Tuesday, November 30, 2010

About the All-Big Ten Honors

You see this guy?

His name is Denard Robinson, as I'm sure you are all well aware of. He was one of the most dynamic, electric players in college football this year, becoming the first quarterback in NCAA history to run and throw for more than 1,500 yards in one season. He led the Big Ten with 136.9 rushing yards per game, good for 4th in the nation, shattered Antwaan Randle El's previous rushing record by a Big Ten quarterback of 1,270 by finishing with 1,643 yards. He was in the top 20 in the country with a pass efficiency rating of 152.9, completing 62 percent of his passes for 2,316 yard. And he scored 30 total touchdowns, running for 14 and passes for another 16. Rightfully, Denard Robinson was named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year.

That's not the news here. No, the news is that despite being by far the best offensive player in the conference and one of the most terrorizing quarterbacks in the nation, despite being named the Offensive Player of the Year, Denard Robinson was somehow not named the First or Second Team All-Conference QB. What? How is that even possible? How can you be the best offensive player in the conference, and play quarterback, but not be the best quarterback in the conference? It makes no sense. None at all. But take a look at the All-Conference First and Second Teams. Denard Robinson, the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, is nowhere to be found. Northwestern's Dan Persa was named the first team QB, with Wisconsin's Scott Tolzien as the second team signal caller.

Don't get me wrong, Persa had a great year for the Wildcats, and Tolzien helped lead the Badgers to a share of the Big Ten title, but there isn't a chance in hell anyone in the Big Ten would rather have either one of those guys as their quarterback over Denard Robinson. Denard should have been named first team QB, with Persa as second team. No question about it. It doesn't make a lick of sense that the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year only gets Honorable Mention on the All-Conference team, especially when he was far and away the most dangerous quarterback in the conference.

I really need someone to explain this to me. Then again, I could use an explanation on the Penn Staters that were named to the team.

For starters, I have a really, really hard time believing that Stefen Wisniewski was one of the two best guards in the Big Ten this season.

Two years ago, sure. He was awesome as a sophomore. He really was. Then last season he moved to center out of necessity and struggled early on, becoming adequate as the year progressed. This year, back at guard from the very beginning, he was as much a part of the problems Penn State had on its offensive line as anyone. He was missing blocks, slow on pulling, overall struggling like the rest of the line. Yes, he stabilized as the season wore on, and he's by no means a terrible player, but if Stefen Wisniewski was named Stefen Jones, there's no way in hell he'd be named First Team All-Big Ten. None. He's just not at that level. He had some truly horrid games this season, some really good ones, but lacked the consistency needed, in my opinion, to make first team. Honestly, I would have him at Honorable Mention at best. Because his last name invokes memories of his All-Pro uncle, he gets more praise than he deserves. Like I said, I don't think Wisniewski is a bad player, but I do think he's perhaps the most overrated Penn State offensive lineman of my lifetime.

As for the Penn Staters named to the second team, with all due respect to Evan Royster and Ollie Ogbu, I don't think either player deserved it. Royster had such a slow start to his season that it's hard for me to take him making the all-conference team seriously. I guess it's more of a lifetime achievement award, being so tremendous for four seasons and becoming the all-time leading rusher in Penn State history. I don't have a huge problem with Royster being named to the second team, because he did get stronger as the year wore on and showed he could still have a huge impact, but his whole year was fairly underwhelming.

As for Ogbu, I just don't think he consistently made enough of an impact to warrant selection, though that may not have been his fault. Ogbu was definitely Penn State's best defensive tackle, and he received very little help from his linemates all season. Devon Still had some good games, but didn't have a season to write home about. Jack Crawford was MIA. Ditto any other defensive end not named Pete Massaro. So Ogbu was left to do it by his lonesome much of the time, and was forced to play a lot of snaps. I like the guy and think he's a great player. I was just surprised he was named to the second team.

The funny thing to me is that while Wisniewski was named first team and Royster named second team, Penn State's best and most consistent offensive player all year didn't make the cut. That would be Derek Moye, who had an absolutely tremendous season as the Nittany Lions' leading receiver, finishing among the Big Ten leaders in receiving yards, yards per catch and touchdowns.

If any Penn Stater deserved to be named to the All-Big Ten team, it was Moye. It's a shame the voters didn't feel the same way. Second team seems much more appropriate for Moye than Honorable Mention. Though I will admit, it would be tough to remove the four receivers selected: Tandon Doss of Indiana, Dane Sanzenbacher of Ohio State, and Marvn McNutt and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos of Iowa.

Also, Quinn Barham and Chris Colasanti don't deserve to be anywhere near honorable mention. D'Anton Lynn, who also was named, certainly belongs there.

As for the other big winners, Mark Dantonio was named Big Ten Coach of the Year, and you will hear no arguments from me there. No one expected Michigan State to contend with Ohio State and Wisconsin, yet here they are as co-Big Ten Champs with those two schools.

Ryan Kerrigan of Purdue was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year because he was the Big Ten's best defensive player, much like Jared Odrick was last season. And Wisconsin had the Offensive Lineman of the Year in Gabe Carimi, who is the biggest beast on that beastly Wisconsin o-line, and the Freshman of the Year in running back James White, who was tremendous spelling John Clay. Can't argue with any of those either.

Interestingly, Terrelle Pryor, the man Ohio State fans keep touting as a Heisman candidate before every season despite never really putting up Heisman numbers, was also left off of the first and second teams, joining list of honorable mentions.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Fat and Lazy

Just like the rest of America, that's exactly how I'm feeling today: fat and lazy. Unfortunately, like everyone else, I'm back at work with a ton of stuff to do after that glorious four-day hiatus. There's nothing more deflating than coming back to work after extended time off.

Deflating was sort of the theme of the holiday weekend for the Flyers, Eagles and Penn State. Coming off a 6-1 win on Thanksgiving Eve for their third straight victory, the Flyers thought they had stolen a victory in a game in which they weren't at their best, only to get shafted on a horrendous call in overtime and lose in the ensuing shootout.

For starters, that's not a penalty. But even if the referees want to argue that it was a penalty thanks to the Avery rule  — a penalty that's not even on the books —  then why the hell did they wait some 5 seconds or more to make the call when Mike Richards and the Flyers were in possession of the puck the entire time? And why wasn't Miikka Kiprusoff whistled for a slash, when he very clearly hacked at Pronger's legs after the hand incident? Just horrible, horrible officiating. No two ways about it.

It was a tough loss, especially given the two dazzling goals the Flyers scored: the first by Nikolay Zherdev to open the scoring, and the second by Claude Giroux in the shootout.

To make the weekend even more deflating, the Flyers went out and lost again via the shootout the very next day to the lowly Devils. Despite outshooting Jersey 41-25 and dominating damn near every facet of the game, the Flyers couldn't solve Johan Hedberg, who made 40 saves and stoned all but one Flyer in the shootout. In fact, the only goal that beat him in regulation was a trick bank shot by Danny Briere, and only Zherdev took the open invitation through the five-hole Hedberg seemed to be providing to everyone in the shootout.

Yes, the Flyers managed to get a point in each game, but 4 points would have felt a whole lot nicer than 2, especially given the disallowed goal and the way they dominated the Devils. That's deflating.

And so was Penn State going out in the final battle for the Land Grant Trophy by losing to Michigan State in a series that the Nittany Lions have traditionally dominated.

Even though these two teams came in with very different seasons — Michigan State at 10-1 and tied with Wisconsin and Ohio State atop the Big 10, Penn State at 7-4 and going through a rebuilding year — I honestly had the feeling that Penn State would find a way to put it all together and ruin Michigan State's chances at the Big Ten title.

