A full plate of Thanksgiving college hoops: Drexel at the Garden, Nova in Bahamas, and St. Joe's in Florida

A full plate of Thanksgiving college hoops: Drexel at the Garden, Nova in Bahamas, and St. Joe's in Florida

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

Where: Orlando

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.

Brett Brown says Ben Simmons will return in January

Brett Brown says Ben Simmons will return in January

Ben Simmons is on track to return to the Sixers in January, Brett Brown told the Philadelphia Inquirer on Friday. 

Previous reports indicated that Simmons, who suffered a Jones fracture in his right foot in the Sixers' final training camp scrimmage on Sept. 30, would be out three months. Friday's news jives with that, but this is the first time the Sixers have given a timetable.

"It's not doom and gloom," Brown said. "Ben is coming back in January. We are still trying to find information on Jerryd (Bayless). Jahlil (Okafor) is still trying to touch the court in his first preseason game."

With long-term ramifications in mind, there had been some speculation that Simmons' camp wanted him to sit all season. 

This is rather encouraging news and it means the Sixers may avoid watching another of their top picks miss his entire first year.

Union offering great deals on field level seats ahead of MLS Cup Playoffs

USA Today Images

Union offering great deals on field level seats ahead of MLS Cup Playoffs

Playoff soccer is returning to Chester for the first time in five years, and while fans prep for the Union’s first postseason games since 2011, there is no shortage of seating options for Union tickets on the primary market.

Perhaps most importantly, fans won’t have to break the bank to be on hand as the Union compete for their first MLS Cup in franchise history. Union field level seats are available for both the team’s final home regular season game against the New York Red Bulls and the Eastern Conference Semifinal on October 30 should they advance past the knockout round.

The team’s official website lists feet-on-the-pitch seating starting from $155 per ticket for this weekend’s game against the Red Bulls. The first-place Red Bulls head to Talen Energy Stadium with a first-round bye secured, but Union head coach Jim Curtin expects them to bring the pressure with them on Sunday. Fans can look on up close – and for relatively cheap - as the Union look to hand the Eastern Conference leaders their final loss of the regular season.

The Union will take on either New York City FC or Toronto FC in the knockout round either next Wednesday or Thursday. Pending a victory on the road, they’ll return to Talen Energy Stadium to host an Eastern Conference Semifinal game on October 30. Field level seating is still widely available for the team’s first home playoff game since 2011 and start from $178 per ticket.

2016 marks the franchise’s second MLS Cup Playoffs berth in its seven-year existence. They clinched a first-round bye in 2011 but fell to the Houston Dynamo by a 3-1 aggregate in the Conference Semifinals. The Union bring a much different vibe into the playoffs this season, however, after a formidable stretch from September on nearly drowned their postseason hopes. The team won its last game on August 27 against Sporting Kansas City, losing four games and drawing in two others since. 

Despite the team’s recent struggles, there is a sense of renewment that will carry them into the MLS Cup Playoffs. Records are cast aside and the slate is wiped clean, beginning a new path on the long and often tumultuous road to a national championship.