Friday, November 18, 2005

No Holiday For Drexel

Thursday evening, Drexel defeated Sam Houston State to advance to the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-off.  As a result, the Dragons will be the surprising opponent for top-ranked Duke on Wednesday and will get to play another game in New York on Friday.  The development was certainly not anticipated by Drexel’s own athletic department, which scheduled contests on Monday versus Rider and Saturday against Pennsylvania.  With four games in six days, the Dragons will officially have the right to call all of us slackers.


If anyone is to face such a task, it might as well be Drexel.  The Philly school is located in a town that’s proud of its blue-collar image and battery-throwing sports fans.  It is the SIXTH most recognizable college basketball program in its own city, so the team is accustomed to fighting for respect.  The program’s most famous alumnus is New York Knicks forward Malik Rose, known for his hard-nosed style of play.  Appropriately enough, the Dragons’ coach is named Bruiser, as in James “Bruiser” Flint, a Philadelphia native.


Drexel’s NIT path opened up when Sam Houston State shocked Missouri, making Mizzou coach Quin Snyder’s seat hotter than Eva Longoria in lingerie.  As a result, the Dragons had an unexpected home game after their first round victory at Princeton.  ESPN2 broadcast Thursday night’s showdown at the Daskalakis Athletic Center, which no one reading this article had heard of before reading this sentence.


Teams in other tournaments next week will play on three consecutive days.  However, they won’t have to change locations, and their opponents will be in the same boat.  After its home matchup with Rider on Monday, Drexel must take the court in New York on Wednesday.  Fatigue could be an issue against the lazy Blue Devils, whose prior game is on Saturday.


However, in a semifinal field that also includes Memphis and UCLA, Drexel has the advantage of 1996 in its favor.  In that year, the 12th-seeded Dragons eliminated 5th-seeded Memphis in a first round NCAA tournament matchup.  The nation will clamor for a rematch in Friday’s championship game, desperately hoping to avoid an unappealing final between Duke and UCLA.  Like Memphis, the Blue Devils and Bruins were first round tournament victims in 1996.  Because Drexel was the only one of the four to advance, it is clearly a superior program to the other three.


Rather than complain about its demanding week, now the school is looking to fill its open dates on Tuesday and Thursday.  The 76ers are off Tuesday after a home game on Monday, so an all-Philly matchup would be a natural for that night.  Also, the Knicks return to New York after a Wednesday night game in Charlotte.  Then their schedule is clear until Saturday, so expect Malik Rose to square off against his alma mater on Thanksgiving.


The wild ride comes to a close when the Dragons face Pennsylvania in the storied Palestra on Saturday.  With a win over Princeton already in hand, Drexel will look to complete a sweep over the Ivy League’s dominant duo.  However, expect Penn to triumph as the exhausted Dragons suffer a second half collapse – literally.


Next week, Drexel will be the hardest working team in college basketball.  You may say that they’re longshots against Duke.  Just don’t call them sleepers.