WITH JUST a few days left in the regular season, Villanova, Saint Joseph's and Temple all lead their conferences. I think you can make a pretty good case that the all-Big 5 first team should come from those schools - Josh Hart and Ryan Arcidiacono (Villanova), DeAndre' Bembry and Zeke Miles (St. Joe's) and Quenton DeCosey (Temple).
Player of the Year is a bit more complicated. If it's the best player from the best team, it's Hart. If it's the most valuable player, it's Ryan Arch. If it's the most versatile player, it's Bembry. If it's the toughest matchup, it's Miles. I don't think DeCosey is in this race, but nobody has made more big shots.
Hart epitomizes Villanova basketball under Jay Wright - tough, smart, relentless and talented. Arch is one of my all-time favorite Big 5 players. My man Mike Kern said if Bembry had Miles' jump shot, he would be a lottery pick this year. If Bembry had Miles' jump shot, we would not be talking about Bembry on this all-Big 5 team. He would have been gone to the NBA last year.
All postseason games are considered before the Player of the Year vote is taken, so there is no reason to make a choice yet. Regardless, this is a very strong field with many good choices.
It has not been announced yet, but La Salle legend Lionel Simmons is going to be inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame this November in Kansas City.
The L-Train's 3,217 points are third all-time. Since he scored his last point in 1990, nobody has come close to Simmons' point total and I can't imagine anybody ever will. If there is a player good enough to score that many points, he will be long gone to the NBA before he can get close to 3,217.
I had the good fortune to catch a ride on the L-Train late in his freshman year and rode it through 100 wins right to the station. I have covered some really talented players, but never a player as consistently great. I never remember Train having a bad game.
If there was a part of the game he did not master, I never noticed. In addition to being a great scorer, he was a wonderful rebounder, a brilliant passer with great vision, and still holds the school record for blocked shots.
My favorite Simmons memory is from the locker room at Notre Dame after he missed two late free throws that would have won a game La Salle eventually lost. The locker room was silent. I asked if anybody wanted to talk and Simmons, then a junior, said he would. The next season, he was staring at two late free throws to beat Temple, the one Big 5 school his La Salle team had not beaten. He made them both.
Villanova's Jay Wright has to get major consideration. The Wildcats' three-year run has been accomplished with four-and-done players. Villanova lost three starters from last season's 33-3 team. They finished with a disheartening NCAA loss and never missed a beat. They are a joy to watch. None of this is happening by accident. This Wildcats are coached to play like they play. And they play like they want to keep playing for a while.
Remember two years ago when if St. Joe's had beaten Connecticut in the first NCAA game, the Hawks would have played Villanova two nights later in Buffalo, N.Y. SJU lost in overtime and there was no rematch.
At this moment, Villanova is a definite No. 1 seed and SJU is in the 8-9 range so . . . The Wildcats definitely will open in Brooklyn, N.Y., because their high seed gets them site preference. SJU could move up or down the seed line depending on how it finishes and its site is less definite. Still, it is possible they could end up at the same site again and if they are lined up in the bracket and both win, they really could play in a second-round game.
Like their Big 5 brethren, the Owls lead their league, but their NCAA path is much less clear because they did not get any marquee nonconference wins. They were the last team left out in 2015. The Owls, of course, can solve all issues by winning the American Tournament next week in Orlando, Fla. If they don't win it, they absolutely will be among the group of teams discussed by the selection committee for the final at-large spots. Perhaps their season of white-knuckle wins is a precursor to the ending. We shall see.
Michigan State is starting to look like the 2013 version of Louisville as we hit March. The Spartans hit a midseason lull, but, just like the Cardinals three years ago, they are clearly peaking.
The Spartans have veterans who played in last year's Final Four, just like Louisville in 2012. And they have a star in Denzel Valentine who fills up the stat sheet with points, rebounds and assists.
Like Rick Pitino, Tom Izzo plans his whole season around March, which is why both coaches have had so much NCAA Tournament success. And like Pitino three years ago, I can see Izzo, who is a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame finalist, being announced as a 2016 inductee on the morning of the national championship game in Houston and then helping his team cut down the nets that night.
The top five most efficient offensive teams, according to kenpom.com, are Notre Dame, Michigan State, Duke, Iowa State and North Carolina. On defense, it is Wichita State, San Diego State, Louisville, Valparaiso and Cincinnati.
Villanova is 12th on offense, sixth on defense. St. Joe's is 51/45 while Temple is 141/56.
I look for national champions in the 20/20 range. In addition to Villanova, only four other teams qualify today: Kansas 7/8, Virginia 10/11, Oklahoma 15/12 and Michigan State 2/19.