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Points for Pelicans center Anthony Davis on Sunday, setting All-Star Game record

The Flyers have to figure out what to with high-paid, low-producing Vincent Lecavalier (pictured). In addition to examining that issue, Eric Fisher praises Sean Couturier, congratulates Paul Holmgren and suggests Flyers head coach Craig Berube might have read last week’s Flyers Notebook.

The Sixers are on the verge of breaking the franchise record for the worst start to a season. In addition to evaluating the Sixers’ opportunities to net their first win, Eric Fisher worries about an exchange between Michael Carter-Williams and head coach Brett Brown (pictured), highlights Nerlens Noel’s best game as a pro, and tells you why Cavaliers fans are experiencing a different kind of misery.

The quarterback play was excellent, with Nick Foles looking much better, but poor defense and a cascade of penalty flags made it difficult to draw definitive conclusions from the Eagles’ 42-35 preseason defeat at the hands of the Patriots.

Archive for the ‘NCAA’ Category

College Notebook: The Wright stuff

Posted by Eric Fisher On February - 12 - 2017 ADD COMMENTS

Thank goodness the Villanova administration never paid attention to the alumni and fans who wanted to get rid of Jay Wright.

It seems like forever ago that people were questioning Wright’s coaching acumen. The opinion that Wright’s teams underachieved and couldn’t win the big one were more than just mere whispers. And that perspective was gaining momentum just a few short years ago.

Those voices have been silenced by Villanova’s national championship last year and their continued success this season.

The second-ranked Wildcats’ 73-57 win over 24th-ranked Xavier on Saturday was the 500th victory of Wright’s remarkable coaching career. The victory total includes 122 wins while head coach at Hofstra. In Wright’s 16 seasons at the helm at Villanova, the Wildcats have compiled a 378-159 record. During the past four seasons, Villanova’s record is an incredible 121-15.

Wright has accomplished all of this without an annual arrival of elite recruits. Don’t get me wrong. The Wildcats bring in terrific players. You won’t hear Wright complain about the quality of his players. But there isn’t a steady stream of elite recruits, as there are at Kentucky, Kansas and some of the other larger schools consistently in the national title hunt.

Yet, as if to prove that last season wasn’t a fluke, the Wildcats are right back in the national championship hunt again this season. They are 24-2 and ranked second in the nation. The NCAA released a preliminary Sweet 16 on Saturday. Villanova was the top overall seed.

The Wildcats have reached that level despite losing center Daniel Ochefu and Ryan Arcidiacono to graduation. Furthermore, guard Phil Booth has been unavailable nearly the entire season.

The loss of three key players from the national championship team could be used as an excuse for a drop in performance, but Wright doesn’t allow it. The Wildcats aren’t permitted to feel sorry for themselves.

Guard Josh Hart is a phenomenal player. But the Wildcats are far from a one-man team. Championship game hero Kris Jenkins continues to be an important presence, as is sophomore guard Jalen Brunson. Mikal Bridges has developed into an important player at both ends of the court. Redshirt freshman Donte DiVincenzo has made important and timely contributions, as has redshirt sophomore forward Eric Paschall.

Losing senior forward Darryl Reynolds, as Villanova did for Saturday’s win at Xavier, could have been disastrous for some teams. Reynolds (6-foot-10, 240 pounds) plays an important role in the Wildcats’ defense, particularly around the basket. But Villanova barely missed a beat against the Musketeers.

The way all the pieces seem to fit is a tribute to Wright’s coaching ability. He helps his players improve (Bridges is the best example) and melds their talents so that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Contrary to the old criticism that Wright’s teams underachieved, it appears that Wright’s teams the past two years have achieved beyond their talent level. Villanova’s consistent excellence is a testament to Wright’s ability to remain on an even keel.

The movement to get rid of Wright has died out. The fear now is that if the Wildcats become the first team in a decade to repeat as NCAA champions Wright may move to the NBA to tackle new challenges.

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INJURY BUG: Saint Joseph’s can’t shake the injury bug. James Demery missed 10 games during the first portion of the season due to a foot injury. No sooner did Demery return then they lost leading scorer Shavar Newkirk to a season-ending torn ACL.

The injury bug struck again Saturday. Lamarr Kimble, who became the Hawks’ leading scorer after Newkirk tore his ACL, left Saturday’s 87-76 loss to Massachusetts with an injury to his left foot.

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GOOD GUY: Saint Joseph’s head coach Phil Martelli was honored with the Good Guy Award from the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association at their banquet earlier this month. Although appreciative of the award, Martelli would probably prefer to have all of his players healthy.

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FEELS LIKE THE FIRST TIME: Penn finally posted its first Ivy League victory of the season, a 70-62 win over Columbia on Friday. Sam Jones scored a season-high 17 points to lead the Quakers (8-12 overall, 1-6 Ivy).

