Sixers @ Hawks Game Preview (3/6/13)

Josh Smith leads a Hawks’ high-flying attack.

Following a bitter loss to the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia hits the road where they’re a dismal 6-20 on the season to face a playoff-bound Atlanta Hawks squad.  The Hawks have done an admirable job staying in the hunt for first round home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference playoffs, currently in 6th place only a half game back of fourth.  The Hawks have stayed the course despite losing Bow Wow’s good friend Lou Williams to a torn ACL and having to endure the swirling trade rumors surrounding star Josh Smith at the trade deadline that eventually amounted to nothing.  They remain firmly in the pack of teams hoping LeBron tweaks a hamstring in the playoffs giving their team a chance to advance out of the east.

Atlanta returns home after a six-game road trip having lost their last three games.  However, home cooking has treated the Hawks well this season, where they’ve gone 18-10.  Lacking a true go-to-scorer, the Hawks share the ball as well as anyone in the league ranking first in assist percentage in the league at 65.3%.  Atlanta often runs it offense through the high-post, low-post combo of Josh Smith and Al Horford.  Smith does a little of everything for the Hawks, averaging 17.2 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game, while remaining active on the defensive end, ranking 9th in the NBA at 2.0 blocks per game.  Horford sits right there with Smith in terms of impact, averaging a double-double with 17.3 points on 55.7% shooting and 10.0 rebounds, while also accruing a very respectable 3.2 assists.  In the wake of Joe Johnson’s offseason departure, point guard Jeff Teague has also stepped up his game with career-highs in points (14.3) and assists (7.1), and sporting very efficient percentages for a guard (.450/.364/.883).  Former Sixer and teen heartthrob Kyle Korver provides needed spacing for Atlanta, ranking 1st in the league in 3PT% at 46.2%, but is questionable for tonight’s game after sitting out Monday with a toe injury.

In the teams’ first meeting, the Sixers won handily 99-80.  However, the Sixers shot an uncharacteristic 51.2% from the field in that game, and also received Jason Richardson’s best performance of the season, contributing 17 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists.  One aspect of that victory that appears sustainable was Jrue Holiday shutting down Teague, holding him to just 5 points and 3 assists.  Philadelphia also scored 26 points off of 17 Hawks’ turnovers; Atlanta can be sloppy with the ball at times, especially Josh Smith, so the Sixers will need to remain active on defense as they did in that contest and last night versus Boston.

Keys to the Game:

  • Force Josh Smith out of the paint and goad him into taking jumpers.  Smith ranks among the worst jump shooters in the game, shooting 29.4% from mid-range, and continues to frustrate Hawks’ fans by taking a ton of those shots.  Smith is an excellent finisher on the post and in transition so make him dig his own grave from the outside on the offensive end.
  • Holiday needs to shut down Jeff Teague again and also break out of this shooting slump he’s been in recently.  Jrue has a couple inches on Teague so I’d like to see him work to get deeper in the lane on him for some higher percentage shots.

Prediction:

Atlanta’s positive home splits and Philadelphia’s negative road splits are impossible to ignore.  The Sixers are also playing the tail-end of a back-to-back against a rested Atlanta team.  Horford has a big game against Hawes and company on the inside.  Holiday breaks out of his mini-slump but it’s not nearly enough as the Sixers drop another one in a fairly easy Atlanta victory.

Daily Cup of City 6 (3/6/13)

City 6 Cup 2

Today’s Action

7:00 PM: La Salle (20-7, 10-4 A-10) vs. George Washington (12-15, 6-8 A-10)

After a bad loss to rival Temple, the Explorers have won two straight and another win tonight would clinch a first round bye in the Atlantic 10 conference tournament.  La Salle will be playing a team laying everything on the line as the Colonials find themselves in a three-win tie for 11th place, with one of those teams missing the conference tournament entirely.  Surprisingly given their record, George Washington is an excellent defensive team, ranking among the top 40 teams in the nation in points allowed per possession.

