Super Tuesday: Must-win college hoops

Super Tuesday: Must-win college hoops
March 6, 2012, 5:59 am
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Forget politics. With four huge games on tap tonight, the real Super Tuesday is for Philadelphia college basketball fans.

In the Atlantic 10 conference tournament, both Saint Josephs and La Salle host first-round games with the Hawks taking on Charlotte and the Explorers battling Richmond. In New York, Villanova opens play in the Big East tourney with a matchup against Rutgers. And then Penn closes the regular season game at Princeton in a rivalry game with enormous implications.

To help get you ready for a big night of college hoops, heres a breakdown of all four contests:

Charlotte (13-16, 5-11) at Saint Josephs (19-12, 9-7)Atlantic 10 Tournament First Round
Hagan Arena, 7 p.m.

Setting the scene: St. Joes was one of four teams to finish with a 9-7 conference record but earned the No. 5 seed because of tiebreakers. That may or may not be a good thing since the Hawks face 12th-seeded Charlotte, the first team that beat them at home this season. The winner of this game meets fourth-seeded St. Bonaventure in the quarterfinals in Atlantic City at 2:30 p.m. on Friday.

Season series: In the teams only meeting this season, Charlotte beat St. Joes, 80-71, at Hagan Arena on Dec. 10.

Key matchup: St. Joes head coach Phil Martelli has expressed serious concern about stopping Charlotte 6-foot-9 forward Chris Braswell, who is averaging 15.6 points per game and is coming off a monster 28-point, nine-rebound effort vs. Xavier. The Hawks, though, have excellent big men in their own right with C.J. Aiken, Ronald Roberts and Halil Kanacevic. Whoever wins the paint will likely win the game.

Quotable: We were just slow. Our feet were at times stuck. A lot of the shots we took
just to take a shot. Unless youre taking a shot because you believe its going in, then its really a wasted possession. Phil Martelli, on what went wrong in the Hawks loss to Charlotte on Dec. 10.

Prediction: Yes, Charlotte already defeated St. Joes at Hagan Arena. But the Hawks shot 2 for 21 from three-point range that game and still only lost by five. Dont count on that happening again, especially when you consider how good St. Joes has been at Hagan for most of the season.

St. Joes 71, Charlotte 55
Richmond (16-5, 7-9) at La Salle (20-11, 9-7)
Atlantic 10 Tournament First Round
Tom Gola Arena, 7 p.m.

Setting the scene: La Salle won its final two games of the regular season to finish with 20 wins for the first time in 20 years and earn the No. 7 seed in the league. Tenth-seeded Richmond, the defending A-10 champs, won three of its final four games but failed to finish .500 in the league. The Richmond-La Salle winner advances to play Saint Louis in Fridays quarterfinal at 6:30 p.m.
Season series: On Feb. 8, in a game at Richmond, the host Spiders beat La Salle, 78-76, in the final seconds.

Key matchup: As always when you play Richmond, the most important matchup is figuring out the Spiders Princeton offense and adjusting to their slow-it-down style. If the Explorers are able to use their four guards to get out and run and dictate the pace, theyll make it very tough on their guests.
Quotable: Their style of play is unique. Even though you get a little used to it from playing them year after year, its still different from your typical game. Youre dealing with different angles, a lot of switching on defense. Its always an adjustment to play them. La Salle coach John Giannini

Prediction: This one is truly a toss-up and may come down to the last minute like the last time these two teams met. But it would be a shame if this La Salle squad, one of the best in decades, cant find its way to Atlantic City.

La Salle 75, Richmond 71
Villanova (12-18, 5-13) vs. Rutgers (6-12, 14-17)
Big East Tournament First Round
Madison Square Garden, 9 p.m., ESPNU

Setting the scene: Its been a tough season for Villanova, whose 5-13 Big East record puts them as the No. 14 seed in the 16-team league. Rutgers, which finished only one game better than Nova earned the No. 11 seed. The winner of this matchup faces sixth-seeded South Florida in Wednesdays second round.
Season series: These two teams played each other just a few days ago with Villanova holding off Rutgers, 77-71, on the road on March 1.

Key matchup: Against Villanova, the Rutgers freshman guard trio of Myles Mack, Eli Carter and Jerome Seagears combined to score 40 points to help the Scarlet Knights nearly erase all of a 16-point Cats lead. How these rookies will do in their first Big East tourney could be a concern for Rutgers, so look for Villanovas more experienced guards to try to teach them a lesson.

Quotable: Were 0-0, tied for first place right now. We all packed for five days. Connecticut did it last year. Thats what youve got to believe. And why not? Theres no reason to go and play if you dont believe that. Villanova coach Jay Wright.

Prediction: The Wildcats probably wont need clothes for five days but they should be able to survive at least one more day against a Rutgers team that is younger and less experienced than they are.

Villanova 72, Rutgers 70
Penn (19-11, 11-2) at Princeton (18-11, 9-4)
Ivy League Regular-Season Finale
Jadwin Gym, 7:30 p.m., ESPN3
Setting the scene: A half-game behind Harvard, Penn needs to beat Princeton in the Ivy Leagues final game to share the Ivy title and set up a one-game playoff with the Crimson to determine the conferences automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Princeton is eliminated from title contention but would surely love nothing more than crushing the spirit of its biggest rival. Interestingly enough, the scene was reversed last season when Princeton beat Penn in its final game to set up a one-game playoff with Harvard, which the Tigers won.

Season series: Penn rolled past Princeton, 82-67, at the Palestra on Jan. 30.

Key matchup: In Princetons Douglas Davis and Penns Zack Rosen, both teams have gifted senior point guards who will have the ball in their hands in the games biggest spots. Rosen has been extremely clutch during Penns seven-game winning streak but Davis is good enough to slow him down. Another key matchup will be Penn defensive specialist Rob Belcore vs. Princeton leading scorer Ian Hummer.

Quotable: Weve never been in this position while weve been here. Its exciting. But make no mistake about it: For us, its nothing yet. We can get coach Jerome Allen off our backs if we hang a banner. Zack Rosen

Prediction: This is a very tough game for Penn in what will be an extremely hostile environment. And Princeton is playing about as well as anyone in the league right now. At this point, though, it just seems foolish to bet against Rosen.

Penn 55, Princeton 54

Email Dave Zeitlin at djzeitlin@gmail.com.