Friday, January 29, 2010

My Eagles Draft Wish List

The NFL draft is a few months away, and with that, we get to dream about the possibilities that the Eagles may very well use some high draft picks to sure up a very, very suspect defense (though an offensive lineman wouldn't be a shocker either). If I had it my way, the Eagles would spend their first two picks on defenders — unless an absolute can't-miss player (O-lineman, maybe even running back) is there and there are no equals defensively. But let's face it, this team's major weaknesses lie on the defensive side of the ball. The Eagles desperately need a free safety, could really use a defensive lineman that can provide pressure and have lacked a play-making linebacker pretty much forever. All (or some) of that could change in April.

Right now, Mel Kiper has the Eagles taking Navorro Bowman with the 24th pick, writing: "The Eagles need an athletic OLB, and they get a lot of value by landing Bowman here. Bowman lacks size, but any parsing on measurables can't overcome his great play on film. Could end up as the best at his position in this class."

If the Eagles drafted Bowman, I would freak the fuck out. And I'd buy his jersey immediately. But I don't see this happening. For one, I find it hard to believe Bowman will drop that far. Secondly, I don't expect the Eagles to take a linebacker. But if this happened, I'd be extremely, extremely excited.

The other players who I'd love to see don Eagles green are Taylor Mays, Myron Rolle and/or Jared Odrick. Mays is a freak of an athlete, scary big and scary fast. He can destroy players coming over the middle, run with tight ends and play either near the line of scrimmage or back in coverage. Though to be fair, scouts have said he had a down year in 2009, taking bad angles to the ball and getting beat in coverage. Though the year before, people were calling him a top 5 pick, so the talent is there. And according to Mays, his game resembles a little bit of Ronnie Lott and a little bit of Brian Dawkins, however "the safety that he feels he most emulates is Sean Taylor." As in the most frightening safety who was about to take over the league before his tragic murder Sean Taylor. As in this guy:

Um, if Taylor Mays can resemble even half the player that Sean Taylor was, then sign me up. Safety problem solved. So long as he sures up his coverage.

Mays, of course, isn't the only safety out there for the Eagles to get. Eric Berry and Earl Thomas are most likely too rich for Philadelphia's blood as far as moving up to be able to snag either one. Mays may still be around and if not, not taken too far in front so the Eagles could presumably move up to grab him if they so choose. But if they decide to go another route and wait on a safety, there are a few they could take in the 2nd, maybe even third round. This draft is all sorts of deep at safety. Chad Jones out of LSU was all over the place this year, making plays left and right, and he certainly made his presence felt at times when I wasn't puking during the bowl game against Penn State. He'd look mighty good roaming Philadelphia's secondary. Ditto Larry Asante, who along with Ndamokong Suh played awesome in the Big XII Championship game.

Though the guy I have my eye on is Myron Rolle, the Rhodes Scholar safety out of Florida State.

Rolle has the size and speed to be an impact player in the NFL, and a year before he decided to accept his Rhodes Scholarship, he was one of the best safeties in all of college football. Reports are that he's shown up to the Senior Bowl in tremendous shape, even looking faster and better than he did the last time he took the field for Florida State. And you know the guy is smart. He's a freakin Rhodes Scholar! The Eagles certainly could use some brains back there in the secondary, both to know when is the appropriate time to take chances and to help communicate the coverages. You'd have to think there'd be a few less breakdowns back there with a Rhodes Scholar scouting things.

If the Eagles go this route and wait to take a safety, that leaves the door open to go after a linebacker such as Bowman — destined to be a stud on the next level too — or an impact defensive lineman. Ideally, that would be a defensive end who can rush the passer and line up opposite of Trent Cole, vastly improving the pass rush. While the likes of Derrick Morgan, Jason Pierre-Paul and Carlos Dunlap would be great — and actually, I think Dunlap would be a guy worth trading up for the Eagles so choose — they're probably guys the Eagles can't or won't get. That pretty much eliminates any first-round D-end talent, but there are guys they could take in the second round and beyond that are very intriguing. Brandon Graham was a monster at Michigan and could definitely help. Greg Hardy has all the athleticism in the world. And guys like O'Brien Schofield, Everson Griffen and Ricky Sapp are fine players.

But if the Eagles go the defensive line route, I'd start taking a good, hard look at another player from my alma mater, Jared Odrick.

No, Odric is not a defensive end. He is a tackle through and through. But he has the size and speed to rush the passer from the inside and contain the run. Simply put, he's the total package. And even at 300 lbs., I don't see why he couldn't slide out to end if needed; he has the quickness, burst and speed to do it. I got to watch the guy for four years at Penn State, and the last two in particular, he was the best player on the team. Not best defensive lineman, not best defender, the best player period. He won Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and completely deserved it. And he's showing what he's got at the Senior Bowl, reportedly tearing it up at practice:

Jared Odrick/DL/Penn State: Odrick looked like a man possessed on Wednesday and was impossible to stop. He was both quick and powerful, defeating blocks off the snap with a great first step or powerfully moving opponents off the line with great leg drive. After showing flashes the first two days, Odrick really put it together today.

The guy spent the past two seasons taking on double teams and treating them like they were nothing. No, he's not Ndamokong Suh, but he's more than a first-round talent. The fact that he's listed as a late first-round pick baffles me. A year earlier, his college teammate Aaron Maybin went in the top 10. Yes, Maybin is fast and an excellent pass rusher, but he's literally not even half the player Jared Odrick is. If Maybin was worthy of a top 10 selection, certainly Odrick is. But in a deeper draft with a ton of defensive talent, he's consider a late first-rounder. This may benefit the Eagles, if they're looking to add an immediate impact player. Odrick is no Trevor Laws. He's every bit as talented as Broderick Bunkley physically, but should not struggle whatsoever moving to the NFL. Plus, he adds a pass-rushing presence from the inside. Call it homerism if you must, but if you don't think Jared Odrick has the makings of a very good NFL player, then you simply haven't been paying attention to Jared Odrick.

In an ideal world, the Eagles would also be players for the services of unrestricted free agent Julius Peppers — a premier defensive end. Line him opposite of Cole, and the Eagles suddenly become an unblockable defensive line. Add in a safety and a linebacker through the draft, maybe another tackle, and the defense that struggled so mightily at times last season because a formidable force. Especially with Stewart Bradley back, assuming he's healthy. Then if the offense can work on sustaining long drives to go along with its explosiveness, you'd have yourself a pretty complete team. Certainly a better one than the 2009 version.

This much is clear, the Eagles need help defensively, and that should be their No. 1 priority in the draft. There are definitely some needs on offense, but defense is the focal point. Hopefully the Eagles can nab one of these guys to simultaneously make me happy and bolster their defense.

BallHype: hype it up!

It's Friday, Time to Dance

No words, just Digger.

BallHype: hype it up!

The Inexcusable

A 3-1 lead with 20 minutes to play turned into a 4-3 loss, no overtime necessary. That's what happened last night at the Wachovia Center, and it's an inexcusable loss at this point in the season. The Flyers, after falling behind 1-0 due to the insane speed of Evander Kane and a complete lack of coverage in front of the net — not to mention an indefensibly horrible missed open net by Scott Hartnell — rallied in the second period, completely dominating, especially my favorite Flyer of them all, Claude Giroux, who scored the first goal on a ridiculously awesome individual sequence.

Minutes later, he found himself on a 2-on-1 with Arron Asham, fed him a perfect pass and Asham buried it to give the Flyers the lead. In a matter of a few shifts, Giroux's brilliance led the Flyers back to take the lead, and he was looking like the hero of the night. Everything was on about his game. Everything. In the opening period, he showcased his immense skill as well with an absurd toe drag into a shot that Johan Hedberg somehow saved. It was Claude's night. That much was clear.

Though the birthday boy wasn't about to be left out. Yesterday was Dan Carcillo's 25th birthday, and the fan favorite did not disappoint. No, he didn't drop the gloves or even lay a big open-ice hit. Instead, he just continued his transformation from goon to goal scorer, netting his seventh of the year on sheer hustle and determination. Ian Laperriere threw the puck toward the net as Carcillo was driving hard toward Hedberg. The birthday boy beat the goaltender and defender to the puck, poked it up and into the net. 3-1 Flyers, one period left to play. Things were looking good. The Flyers hadn't lost all season in regulation when leading after 2. They had owned the Thrashers in their history and had only lost once ever at home against Atlanta in regulation. With a two-goal lead and a strong defense, this was two points in the bag.