Isaiah Armwood does the bulk of the work down low for GW, averaging team-leading 11.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game.  In the teams’ first meeting at the beginning of February, Armwood had a strong game tallying 17 points and 9 rebounds.  However, the Explorers were hitting from behind the arc, going 11-25 from downtown on their way to an 80-71 victory.  La Salle will need to hit their outside shots once again to put away a Colonials’ team that has a slight size advantage over them.

7:00 PM: Temple (21-8, 9-5 A-10) @ Fordham (6-23, 2-12 A-10)

Sticking with Atlantic 10 action, Temple is currently tied with Butler for the 4th seed and one of those first round byes in the conference tournament.  Having lost the head-to-head contest to the Bulldogs earlier in the season, it would behoove the Owls to sweep their final two regular season games and hope Butler drops one of two down the stretch.  Luckily for the Owls, tonight’s game pits them against a Fordham squad that finds itself next to last in the conference.

The Rams were blown out by St. Joe’s on Saturday night and come into action on a 9-game losing streak.  Senior forward Chris Gaston, second on the team in scoring (14,0 ppg) and first in rebounding (7.7 rpg), missed the St. Joe’s game with a stomach flu and will likely be back in the lineup for Fordham.  Gaston previously missed about half the season with a knee injury, greatly contributing to the woes of an undermanned Rams’ squad.  The Owls are currently riding a 5-game winning streak and should have no problem handling Fordham.  However, the Owls dropped  a similar game to last-place Duquesne less than three weeks ago and can’t afford to slip up and take any team lightly as they still find themselves among the last four teams in the NCAA tournament field.

7:00 PM: Saint Joseph’s (16-11, 7-7 A-10) vs. Rhode Island (8-19, 3-11 A-10)

Looking to our last Atlantic 10 pairing, the Hawks look to secure their first winning streak in 8 games as they sit firmly in the middle of the conference standings.  Despite their poor record, Rhode Island has been playing tough of late, losing close games to Temple and La Salle.  Rams’ leading scorer Xavier Munford can put up points but that’s all he brings to the table, as he somehow scored 30 points against Temple without recording a single rebound or assist.  Both the Hawks and Rams play at an extremely slow pace so expect a low-scoring affair.  However, with the struggles Rhode Island have experienced scoring the basketball, shooting only 40.4%, I would expect Saint Joseph’s to take care of business at home and build momentum toward the conference tournament.

7:00 PM: Villanova (18-12, 9-8 Big East) vs. Georgetown (23-4, 13-3 Big East) – ESPN2

The Wildcats badly need a victory in its regular-season finale, coming off consecutive excruciating losses in a buzzer-beater against Seton Hall and an overtime defeat to Pittsburgh.  Villanova still finds itself among the last four in to the tournament field, but each loss is another blow to their dreams of dancing.  Unfortunately, a visit from the 5th-ranked Hoyas is not a cure for what ails you.

The Hoyas play at an extremely slow pace, having won games by scores of 37-36, 46-40, and 53-51 this season.  Georgetown finds success through its 4th-rated defense in the country and effective shooting of the basketball, ranked 50th in the nation at 46.1%.  Otto Porter leads Georgetown with 16.6 points and 7.6 rebounds per game; his play of late has propelled him into the conversation for national player of the year.  Porter sports tremendous percentages with 51.0 FG%, 77.3 FT%, and 46.9 3PT%, as a true do-it-all player.  His counting stats would be even more impressive if he played for most other teams playing at a faster tempo.  The Wildcats will need to contain Porter and find some holes in the vaunted Hoyas’ defense to come out on top.  Though they have a tough task ahead of them, the Wildcats have performed well at home, where they’ve already secured key victories over Louisville, Syracuse, and Marquette this season.  Hopefully, for Villanova faithful, tonight’s contest will yield a similar result.

Sixers Play Hard, Still Outclassed by Celtics in Defeat

aiga stairs down by Anonymous - Set of international airport symbols.Source: http://www.aiga.org/content.cfm/symbol-signsConverted to SVG by Jean-Victor Balin.

The Sixers continue their slide down the standings in a home loss to Boston.

