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Scoreless minutes for Trail Blazers at start of Wednesday’s loss to Sixers

With players such as third baseman Maikel Franco (pictured) and Odubel Herrera enduring awful seasons, there is a strong sentiment to call up players from Lehigh Valley, but Eric Fisher warns not to expect too much from the young players when they arrive.

Like a deeply scarred lover, the Cavaliers seem thrilled that LeBron James deems them worthy of his attention again. But this courtship isn’t about the Cavs or winning a title for Cleveland. It’s all about LeBron.

Eric Fisher’s weekly column about a variety of topics. This week Eric serves up opinions on Nelson Agholor’s troubles, Temple and Penn State pursuing conference titles, Penn’s Ivy League title, and Jimmie Johnson’s place in NASCAR history.

Archive for the ‘NCAA’ Category

College preview: Bouncing back from injuries

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

The City Six, with the exception of Temple, opened their seasons this weekend, and the Big Five rivalries kick off Monday when Penn hosts La Salle.

Injured players returning is a common theme. Phil Booth is back from Villanova, Josh Brown returns for Temple, and seemingly half of the Saint Joseph’s roster is returning from injuries. How much those returning players contribute could be the key to the fortunes of each of those teams.

Villanova, ranked sixth at the start of the season, is attempting to remain in the national championship picture. Saint Joseph’s and Temple have their sights set on earning an invitation to the NCAA Tournament. Penn could also receive an invitation to the Big Dance if it can win the Ivy League championship, which is an outside shot, but not a halfcourt heave.

Like Temple, La Salle finished last season with a .500 record, but the Explorers don’t have an addition to the lineup of the caliber of Brown, so their expectations might be a bit more modest than the Owls. Drexel has even more modest expectations after unexpectedly losing a key player before the season.

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

VILLANOVA

The Wildcats lost three key players from last year’s superb team and don’t have a senior in their main rotation, but nobody would be surprised if Villanova won its fifth straight Big East regular-season title. In fact, the Wildcats are ranked sixth in the nation.

Villanova spent a large portion of last season ranked No. 1 in the nation, but was upset by Wisconsin, 65-62, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Lost from that team, which finished with a 32-4 record, are Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds. Hart was one of the best players in the country. Jenkins was the hero of Villanova’s national championship the previous year, hitting the 3-pointer at the buzzer.

But the cupboard isn’t bare. Junior guard Jalen Brunson (14.7 points last season) is the Big East preseason player of the year and is on the Wooden Award watch list. Brunson will have more opportunities this season, but he also won’t have the luxury of having teams concentrate resources on stopping Hart and Jenkins. Brunson will be aided by the return of guard Phil Booth, who is a redshirt junior after being limited to three games last season due to a knee injury.  Booth’s shot should enhance the Wildcats’ offense.

Guard Donte DiVincenzo developed into one of the Wildcats’ most important players by the latter part of last season. The redshirt sophomore will be counted upon to play an even larger role this season. Freshman guard Collin Gillespie could also contribute in the backcourt.

The Wildcats will be particularly young at forward. After redshirt junior Eric Paschall and swingman Mikal Bridges, the Big East co-Defensive Player of the Year last season, will work with redshirt freshman Omari Spellman, and possibly freshmen Jermaine Samuels and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, as well as sophomore Dylan Painter, who was pressed into action last season after Spellman was declared academically ineligible last season.

Outlook: It may take some time for the Wildcats to gel. They have less star power than last season, but appear to have more depth. The Wildcats may win the Big East again and should return to the NCAA Tournament as a relatively high seed, but this team won’t be pushing for the No. 1 ranking. If the Wildcats get eliminated in the second round of the NCAA Tournament this season, it will be a disappointment, but not a shock.

TEMPLE

Josh Brown should be the key to Temple’s season. Brown played just five games last season due to an Achilles tendon injury. The Owls finished 16-16 without him, posting a losing record (7-11) in the American Athletic Conference and failing to win a postseason game.

With Brown back for a redshirt senior season at guard, the hope is that opens up some opportunities for fellow senior captain Obi Enechionyia, who averaged 13.1 points last season. The versatile Enechionyia (6-foot-10) can block shots and make 3-pointers.

The Owls may frequently go to three guards on offense. Junior Shizz Alston Jr. (6-4) and sophomore Quinton Rose (6-8) provide the Owls with scoring and length, which should also aid Temple at the defensive end. Sophomore guard Alani Moore (5-10) was also pressed into action last season, gaining valuable experience.

