Yes, winning the Big 5 means Philadelphia bragging rights, but the City Series championship also gets national attention and has been a consistent pathway to the NCAA tournament.
Since the Big 5 returned to the full-round robin in the 1999-2000 season, the only outright champion that did not receive an NCAA bid was Villanova in 2001. In the final season for coach Steve Lappas, the Wildcats went 4-0 in the City Series but were just 18-12 in the season, and lost in the first-round of the National Invitational Tournament.
In the same span, there have only been three occasions when a Big 5 co-champion did not make the NCAA Field – Villanova in 2000, Temple in 2005 and St. Joseph’s in 2012.
That’s why the game between St. Joe’s and Temple on Saturday was so important.
The Hawks were picked second in the preseason Atlantic 10, while the Owls were ranked sixth in the American Athletic Conference. Both are capable of a weekend run come March that could earn a conference tournament championship and an automatic NCAA bid, but there is also a strong possibility that both will be having their seasons scrutinized for an at-large selection.
For now, give the edge to Temple. Shizz Alston scored 15 points with six assists, Quinton Rose added 15 points, and J.P. Moorman II had seven of his nine points in the second half as the Owls rallied to a 77-70 victory at Hagan Arena.
Temple improved to 7-1 overall, 2-0 in the Big 5, with a game Wednesday at Villanova.
Hawks freshman guard Jared Bynum had 21 points and five assists in his Big 5 debut, while Charlie Brown, Jr. scored 18.
Still, it’s a bothersome December loss for the Hawks (4-4), because it was at home against a team that could have a similar record come March.
St. Joe’s also dropped its second game to a American Athletic Conference school – having lost to Central Florida on a neutral court in November.
“Nope, nope,” coach Phil Martelli said when asked whether he was concerned that this loss could come back to haunt his Hawks team. “We’re fine. We have a game on Wednesday [at Princeton]. This would only hurt us if it was the last game of the season.
“This means nothing. How would anybody know? How would anybody know?”
The Hawks led by eight in the second half, but the Owls were relentless in pushing back. Temple turned up its defense and also began dominating the boards. A minus-3 disadvantage in the first half became a plus-12 over the final 20 minutes.
“[St. Joe’s] played really well in that first half and took it to us,” Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. “I thought we just battled back like crazy. We played better defense and worked hard to get some rebounds.
“I can’t give you the reason for it. I just hope it means that we are getting better as the season goes on.”