Despite Derek Moye's best efforts, that didn't happen. The Spartans were, just as they have been all season, better than Penn State essentially across the board. As tough as it is to go through a season like Penn State did, it was nice to see them fight to the very end. And that fight made things mighty interesting at the end, turning what was a 21-3 and 28-10 deficit into a thrilling finish before ultimately losing 28-22. Matt McGloin had another 300-yard game, but it was Moye who stole the show, almost singlehandedly getting the Lions back into this one.

He put forth a herculean effort in the forth quarter, catching several passes, almost making a miraculous touchdown catch, stripping Michigan State's Trenton Robinson after the safety foolishly tried to return his interception out of the end zone instead of taking a knee, thus keeping Penn State alive, and then hauling in a touchdown catch right after that. It was quite a performance from the junior receiver. For the day, he finished with five receptions for 65 yards and a score. Those numbers brought his 2010 totals to 48 receptions for 806 yards and 7 scores. He finished fifth in the Big Ten in receiving yards, sixth in receiving yards per game (67.2), third in yards per reception (16.8) and his seven TDs were fourth most in the conference. Quite an impressive season for Moye.

Justin Brown, by the way, led all receivers with 6 catches for 106 yards on Saturday. That guy is gonna be a star. With Moye and Brown both back next year, not to mention the return of burner Curtis Drake from injury, track stars Devon Smith and Shawney Kersey, Penn State is loaded at receiver next year for whoever — McGloin, Robert Bolden, maybe even Paul Jones (if he doesn't transfer) — the quarterback is.

Still, it's kind of deflating to wrap up the season with a loss at home, and doing it in the final battle for the Land Grant. I really wanted Michigan State to come up short of sharing the Big Ten title with the Badgers and the Buckeyes.

As deflating as the Flyers' back-to-back shootout losses were, and as deflating as this season has been at times for Penn State, nothing was more deflating than the Eagles' loss to Chicago yesterday.

Sitting at 7-3, the Eagles and Michael Vick were the talk of the NFL. They had just won three straight games against the Colts, Redskins and Giants, had won five of their last six games including a 31-17 manhandling of the Falcons, and everyone alive was beginning to proclaim Vick as the league's MVP.

With all three two of their division rivals already losing their games before they kicked off, the Eagles had a golden opportunity to distance themselves from the pack, remain a game up on the Giants and really put their stamp on a run to the playoffs. Plus, they were taking on a Bears team that many thought had the easiest road to their early-season 7-3 record.

But the Eagles suffered a deflating 31-26 loss, bringing expectations a little bit more back down to earth.

With no Asante Samuel in the lineup, Jay Cutler torched the Eagles' secondary — a combination of Joselio Hanson, Dimitri Patterson and rookie Trevard Lindley — for 247 yards and four touchdowns without turning the ball over once. The Eagles' defense is just not the same without Asante. That was made abundantly clear yesterday.

Meanwhile, Chicago's defense proved to be everything it's cracked up to be — athletic, fast, ferocious. Julius Peppers and Brian Urlacher give the Bears two players no one else has to help contain Michael Vick, and that's exactly what happened. The Eagles weren't able to get the big plays that they have relied on this season thanks to that Chicago cover 2 defense. Conversely, it was the Bears who flipped the script, killing the Birds with deflating big plays — the 61-yard run by Matt Forte, the 39-yard and 34-yard passes to Devin Hester, the 20-yard touchdown and 34-yard pass to Johnny Knox, the returns by Hester and Danieal Manning, the 30-yarder to Edgar Bennett.

But the most deflating play in this deflating loss came relatively early in the game. Trailing 14-13, the Eagles' defense forced a three-and-out that included two sacks following a 19-yard kickoff return by Manning. The Eagles took over at Chicago's 46 with 6:15 remaining in the first half, and methodically began to drive. Facing a 2nd-and-4 at the Chicago 4-yard line, 1:50 remained. At worst, the Eagles would kick a field goal before the half and take a 16-14 lead to the locker room, at best score a touchdown and go up 20-14. All they had to do was protect the ball and be smart, and they'd take the lead.

Instead, Michael Vick went for the end zone. The ball was tipped at the line of scrimmage and intercepted, and even it wasn't it looked to be quite a tight throw for Vick. It resulted in his first interception of the season, and it couldn't have come at a worse time.

The only thing couldn't do in that situation was fumble or throw a pick. If the sure throw wasn't there, all he had to do was toss it out of the back of the end zone. Instead, Tommy Harris got his hand in the throwing lane, Vick fired it into the big defensive tackle's mitt, and Chris Harris picked it up, then returned it 39 yards, which then led to a 63-yard touchdown drive orchestrated by Cutler in the final 1:50 of the half. Instead of being up 16-14 or 20-14, the Eagles trailed 21-13 at the half. That was the play that changed the entire complexion of the game.

The Birds battled back and made it close, but it wasn't to be. A deflating interception was the first act that got the ball rolling in the wrong direction for the Eagles. Chicago took advantage, made all the big plays and won the game, leaving the Eagles feeling fat and lazy like the rest of us after a long Thanksgiving weekend.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


The guy earned it. He's been playing great since being reinserted into the lineup. Good to see it finally pay off. Great win, thanks to two awesome periods following a horrible one, three straight goals and great timing to get on the board for JVR.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Two Boring Games, a Drunken Night, a Shootout, the Pickle of Death and an Aggravating, Heart-Stopping Win

My weekend began with a few beers, a bottle of whiskey and a double cheeseburger prior to taking in one of the most boring basketball games I've ever witness in person in my life.

It ended with an abusive car ride after one of the most exciting, bizarre yet frustrating wins against a division rival to take sole possession of first place. And there was a bunch of shit in between.

The long journey of debauchery began with silver fox and a friend of ours heading to my house Friday evening to meet up and head down to the Sixers-Bucks game. They showed up with a bottle of Ezra Brooks in hand, and I was already two beers when they got to my door. Once that bottled was cracked open, it was already determined something crazy was going to happen Friday night.

After taking some swigs and starting feel pretty good, we made our way down to the Wells Fargo Center (that still doesn't sound right), picked up our fourth-row tickets and headed to our seats. As it turned out, our seats were one section over and two rows away from another guy we know and his wife, so we took a spot next to them and took in the game. In front approximately 8,000 people (generously), we watched as the Sixers somehow actually won a game. Truthfully, I wasn't very happy about it either, as bad as that sounds.

The main reason I chose Friday's game to christen my 2010-11 season in person was to watch Brandon Jennings, a personal favorite of mine. Sadly, Jennings failed to entertain on any level really, putting up a very unimpressive line of 12 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 turnovers, 3-13 from the floor and 0-5 from three. He was less than impressive, leading me to continue drinking pretty furiously, especially given that fact that as Jennings struggled, the Sixers took advantage.

I'm not normally one to root for any of my teams to fail, but with the state of the 76ers, wins are more detrimental than losses at this point. The Sixers need to rebuild and need to do it now. The best way to do that is to get another high lottery pick, hopefully in position to get a guy like Jared Sullinger, and shed some of the payroll in the form of Andre Iguodala.

However, there is certainly good to take away in the victory. For starters, as much as NBA fans these days like to see their teams tank to get a potentially franchise-changing lottery pick, continual losing can be just as harmful as being mired in mediocrity — the whole developing a loser's mentality. A win is good for morale, and it can lead to more confidence in younger players, which in turn can lead to better play. Perhaps just as importantly, Thaddeus Young continued to assert himself, leading all scorers with 23 points, and having an overall outstanding game. He shot an extremely efficient 8-13 from the field, 7-8 from the line and added 6 boards and 2 assists in leading the Sixers to the 11-point victory, just their third on the year.

