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Points by Suns’ Devin Booker during 130-120 loss to Celtics

Braydon Coburn (pictured) and Andrew MacDonald, who form the Flyers’ top defense pairing, will both be sidelined for an estimated four weeks. Will the Flyers roll the dice by calling up young prospect Shayne Gostisbehere? Eric Fisher examines GM Ron Hextall’s options.

Cole Hamels teams up with relievers Jake Diekman, Ken Giles and Jonathan Papelbon to produce the first combined no-hitter in Phillies history, a 7-0 triumph over the host Braves. Hamels pitches six innings. The relievers pitch one inning apiece

The Blackhawks (pictured) and Ducks are among the challengers the Kings must fend off just to battle through the loaded Western Conference and reach the Stanley Cup Finals. The Bruins, Rangers and Penguins are top contenders in the Eastern Conference, but Eric Fisher predicts another team from the East will break through and reach the Stanley Cup Finals. How will the Flyers fare? Read the preview to find out.

Archive for March, 2016

Buddy System

Posted by Eric Fisher On March - 31 - 2016 ADD COMMENTS

Oklahoma isn’t a one-man team. But stopping one man would go a long way toward beating the Sooners.

Stopping Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield may be impossible. Nobody has even been able to contain him during the NCAA Tournament. After averaging 25 points during the regular season, Hield is averaging 29.3 points during the NCAA Tournament.

Not so coincidentally, nobody has been able to contain the Sooners (29-7), either. They have scored between 77 and 85 points during the tournament and, other than an 85-81 victory over VCU, all of Oklahoma’s tournament victories have been by 12 or 14 points.

Villanova (33-5) will do its best to contain Hield and the Sooners on Saturday (6:09 p.m.) in the opening game of the Final Four in Houston.

The Wildcats have not allowed more than 69 points in any of their four NCAA Tournament games. That does not, however, mean they’ve been slowing down the pace. Villanova scored between 86 and 92 points in each of its first three tournament games. That streak ended with the Wildcats’ 64-59 triumph over Kansas in the South Regional final, but holding the top-seeded Jayhawks to 59 points was impressive.

Lost in the Wildcats’ outstanding shooting was their excellent defense. Many transition baskets and open 3-pointers on the break were created by terrific defense. But the defense stepped out from the shadows against Kansas, limiting star forward Perry Ellis to four points.

Unlike Ellis, who looks for the ball inside, Hield, the runner-up to Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine in player of the year balloting, gets the ball on the perimeter. It’s much more difficult to deny him the ball.

Once he gets the ball, Hield can drive or shoot 3-pointers. Villanova head coach Jay Wright would likely be satisfied if the Wildcats could hold Hield to fewer than 20 points.

Expect Villanova to run multiple defenders at Hield. Josh Hart should see time guarding Hield, with Mikal Bridges, coming off of a five-steal game against Kansas, providing relief.

The Wildcats know that although Hield is the key, he isn’t the Sooners’ only offensive threat. Isaiah Cousins led Oklahoma in scoring when it thrashed Villanova, 78-55, on Dec. 7 in the Pearl Harbor Invitational. Cousins scored 19 points against the Wildcats. Hield added 18 points. Guard Jordan Woodard and forward Ryan Spangler are both double-digit scorers.

Villanova isn’t a one-man team, either. In fact, the Wildcats appear to be better balanced than the Sooners. Kris Jenkins and Ryan Arcidiacono can bury 3-pointers. Hart can drill 3-pointers, but excels in transition, and Daniel Ochefu patrols the paint at both ends.

A victory over the Sooners would propel Villanova into the national championship game for the first time since 1985, when the Wildcats shocked Georgetown to win the national title. The opponent Monday would be the winner of Saturday’s game (8:49 p.m.) between North Carolina, the top seed in the East, and Syracuse, the 10th seed in the Midwest.

But the Wildcats won’t get caught looking ahead to Monday night.

With Buddy Hield to deal with on Saturday, nobody will be looking past the Sooners.

 

Fish ‘n Chips

Posted by Eric Fisher On March - 30 - 2016 ADD COMMENTS

The Fish ‘n Chips column is sponsored by Legal Sea Foods – Gourmet Gift Division … so much more than Fish ‘n Chips … “If it isn’t fresh, it isn’t Legal!”)

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The end of March and beginning of April is a transition period.

Is it the end or the beginning?

