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?

Pro athletes react to Donald Trump's inauguration

Pro athletes react to Donald Trump's inauguration

A look at some of the reaction around the sports world as Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States on Friday:

Buffalo Bills offensive lineman Richie Incognito on Twitter
"Today is the first day on the road to Making America Great Again #Inauguration2017"

Memphis Grizzlies forward JaMychal Green on Twitter
"Hope these 4 years fly by ? #TimeToPray"

Los Angeles Angels relief pitcher Huston Street on Twitter
"Today we start a new chapter, let's work together, and remember only saying negative without an idea is creating divide, it does not help US"

Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee on Twitter
"Inauguration Day.. Some folks happier than they've ever been.. some folks madder than they've ever been.. what a time to be alive"

Former USWNT soccer player Lauren Holiday , to her infant daughter, on Instagram
"I may not be the president, baby but I'll promise to be your Mom. I'll teach you that your brown skin is beautiful. I'll show you that being a girl and a woman is a privilege. How being incredibly powerful means serving those around you and fighting for those who cannot fight for themselves. I will tell you about Jesus and how he taught us to love unconditionally. We will have many talks about equality and I will always encourage generosity. One day if you ask me what you can be, I will smile and say absolutely anything. I'll tell you whatever it is you choose, be kind. I'll fight for you, I'll cheer for you and I'll love you along the way. But most of all, I'll make sure you're hopeful. So today, baby, I'll choose hope."

Portland Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum on Twitter
"Appreciate you Mr. 44"

Atlanta Hawks guard Thabo Sefolosha on Twitter
"The only President my 2 daughters have known. Feels strange going from them to the new guy. Thanks for the class act Barack and Michelle !"

Former Texas and NFL receiver Jordan Shipley on Twitter
"Heard God's word in the inauguration speech. I care about our country being under God a lot more than I care about politics or parties."

Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul on Twitter
"Thank You!!! #44"

New England Patriots QB Tom Brady when asked on Friday if he called Trump to congratulate him.
"Let's talk about football."

Shayne Gostisbehere was right: Let's not forget the big picture

Shayne Gostisbehere was right: Let's not forget the big picture

Shayne Gostisbehere spoiled us.

In 64 games last season, we were spoiled by his 17 goals, most by an NHL rookie defenseman since Dion Phaneuf scored 20 over a full 82 in 2005-06.

Spoiled by a historic 15-game point streak, the longest ever for a first-year blueliner.

And spoiled by four overtime winners, an NHL rookie single-season record.

With it all, Gostisbehere created a mighty and somewhat unfair challenge. He exceeded anyone’s wildest expectations and perhaps made for even greater ones as an encore.

So, naturally, questions and doubts have swirled around his quiet sophomore season. Speaking to reporters last week after a 4-1 loss in Buffalo, Gostisbehere, for the first time, expressed just a hint of frustration. In the midst of his current 22-game goal drought, he wanted to make a point.

Astutely, he did.

“I’m doing my job,” he said. “I mean, I’m a defenseman, I’m not a goal scorer.”

It served as a reminder of what many wanted to see improve in Gostisbehere’s second NHL go-round — a more sound game in his own end by honing in on the defensive skills to his position.

Yes, he can change a game offensively, but could he be reliable and responsible defensively?

After all, Gostisbehere is a defenseman, like he said. We’ve already seen the offensive potential. From the onset, defensive growth is what head coach Dave Hakstol wanted to see.

“Consistency every day,” Hakstol said in early October. “Just be an everyday worker who is pushing hard to really improve himself as an NHL defenseman.”

Now, not only is Gostisbehere in a malaise offensively with four goals and 15 assists through 43 games, but he also hasn’t been sharp or consistent defensively. That certainly is a part of the concern permeating through the Delaware Valley. The 2015-16 Calder Memorial Trophy (top rookie) runner-up has been benched twice because of it and is a team-worst minus-17 on the season.

However, the positive here is he’s focused on it. Forget scoring goals for a moment. Even with Gostisbehere’s struggles, Flyers defensemen have provided offense among the league’s best. And for a stretch of 20 games following his first healthy scratch on Nov. 17, Gostisbehere was cleaner and more active with 17 giveaways and 24 blocked shots just partially telling the story. In the 17 games prior, he had 19 giveaways and only 20 blocked shots.

“I’m here to help the team in any way possible,” Gostisbehere said last Sunday. “Right now, it’s just getting back to work and doing the little things. It’s not going to come easy. That is something that me personally, and a lot of us have to look at.”

Even some of the all-time great defensemen went through the proverbial sophomore slump. Hall of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom went from 60 points and a plus-36 rating as a rookie to 41 and a plus-7 in his second season. Brian Leetch, also in the Hall of Fame, saw a dip in production across the board in Year 2 after winning the Calder Trophy.

But let’s not draw crazy comparisons. Let’s just understand the important thing here, which is Gostisbehere’s understanding that defense is paramount. He’s learning through his lumps, starting at the end of his breakout rookie campaign in which he looked spent from the NHL grind. He underwent minor offseason surgeries on his hip and lower abdomen, suffered a nasty face cut in the season opener, then a bone bruise on his right hand in December.

We’re just over halfway through the 2016-17 schedule. Gostisbehere is only 23 years old, a 2012 third-round pick with a cap hit less than 16 other Flyers in a season that looks more like a continued rebuild than a jump to contention.

Really, Shayne Gostisbehere should be some of the least of our worries.