The performance by Young was on par with his game of late. In the past few games, he's been more aggressive and assertive off the bench, providing a lethal scoring duo with Louis Williams. He's beginning to show flashes of the player that was arguably Philadelphia's best player two years ago before he got injured. The problem is he still isn't doing it consistently. On Friday, he was the best, most efficient player on the court. The game before that, a terrible 8-point loss to the lowly Raptors, he scored just 10 points while shooting 4-13. That came after a 17 and 8 performance on 8-12 from the field against Cleveland, and two games before that he also had 17 on 7-12 from the field.

If Thad can start stringing those good performances together and limiting the clunkers, he just may earn himself an extension. But if not, as much as I like the guy and what he can do when he's on his game, it really wouldn't be worth bringing him back. He needs to prove he can be the consistent contributor he looked destined to be in his second year.

Being totally honest here, even with Thad's performance, the Sixers game was the most boring part of my Friday night. Because afterward things got a little bit out of hand. When the game ended, the three of us went to meet up with our friend's girlfriend, who was at her friend's apartment in the city, not far from where I work actually. When we got there, we immediately began drinking our faces off. The bottle of Ezra, gone. A bottle of Red Label, gone.

Then we met up with another friend of mine, hit the bars and continued the excessive drinking. Next thing you know, we're back at the apartment, our friend whose girlfriend's friend's place we're at nowhere to be found. At this point, I'm drunk, tired and sick of the other people around us, so silver fox and I hop in a cab and head to my house, assuming our friend is somewhere with his girlfriend. When we awake the next morning to watch the Penn State game, silver fox checks his phone and has a message from our friend's phone from 7 in the morning. It's his girlfriend telling silver fox to call her if our friend is with us, because she's at the apartment, his phone is there but he's nowhere to be found. Great.

We try calling him furiously, to no avail obviously, until finally, at approximately 2 in the afternoon, he calls us. Turns out he somehow got lost all by himself when he went outside to smoke a cigarette or something, wandered around the city for a while, then ended up sleeping in his car.

By the time he called us, we had already thought the worst, thinking he was either locked up or beat down. Luckily, he was alive and well, at least given the circumstances, and even managed to make it to work on time Saturday night. But that didn't mean Saturday was exactly a fun day.

For starters, I was hung over as hell and feeling pretty god damn awful. The Penn State game wasn't making me feel any better. After going up 14-0 at FedEx Field on hapless Indiana, Penn State started to play like the pathetic team that took the field against Illinois. A 14-0 lead suddenly shrunk to a 17-14 halftime lead in a terribly boring first half.

To cheer ourselves up, silver fox and I went to Paesano's at halftime. When we returned, we watched as Indiana got into field goal range and tied the game on a 49-yarder. Matt McGloin answered nicely, moving the Nittany Lions right down the field and hitting Derek Moye for a 21-yard touchdown pass, but then Penn State gave it right back, and the game was tied at 24. It was awful. It honestly looked as though Penn State might lay their second true egg of the season, somehow losing to Big Ten basement-dweller Indiana, team that came in at 4-6 overall and winless at 0-6 in conference play.

Thankfully, that did happen because of this.

Now you might be asking yourself what the hell that was. It was Andrew Dailey's punt block, which was returned 20 yards by James Van Fleet for the go-ahead touchdown. From there it was all Penn State, as Collin Wagner added a field goal and impressive freshman running back Silas Redd scored from a yard out to give Penn State a 41-24 win.

The game itself was pretty awful. Penn State's offensive line was sloppy again. Michael Zordich missed more blocks in this game than he has in his two years at Penn State. And they let Indiana hang around. It was incredibly boring. But still, Matt McGloin bounced back from his horrid second half at Ohio State to throw for 315 yards and two scores with no turnovers, hitting eight different receivers. He's really making a case to be Penn State's quarterback in 2011 as well. Silas Redd gained 50 yards on just 9 carriers. Moye continued to have a really strong season, catching 6 balls for 90 yards and a score. The defense still left plenty to be desired, but Penn State did get the job done, albeit in fairly mundane fashion, the punt block excluded. That's 7 wins for the rebuilding Nittany Lions, with a chance to make it eight while simultaneously ruining Michigan State's bid for the Big Ten title this coming Saturday in Happy Valley.

After making a dreadful trek to drop people off, all I wanted to do was sleep. I did for a little while, waking up in time to watch the Flyers-Capitals game, well, most of it anyway.

Following the stupid 15-goal, 8-7 loss on Thursday, Saturday's game was another wild one. The Flyers came back from a 1-0 deficit to take a 3-1 lead, then blew that 3-1 lead in the third thanks to a steady stream of penalties that led to two power play goals, only to take the lead again with 6 minutes remaining, but then once again committing a back-breaking penalty in the final two minutes that led to the game-tying power-play goal. Finally, mercifully, the Flyers did manage to pick up two points by defeating the Caps in a shootout.

Oddly enough in a game in which 8 goals were scored in regulation, it was a defenseman who was the player of the game. Chris Pronger was a force, bouncing back very nicely from his awful performance against Tampa Bay. On several occasions, Pronger denied Alexander Ovechkin as the Russian sniper was trying to dance around him. He was physical and strong on the puck. And he had two assists to go along with his strong defense.

Richards, Giroux and Carter all scored goals, continuing to lead this team, and Andreas Nodl had a big one in the third to give the Flyers a 4-3 lead. Nodl has been a pleasant surprise for the Flyers this year, and on his goal, JVR recorded an assist. Since he's been back in the lineup, van Riemsdyk has shown the fire that Nikolay Zherdev did before after his benching. It hasn't resulted in any goals for JVR as of yet, but his play has really elevated. He's getting lots of chances, working his tail off and showing the energy Peter Laviolette has been looking for. Hopefully he'll keep that up and it will eventually be rewarded on the score sheet.

As for the shootout, the once dreaded domain for the Flyers, it went rather well. Brian Boucher, who famously backstopped the Flyers in a shootout victory over the Rangers on the last day of last regular season just to get into the playoffs, blanked all three Capitals shooters he faced. Some guys by the name of Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin. And Danny Briere did the rest, scoring the game-winner on an incredibly quick, hard shot right through the five-hole of rookie netminder Michal Neuvirth.

It was a great win to stop their mini two-game slump, maintaining their spot behind Washington in the East. After that, I was spent. I didn't go out. I didn't drink. All I wanted to do was rest my body, recover and get ready for a little baseball workout before heading to the Eagles-Giants game on Sunday night.

See, the plan was to meet up with Toonces at his place in Roxborough and then meet a friend of ours at noon and get some baseball work in. Then I'd go home, shower and head down to the Linc to meet up with my roommates and friends to tailgate before the game. Things weren't quite that simple. Why? Because of the god damn Philadelphia Marathon.

Normally, it takes me about 15 minutes to get to Toonces' place from my house, so I left at about 11:15. Here's the catch: Unbeknownst to me, the Philadelphia Marathon was taking place, shutting down half of the roads in the entire city. Somehow I had no idea this was happening until I was caught in traffic, completely fucked. I feel like this thing should have been announced a little better. Maybe it was and I just missed it, but still, I feel like it should have been plastered all over Philly.com or something all last week. I don't recall that happening.

