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Receiving yards for Cowboys’ Amari Cooper during Sunday’s 29-23 win over Eagles

Eric Fisher’s weekly column about a variety of topics. This week Eric serves up opinions on the potential impact of the Eagles’ loss to the Lions, the Flyers’ roster and the Union’s precarious predicament.

Nick Foles’ greatest weapon is his mind. Even amidst a sea of doubters and critics, Foles’ self-confidence allows him to brush aside the criticism and should fuel another tremendous season.

Eric Fisher turns over his column this week to Achilles Heel, who offers poignant memories of the Ultimate Warrior, who died Tuesday just 3 days after being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.

Archive for the ‘NCAA’ Category

College Notebook: Big Five Saturdays

Posted by Eric Fisher On December - 1 - 2018 ADD COMMENTS

It’s not the same as it used to be, but there is some comfort in having a pair of Big Five doubleheaders on consecutive Saturdays.

These aren’t the traditional doubleheaders that used to occur with regularity at the Palestra. In fact, only one of the four games is at the Palestra – and that game doesn’t even involve Penn, which often used to face a non-league opponent as part of the doubleheaders – but having back-to-back Big Five games on the same day brings back a dose of nostalgia for those of us fortunate enough to experience the real thing.

The first game this Saturday takes place at the Palestra. Villanova, ranked 23rd in the nation, takes on winless La Salle today (3 p.m.) at the Palestra. That should leave just enough time to get to Saint Joseph’s by 5:30 p.m., when the Hawks host Temple.

The commute will be more difficult next Saturday when Saint Joseph’s visits Villanova (2 p.m.) for the latest installment of the Holy War, and then Penn visits La Salle at 4 p.m. Perhaps fans wanting to attend both games could get to La Salle in time for the second half.

We’re probably never going back to the days of the Big Five doubleheaders at the Palestra, but it still feels special to have four city rivals facing each other in consecutive games on what could become a new tradition: Big Five Saturdays.

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BIG FIVE TIME: Villanova is playing all of its Big Five rivals during the first 11 days of December. After Saturday’s game against La Salle, the Wildcats host Temple on Wednesday (8:30 p.m.) and Saint Joseph’s next Saturday (2 p.m.) before visiting Penn on Tues., Dec. 11 (7 p.m.).

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BACK IN TOP 25: After dropping out of the Top 25 for the first time since December 2013 following a lopsided 73-46 loss to Michigan and a 76-68 overtime loss to Furman, with both games at home, Villanova moved back into the Top 25 by winning the Advocare Invitational in Orlando, Fla. The Wildcats (5-2) beat Canisius, Oklahoma State and then-14th-ranked Florida State in the championship game.

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FAST START: Temple (6-1) is off to its best start since the 2012-13 team started its season 8-1. The Owls kept that hot streak going Tuesday by edging host Missouri, 79-77.

Quinto Rose and Shizz Alston Jr. are providing balance by averaging 17.4 points apiece. Nate Louis-Pierre is averaging 11.9 points. The Owls are playing terrific defense, as is evident by their 10.1 steals per game, which ranks eighth in the country. The Owls’ ball-hawking skills, if you’ll pardon the pun, will be put to the test Saturday against Saint Joseph’s, which is averaging eight turnovers per game, the second-lowest average in that nation.

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TEAM EFFORT: Saint Joseph’s scored 57 points during the second half Wednesday to defeat Illinois-Chicago, 89-75, and end a three-game losing streak. The Hawks had lost three straight games, including a 97-90 loss to 13th-ranked West Virginia, after starting the season with three straight wins. Lamarr Kimble scored a career-high 31 points against Illinois-Chicago, which held an eight-point halftime lead. Charlie Brown Jr. scored a career-high 37 points last Saturday during an 87-85 loss to William & Mary.

