THIS MAY have happened before, but nobody seems to remember it. The City Six is all in the city (or close enough) tonight, with four arenas open for business and four games over a 3-hour period from 7 to 10 p.m.
Now, I might have proposed the eight teams play a day/night quadruple header at the Palestra, one of two arenas (along with Hagan Arena) that will not be hosting a game. But I was not consulted so we have Cleveland State at Drexel and Hartford at La Salle at 7 p.m., followed by Saint Joseph's at Temple and Penn at Villanova at 8 p.m.
Drexel is off to a terrific start, with wins over Alabama and at Rutgers, close losses at UCLA and against Arizona, both unbeaten and ranked going into last night. I was thinking that if the Dragons kept winning and had a solid season in the CAA, they will have an NCAA at-large résumé. Now, sadly, they will have to play without excellent junior swingman Damion Lee, out for the season with a torn ACL suffered in the Arizona game. That just does not seem fair, not to him, not to his team.
Cleveland State actually led at Rupp last week by 10 points with 7 1/2 minutes left before losing 68-61. In a shocking development, UK shot 35 free throws that night while CSU shot 15.
Neither La Salle nor Hartford is off to the kind of starts each expected. La Salle simply did not play very well in November. The Explorers have not shot well and have not defended well. They are better than that. The Hawks, coached by Saint Joseph's and Cardinal O'Hara grad John Gallagher, have been missing some key personnel, but are expected to contend for the 2014 America East championship.
Temple and SJU each lost their first games in recent tournaments (the Owls in Charleston, S.C., the Hawks in Orlando) before coming back to win twice and get fifth place, one of them a last-second win (Temple) and another a late comeback (SJU).
The Hawks are the more experienced team, but there is not much difference in talent level. This game is an absolute toss-up. Nobody would be surprised if this comes down to a final possession.
Now, that SJU and Temple are in different leagues, this is no longer a twice-a-season rivalry, which is a shame. So enjoy the Owls and Hawks in their only meeting this season.
No. 14 Villanova, fresh off its Battle 4 Atlantis championship, has been playing well all season. They are deep, talented, tough and the only team in the new Big East without a loss.
That Friday win over then No. 2 Kansas was no fluke. The Wildcats were simply the better team that night. And their comeback win over Iowa for the championship strongly suggested this is not only an NCAA team, but a team that can win NCAA games.
Penn has talent inside and out, but the Quakers still turn the ball over way too much. And that is a potentially disastrous prescription against 'Nova's three-quarter court trap, which is a good defense everywhere and often overwhelming at home
If Penn can control its turnovers, it has enough offensive firepower to hang around. If Villanova forces too many live ball turnovers, it won't be close.