Then someone stole the bag … or the Flyers gave it away. Not sure which is more appropriate. It began with a lackadaisical effort off a defensive zone draw just 29 seconds into the final period. Mike Richards won the faceoff back to Matt Carle, but Carle couldn't control. The puck found its way right to Ilya Kovalchuk's stick, all alone with a down and out Ray Emery. Kovalchuk buries that 100 times out of 100, no matter who's in net. 3-2. Here's the problem I have with the play — why wasn't Blair Betts out there to take that faceoff? I know Mike Richards won it, and won it fairly cleanly, but he also didn't do Carle or Emery any favors by drawing it back toward the goal. He should have pulled it back the opposite way, clear from harm's way. Plus, Richards is an OK faceoff guy, but he's certainly not the team's best. Hell he's not even the second best. Check out the numbers. Blair Betts is the best faceoff guy for the Flyers, winning 53.2 percent, and Jeff Carter is second at 51.6. Richards is at 50.5 percent.

If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times: Faceoffs are extremely important. That's why I urged the Flyers to go out and get a dominate guy in the faceoff circle this offseason. They didn't get anyone on my list, but they did get Betts, who is very good at it.

With a two-goal lead and just 20 minutes left to play — and some extremely important points on the line in a jam-packed Eastern Conference — it's absolutely necessary to win defensive zone draws. Back when Ken Hitchcock was coach, he used to send Keith Primeau out for every single defensive zone draw in the final period of important games, especially with a lead, because Primeau was the team's best faceoff guy. As a result, the Flyers rarely lost those draws and rarely blew leads. Peter Laviolette should be doing the same thing, and in a game like last night's, with vital points on the line, he should have had Betts out there to take every defensive zone draw in the third period. Regardless, it was a poor job by Carle mixed with some bad luck, having the puck go right to Kovalchuk. It also didn't help that Simon Gagne didn't take Ilya out of the play, like he's supposed to. All around piss-poor job.

But the goal to tie it was exponentially worse. With a one-goal lead in the final period, it's a mortal sin for a defenseman to let a player leak behind him. Yet there we were, just a few minutes after Kovalchuk made it a 3-2 game, with Oskars Bartulis and Ole-Kristian Tollefsen allowing Rich Peverley to sneak between and behind both of them. Caught off-guard, Pavel Kubina sent a ridiculous outlet pass from his own zone right to the tape of Peverley, springing him for the breakaway, and Peverley made no mistake, beating Emery five-hole. Honestly, it was one of the greatest outlet passes I've ever seen a defenseman make. And that's coming from a guy who gets to watch Chris Pronger spring transition plays with tremendous outlets every game. Kubina's was the best I've seen since Eric Lindros threw a pop fly to Kevin Haller at the opposition's blue line.

Great pass, but horrific coverage and awareness by Bartulis and Tollefsen. It was so egregious that I would honestly healthy scratch one of them the next game. Well, I would if Danny Syvret and Ryan Parent weren't still hurt. That's how bad of a breakdown that was. And I wouldn't mind Emery coming up with a big save there. Now, in all fairness, that goal — in fact every goal — was not Emery's fault. He was left out to dry on a breakaway. But my roommate said it best … when was the last time Emery came up with a huge, absurd, game-changing save? When's the last time he stopped a breakaway? When's the last time the Flyers have had a goaltender that can stand on his head any given night? Sure, there have been isolated games for Flyers goalies over the years in which they stole a victory here or there. Brian Boucher had a great run as a rookie. Robert Esche had his good days. Roman Chechmanek too (in the regular season, dude SUCKED in the playoffs). Even Marty Biron and Antero Niittymaki had great moments. But when's the last time the Flyers have had a goalie that you can expect to win you some games, expect to make some outstanding, ridiculous saves he has no business making? It's been a while. A long while. As in a young Ron Hextall while. That's a problem. Now I'm not saying Martin Brodeur, Roberto Luongo or Ryan Miller would have made that save on Peverley last night. But you almost would have expected them to, expected them to keep their teams on top with an awesome save when they needed it most. With Emery, I didn't have that feeling, and honestly, I haven't had that feeling with a Flyers goaltender in a long, long while. That's extremely irritating.

But not as irritating as watching the Flyers completely self-destruct in the third period. After scoring three unanswered in the 2nd period themselves, they allowed three unanswered by Atlanta. And the most maddening part is that the man who was the hero heading into the third turned into the goat by game's end. Claude made a few brilliant plays in the first two periods. Then in the third, he turned the puck over at Atlanta's blue line, leading to a breakout by the blazing fast Evander Kane, who then recreated the exact same score from the first period, using his ridiculous speed to race around the defense, around the net and feed the puck out front to — you guessed it — a wide-open Jim Slater to bang it home and put the Flyers away. I mean, it was an exact replica of the first goal:

Notice how no one covered Slater yet again, showing the Flyers had not learned their lesson whatsoever. And notice Giroux, trying to make up for his deadly turnover, getting out of position and weakly trying to lay down in front the passing lane … instead of marking Slater or Colby Armstrong like he's supposed to. It certainly didn't help that Matt Carle skated right into Emery, taking him out of the play, and then couldn't recover to get back in position and nullify Slater either. Again, all around terrible play.

As a result, the Flyers went from distancing themselves a little bit from the bottom playoff half stack, pulling to 57 points and closing in on fifth-place Ottawa, to dropping down to 7th, as the Thrashers leaped Philadelphia to take hold of the 6th spot. Pathetic. Completely and utterly pathetic. And inexcusable. In such a tight race and just 30 games remaining, you can't afford to piss away points. But that's exactly what the Flyers did last night. It was disgraceful, and every single player on that ice should be ashamed of themselves.

BallHype: hype it up!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Do You Know Your Flyers?

So I was directed to the hockey fan post at Pensblog, something both The700Level and Puck Daddy linked to. That got me thinking about hockey fans in Philadelphia.

There certainly are a great number of Flyers fans in Philadelphia, knowledgeable, die-hard hockey fans. But then there are those people who conveniently decide to pay attention come playoff time. For some reason, even though it really doesn't affect me whatsoever, this bothers me to no end. My freshman year of college, when the Flyers were taking on the Maple Leafs in a brutal first-round series, a few of my friends who had previously shown absolutely no interest in the Flyers or hockey were suddenly watching every game and talking about how intense the series was. I hated it, telling them to name five players on the team. They couldn't. I told them it was a disgrace not to know your own team's players and claim yourself as a fan. They challenged me to name the entire team. I had no problem doing this because I've been following the Flyers with an unending passion my entire life. For some reason, to this day, it irks me when people who clearly don't care about or follow the team until the playoffs roll around try to engage me in Flyers conversation. I'm not trying to be arrogant. I just can't take someone's opinion seriously when I know they don't know what's been going on all season.

So are you a real Flyers fan? Sure, you know who Eric Lindros is. And John LeClair, Ron Hextall, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. Hell, you probably even know Rod Brind'Amour, Mark Recchi and Rick Tocchet were once upon a time Flyers. And Keith Jones wasn't just an announcer. But can you name entire line combinations? Do you know who the Flyers traded Justin Williams for? (Answer: Danny Markov.) Did you know Dale Hawerchuk was once a Flyer? Do you know who Peter Svoboda is? That Paul Coffey had a cup of coffee with the Flyers (I like my Coffey black, with a tint of orange)?

And Adam Oates sucked doneky balls for the Flyers while being a dominant player before and turning back into an assist machine after? No? Then you suck. If you don't know who these former/current Flyers are, then you deserve a punch in the cock.

Mikael Renberg. Kjell Samuelsson. Dmitri Yushkevich. Shjon Podein. Joel Otto. Trent Klatt. Jody Hull. Sami Kapanen. Jeremy Roenick (seriously, if you don't know him, I don't know what to tell you). Keith Primeau (ditto). Jiri Dopita. Michael Handzus. Rob DiMaio. Dmitri Tertyshny. Sean Burke. John Vanbiesbrouck. Garth Snow. Kevin Haller. Karl Dykhuis.

