Let the Madness Begin

March Madness is here -- in Philadelphia that has different meaning depending on which Big 5 (plus one) team you support.

This year it's maddening for some, joyous for others and simply over already for a few.

Wildcat Nation falls into the joyous category. Villanova is a lock to make the NCAA Tournament.

The Cats already are prone to land a No. 3 seed in the tourney, according to Bracketology expert (and Philly guy) Joe Lunardi.

The Wildcats carry a 25-6 record and a lofty top-20 RPI into Madison Square Garden for the Big East tournament, which started Tuesday.

Jay Wright's team is the four seed in the Big East tournament -- a huge advantage considering that they don't have to play until the third round on Thursday. It's nice to have a two-day bye.

If the Cats can pull off an upset over Louisville in the Big East semis they could easily jump into a number two seed in the tournament and maybe get lucky enough to play their opening round games at home at the Wachovia Center in South Philly.

The rest of the Big 6 (let's just lump in Drexel) don't have the same luxury of a punched ticket to the dance.

Drexel and Penn are certainly done.

The Dragons barely sniffed the Colonial Athletic Association conference tournament. They were knocked out in the first round on Friday.

Forget about the NCAA's -- at 15-14 Bruiser Flint's guys are going to be sweating it out just to get into the NIT.

Things are much more glum for UPenn.

The Quakers season will finish Tuesday night when they take on archrival Princeton. With a win, Penn can take pride in a .500 record in the Ivy League but they will still carry only an 11-18 record into the off-season.

Don't bet on it, but the Atlantic 10 Tournament in Atlantic City could be the place where another Philly team finds its way into the Big Dance.

St. Joseph's, LaSalle or Temple could be dancing with runs deep into the A-10 Tournament. The problem is that the tournament schedule only permits one of these teams to have a chance because they all are lumped in the same half of the bracket with A-10 No. 1 seed Xavier.

The Hawks (16-14, 9-7 in the A-10) and the Explorers (18-12, 9-7) will need to win the A-10 tourney to make the NCAA's. They both must open the tournament against lesser opponents on Wednesday before taking on either Xavier or Temple on Thursday.

The Owls will get the winner of St. Joe's and Charlotte in the quarterfinals and must take care of business against either team to have a chance. Don't be surprised if the Hawks, led by A-10 player of the year Ahmad Nivins, give Dionte Christmas' Temple Owls a fight.

The loser of the Philly battle of the Birds will land solidly in the NIT. The winner will have to continue to fight.

Temple (19-11) played a difficult nonconference schedule that should help them on selection Sunday, but Lunardi currently places the Owls on the outside part of tournament bubble.

Fran Dunphy must get his Owls fired up to beat (most likely) St. Joe's in the quarters and Xavier in the semis. Beat the Musketeers and Temple may get into the dance even if they lose in the A-10 finals.

So as it sits now the best bet for Philly Hoops fans is for two teams to dance into the tournament.

Let's not forget about the Lions. The Penn State faithful are still holding onto hope that the Lions can also crash the party. But, that's for a total different column.

Gotta love the madness.

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