Four City Six Teams, Plus Temple's Play-in Opponent, in Action Tonight

Four City Six Teams, Plus Temple's Play-in Opponent, in Action Tonight

If you're of the "The NIT is for losers, talk to me about the real tournament" crowd, you'll find a Cal-USF breakdown down the bottom. If you're otherwise interested in the exploits of Drexel, La Salle and Saint Joseph's (and Penn!), then you won't need to skip -- or, at least, as far.
We'll start with the Dragons...
NIT: #3 Drexel vs. #6 UCF (Daskalaskis Center) / 7:15 p.m. / ESPN3.comAfter their resume kept them out of the NCAAs, there's pressure on the Drexel Dragons to back up all the talk that has surrounded their "snub." Some will say their NIT performance has no bearing on whether they should or should not have made the NCAAs. Others will argue that their early exit or extended run will either totally validate or invalidate the selection committee's omission -- and that tipping point will obviously vary.
Speaking of resumes, Drexel has the opportunity to take on a UCF program on its way to the Big East in 2013, and one that, as a six seed from C-USA, had an arguably better resume than the Dragons to get into the NCAAs in the first place.
UCF finished the year 22-10 with the 54th best RPI in the country and two Top 50 wins -- UConn and Memphis. Six of their 10 losses came to teams in the NCAA tournament -- Memphis, Florida State, Harvard, and two to Southern Miss.
Drexel, by contrast, cannot say the same. Though they won 27 games, they played just four of those contests against NCAA teams, losing to St. Joe's and Virginia and splitting two games with VCU. They never played a Top 50 team (UVA finished 53).
Look, we're not here to rehash why Drexel didn't get in nor to browbeat them for failing to do so. The point is that UCF is very much the kind of program Drexel didn't get the chance play enough over the course of its regular season, and just one of a handful they'll have to survive if they want to prove they were more than just a good team with an awful schedule. Drexel fans can proffer every reason they want as to why the team's weak schedule wasn't the school's fault, and they might even be right. But now it's time to play the teams those same fans wish they could have just a month or two prior; so now it's time to produce.
Of course, should they beat UCF, they could get the chance for a little retribution against a team they already played...
NIT: #2 Saint Joseph's vs. #7 Northern Iowa (Hagan Arena) / 7:15 p.m. / ESPN3 / 610 AMThis NIT bid could really be good for SJU. Yes, every team would prefer "the big dance" and Joe's could have even played its way in had it squeaked by St. Bonaventure, but there's little doubt the Hawks have the tools to be successful in the NIT. 
An extended run for a young SJU roster could give this up-and-coming team a whole lot of confidence and some very worthwhile experience heading into next year, when Carl Jones will be a senior and Langston Galloway, C.J. Aiken and Ron Roberts juniors.
They'll take on Northern Iowa tonight, whose Missouri Valley Conference flew under the radar as the best Mid-Major in the country, one that finished ahead of C-USA and the Pac-12 and just behind the A-10 for the eighth-best conference RPI in the country. NIU lost both its contests with Wichita State earlier this season, but split games 1-1 with Creighton, who SJU also downed early.
For those who make use of the online feed or make it down to the Fieldhouse, the matchup between Jones and NIU's Anthony James should be fun to watch. At 6-0, James, like Jones, is undersized, quick and has dropped 20 or more five different times this season.
Also, if Northern Iowa sounds familiar, remember this guy?
NIT: #3 La Salle vs. #6 Minnesota (Gola Arena) / 7 p.m. / ESPN 2 / 990 AMThis is the only one of the City Six games that will be on basic cable tonight.
Explorers head coach John Giannini said after his team's loss to St. Louis last Friday night that an opportunity to play in the NIT would put his team in the company of some household names. In this case, La Salle has drawn a household college hockey name in round one.
The Golden Gophers will no doubt be happy to play a non-Big Ten team for the first time since Dec. 22. Minnesota went 12-1 out of conference but just 6-12 in conference. Their lone loss outside the Big Ten came to another Atlantic 10 team: the Dayton Flyers.
Tonight's meeting will be the two teams' first since 1965. The winner will move on to play the victor of Miami (FL) and Valparaiso.
CBI: Penn vs. Quinnipiac (Palestra) / 7:30 p.m. / 88.5 FM WXPN  One other note we forgot to mention earlier, the Penn Quakers are in action tonight against the Quinnipiac Bobcats in the first round of the College Basketball Invitational. Every game the Quakers play could be Zack Rosen and Tyler Bernandini's last in Penn uniforms.
The winner will move on to play the victor of the Delaware-Butler game, which can be seen on HD Net at 8 p.m. this evening.
And now, onto the big show...
NCAA: #12 South Florida vs. #12 California / 9:10 p.m. / TRU TVThe winner earns the last remaning spot in the field of 64 and the right to play the fifth-seeded Temple Owls in round one. 
It'll be a contrast of styles, as USF plays to hold opponents to under 60 -- and sometimes 50 -- points, while Cal boasts the 20th best field goal percentage in the nation at 47.9 and scores 71.9 ppg. 
The easy way to look at this is just to compare the Big East to the Pac-12 and to pick your winner from there -- and we're not necessarily discouraging anyone from doing so. If we were forced to fill out brackets, we probably would have done the same under the logic that stiffer defense and more hands in more faces will dramatically decrease Cal's shooting percentages.
That said, it's never wise to count out a team who shoots for that high a percentage. Even if it's inflated, it's still excellent enough to give you pause, regardless of how it gets done.
Again, the winner moves on to face Temple at 9:50 p.m. Friday night.
Owls fans, who would you rather play?