Vinny Prospal. Jim Vandermeer. Andy Delmore. Kim Johnsson. Chris Gratton. Alexander Daigle. Patrick Thoresen. Kyle Calder. Nolan Baumgartner. Craig MacTavish. Ben Eager. Todd Fedoruk. Robert Esche. Ulf Samuelsson. Sandy McCarthy.

Freddy Myer. Petr Nedved. Mike Rathje. Randy Robitaille. Alexei Zhitnik. Tony Amonte. Geoff Sanderson. Kevin Dineen. Steve Duchesne. Garry Galley. Dan Kordic. Dan Quinn. Dominic Roussel. Terry Carkner. Brent Fedyk.

Dan McGillis. Luke Richardson. Donald Brashear. Patrick Sharp. Robert Esche. Denis Gauthier. Joni Pitkanen. Branko Radivojevic. Dennis Seidenberg. Jon Sim. Chris Therien. Rob Zettler. Eric Desjardins. Jim Montgomery. Mike Comrie. Jeff Hackett.

Claude Lapointe. Neil Little. Marcus Ragnarsson. Eric Weinrich. Peter White. Zlex Zhamnov. Bob Corkum. John Druce. Pat Falloon. Pavel Brendl. Roman Chechmanek. Radovan Somik. Rusty Fedotenko. Kent Manderville. Chris McAllister. Marty Murray. Billy Tibbetts.

Colin Forbes. Daniel Lacroix. Janne Niinimaa. Dainius Zubrus. Kevin Stevens. Gino Odjick. Dean McAmmond. Daymond Langkow. Dave Babych. Mike Sillinger. Valeri Zelepukin. Paul Ranheim.

OK, maybe I can forgive not knowing some of those guys. I did literally just spend my entire lunch hour and entire afternoon at work thinking about former Flyers. But if you can't name the roster now, or know the fact that there are plenty of current NHLers playing now that once were Flyers, well, then you aren't a hockey fan. You just aren't. At least not one I want to talk to.

Also, this is the greatest fight in NHL history.

I was watching this live at the time. The fight got so raucous that everyone was fighting and so much was going on that they sent both teams off the ice and ended the period, adding more time to the 3rd. It was pure insanity. And awesome.

I don't understand how people don't like hockey.

BallHype: hype it up!

Live by the 3, Die by the 3

Fifty-nine. That's the number of three-pointers Villanova and Temple shot in their games combined last night. The Wildcats made 10 of their 24 three-point attempts, pulling away from Notre Dame in the second half to cruise to a 90-72 victory. A win that improved Nova to 19-1 on the year, the school's best start ever, and kept them unblemished in Big East play … all with the No. 1 ranking in their sights. The Owls made just 11 of their astounding 35 three-point attempts. And it was most definitely their downfall in a 74-64 loss at Charlotte that dropped Temple into a three-way tie atop the A-10 with the 49ers and Xavier.

As far as Nova goes, it was just more of the same. Despite early foul trouble for just about everyone, the Wildcats were still able to maintain a 41-40 lead heading in to halftime. Luke Harangody was getting his in his typically ugly fashion, but it was evident the Irish had absolutely no shot at containing Nova's quick guards and attack philosophy. In the second half, Antonio Pena set the tone by going right at the big oaf and just killing him. I mean killing him, killing him. Pena finished the game with 14 points on 5-8 shooting, nabbed 10 boards and dished out three assists, doing most of his damage in the second half. Harangody was a very efficient 8-14 for his 21 points and he did get 9 boards, but the big guy struggled at the line, missing four of his nine free throws, and turned the ball over four times. I'll take a 14-10 with no turnovers from Pena over a 21-9 with four turnovers from an ugly white dude any day of the week. Basically, Pena nullified Notre Dame's biggest strength.

And beyond Harangody, the Irish have no one that can really hang with the most talented collection of guards in the nation. Sure, Tim Abromaitis has a nice game, but he couldn't do shit against Nova's smaller, quicker players. He shot just 3-13 from the field and guarded pretty much no one. Ben Hansbrough showed just how ridiculously unathletic he is by fouling out with 13 minutes left in the game because he couldn't stay in front of anyone on Nova.

The Villanova guards did the rest. Scottie Reynolds continued his march to Big East Player of the Year, scoring 17 points and swiping three steals despite just 23 minutes on the court thanks to early foul trouble and a late blowout. Corey Fisher had perhaps his most efficient game of his college career, tying Reynolds for the team lead in points while taking just seven shots. Corey went 5-7 from the field, 2-3 from three and 5-5 from the line, added two boards, 6 assists and nabbed a steal. He was about 8,000 times more athletic than anyone Notre Dame sent out on the court. Maalik Wayns simply did what he's done all season, which is prove he's the real deal, highlighted by the play of the night, a ridiculous bullet pass as he got in the lane on a drive and dished to Pena, who finished it off with a slam and the foul. Reggie Redding did a little of everything, and nine of the 11 Wildcats who played scored at least 2 points, while seven of them hit at least one three. Seriously, No. 1 in right in this team's sights.

Temple, on the other hand, wasn't able to sustain the play that got the Owls in the top 15. They did manage to take a 32-28 lead into half behind some deadly three-point shooting by Ryan Brooks, and the Owls did have some success early in the second half from beyond the arc, as Luis Guzman nailled three, Scootie Randall hit a pair and Brooks finished with five in all, but it was a pace Temple could not sustain. Juan Fernandez went scoreless in the first half and finished with just three points on 1-5 from the floor. He was completely taken out of the game. LaVoy Allen struggled with foul problems, and while he was on the bench, Temple completely abandoned their inside game, instead opting to launch three after three after three. It was a dubious decision to say the least.

Brooks was on fire in the first half, but then cooled to hit just 1 of his last 7 threes. Fernandez was just 1-4 from beyond. Ramone Moore was 0-2. T.J. DiLeo 0-1. Craig Williams 0-5. The shots stopped falling, but Temple kept firing them up. Meanwhile, the 49ers were owning the paint. Derrio Green was the lone outside threat, and he had himself a great game, scoring a game-high 26 points on 9-15 shooting, 4-9 from three all while dishing out 5 assists and nabbing two steals. But it was inside where Charlotte did most of its damage. Shamari Spears had 11 points, Chris Braswell had 15 and the 49ers felt no resistance inside. Allen was saddled on the bench for too much of the game, so there was no one on the offensive end to make Charlotte's bigs work. As a result, Temple lived by the three early, and died by the three late.

It was a tough game in a tough place to play against a good conference opponent, but it was a game that a team in the top 15 should have found a way to win. For a long while, Temple was fighting through the foul trouble and the lack of production by Fernandez, but in the end it wasn't enough. This Temple team is very tough and very good. But they can't really expect to beat the better teams, or even tough conference opponents, without big contributions from all of their best players: Ryan Brooks, LaVoy Allen and Juan Fernandez. Last night, only Brooks showed up, and Temple lost. The Owls will need Allen and Fernandez at their best if they hope to stay ranked by the end of the season and attempt to win the A-10.

And it would probably be a good idea not to jack up 35 threes as well.

By the way, Charlotte has a guy whose name is Wilderness. I'm not making that up.

BallHype: hype it up!

$80 Million Gets You This …

(At the 1:20 mark)

As Joltin Joe put it: "Nothing like a missed layup from your 80 million dollar investment to lose a game …"

You can take your 26 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks and go kill yourself. Never has such a good-looking statline meant so little. When you make $80 million and miss one of the easiest layups you could possible hope to get at the end of a game to tie it, you suck. Horribly. Die.

Brandon Jennings, on the other hand, is the truth, as he displayed yet again: 18 points, 7 dimes, just two turnovers … and killing the Sixers with an array of floaters and drives in the 4th quarter to take the game.

For the record, Brand was a -6 last night while Jennings was a +5. Seriously, I'd trade the entire team for Jennings. All of them. And picks. I hate these guys.

BallHype: hype it up!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Primetime Shootout

Admittedly, I haven't been tracking the local high school basketball scene quite as intently as I have in the past, but there are a couple of players I've had my eye on … specifically the two five-star prospects Rakeem Christmas and Amile Jefferson.

Christmas is a junior at Academy of the New Church who spent his first two years of high school at North Catholic. He's ranked as the fifth best player in the class of 2011 in SLAM's Fresh 25, in which Aggrey Sam calls the 6'10 junior the nation's best defender with scary upside. I've yet to see him play, though I'm going to this weekend during the Primetime Shootout held at Villanova, where Christmas and ANC will take on a team from Connecticut, the Hotchkiss School.

