Christmas Day has long been one day on the sports calendar that has no distinct connection with a particular sport. Over the years, college football and the NFL have taken occasional shots at the day, while the NBA has in recent years attempted to make a claim to the holiday.
Like those other sports, college basketball over the years has had an on-and-off relationship with Christmas. Usually, those ‘on’ times have happened in Hawaii, first with the old Chaminade Christmas Tournament in the 1980s and most recently with the Diamond Head Classic. The Chaminade tourney was outstanding in its heyday in the early-to-mid 80s, with marquee teams, memorable games, and the host school which built a reputation at the time for knocking of brand name Division I schools.
Chaminade did not defeat top-ranked Virginia on a Christmas Day (that win in 1982 actually came three days before Christmas), but the Silverswords did top No. 4 SMU 71-70 on a buzzer-beater on Dec. 25, 1984. Houston and Louisville met in a Final Four semifinal rematch on Christmas Day in 1983 (the Cougars also won the rematch 76-73). And in one of the most memorable upsets since the three-pointer came into existence, UC Riverside-then an NCAA Division II school-whipped No. 4 Iowa 110-92 on Christmas in 1988 to win the tournament title, doing so by making 21 three-pointers.
After a number of years without a Christmas event, the past six years we again have had the Diamond Head Classic, which wraps up today with a terrific championship game featuring George Washington and Wichita State (8:30 p.m. EST, ESPN2). Both teams are excellent defensively, and go through dry spells offensively. At some point the Shockers have to start shooting the ball better this year. How they handle GW center Kevin Larsen will determine a lot about this game, while the Colonials will have to match WSU’s intensity for when they inevitably do play angry. A serious quality win is available for both teams here.
Other Diamond Head games include host Hawai’i against Colorado in the third-place game (6:30 p.m. EST, ESPN2), Nebraska taking on Ohio U. for fifth (4 p.m. EST, ESPNU), and DePaul squaring off with Loyola Marymount for seventh. For the Buffaloes and Cornhuskers, the difference between going 2-1 vs. 1-2 in the tourney is considerable, while Hawai’i and Ohio would gladly take a 2-1 mark in this event.
Seton Hall is going to be without freshman guard Isaiah Whitehead for a time. Whitehead announced on Twitter and the school confirmed on Wednesday that he will be sidelined “a few weeks” with a stress fracture. It’s a very significant loss, for Whitehead has started all 11 of SHU’s games and is second on the team in scoring (11.9 points per game), leads the team in assists (3.4 apg) and also is averaging 4.3 rebounds. The Pirates are off to a good start at 9-2 and can contend for an NCAA Tournament berth, but this will make that task considerably tougher.
Merry Christmas to all.