Owls, 'Nova right where they should be

Jay Wright (left) and Fran Dunphy have led their teams into the top 25 as the season winds down. (Staff and AP Photos)

OK, so if you had told me back on Halloween that on Feb. 9 ninth-ranked Villanova would be 19-4 and No. 24 Temple would be 17-5, I would have thought what? Well, I would’ve figured that was about right.

But it’s funny sometimes to see the way certain folks react to the way a season unfolds. When Temple played poorly in a tournament in Orlando to start things out, they wanted to know what was wrong. Even though the Owls were only 3-2, with a bad loss to Cal, a good win over Georgia and another setback to a Texas A&M team that’s turned out to be pretty decent itself. Yet that wasn’t good enough, even though it was still only Thanksgiving.

That’s the way it is, with fans and expectations.

Then the Owls beat Maryland in Washington, Georgetown at home and nearly won at Villanova, and by New Year’s all was prety much right in their world. That was before they went down by a dozen at Duquesne and by 11 a week later at Xavier, which never loses at home in the Atlantic 10. And once again it became a matter of what the heck is going on? But all you had to do was look at the schedule to realize that was going to change. And it has. They won 29 last season. They might win nearly as many this time around. Or who knows, maybe even more, if they can finally win a few in the NCAAs. That’s why you can’t treat every single game like it’s the definitive whatever. You have to remain at least somewhat reasonable when accessing your respective situation.

Same with the Wildcats, as it pertains to Nova Nation. Just because you got to a Final Four two years ago, and were picked to finish second in the Big East this season (after getting eliminated at least one game too early last March) doesn’t mean you’re necessarily going to finish like 15-3 in the conference. Or even actually end up as the regular-season runnerup. You’re going to lose, sometimes even when on paper it says you’re not supposed to. Because it’s the Big East, where about 25 teams might wind up in the 68-team field. Especially if Digger Phelps is handling the selections.

The Wildcats lost to Tennessee in December, and it was the end of civilization. Hey, it wasn’t as good as the alternative, but it happens. They lost by two at Connecticut, on a last-second shot by the guy who might be the conference Player of the Year. Yet I kept getting e-mails about how bad they looked. Yo. Then they won big at Syracuse, when Syracuse looked like a Final Four kind of club. Of course, that was followed by a surprisingly lethargic loss at Providence, which had just knocked off Louisville at home. I understand that’s not what you want to see, either. And I’m not making excuses. But that doesn’t mean that Jay Wright suddenly doesn’t know what he’s doing. It obviously got worse when his guys lost their next one, close, at home to Georgetown. I wasn’t sure they Top 100 worthy after that. But somehow they regrouped to beat Marquette and West Virginia. And here they are, tied for second in the loss column in the roughest neighorhood in the land. I think Wright will take it, even though I’m sure he’d rather be unbeaten.

Anyway, right now ESPN’s Mr. Bracketology has them as a 3 seed in the East. And Temple is a 7 in the West. There’s obviously room for movement, both ways. I don’t think the Owls, who are 10-0 at home, are going to lose more than twice more before the A-10 tourney, where they’re the three-time defending champs. And that includes a trip to Duke. That’s not horrible. Not quite as gaudy as last year, but if they win a game or two in the Madness nobody will care.

As for the Wildcats, I’m thinking a 5-3 close. Which would get them to 12-6. Would you have taken that way back when? They have a pair with Pitt, a rematch with Syracuse and a trip to Notre Dame. They also get St. John’s at home and Rutgers, Seton Hall and DePaul away. So it could be 4-4, or maybe 6-2. If I had a crystal ball I’d head to Vegas.

All I know is, barring something unforseen, they’ll both be about where conventional wisdom suggested. It just doesn’t seem that way, public consumption being what it is. And that’s the part I don’t always get.


Four local games tonight, all conference games. Temple is home against Fordham, which has lost nine consecutive games. Villanova is at Rutgers, where there will be a Saint Joseph’s flavor inside the Scarlet Knights’ RAC. Rutgers coach Mike Rice, in his first season, is a former assistant coach on Hawk Hill under Phil Martelli.

La Salle is at Saint Louis in the A-10, the Explorers two games below .500. Drexel looks for revenge at home against James Madison, which is coached by South Jersey’s Matt Brady (Paul VI High), another former Hawks assistant.

Who: Fordham (6-15, 0-9 Atlantic 10) at Temple (17-5, 7-2)

When: 7 o’clock
Where: Liacouras Center
TV/Radio: None

Notes: The Owls rejoined the Associated Press Top 25 this week, slipping in at 24. They have won 18 consecutive games at Liacouras Center. Temple junior Scootie Randall (11.4 points per game) is the reigning A-10 and Big 5 Player of the Week. He scored 27 in win over Rhode Island on Saturday and is averaging 20 points over last five games. Temple beat Fordham, 70-51, on Jan. 5 at Meadowlands.

Who: James Madison (17-8, 7-6 Colonial Athletic Association) at Drexel (16-7, 8-5)

When: 7 o’clock
Where: Daskalakis Athletic Center
TV/Radio: None

Notes: Drexel lost at JMU, 60-52, on Jan. 26. Dragons are coming off 58-48 win at Delaware as Chris Fouch scored 19 of his 23 points in the second half. Dragons have won three straight and are three games behind first-place VCU and George Mason in Colonial Athletic Association, and a game behind Old Dominion and Hofstra.

Who: Villanova (19-4, 7-3 Big East) at Rutgers (12-11, 3-8)

When: 8 o’clock
Where: Louis Brown Athletic Center, Piscataway, N.J.
TV: Channel 17
Radio: ESPN (950-AM)

Notes: Villanova moved up to No. 9 from No. 12 in the AP Top 25 and has been ranked for 52 consecutive weeks. The Wildcats opened 2011 with an 81-65 victory over Rutgers at the Pavilion; Rutgers led at the half, 37-33. Scarlet Knights are coached by former Robert Morris head coach and former Saint Joseph’s assistant Mike Rice.

Who: La Salle (11-13, 3-6 A-10) at Saint Louis (8-14, 3-6)

When: 9 o’clock
Where: Chaifetz Arena, St. Louis
TV: CBS College Sports
Radio: WHAT (1340-AM)

Notes: La Salle’s Earl Pettis has made 29 consecutive free throws, dating to the second half against Towson on Dec. 29. He is averaging 15 points per game over the last four games. The Explorers have played 14 games decided by five points or less. They are 7-7 in those games. Saint Louis, coached by Rick Majerus, has lost three of four.