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August 21, 2014, 11:55 pm

Owls are city’s only hope

The pressure is on the Temple Owls.

As Philadelphia’s lone representative in the 2012 NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament, often referred to as March Madness, it’s up to Temple to beat the odds and win it all for a collegiate, basketball-crazed region. Temple, the regular-season Atlantic 10 champion, defied some prognosticators by being seeded fifth in the Midwest Regional. The Owls were upended in the first round of the A-10 tournament by the University of Massachusetts. No question being ranked No. 21 helped the Owls claim both the high seed and the at-large berth.

Temple (24-7) will play the winner of Wednesday’s first round game in Dayton between California (24-9) and South Florida (20-13) in the second round Friday at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn.

The region has enjoyed NCAA tournament success, but there hasn’t been an NCAA national basketball championship celebrated in the city of Philadelphia since1985 when Villanova surprised defending champion Georgetown to end the reign of Hoya Paranoia. Villanova, when it presents itself, claims to be a representative of the City of Brotherly Love. Perhaps that explains why the parade had a short route and wasn’t widely attended.

Historically speaking, city and regional teams haven’t had the best of luck in the tournament. Temple has made 29 NCAA tourney appearances. The Owls are 32-29 with two Final Four appearances. The last “city” team to make it to the coveted Final Four was the University of Pennsylvania in 1979. The Tony Price-led Quakers were humbled by Magic Johnson and Michigan State, 101-67, in the semifinals, and lost to a talented DePaul team that featured Mark Aguirre and Terry Cummings, 96-93, in the consolation final.

That was the Final Four, which also featured Larry Bird’s Indiana State team, created the March Madness phenomenon.

There was hope that Philly would have two city teams in this year’s tournament but Drexel (27-6) failed to win the Colonial Athletic Association tournament championship and an automatic NCAA tourney bid. The NCAA tournament committee snubbed the Dragons, who had won 19 straight before falling to Virginia Commonwealth University, 59-56, in the CAA tourney final. In the end, Drexel’s RPI rating and strength of schedule did not impress the committee.

Drexel will now play the University of Central Florida (22-10) in the National Invitation Tournament on Wednesday March 14. The Knights finished third in Conference USA.

The Drexel-UCF winner will play the winner of the St. Joseph’s–Northern Iowa contest. The Hawks (20-13) are making their first postseason appearance since 2008 and were beaten in the quarterfinals of the A-10 Tournament by eventual champion St. Bonaventure, 71-68. Northern Iowa is 19-13.
La Salle University (21-12) will play host to the University of Minnesota (19-14). The Gophers have won two NIT titles, in 1993 and 1998. Minnesota vacated its 1998 crown.
Penn didn’t make the NCAA or NIT but the Quakers (19-11) will play host to Quinnipiac University (18-13) in the first round of the College Basketball Invitational tourney Wednesday.

Temple has talent to win a few games, but making it past the first weekend of NCAA tournament play will be difficult. The Owls are making their fifth consecutive NCAA tourney appearance. Temple coach Fran Dunphy saw his 11-game tournament losing streak snapped last year when the Owls beat Penn State. Dunphy’s losing streak dated back to his days at Penn. He undoubtedly will be feeling pressured not to be bounced by a lower-seeded team.

College teams dream of doing the dance in March.

The Owls don’t have to dream. They know how to dance.

All they have to do is not stumble.