That meant that a 15-minute ride turned into an hour and a god damn half ride. It was ridiculous. So many roads were closed that I wound up in East Falls, where I got somewhat turned around because who the fuck ever goes to East god damn Falls? It was awful. Luckily, we did end up getting to play some baseball, albeit an hour later than we wanted to, throwing off my whole schedule. Still, I got was home by 3:30 and met up with my friends down at the stadium by 4:20, a good four hours before kickoff.

Now, I'm not one of those people that goes and gets wasted at a tailgate before a game. I've never really understood the premise of that. I like to actually watch the game and remember everything, not go to get hammered and black out. I tailgate mostly for the food, and will drink moderately. Some of my friends are the same way, others not so much.

Having said that, there was a new tradition started when we all went to the Colts game two weeks ago, something even I couldn't resist. It's called the pickle of death, which essentially entails a flask of whiskey and a Jewish pickle. The premise is simple — drink from the flask, take a bite of the pick, pass it along. No one leaves until the flask and pickle are both finished. Let me tell you all something, it's pretty fucking awesome. There isn't a better chaser alive than a pickle, that's a fact. It completely overrides any other taste with the salt and vinegar. It's awesome.

We did it before the Colts game, it was delicious, and the Eagles won, so naturally we had to do it again last night. We did, it was awesome again, and the Eagles won again. A tradition is officially born.

About an hour before kickoff, my roommate and I go to our seats with another friend of ours, who just so happened to be taking in his first Eagles game in person. How this is possible for a 26-year-old male is beyond me, but such is life. He couldn't have picked a more bizarre game to pop his cherry.

The Eagles came out and completely dominated the first half. I mean sheer and utter dominance. They marched 68 yards in 7 minutes and 9 seconds on their second possession, going up 7-0 thanks to a ridiculous 4-yard touchdown run by Michael Vick. Then after giving up the lone good drive of the half for the Giants and yielding a field goal, Vick marched the Eagles right down the field twice, throwing two beautifully called, nicely thrown passes for sure touchdowns … that were both dropped. The first one was somewhat tough, a lower pass to DeSean Jackson in the end zone, but it was a ball DeSean, or any other receiver for that matter, should have caught. He didn't, he knew he fucked up and the Eagles had to settle for a field goal.

The next one was even worse. Facing a third down at the New York 6, the Giants sent the house. The Eagles had the perfect call, as Vick lofted the ball to a wide open Jason Avant all alone in the back of the end zone. Every single person I know could have and would have caught the ball, but Avant, the surehanded Jason Avant, dropped the god damn ball.

Again, the Eagles had to settle for a field goal instead of touchdown. That's 8 points left on the field right there, and instead of being up a commanding 21-3, the Eagles held a much less imposing 13-3 lead. It was maddening.

However, the defense was playing outstanding. They gave the vaunted Giants rushing attack absolutely no room to run, and Eli certainly wasn't having the best game of his career. Already leading 10-3, Asante Samuel did what he does best in the second quarter, intercepting Eli to give the Eagles the ball at New York's 13. That's when Avant dropped the ball, wasting great field position and a perfect play call, but it did lead to three points. And the Eagles didn't relent on defense at all.

Asante was the one leading the way. Not only did he get a pick and generally do a very nice job on Hakeem Nicks, but he also jacked up Derek Hagan.

Of course, because the NFL sucks has made me no longer enjoy it, it was a personal foul penalty for helmet-to-helmet contact. Sitting in the same seats as the Colts game, I had the exact same reaction, letting loose on a expletive-laden tirade and booing like I've never booed before. Flag football is a mere few seasons away, believe that. Regardless, even with the penalty, the Giants couldn't get anything else going, as the Eagles continued to stifle the run game and Eli continued to suck.

The Eagles got the ball back with 1:43 remaining, miraculously with all three timeouts left, and began to drive. Vick hit Jeremy Maclin for 35 yards on the first play, then gained 9 on a run and then hit Maclin for another big play, this time for 21 yards. Three plays in and the Eagles were already at the New York 15. Then a personal foul penalty backed the up 15 yards, and Maclin dropped yet another touchdown pass, as Vick made a great throw to Maclin, but the second-year speedester couldn't haul it in. In fairness to Maclin, his drop was a much tougher catch than either DeSean's or Avant's, especially with a defender on him. It's tough to say Maclin should have caught it, but he had a chance. To make matters worse, the Eagles attempted a 42-yard field goal as the clock wound down, but it got blocked. I was furious.

Here the Eagles were, completely and utterly dominating the game, yet they held just a 10-point lead. The defense was suffocating, and the offense was moving the ball at will, yet the Eagles just kept making absolutely killer mistakes. DeSean's dropped touchdown. Avant's dropped touchdown. Crippling penalties — the Eagles finished with 10 penalties for 119 yards, inexcusable. And a blocked punt. They left 11 to 15 points on the field in that first half. Realistically, the score should have been 24-3 or 27-3. Instead it was 13-3. I was really beginning to get an uneasy feeling.

Then the game slowed to a grinding halt after Ellis Hobbs was clocked with a helmet-to-helmet hit and wasn't moving. Everyone in my section was screaming for a flag, but none came. There was no flag despite the much more malicious intent than Asante's hit, proving just how incredibly inept and pathetic the NFL's rules are on hits to the head. I'm not even joking, I hate how ridiculously unbalanced these kind of plays are. Receivers or quarterbacks hit to the head, automatic penalty. Linemen, returners or defenders hit to the head, nothing. At all. It's completely absurd.

Once the game finally ensued, the Eagles did exactly what they had been doing all game. Michael Vick meticulously led the Eagles down the field. The Eagles got all the way to New York's 10 on a long drive. But the Eagles stalled yet again, this time mostly due to the fact that pretty much every play, Vick was dropping back to pass. We all know the history of Andy Reid and his unbalanced play-calling, but it reached new highs last night. Coming off a game in which the Eagles ran all over Washington, and with LeSean McCoy having a brilliant year, not to mention the Eagles adding the very talented and capable Jerome Harrison, Reid and Marty completely abandoned the running game. With a lead. In the second half. I hate when they do stupid shit like that.

Still, the Eagles added another field goal to go up 16-3, and they had milked more than half the quarter on one drive.

Then, one huge penalty changed the entire game. With the Giants down by 13 and facing a 3rd and 14, Eli Manning threw up a jump ball down to the Philadelphia 2. That's when Quintin Mikell made one of the worst plays I've ever seen in my entire life. Getting beat, Mikell was trying to recover on the ball. As the New York receiver was jumping and looking up, Mikell didn't even try to turn his head. He just ran right into the receiver. If he had turned around, not only would there have been no pass interference, but Mikell would have had a great shot at intercepting the pass. It was a horrible throw by Eli, literally much easier for Mikell to catch than his intended target. But Mikell chose to just run through the receiver and draw a 31-yard penalty. Quintin Mikell sucks. Like, really, really sucks. He is absolutely nothing without Brian Dawkins lined up next to him.

With Dawk, the guy looked like a Pro Bowler. Last year, without him, he was arguably the worst player on the defense not named MachoVictor Harris. This year, he is absolutely the worst starter on this defense. Later in the game, he missed a crucial third-down tackle that would have essentially iced the game. He fucking sucks, and I hate him. I'd rather have the unproven Kurt Coleman out there.