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OTHER SIDE OF THE COIN: While Penn’s men’s basketball team waited a long time for its first victory, the women’s team is undefeated in the Ivy League. The Quakers (14-6 overall, 7-0 Ivy League) have won 11 straight Ivy League games.

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IVY TOURNAMENT AT PALESTRA: The Ivy League will be holding postseason basketball tournaments for the first time in its history. The top four men’s teams and top four women’s teams will compete at the inaugural Ivy League Tournament on March 11-12 at the Palestra.

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PALESTRA BIRTHDAY: Penn recently celebrated the 90th birthday of the legendary Palestra. Unfortunately, the Quakers suffered a 64-49 loss to Princeton on that night. If you need evidence of the reverence in which the Palestra is held, consider that San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich held a practice at the Palestra this past week when the Spurs were in town to face the 76ers.

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UNHAPPY EXPLORER: La Salle head coach Dr. John Giannini was not pleased after Saturday’s 64-52 loss to Richmond, the Explorers’ fifth loss in their last seven games. La Salle turned the ball over 24 times during the loss.

According to Inquirer correspondent Andrew Albert, Giannini said, “I’m astounded at how poorly we played on an individual level. We couldn’t dribble, pass, or shoot. It looked like we had never played basketball before. I think Richmond set a tone of aggressiveness on defense that we just didn’t respond to.”

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OPPOSING PERSPECTIVES: Temple has had four different scorers in its last four games. If you’re a glass half-full person, that means the Owls have balance. If you’re a glass half-empty person, it means the Owls don’t have a “go-to” scorer when they need one.

The Owls, who enter Sunday’s game at Memphis with a 4-8 record in the American Athletic Conference, clearly need to step up their game or else they’re going to make an early exit from the conference tournament.

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TEAM OF THE CENTURY: Drexel allowed more than 100 points in consecutive games, a 108-85 loss to William&Mary and a 104-103 double-overtime loss to Towson on Jan. 30 and Feb. 2, respectively. Those were the middle games during a four-game losing streak.

Drexel turned the tables on William&Mary on Thursday with a 79-61 victory that ended its losing streak. The Dragons kept the score down against Towson, but were unable to come up with a victory, dropping a 69-65 decision.

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TEAM OF THE CENTURY II? Connecticut’s women’s basketball team takes a 99-game winning streak into Monday’s game against 6th-ranked South Carolina. How dominant are the Huskies? Temple is 19-5, but Connecticut built a 52-18 lead by halftime against the Owls on Feb. 1 and then coasted to a 97-69 victory.

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DILLON REACHES MILESTONE: Drexel women’s head coach Denise Dillon notched the 250th victory of her coaching career Thursday when the Dragons defeated William&Mary, 65-48. Dillon, who was a three-time All-Big East selection while a player at Villanova, has spent her entire head coaching career at Drexel.

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HALL OF A CLASS: The Big 5 Hall of Fame induction will take place April 17 at the Palestra. Saint Joseph’s guard Jameer Nelson, the Hawks’ all-time leader in points and assists, headline the class. Nelson was the national player of the year in 2004, when he led the Hawks to 27 straight wins and the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.

Other inductees include Temple guard Lynn Greer, Villanova guard Randy Foye, Penn guard Ibrahim Jaaber,  La Salle women’s star Carlene Hightower, former Villanova player George Raveling, and former Inquirer sports columnist Bill Lyon.

College Notebook: Explorers making waves

Posted by Eric Fisher On January - 21 - 2017 ADD COMMENTS

The spotlight has mostly avoided La Salle since a surprising run to the Elite Eight in 2013. But the Explorers have muscled their way back into the spotlight, or at least into the periphery of the local spotlight that focus primarily on Villanova, with a five-game winning streak.

The Explorers, who got off to a mediocre start, have improved to 11-5 and are in a three-way tie with Dayton and Richmond atop the Atlantic 10 standings with a 5-1 conference record. La Salle faces a crucial test Sunday (2 p.m.) at VCU (14-5, 4-2 Atlantic 10). When is the last time La Salle had a crucial test against anyone?

How have the Explorers reached the top of the Atlantic 10 standings? During their five-game winning streak, the Explorers are averaging 84 points and making 52 percent of their shots from the floor, including 44.7 percent from 3-point range. Senior Jordan Price, who scored 29 points during Thursday’s 91-83 triumph over high-scoring Davidson, is averaging 19.2 points and making 58.6 percent of his shots, including 55.6 percent from 3-point range, during the winning streak.

Price is averaging 17.8 points for the season, ranking him ninth among Altnatic 10 players. Teammate B.J. Johnson, a Lower Merion graduate who transferred to La Salle after two seasons at Syracuse, ranks fifth in the Atlantic 10 with an 18.6 scoring average.

The third member of La Salle’s leading triumvirate is sophomore guard Pookie Powell, who ranks 19th in the conference in scoring (13.6).