Outlook: The backcourt and Enechionyia will determine the Owls’ level of success. The wild cards are Brown’s health and whether any freshmen make significant contributions. A repeat of last season would be a disappointment. The Owls should have a winning record and reach .500 in the AAC, but whether that’s enough to earn an invitation to the NCAA Tournament is uncertain. At the very least, Temple would need to be a bubble team for the NCAA Tournament in order for this season to be considered progress, especially with two senior captains.

SAINT JOSEPH’S

No team was hit harder by injuries last season than the Hawks, so Hawks fans can’t be happy that sophomore forward Charlie Brown is sidelined at the start of the season by a fractured wrist. On the positive side of the ledger, the Hawks have four players who were hindered by injuries last season back in the lineup.

Guard Shavar Newkirk was averaging more than 20 points per game before tearing his ACL last season. Lamarr Kimble did a nice job picking up some of the scoring slack until he broke his foot in February. Forward James Demery missed 10 games and forward Pierfrancesco Oliva missed the entire season due to knee surgery.

It may take a little time, of course, for all of the pieces to mess together. All of the injured players, especially Oliva, may have some rust to work off. But, if Newkirk and Kimble can excel in the backcourt, the Hawks should rebound from an 11-20 record last season.

The Hawks may also receive some help from freshman forwards Anthony Longpre and Taylor Funk. Longpre started Saturday’s season-opening loss to Toledo. Funk came off the bench to score 16 points in his debut.

Outlook: If the Hawks can stay healthy – and that’s a big if – they could make some noise, particularly after Brown returns. An NCAA bid isn’t out of the question, which is an amazing statement to make about a team that only won four Atlantic 10 games last season.

LA SALLE

Senior swing B.J. Johnson, the team leader in scoring (17.6) and rebounds (6.3) last season, leads the Explorers this season as they try to moving into winning territory after being .500  last season , both overall (15-15) and in the Atlantic 10 (9-9).

Johnson will be complemented by redshirt junior guard Pookie Powell (13.7 points) and guard Amar Stukes, who is a graduate student.  The experienced Explorers are also counting on contributions from redshirt senior Tony Washington (6-10, 230 pounds), who started 25 games as a sophomore.

One issue for the Explorers is they don’t have much experience beyond the four players already mentioned. Sophomore Saul Phiri started the season opener, a win over St. Peter’s. Freshman guard Jamir Moultrie, freshman center/forward Miles Brookins and sophomore guard Isiah Deas also played extended minutes in the season opener.

Outlook: Johnson and Powell should keep the Explorers competitive. The big question concerns how well the young players fill in the gaps on the roster. The Explorers might be right around .500 again this season, although rapid development of young players might boost them to a winner record.

PENN

Sophomore forward A.J. Brodeur, who led Penn in scoring (13.8 points) and rebounding (6.9) as a freshman, returns to lead the Quakers in their pursuit of an Ivy League title.

Sophomore Ryan Betley (11.9 points), who made a difference after missing the first month of his career with a broken hand, and senior Darnell Forman, who averaged 8.3 points and led the team in assists last season, form a solid backcourt. The Quakers should also benefit from the return of junior guard Antonio Woods, who excelled during the first half of his freshman season before being declared academically ineligible. Outside shooter Jackson Donahue, Caleb Wood and Devon Goodman add plenty of depth in the backcourt.

There are questions about frontcourt scoring after Brodeur. Perhaps freshman Jarrod Simmons might be part of the answer.

Outlook: With Brodeur and a talented and deep backcourt, Penn could challenge – and win – the Ivy League title one year after posting a 6-8 league record (13-15 overall). If Brodeur misses any significant time, however, the Quakers could find themselves in trouble in the frontcourt.

DREXEL

The Dragons lose two starters from last season’s 9-23 squad. Leading scorer Rodney Williams was in his senior season, but the Dragons expected to have guard Kari Jonsson (10.1 points) back. Unfortunately, Jonsson returned to Iceland.

Fortunately, the Dragons still have sophomore Kurk Lee, who was second on the team in scoring (14.9) and led the team in assists (5.0) while starting 30 games as a freshman. They also return seniors Austin Williams, the versatile Sammy Mojica (11.2 points) and Miles Overton (9.5 points), who help form a solid foundation for the Dragons.

The question for the Dragons is where else will they receive significant help. Guard Troy Harper and guard Sam Green started the opener, a loss to visiting Bowling Green. Perhaps freshman Tim Perry Jr., the son of the former Temple start and 76ers player Tim Perry, will make a difference. It’s too early to tell.

Outlook: With the loss of Williams and Jonsson, the Dragons may not finish with a much better record than last season. A championship, or even title contention, is an unrealistic goal. The Dragons’ season should be about sending the seniors out on the best note possible, the development of Lee and finding younger players to fill in the gaps.

