Field of 64 could snub Philly's Big 5

January 15, 1998|By PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS

PHILADELPHIA -- Could this be the year? Well, with nearly half a season gone for many teams, this could be the first time in 21 years that no Big 5 team makes the NCAA tournament.

If they issued invitations today, only Temple would make it. And when they issue invitations in March, the Owls, for the 14th time in 15th years, probably will make it. But, right now, they are it. And they're no lock.

In its 43rd year, the Big 5 has had only three dry NCAA years -- 1957, 1976, 1977. Does anybody else notice an every-generation trend?

Temple (8-4) is a solid 29th in the latest Rating Percentage Index. The Owls have nice wins over Indiana, Fresno State, Michigan State and Wisconsin. They have a quality loss at once-beaten Mississippi. And they have an ugly home loss to Rutgers. It's all A-10 from here on except a game against Maryland in Baltimore on Feb. 28. For whatever reason, the regular season ends the next day at the Apollo against Massachusetts.

The Owls have only four lock wins on the schedule, but they'll certainly win enough of the toss-up games to get to 17 or 18 wins. That's been the John Chaney formula forever. And it's worked.

But this is a bizarre season, especially around the rest of the city. Villanova (94) is the city's next-highest rated RPI team, followed by St. Joseph's (95), Penn (138), Drexel (166) and La Salle (181). Those teams are a combined 25-37. For a city that has produced great basketball and great teams forever, that's pretty sad.

Yes, there are mitigating circumstances this season, including St. Joe's injuries and academic problems, Penn's schedule and Villanova's loss of so much talent. But 12 games under .500 is what it is.

So, unless something dramatic happens, there will be no NCAA tournament for any of them unless they somehow win their conference tournament. That's unlikely for Villanova, which is 4-2 in the Big East mainly because it has played some of the league's weaker teams. Drexel could get hot and win the America East tournament, but the Dragons have no seniors and are not playing well.

La Salle is trying to survive and has no chance of winning the Atlantic 10 tournament. Penn is looking up at Princeton in the Ivy League and there are no second chances there. St. Joe's, which already has as many losses in the A-10 (three) as it had all of last season, would appear to have no chance to win the conference tournament. But I'm not so sure. If the Hawks ever get healthy and get a favorable draw, they would be an opponent nobody would want to face. But, if it comes to that, can they win four games in four days?

Times change

There was a time, of course, when city teams were king. But that's changed, too, as state universities have taken basketball more seriously.

During the 1960s, three city teams were among the top 20 nationally in winning percentage. St. Joe's (201-74, .731) was seventh, followed by Villanova (193-79, .710) at 14th and Temple (183-83, .688) in 19th. In the 1950s, La Salle (209-65, .763) was fourth. In the 1970s, Penn (223-56, .799) was third. In the 1980s, Temple (225-78, .743) was fifth. In the 1990s, nobody is in the top 20.

By the way, Penn fans, Princeton (174-57, .753) is closing in on the top five for the '90s. Just thought you'd want to know.

No room at this inn

At last year's Final Four, three teams fit and one didn't. This season, North Carolina, Kentucky and Arizona are a combined 45-5. Minnesota is 7-7.

Kansas ceremony

Wilt Chamberlain does few ceremonies. But, after many years of trying to get him there, Kansas will honor Chamberlain on Saturday at Allen Field House when the Jayhawks play Kansas State.

The school, celebrating its 100th season of basketball, does not retire numbers. They retire jerseys. They retired Chamberlain's a few years ago and will make it official Saturday.

In case anybody forgot, Chamberlain scored 42 points in his first game at Kansas as his freshman team beat the varsity. The next season, in his first varsity game, he scored a school-record 52 points and grabbed 31 rebounds on Dec. 3, 1956, against Northwestern. Four decades later, the record still stands.

Oh, those Tar Heels

Going into lat night's game at Maryland, North Carolina has won 33 of its past 34 games. The only better stretch in school history came four decades ago, when the 1956-57 team went 32-0 and the '57-'58 team started 11-1. That 1957 team won the NCAA championship in triple overtime over Kansas.

No. 1 North Carolina (17-0) is the nation's best shooting team (53.2 percent) and holds teams to just 38.2 percent, an awesome 15 percent differential.

Keep winning at home

Kansas' winning streak at Allen is up to 54. New Mexico has won 36 straight at the Pit. The next best streak? Ball State has won 23 straight at home.

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