Brown (24.1 points per game) and Kimble (18.3) are leading the way, but the Hawks aren’t a two-man team. Freshman Jared Bynum (11.9) and Taylor Funk (11.7) are making significant contributions on offense, and Pierfrancesco Oliva leading the team in rebound (8.7 per game) and is closely behind Bynum and Kimble in assists. Center Anthony Longpre has made a difference at the defensive end.

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QUAKERS ROLLING: Despite the loss of Ryan Betley, last year’s leading scorer, to a season-ending knee injury in the season opener, Penn is off to a 6-2 start. The Quakers’ only losses came at Paradis Jam, where they lost to 12th-ranked Kansas State, 64-48, and Oregon State, 74-58. In both of their loss, Penn challenged the bigger school during the first half before fading during the second half.

The Quakers, as has been the case the past two seasons, are at their best when their scoring is balanced. Devon Goodman leads the Quakers in scoring (15.3 points), but AJ Brodeur (11.9) and freshman Bryce Washington (7.9), who had 16 points during Tuesday’s win over Delaware State, have also led Penn in scoring in individual games. Antonio Woods (10.0 points) and Michael Wang (8.8) have been reliable scorers, and Jake Silpe (7.0), Max Rothschild (5.9) and Jarrod Simmons (2.4) have reached double figures.

Penn will face a tough challenge Tuesday (7 p.m.) against visiting Miami, which handed La Salle an 85-49 defeat on Thanksgiving as part of the Wood Legacy tournament. Speaking of the Wooden Legacy, Penn will be part of the 2019 tournament field.

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EXPLORERS SEARCH FOR 1ST WIN: La Salle is still searching for its first win under first-year head coach Ashley Howard. The former Villanova assistant likely won’t find that win Saturday against his former team. Next up for La Salle will be Bucknell at home on Tuesday (7 p.m.) and then Penn at home next Saturday (4 p.m.).

After losing by single digits during three of their first four games, including a season-opening 75-67 loss to Temple and an 89-84 loss to Drexel, the Explorers lost all three games at the Wooden Legacy (to Miami, Northwestern and Grand Canyon) by double digits.

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UPS AND DOWNS: After losing its first two games, Drexel reeled off three straight wins. But the Dragons have lost their past two games, to Bowling Green and NJIT. We should find out soon if the Dragons are better than many people thought or if their winning streak was a product of playing inferior opponents.

The Dragons have received a nice boost from graduate student Trevor John (13.0) points per game), who attended Cal Poly. Alihan Demir (13.9) leads the Dragons in scoring, but the Dragons have seven players averaging at least nine points per game. The fact that Drexel isn’t relying on one or two players every night for scoring is a positive sign.

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LOOKAHEAD: In addition to the Big Five doubleheaders discussed in the first item of this article, big games this week include Miami at Penn (Tuesday), Temple at Villanova (Wednesday), Saint Joseph’s at Princeton (Wednesday) and UMBC, which pulled of the historic first-round upset of No. 1 seed Virginia in the NCAA Tournament, at Drexel (Saturday).

College preview: High hopes for young ‘Cats

Posted by Eric Fisher On November - 6 - 2018 ADD COMMENTS

Is Villanova rebuilding or simply reloading? The Wildcats try to defend their national championship with a young team, but, despite having to replace their top four scorers, they are ninth in the nation in the preseason rankings.

Saint Joseph’s must replace its top two scorers, but two players sidelined by injuries last season return to lead the Hawks this season.

Temple and Penn both return their top two leading scorers. The Quakers are trying to qualify for the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season while the Owls are trying to get back to the Big Dance in head coach Fran Dunphy’s final season.

La Salle and Drexel appear to be in rebuilding mode. Progress for the Explorers and Dragons shouldn’t be measured solely by wins and losses.

Let’s take a look at the outlook for the City Six.

VILLANOVA

Head coach: Jay Wright (18th season as Wildcats’ head coach)

Last season: 36-4 (14-4 Big East), national champions

With four players selected during the first 33 picks of the 2018 NBA Draft, Villanova lost a lot of talent. It would be unrealistic to expect the Wildcats to compete for their third national championship in the past four seasons, but that doesn’t mean the cupboard is bare.