College Football preview: Building on success

Posted by Eric Fisher On September - 1 - 2017 ADD COMMENTS

Penn State, Temple and Penn won at least a share of their conference titles last year. All could be in contention for championships again this season.

The Owls will try to continue their recent success with a new head coach after Matt Rhule left for Baylor. Villanova, which saw Andy Talley retire after 32 seasons as head coach, and Delaware also enter the season with new head coaches. But that doesn’t mean those teams won’t experience success. In fact, it will be considered a disappointment if Villanova doesn’t reach the postseason.

The highest expectations are for Penn State, which enters the season ranked sixth in the nation. Running back Saquon Barkley should be on the short list for the Heisman Trophy as Penn State tries to exceed the standard set during last year’s surprisingly successful season, which saw the Nittany Lions fall just short of making the national championship playoffs.

The following is a preview of our local FCS and FBS college football teams.

PENN STATE

Head coach: James Franklin, 4th season as Penn State’s head coach

Last year’s record: 11-3

Season opener: Saturday (noon) vs. Akron

Analysis: Penn State enters the season ranked 6th in the nation. A major reason for that ranking is the Nittany Lions’ explosive offense. Offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead has Heisman Trophy candidate Saquon Barkley (272 carries for 1,496 yards, 18 TDs) at his disposal, as well as quarterback Trace McSorley and 6-foot-5 tight end Mike Gesicki (48 receptions for 679 yards, 5 TDs). Barkley is a powerful runner with speed and great vision. McSorley (224 for 387, 29 TDs, 8 interceptions) is a gambler, but appears to be a tremendous leader.

McSorley lost receiver Chris Godwin, so DaeSean Hamilton, Saeed Blacknall, Juwan Johnson and DeAndre Thompkins will need to step up. One of the most amazing aspects of Penn State’s nine-game winning streak, which moved the Nittany Lions into the national title picture after a 2-2 start, is that the offensive line wasn’t particularly good. The line is a little more experienced this year, which should help create more holes for Barkley.

There are a lot of new faces on Penn State’s defense, which lost defensive end Garrett Sickels and Evan Schwan. Shareef Miller and Torrence Brown are listed as the starters at defensive end. Curtis Cothran and Parker Cathren plug the middle at defensive tackle. If they can contain blockers, middle linebacker Jason Cabinda will be freed up to make plays. Safety Marcus Allen once again anchors the secondary.

Prediction: It’s difficult to believe that head coach James Franklin was on the hot seat after opening last season 2-2. The question is whether the Nittany Lions can continue the momentum that they built up the rest of the season. I never thought the Nittany Lions were better than Ohio State or Michigan last season; however, barring a serious injury to Barkley or McSorley, there doesn’t seem to be a reason why Penn State can’t be in contention for a second straight Big 10 title. Record: 10-2

TEMPLE

Head coach: Geoff Collins, 1st season as Temple’s head coach

Last year’s record: 10-4

Season opener: Saturday (3:30 p.m.) at Notre Dame

Analysis: The loss of quarterback Phillip Walker and senior running back Jahad Thomas creates a void that will need to be filled if the Owls are to reach their third straight American Athletic Conference championship game, which they won last year by thumping Navy. Collins hasn’t revealed the starting quarterback for the season opener against Notre Dame. Redshirt junior Frank Nutile has the most experience, but redshirt freshmen Logan Marchi and Anthony Russo and freshman Todd Centeio are also in the mix.

The Owls have a more obvious answer at running back, where junior Ryquell Armstead returns after rushing for 919 yards and 14 touchdowns last season. Ventell Bryant, who led the Owls with 54 receptions for 895 yards, and redshirt senior Keith Kirkwood (42 receptions for 648 yards) should be the top two targets. In addition to Thomas and Walker, Temple needs to replace Dion Dawkins, who anchored the offensive line.

The biggest individual loss on defense is Haason Reddick, who was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals with the 13th selection in the first round of the NFL Draft. But the Owls also lost all three starting linebackers to graduation. The strength of the defense should be the secondary, with senior safety Sean Chandler leading the way. Chandler and fellow senior Delvon Randall form a tremendous safety tandem. Senior Artrel Foster and transfer Mike Jones round out a terrific secondary. Stephaun Marshall, shifting to Matakevich’s WILL linebacker position, has big shoes to fill. Praise Martin-Oguike will be counted upon to pressure opposing quarterbacks.

