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Philly fans only have one team to root for this time around, and that’s the Villanova Wildcats. They just so happen to be the No. 1 seed in the tournament’s East Region, which is a pretty big deal. They are also rated as the No. 2 overall team in the entire tournament, so expectations are pretty high. No pressure, ‘Nova.
Temple almost made it (Sports Illustrated listed Temple as the No. 1 snub), but the other three Big 5 schools were not worthy of playing in the NCAA Tournament. While 2015 hasn’t been great for most of Philly’s Big 5, let’s take a few moments to think about the past. These teams are no strangers to dramatic, gut-wrenching, nerve-wracking, and purely exciting basketball. Here’s a look at some their NCAA tournament highlights:
Top Moments at Villanova
Villanova has had the most tournament success out of all the Division I basketball programs in Philadelphia. They have more tournament appearances (34), won more games (50), and have been in more Final Fours (4) than any other Big 5 School. La Salle is the only other program besides Villanova to have won a National Championship.
1. Arguably the top moment in Nova’s program history occurred in 1985, when the Wildcats won the National Championship by upsetting Georgetown.
No one expected the Wildcats to knock off an excellent Georgetown team coached by John Thompson and led by star-player and eventual NBA legend, Patrick Ewing. Villanova had already played Georgetown twice that year, and both games were decided by a combined nine points. However, Villanova was not particularly great that year, as they went 19-10 prior to entering the tournament.
2. Nova lost to UCLA in the 1971 National Championship game (skip to 18:50 in video)
You shouldn’t feel too bad about this loss for ‘Nova. UCLA was an absolute dynasty. At that time, they were in the midst of winning seven straight national titles from 1967-1973, and they were in the midst of winning an NCAA record 88 straight games from 1971-1974.
As for Villanova, they were coached by Jack Kraft and they were led by Howard Porter, who averaged 23.5 points per game and 14.9 rebounds per game, and Hank Siemiontkowski (try saying that three times fast) 15.8/9.1.
3. 2009 run to the Final Four
Marquee victories and buzzer beaters defined an epic run to the Final Four led by stars Dante Cunningham and Scottie Reynolds and coach Jay Wright. Although they finished the regular season fourth in the Big East Conference with an overall record of 25-6, ‘Nova earned a No. 3 seed in the tournament’s east region.
4. 1939 Final Four – Inaugural NCAA Tournament
(No video. Obviously)
Waaaay back in 1939, the NCAA Tournament only consisted of eight teams that competed for the National Title. So the road to the Final Four was much easier… just win a game and you’re there! Villanova was able to defeat Brown before falling to Ohio State. Alex Severence was the coach of this team. John Krutulis led ‘Nova with 14 points against Brown, and Paul Nugent led ‘Nova with 16 points against Ohio State
Top Moments at La Salle
La Salle has only been to the tournament 12 times, the fewest out of all the Big 5 schools. However, they were able to capture a championship, and make a Final Four run in consecutive years… something no other Big 5 school has done. The Explorers boast an overall winning record at the tournament of 14-11, but outside of a few individual seasons, the Explorers don’t have much of a tournament resume as a program.
1. 1954 National Championship
Led by La Salle basketball legend Tom Gola, and coached by Kenneth Loeffler, the Explorers finished the season with an overall record of 26-4, which was capped off with a 92-76 win over Bradley in the National Champioship game. Gola averaged 23 points per game and 21.7 rebounds per game that season.
2. 1955 National Runner-Up
Gola and Loeffler led the Explorers back to the title game, but fell to San Francisco 77-63. San Francisco had a guy by the name of Bill Russell on their team. Bill Russell may be the winningest player in NBA history. The guy won 11 championships in his 13-year career with the Boston Celtics. He’s recognized as one of the greatest players to have ever played, and the amount of championships he won is not matched by any other player
Nonetheless, when you think of La Salle basketball, Gola is almost always the first person to come to mind. He not only dominated at La Salle, he went on to have a great NBA career, and was eventually selected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. His legacy at La Salle is one that has not been matched since he played in the middle of the 20th century.
3. 2013 run to the Sweet 16 and a Southwest Philly Floater
2013 was a pleasant surprise for Explorers fans. Coached by John Giannini, the team had a very good regular season, finishing 21-8 with notable wins over Villanova, Butler and VCU. The team’s success was fueled by a group of fantastic guards, most notably Ramon Galloway and Tyreek Duren. Tyrone Garland had 17 points, including his “Southwest Philly Floater,” which ultimately propelled the Explorers to the Sweet 16.
Top Moments at Temple
Temple has the second-most tournament appearances out of the Big 5 schools with 31. There are no basketball championship trophies sitting at the Liacouras Center, which is fairly surprising considering how good some Owls teams have been. However, they were able to make it to the Final Four twice, several decades ago.
Harry Litwack was the coach, and Hal Lear and Guy Rodgers were the stars. Lear in particular was a scoring machine, notching at least 25 points in four of the five games (which includes their third-place game victory when he scored 48 points). The team finished the season with an overall record of 27-4. The Owls’ season ended when they lost to Iowa 83-76 in the Final Four.
Although Lear had moved on from the team, Coach Harry Litwack and star Guy Rodgers were still able to lead the Owls back to the Final Four. Unfortunately for Temple, the result was the same; they lost 61-60 to Kentucky.
