MORAGA, Calif. -- The men's basketball season kicks into high gear this week as the Saint Mary's men's basketball team heads to Southern California to take part in the DIRECTV Classic in Anaheim.
The Gaels will find a strong field once they touch down in Anaheim. Cal, Drake, Drexel, Georgia Tech, Pacific, Rice and Xavier fill out the eight-team bracket, with Saint Mary's set to begin tournament play on Thursday at 1:30 p.m. against Drexel.
Thursday's game against the Dragons will be televised on ESPN2, with well-known Bay Area play by play man Roxy Bernstein alongside analyst Stephen Bardo to call the game. There will also be a live audio stream of the game available on SMCGaels.com, with Gaels play by play man Alex Jensen on the call.
Subsequent tournament games will be televised on ESPN2, ESPNU and ESPN3. Saint Mary's will play either Pacific or Xavier on Friday, then wrap up tournament play with a game on Sunday.
There won't be any easing into the flow for the Gaels. They face a Drexel team that went 29-7 last season, and are led by the Colonial Athletic Association Preseason Player of the Year, guard Frantz Massenat.
"It's something we've been looking forward to, playing in this event," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. "We play a really good team in the first game, Drexel. They won 29 games last year and they're very tough defensively."
A 3-0 start for Saint Mary's hasn't come easily. The Gaels followed an opening-night win over Sonoma State with a tough road win at Utah State, then battled in a close contest with Eastern Washington for a half before pulling away from the Eagles after halftime.
Through those three games, reigning West Coast Conference Player of the Year Matthew Dellavedova has shown exactly why he earned that honor a year ago.
The senior guard out of Maryborough, Victoria, Australia has 16.7 points, 5.3 assists and 3.3 rebounds a game, helping to get the Gaels off to a good start. His 21-point effort at Utah State played a key role in a 67-58 Saint Mary's victory.
Dellavedova hasn't been the only bright spot early in the season. He's been joined in double figures by backcourt mates Stephen Holt (14.7 ppg) and James Walker III (10.7 ppg), along with forward Brad Waldow (10.3 ppg).
Waldow, an all-WCC freshman team selection last year, led the charge against Eastern Washington. His 16 points tied Holt for game-high honors, and the sophomore from Shingle Springs, Calif. also pulled down six rebounds to help the Gaels outrebound the Eagles 42-34.
Drexel owns a 1-2 record coming into Thursday's game, with a 61-59 win over Penn on Saturday giving the Dragons their first win of the season. They began the season with a pair of overtime losses, one coming at Kent State and the other at home against Illinois State.
Senior guard Chris Fouch has led Drexel in scoring so far, averaging 16.7 points per game off the bench for head coach Bruiser Flint's club. Dartaye Ruffin has been the Dragons' leading rebounder at 8.7 per game.
After the opener against Drexel, the Gaels will face a quality team either way in Pacific or Xavier. The Tigers have started the season 1-2, while the Musketeers have gotten off to an impressive 3-0 start.
"Whatever happens, win or lose (against Drexel), from there they are all tough," Bennett said. "It's a great opportunity for us. I think our guys are really looking forward to going and seeing seven other good teams and playing three games in four days. There can't be a much better way to spend Thanksgiving."