With a Saturday free from his St. Joseph’s basketball radio duties, Joe Lunardi spent the entire day in a studio at ESPN headquarters watching games on a half-dozen televisions, sending bracketology updates whenever a team moved in or out in his NCAA Tournament projections.
One television, however, attracted his attention the most: one showing the game between Temple and South Florida.
“Even though there’s all these other big-time games going on,” he recalled Tuesday, “that one actually is impacting my world the most because at that moment, Temple was the last team in, or the next-to-last team in.”
The Owls ended up winning the game in overtime, 70-69, when the Bulls’ David Collins missed two free throws with 0.8 seconds remaining.
“So that’s how close it is — free throws in February games in South Florida in a half-empty building — and that kept them in for another cycle,” Lunardi said.
Lunardi’s latest bracket released Tuesday has Temple as the third team in his last four in. He feels that, with five games remaining in the regular season, the Owls would need to go 4-1, winning all three of their home games and one of two road games.
“I think that’s going to be enough, barring a really early bad loss in the [AAC] tournament,” he said. “If they lose in the conference tournament respectably to one of the other NCAA teams in the league, they can probably survive if they win four of the next five.”
He said a win in the March 9 regular-season finale against Central Florida, currently projected to barely be in the NCAA field, would be vital. Another important game will be Tuesday at Memphis, Temple’s last Quadrant 1 opportunity in the regular season.
Ranked 53rd Tuesday in the NET, the Owls are 1-6 in Quadrant 1, with their victory over Houston still shining brightly. If South Florida (78 in the NET) should move into the top 75, then the Owls’ victory Saturday would count in Quadrant 1.
In Lunardi’s view, the formula from here is 4-1, with no bad loss.
“They have to win their home games, period,” he said. “If they don’t win one of the road games, then they’re going to have to bag another, I think, NCAA-level win in the conference tournament. They might need it anyway depending on what happens everywhere else.”
Villanova fell to 3-4 in Quadrant 1 with its loss Sunday at St. John’s. With two losses in their last three games, the Wildcats have seen their seed drop from No. 4 to No. 5 in Lunardi’s latest projection in the East Regional, but playing the first weekend in Jacksonville, Fla.
The nearest first- and second-round site to Philadelphia is Hartford, Conn., but Lunardi said it’s unlikely the Wildcats would be sent there unless they’re at least a 3 seed.
“You generally get whatever sites are still available,” he said, “and most of the Eastern sites that would go to the really highly ranked teams are gone by then.”
Besides Hartford and Jacksonville, the other opening-weekend sites in the Eastern time zone are Columbia, S.C., and Columbus, Ohio. There is a chance the Cats could end up in San Jose, Calif., or Salt Lake City.