Villanova Wildcats

Villanova Wildcats

The NCAA Tournament tips off Tuesday night with the start of the First Four in Dayton. There are a couple prominent Big 5 storylines as college basketball takes center stage for the next three weeks. Namely, Villanova is trying to do something that hasn't been done in 44 years: win three national championships in the span of four years.

Then there's Temple's Fran Dunphy coaching in his 17th and final NCAA Tournament before stepping down at the end of the season.

Here's a breakdown of what lies ahead for the local teams.

Can Villanova make history?

The Wildcats are back in the NCAA Tournament for the 14th time in the last 15 years under Jay Wright. They arrive with plenty of momentum after winning their third straight Big East Tournament last week at Madison Square Garden. Villanova is riding a ridiculous wave of postseason success — since the 2016 season, the Wildcats have a 26-2 record in Big East and NCAA Tournament competition.

Now they set out to win a third national championship in the last four years. That hasn't been done since the UCLA dynasty in the mid-1970s.

Villanova is flying under the radar compared to previous years in terms of contending for a national title. The Wildcats are the 6-seed in the South Region and will play St. Mary's on Thursday night in Hartford, CT. St. Mary's comes into play with a 22-11 record after a shocking win over then-No. 1 Gonzaga in the WCC championship game last week.

Villanova is battle-tested and has one of the premiere coaches in the country. The Wildcats are led by two terrific seniors in Phil Booth and Eric Paschall, two guys with tons of NCAA Tournament experience. Those are the positives.

 

The biggest negative? Villanova's lack of depth. Wright's rotation essentially shrunk to six players during the Big East Tournament.

Sophomore Jermaine Samuels and freshman Saddiq Bey are the X-factors. Both Samuels and Bey have had their moments this season and were critical to Villanova's success last week. If Samuels and Bey can step up to complement Booth and Paschall, the Wildcats will be a tough out in the NCAA Tournament.

Fran Dunphy's last stand

Dunphy has pretty much done it all during a remarkable career. A standout player at La Salle, he received a master's degree from Villanova and has served as the head coach at both Penn and Temple. His "Mr. Big 5" nickname is well deserved.

He had tremendous success during his 17 seasons at Penn, winning nine Ivy League titles and going to nine NCAA Tournaments. Dunphy carried that success over to Temple, winning three straight Atlantic 10 Tournaments from 2008 to 2010. He has led the Owls to eight NCAA Tournaments during his 13 seasons as head coach.

The one thing missing from Dunphy's resume is success on the sport's biggest stage. He has a 3-16 career record in the NCAA Tournament. Dunphy's Owls will try to improve that record on Tuesday night against a Belmont team that won 26 games this season.

Dunphy is a great coach, terrific man and has been a wonderful ambassador for college basketball. It would be a great story if Temple sends him out with a nice run in this NCAA Tournament.