For casual NBA fans wondering how the Celtics have continued to play well despite the loss of Rajon Rondo, tonight’s game was a perfect showcase.  First, Avery Bradley scored a season-high 22 points on 10-15 shooting, but more importantly, hounded Sixers’ all-star Jrue Holiday all night into a 6-17 shooting performance.  If Bradley could sustain the outside shooting he showed tonight over his career, he would evolve into a truly devastating two-way player.  The old guard for Boston also played outstanding basketball.  Paul Pierce scored 18 points including a perfect 4-4 from behind the arc, while also securing a game-high 11 rebounds and dishing 7 assists.  Kevin Garnett matched Pierce’s 18 points on 9 for 17 shooting, as he and Pierce drained an all-too-familiar mid-range jumper to stem any Philadelphia run.  Ultimately, Boston had too much talent for Philadelphia as they defeated the Sixers, 109-101.

I’ll say this for the Sixers, they’ve played hard each game since the debacle against the Magic.  Tonight, they forced Boston into an uncharacteristic 22 turnovers; there were 3 occasions where the Sixers stole a casual Celtics in-bounds pass, plays that don’t get made by a team that is phoning it in.  However, against a strong Boston defensive squad and without a true post threat on the roster, Philadelphia was forced to rely too often on long jumpers which were just not falling tonight.  As mentioned, Holiday struggled with his shot against Bradley, and although he recorded 10 assists, only one of those came after halftime.  Evan Turner was playing hard and put up near-triple-double numbers with 18 points, 9 rebounds, and 7 assists, but also had a terrible shooting night going 6 for 19.  These type of games have become too commonplace for Turner, that is, putting up good counting stats while shooting very inefficiently.  It is clear at this point he is not a good enough outside shooter to justify a lead offensive role on a team.

Philadelphia had a balanced attack as 7 players finished in double digits.  Arnett Moultrie was the first player off the bench tonight for the Sixers, playing with a lot of energy and finishing a perfect 5-5 from the field for 10 points.  It would greatly benefit Philadelphia to expand Moultrie’s role down the stretch and develop his game, as one of the few player’s on the roster who could possibly fit into the team’s long-term plans.  Thad Young also played his usual high-energy game, recording a double-double with a team-high 19 points and 10 rebounds (including an impressive 7 offensive boards).

Unfortunately for Philadelphia, they have no time to lick their wounds as they travel to Atlanta to play the Hawks tomorrow night.  With Holiday and Turner both playing 40+ minutes tonight, some other players will have to step up on the back-to-back if the Sixers are to have a shot in that one.

Sixers vs. Celtics Game Preview (3/5/13)

Like the Sixers, the Celtics have not had the luck of the Irish when it comes to injuries this season.

After the Sixers and Celtics scrapped and fought through a hard-nosed seven-game series in last season’s playoffs, it seemed as though an old rivalry had been revived with future playoff meetings all but certain.  Well, Boston held up their end of the bargain while the only bracket Sixers fans will have to worry about is one ranking Andrew Bynum’s craziest hair styles.  With an aging core of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, no one would have been surprised by injuries playing a large role in the Celtics’ season.  Ironically though, it is two of their younger players out for the season in all-star point guard Rajon Rondo (ACL) and emerging rookie Jared Sullinger (back).  Despite those losses, the Celtics continue to play good basketball and find themselves firmly in the playoffs and only 2 games back of the 4th seed and home-court advantage in the first round.

During the Kevin Garnett era, the Celtics have always established their identity on the defensive end of the floor and this season is no different, ranking 6th in the league with a 99.5 defensive rating.  Amid all of the screaming and psychotic eye-rolling is his ability to direct teammates into correct positions and demand nothing but maximum effort from them at all times.  When Garnett is on the court, Boston is the 2nd best defense in the league with a 96.5 defensive rating, while the team is in the bottom half of the league defensively when he is on the bench with a 103.8 defensive rating.  The Rondo injury means additional playing time for Avery Bradley, one of the best young perimeter defenders in the league, who will draw the assignment of marking Jrue Holiday.