Having three players in the top 20 in the conference in scoring is important because opponents can’t focus on shutting down one player. But the Explorers have quality depth beyond their top three scorers. Cleon Roberts is fourth on La Salle in scoring, averaging 8.3 points. Junior guard Amar Stukes is averaging 7.4 points, including a career-high 22 points during a win over Rhode Island on Jan. 12, and leads La Salle in assists ( 4 per game). Demetrius Henry averages 6.3 points and 4.3 rebounds, including a 7.5 rebounding average during the current winning streak.

Head coach Dr. John Giannini has mixed and match his starting lineup. Nobody has started every game, although Johnson, Price and Stukes are the constants, with at least 14 starts apiece. Powell, Roberts, Henry and Tony Washington have all started at least six games.

Giannini has obviously been pushing the right buttons during 2017. Since a loss at Dayton on Dec. 30, the Explorers are 5-0 and have returned to a more prominent position in local basketball conversations.

La Salle isn’t in the national spotlights, as it was during the 2013 NCAA Tournament, but a few more consecutive victories may change that as well.

*****

BACK TO THE TOP: After one week at No. 3 in the national rankings, defending national champion Villanova returned to the top spot last Monday after blowing out 15th-ranked Xavier and defeating St. John’s. Baylor, which had replaced the Wildcats as the top-ranked team, was blown out by West Virginia. Villanova leapfrogged No. 2 Kansas, which actually received more first-place votes than the Wildcats.

Villanova doesn’t not have an easy upcoming schedule. After hosting Providence on Saturday (noon) at Wells Fargo Center, the Wildcats play at Marquette on Tuesday (8 p.m.) and then return to Wells Fargo Center on Sun., Jan. 29 (1 p.m.) to host Virginia.

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STRENGTH IN NUMBERS: Villanova has Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins and Jalen Brunson, but they’ll need more than their starting lineup to repeat as national champions. A positive sign came last Saturday when Donte DiVincenzo came off the bench to score a game-high 19 points to help Villanova defeat St. John’s, 70-57. The redshirt freshman didn’t appear intimidated playing at Madison Square Garden, making 7 of 10 shots from the field. Redshirt sophomore Eric Paschall contributed nine points to the win over St. John’s.

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TOUGH TIMES: Saint Joseph’s, Temple and Penn are enduring difficult times. All three teams have lost three straight games and are dropping in their respective conferences.

The Hawks try to get back on track in the Atlantic 10 on Tuesday at St. Bonaventure. The Owls try to get on the winning track in the American Athletic Conference on Wednesday (6 p.m.) when they host Memphis. The Quakers don’t play another Ivy League game until Feb. 3, when they visit Harvard.

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FEELS LIKE THE FIRST TIME: Drexel broke a five-game losing streak with a 76-60 victory over visiting Delaware last Saturday. The victory was the Dragons’ first this season in the Colonial Athletic Association. The Dragons are 7-12 overall, with a 1-5 record in the CAA.

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BIG 5 RIVALRIES: Penn hosts Saint Joseph’s on Saturday (7 p.m.) and then will visit La Salle on Wednesday (7 p.m.). The Explorers will then visit St. Joseph’s next Saturday (6 p.m.).

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HAWK HONOREES: A pair of players with local routes, Debbie Black and Pat Carroll, will represent Saint Joseph’s as part of the 2017 Atlantic 10 Legends Class, which is in its fifth year existence. Black, an Archbishop Wood graduate, was an Atlantic 10 All-Conference selection three times and helped the Hawks to four consecutive NCAA Tournaments from 1985-88. Black, in her fourth season as head coach at Eastern Illinois University, played professionally in the American Basketball League, the WNBA and Australia.

Carroll, who graduated from Hatboro-Horsham High School, was the Atlantic 10 Co-Player of the Year as a senior and remains the conference’s all-time leader in 3-point shoting percentage (45.4).  A two-time All-Atlantic 10 selection, Carroll was a member of the Saint Joseph’s team that went undefeated during the 2003-04 regular season and reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. Carroll played professionally for five seasons in Europe and spent one year in the NBA D-League.

Black, Carroll and the rest of the 2017 Legends Class will be honored at events during the Atlantic 10 postseason tournaments.

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BLUEJAY GROUNDED: Creighton senior guard Maurice Watson, who was leading the nation in assists (8.5 per game), will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL that will end his college career. Watson, a Boys’ Latin High School graduate, suffered the injury during a game against Xavier. Watson’s injury could have a significant on Creighton, which was undefeated before losing to Villanova on Dec. 31.

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STREAKING OWLS: Temple’s women’s basketball team takes a 10-game winning streak into Saturday’s game (2 p.m.) against visiting Memphis. The Owls have four players averaging in double figures, led by Feyonda Fitzgerald (19.2), who also averages 7.4 assists.

Classic George Steele (RIP) match, interview