Of course, on the very next play, Eli throws a touchdown pass to Travis Beckum and all the sudden a game that's been owned by the Eagles sits at 16-10. On Philadelphia's ensuing possession, they commit another penalty, back themselves up and wind up with a 3rd and 11. That's when Vick finally made his first crucial mistake as an Eagle, holding on to the ball way too long despite tremendous protection from the line, finally fumbling the ball for his first turnover of the season. The very next play, Eli hits Brandon Jacobs for a 22-yard gain, then connects for Hagan to give the Giants a 17-16 lead.

I was beside myself, killing Vick for not getting rid of the ball, cursing Mikell with every ounce of my being and dead certain the Eagles were going to lose. They had already blown so many opportunities to pull away, and now they were trailing. It was atrocious.

And just to piss me off even more, after not running the ball all damn game with a lead, Andy and Marty call a running play on first down when they're trailing. Then, after picking up a crucial 3rd and 9 on a nice play by Jason Avant (I still can't believe he dropped that TD) for 24 yards, the Eagles commit a 15-yard penalty, three plays later get a sack and have to punt.

Thankfully, the defense continued to play great, held the Giants and forced a punt. Starting at their own 10, the Eagles began to drive again. Vick hit Owen Scmitt for 10, then Maclin for 19 and faced a third-and-1 at the 50. Andy and Marty decided to call a pass play, because they're retarded. It didn't work, 4th and 1 with 4:38 remaining, two timeouts left and trailing by 1. Punting never even crossed Andy's mind. The Eagles went for it, on 4th and 1, their kryptonite in the Andy Reid era.

The play couldn't started out any more ominous, with Vick bobbling the snap. But he gathered it, and as he was being hit pitched it to McCoy. One nasty cut later, and LeSean was gone, 50 yards for the score.

I lost my god damn mind. Just completely lost it. An entire game of aggravation and obscenities turned into pure joy. I was jumping, hugging, high-fiving. And as Vick hit Avant for the two-point conversion to give the Eagles a 24-17 lead, I couldn't believe it. Euphoria had set in, and it got even better when on the first play after the kickoff, Eli threw yet another pick to Asante. Game over. Until it wasn't because stupid as shit Asante was returning it, and instead of just going down, fumbled courtesy of a great play by Ahmad Bradshaw. The Giants got the ball right back, starting pretty much at the same spot, and still had life. Unreal.

But then things got even weirder. Facing a 3rd and 6 with 3:10 left, the seas parted on the Eagles defense, leaving nothing but green in front of Eli Manning. Not known for his running acumen, Eli took off, dashed for 16 yards, and inexplicably dove forward. When he hit the ground, the ball came out. No Eagle had touched him. That meant the ball was live, and Darryl Tapp astutely picked it up. No one quite knew what happened, but it was true, the Eagles had the ball. Eli had fumbled. Tom Coughlin challenged because he had to, but it didn't matter. The play was rightfully upheld, as Eli made the worst fumble this side of the Miracle at the Meadowlands in NFL history. I'm so incredibly glad Eli Manning is not my quarterback. He sucks.

The Birds then gave a steady dose of LeSean McCoy, who gashed the Giants yet again, this time for 40 yards, milked the clock and kicked the game-sealing field goal with 22 seconds left. That was all she wrote in the most wild, absurd, and aggravating victory I've been to in a while.

As six of us piled into a car to get a ride home and Adam EatShit got abused the entire way, none of us could really believe what we saw. The Eagles are in first place all by themselves. Only the Falcons, who they've already beaten, have a better record in the NFC. Michael Vick has been the best player in the NFL. And this team looks better each and every week, even finding ways to win when they're killing themselves with mistakes.

But what I learned most of all in that game is that the Giants kind of suck. I was not impressed with them at all. Eli looked like shit. The Eagles completely stifled New York's running game. And the offense moved on that vaunted Giants defense at will. The Eagles let the Giants stay in it with mistakes, but the Eagles were definitely the far superior team.

Thanks to Michael Vick, more speed than one offense should be allowed to have and a defense that comes up with big plays, a season that was expected to be a rebuilding year has suddenly turned into much, more more. Though Quintin Mikell still sucks balls.

Friday, November 19, 2010

It's Friday, Time to Dance

Last night's Flyers game was the stupid hockey game I've ever watched in my entire life. Anyone who thinks an 8-7 game is entertaining is an idiot. That was just awful, awful hockey, made even more awful by the fact the Flyers lost.

It was a sloppy game with absolutely no defense. Chris Pronger was terrible, pretty much just standing around all night. And the Flyers' power play was an embarrassment, and that's in a game with 15 goals scored. I hated that game and I hate all of you. Dance time.

Clearly, Chris Bosh got pissed about this and went off for 35 points on Wednesday.

That's one catchy song right there.

And in honor of Chad Pennington's career finally coming to an end, enjoy his awkward whiteness while listening to Eminem.

Sixers-Bucks tonight. I'll be there. Eagles-Giants on Sunday night. I'll be there too. And a bunch of stuff in between. Enjoy the weekend.

Work sucks.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thank God for College Basketball

The Sixers just lost back-to-back games to the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors. They are dreadfully bad. Yes, they were without Andre Iguodala in both games, and yes, the Cavs are playing better than expected, but still. The Cavaliers are not a good team. The Raptors are a terrible team. That makes the Sixers the worst team in the East right now, and potentially the worst team in the entire NBA.

In fact, the Sixers are currently the worst team in the Eastern Conference. They have the fewest wins, 2, and most losses, 10, sitting dead last at 15th in the Eastern Conference after losing by eight to Toronto in the battle for last place. It was just the third win of the season for the Raptors.

Currently, the Sixers are mired in a five-game losing streak, this after losing their first four games to start the season. They're bad. Really bad. Clippers bad. Elton Brand must feel right at home.

The Clippers are the only team, at 1-11, with a worse record than the Sixers, but I'd argue that Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon give Clippers fans much more hope than this depressing Sixers roster, especially if they once and for all cut ties with Andre Iguodala and mercifully ship him off to a better situation. I hope they do, and I hope they put themselves in position to get a guy like Jared Sullinger, the freshman at Ohio State who has dominated in the first two games for the Buckeyes with two double-doubles in two victories. Against N.C. A&T, whoever the hell that is, in his college debut, Sullinger was the best player on the court, scoring 19 points, hauling in 14 rebounds (6 on the offensive end), and shooting 6-10 from the floor and 7-8 from the line.

Then he went out the very next game and proved it was no fluke, pouring in 26 points on an absurd 13-17 from the floor to go along with 10 rebounds (5 offensive), two assists and two steals against No. 9 Florida in a 93-75 route. Yes, I want that man in a Sixers uniform in 2011.

As difficult as it may be watching the Sixers this year, at least we have plenty to be excited about in college basketball in this city. Temple is the favorite to win the A-10 yet again with Lavoy Allen a favorite for A-10 Player of the Year, and they won their opener against the big bad Big East's Seton Hall 62-56, and easily rolled Toledo 82-49 on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Villanova sits at 3-0 on the year beating cupcakes Bucknell, Marist and Boston University, and the standout has been sophomre Maalik Wayns. Wayns had 15, 6 and 4 in the opener; 17 points, 7 rebounds, four assists, one steal and just one turnover while shooting 6-11 from the field and 2-5 from three against Marist; and registered a very balanced double-double last night against Boston, scoring 12 points, dishing out 12 assists and adding six rebounds and a block while only turning the ball over once.

The switch from #5 to #2 has been serving him quite well so far, as have the increased minutes. I'm incredibly excited to see what Wayns can do this year as the starter alongside Corey Fisher.

La Salle sophomore Aaric Murray is off to an awesome start as well for the 1-1 Explorers, making Playboy's preseason All-American prediction for the Glen Mills product less eye-raising than some may have thought.

