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Though Steve Donahue had a suspicion, it wasn’t confirmed until Monday morning: his Penn men were qualified for the Ivy League’s postseason tournament no matter what happened in their final two games.
“When I kinda looked at it and thought it through, after the results, I was pretty sure,” he told CoBL on Monday morning.
The Quakers secured their berth with a 90-69 win over Brown on Saturday afternoon, which came on the heels of a 66-64 triumph over Yale the night before. Those were the sixth and seventh wins in a row for Donahue’s squad, which has gone from a 2-4 start in the league up to a tie with Yale and Princeton atop the Ancient Eight with two games to play.
Jordan Dingle (above) and Penn secured an Ivy League playoff berth with two wins this weekend. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Cornell and Brown are two games back of the leadership pack at 6-6, but tiebreaker scenarios put together by the league determined that even if Penn ended up in a tie with both of those teams somehow, the Quakers would earn the league’s fourth and final playoff spot.
It’s a group reminiscent of Donahue’s 2016-17 squad, his second at Penn, which began Ivy League play with six losses but then won six of its last eight to rally for a postseason bid, ultimately leading to a championship the following year.
“I think we’ve really, over the last month, figured out exactly how to practice, how to compete, and how we’re going to win games with this group,” he said. “To me that’s where the focus is, and if we can continue to do that, and just get a little better in all aspects of the game, I feel we’ll continue to be successful when the games come.”
With Princeton getting the home-court advantage in Ivy Madness but the whole top of the league all of a similar level, it’s not really clear that it matters what seed the Quakers get by the time they get there on March 11.
Instead, their final two games of the season — hosting Dartmouth this Saturday and at Princeton the one after that (March 4) — will be a chance to get some revenge on Dartmouth for an earlier-season defeat and then a chance to earn at least a share of the league’s regular-season championship, if not to hold it outright and enter the playoffs on a nine-game win streak.
“The first goal is to win the Ivy League championship and that’s done by winning the 14 games, and having the best record over those 14 games.,” Donahue said. “Once we get to that, I don’t know if seeding matters, it’s a neutral site and you’ve gotta win two games to advance and in this league, it’s shown how good everybody is, I don’t know if there’s any advantage at all.”
Penn’s women, who are 8-4 in the Ivy League (16-9 overall) are locked into the tournament with Columbia (21-4, 10-2), Princeton (19-5, 10-2) and Harvard (15-9, 8-4) their last two games coming at Dartmouth and at home against Princeton. Beating the Tigers in that season finale would likely ensure that they meet again in the Ivy League semifinals, and even if Penn is the ‘home’ team in that game, they’ll still be playing it on Princeton’s court.
La Salle & Saint Joseph’s women in battle for A-10 seeding
Molly Masciantonio (above) and La Salle are right in the thick of things in the Atlantic 10 race. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
The Atlantic 10 Conference has turned into a two-team race on the women’s side between UMass (23-4) and Rhode Island (22-4), who each have a 13-1 conference record. Lurking behind them is a group of seven schools with anywhere from five to seven losses, including the league’s Philly contingent, either one of which could finish in the top five if the cards fall right.
St. Joe’s (18-8, 8-6) and La Salle (16-11, 7-5) are both in the mix, the Hawks currently in a tie for fourth place with Fordham and Saint Louis, one game behind George Washington, alone in third at 9-5. La Salle is currently in seventh, a half-game back of their Big 5 foes, at 7-6, a half-game ahead of Duquesne (17-10, 7-7) and Richmond (16-9, 6-6).
The Explorers have three games remaining, two away games against Dayton (5-19, 4-9) and Saint Louis before wrapping up with their senior day against VCU (7-19, 4-10). St. Joe’s will conclude its season with a matchup on the road against George Mason (14-14, 7-8) and at home against Duquesne. If each win out, they’d both finish at 10-6 in the league. Considering GW has to play at UMass in the season finale, it’s possible the Explorers also finish at 10-6 — and both the Hawks and Explorers hold head-to-head tiebreakers against them.
Falling outside of the top nine, which means a spot in the A-10 tournament’s first round on Weds., March 1, is the biggest pitfall to avoid. If either can finish in the top four, that means they’d also get a pass through to the quarterfinals on Friday, March 3, which would mean only having to win three straight games to win the league title.
La Salle & Saint Joseph's men in position to finish higher than recent past
Just as close as the women’s side of the A-10 is the men’s: seeds five through 11 are separated by just two games, and both Philadelphia schools find themselves right in the mix: La Salle (13-14, 7-7), just ahead of St. Joe’s (13-14, 7-8). They’re part of a group that includes Duquesne (8-6), George Mason (8-7), George Washington (7-7), St. Bonaventure (7-8) and Richmond (6-8), all of them right behind Fordham (9-5) and ahead of Davidson (5-9) with three or four games left to play.