Tuesday night’s meeting is the last of 4 games between the two teams, with Philadelphia having won two of the first three contests.  Evan Turner had excellent games in the two Sixers’ victories recording a 26 point, 10 rebound game, and a 25 point, 11 rebound effort.  Turner seems to match up well with Paul Pierce who at this point of his career lacks the type of raw athleticism that typically shuts down Turner’s offensive game.  That being said, Pierce has had an excellent season, ranking 7th among SF in PER at 18.54 (min. 20 mins/game), averaging 18.6 ppg with a true shooting percentage right about league average at 54.1%, 6.3 rpg, and 4.5 apg.  Pierce and Garnett really stepped up their games following the Rondo injury, the biggest reason the Celtics remain in playoff position.

Keys to the Game:

  • Get out and run.  Boston ranks in the bottom half of the league in terms of pace and, much like Chicago last week, the Sixers will find it difficult to score once the defense is set up in the half court.  Try to speed up the game and convert some easy baskets in transition.
  • Big game for Turner.  Jrue Holiday may find scoring room difficult to come by with Avery Bradley in his jock most of the night; Turner will have to pick up the slack and continue his strong play against Boston.
  • Make someone other than Pierce and Garnett beat you.  The two stars’ usage rates combine for over half of Boston’s offense on the season.  Force the ball out of their hands whenever possible; if someone like Jeff Green or Jason Terry gets hot to win it for Boston, that’s something an opponent has to live with.

Prediction: Another close defensive struggle with the Sixers’ poor late game execution once again coming back to haunt them.  Boston builds toward home-court advantage while Sixers fans look toward potential lottery picks in the world of college basketball.

 

2013 Kronum Season Preview: Evergreens

The expansion Evergreens bring a lot of fresh faces to the Kronum league.

This is part two in an 8-part series leading up to the 2013 Kronum regular season.  For part one, go here

2011 Results: N/A, Expansion Team

2011 Leaders (stats accumulated with other teams):

EG Stats

Returning Professionals: Joe Petrino (from Nimble Jacks), Jeff Yetter (from Work Horses), Vince Rota (from Jet Sets), Sean London (from Jets Sets), Shane Dugan (from Night Owls)

Key Rookies: Ryan Ayres, Ryan Maley, TJ Kane, Gerry Plescia, Alec Jadacki, Dom Petrino

With only five members of the roster having played in the Kronum professional league last season, the Evergreens will be, by far, the least experienced team out on the round.  Although they have been playing together as a unit throughout multiple rec league seasons, there’s something to be said for having players who have been through the ups and downs of a professional campaign.  Luckily for the Evergreens, they do have some guys who have been there before; first and foremost is Joe Petrino.

The move for Petrino from the Nimble Jacks to the Evergreens equates to the James Harden trade from the Thunder to the Rockets this past NBA offseason; that is, a highly efficient scorer who was already producing at a high level, being asked to take on a larger role, hopefully leading to an MVP-type season.  He was the 7th leading scorer in the league as a part of a championship Nimble Jacks team, and will now be receiving a greater number of shots for an expansion Evergreens squad counting on him to be the man.  The key for the team will be whether, with opposing defenses geared around stopping him, Petrino will be able to maintain his scoring efficiency.  If anyone is up for the challenge, it is Petrino, who ranked 5th overall in shooting percentage (min. 4.0 shots per game) at 57.1%, and 7th in flex zone shooting percentage (min. 10 attempts) at 53.2%.  The flex zone shooting is particularly impressive given that Petrino is also skilled at hitting rings, tying the Urban Legends’ Kevin Glover for most ring shots made from the flex zone last season with seven.  Even when Petrino goes for a ring and misses, the shot still usually finds the crown and provides a rebound opportunity for his teammates.  With the Evergreens, he will be taking on more of a role in the middle of the field, where he already ranked 8th in cross zone scoring, and 5th in cross zone shooting percentage (min. 5 attempts), going 11 for 30 (36.7%).  The Evergreens have built their defense around turnovers and quick transitions; Petrino will be the man they look toward for a game-changing 4-pointer after a forced turnover.