Murray was a force in the opener, scoring 19 points on 9-11 shooting, grabbing 8 rebounds and swatting away 4 shots in La Salle's 82-71 win over Columbia. He followed that up with an equally impressive performance, albeit it a 10-point loss, against No. 17 Baylor. Murray had 17 points, 9 rebounds, 5 steals and a block.

The future is certainly bright for Murray, a 6-10, 250 lb. power forward who defends, scores and rebounds. NBA potential for sure.

Drexel and Penn also have one win apiece, with Drexel sitting at 1-0 and Penn at 1-1. The two face each other on Saturday at the Palestra.

St. Joe's, on the other hand, sucks complete and utter donkey balls. The Hawks lost to Western Kentucky by 28 — at home — in the season opener, then lost by 9 to my alma mater, the terribly coached Penn State Nittany Lions. Embarrassing.

Where are Jameer and Delonte and Marvin O'Connor when you need them?

It would be nice if they were on the Sixers becuase they stink.

At least I get to go watch Brandon Jennings tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Cy Halladay

As you all surely know by now, Harry Leroy Halladay won the 2010 NL Cy Young award in unanimous fashion, and rightfully so.

Halladay led the majors in wins (21), complete games (9), shutouts (4) and innings pitched (250.2). He was second in the National League in strikeouts (219) while walking just 30 batters — a 7.31 strikeout-to-walk ratio — and second in the league in WHIP (1.04), trailing only his late-season teammate Roy Oswalt (Cliff Lee, by the way, led the majors with a 1.00 WHIP). He was third in the NL in ERA.

He threw a perfect game against the Marlins in the regular season, and a no-hitter in his long-awaited, long overdue playoff debut. He got to 20 wins and was on the mound for the division-clincher, pitching brilliantly in the process.

Roy Halladay did just about everything you can ask a pitcher to do, even staving off elimination on one leg to keep the Phillies alive one more day.

It was incredibly painful to see Cliff Lee shipped out of town — I mean, all we wanted was our two fronline aces, a crazy notion I envisioned the second the Phillies traded for Lee — but watching Roy Halladay go out and put forth perhaps the greatest season a Philadelphia Phillies starter has ever had was amazing.

Only one other Phillie had ever won the Cy Young in my lifetime: Steve Bedrosian in 1987. I was 3 years old, so I don't exactly remember it. Now 26 and watching damn near every pitch Halladay has thrown as a Phillie, I can honestly say it was the most remarkable pitching performance I've ever seen. It was so much damn fun, and with Halladay around for another three years minimum, it's only gonna get funner.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Going Deep

59-28. 5-1. Two-game winning streak. Three-game winning streak. Right now the Eagles and Flyers are rolling.

What can you say about the games last night? The Eagles completely and utterly dominated from the opening kickoff to the final whistle, blitzing the Redskins for 28 points in the first freaking quarter and doing any damn thing they wanted on offense. And it started on the very first play from scrimmage.

The game was a complete mockery. The Eagles gained 592 yards of offense, controlled the ball for 38 minutes and 11 seconds, and didn't turn the ball over once while intercepting Donovan McNabb three times. Michael Vick played perhaps the best game of his entire career, accounting for six touchdowns — four throwing and two rushing — while completing 20-28 passes for 333 yards and rushing 8 times for 80 yards. I don't care that he missed a couple games due to injury and wasn't the starter on opening day. Michael Vick is your 2010 NFL MVP right now. No question about it.

In all, Vick hit seven different receivers, with all four TD passes connecting with a different guy. DeSean Jackson gained 98 yards on his two catches including the 88-yard touchdown. Jeremy Maclin had 79 yards and a touchdown, Jason Avant 76 yards and a score. LeSean added 51 yards and a touch receiving to go along with 43 yards on the ground. Jerome Harrison had a breakout game, gaining 109 yards on 11 carriers and scoring a touchdown. Everything the Eagles did seemed to work, and there wasn't a damn thing Washington could do about it.

On the other side of the ball, the Eagles dominated in the first quarter, forcing three and outs and a turnover, then played more than well enough to win. Dimitri Patterson broke out with two picks, one returned for a touchdown, and showed he is more than capable of being a starting cornerback in this league when you take into account his strong game against Indianapolis.

It was pure domination, and it begs the question … Are the Eagles the best team in the NFC? With the Giants laying an egg against the Cowboys at home and the Eagles responding by thrashing the Skins, it sure looks like it. No one really believes in the Bears, do they? The NFC West is a joke. And the only team in the NFC with a better record than the Eagles is the 7-2 Atlanta Falcons, and the Eagles already beat them.

The Saints and Packers still are right there, and the Giants can't be taken lightly, but the Eagles sure look like the class of the NFC yet again. That's in large part to Michael Vick and the fastest offense on the planet. I mean, who can match Philadelphia's speed on offense? Think about it: Michael Vick is the fastest quarterback alive and arguably as fast as any player in the league. DeSean beat Chris Johnson in Shaq Vs. Maclin is burner. LeSean is a burner. Jerome Harrison even has good speed. This team is scary good right now, and they showed what they're capable of when everything is going right last night. I think it's safe to say no one saw this coming.

The Flyers, on the other hand, are a different story. Adding incredible depth to the defense and keeping the core together, this team was expected to be in contention from the start following up last year's incredible run to the Stanley Cup Final. The only question mark they had was in net, and well, that's been answered pretty emphatically with the play of Sergei Bobrovsky.

Unlike the Eagles, there have been no surprises in the Flyers' play beyond the 22-year-old goalie really stepping up. Everyone expected the Flyers to be one of the best teams in the league, and they are. Currently, they lead the Atlantic Division by 5 points and with their 26 points trail only the Capitals' 27 points in the entire NHL. They've earned at least one point in their last 10 games, going 9-0-1, and recently, they've been absolutely annihilating teams that came in red-hot — a 4-1 over the Rangers, 8-1 pounding of Carolina, 5-2 joke of a game against Florida and then last night's 5-1 domination of Ottawa.

In last night's game, the Flyers scored their first two goals on what can only be described as picture-perfect hockey. Both goals came courtesy of offensive-zone faceoff wins, a quick pass, and a deflection off the point-man blast. The first was by Danny Briere after Ville Leino won a draw to Sean O'Donnell, who passed it point to point to Andrej Meszaros, who fired before Briere redirected the puck in the net. The second came with Giroux winning a draw right back to Kimmo Timonen in sort of a high slot position. Kimmo fired, Darroll Powe drove the net and deflected Kimmo's shot right past Brian Elliott and in.

From there, the Flyers added three more goals, all of which the captain had a hand in and Giroux was on the ice for: a power play goal by Claude Giroux courtesy of a flubbed pass by Richards, a shorthanded breakaway goal by Mike Richards and then an even-strength goal by the captain, his second, assisted by Braydon Cobrun and Claude.

I don't know if the Flyers are the best team in hockey right now, but I do know they are the deepest. By far. They go six deep on defense, and all six are top-pairing level players — Timonen-Coburn, Pronger-Carle and O'Donnell-Meszaros. Plus they have Oskars Bartulis if needed, and Matt Walker soon to return, giving them 6 really good defense and 8 quality defensemen. Then you add the depth up front with four legit lines, not to mention the trio of James van Riemsdyk, Andreas Nodl and Kyle Wellwood all talented players who can fill in when necessary. Mike Richards can does play with anyone — right now mostly with Nikolay Zherdev and Andreas Nodl, though JVR took Nodl's place last night and hit a post while playing pretty well. Giroux is another guy who has moved all over the place, recently settling in with Jeff Carter and Powe. Briere-Leino-Hartnell have been lethal, not missing one beat from last postseason. And Betts-Carcillo-Shelley have all been working hard and playing smart. That's depth no one can match. And it's why this team is rolling.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Boom Goes the Dynamite

The dynamite went boom on a couple occasions this weekend. Like Andre Iguodala blowing up Brian Cardinal on Friday night.

