawed its way up the RPI rankings to number 50, four spots ahead of Temple. If the Cats make it to the NCAA tournament, this will go down as one of Jay Wright’s best coaching seasons. The same can be said for Giannini.

There is still time for Temple and St Joe’s to make their mark beginning Saturday at Hagan Arena when those two schools go head to head. The loser will be in serious trouble, but a win could change the direction of a season which has been full of surprises.