Jefferson is a 6'6/6'7 sophomore at Friends' Central. He's ranked as the 8th best player in the class of 2012 in SLAM's Fresh 10, where Aggrey Sam calls him a well-rounded forward with big potential. Unfortunately, Friends' Central won't be at Nova this weekend so I'm not sure when or if I'm going to get to see him play. And that's why I'm upset I forgot that these two five-star prospects were clashing against one another yesterday.

Not that it really mattered. The game took place in Wynnewood, a good 20-30 minute ride from my house, even a little more from work — not during rush hour. And the game started at 5:30. I don't even get home from work until 5:30-5:45, so I wouldn't have really been able to make it without skipping out of work early. Which yeah, I could have done, but like I said, I forgot the game was happening. I'm starting to slip in my old age, for sure.

Taking a look at the box score, I missed quite an intense and exciting game. Friends' Central edged out ANC 51-50. However, just checking out the scoring totals and nothing else, it's not as if the two stars did anything to wow you. Jefferson scored just 2 points in the win, though I imagine he had a hand in the victory somehow, and Christmas did finish with 14 points, good for second on his team, and most likely did some damage on the boards and blocking shots, but again, I'm not entirely sure.

What I do know is that Savon Goodman, a teammate of Christmas, is a player to keep an eye on. Like I said, I haven't seen ANC play yet this season, but I have it on good authority that Goodman is a guy you really gravitate towards. My source told me that it's easy to see the potential in Christmas and he will very likely develop into an excellent player, but right now, he seems to get taken out of the game when players get physical with him. On the other hand, Goodman, just a sophomore, tends to bask in physical play and never shy away from anything. That seems to be the case yesterday, as he led all scorers with 16 points in the loss.

The 6'6", 175-lber is currently listed as just a one-star prospect on, but like I said, I know someone who's seen him play that says he's real good. I guess I'll find out a little bit myself on Saturday. But his opinion is hardly singular. In the Big Apple Basketball HS Invitational played over the Martin Luther King weekend — the tournament where Villanova commit Jayvaughn Pinkston went off and fellow Nova commit Achraf Yacoubou was named his team's MVP with 19 points and 13 rebounds in a victory — Goodman was named ANC's MVP with 32 points and 12 rebounds to lead his team to an 85-70 victory over Impact Academy from Nevada.

Another ANC player, junior Malcolm Gilbert, is a player I'll keep an eye on as well. Yesterday the 6'10", 200-lber scored 8 points, and he's listed as a four-star recruit by Boy is this team loaded.

Other noteworthy players who will play in the tournament, all with at least three-star grades on, include C.J. Aiken and Jaylen Bond of Plymouth-Whitemarsh — Aiken was named the MVP in PW's 63-54 win against St. Raymond (Bronx) at the Big Apple Invitational — and Tyrone Garland of Bartram John. Perennial powers Chester and Roman Catholic will also participate. I'm excited to catch at least a couple of games, and I'll be sure to give a nice recap.

BallHype: hype it up!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Nothing but the Bottom of the Links

I went to Dunkin Donuts this morning. While I was in there, a guy walked in and stood at the door with the door open, mumbling to himself. Then he said the cops were there fucking up his shit and proceeded to talk to himself. He kept peeking out at the cop car with its lights on, finally sitting down. The guy was hiding out in Dunkin Donuts from the police. I'm convinced of this. There is no point to this story other than the fact that my work day started by seeing a guy hiding out at Dunkin Donuts while I was getting coffee.

Links …

-Wanna see some pictures of Phillies when they were young? Of course you do.

-What's your favorite Brett Favre Season Crippling Interception? My personal favorite, the overtime pop-up in the 4th and 26 game.

-The Pro Bowl is a complete sham. Quintin freakin Mikell was just added after a horrendous season that saw him miss more tackles this year than he has his entire career and drop more interceptions that Adrian Peterson dropped handoffs. David Garrad was added. Vince Young was added. It's out of control. So for those of you trying to keep track, here's your updated Pro Bowl rosters.

-Derrick Rose had a rough start to the season, but the guy is all sorts of killing it now, especially here:

-Villanova recruit Jayvaughn Pinkston killed it at the Big Apple Basketball HS Invitational over Martin Luther King Weekend in NYC.

The 6'6" Nova-bound senior scored 34 points and nabbed 14 rebounds, though his team lost to a fellow prized recruit's team — Tennessee commit Tobias Harris. Also playing in the tournament were Rakeem Christmas, a junior at Academy of the New Church in suburban Philadelphia, and another Villanova commit, Achraf Yacoubou, as well as C.J. Aiken of Plymouth Whitemarsh. ANC and PW both won their games.

-Sheldon Brown, one of the few Eagles defenders that actually deserved a Pro Bowl invite, actually turned one down.


-I'm not sure what was more impressive, Deron's pass or this pass by Daniel Sedin:

-Penn State's Andrew Quarless caught the game-winning touchdown in the East-West Shrine Game over the weekend on a pass from Northwestern quarterback Mike Kafka:

In the huddle I told Kafka, ‘Just throw it up and I’ll make a play.’ He threw a perfect pass,” Quarless said. “It just feels good to go out with a bang.”

I'm gonna miss that guy.

-Ziller lists the 10 most difficult players to trade, and of course Elton Brand makes the list:

3. Elton Brand, Sixers. After essentially two seasons on the shelf due to injury, Brand has climbed back on the bull and ... lost his starting job to a raw second-year player? Yep. Brand has started half his games with Philadelphia this season, offering up 13/6 in 30 minutes of play. Not exactly what Ed Stefanski had in mind when he signed the former star in 2008. Brand turns 31 by season's end, already has 25,000 NBA minutes on the treads, and is owed more than $51 million over the next three seasons.

Frankly, I'd list him at No. 1 for the simple fact absolutely no one, and I mean no one, would trade for him. And call it a bit nit-picky, but I take issue with a man as knowledgeable as Ziller at an outfit as high-profile as AOL saying Brand "lost his starting job to a raw second-year player." Um, who exactly is he talking about here? Forget that Brand was just recently reinserted to the starting lineup. If he's trying to say throughout that Brand lost his starting job to Marreese Speights, well, he's wrong, because Speights doesn't start and hasn't started much at all this season. And if he meant Thaddeus Young, well, Thad is in his third year. So basically, the entire statement "lost his starting job to a raw second-year player" is completely wrong with the exception of the lost his starting job part.

-Conan at the '95 All-Star Game:

The Sixers lost again last night, meaning they once again couldn't pull off a season-high 3-game winning streak. This team has not won three games in a row once all season. Wow.

BallHype: hype it up!

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Lineup Change, a Leader, an Accident and a Boneheaded Penalty (or Two)

I'm certainly not a fan who looks at the teams he roots for with rose-colored eyes. I'm a realist. I try to see things for how they are. Does my fandom sometimes get in the way of true objectivity? Absolutely. But I like to believe I'm more than fair most of the time and just call things as I see them.

With that said, not even the most pessimistic Philadelphia 76ers fan could have seen this season coming. The Sixers had just come off back-to-back playoff appearances in which they gave vastly superior teams a scare, and this young core was supposed to be one more year older, which one would expect means one more year better. Sure, the loss of veteran point guard Andre Miller, who was arguably the team's best player over the past two seasons (yes, even better than Iguodala, arguably), would hurt and perhaps drop the team a bit, but the progression of Andre Iguodala, Thaddeus Young, Marreese Speights and Louis Williams was supposed to offset that a bit, not to mention the return of a healthy Elton Brand and healthy Jason Smith, along with the acquisition of the missing three-point threat in Jason Kapono. Basically, everyone expected the Sixers to remain right about where they've been the past few seasons, somewhere around 5th-8th in the East.

As we all know, that hasn't happened. The Sixers have struggled all season long, and even now, after playing some much better basketball, the Sixers sit at 12th in the East, still 5.5 games behind the Chicago Bulls, who currently hold the 8th spot. No one saw quite that far of a fall coming. Perhaps we underestimated just how much Andre Miller meant to this team. Perhaps the leftover pieces aren't as talented as we thought. Perhaps the coach really is that bad. Whatever the case may be, the 76ers aren't who we thought they were, at least heading into the season.

