Can the Big Five make it to the NCAA men's tournament?

by Marc Narducci | Mar 1, 2024
Can the Big Five make it to the NCAA men's tournament?
Last year was the first time since 1977 that a men’s Big Five team (which now includes Drexel) failed to qualify at least one team for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. 

This season, all six teams have their work cut out to get in. 

Here is a look at each team, with its record through Sunday’s games as Selection Sunday is quickly approaching on March 17. 


Temple (10-17, 3-11 American Athletic Conference)
The positive part is that on Sunday, first-year coach Adam Fisher saw his team earn a 72-66 overtime win at Wichita State for the Owls’ second consecutive triumph. Still, the Owls stand in 12th place in the 14-team AAC and would have to win the conference tournament to earn a berth. This is a team that has been competitive lately due to its defense, but the Owls shoot just 30%  from three-point range and that would need to improve if they want to spring some AAC tourney upsets.

St. Joseph (17-11, 7-8 Atlantic 10)

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St. Joseph’s head coach Billy Lange, a Bishop Eustace graduate, has already seen the Hawks surpass last year’s win total when they went 16-17, won two games in the Atlantic 10 tournament then fell to Dayton, 60-54 in the quarterfinal. Led by junior guard Erik Reynolds (16.6 ppg.) the Hawks are capable of beating anybody in the A-10 and they’ll have to in order to earn a NCAA berth. Loyola Chicago currently shares the A-10 lead with the University of Richmond. St. Joseph’s lost twice to Loyola Chicago by a total of eight points, but the Hawks would need several upsets just to reach the A-10 finals.

LaSalle (14-14, 5-10 Atlantic 10)
Coach Fran Dunphy’s team has been competitive but still stands in 13th place in the 15-team Atlantic 10. Guard Khalil Brantley (15.1 ppg.) is La Salle’s leading scorer. The Explorers are even more of a longshot than St. Joseph’s, a team it lost to twice, first by 20 and then a much closer 88-82 defeat the second time. La Salle could earn a potential first-game upset, but anything more would be a bigger surprise.

Penn (10-16, 2-9 Ivy League)
Penn is seventh in the eight-team Ivy League. The Quakers have three regular season games left and if they lose one, they will be eliminated from consideration for the Ivy League tournament. Only four teams qualify for the tournament. Penn’s final three games are against Cornell, Columbia and Princeton. Cornell and Princeton are tied for first in the Ivy League and Penn lost by 17 to Cornell the first time and seven to Princeton. 

Drexel (17-11, 10-5 Coastal Athletic Association)
Early in the season Drexel was leading the CAA, but they went through a rough stretch when they lost four of five conference games. Still, the Dragons have a chance, but would have to win the CAA tournament. They recently dropped an 80-70 decision to first place Charleston, so the Dragons can be competitive with anybody. Drexel allows 65.5 ppg., so that is a defense that should keep the Dragons in any game during the CAA tournament. 

Villanova (15-12, 8-8)
The Wildcats will likely have to at least get to the Big East championship to earn a berth. Villanova has some great wins, including an 83-81 early-season triumph over North Carolina, which could end up being a No. 1 seed. Villanova began the week in sixth place in the Big East. The Wildcats lost just 66-65 to first place and defending NCAA champion UConn at home, but last week lost 78-54 at UConn. Villanova is capable of making a run, especially with a veteran like 6-8 senior Eric Dixon (16.0 ppg.). The Big East is so highly competitive that it won’t be easy, but at least the Wildcats have a passing chance. 

Photo Courtesy: Sideline Photos for Villanova Athletics

Author: Marc Narducci


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