That depends on your perspective.

For the Phillies and Soul, April marks the beginning of a new season. For college basketball, the beginning of April is the end of the season.

The Flyers hope that in addition to being the end of the regular season, April marks the beginning of their postseason.

For the Sixers, who were mathematically eliminated from the playoff hunt several weeks ago – realistically, they were eliminated in November – the end can’t come soon enough. Unfortunately, there are still two weeks left in the regular season.

By contrast, Villanova would like to extend its season to Monday. That would mean the Wildcats defeated Oklahoma on Saturday and reached the national championship game for the first time since 1985.

If the Wildcats are in action Monday night, it would make Monday quite a transition day. The Phillies will open their season Monday in Cincinnati. The Phillies are scheduled to start at 4:10 p.m., so there wouldn’t be a conflict with Villanova.

If we make it a long weekend, there is almost wall-to-wall action. The Soul will begin their season Friday (7 p.m.) at Cleveland. The Sixers play on Friday and Saturday; the Flyers play on Saturday and Sunday, including Sunday’s road game (5 p.m.) against the Penguins. Saturday’s headliner is Villanova battling Oklahoma (6:09 p.m.) in the Final Four. In preparation for their season opener, The Phillies face the Orioles on Friday and their “Futures” on Saturday.

It should be an action-packed weekend during one of the busiest and most exciting times of the year to be a sports fan.

*****

NOT-SO LONG SHOT: There was a question about how well Villanova would fare if it weren’t shooting the lights out. The Wildcats entered Saturday’s South Regional Final against Kansas shooting nearly 60 percent from the field, including better than 55 percent from 3-point range, so it was a fair question.

The Wildcats answered that question against Kansas. Despite shooting 40.4 percent from the field and making just 4 of 18 shots from 3-point range, Villanova defeated Kansas, 64-59. The Jayhawks were the NCAA Tournament’s top overall seed.

How did Villanova win while shooting a poor percentage? With its defense. The Wildcats held Kansas star Ellis to four points on just five shots from the field.

It will be interesting to see how the Wildcats will defend Oklahoma star Buddy Hield on Saturday.

*****

UNBALANCED ROTATION: The selection of Vince Velasquez to fill the final spot in the Phillies’ rotation means that all five of the Phillies’ starting pitchers are right-handed. In the grand scheme of things, having five right-handers won’t cost them this season, but that’s a situation the Phillies may want to avoid as they move toward contention.

*****

PITCHING DEPTH: The Phillies’ rotation consists of Aaron Nola, Jeremy Hellickson, Charlie Morton, Jerad Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez. Their Class AA rotation, at Reading, includes Zach Eflin, Jake Thompson, Tom Windle and Mark Appel. The pitchers at Reading could be as important to the franchise’s future as the pitchers on the major-league roster.

The Fightin’ Phillies Class AA rotation certainly appears more promising than the rotation of the Class AAA Lehigh Valley Ironpigs, which is headlined by Adam Morgan, Alec Asher and David Buchanan.

*****

FOUNTAIN OF MISINFORMATION? First, there were hints from Howie Roseman that the Eagles might select Ezekiel Elliott with the eighth pick in the NFL Draft. Lately, there have been stories about the Eagles working out a variety of quarterbacks, leading some observers to jump to conclusions about the Eagles trying to move up in the draft to select quarterback.

It appears to me that the Eagles are intentionally sending out mixed messages so they don’t reveal their strategy.

The biggest mystery seemed to revolve around who will actually make the draft pick. It seems to me that Roseman, executive vice president of football operations, will have final say on the draft.

*****

SOUL TRAIN LEAVES STATION: The Soul, who won the East Division last season, open their season Friday (7 p.m.) against the Cleveland Gladiators. The Soul’s home opener will by Mon., April 11, when they will try to get revenge on Jacksonville for defeating them, 61-56, in the American Conference Championship. Quarterback Dan Raudabaugh return to lead the Soul.

*****

STREAKING UNION: The Union (2-1), trying to shake off their recent history of poor starts, will try to win their third straight game Saturday (5 p.m.) at Chicago.

Eric Fisher, who has been writing about sports for more than 27 years, is more excited about the Phillies’ Opening Day than the Soul’s opening game – but both pale in comparison to his excitement over the Final Four and every Flyers game remaining this season.

 

 

Jenkins' 3-pointer wins national title