The Wildcats are the preseason pick among Big East coaches to win the conference. They are ranked ninth in the preseason AP college basketball poll.

How good the Wildcats will be is debatable. What’s indisputable is that they will be young. Fifth-year seniors Phil Booth and Eric Paschall are expected to start, and senior guard Joe Cremo transferred from Albany, but the rest of the Wildcats expected to battle for significant playing time are sophomores and freshman.

Redshirt sophomore Dylan Painter (6-foot-11, 224 pounds) and sophomore Jermaine Samuels (6-7, 220) are expected to start at forward with Paschall, and sophomore Collin Gillespie (6-3, 183) is expected to join Booth in the starting backcourt

Paschall (10.6 points) and Booth (10 points) are the only returning players who averaged five points or more last season, when Villanova captured the national championship. Paschall, Booth, Cremo and the younger players will have to step to fill some of the void left by the departures of Jalen Brunson (18.9), Mikal Bridges (17.7), Donte DiVincenzo (13.4) and Omari Spellman (10.9).

Sophomore forward Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, freshman guard Jahvon Quinerly and freshman forwards Cole Swider, Brandon Slater and Saddiq Bey could make an impact, but it may take time for the freshmen to adjust to the college game and the Wildcats’ style.

Outlook: Villanova doesn’t seem to have the star power it has had the past several seasons. On the other hand, nobody considered DiVincenzo a star before last season, and he ended up being named the Outstanding Player in the Final Four and was the 16th player selected in the NBA Draft. It may take time for the freshmen to get comfortable, which means that Villanova should be a better team at the end of the season than it will be at the beginning. If a star or two develop, the Wildcats could once again be a team to be reckoned with when the NCAA Tournament rolls around.

SAINT JOSEPH’S

Head coach: Phil Martelli (24th season as Hawks’ head coach)

Last season: 16-16 (10-8 Atlantic 10)

This is a year of redemption for the Hawks. It’s not that Saint Joseph’s was awful last season. The Hawks finished at .500 and reached the Atlantic 10 semifinals. But many of its players are trying to bounce back from significant injuries.

Redshirt junior guard Lamarr Kimble is actually coming back after two injuries. He broke a bone in his foot in February of 2017. He returned last season, but only played one game before reinjuring the foot and missing the rest of the season. Redshirt sophomore forward Charlie Brown didn’t even make it to the first game last season. A fractured wrist suffered before the season began turned into a season-ending injury. Kimble and Brown are both back this season, and they hope to fill some of the void created by the departure of senior guard Shavar Newkirk (17.4 points) and senior forward James Demery (16.9).

Kimble and Brown should be complemented by a fine supporting cast. Taylor Funk averaged 11.8 points last season as a freshman. Senior guard Chris Clover averaged 8.8 points and redshirt junior forward Pierfranceso Oliva averaged 6.6. Forward Anthony Longpre Longpre (6-foot-10, 246 pounds). The Hawks could also receive a boost from graduate student Troy Holston, a 6-4 guard from South Florida who should fit right in after missing last season due to an injury.

Outlook: As I wrote last season, if the Hawks can stay healthy – and that’s a big if – they could make some noise in the Atlantic 10 and an NCAA bid isn’t out of the question.

TEMPLE

Head coach: Fran Dunphy (13th and final season as Owls’ head coach)

Last season: 17-16 (8-10 Atlantic 10)

The focus this season will be on Fran Dunphy, who will be coaching the Owls for the final time before turning over the reins to assistant coach Aaron McKie, who starred for the Owls and played for the 76ers.

The Owls want to send Dunphy out on a high note, and a lot of that will depend on the starting backcourt of Quinton Rose and Shizz Alston. Rose (14.9 points) returns for his junior season after testing the NBA waters last spring and then withdrawing his name from the draft. Alston (13.3) was the Owls’ second-leading scorer. Alston and Rose will also have to fill the leadership void left by the departure of senior captains Obi Enechionyia and Josh Brown, who were third and fourth, respectively, in scoring last season.

