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NCAA AND HIGH SCHOOL MADNESS


It's the greatest time of year in sports. Forget the Super Bowl. Ok, the commercials are great but does the game ever live up to the hype? (OK, the game was good this year, I admit)  What did we talk about more after the last one: Beyonce's dance moves, a power outage, poor commercials, or the Baltimore Ravens victory?


Ok, the Super Bowl is fun but it's not March Madness! Right now the NCAA committee is trying to figure out how they are going to cram 68 deserving Division I men's basketball squads into the Big Dance. The NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament is the best sporting event in the country. Period. The underdogs. The tiny schools playing the large BCS schools. The upsets. The pressure from the one-and-done format. The fact the players are not being paid (at least not supposed to), combined with the competition and intensity of every game makes it spectacular.


In our city, talk all of a sudden encouraging for some of our local D1 schools. A month ago, it looked like this could be that rare year where neither Temple, Villanova, La Salle, Penn, St. Joseph's, or Drexel would be invited to the NCAA Tournament. Now with a week to go, it looks like Temple is a lock, Villanova and La Salle are probable, and St. Joseph's has a fighter's chance to win the Atlantic-10 tournament and could also go.


Temple (24-8) practically clinched its sixth straight bid with a resounding triumph over # 21 VCU (23-8) Sunday at a sold-out Liacouras Center. The Owls took an early lead, stumbled, fell behind by 16 points, and then dominated the rest of the way to win. It was arguably the Owls' best win of the year considering the circumstances. Temple had hurt its chances of making the field after unfathomable home losses to St. Bonaventure, Caniscius, and Duquesne.


"This is a resilient group," said Temple coach Fran Dunphy. "I thought we were able to gather ourselves after we got down, catch our breath, and make some big shots to get back in the game. I'm proud of them. They have played well in this last seven game stretch."


The Owls are led by a bunch of former Scholastic Play-by-Play Classic alumni, Norristown native Khalif Wyatt who is scoring 20 points a game, Communications Tech product Scootie Randall, and Chester product Rhalir Hollis-Jefferson, the unsung hero of the City Six if you ask this scribe.


Wyatt and Hollis-Jefferson are among dozens of players who have taken to Dunphy's coaching and exceeded all expectations on the court. Wyatt is the frontrunner to win player of the year honors in both the Philadelphia Big Five and the Atlantic-10 Conference. Next year, the Owls will be playing without this trio and Boston University transfer Jake O'Brien but will have plenty of young players ready to step up as the Owls enter the revamped Big East Conference.


La Salle received a ton of attention this year and deservedly so. The Explorers were the most consistent team in the Atlantic 10 this season and if not for late losses to Temple and St. Louis would have won its first ever conference championship. City products Tyreek Dyren, Tyrone Garland, and Jerrell Wright, all who played in our Scholastic Play-by-Play events as well, have been huge factors for this sum of its part team which is looking for its first bid to the NCAA Tournament since Speedy Morris was coaching back in 1992.


"We all want to go to the NCAAs," said Ramon Galloway, one of the team's other stars. "We know every game is important to make this tournament."


We feel that Jay Wright has probably done his best coaching job on the Main Line this season which is saying a lot since the Cats went to the Final Four in 2009. The Wildcats were all but dead after an early season 20-point home loss to Columbia. Yes Columbia! Losing to a mid-level Ivy League team which offers no athletic scholarships is a recipe for disaster. The Columbia match-up was made as a courtesy to former coach Joe Jones, who was a one-time Wright assistant. If the Cats don't get a bid, it will be because of that loss and those to Seton Hall and two to Providence. However, expect Villanova to get in with a 10-8 Big East record and wins over top-5 teams Syracuse, Louisville, and Georgetown. Credit Wright for getting this young group to gel quickly, improve and have some of the most impressive wins in Villanova history. What a turnaround they had.


St. Joseph's is unfairly being deemed a failure this season since the Hawks were picked first by A-10 coaches prior to the season and are barely making the A-10 tournament (The top 12 of 16 teams make it). The truth is the talent level was overrated. The team is offensively challenged. They play good defense, they play hard, and are well-coached. The Hawks problem is that the players are just pretty good. Pretty good doesn't get you to the NCAA Tournament this season, unfortunately, not with Butler, VCU, Temple, La Salle, St. Louis, and others more skilled than your team at the offensive end. We love C.J. Aiken, one of the nation's top shot blockers and a future NBA player. Drexel had its first subpar year in a while losing out with Sammee Given's graduation and injuries but we still love the passion that coach Bruiser Flint brings to the West Philadelphia campus. Penn coach Jerome Allen deserves time to get the Quakers back to its normal top spot in the Ivy League. In basketball, things can change quickly. Allen needs some players with high SATs and strong GPAs pronto. It says here, he'll get them.


Things are just as fun at the high school level. Chester and Lower Merion are on a collision course to play for a AAAA PIAA title in Hershey on March 23. Chester won last year easily and are going for the "Three-peat". Lower Merion is no lock with stiff tests from Martin Luther King, and potentially Harrisburg and New Castle on the horizon. At the AAA level, Neumann-Goretti and Imhotep Charter will also likely meet for a possible title game in Hershey. The Saints won the District 12 title game by a point at St. Joseph's University in early March. Archbishop Carroll and Philadelphia Electric are hoping to win a title too. In the AA Division, Communications Tech and Constitution are candidates. The most exciting match-up may be in the A category where Vaux and Math Civics and Sciences are set to meet in the semifinals. They are on paper, clearly the best two teams.


"Yeah, we know that this has been quite a match-up this season," said MC & S Lonnie Diggs athletic director. "If we meet them again, it will be another great game. The teams have split both games this year, both in overtime.


THE 76ERS


Never in my lifetime did I think the 76ers could make a trade worse than their 1986 blunder. The 76ers, in one fateful day, send Moses Malone, Terry Catledge, and two number one draft picks to Washington for Jeff Ruland and Cliff Robinson. They also traded the first pick of the entire draft for Roy Hinson. Ruland only played 6 games with a knee injury. Hinson was a marginal starter. Moses Malone still had some all-star years with Washington and Brad Daugherty, who Cleveland used with that first overall pick, became a perennial all-star. Well, the 76ers traded for Andrew Bynum prior to the 2012-2013 season. It created a huge buzz. Now, the deal has set the franchise back several steps. Bynum has yet to play a game due to a mysterious knee issue. The team gave up two young prospects and a future number one pick to Orlando. Nik Vucevic puts up double doubles every night. Andre Iguodala is going to the playoffs for Denver. It all hurts. Let's go Temple! Let's go La Salle! Let's go Villanova!

 

NCAA AND HIGH SCHOOL MADNESS
Jeremy Treatman - Contributor

Jeremy Treatman is the founder and co-director of the Scholastic Play-by-Play Classics and Sports Broadcasting Camps. Over 50 NBA players, including Lebron James, Kevin Durant, and Rajon Rondo played in his events when they were in high school. Jeremy wrote high school sports for the INQUIRER for 10 years, and was the first TV reporter for the HIgh School Sports Show on Channel 29 from 1994-2001. He currently is Comcast's announcer for all high school games.

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