La Salle, Villanova give Philly a jolt
Look out, Top 25 teams. There's a storm warning in effect for parts of Philadelphia.
No, not because of snow or ice, just a stampede of hundreds of college hoops fans storming the court in celebration of another upset victory.
Villanova and La Salle gave their fans plenty of reasons to run. With Philadelphia teams headed toward an NCAA tournament shutout, the Wildcats and Explorers instead combined for one of the wildest weeks in Philadelphia basketball history: 4 for 4 against Top 25 teams and more students on the court than total baskets made over that span.
They're not ranked in The Associated Press' Top 25 poll yet, but they've at least squeezed their way into NCAA tournament consideration.
As a bonus, Villanova's wins over No. 5 Louisville and No. 3 Syracuse, and La Salle's wins over No. 9 Butler and No. 19 VCU, injected life into a dreary Philly sports scene.
The question is, was it a wonderful quirk in the schedule that won't mean much in two months, or a spark for both teams to make the tournament field?
''We've got to understand that even though it's a huge step, we've got to play at this level every time,'' Explorers guard Ramon Galloway said. ''It just can't be that we beat Butler and we beat VCU and we come out and play trash against UMass. It can't be that.
''Because it will look like an upset. We don't want to have a mindset of upsetting teams. We want to have a mindset of beating teams.''
The Wildcats, a 2009 Final Four team, have made a habit of big wins under coach Jay Wright.
For the Explorers, recent decades have not been as kind. La Salle hasn't played in the NCAA tournament since 1992 and last season's NIT berth (21-13) was its first since 1991. La Salle's win over Butler was its first over a Top 25 team since 2001 and first over a top 10 team since 1980.
''They're not surprised to win,'' La Salle coach John Giannini said Monday. ''I know people, for reasons that I can't comprehend, have a hard time believing that.''
Most of it stems from the lengthy absence from the tournament, the ultimate judge of a program's success. The other five Philadelphia teams have made multiple NCAA trips since La Salle (14-5, 4-2 Atlantic 10) last played in the tournament. Giannini, who took over in 2004, has led the Explorers to two other 18-win seasons.
''We haven't been the cellar dwellers people paint us as,'' he said.
The Explorers can boast wins over two of the top Atlantic 10 teams and they beat Villanova in November (and lost to Central Connecticut State, too). Up next, Massachusetts at home on Wednesday and then Saturday at George Washington. Temple, another city team in the tournament mix, is the toughest one left on La Salle's schedule. La Salle is 27th in RPI and Villanova 49th, according to Live-RPI.com.
''Based on our history, we know it's way too early to worry about Bracketology,'' Giannini said. ''That's a fan thing. All anyone can do at this point is be in the discussion. We're glad we've done enough to be in the discussion. But a lot's going to happen in the next five weeks.''
The Explorers haven't won enough to earn a national ranking a spot in the March Madness field. Joe Lunardi, who has turned predicting the field into a cottage industry, said La Salle is on the bubble, but out. Even with the head-to-head win, La Salle earned one less vote than VCU (4-3) in The AP Top 25 poll. La Salle has not been ranked since it was 12th in the final poll of the 1989-90 season.
The Wildcats (13-7, 4-3) have only been out of the national rankings for two seasons. No one expected Wright's Wildcats to tumble from a Final Four to a 19-loss season a year ago. Perhaps the only stat more shocking was pulling off back-to-back stunners against top-10 Big East team.
''This doesn't mean we're going to run off every game,'' Wright said. ''It means we have a chance to be a good team in this league.''
The Wildcats lost a shot to make it three straight wins over Top 25 teams when Notre Dame fell out of the poll on Monday. The Wildcats play Wednesday in South Bend, Ind. Lunardi will have them in the field when the updated bracket is released Tuesday.
The Wildcats, the 1985 national champions, started the fun with a 73-64 win over No. 5 Louisville at the Wells Fargo Center. Achraf Yacoubou hit the tiebreaking 3-pointer with 3:57 left that sparked a week of big baskets and students going wild on the court.
The next night, Galloway sprinted the length of the court for the winning basket with 2.7 seconds left to send La Salle to a 54-53 victory over No. 9 Butler. La Salle defeated a top 10 team for the first time since beating No. 8 Notre Dame 62-60 on Jan. 30, 1980. Yes, there was another mad rush from the bleachers at Tom Gola Arena.
Villanova and La Salle combined for the double-dip on Saturday. Ryan Arcidiacono hit the tying 3-pointer with 2.2 seconds left in regulation, and James Bell hit consecutive 3s in overtime to lift Villanova past No. 3 Syracuse, 75-71. The Explorers followed hours later with a 69-61 win at No. 19 VCU.
Galloway scored a career-high 31 points against the Rams and was named A-10 player of the week. Darrun Hilliard earned Big East honors for Villanova.
Used to the floor-storming students the second time around, Hilliard escaped to the locker room after defeating the Orange.
''First time, I was enjoying it,'' he said. ''Second time, I was like, I've got to get out of there. They get real crazy on the court.''
Maybe the Explorers and Wildcats can give them reasons to go wild again when the tournament field is set.