La Salle, Temple play for NCAA bids

LaSalle's head coach Dr. John Giannini looses his temper at an official after a close call in the second half. Big Five matchup. La Salle at Temple. Game action 02/21/2013 ( MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer )
LaSalle's head coach Dr. John Giannini looses his temper at an official after a close call in the second half. Big Five matchup. La Salle at Temple. Game action 02/21/2013 ( MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer )
Posted: March 09, 2013

Although its hold on its first NCAA tournament invitation in more than two decades remains tenuous, La Salle can all but cement a trip to the dance Saturday by going into one of the toughest arenas in the Atlantic Ten for a visiting team and leaving with a victory.

The Explorers (21-7, 11-4) will pay a call on Chaifetz Arena, home of the St. Louis Billikens, in a matchup for seeding since both teams have clinched a first-round bye in next week's A-10 tournament.

Believe it or not, a win by the Explorers and a loss by Virginia Commonwealth, the A-10 coleader with St. Louis, at Temple will clinch the top seed for La Salle in the tournament since it would prevail in a three-team tiebreaker because of wins over the Rams and the Billikens.

Even with a loss, a three-team deadlock for the third and fourth seeds favors the Explorers for one of the four opening-round byes.

However, a victory on St. Louis' home court, where it is 16-2 overall and 6-1 in conference games, would have major ramifications for an NCAA bid. The Explorers, who last played in the tournament in 1992, have seen their RPI drop to 40 against the soft segment of their schedule despite three victories.

Between the bracketologists, Jerry Palm of has dropped La Salle into one of the play-in games, while Joe Lunardi of had the Explorers replacing Virginia at the bottom of "last four byes" on Friday, meaning no play-in.

Saturday's contest will come down to how much success La Salle's offense has against St. Louis' rock-solid defense. The Explorers have averaged 10.5 three-point baskets in their last eight games, shooting 45.4 percent during that span. They average 73.6 points on the season, while the Billikens allow a league-best 58.5 points per game.

In another A-10 game Saturday, St. Joseph's (17-11, 8-7) seeks a third straight win and some momentum entering the tournament when it travels to Charlotte (19-10, 7-8).

Taking a look around the area and the nation:

Big East finish

Villanova, which is off until its first game in the Big East tournament on Wednesday in Madison Square Garden, watches the conference's final day of regular-season play knowing it will be the seventh seed (if Connecticut defeats Providence) or the eighth (if Providence wins). The Wildcats' initial tournament opponent will be either Cincinnati or St. John's.

Who's No. 1 (seeds)?

It's quite a scramble among the teams trying to grab the four No. 1 seeds as the regular season comes to a close and the unpredictable championship week commences.

Indiana, Georgetown, and Miami already have lost this week. Duke has a tough game Saturday at archrival North Carolina, and Louisville is moving into contention. Gonzaga can virtually lock up a No. 1 by winning its conference tournament Monday. The top lines are going to see a lot of changes this week.

Who's No. 1 (player)?

Given the unsettled situation at the top of the brackets, it's no surprise there is no consensus candidate for national player of the year.

In our view, Michigan point guard Trey Burke holds (unsteadily) the No. 1 spot, and Creighton's Doug McDermott has been solid all year. Both, however, are being challenged by two guys moving up like a bullet train - Otto Porter of Georgetown and Victor Oladipo of Indiana. Meanwhile, Cody Zeller of Indiana and Mason Plumlee of Duke, two front-runners at the start of the season, have faded.

It's a mess

The tournament bubble this season resembles campers in the mud at Woodstock - crowded, messy and generally unappealing.

On Thursday, three teams facing "gotta win" situations all fell: Kentucky against Georgia, Massachusetts (at home) vs. Butler, and Virginia against Florida State. You kind of wonder with these teams and others failing under the heat, why La Salle, Villanova, and Temple are having so much trouble staying on the right side of the bubble. The scrutiny will be tighter this week.

Seniors in the night

It was one of the season's strangest scenes Tuesday night when Indiana went on with its Senior Night activities after suffering a spirit-dampening 67-58 loss to Ohio State that kept the Hoosiers from clinching the Big Ten title outright. The ceremony featuring seniors Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford, and Derek Elston went on well past midnight and ended with the Hoosiers cutting down the nets at Assembly Hall.

"We're trying to celebrate what these guys have earned, and at the same time we didn't earn it tonight," coach Tom Crean, whose news conference didn't start until 1:40 a.m., said in a report from Yahoo Sports.

Expat of the Week

Freshman Savon Goodman, a former star at Constitution High, has spent a bumpy first season with UNLV having seen action in just seven of the Runnin' Rebels' 15 Mountain West Conference games.

But coach Dave Rice is liking what he sees from Goodman in the areas of toughness and effort. Goodman is averaging 4.2 points and 2.6 rebounds, but 40 percent of his rebounds are off the offensive glass. He played 15 minutes in a Feb. 23 win over Wyoming, contributing eight points, his high in an MWC game.

Real Top 10

1. Gonzaga 29-2

2. Kansas 26-4

3. Duke 26-4

4. Michigan 25-5

5. Louisville 25-5

6. Indiana 25-5

7. Georgetown 23-5

8. Florida 24-5

9. Miami 23-6

10. Ohio State 22-7

- Joe Juliano

Games of the Week

Top Choice

Syracuse at Georgetown, Saturday at noon, ESPN: The archrivals meet for the last time in the regular season as members of the Big East with a lot at stake. The Hoyas, who saw their 11-game winning streak snapped Wednesday by Villanova, still have a shot at the conference's regular-season championship. Meanwhile, the Orange hope to beat out Notre Dame and Pittsburgh and grab a bye through to the Big East tournament quarterfinals.

Starting Five

Florida at Kentucky, Saturday at noon, CBS3: Unless they can mount a surprising run in the SEC tournament, the Wildcats could be facing their last chance to return to the NCAA tournament to defend their title.

Kansas at Baylor, Saturday at 6 p.m., ESPN: A win clinches the ninth consecutive Big 12 championship for the Jayhawks. But if the Bears don't win, their longshot NCAA chances will completely fade from view.

Duke at North Carolina, Saturday at 9 p.m., ESPN: The Blue Devils will spend the day cheering for Clemson, hoping the Tigers can defeat Miami. If that happens, Duke can grab a share of the ACC title.

Indiana at Michigan, Sunday at 4 p.m., CBS3: The Hoosiers' loss to Ohio State meant that four teams enter the weekend with a shot at the Big Ten championship and would finish in a four-way tie with a Michigan win.

Princeton at Penn, Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. (no TV): The Quakers did the Tigers a favor last week by knocking off Harvard; now they can prevent their archrivals from clinching the outright Ivy League title and an automatic NCAA bid. - Joe Juliano

Contact Joe Juliano at Follow on Twitter @joejulesinq

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