3. 1988 run to the Elite Eight
John Chaney’s team was led in scoring by Mark Macon (20.6 points per game) and Mike Vreeswyk (16.7 points per game). The Owls finished 26-1 in the regular season, won the Atlantic-10 Tournament and entered the NCAAs 29-1 and riding a 15-game winning streak. That was good enough for the Owls to earn a No. 1 seed in the East Region of the tournament. They started off the tournament by beating Lehigh and eventually defeated Georgetown and Richmond before falling to Duke in the Elite 8.
4. 2001 run to the Elite Eight
This team was not quite as good as John Chaney’s 1988 team. However, they finished the season second in the Atlantic 10 Conference, with a 12-4 record, and a 21-12 record overall. Junior Lynn Greer and senior Quincy Wadley led the team in scoring, averaging about 18 and 15 points per game respectively. Despite the fact the Owls entered the tournament as a No. 11 seed, they beat Texas, Florida and Penn State, before losing to Michigan State in the Elite Eight game.
Top Moments at Penn
Penn has had its moments of dominance in the NCAA, but its tournament resume does not reflect that. The Quakers have appeared in just one Final Four and have a 13-25 tournament record. The Quakers have not been to the tournament since 2007, and their last tournament win was in 1994.
1. 1979 run to the Final Four (skip to 1:52-6:10)
Penn’s 1979 Final Four team was one to remember. That year, Bob Weinhauer coached the team to an Ivy League title and Tony Price led the Quakers on an improbable journey to the Final Four as a No. 9 seed from the East Region. Penn knocked off Iona, North Carolina (the No. 1 seed), Syracuse and St. John’s, before eventually falling to Michigan State. The Spartans were led by Magic Johnson, who went on to become an NBA legend, winning five NBA championships and being the catalyst for the “Showtime” Los Angeles Lakers in the 1980s.
2. 1971 run to the Elite Eight
The Quakers finished the regular season undefeated, going 26-0, and having won 43 straight overall games in the regular season, and 28 straight in the Ivy League. Dick Harter was the coach, and Bob Morse and Dave Wohl were the leading scorers, each averaging a little more than 15 points per game that season. They ran their winning streak up to 28 games that season, before being dismantled by Villanova 90-47 in the Elite Eight game. From start to finish, the game was never really competitive, as the Wildcats dominated the Quakers all night.
3. 1972 run to the Elite Eight
The next season, Penn made it back to the Elite Eight. In the regular season, the Quakers finished 23-2, and 13-1 in the Ivy League. They were coached by Chuck Daly, and although they lost David Wohl, Bob Morse continued to lead the Quakers in scoring, as he averaged 18 points per game. In addition, Phil Hankinson stepped into Wohl’s shoes, averaging 17 points per game. Penn defeated both Providence and Villanova before falling to North Carolina in the Elite Eight game.
Top Moments at St. Joe’s
St. Joe’s has never made it to a National Championship game in its program’s history, and only made it to one Final Four, despite entering the tournament in 20 different seasons. Overall, the program has a losing tournament record, winning 18 games, but losing 24. Last year, they lost to the eventual champs, Connecticut, and have not won an NCAA Tournament game since their 2004 season.
1. 1961 run to the Final Four
The Hawks’ lone run to the Final Four occurred 54 years ago. Jack Ramsay was the coach for a 22-4 regular season. They played in what was known as the”Middle-Atlantic Conference,” going 8-0 in the ’61 season. Jack Egan led the team in scoring, averaging almost 22 points per game, despite only shooting 41 percent from the field. Nonetheless, St. Joe’s was a No. 1 seed in the East Region, which helped them earn a bye into the next round. They proceeded to beat Princeton and Wake Forest before being eliminated by Ohio State in the National Semifinals.
2. 2004 run to the Elite Eight
When you think of the 2004 Hawks, the dynamic duo of Jameer Nelson and Delonte West almost immediately comes to mind. Although there were other really good players on the team, Nelson and West were the catalysts, averaging 20.6 and 18.9 points per game, respectively. After 20 years of coaching to that point, this was Coach Phil Martelli’s best team. St. Joe’s nearly entered the NCAA Tournament undefeated, winning its first 27 games before falling to Xavier in the first round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament. The Hawks were still good enough to earn a No. 1 seed in the East Region and won their first three games against Liberty, Texas Tech, and Wake Forest. But they missed a Final Four opportunity when they lost to Oklahoma State in the Elite Eight.
3. 1981 run to the Elite Eight
No one expected much from St. Joe’s in the 1981 season. They hadn’t been in the tournament since 1974, and had not won a tournament game since 1966. Coach Jim Lynam was in the final year of what ended up being a short, three-year stint as coach of the Hawks. Overall, the team had three winning streaks of five, seven, and then six games during the season. Nonetheless, they won the East Coast Conference Tournament. As a result, they received an automatic bid into the tournament, where they were placed as a No. 9 seed in the Mideast Region. From there, they reeled off three straight wins in the tournament, including an upset over No. 1 seed DePaul. Unfortunately for Hawks fans, they were knocked off by the Indiana Hoosiers. Bryan Warrick and Boo Williams led a balanced scoring attack for St. Joe’s.
And now that you’ve read all about NCAA Tournament history for Philly schools, enjoy this year’s tournament. Here are the top places to watch March Madness in Philadelphia.