Editor’s note: this story is authored by Anthony’s son, Anthony SanFilippo, Jr.
Football is over. Baseball is in spring training. The NBA is on an All-Star break. The Flyers are a mess, no matter what my father writes.
It’s March, though. The month of college basketball. It’s the grand return of the madness we missed out on last year thanks to COVID-19.
Sure, Villanova is a perennial contender, but this is the time of year the other local teams that no one paid any attention to all season, all of a sudden get noticed for the same 2-3 weeks before slipping back into anonymity for the other 95% of the year.
Granted, they only get that attention if they are playing well and have a shot at making the Big Dance.
I’ll be honest; I haven’t paid attention at all this year. I feel bad about it, since I love college hoops. It just got away from me. I blame the pandemic. And too much NBA 2K21 online.
Anyway, I did notice that the conference tournaments were starting, so I decided to pull up my trusty ESPN app and check in on the Philly schools.
Let’s start with St Joe’s. Wait, when did they fire Phil Martelli? They can’t be very good without him. Yeah, 5-15, that sounds about right.
Next, Temple. At least the Owls should be playing well as a tribute to Hall of Fame coach John Chaney, who passed away earlier this season, right?
Oh, they also have only 5 wins? Rest easy, Coach.
Penn! They’re usually good for sneaking into the tournament once in a while, right? Ahh, the Ivy League didn’t play basketball this year due to COVID. That’s an example of the smart kids doing the smart thing, but it’s a shame that the team that represented the best non-Nova chance these past few years to represent Philly in the tourney never even laced up their sneakers.
La Salle! Oh yeah! They are a Big 5 team, too. They even made the Sweet 16 as recently as 2013.
I couldn’t tell you who played for them then, nor can I now, but this year they were only 9-16 and wouldn’t even have been good enough to consider a NIT berth if the NIT welcomed another 68 teams. Nor any of those other fake tournaments that have been created in recent years – like the College Basketball Invitational (CBI). Or the CollegeInsider.com postseason tournament (which was cancelled because of COVID for a second straight year – may it never return).
Who else is there? Penn State? Not a basketball school or a Philly school for that matter, even though it still garners a lot of attention in the area among non-alumni for reasons I’ll never fully understand.
Well, they’re also under .500 and backlogged in the juggernaut of the Big 10 Conference Tournament. No dice.
That sucks. No other local basketball teams to root for other than Nova, and with Collin Gillespie’s injury they’re more of a long shot than usual. Maybe Jay Wright will use some coaching magic and…
Wait… what the hell is this City 6 you speak of? The city has five teams, hence the Big 5.
Drexel? They play basketball? They can’t be D-1 though, because they lost to University of the Sciences a few years ago, for goodness’ sake.
They are going to the tournament you say? They won the Colonial Athletic Conference tournament? They beat Elon in the championship game? I didn’t know Musk started a college?
I knew Drexel had a basketball team and were part of the City 6. I went there, so I’m being facetious – but only a little.
But instead of me pretending they didn’t exist as a real D-1 program, this could have been part of a real conversation in bars around the city today – if we were allowed to convene in bars in March, 2021.
As I said, I am a former Drexel student. But I haven’t watched a game since Drexel set the NCAA record for the largest come-from-behind victory in 2018 when they beat Delaware after being down 34 points.
I stopped watching every game when I was a freshman and they lost that U Sciences game, (the Devils are a Division II school, by the way) and quickly realized that I obviously didn’t pick a college that would have a competitive basketball team. I casually followed online to check the results from time-to-time as they never appeared to be anything better than mediocre, and usually terrible.
Much to my surprise, I checked my phone Monday to see they were about to win the conference semifinal game and advance to the championship to attempt to make the national tournament for the first time since the days of Malik Rose 25 years ago – when I was one month old.
The most excitement any Drexel “fan” may have gotten since then came from watching Damion Lee play in the NBA for the Warriors alongside Steph Curry.
Lee played at Drexel for three years before transferring to a real school (Louisville) for his senior season. He may have averaged 21.4 PPG his final year at Drexel (my Freshman year), but his talent could only help the Dragons to a 11-19 record.
Think about that for a second. This program has been so bad for so long that not even a future NBA player could help them beat a Division II school that most people from the Philly area didn’t even know existed, let alone had a basketball team.
And yet, this team that no one has paid attention to for years (and for good reason) just broke a quarter century drought, and no one saw it coming. It came out of the blue. It was like this week people surprisingly asked, “hey, Drexel can make the tournament?”
Why yes. Yes they can.
Sure they are slated to be a 15-seed and face a top-10 team in the country, and sure I only know two players on the team, but UMBC shocked Virginia, and the world, three years ago to become the first 16-seed to win a tournament game. There have also been eight 15-seeds to pull off unlikely upsets, so why can’t the Dragons do the same this year?
James Butler is an assured double-double and Camren Wynter is a proven scorer from anywhere on the court with his 17.3 points per game and 41.6 three point percentage.
Plus, there are two guys on the team with the first names “Mate” and “Matey”. How can you not love that?
In short, you should tune in to the Dragons’ first round matchup next weekend and root for Philadelphia college basketball’s version of the Bad News Bears.
You will forget about them in a couple weeks, but you might as well enjoy the fun ride they are taking us on for the next 10 days… until they get blown out by Ohio State.