But a funny thing happened over this weekend. In the 42nd game of the season, Eddie Jordan finally made his first big lineup change since removing Elton Brand from the starting lineup way back when. Seemingly out of left field, Jordan reshuffled his starters, putting Thaddeus Young and Louis Williams back on the bench and inserting Jrue Holiday and Elton Brand in their starting spots, going with a starting lineup of Allen Iverson, Jrue Holiday, Samuel Dalembert, Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand. And wouldn't you know it, the move benefitted all parties involved, and the Sixers wound up defeating a very good Dallas Mavericks team 92-81.

For starters, the new lineup gave the Sixers a far superior defensive starting 5. Iverson and Williams can't guard anyone, and opposing guards were feasting on the Sixers from the onset with that duo in the backcourt. With Holiday, an excellent on-the-ball perimeter defender, replacing Lou Will, the backcourt instantly goes from defenseless to tough, with Holiday locking down one of the guards and the back line making up for Iverson's gambles and defensive breakdowns. And removing Young, an inadequate defender at best, with Brand, the Sixers get another shot-blocking presence and tougher physicality underneath.

Add to that the fact that Lou Will has shown he is a fine scorer but not much else this season, and it makes even more sense to have him come off the bench. The past few years, Williams has thrived as a scoring punch off the bench, and that's the role he's best suited for, not starting point guard. Then take a look at what happened to Thad. Seemingly with a newfound confidence, Thad was the player of the game on Friday night, scoring a game-high 22 points on 9-12 shooting, 2-4 from three and most importantly, being a factor from start to finish, something he's failed to do all season long. The whole situation worked out so well for the Sixers that they repeated it on Saturday, defeating the Pacers 107-97 and again, all parties benefitting from the lineup move.

Elton Brand scored a game-high 23 points, hauled in 8 rebounds and had one of his best all-around games as a Sixers with four assists and a steal to boot. Thad looked more comfortable coming off the bench again, scoring 22 point and nabbing 10 boards, and showing an aggressiveness he's lacked throughout the season with 16 shots. Clearly, both Brand and Thad looked better, more confident and more aggressive over the weekend after the switch, and Lou Will is in his rightful place coming off the bench. This brings about two vital questions: 1. What took so long to make a move like this when nothing else was working? 2. Why the hell would you do this now?

I just don't understand how a team that was only better than the Nets and Timberwolves for so long wouldn't shake things up like this sooner. Unless the goal was to tank the season and hope for John Wall, which is a conclusion I came to officially last week. But then, if that is the case, why make this move now? Why try to stir the pot and do something that could potentially lead to more wins and even inch the Sixers toward a playoff berth? It makes no sense. The Sixers aren't going anywhere. Even if they manage to reel off a hot streak and make the playoffs, they're going to face one of the top three seeds and get trounced. Why not just accept your fate and try to garner as many ping pong balls as possible? I just don't get it. I really don't. Either you're tanking or you're not. At this point, I have no idea what the Sixers are doing, besides giving me a headache. I'm not entirely sure they even know what they're doing anymore.

Luckily, other teams around here are doing just fine. Specifically two college basketball squads. Temple continued its march toward the top 15 by taking care of business against Fordham 62-45, and Villanova stayed atop the Big East with a tough 81-71 victory against St. John's at Madison Square Garden. The Red Storm battled and scrapped all game long, giving the Wildcats a scare, but once again, Scottie Reynolds simply wouldn't let Villanova lose.

I've been one of Reynolds' harshest critics over the years, I'll admit. That's not to say Reynolds hasn't been a player I'd love to have on my team, but there have been moments where I've expected so much out of him that perhaps it wasn't fair. This season, however, Reynolds has been beyond fantastic. He's been everything you could want out of a player, and he's become not just a leader, but the leader of this team. Saturday, with the Red Storm giving Nova fits, Scottie simply wouldn't let the Wildcats lose. Reynolds awoke a dormant Nova offense at the end of the first half with a spurt to bring the Wildcats within one at halftime, and then he simply took over in the second half, refusing to let St. John's knock off his squad. He scored a game-high 19 points, played under control throughout, hoisted just 12 shots, went perfect from the free throw line, and came up with three crucial steals.

He played so well in the game, has played so well all season long, that Dave Pasch and Doris Burke were discussing how he's not just the leading candidate right now for Big East Player of the Year, but also a candidate for the Naismith, as in the overall college Player of the Year. When you really think about it, his name has to be up there with the likes of John Wall and Sherron Collins. He really has been that good. And his fine play has been rubbing off on his Villanova teammates.

Corey Fisher leant a helping hand Saturday, scoring 18 points himself, and it's evident that Reynolds has been in the ear of freshman Maalik Wayns. The point guard out of Roman Catholic scored 16 points himself on Saturday, and each and every game he looks better and better. It's no wonder that Wayns was such a coveted, prized recruit. From day one, he's shown no fear out on the court, supremely confident in his abilities that he belongs playing among college basketball's elite. He's showing the poise and confidence that Reynolds did his freshman season, Kyle Lowry did before him, like Jameer Nelson did at St. Joe's and Raymond Felton and Ty Lawson did at North Carolina. Wayns just has that it factor, that indescribable thing that the ones who belong have. From the start, he's shown he's ready to handle the pressure of big-time college basketball. And as the the season progresses, he's getting more playing time, being entrusted with big minutes in huge spots by Jay Wright, and all he's doing is coming up with huge plays, attacking the rim and never backing down to help Nova get back to where it wants to be in Reynolds' final season.

At the very least, Wayns is proving that Nova will be in fine hands when Reynolds finishes up his final season and graduates. He is a bona fide stud. As he gets more and more seasoned and Reynolds continues to lead this team the way he has, Villanova is becoming a better team each and every time it takes the court. Something tells me Reynolds is saving his best for last, just as he's saved his best season-long performance for his final year on campus.

Another team that's been putting its best foot forward of late is the Flyers. They kept things going Saturday with a 4-2 victory over Carolina, their third straight win, and have propelled themselves into 6th place in the Eastern Conference. After their nice victory Saturday coupled with the Nova and Temple wins and a win by the Sixers, I headed out to silver fox's house to drink the night away with silver fox, Toonces and some others.

When I got to silver fox's house, there was no street parking in sight, so I decided to make a lap around the block. In doing so, I turned the wrong way down a one-way street unbeknownst to me. Now, I was only going the wrong way down said street for literally less than 100 yards, but just my luck, at the first stop sign I saw, there's a cop. As I turned on silver fox's street, on went the officer's lights. I pulled over knowing full well what I had done after seeing all the cars parked facing the opposite direction. This night was about to be off to a bad start. Or so I thought.

The officer was actually very nice, and seeing as I had had absolutely nothing to drink (yet!) and was very accommodating, explaining that I didn't know it was a one-way street and I was just heading down the block to my friend's house, the cop took my information, went back to his car and then came back, issuing me just a warning, letting me off with no ticket. Points and fine averted. But it wasn't the last driving incident of the night.

See, everyone was drinking and partying and having a good time. Then silver fox, Toonces and I stepped outside for a few minutes. That's when a second crisis situation couldn't be averted. In an instant, a girl (who I just met for the first time that night) came storming out of the house crying, marching straight to her car. Shortly after, a few of her friends went running after her. The girl was clearly upset and my guess was probably drunk, but her friends looked to have a handle on the situation. Only they didn't, as she somehow wrestles herself away, got in her car, threw it in reverse and nailed the car directly behind her. I mean hard. Her friends then did manage to get her out of the car and steal away her keys, but the damage had been done. No one was hurt, but the cars were damaged. It was about that time I decided I should go inside, sober up and get the hell out of there.

That's what I did, getting a nice night's sleep before waking up in time to witness the Flyers-Pens game. A regulation victory would have been huge for the Flyers, bringing them within three points of fifth-place Ottawa and six points within fourth-place PIttsburgh. Things started out well, as the Flyers dominated early on and took a 1-0 lead on a power play goal by Jeff Carter.

Carter is another guy that I've been perhaps overly critical of over the years much in the way I have been on Reynolds. But over the past few weeks, Carter has been without question the best forward for the Flyers. He's scoring goals at a rapid pace again, getting chances every time on the ice, backchecking with relentless determination, playing sound defense, throwing checks and even winning a large portion of his faceoffs. Basically, he's doing everything. And yesterday, he got the Flyers off on the right foot.

