by Clark Groome

Ah! Spring! It officially starts this week, although the meteorologists actually say it began March 1. (Mother Nature clearly didn’t get the memo.)

Not only is March the beginning of warmer weather and blooming flowers, it is also one of the busiest sports months of the year. To give you an idea of just how full March can be, let’s take a look at some of the local events that took place this past weekend.

It’s time to go dancing.

Two Big Five basketball teams, the Villanova Wildcats and the St. Joseph’s Hawks, are in the NCAA Basketball Tournament. While the 28-4 Wildcats are no surprise, St. Joe’s had a somewhat bumpier road.

After a season-ending loss to La Salle, the Hawks needed to win at least one game in the Atlantic 10 tournament. They did better than that, defeating Dayton 70-67 then St. Bonaventure’s 67-48 and finally Virginia Commonwealth 65-61 to win the tournament.

Villanova, who lost to Seton Hall in the first round of the Big East Tournament, was a lock for the dance. A win in the conference tourney likely would have garnered a one seed in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship, a/k/a/ March Madness.

As it turned out, both Villanova and St. Joe’s are in the East Regional and both will play their opening round games in Buffalo on Thursday, March 20.

Villanova, a 2 seed, will take on the 15th seeded Milwaukee Panthers.

St. Joe’s, seeded 10, will play the 7 seed, the University of Connecticut Huskies.

As is almost always the case, the NCAA Tournament is likely to be full of surprises as it wends its way to the April 7 final in North Texas. That’s the same day the Phillies play their home opener against Milwaukee, but I’m getting ahead of myself – that’s April and we’re talking about March.

Last Saturday, after a ceremony at XFINITY Live! where the statue of Flyers’ Hall of Fame coach Fred Shero was unveiled (no fog machine was used in the ceremony), the Flyers began a 17-game sprint to the end of the season with the first of a back-to-back home and home series against the Sydney Crosby-led Pittsburgh Penguins.

Amid raucous greetings of “Crosby sucks” from the Flyers faithful, the league’s leading scorer was held pointless in the Flyers 4-0 victory against their cross-commonwealth rivals.

Less than 24 hours later, the Orange and Black took the ice in Pittsburgh and once again topped the Metropolitan Division-leading Penguins, this time by a 4-3 margin, again holding Crosby pointless.

In the press box before the Saturday game, the talk was that getting two or three points out of these two games would be a terrific way to start a string of games against the best teams in the league, including Chicago, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Columbus, Boston and, again, Pittsburgh. The Flyers captured all four points and played some of their most consistent hockey of the season.

Shero would have been proud of this team.

After opening its 2014 MLS season with a 1-1 tie against the Portland (Ore.) Timbers, the Philadelphia Union came home Saturday to face the New England Revolution in the team’s debut at PPL Park.

The Union won 1-0. Sebastien Le Toux scored the winning goal on a pass from Leo Fernandes in the game’s 31st minute.

The Eagles continued to greet their new signings, notably versatile safety Malcolm Jenkins and running back Darren Sproles, both acquired from the New Orleans Saints.

The Phillies sometimes futile looking and other times encouraging Spring Training lumbers on as the team readies for its season-opening game at the Texas Rangers on March 31.

And, of course, the 76ers continued to lose. They’ve lost 20 straight, tying their team-worst losing streak originally set in the 1972-73 season. The question on a lot of folks’ minds is can this team win any of its last 16 games. If they don’t, they’ll eclipse the all-time losing streak of 26, set by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2010-11 season, by a remarkable 10 games.

So there you go. A full weekend and only a sampling of what March has to offer the sports fan. And it sure beats trying to figure out what Mother Nature has up her sleeve, eh?