NCAA Cliff notes: season predictions
It seems like only yesterday the greater Philadelphia area was enjoying a magical run through March Madness when the Villanova Wildcats (regarded as a good but not outstanding team) battled through one of the most intense tournaments in our country to reach the Sweet Sixteen. They were knocked off by the eventual champion, UNC, but it was fun while it lasted.
However, Villanova provided one of the few bright spots for the Big Five schools, with St. Joe’s crashing back down to Earth following a stellar season two years ago. Temple’s biggest publicity came from the actions of Nehemiah Ingram (now a reserve defensive lineman for Temple football) and head coach John Chaney. Drexel couldn’t keep up with Old Dominion; La Salle was doomed from the outset; and U Penn, who almost entered the NCAA Tournament by default because of their lack of opposition in the Ivy League, was ousted in the first round by Boston College.
This season, some clubs have high hopes of turning it around. Will they?
Last year, they played well against Colonial Athletic Association opponents with a 12-6 record. Unfortunately, Old Dominion went 15-3 against the CAA. Also, the Dragons haven’t made much progress, considering that the record for the past two seasons were nearly identical. But Drexel is committed to the program set forth for this year, and will make at least some noise in the CAA.
With the sudden temptation to call them the “Quackers” passing rather quickly, Ivy League opponents can count on the Quakers to beat them time and time again. But wait a tick, Penn didn’t make the NCAA Tournament in 2004. Alright, so they’re not invincible, but they’re not missing the dance two years in a row. U Penn will make it to the NCAA Tournament. And once again, they will be booted in the first round.
Well, what is there to say? Nothing? Okay let’s move on.
OK, I’m kidding. But after the debacle a couple years ago, it was clear that this team needed to start from the ground and build. They need someone to step up and be the proverbial pillar for this team who went 10-19 and 5-11 within the A-10. This year, the goals should be reasonable—like finishing with a .500 record. Even that will be a challenge, and to expect more would make about as much sense as having 14 teams in the A-10. Wait a minute…
St. Joe’s Hawks
South Carolina stunned the Hawks in the NIT, stealing the championship from them with a last-second three-pointer. Breaking the hearts of St. Joe’s fans everywhere, this squad needs to come back and regain their form from two years ago. But they’ll need help and the A-10 looks very competitive this year. The team is full of young guys who will possibly give the Hawks a solid squad in a couple of years. But this year? Maybe an NIT appearance if they’re lucky.
Last year, the Owls were in the NIT and booted by Virginia Tech. They went 11-5 against the A-10 Conference. Unfortunately, center Keith Butler, who had been making decent strides in his game, has withdrawn from the university and will not be suiting up for the Owls. But, not everything is all bad. Mardy Collins has been recently named top point guard in the nation by CBS SportsLine.com. He earned a first team all-A-10 spot in 2005, as well as first team All-District. John Chaney will be looking for his 500th win, and will get it with the next victory. Although they are matched up against Duke for the second straight year and have a tough schedule, look for Temple to be a surprise pick to win the A-10. The Owls will be making an NCAA Tournament appearance.
A few years ago, Villanova made a commitment to rebuild and recruit, molding a team that would work together from the start. Well, last year this paid off. Villanova started to relive the 1985 memories of a National Championship and Curtis Sumpter emerged as a force to be reckoned with. And this year, well, Mr. Sumpter is sidelined with a knee injury (isn’t this familiar?) for at least a month. He was injured last year and proved to be a vital cog for the team, which lost to UNC without him in the lineup. However, Jason Fraser filled in nicely, even though his development has been stunted by multiple injuries. The first month of Villanova’s schedule is pretty easy, so Sumpter may not be necessary. This year, the expectation was for Villanova to not only return to the tournament, but to make a Final Four appearance. I still believe that the Wildcats can do this. In fact, I know they will.