And it looked like the Flyers were going to take complete control when Mike Richards buried a loose puck past Brent Johnson, but the goal was waved off. Why? Because Simon Gagne committed the single biggest boneheaded of play of his career. For no reason whatsoever, Gagne, after getting hit on a clean check by Evgeni Malkin, decided to go after Malkin, throwing him in a bear hug and getting his stick up in his face, as the Flyers had the puck in the zone and would have scored. Instead, when Richards touched the puck that wound up in the back of the net, play was halted because of the penalty. Gagne's selfish, stupid act, something he absolutely never does, cost the Flyers a goal AND put the Pens on the power play. Of course, the Penguins on the ensuing power play, making it 1-1. So basically, Gagne's retarded penalty cost the Flyers two goals. Instead of being up 2-0, as they should have been, they were tied 1-1. All because Gagne did something he never, ever does — take a stupid penalty for trying to go after another player. It was easily the worst decision, the worst play Simon Gagne has ever made in his career.

Ultimately, it proved costly, changing the entire complexion of the game. With newfound energy and suddenly a tie game, the Pens dominated the scoring chances in the second and eventually tallied a power play goal with less than two minutes remaining in the 3rd after Kimmo Timonen also made a boneheaded play, clearing the puck out of play without touching glass in his own zone. Essentially, the Flyers surrendered two points to the Pens because the two least likely players to make horrible mistakes made horrible mistakes. Of course, going just 1-of-9 on the power play didn't help either, but if you had told me two Flyers would take backbreaking penalties to cost them the game yesterday, Kimmo Timonen and Simon Gagne would have been the last two players I would have guessed. Such is sport, I guess. Expect the unexpected. Still, the Flyers are going well, competing hard again with Pittsburgh and jumping up to the six spot. Not bad.

Oh, and for all the talk about resting players and struggling down the stretch, here we are, right where everybody thought we'd be 13 games into the season: the Colts and Saints in the Super Bowl. A whole lot of uproar for nothing. Should be an extremely entertaining game.

And your highlight of the weekend:

As Flyers president and COO of Comcast-Spectacor Peter Luukko said:

“[John] Tortorella’s got it all wrong,” said Flyers president Peter Luukko between periods. “[Marian] Gaborik shouldn’t be messing with our skilled player.”

Finally, Jose Contreras is a Phillie and the Phils have Chooch for three more years minimum. Works for me.

BallHype: hype it up!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Putting that Penn Education to Good Use

When the Patron Saint speaks, we listen. And yesterday, he wrote a gem of an article about his experience watching Mark McGwire first-hand during the 1998 season. At the same time, he describes how much of a student of the game he was, no surprise given the success he has as a scrawny outfielder playing in the midst of the steroid era:

I knew that what I was seeing was impossible. When you play the game long enough, you develop a sixth sense for the realm of the possible. You learn your body’s limitations (and your opponents’ bodies) in short order, because knowing is integral to your longevity. Sure, limits are pushed, but it doesn’t happen overnight. I played centerfield and had to know that when Chad Kreuter or Todd Zeile hit a ball, there was a good chance it would come off their bats with no spin, making it dance unpredictably while I was trying to catch it in the outfield. I could tell from the angle of Vladimir Guerrero’s bat and the location of the pitch when the ball was going to slice away from me. From bat-ball contact I could tell to a fine degree where a ball would end up long before I got there. As the Phillies announcers always used to say to me, “I knew right away when you had the ball in your sights, and then you would just be there.”

That’s because it was my job to be there — to know the field, the wind, the conditions so well that I could take the ball out of the equation after contact, and get to where it was supposed to be. I had all the data I needed without relying on my eyes exclusively. I could run to the spot and wait for the ball while getting into position to throw to the next base (should a runner be on base).

The first time I questioned those instincts was during a game against the Kinston Indians and Manny Ramirez in 1992. It was my first full minor league season with the Winston-Salem Spirits of the famed Carolina League. I was in centerfield and Manny hit a line drive into the gap in right-center. No problem, I thought. I’ll run at an angle and cut the ball off near the warning track. Even if can’t quite get there to catch it, maybe I can hold him to a double.

Well, the ball hit part-way up the light tower, well over the fence for a home run. I could not believe my eyes. Up until that moment, I’d never seen anyone who could hit a home run to the opposite field, let alone a missile like that. It was stunning. As far as I knew, this was pure hitting ability. Ability that none of my college opponents had possessed.

I hope Penn likes to highlight that Doug Glanville was a student there, because he's certainly using his Ivy League education and putting it to good use. Smart guy, that Doug Glanville.

Update:A long Q&A with Darren Daulton over at B&C.

BallHype: hype it up!

It's Friday, Time to Dance (Again)

I saw this last night:

Apparently, LeBron really like Eminem. And beating the Lakers. Because for the second time this season, the Cavs topped L.A., and LeBron was a beast, scoring 37 points including a torrid streak in the fourth quarter. The guy is good at basketball. And he knows every word to that Eminem song.

BallHype: hype it up!

8 and 0

That's the text message I sent to two Rangers fans immediately after verifying that the final shot by the Rangers did not, in fact, cross the goal line before time ran out. It elicited these responses:

U dick

And, after also following up with, "Ps what the hell was gaborik doing?" this:

Carcillo is still the biggest wet pussy on a team loaded with them. I heard u and ur old man were still in therapy after the eagles got utterly ass raped by the gayboys twice in a row

They seem a bit bitter. But I love it. 8 and 0, of course, signifies the amount of goals the Flyers have scored (8) and the amount of goals the Rangers have scored (0) in the teams' last two meetings. The first was a 6-0 trouncing, and last night, the Flyers played suffocating defense in a 2-0 victory. It's always nice to have the upper hand in the smack talk, though really, they could just come back with, "How did that World Series pan out?" Still, it's always fun to beat New York, especially when it really is a heated rivalry like the Flyers and Rangers.

If you didn't watch last night's game, first of all, kill yourself. Secondly, you missed a truly awesome defensive performance from the Flyers. They held the red-hot Rangers to just 24 shots, with Ray Emery stopping all 24 (though to me, he still looked jittery back there and had trouble controlling rebounds), hounded every player that dared enter the Flyers zone, blocked a trillion shots, and cleared any rebound that may have been in harm's way. New York's leading goal scorer and the fifth-leading goal scorer in the NHL, Marian Gaborik, was completely invisible, putting up a goose egg in terms of shots. Well, completely invisible with the exception of this:

That's what you call a K.O. What in the hell was Gaborik thinking right there? Honestly, I'd like to know. Later in the game, with a slew of players in the penalty box, you could see Sean Avery yapping at Carcillo, calling him a fucking pussy for jumping Gaborik. Watch what happened again. Carcillo didn't do anything of the sorts. In an act of insanity, Gaborik provoked Carcillo and actually dropped the gloves first. As in, New York's best offensive player and one of the best snipers in the game decided to take on a player who makes a living by fighting. And he paid the price. Big time. Add to that the fact that the Flyers had to be without the services of a fourth-line winger, albeit a very good one, for five minutes while the Rangers lost their best offensive weapon for five minutes and it makes it even more insane. Marian Gaborik done lost his damn mind there. There's no other explanation. He never stood a chance in that fight, and right then, even with the score just 1-0 at the time, I knew the Flyers were going to win. They were in New York's head.

That point was driven home when head scumbag coach John Tortorella went into another one of his asshole tirades, walking down the Rangers bench toward the Flyers and literally screaming at Philadelphia players, all while making the yapping motion with his hands — even going so far as to call some Flyers pussies. Here's the thing about that: The Flyers are full of players that go out there, hit anything that moves and drop the gloves routinely, which is to say, hardly pussies. Meanwhile, Tortorella does this sort of thing several times throughout a season, acting all tough and attacking opposing players verbally from the safety of the bench, which is to say, the definition of a pussy. As much as I hate Sean Avery just like everyone else, at least he has to go out on the ice and prove his manhood, which he does, rarely shying away from a fight. John Tortorella simply tries to call out opposing players from his safe little world on the bench. What I'm trying to say is, John Tortorella is the biggest asshole on the face of the earth. If there is one person in hockey that I would LOVE to run over in my car if I saw him on the side of the road, it's John Tortorella. I hated him in Tampa. I hate him New York. And I'll hate him wherever he goes next after the organization tires of his dickish ways. I hate John Tortorella more than anyone I've ever come across in hockey. Anyone. More than Matthew Barnaby. More than Tie Domi. More than Lindy Ruff. More than Martin Brodeur. More than anyone. He is a scumbag to the core. I hope something horrible happens to him.