Other players will need to step us as well for the Evergreens to truly compete.  Veteran crosser Jeff Yetter joins the Evergreens after an injury limited him to just 4 games during the Work Horses’ disappointing 2011 season.  A composed presence out on the field, Yetter is both an excellent distributor, ranking 13th in assists per game, and a versatile scorer, using hands and feet to tally points from the wedge, flex, and cross zones last season.  The other main crosser for the Evergreens is captain Ryan Ayres.  Though it is his first season playing professionally, Ayres has officiated Kronum matches since the beginning and has likely seen as much Kronum action has anyone in the league.  While not a huge scoring threat, Ayres will more often than not make the right decisions while orchestrating the offense and it would not surprise me to see him among the assist leaders come year-end.  The final main cog in the Evergreens’ offense will be rookie Ryan Maley.  During offseason and preseason play, Maley has played offensively in the middle of the field more than any other wedgeback in Kronum.  He is capable of scoring from the cross, flex, and wedge areas and will provide a unique wedgeback-crosser hybrid aspect to the Evergreens’ offense.

While the Evergreens appear to be able to put up points with any team in Kronum, a strong defense is what elevates teams to the next level and is an area where the team is especially inexperienced.  Veteran Vince Rota will anchor the back line as the only returning professional wedgeback.  Rota has championship experience with the Nimble Jacks before moving to the Jet Sets in more of a rotational role.  The Evergreens will be counting on Rota full-time, who recognizes shooters’ angles and closes out on players in the wedge zone as well as any wedgeback in Kronum.  Alongside Rota and Maley, rookie Gerry Plescia has shown flashes of brilliance in net during preseason play, and will round out the wedgeback rotation with Dom Petrino and Luke Pinto.

On the field, the Evergreens will adopt a controlled chaos defensive philosophy, opting to create as many turnovers as possible in lieu of maintaining more structured defensive assignments.  Veteran crosser Sean London and rookie ranger TJ Kane embody that school of thought.  London has a well-earned reputation as a ferocious defender, hounding main scorers all over the field and excelling at getting under their skin.  Kane has been flying over the field in preseason action and should rank among the steals leaders when all is said and done.

This expansion squad has a lot of talented and intriguing pieces.  Questions remain as to how well a relatively inexperienced defense will operate and how quickly all of the rookies will adjust to the intensity at the professional level when it counts.

Regular Season Prediction: 5-5 (T-3rd place)

The Evergreens have enough talent to compete within the league, win some games, and even secure an upset or two.  However, experience does matter and the Evergreens are likely a year or two away from true title contention.

Daily Cup of City 6 (3/4/13)

City 6 Cup 2

Yesterday’s Action

Villanova entered The Zoo with thoughts of an upset and future NCAA tournament glory on their minds before faltering down the stretch and losing an overtime battle to Pittsburgh, 73-64.  The size and strength of a rugged Pittsburgh squad was too much for the Wildcats, as the Panthers dominated the glass 41-28.  The Panthers were led by the 6’9″ big man from Nigeria, Talib Zanna, who recorded 14 points and a career-high 19 rebounds, including 7 offensive boards as he ferociously went after every missed Pittsburgh shot.  Freshman Ryan Arcidiacono did everything he could to pull this game out for the Wildcats, scoring a game-high 23 points on 5 of 8 shooting from behind the arc.  Unfortunately, his teammates combined to shoot 1-12 from downtown, not a recipe for success when the game plan against a larger opponent is to win using the long ball.

When you look at it objectively, there’s absolutely no shame in losing a road game in overtime to one of the top teams in the country.  However, for a Villanova team that found itself squarely on the bubble entering play, another win over a highly-touted team would have done wonders to solidify a spot in the tournament field.  Sitting at 18 wins with a regular season finale against Georgetown and the Big East tournament yet to play, Villanova will likely need at least two more wins to get into the Big Dance.  We’ve seen all season this Wildcats squad has the capability to beat any team in the country so I wouldn’t count them out to string a couple wins together and make the field.

Back in Familiar Territory

It was a sloppy affair in Washington Sunday night.

For any basketball purist, tonight’s game was not the ideal viewing experience; both the Sixers and Wizards turned this contest into a sloppy affair from the beginning.  Philadelphia shot 38.8% on the night, clearly having tired legs after their game Saturday and the subsequent late-night victory celebration.  Washington was not much better from the field and threw the ball away time and again committing 16 turnovers.

