The schedule has been inputted and Philahoops is revving up for what should be – on paper – one of the best seasons in Philadelphia college basketball in history.
With more demands and a growing family, I’ll be hard-pressed to match last season’s total of nearly 60 games covered. Will I try? Absolutely. (Shh, please don’t tell my wife.)
But if I only could pick 10 – and, man, that would be disappointing – these would be 10 that I wouldn’t miss.
I went through and starred the first 10 that jumped out at me, regardless of whether they are home or away.
Here you go (in order of place on schedule from start of season to end):
Friday, Nov. 16
St. Joe’s vs. Notre Dame at Barclays Center, 9 p.m.
This game has intrigue on a couple of levels. First, of course, is the test the Atlantic 10-favored Hawks will receive from Notre Dame, which has been picked to finish third in the Big East. The A-10 is not going to be easy and Phil Martelli’s squad could gain some much-needed confidence with an impressive performance against the Fighting Irish. A clunker, on the other hand, could raise questions as to whether the Hawks are ready for prime time.
Secondly, this will be a chance to have a look at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, the A-10’s new home for its conference championship. I’m looking forward to checking it out, though I’d prefer to be back at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City this March.
Tuesday, Dec. 11
St. Joe’s at Villanova, 7 p.m.
The Wildcats agreed to allow St. Joe’s to play the Big 5 Holy War rivalry game at Hagan Arena last season and the Hawks made them feel about as welcome Andy Reid at a running backs convention. St. Joe’s battered Villanova in a December victory that turned out not to be as good as it first appeared.
You’ll likely never hear Jay Wright utter the word “revenge,” but you can bet that this is a game circled in the mind of the ‘Cats coach and Nova Nation. Nova actually matches up very well with St. Joe’s and the Hawks are going to have to overcome what surely will be a fired-up atmosphere at the Pavilion.
Saturday, Dec. 22
Temple vs. Syracuse at MSG, Noon
Owls coach Fran Dunphy is doing his best John Chaney impersonation with Temple’s schedule, putting the Dukes, Syracuses and Kansases on the docket. Good for him! There is so much wrangling over scheduling these days, as coaches understandably try to pad their win total by scheduling nonconference patsies. Love Dunphy’s mentality and, even without a usual NBA superstar in the making, Syracuse – picked to finish second in the Big East – will be a stern test for Temple.
And, after the Palestra, there’s not another more exciting venue for a college basketball game from my (albeit fairly limited) experience.
Monday, Dec. 31
St. Joe’s at Drexel, 4 p.m.
The game of the year in Philly, it will be interesting to see how 6,000 or more people find their way into the DAC, which seats about half of that. The bandbox gym is always tough for opponents on nights not traditionally involving alcohol. Not that college students would drink or anything, but it’s sure to be a wild evening for the DAC Pack, which on a normal night already has my vote as the city’s top student section.
The on-court play will be special, as well, with two of the city’s best guards – St. Joe’s Langston Galloway and Drexel’s Frantz Massenat – dueling for top dog. The Hawks left the DAC losers two years ago. Martelli and Company won’t forget it. Neither, though, will Bruiser Flint’s Dragons forget the blowout, early-season loss suffered at Hawk Hill last season. Game on!
Wednesday, Jan. 2
La Salle at Miami, 9 p.m.
OK, this one is more than just about basketball. A trip to Miami in early January? Sign me up. I’ll hang at the beach all day, maybe dust off the golf clubs for a late-afternoon round at Doral (I can dream, right!), then head over for an evening of college hoops in a homecoming of sorts for La Salle’s Sam Mills.
This also will be a chance to see former Philly prep standout Ty Garland, who will sit out the first semester after transferring from Virginia Tech. Garland can fill it up and gives La Salle a lethal backcourt with Mills, Ramon Galloway and Tyreek Duren. Miami is picked fifth in the always tough ACC, so this game will give John Giannini’s squad an idea of where they are at heading into the A-10 portion of their schedule.
Sunday, Jan. 6
Temple at Kansas, 1:30 p.m.
The weather won’t be as warm as Miami, but the setting (at least for a college hoops junkie) as impressive – or more. The chance to visit Phog Allen Fieldhouse, home of the Jayhawks – and, yeah, hear “Rock Chalk, Jayhawk” live – would be neat.
Kansas will be a formidable foe for the Owls, as the Jayhawks return three starters to the team that finished second to the NCAA’s NBA team that plays out of Kentucky.
Don’t expect Khalif Wyatt and Company to wilt, though. The Owls are talented and experienced, themselves, and will be looking to prove that they are Big East-ready with a good showing at Kansas.
Wednesday, Jan. 9
Butler at St. Joe’s, 7 p.m.
What an interesting way for the Hawks to open A-10 play by welcoming one of the two highly regarded programs (VCU being the other) to the league with a home tilt at Hagan.
Boy-wonder coach Brad Stevens led the Bulldogs to back-to-back NCAA title games. This team isn’t as talented, but it’s getting there and will be helped by the transfer of Rotnei Clarke from Arkansas. The Bulldogs are predicted to finish sixth in the A-10 pecking order, but it’s doubtful that anyone thinks they won’t be able to compete for the top rung.
This game will be telling for both sides.
Saturday, Jan. 12Penn at Princeton, 6 p.m.
Ironically, Penn finished its Ivy season at Princeton last year and will start up this season’s Ancient Eight campaign against its archrival. Zack Rosen couldn’t pull off one more miracle last March and the Quakers failed to get into the Ivy League one-game playoff that was awaiting a win over the motivated Tigers.
With Rosen and two other key seniors gone, this Quakers team is getting a facelift that would impress Joan Rivers, and who knows – like those expensive plastic surgeries – how it will turn out. Jerome Allen’s squad will have a better idea where it stands after the opener at Jadwin.
Thursday, Jan. 17
St. Joe’s at VCU, 9 p.m.
Shaka Smart and VCU are itching to wreak “havoc” on the A-10, and the Hawks will be the first Philly school to bid Richmond’s new league entry a hello. The Hawks have the guard play to break Smart’s vaunted press, but I wonder if they have the depth to keep up with the Rams for 40 minutes.
The storylines are plentiful in this matchup between the preseason’s first and third pick.
Saturday, Feb. 9
USF at Villanova, 3 p.m.
It’s not the biggest game, by any means, on Nova’s home slate but it’s one I’d like to see. Coach Stan Heath’s Bulls did quite a number on Philly schools last season, defeating Villanova at the Pavilion – where it never loses – in shockingly easy fashion last season before stomping the Owls out of the NCAA tournament later in the season.
Like the St. Joe’s game, this one will – or should – be marked on Nova Nation’s calendar as one of those “get-back” games. USF no longer is a Big East walkover, but nor should Heath’s bunch leave Radnor with a W.
-Aaron Bracy is the editor of Philahoops. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter: @Aaron_Bracy.