Of course, Tortorella wasn't only the one running his mouth on the Rangers. Sean Avery wouldn't shut the hell up, and he got destroyed by Scott Hartnell for it:

The best part about that is Avery is such a fucking moron that he let Hartnell bait him into the dropping the gloves WHILE THE RANGERS HAD THE PUCK IN THE FLYERS ZONE! We'll take that every time, especially when it results in Avery getting taken to the ice on two punches. Thanks, Sean. And of course, with a game that featured four fights (the other two were Carcillo-Avery (not much happened, though Avery did land more blows) and Voros-Asham (again, not much happened)) there was plenty of smack talk going on. Brandon Dubinsky, who didn't do a single thing in the game besides march to the penalty box, was throwing out "fucking pussy" rants toward Flyers all night long, yet he's the one who earned a roughing minor to taking a cheap shot, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for berating a referee and, uh, that's about it. You can call the Flyers pussies all night long if you want, but they were the aggressors, the ones throwing the big checks and playing impenetrable defense, and yeah, winning. You know, by actually scoring goals. Like James van Riemsdyk's beauty goal off his own rebound thanks to an insanely awesome outlet pass from Chris Pronger and Mike Richards' back-breaking power play goal with less than 3 seconds remaining in the 2nd period.

Offensively, the Flyers didn't get all that many more chances than New York, only registering 27 shots themselves, but the Flyers definitely controlled the play. The Asham-Giroux-JVR line has picked up right where it left off when they were playing together earlier in the season. JVR and Giroux look like they know where each other is at all times; there's just a chemistry there that's uncanny. Those two have made so many incredible passes to one another over the last two games that it just seems silly to ever break them up again. The Carter-Briere-Hartnell line continued to do its thing, Betts-Carcillo-Laperriere line played ridiculous awesome defense and the Richards-Gagne-Powe line did just about everything. Richards had that look right from the start that he was going to have a big game, and he sure did. It started with a big hit on the giant Brian Boyle, peaked with his power play goal and ended with him telling Avery just how stupid he is at the end of the game, or so I imagine. The two were exchanging some words as the game was ending.

But the most impressive thing about that game last night was the play of the Flyers defensemen. Chris Pronger has simply continued to be everything the Flyers had hoped he'd be. In today's fast-paced game, it wouldn't be surprising if a guy like Chris Pronger struggled to keep up. We already saw that before in Derian Hatcher, who took a long time to adjust to the new NHL before ultimately doing so and playing pretty well. But Pronger has had no such troubles. The man is the definition of a shutdown defenseman. He always takes the right angle to the puck, uses his long strides and insane reach to get to every puck and takes out players with the best of them. He stands up at the blue line, pokes pucks away from dangerous spots and frankly, I've never seen a defenseman spring the team in transition any better than Pronger. It's a shocker when he doesn't hit the tape on an outlet pass. Just look at JVR's goal as an example. Last night, he was simply awesome again.

As was Kimmo Timonen, who continues to be the most underrated defenseman in the entire NHL. Timonen and Pronger were absolutely the best two players on the ice last night. Every time Gaborik stepped on the ice, either Timonen or Pronger was there to meet him. And they combined to blank the potent sniper. As in zero shots and zero chances. Timonen does so many of the little, subtle things, which is precisely why he is so overlooked on a grander scale. You really have to watch this guy night in and night out to understand just how awesome he is. Whether it's getting the puck to a fellow defenseman, wedging a player off the puck, cutting down angles on shots/passes, blocking shots, sweeping the puck out of harm's way, cutting off skating angles, whatever, Kimmo is a master at it. Defensively, you'd be hard-pressed to find another defenseman in the Eastern Conference that is so good at everything as Kimmo. Last night, he shut down everything the Rangers attempted when he was on the ice. Everything. Add in the sound, solid hockey that Braydon Coburn and Matt Carle played alongside Pronger and Timonen, and it's easy to see why the Rangers had so much trouble generating any offense. The Flyers got to every loose puck, secured every rebound and moved out of their zone with relative ease all night.

Plus, the Flyers got excellent minutes from their third defense pairing as well. I thought last night was the best game Oskars Bartulis has played as a Flyer. Over the past month-plus, Bartulis has been asked to play a bigger role with Ryan Parent and Danny Syvret shelved with injuries. And with more burden to carry, he's elevated his game, steadily improving each and every time out there on the ice. Well, last night, I think he was at his best yet. I don't remember Bartulis making a single mistake last night. Not a one. He nullified every Ranger he marked, won puck battles and always seemed to make the right play. I don't think he was beat to a single puck all night. When you add in the effort oft-injured Ole-Kristian Tollefsen brought, I never once felt unsafe with that duo on the ice. Even though OK Tollefsen hasn't seen the ice much this season due to injury, he played very well against the Blue Jackets the other night, and last night, seemed in sync with everything Bartulis was doing. Those two looked like they had been playing together all season long instead of just a few games. They were always there to support one another and had great communication all night. As did all of the Flyers defensemen, and all the forwards who did a tremendous job backchecking.

It very well may have been the best defensive effort of the season for the Flyers. The Rangers really never threatened save for one little flurry. That was it. The Flyers shut all doors from then on. I think Peter Laviolette's aggressive, neutral-zone lock defensive system is really benefitting these defensemen. They're encouraged to pinch in the offensive zone and join the rush, keeping them heavily involved on both ends of the ice. As a result, it looks as though they're even more focused and never caught on their heels defensively, resulting in suffocating efforts like last night. Any time you can limit the Rangers like that, especially with a world class goaltender at the other end, it's big.

If the Flyers can come away from this home stand with a couple more victories, they may just finally be able to make a push toward the fifth, maybe even fourth spot in the conference. Because now, after a very tough adjustment period, the Flyers are looking completely comfortable and excited in Laviolette's system, both offensively and defensively. And we all know the Flyers have the talent to play with the best of them. Now they just might have the formula too.

BallHype: hype it up!

It's Friday, Time to Dance

In honor of the Phillies locking up Shane Victorino and Joe Blanton for three more years, I think we should all do a quick little jig to this background beat of a totally awesome Starter hat commercial:

Yeah, that's right, D.J. Jazzy Jeff, Lenny Dykstra and Rodney Dangerfield all under one roof.

BallHype: hype it up!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

'He's Been Getting His Hands on a Lot of Balls'

I knew Jeff Van Gundy wouldn't let me down in ESPN's switch, assigning the NBA crew of Van Gundy, Mark Jackson and Mike Breen to the North Carolina-Wake Forest game and the college crew of Dan Shulman and Dick Vitale to the Jazz-Spurs game, even though I had a feeling this young, struggling Tar Heels team would.

And Van Gundy did not disappoint. He began by blasting the college rule for a charge when a Carolina player slid under a Wake player as said Wake player was in the air attempting a shot, calling it a charge. That was a just a warm-up for his line of the night, regarding Wake Forest's senior center Chas McFarland, who finished the game with 10 rebounds and tipped many, many more: "What I like about McFarland is he's been getting his hands on a lot of balls …" Classic.

And he wasn't done. Later in the game, long after it became a boring, terrible contest as Wake began to pull away, Van Gundy went into a diatribe about how a player who spelled his name Chas can not go by Chase, which is how Chas McFarland pronounces his name, Chase, even though it's spelled Chas. Van Gundy shared with the world that his English teacher in elementary school taught him that the e makes the vowel a long vowel, so his name should be spelled Chase, not Chas, because Chas should be pronounced as Chaz. It was great. It really was. Van Gundy and Jackson have such a great rapport, as Jackson asked the name of Van Gundy's teacher again, he named her again (I can't remember her name, but it was something crazy) and then Van Gundy named the school and its address. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Jeff Van Gundy is great.