With both teams struggling, the game was close most of the way.  After a Washington spurt early in the fourth quarter, the Sixers went on an 11-0 run to earn a 3-point lead with just under three minutes left.  It looked like the Sixers had fought their way back for a victory two nights in a row.  Then, an old problem reared its ugly head.  Philadelphia has gone through a number of roster changes over the years but one troubling theme has remained constant: late-game execution.  With one more basket likely sealing a victory, the Sixers reverted back to isolation plays that have failed them more often than not in the past.  Holiday settled for and missed a jumper just inside the arc and then on the the following possession, Evan Turner barreled into traffic for a partially blocked runner.

With the Sixers needing a defensive stop and the ball, Nene, in his first game back following a shoulder injury, made his presence felt with a huge offensive rebound with 27 seconds left.  The Wizards ran the clock down to 4 seconds before John Wall defied the odds, nailing a contested long jumper over Dorell Wright’s outstretched arm.  Wright’s potential game-tying three-pointer found iron at the buzzer, sending the Sixers home with a familiar feeling of defeat in a 90-87 final.

Jrue Holiday had an especially poor outing, shooting 4-19 from the field and constantly settling for long jumpers.  Evan Turner was not much better, missing 9 of 13 shots on the evening as his jumper looked flatter than usual, perhaps due to fatigue.  On the other hand, Dorell Wright played well for the second consecutive game, scoring a team-high 15 points on 3-6 shooting from behind the arc.  Spencer Hawes also played one of his better games with 14 points and 11 rebounds, seeming to play more aggressively after his prolonged benching in the Golden State game.  Washington received extremely balanced scoring as all five of their starters scored between 12 and 16 points.

When it gets down to it, the Sixers aren’t going to win many games when their all-star point guard shoots 21%.  Holiday needs to do a better job of knowing when his shot isn’t falling and working to get into the lane more.  As a team, the fight wasn’t lacking tonight but the decision-making was at times.  Philadelphia will look to improve upon it at home Tuesday night against Boston.

Sixers @ Wizards Game Preview (3/3/13)

The Sixers are off to see the Wizards to ask for a winning streak.

Fresh off their first win in over three weeks, the Sixers are off to the see the Wizards to ask for a winning streak, something they haven’t obtained since a modest three-game stretch January 30th-February 4th.  Washington is the polar opposite of last night’s opponent, Golden State, ranking last in the league in offensive rating at 96.1, while sporting a league-average defense.  The Sixers defeated Washington 92-84, in the teams’ only meeting thus far, only rookie shooting guard Bradley Beal, who leads the team in scoring was out for that game with a sprained wrist.

Despite their poor record, Sixers’ fans can not assume this will be an easy opponent for Philadelphia.  Washington has gone 13-11 since John Wall returned to the line-up, a record which would make the Wizards a playoff team over a full season.  However, Nene has missed the last two games with a shoulder injury, both Washington losses, and is questionable for this contest against Philadelphia.  The Wizards rely heavily not only on Nene’s rebounding and defensive toughness, but also on his ability to run their offensive sets out of the high post.  In fact, Washington is 1-14 on the season when Nene is out of the line-up, making the case that he is even more valuable to the team than John Wall.  His absence in this evening’s contest would make things much easier on Philadelphia.

Keys to the Game:

  • Take care of the basketball.  When John Wall gets the ball in transition off an turnover or long rebound, he can be a deadly scorer, getting to the rim with his blazing speed and athleticism.  However, in half court sets, Wall still struggles due to his poor-outside shooting (27.3% from 8-16 ft, 33.3% 16-24 ft, only 1-14 from three on the season).  Do not let him penetrate the lane and let him hoist up inaccurate long jumpers.
  • Fight through screens to stick Bradley Beal on defense.  Given last night’s starting line-up, Holiday and Royal Ivey will likely switch off between Wall and Beal.  Beal has come in strong in the 2nd half of his rookie season, now leading the team at 14.2 ppg, and averaging 18.8 points on 48.0% shooting over his last 10 games.  That being said, Beal is a pure catch-and-shoot player at this point of his career, as 73.7% of his made field goals are assisted.  Make a concerted effort as a team to not allow him open outside looks and he should not do too much damage.
  • Bring the effort from last night.  Self-explanatory. It was refreshing to see energy out on the court and in the stands, as fans were cheering on the hometown Sixers instead of booing them.  I’d like to see some more of that.