Sophomore guard Nate Pierre-Louis (7.5) will help significantly if he can develop into a reliable third scorer. Senior center Ernest Aflakpui (6-10, 240) needs to fill some of Enechionyia’s role, particularly with the Owls relying heavily on their guards to produce points. Forward Arashma Parks and guard Quentin Jackson could contribute as freshmen.

Outlook: Temple needs to ride its backcourt this season. The Owls would love to reach the NCAA Tournament, which would be a nice parting gift for Dunphy, but a lot has to go right for that to occur.

LA SALLE

Head coach: Ashley Howard (1st season as Explorers’ head coach)

Last season: 13-19 (7-11 Atlantic 10)

The most noteworthy loss is swingman B.J. Johnson, who led the Explorers in scoring (20.8) and rebounding (8.2) last season. The most noteworthy newcomer is head coach Ashley Howard, who was an assistant with Villanova’s national championship team. The most noteworthy returnee is guard Pookie Powell (16.0 points), who successfully petitioned the NCAA for a sixth season of eligibility.

Guards Isiah Deas (9.5) and Saul Phiri (6.2) are also back, but there isn’t much else returning in terms of proven college players. The backcourt may be bolstered by three Division I transfers: Traci Carter (Marquette), David Beatty (South Carolina) and Cheddi Mosely (Boston University). Freshman guard Jack Clark (6-8) could contribute after missing his senior season at Cheltenham High School due to injury.

Outlook: Expectations shouldn’t be too high for the Explorers, who are clearly in rebuilding mode. If a few of their freshman forwards make an immediate impact, it will take some of the pressure off the backcourt. But it appears as if La Salle will struggle against teams with formidable frontcourts.

PENN

Head coach: Steve Donahue (4th season as Quakers’ head coach)

Last season: 24-9, (12-2 Ivy League)

After qualifying for the NCAA Tournament, and putting a scare into top-seeded Kansas, last season, Penn is looking forward to going back to the Big Dance this season. Leading scorer Ryan Betley (14.3 points) and second-leading scorer (13.1) and top rebounder (7.2) A.J. Brodeur return, which is nice foundation for the Quakers. And, as juniors, they should be back again next season.

Senior forward Max Rothschild (7.5 points, 5.7 rebounds), senior guard Antonio Woods (7.7 points) and junior guard Devon Goodman are three returning players who were part of the rotation last season. The Quakers home players such as sophomore such as guard Eddie Scott and forward Jarrod Simmons make significant contributions. Freshmen worth keeping an eye include 6-10 forward Michael Wang and guards Bryce Washington, Griffin Ryan and Alex Imegwu.

Outlook: The Quakers made tremendous strides last season after finishing 13-15 the previous season. One of their secrets was balanced scoring. It appears they might have to rely more heavily on Brodeur and Betley this season, but, if they can develop balance and quality depth, they might get past Harvard once again and represent the Ivy League in the NCAA Tournament.

DREXEL

Head coach: Zach Spiker (3rd season as Dragons’ head coach)

Last season: 13-20 (6-12 Colonial Athletic Association)

The Dragons catch a bit of a bad break with leading scorer (21.0) Tramaine Isabell transferring to St. Louis for his final year of eligibility. The versatile Sammy Mojica (11.1 points) and Austin Williams (9.4) are also gone. But guard Kurk Lee (12.4) returns to lead the offense.

Lee, who also led the Dragons’ in assists, will be counted upon to score more, as will junior forward Alihan Demir. Senior guard Troy Harper, who started 10 games last season, will also be counted upon more than last year. The Dragons are also hoping for contributions from transfers James Butler (forward, Navy) and guard Trevor John (Cal Poly) and freshman guard Coletrane Washington.

Outlook: If the transfers and freshmen don’t step up to fill the spaces around Lee, this could be a long year for the Dragons, who will certainly miss Isabell’s scoring.

Butler game-winner vs. Nets