Of course, the Sixers still lost to the Mavericks and then followed that up with another loss in Texas, dropping to the Spurs on Saturday.

Since I decided to stay in and watch nothing but basketball on Friday to save some pesos, I then turned my attention to the Thunder-Blazers game, and I'm glad I did. With Portland leading late, Durant went the hell off to lead Oklahoma City to the come-from-behind win.

Boom goes the dynamite indeed.

Boom went the dynamite in a couple of senses Saturday afternoon in Columbus as well. Boom, as in the Nittany Lions inexplicable dominating the first half on both sides of the ball and building a 14-3 halftime lead that should have been 17-3. It was stunning.

After Ohio State got a big play on a 49-yard completion from Terrelle Pryor to DeVier Posey to set up a field goal, Penn State took over thanks in large part to the spark plug former walk-on quarterback Matt McGloin and a motivated offensive line.

Under Joe Paterno, Penn State had never thrown a touchdown pass in the Horseshoe, never scored more than 13 points and has only won once. Yet in the span of 17 minutes, Matt McGloin had reversed two of those three trends and looked be on his way to bucking all of them. After a quick three-and-out on the first possession, McGloin engineered back-to-back touchdown drives of 75 and 82 yards, both of which were capped off by touchdown passes by the sophomore. The first was a just-in-the-nick-of-time release to Justin Brown, who embarrassed a linebacker on a wheel route.

Brown was featured well on the drive, catching three straight passes — an 11-yarder, 12-yarder and the touchdown — proving he has the playmaking ability to be a stud. He led all receivers with five catches for 64 yards. Of course, he saw the ball very little in the second half. Please, for the love of god just Free Justin Brown.

The second touchdown was to Derek Moye, who again had a great first half and like the rest of the team disappeared in the second half. McGloin was fired up and playing nearly flawless football, blowing up on the national scene. Penn State was being aggressive, converting on two fourth downs and stunningly had the lead.

Up 14-3 with less than two minutes left and facing a 4th and one at the Ohio State 20, Penn State had a chance to go up two touchdowns with a field goal. But sticking with the aggressiveness they showed the entire half, they elected to go for it. At the time, I didn't agree with it — kick it and go up 14 — but I have to applaud the coaches for trusting the guys and going for the jugular. Penn State was a huge underdog, playing in the Horseshoe, and if they convert there and get another touchdown to go up 21-3 before the half, it would have been huge. Sadly, they didn't pick it up, as Silas Redd was stuffed for no gain, and that proved to be a bad omen for the rest of the game.

Penn State played about as good as it possibly could in that first half. Sustaining it was going to be tough, and you knew Ohio State was going to come out of the gate roaring in the second half. When Penn State's opening drive stalled, that's exactly what happened. Ohio State marched 96 yards in 12 plays to make it 14-10. And it was all because of another Boom, this time Boom Herron.

On a crucial third and 6 at their own 8, Pryor hit Herron in the flat. Bani Gbadyu was in position to make the tackle and prevent the first down, but Herron made him look foolish, juked him and got the first. That's nothing new, Gbadyu failing to make a play. In fact, he really hasn't made a single play in four years. Then Herron went on to score the touchdown that made it a four-point game, and he did nothing but dominate from there. When it was all said and done, Herron finished with 190 yards rushing on 21 carries, gashing the Lions to help lead to 35 unanswered points from the Buckeyes.

But the game didn't completely turn on that 96-yard drive. No, it turned four plays later, when Matt McGloin made an absolutely horrific decision, trying to hit Michael Zordich out of the backfield but instead hitting Devon Torrence right in the hands for a pick-six, 17-14 Ohio State. The game was over right there, as McGloin completely blew up. After a brilliant first half for McGloin and his team, that play changed it all.

From there, McGloin looked every bit like the former walk-on he is, throwing another pick-six and completely failing to do anything in the second half. He made terrible decisions, terrible throws and got absolutely no help from his teammates or coaches. Ohio State played about as well as they could in the second half, just as Penn State had played its best in the first. The difference is Penn State's best this year was only good enough for a 14-3 lead, while Ohio State's best was able to win the second half 35-0.

Penn State had to play perfect to beat the Buckeyes. For 30 minutes, they did. Then boom went the dynamite, as McGloin blew up and Boom Herron led the charge for Ohio State to dominate and win going away.

Finally, boom went the Flyers with yet another victory, this time a 5-2 win over the Panthers that included two goals apiece by Mike Richards and Claude Giroux to help celebrate Jeff Carter and his 11-year contract extension with the Flyers.

While it was Carter making headlines before the game with his contract, it was a pair of other centers stealing the show. Giroux has been nothing short of amazing all year, and he continued that with a pair of goals Saturday night, one of which came on a breakaway.

The moment he blocked the shot, I said, "That's a goal," and never even questioned the statement. I honestly can't remember ever seeing Giroux miss on a breakaway, and he certainly didn't there. The guy is simply unreal.

And he wasn't alone. Because with Giroux enamoring the fan base and Carter inking his long deal, it was the captain who continued to lead the way.

Matt P. said it better than I ever could when it comes to Richards. The start of his tenure as captain may have been rocky, but I don't think there's any question now that he's the right man to wear the C. He's unselfish, willing to sacrifice his body and more than willing to share the spotlight with the Girouxs, Carter, Brieres and Bobrovskys on this team. A year ago, his leadership was in question all the way up until that exhilarating playoff run. Now, he's the unquestioned leader of a club that currently sits three points out of the top spot in the entire NHL.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Underclassmen

I watch a ton of college basketball, but there are three teams I follow more closely than any — Temple, North Carolina and Villanova. All three tip off their 2010-11 seasons tonight.

We all know the No. 6 Wildcats will be led by Corey Fisher and fellow seniors Corey Stokes and Antonio Pena. The No. 8/9 Tar Heels will look to juniors like Larry Drew II and Tyler Zeller to step up and lead a very young team. And the No. 22 Owls consist of several upper classmen. Senior Lavoy Allen, a favorite to win A-10 Player of the Year, and junior Juan Fernandez are the unquestioned leaders for Temple, and juniors Eric Michael, Ramone Moore and Scootie Randall figure to be key contributors.

Those are the commodities we know. They're the players these teams will look toward to be the leaders. But who are the underclassmen to watch? Some of them you are already familiar with, and others you probably will be before long.


Maalik Wayns, sophomore

A Philadelphia native and Roman Catholic grad, Maalik Wayns was a McDonald's All-American, a two-time MVP in the Philadelphia Catholic League, a first-team All-City and All-State representative, and a known commodity in Philadelphia for years. As a freshman at Villanova he averaged 6.8 points and 1.3 assists in 15 minutes a game and was named to the Big East All-Rookie Team. With Scottie Reynolds gone, expect major jumps in those averages in this sophomore year for Wayns, particularly in the assists department.

Don't get it twisted: Despite often looking like a shoot-first player in limited time last season, Wayns is a distributor. That was his rep in high school, and I fully expect that as the starting point guard alongside Corey Fisher, Wayns will be more comfortable in the flow of the game and will definitely get everyone on this talented, diverse Villanova squad involved.