North Carolina, on the other hand, is not. With no Ed Davis, the Tar Heels stood little chance of containing a tough, physical Wake team. But it wasn't even the matchup inside that made the difference. It was the guard play. I've watched UNC enough this season to know that guard play is the problem, but I thought these guys would start to get better — after all, Larry Drew II is only a sophomore and Dexter Strickland just a freshman. But I can unequivocally say now that Larry Drew can't possibly be expected to run Roy Williams' fast-paced offense. The guy stinks. Sure, he's fast, but he's not a particularly good ball-handler, and his decision-making is beyond atrocious. I mean, the guy is averaging 3.3 turnovers a game, and of late, has been hovering around the 5 a game mark. Add to the fact that he's only a so-so outside shooter, and it's no wonder this team is struggling.

Roy went from two incredible, smart point guards in Raymond Felton and Tywon Lawson, two players who proved they were ready to handle the rigors of big-time college basketball and national media attention and all the pressure that goes along with being the point guard at North Carolina right from the start. Now I'm not saying Larry Drew can't get there, but he's miles behind where both Felton and Lawson were by their second year. Admittedly, they both got to start as freshmen and mature, whereas Drew played sparingly last season. And I'm not saying Drew isn't capable of getting there — he's already improved his shooting a great deal this season and in just his first year running the show — but he certainly doesn't look as poised, as confident, as good as the previous two point guards who owned the ACC and the nation.

Meanwhile, Wake's backcourt was having a field day. Ish Smith was a blur, reversing the role on UNC, pushing the ball nonstop and generating transition buckets all night long. He finished the game with 20 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists, and he basically did anything he wanted on the floor. Plus, his name is Ish. That's tits. Though Van Gundy did poke fun at him, because the guy is a point guard who shoots 44 percent from the free throw line. 44 percent. As a guard. That's not even worthy of making fun of. It's just sad. And embarrassing. And terrible. He should be ashamed of himself. But he's still awesome, and Jackson and Van Gundy were raving about him all night. He combined with C.J. Harris for 40 points on the night, as the freshman sharp shooter gave Wake the outside threat UNC lacks, nailing four of seven threes and making the Demon Deacons a nightmare to guard.

Guards have been Carolina's nightmare all season long — opposing ones and their own.

Now to a more serious note.

Samuel Dalembert has long been a whipping boy for basketball fans around these parts. Through no fault of his own, Billy King paid him an insane amount of money, and fans always like to point out his faults: too inconsistent, moody, undisciplined, foul prone, goaltending habits, spacing out, etc. Watching him go on stretches where he tears up the league and posts double-doubles on the regular makes it even more maddening, because that shows he's capable of doing it but incapable to sustaining it over the course of a season.

But if ever there was a player worth overpaying on a human level, it's Samuel Dalembert. By all accounts, Dalembert is one of the nicest, most congenial gentlemen roaming the face of the earth. Not a single person who has met him has ever uttered an unkind word about him as a person, as far as I can tell. And he's showing just how big his heart is right now, both on and off the court. If you were anywhere near a television last night when the Sixers were taking on the Trail Blazers, you know Dalembert arrived in Philadelphia just before game time because after the team's loss on Monday, he flew to Haiti to do anything he could and didn't get back until just before game time. There's an excellent read by Henry Abbott on it.

Dalembert is using his enormous amount of money to help in any way he can in his homeland, after Haiti was hit with a catastrophic earthquake. Last Friday, he matched all proceeds fans donated at the game against the Kings. Since, he's been getting the word out, making visits, doing all he can. He's proving he's truly one of the good guys in the game.

And the remarkable part about all of this is how he's been able to handle all of this and continue to do his job. And to do it well. Yes, he started his fine play before tragedy struck in Haiti, but he's continued to played at the high level that you'd expect from a $50 million man. Last night, despite running on no sleep and arriving mere minutes before tipoff, Dalembert recorded another double-double in the loss to Portland, posting 10 points and 15 rebounds. It was his 10th double-double of the season, and his fourth straight. He's in the top 20 in the NBA in rebounding with 9.3 a game, and if he can come anywhere close to keeping up his recent pace, he'll finish in double digits in rebounds at year's end. He looks like a new man.

On the court, that is. Because off it, he's still the same gentle giant, destined to make the world a better place. He's doing his best right now, fighting through personal turmoil and disheartening destruction in his homeland to lend a helping hand, all while continuing to give it his all in his day (night?) job.

He may be a frustrating player, but Samuel Dalembert is good people. Maybe right now would be a good time to at least acknowledge that.

Shifting gears again here, I'd like to talk about the toast of the town in college basketball — Temple and Villanova. As it turns out, the leading candidates for A-10 and Big East Player of the Year honors reside in the 215 and 610 area codes. For all the grief I've given Scottie Reynolds over the years for his up-and-down play and sometimes questionable decision-making, the guy is having a flat-out phenomenal senior season for Villanova.

He's been every bit the leader he's expected to be, and he's been so much more. Over the past three seasons, I've chastised Reynolds for not getting one ounce better since the day he stepped foot on the Villanova campus as a freshman. He came in as a very fine player, winning Big East rookie of the year, and continued to be a fine player. But he never seemed to get better. Well, this season he has. He's taken that next step, becoming a truly awesome college player.

The transformation probably began with his shot against Pitt that sent the Wildcats to the Final Four. Maybe it didn't but it doesn't matter. Scottie Reynolds has finally elevated his game to a level that has everyone taking notice. Perhaps it was just Scottie needing to grow up, needing to become a man, which he certainly has. Dana O'Neil, former Daily News sportswriter and current ESPN college basketball writer, wrote a great article on just that, which I first was made aware of by Dom at Big Five Post. I suggest you go read it. Every word of it. It's really good.

Just like Temple and Ryan Brooks have been really good. Like, really, really good. Last night, Temple took on Xavier with nothing but the top overall seed in the A-10 on the line. Both the Owls and Musketeers headed into the game undefeated in conference play. I was pretty excited to watch at least some of it. After all, Temple headed into the game at 15-3, had already knocked off Villanova, damn near knocked off Georgetown and was now ready to stake its claim as the class of the A-10. One problem: The fucking game wasn't on. Someone please explain this to me. How is the best team in Philadelphia (yeah, I said best — they beat Nova) nowhere to be found on Comcast when the Owls are taking on the other top dog in their conference, and both are undefeated in conference play? OK, I get that it wasn't on ESPN or ESPN2, there are other games and other big-time conferences, and the Sixers were on Comcast SportsNet. I get that. But, uh, what exactly is the Comcast Network for if not to air games like this? Instead of putting on Temple in a huge game, the Comcast Network aired freakin James Madison-Drexel. Guess how many people watched that game in Philadelphia? Drexel students and alums. That's it. Guess how many people would have opted to watch Temple take on Xavier over just about anything, especially the Sixers? A ton. What a dumb cable company. I hate you Comcast. You really dropped the ball on that one.

Because the evil cable company hates us, we didn't get to watch as Temple got its biggest win since beating Villanova and definitely best victory in the conference this season, topping Xavier 77-72. LaVoy Allen had a monster game with 16 points, 7 boards, 4 assists and 2 blocks. Juan Fernandez continued to add firepower, putting up 15 points, and did his best Pep Sanchez impression with 7 assists and 2 steals. And Luis Guzman even chipped in with 10 points and just one turnover. But again, the Owls were led by senior Ryan Brooks, who scored 22 points on 7-12 from the field and 8-9 from the line while also hauling in 7 boards.

The past three years, Temple has been Dionte Christmas' team. He was the man, he was the go-to guy, he was the leading scorer who terrorized the Atlantic-10. When he left following his senior season, no one knew just where Temple would turn to to replace those points and that leadership. Turns out, they just had to look toward the other starting guard, who has been playing the role of sidekick before this year. With Christmas gone, Brooks has taken his game to new heights. He is Temple's leading scorer at 16.4 points per game, combining with Fernandez to make up for those buckets Dionte took with him. Beyond that, he's also averaging 5.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists and nearly a steal a game, contributing with his scoring, playmaking and tremendous defense. Essentially, he's doing it all for an Owls team no one thought would be sitting at 16-3 and undefeated in the conference through 19 games. Yet here we are, with Ryan Brooks leading the way for the best team in the Atlantic-10. Read about his rise here, as Mike Kern brilliantly lays out how Brooks has gone from afterthought to Fran Dunphy's prized recruit.

I guess you can say, between all his scoring, passing, rebounding and deflections/steals on defense, he gets his hands on a lot of balls.

BallHype: hype it up!