Hoops fills up Palestra this weekend

When Rob Kennedy of the Hoop Group conceived the Philly Hoop Group Classic, he looked at the hybrid tournament that ends at the Palestra today and tomorrow as something that could help fill the big vacuum left by the late (and very lamented) Big 5 tripleheader. In just its second year, the Classic, afternoon and evening doubleheaders, is anchored by unbeaten Villanova, which automatically gives the tournament some cachet.

The Wildcats (4-0) play Towson (3-1) in tonight’s second game after Penn State (5-0) plays Rhode Island (4-1) in the 6:30 p.m. opener, a game that should be the most entertaining of opening day. Winners and losers in the “Independence Bracket” play tomorrow night.

Dan Leibovitz’s Hartford (1-4), with Joe Zeglinski (Archbishop Ryan), plays NJIT (0-3) at noon, followed by Niagara (3-1) vs. Monmouth (0-5) in the “Liberty Bracket.” Winners and losers play tomorrow afternoon. Joe Mihalich’s Niagara team, with Tyrone Lewis (Truman) and Bilal Benn (Cardinal Dougherty/Villanova) is a heavy favorite in that bracket.

Last year, Drexel won the Liberty Bracket and Seton Hall beat Virginia to win the Independence Bracket. Penn finished third in that bracket.

Kennedy’s idea for the tournament is to have at least one city team in each event. Temple has committed for next year and Saint Joseph’s for the year beyond that. Kennedy also wants at least one other school from a BCS conference in the night bracket.

This is strictly an Eastern tournament with a couple of teams that are “opponents” in every sense of the word. Each of the teams has already played two games at campus sites. Those results had nothing to do with the Palestra pairings, which were preset.

Villanova, Penn State and Rhode Island are 2-0. Towson and Niagara are 1-1. The other three are 0-2. NJIT, in fact, is 0-for-its-last-36. In just its second year in Division I, NJIT went 0-29 last season.

Pat Kennedy’s Towson team has some talent, but the Wildcats will be heavy favorites for a reason. ’Nova might get its first serious test of the season tomorrow night against Penn State or Rhode Island.