Dominic Cheek, sophomore

Like Wayns, Cheek was part of Nova's highly touted recruiting class last season. Also a McDonald's All-American, Cheek hails from St. Anthony's in Jersey, where he played for the legendary Bob Hurley. He was a first-team all-state selection and won the MVP of the Elite 24 game. A 6'6" guard/forward, he has the reputation as a great shooter and scorer.

Last year he averaged 4.9 points and 2.5 rebounds while connecting on 45.3 percent of his shots in 13.5 minutes a night, but at times he seemed to struggle to find his stroke. Expect him to increase his efficiency from long range and help to pick up some of the scoring Reynolds took with him overseas. Don't be surprised if Cheek challenges Fisher for the team lead in points per game, or at least come somewhat close.

Mouphtaou Yarou, sophomore

The native of Benin in West Africa, Yarou was the third piece to Villanova's heralded 2009 class. Wayns was the guard, Cheek the small forward and Yarou the big man. Yarou was supposed to help the notoriously small Wildcats get a true inside presence, but he missed the first half of the season with Hepatits B. Very unusual and cause for concern, but once he finally made it on the court, you could see why just about everyone in the nation was vying for his services.

He had modest averages of 4.5 points and 3.7 rebounds as a freshman, but that doesn't tell the whole story. After missing seven weeks, he came back and was slowly integrated into the team. By the time the end of the season rolled around, he was the force everyone expected him to be. In the first round victory over Robert Morris in the NCAA Tournament, Yarou had 17 points and controlled the paint. This year, he will team with Antonio Pena inside to give Nova its biggest, most fearsome frontcourt in quite some time.

JayVaughn Pinkston, freshman

Don't worry Nova fans, JayVaughn is not related to Todd Pinkston, and thank goodness for that. Though there is something to worry about: JayVaughn faces assault charges stemming from an incident at a party in Upper Merion, and he won't play until he's cleared by an internal review. That's the bad news, and it certainly is troubling.

But the good news is that when (or if) Pinkston does step onto the floor, Villanova is getting a hell of a player. Coming out of Brooklyn's Bishop Loughlin — Curtis Sumpter's alma mater, by the way — Pinkston was named New York's Player of the Year, a McDonald's All-American and Parade Magazine second team All-American. In his senior year, the 6'7, 260-pounder averaged 25 points, 13 rebounds, five assists and two blocks, showcasing his all-around game. Hopefully he can get past this incident and contribute this year.

Sophomores Isaiah Armwood and Maurice Sutton also earned valuable playing time last year. Freshman James Bell rounds out Nova's underclassmen.

North Carolina

John Henson, sophomore

Incredibly talented but ridiculously slender, Henson came in about as highly touted as you can come but struggled early on for the Tar Heels. In high school, his height allowed him to dominate. He was first-team all-state in Florida and the Tampa Bay Coaches Association Player of the Year as a senior, a McDonald's All-American and a first-team All-American, averaging 17.6 points, 12.2 rebounds and 6.1 blocks a game. He was expected to jump right in and contribute for UNC.

Instead, he floundered out of the gate and finished with pedestrian averages of 5.7 points and 4.4 rebounds in about 16 minutes a game. Even more troublesome, he shot just 22 percent from three and 43.8 percent from the line, though did manage to connect on 48.6 percent of his shots overall from the field. The problem was he was simply not strong enough for the college game. But he did show flashes, blocking the fourth most shots in the ACC last year (60), averaging 1.6 blocks a game. And when Ed Davis went down, Henson stepped it up, playing his best basketball at the end of the season. Hopefully he's gotten stronger and has eaten a lot of hamburgers to pack on the pounds so he can begin to dominate college basketball the way he did in high school.

Harrison Barnes, freshman

If you don't know the name Harrison Barnes by now, even though he hasn't played a single game in college yet, well, you don't know much about basketball. He's widely considered the best, or close to it, of the 2010 recruiting class. He was named the Sporting News 2010 National High School Athlete of the Year, USA Today National Player of the Year, and in 2009 was the Morgan Wooten Award National Player of the Year. He won back-to-back state championships at Ames High School in Iowa, going undefeated both seasons. And he was the MVP of the McDonald's All-American game, among many, many more accolades. He's so good that Dime said he could start in the NBA right now, and DraftExpress projects him as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft.

He's getting the John Wall, Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, Kevin Durant treatment. On an extremely young UNC team, expect the 6'8, 210-pound forward to be the best player on the Tar Heels and quite possibly the best player in the ACC. The Tar Heels are inexperienced, but they won't struggle all that much this year because of Harrison Barnes.

Reggie Bullock, freshman

It's scary thinking that Reggie Bullock and Harrison Barnes will be teaming up side by side. Bullock is a 6'7 freshman who comes with a bevy of accolades as well: First-team Parade All-American, AP North Carolina Player of the Year, Gatorade NC Player of the Year, three-time all-state selection, McDonald's All-American, two-time state champion.

Just about any other year, Bullock would be the shining star of his recruiting class no matter what school he chose. While he doesn't have the hype of Harrison Barnes, he has the credentials. He'll see the floor plenty as a freshman and may combine with Barnes to form the most formidable freshman duo in the nation.

The Tar Heels also have McDonald's All-American Kendall Marshall coming in, a 6'3 guard who should help out should Larry Drew struggle, not to mention sophomores Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald returning after getting good playing time last year.


Rahlir Jefferson, sophomore

Coming out of Pennsylvania powerhouse Chester High School, Jefferson was a First-Team All-State selection as a senior, averaging 17.6 points and 10 boards per contest while leading Chester to the state title. A physical 6'6" presence, Jefferson averaged a modest 3.8 points and 2.6 rebounds per game in 16.5 minutes as a freshman at Temple.

With a year of experience under his belt, his minutes and contributions should increase. Though he'll still be limited with Lavoy Allen, Michael Eric and Ramone Moore all ahead of him on the depth chart. Still, Jefferson will be a contributor for Temple this year as the Owls embark on a quest for their third straight A-10 title.

Khalif Wyatt, sophomore

As a senior at Norristown, Khalif averaged 20 points a game for a team that made it all the way to the state finals … where his Eagles lost to Rahlir Jefferson's Chester squad. Wyatt was an effortless scorer in high school who seemed to sort of coast through games, then all the sudden just turn it on. Perhaps that's why he didn't get much run as a freshman.

Wyatt played in just 10 games last season, with limited minutes at that. It remains to be seen if he can consistently contribute on this level as a sophomore, but he'll definitely be afforded the chance to earn playing time. Much like Jefferson, his time to break out may not be this year, but Wyatt will get a chance somewhere along the way to earn some run. I expect him to be a viable bench scorer, but get nowhere near the minutes of Jefferson.

Aaron Brown, freshman

Admittedly, I know very little about Aaron Brown. I've never seen him play, and he hasn't really been on my radar. That is until I watched a preview about Temple last night and heard the coaches praising him.

Turns out Brown is a 6'5, 210-pound freshman from St. Benedict's in Jersey. As a senior, he averaged 17.6 points, 4 boards, 4.5 assists and 3 steals, earning N.J. All-Prep First Team honors. He evidently can shoot it a little bit and is a tough, hard-nosed player that fits the Temple mold, the type of guard John Chaney loved to recruit. He's still a mystery to me, but we'll see what he can do as a freshman on this Temple team.

Temple has a nice mix of upper classmen and underclassmen. Other youngsters include sophomore T.J. DiLeo and freshmen Anthony Lee and Jimmy McDonnell.