Best of NHL: Patrick Kane hat trick lifts Blackhawks over Coyotes

Best of NHL: Patrick Kane hat trick lifts Blackhawks over Coyotes

CHICAGO -- Patrick Kane scored three goals for his third career hat trick to lead the surging Chicago Blackhawks past the Arizona Coyotes 6-3 on Thursday night for their third straight win and eighth in nine games.

Kane has 23 goals to lead Chicago, which closed within three points behind first-place Minnesota in the Central Division and Western Conference.

Rookies Nick Schmaltz and Ryan Hartman each had a goal and assist. Blackhawks defenseman Michal Rozsival scored his first goal of the season in his first game since Jan. 15.

Chicago captain Jonathan Toews added two assists to extend his points scoring streak to five games and increase his output to 22 points in his past 13.

Jakob Chychrun, Ryan White and Radim Vrbata scored for the Coyotes. Chychrun and Vrbata each scored for the second straight game (see full recap).

Rangers outlast Maple Leafs in shootout
TORONTO -- Mika Zibanejad scored the shootout winner and the New York Rangers continued a strong February with a 2-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Henrik Lundqvist made 32 saves and J.T. Miller scored the game-tying goal in the third period for the Rangers, who improved to 8-1-1 this month.

New York moved into third place in the Metropolitan Division with 80 points.

Connor Brown scored for Toronto, which fell to 1-7 in shootouts this season. Frederik Andersen had a stellar performance in defeat with 37 saves.

The Leafs hold the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division (68 points), two points back of Ottawa (70) and four back of Montreal (see full recap).

Islanders shut out Canadiens
MONTREAL -- Rookie Anthony Beauvillier scored in the first period, Thomas Greiss made 24 saves, and the New York Islanders beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-0 Thursday night.

Anders Lee scored in the second period and John Tavares added an empty-netter in the final minute to seal the Islanders' third straight win. New York has won the first two games on a crucial nine-game road swing and improved to 12-4-2 since interim coach Doug Weight replaced the fired Jack Capuano.

Josh Bailey and Brock Nelson each had two assists, and Greiss got his third shutout of the season.

Carey Price finished with 21 saves as the Canadiens lost coach Claude Julien's 1,000th NHL game. Montreal is 1-2-0 since Julien replaced Michel Therrien last week and has totaled just 14 goals while going 2-7-1 in the last 10 games, including four shutouts (see full recap).

Best of NBA: Rockets crush Pelicans to spoil Cousins' debut

Best of NBA: Rockets crush Pelicans to spoil Cousins' debut

NEW ORLEANS -- The Boogie-and-Brow era in New Orleans is off to a highly inauspicious start.

The Pelicans' tandem of newly acquired All-Star DeMarcus Cousins and All-Star Game MVP Anthony Davis was no match for the surging Houston Rockets on Thursday night.

Reserve Lou Williams hit seven 3-pointers and scored 27 points in his Rockets debut, and Houston crushed New Orleans, 129-99.

Davis had 29 points, and Cousins finished with 27 points and 14 rebounds. But New Orleans turned the ball over 20 times couldn't keep pace with the firepower of the Rockets, who hit 20 3-pointers.

Eric Gordon scored 19 points and Ryan Anderson added 17 in both players' first game in New Orleans since leaving the Pelicans. James Harden had 13 points and 14 assists (see full recap).

LeBron triple-double powers Cavs past Knicks
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James recorded his 48th career triple-double and Kyrie Irving scored 23 points, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 119-104 victory over the New York Knicks, who hung on to superstar Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose at Thursday's trade deadline.

James scored 18 points and had 13 rebounds with 15 assists for his sixth triple-double of the season.

Anthony, the subject of trade rumors because of a strained relationship with Knicks President of Basketball Operations Phil Jackson, scored 20 points, going 9 of 25 from the field.

Kyle Korver scored 20 points for Cleveland, which is 8-1 in February and has beaten New York 10 straight times.

Courtney Lee had 25 points for New York, which has lost six of seven and is 12th in the Eastern Conference playoff race (see full recap).

Pistons rally from 18 down to beat Hornets in OT
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 33 points, including three 3-pointers late in the fourth quarter during a pulsating Detroit rally, and the Pistons outlasted the Charlotte Hornets 114-108 in overtime Thursday night.

Caldwell-Pope scored Detroit's last 11 points of regulation, and his 3-pointer with 18.2 seconds to play tied the game at 100. Kemba Walker scored Charlotte's final nine points of the fourth, but the Pistons forced him to give up the ball on the last possession, and Marco Belinelli missed a 3-pointer that could have won it.

Detroit, which was behind by 18 in the third quarter, never trailed in the overtime. Caldwell-Pope's 3-pointer with 55 seconds remaining put the Pistons up 110-102.

Charlotte led 85-70 at the start of the fourth but missed 14 of its first 15 shots in the period, enabling Detroit to cut into the lead.

Walker scored 34 points. Tobias Harris had 25 for the Pistons (see full recap).