Prediction:

If Nene is out again, the Sixers win this one fairly easily as Jrue Holiday outplays the more-celebrated John Wall.  With Nene in the line-up, the game comes down to the wire but I’ll opt with a second-straight Philadelphia victory.

 

Daily Cup of City 6 (3/3/13)

City 6 Cup 2

Yesterday’s Action

Facing a last-place Duquesne team, La Salle took no chances in stepping on their throat immediately, getting out to a 25-point halftime lead in coasting to a 97-64 win.  La Salle had an excellent game on the offensive end, shooting 51.5% on the game, and distributing 23 assists (Ohio leads the nation at 18.5 apg) against only 7 turnovers.  Ramon Galloway led the way for the Explorers with 23 points on 8-13 shooting, and 6 assists, while Jerrell Wright and Tyreek Duren dropped 16 points a piece.  With Butler’s loss to VCU, La Salle takes over sole possession of third place in the conference.

Coming in with a four-game winning streak, Temple was maybe feeling a little overconfident and found themselves in a dogfight with a struggling Rhode Island Rams squad.  However, when push came to shove, the Owls tightened the screws on defense, not allowing Rhode Island to score in the last two minutes of the game, and pulled away for a 76-70 victory.  That resolve is the sign of a good team; even when you don’t bring your ‘A’ game, you find a way to win in the end.  Each victory on this run takes the Owls further off the bubble and solidifies their place in the Big Dance.

Getting the start for an unavailable Anthony Lee, Jake O’Brien had his first double-double of the season with 16 points and 10 rebounds.  Khalif Wyatt led the Owls with 24 points in hitting 9 of 11 free throws.  Rhode Island’s Xavier Munford did everything he could to keep the Rams in the game, draining a career-high 30 points on 12-23 shooting, including 5-8 behind the arc.  Two games remain for Temple before they head to the Barclay’s Center for the A-10 tournament.

In a huge upset, Pennsylvania earned its best victory of the season, defeating Harvard 75-72.  The loss no doubt has the Crimson seeing red as it dropped them a half-game behind Princeton for the Ivy League championship and automatic NCAA tournament berth.  The Quakers had their best half of the season in the first, leading by as many as 16 points before settling in with a 12-point lead at halftime.  Harvard fought back furiously, knowing what a loss would mean for their tournament prospects, but it was too little, too late, as the Quakers held on down the stretch.

Tony Hicks was once again the star for Pennsylvania with a game-high 24 points on 9-17 shooting. Fellow Freshman Darien Nelson-Henry had a career-high 18 points and his second career double-double, adding 11 rebounds.  Head coach Jerome Allen has given the younger players on the roster more responsibility of late, and so far, the future appears bright for the Quakers.

Drexel decided it had experienced enough close games lately and put their contest with UNC-Wilmington away early in the second half in a 62-46 victory.  Despite shooting poorly at 30.6%, the Dragons absolutely dominated the glass, outrebounding the Seahawks 51-26 (including an 18-3 edge in offensive boards).  Those extra possessions were the difference in the game as Drexel attempted 8 more field goals and 13 more free throws than UNCW.

Senior Forward Daryl McCoy was the main catalyst for Drexel, recording a double-double with 13 points and a season-high 17 rebounds (including an unreal 9 offensive boards) in his final collegiate regular season game. Seahawks’ Senior forward Keith Rendleman did everything he good in the final game of his collegiate career with 24 points and 10 rebounds, but once again had little help from his teammates as no other UNCW player reached double digits.  The Dragons will face George Mason on March 9th in the first round of the CAA tournament, a team with whom they split the regular-season series.