Both the Explorers and Hawks have the chance to finish decently higher in the league than they have the last few years, but neither have an easy path. La Salle finishes against Duquesne at home, at GW, at Dayton (10-4) and at home against Loyola (Chi.) (3-11), with the Explorers favored only in their season finale, according to KenPom. St. Joe’s will wrap up its season with matchups with VCU (11-3), St. Bonaventure and Richmond, the Bonnies on the road and the other two at home.
Both La Salle and St. Joe’s have been able to string together some wins for the first time in a while. La Salle, which lost to George Mason over the weekend, had won five straight before that, while St. Joe’s won seven of nine before two recent setbacks. It might be asking too much for the two of them to close out 7-0, and it would be a surprise if either aren’t playing in the second round of the A-10 tournament, but they both should avoid the opening round and one of them could finish in the top half of the league for the first time since St. Joe’s came in fourth in 2017-18.
Villanova women gaining steam, men stumbling towards postseason
It’s been another impressive season for the Villanova women. They hold a 23-5 record, going 14-3 in conference play, and are ranked 15th in the country. The Wildcats currently sit in second place in the Big East, trailing No. 6 UConn, who have a 16-1 conference record. With three games remaining, they will need some help from the Huskies in order to take over the top spot, and that’s highly unlikely to happen. Villanova has three games remaining before the Big East tournament as they have home matchups with DePaul (15-13, 8-9) and Providence (13-15, 4-13) before traveling to Seton Hall (17-11, 10-8) to wrap up the regular season. Creighton is also hot on their tail with a 13-5 conference record, sitting in third place. Considering Villanova and Creighton split their regular-season matchups, ‘Nova would like to finish ahead of the Blue Jays and avoid any tiebreaker scenarios, which will take two wins, but either way they’ll be getting a high seed in the quarterfinals.
Meanwhile, it has been a turbulent start to the first season in the post-Jay Wright era for Villanova men's basketball. Kyle Neptune’s squad sits at 13-14 on the season and just 7-9 in Big East play after losing to Providence on Saturday, with a tough game at Xavier (20-7, 12-4) on Tuesday night. A far cry from the usual expectations of being nationally ranked and prepared for a deep NCAA tournament run, the Wildcats, currently in seventh place, will have have regular season games remaining which includes matchups with Creighton (18-9, 12-4), Seton Hall (16-12, 9-8), and Connecticut (20-7, 9-7). They then will travel to Madison Square Garden for the Big East tournament, which at this point looks like it will be their only way to punch a ticket to the dance; and barring a late surge look destined for a first-round game in the tournament for the first time since 2012.
Drexel men locked into CAA seed while women in fight at the top
Maura Hendrixson (above) and Drexel can lock up the top seed in the CAA playoffs this week. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
The Drexel women still have a statement to make at the final stages of the season. The Dragons lead the conference with their 11-4 record in the CAA and a 19-7 overall record. However, the race is not over as they still have three games remaining and will face off with Hofstra (9-16, 3-11), William & Mary (14-11, 9-5), and North Carolina A&T (16-9, 10-4). The season finale against North Carolina A&T is especially notable as they sit in second place in the conference, just a half-game back. Stony Brook (16-9, 10-4) is also in the mix, and there is a real chance the top seed could be on the line when the two teams face off on March 4.
Unlike the women's team, Drexel’s men are locked into their conference spot. The Dragons hold a 15-14 record overall and are 9-8 in conference play. This puts them in fifth place in the CAA with just one game to play. Drexel will face off with Northeastern (10-17, 6-10) in the regular season finale but will not move from the sixth seed in the CAA regardless of their result.
Temple men, women both struggling down the stretch
Things were looking up for both the Owls’ men and women just a couple weeks ago. The men had ripped off four straight wins, including one over No. 1 Houston, to rise up into the mix at the top of the American Athletic Conference, while the women had won three straight even after the dismissal of two players from the program and the voluntary departure of two others.
But they’re each on four-game losing streaks with two weeks left in the regular season, putting significant dents in their respective spots in the standings, and making their postseason picture that much more difficult. In the 11-team league, only the top five seeds get to bypass the first round of the league playoffs, everybody else needing to win four games in four days to earn an auto-bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Aaron McKie’s men’s squad is still in good position to earn such a bye, with a 9-6 record with three games to play, currently tied for fourth with Cincinnati, a game and a half ahead of Wichita State (7-7). But they’re going to have to earn the spot, with a brutal three-game closing stretch: at Cincinnati, at home against Central Florida (15-11, 6-8) and at Tulane (17-7, 10-3). Beating Cinci would go a long way towards ensuring they earn that bye, though Wichita State doesn’t have an easy closing four games, either. The Shockers do have a head-to-head win over the Owls, which also makes the margin thinner for TU.
Temple’s women have had a roller-coaster season in Diane Richardson’s first year with the program, the roster depletion and some injuries not helping matters in the slightest. They find themselves tied for eighth with Wichita State, and they close at UCF (2-10), at Wichita State and at home against SMU (6-5), though they’re all but guaranteed to play in the AAC’s opening round on March 6 in Fort Worth.
Tag(s): Home Josh Verlin College Division I Women's Temple Drexel La Salle Penn St. Joe's Villanova