Prediction: With so many new starters, it’s unlikely that the Owls will have a top 10 defense this year. They also have questions at quarterback. Temple may not repeat as AAC champion, but it should post a winning record. Record: 7-5

VILLANOVA

Head coach: Mark Ferrante, 1st season as Villanova’s head coach

Last year’s record: 9-4

Season opener: Saturday (12:30 p.m.) at Lehigh

Analysis: The biggest change will be on the sideline, where longtime assistant coach Mark Ferrante takes over for Andy Talley, who was the head coach for 32 years. Fortunately for Ferrante, dual-threat quarterback Zach Bednarczyk (539 rushing yards, 2,158 passing yards with 19 touchdowns and a 59.9 completion percentage) returns for his junior season. Bednarczyk was second in rushing to Aaron Forbes (811 yards), who returns for his junior season. Senior receiver Taurus Phillips (36 receptions for 497 yards, 3 TDs) and senior tight end Ryan Bell (33 receptions for 434 yards, 7 TDs) are expected to be the top targets.

The defense lost defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon (11 sacks, 21½ tackles for loss), who drafted by the Chiefs, and senior linebacker Austin Calitro. But safety Rob Rolle, who had seven interceptions last season, headlines an experienced secondary that includes Malik Reaves, Trey Johnson and Rasaan Stewart. Jeff Steeb and Ed Shockley, who were tied with Calitro for the Wildcats lead in tackles last season with 86 apiece, anchor the linebacker corps.

Prediction: The Wildcats should be playoff-bound again. With Lehigh, the defending Patriot League champion, and Temple as the first two opponents, the Wildcats could get off to a rough start, but they should right the ship in time. Villanova could be a dangerous playoff team at the end of the season. Record: 9-2

DELAWARE

Head coach: Danny Rocco, 1st season as Delaware’s head coach

Last year’s record: 4-7

Season opener: 22-3 win over Delaware State on Thursday

Analysis: Much like last year, the question is whether the Blue Hens will improve with experience. Having 18 returning starters last season didn’t make much difference. Delaware finished with a 4-7 record for the second consecutive season. This year the Blue Hens return 19 starters, including 10 on defense.

The heart of the defense is the linebacker corps, featuring co-captains Charles Bell, who has led the Blue Hens in tackles the past two seasons with 96 and 94, respectively, and Troy Reeder, the former Penn State player who was second on the team in tackles (63) lasts season.

There will be more emphasis on the linebackers this season as Rocco switches from a 4-3 formation to a 3-4 alignment. But that also puts pressure on the defensive line, which is anchored by senior co-captain Bilal Nichols and senior Blaine Woodson. Nasir Adderley, a junior, should be one of the keys to the secondary. Adderley also plays an important role on special teams, averaging 23.6 yards per kickoff return.

There are more question marks on offense than defense.  Blue Hens will be without leading rusher Wes Hills, who led Delaware in rushing  last season with 728 yards despite being limited to seven games by injuries. Mills is on academic probation, but the cupboard isn’t bare.   Junior Thomas Jefferson gained 700 yards last season and got off to a good start this year with 102 yards during the season-opening victory over Delaware State.

Quarterback Joe Walker rushed for 389 yards, but he must improve on his 48.4 percent passing percentage this season. Diante Cherry (27 receptions for 331 yards, 3 TDs) is the top returning receiver. Senior center Brody Kern anchors the offensive line.

Prediction: The question is whether the defense is good enough to secure wins while the offense rounds into form. The Blue Hens might not end their streak of losing seasons, but they should be a little better than their 4-7 marks the past two seasons. Record: 5-6

PENN

Head coach: Ray Priore, 3rd season as Penn’s head coach

Last year’s record: 7-3

Season opener: Sept. 16 (1 p.m.) vs. Ohio Dominican

Analysis: Penn returns eight starters on defense and six on offense from last year’s team, which earned a share of the Ivy League championship for the second straight season. Receiver Justin Watson, a two-time All-American selection, caught 89 passes last season for 1,115 yards and eight touchdowns, Tre Solomon led the Ivy League in rushing with 907 yards and nine rushing touchdowns. One challenge will be to replace quarterback Alek Torgersen, who completed 66.9 percent of his passes last season for 2,231 yards and 17 touchdowns while throwing just four interceptions. Nick Robinson, Will Fischer-Colbrie and Ryan Glover are competing to replace Torgersen as the starter.

Senior Colton Moskal, who led the Quakers last season with 89 tackles, is joined by Nick Miller, who was second in tackles (68) anchor the linebacker corps. Junior Sam Philippi, who was third in tackles (58) is the leader in the secondary. Senior Louis Vecchio is the play-maker along the defensive line.

Prediction: The quarterback may hold the key to the Quakers’ fortunes. Whichever quarterback becomes the starter will have excellent weapons to work with in Watson and Solomon. Hopefully, a less-experienced offensive line develops quickly. A share of another Ivy League title shouldn’t be expected, but it’s also not out of the question. Record: 7-3

Every out of Roy Halladay's playoff no-hitter