Saint Joseph’s completed the clean sweep for City 6 schools yesterday in an 82-56 thrashing of the Fordham Rams.  Carl Jones led the way for the Hawks with 24 points including a 5 for 8 effort from behind the arc.  The entire Hawks’ team had an outstanding offensive night, shooting 50.0% from the field and recording 19 assists against only 8 turnovers.

With two regular season games remaining, the Hawks find themselves right in the middle of a crowded Atlantic 10 conference.  St. Joe’s is only 2 games back of 4th place and a 1st round bye but also only one game ahead of the 13th-place team, who would miss the conference tournament altogether.  With remaining games against Rhode Island and Charlotte, teams behind them in the standings, the Hawks really have a chance to make some noise in the final week.

Today’s Action

12:00 PM: Villanova (18-11, 9-7 Big East) @ Pittsburgh (22-7, 10-6 Big East) – ESPN3

Following a heart-breaking last-minute defeat at Seton Hall, the Wildcats look to bounce back in one of the most difficult places to play in college basketball.  Villanova was handily defeated by the Panthers at the Pavilion in January.  The Wildcats put forth an abysmal offensive performance in that outing, shooting only 31.8% and turning the ball over 17 times.  Pittsburgh rates out as a top-10 team in the nation, with a top-15 offense and top-10 defense ratings. As usual, the Panthers slow the game down, playing at one of the slowest paces in D-1, while working for good shots on offense and harrassing the opposing team on defense.  They shoot the ball incredibly well at 47.3% and do a great job of distributing it around, 10th in the country at 16.6 apg.  In summation, Pittsburgh is an excellent basketball and one built around defense and efficient offense that will do well come tournament time.  Villanova will have to do a much better job taking care of the basketball and converting at the basket to come out on top in this contest.

Sixers Win Battle Against Warriors

Saturday’s game against Golden State turned into a track meet, with Philadelphia crossing the finish line first.

On a night where the Sixers celebrated Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point performance, it originally looked like Steph Curry might give him a run for his money.  Curry had 13 points in the first quarter, the Sixers threw the ball away left and right committing 6 turnovers, and down 31-20, it looked like Philadelphia was on its way to another disappointing performance.  Then, a funny thing happened as the Sixers came alive, playing with more energy and aggression than they have in weeks.  A big role in this change was Doug Collins coming to the realization that Spencer Hawes was being paid off by the mob to win the game for Golden State (I feel that is the only possibility for his 0-9, 3 turnover, one technical foul performance), and went with Lavoy Allen at the 5 for the majority of the game.  A 15-1 second quarter run got the Sixers back in the game, followed by a 10-2 spurt in the third quarter to give them their first lead of the game at 73-72.

Throughout the game, the Sixers did a terrible job holding onto the ball, with 23 turnovers in total, managing to overcome that difficulty by shooting 12 of 18 from behind the arc.  For fans in love with a track meet, this contest was the ideal viewing experience with very little interior defense, plenty of threes, and fast-paced action.  The Warriors’ roster is better suited for that type of game which showed early on in the game but in the end, Golden State appeared to tire on the end of their 5-game road trip and second game of a back-to-back as Philadelphia finished strong for a 104-97 victory.

A few Sixers had standout performances on the evening.  Evan Turner had his best game of the season, narrowly missing a triple-double with 22 points, 10 rebounds, and 9 assists.  His mid-range game was working tonight and Turner wasn’t forcing contested shots in traffic, finishing 10-15 from the floor.  He also hit his first three-pointer since January 26th going 2-3 from downtown.  Thad Young finished with a career-high 16 rebounds to go with 14 points and his usual brand of all-over-the-court tenacity.  Finally, Dorell Wright drained 3 of 5 threes on his way to 13 points, 7 rebounds, and the play of the night, blocking Steph Curry from behind on a fast break.  Disregarding that play, Curry had an excellent game with 30 points and 8 assists.  When he wasn’t penetrating the lane for easy points, he was kicking the ball out to Klay Thompson for one of Thompson’s 7 threes, who finished with 29 points.

An exciting win for the Sixers in front of a large crowd at hand for the Chamberlain-bobblehead night.  Philadelphia will look to continue this momentum as it travels to Washington Sunday night.