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March 25, 2015

Which Sweet 16 team should Philadelphians be rooting for now that Villanova is out?

NCAA March Madness
032615_Arizona_AP Ben Margot/AP

Arizona's Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

For the second year in a row, the Sweet 16 is missing something: A team from Philadelphia. 

In fact, there’s been just one City Six team — La Salle in 2013 — to advance to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament since Villanova made its run to the Final Four in 2009. For a town soaked in college basketball tradition, it's difficult to believe there’s been so little in terms of meaningful March basketball.

UPDATED MARCH MADNESS BRACKET

It doesn’t matter which team — Villanova, Temple, La Salle, St. Joe’s, Drexel, or Penn — is playing into late March, at least not in this city. Sure, a die-hard Hawks fan is unlikely to throw his support behind Villanova, but for most in the area, it’s easy to rally behind whichever local school is the last one standing.

Remember the South Philly Floater from the Explorers two years ago? We were ready to throw them a parade* before they were bounced by Wichita State in the Sweet 16.

*We don’t throw parades for losing teams, except the Taney Dragons. Is there a better example of the city blindly throwing its support behind any team that bears its name? What about Smarty Jones? 

Remember Villanova’s Final Four run in 2009? What about their trip to the Elite Eight in 2006? Odds are, you were cheering for Jay Wright’s crew even if you prayed to the Church of Fran Dunphy.

Remember the 2003-04 St. Joe’s squad with Jameer Nelson and Delonte West? Everyone in the city was on that bandwagon, in a good way.

But this year — with the exception of Temple playing in the semifinals of the NIT — there’s nothing. And because of that, Philadelphians have been left wondering which team they should throw their support behind.

Even though there aren't any Philly teams still alive, that doesn’t mean March Madness is devoid of players and coaches from the area who deserve your support. To make it easier, here’s a map of where every player still left in the tournament is from -- all 250-plus names:

Click here to enlarge the map.

Click on any of the logos for more information about the player it represents. And zoom out for a wider look at where all the players are from. You can also click the icon in the upper left-hand corner to filter the results on a team-by-team basis.

Of the remaining teams, four of them have particularly strong ties to the Philadelphia area:

Wisconsin

Coach Bo Ryan is a Chester native who began his coaching career at Brookhaven Junior High School in Delaware County in 1972. In 1974, Ryan began coaching at Sun Valley High School in Aston before moving up to University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee as an assistant in 1976. He also has a graduate degree from Villanova.

Notre Dame

Steve Vasturia, a St. Joe's Prep grad, played a big role in the Irish advancing to the Sweet 16. The Medford, New Jersey, native is fourth on the team in minutes and fifth in scoring (9.8 PPG) as a sophomore. However, in his team's game against Butler in the Round of 32, Vasturia -- coach Mike Brey calls him a "baby-faced assassin" -- played 43 minutes and scored a team-high 20 points in the 67-63 overtime win over Butler.

The Irish also have Jerian Grant, who is the older brother of Sixers forward Jerami Grant. Grant currently leads his team in scoring at 16.8 per game. He's also the son of Harvey Grant and nephew of Horace Grant, both former NBA stars.

Arizona

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, a sophomore for the Wildcats, is a graduate of Chester High, a team he helped lead to its first undefeated season. In just his second season under head coach Sean Miller, Hollis-Jefferson is already one of the team's leaders. He was named first-team All-Pac-12 in 2015, as well as being named to the Pac-12 All-Defensive Team, after averaging 11.3 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.9 blocks, and 1.1 steals per game. Last year, he was named to the Pac-12 All-Freshman Team.

Duke

Junior Amile Jefferson, a Friends Central grad, currently averages 6.6 points in 21.7 minutes for the Blue Devils. 

They also have a pair of players who are projected to be high first-round picks in June's NBA Draft, Kahlil Okafor and Justice Winslow. That might be something worth paying attention to for all you Sixers fans out there.


But what if that isn't enough to help you make up your mind? Here are a few other things to consider:

Which team has the best player name?

This is tough. It's quite a strong field this year. 

There are those that roll off the tongue like Travis Trice of Michigan State or Fred VanVleet of Wichita State. There are the ones that sound downright badass, like Wayne Blackshear of Louisville or Daxter Miles Jr. of West Virginia.

There are the ones that sound familiar, like WVU's BillyDee Williams or Myles Davis of Xavier or Tony Parker of UCLA.

Then there are guys like Beejay Anya and Staats Battle of NC State. So many good names, but none come close to UCLA's Wannah Bail. It sounds like something you'd say to buddy when they run for beer at a party.

"Wanaah Bail?"

"Yeah, let's roll."

Which teams shouldn't you root for?

Not only did NC State eliminate the only Philly team in the tournament, Villanova, but the Wolfpack were also a bubble team that potentially kept Temple out of the field of 64 68.

Similarly, UCLA was on the bubble, potentially stealing the final spot from the Owls. And while the Bruins may be the lone double-digit seed remaining in the tournament, they're far from a Cinderella. Just try not to be lured in by the father-son storyline of coach Steve Alford and guard Bryce Alford. 

Did you know there's another Alford on the team? Older brother Kory plays about two minutes a game. I bet he also has to do the dishes and take out the trash while little bro and dad shoot hoops in the driveway.

If you're looking for an underdog ...

Just root for whoever Kentucky is playing. You'll likely need a new team after each game, but you'll certainly be rooting for the underdog.

If you really want a Cinderella though, this year's Sweet 16 is lacking any major surprises. Your best bet is rooting for Wichita State, which already has a good story going after it beat in-state rival Kansas -- the same Kansas team that refuses to put the Shockers on its schedule -- in the Round of 32.

However, Wichita State is a two-point favorite headed into Thursday night's game against the Irish.

Which team has the best mascot?

Speaking of Wichita State ...

Of the 16 teams remaining, there's no doubt that the Shockers have the best mascot and logo. I mean, look at this logo:

None

And did you know his name is Wu-Shock?

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I think that settles it. Shockers win for best mascot.

So, while I can't pick exactly which team you should be rooting for, hopefully this serves as a reminder that there's still plenty to pay attention to this March, even if all the Philly teams have been eliminated.

Already. 

Again.

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