Through two-and-a-half weeks of the college basketball season, Drexel and St. Joe’s have joined Villanova as the best teams in Philly. Now comes the fun part, as all three teams will take Thanksgiving vacations that are more exciting than yours for some early-season tournament games against quality competition.
So if you don’t feel like watching Scott Tolzien or Matt Flynn try to throw a football against the Lions, or if you heed Tip #1 on the Evster’s guide to playing Thanksgiving football and don’t, um, do it, here are some local college hoops games you can watch while pigging out on turkey and stuffing.
Drexel vs. Arizona
When: Wednesday, 7 p.m.
What: NIT Season Tip-Off Semifinals
Where: Madison Square Garden
How to watch: ESPNU
The lowdown: There are some college basketball tournaments in November that seem silly and meaningless – but not this one. The preseason NIT (as it used to be called and what I still call it because I hate change) has been going on since 1985 at Madison Square Garden with the semifinals the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the championship and consolation the Friday after it. And the games are often previews of future NCAA tournament contests. With wins over Elon and Rutgers, Drexel crashed the Garden Party, joining No. 4 Arizona, No. 6 Duke and Alabama in the NIT semifinals. The Dragons have been playing well so far this season but if they find a way to beat Arizona and Duke in the span of two days, Drexel should erect a statue of Bruiser Flint next to the dragon statue on 33rd and Market. (Or maybe he can sit atop the dragon? We can figure something out.)
Storyline to watch: While the odds are certainly stacked against Drexel winning the tourney, the games will be a homecoming for New York City native Chris Fouch. And it all it took him was six years of college basketball to get to the Garden. But seriously, it’s nice to see Fouch healthy again after multiple injuries allowed him to come back as a sixth-year senior. And if you care at all about college hoops, you should check out this long-form feature on him over at Philahoops.com.
Villanova vs. USC
When: Thursday, 1 p.m.
What: Battle 4 Atlantis
Where: The freakin’ Bahamas
How to watch: Go to the freakin’ Bahamas (or figure out if you get AXS TV)
The lowdown: This Thanksgiving, the Villanova players will give thanks for the fact that they’re staying at a place called PARADISE ISLAND. Not a bad perk of playing college basketball. The Wildcats open against USC (a game they should win) right around when the first Thanksgiving football game kicks off, and will then play twice more over the next two days. The loaded tournament features a bunch of big-time programs, including No. 2 Kansas, who the Wildcats will likely play on Friday night. And if beating the second-ranked team in the nation isn’t enough of a perk, Villanova can use the fact that Kansas is calling a trip to a tropical island in November “a business trip” (is there a worse cliché?) as extra motivation.
Storyline to watch: Through the first four games of the season, Villanova has completely dominated its opponents, with only Delaware this past Friday giving the Wildcats any kind of scare. Now it looks as if Rice transfer Dylan Ennis will make his Villanova debut after breaking his hand in the preseason. The presence of a high-scoring guard like Ennis should make Villanova even more potent and will certainly give the Wildcats a better chance to beat a team like Kansas. But it will also be interesting to see how he fits into a rotation that’s already clicking very well.
St. Joe’s vs. LSU
When: Thursday, 8:30 p.m.
What: Old Spice Classic
How to watch: ESPN2
The lowdown: Instead of watching Thursday Night Football, you can flip over to ESPN2 to watch the Hawks’ first of three games at the ESPN World Wide Sports Complex at Disney World. St. Joe’s will then play either Memphis or Siena on Friday at either 5:30 p.m. or 8 p.m., before concluding the tourney Saturday in either the championship or a consolation. Hopefully that still leaves enough time for Phil Martelli to drink some butterbeer at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Storyline to watch: St. Joe’s freshman D’Andre Bembry looks like he’ll be a rising star, having already won an Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week award. But it will be a good test to see how the freshman handles a vacation-like setting in a competitive tournament that includes elite teams like Purdue, Oklahoma State, Butler and Memphis.