Friday, December 30, 2011

It's Friday, Time to Dance

In honor of this, enjoy this.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Proof that Steve Ott Has Very Little Brains

It's one thing for Dallas Stars center Steve Ott to get into it with Flyers coach Peter Laviolette, especially given that Laviolette did walk right through the home team's exit toward the locker room. It's another thing entirely to attempt to trash talk the league's leader in points and indisputably the best player in the NHL this year by bragging about your faceoff prowess.

Even being a guy who is big on the importance of faceoffs, I can't say it's ever a good idea for anyone to challenge Giroux. The guy is just too competitive and too damn good to try and get into his head, proven by the fact that Claude won a draw cleanly off Ott, which led to a Flyers goal.

Steve Ott is a moron.

As for the rest of 24/7, the highlight was obviously Laviolette opening the episode up on a tirade, and I really enjoyed the exchanges in New York where Brad Richards told Tom Sestito he's here for a cup of coffee and this is fantasy camp for him as Sestito was telling the entire Rangers bench that he would beat the shit out of all of them. It was also pretty interesting to see Mike Rupp decline a fight with Jody Shelley, telling him he's irrelevant to the outcome of the game. Good stuff.

Also, go fuck yourself.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Good Thing Jim Lynam Doesn't Coach Anymore

During the tail end of the Sixers pregame show last night, Philadelphia native and former Sixers coach (among other teams) Jim Lynam went into a nonsensical diatribe comparing the late-game abilities of Andre Iguodala and Kobe Bryant.

In so many words, Lynam said the fact that Andre Iguodala is willing to trust in and pass to his teammates is an admirable trait when compared to "Kobe trying to shoot over three defenders" instead of deferring to an open teammate. He actually said this. I'm not making that up. Essentially, Jim Lynam sounded as though he'd trust the ball in Iguodala's hands over Kobe's at the end of the game — or at least that Iguodala is a better decision-maker in that instance than Kobe is. That's what I took away from it anyway, and I immediately thought that it's a damn good thing Jim Lynam isn't coaching anymore because that is an absolutely ludicrous thing to say.

Kobe, while his late-game expertise may be overstated according to advanced statistics, has hit many game-winning shots in his career and has five NBA championship rings to validate his clutch play. Andre Iguodala is notorious for not only taking and missing last-second and late-game shots, but taking horrible shots at that. To be fair, it's not as if Iguodala has never come through with a game-winning shot. He has, most notably in the playoffs against the Orlando Magic. But those moments have been few and far between, and to be perfectly honest, he is quite possibly the last "franchise" player in the league I'd want with the ball in his hands with the game on the line. He just doesn't have a good track record in that area.

And wouldn't you know it, last night as the Sixers made a furious fourth-quarter comeback against the Blazers, there was Andre Iguodala with his team down three, predictably launching a shot that failed to go in.

It was almost as if the universe was out to set Jim Lynam straight for saying something so patently absurd. When Kobe has the ball at the end of the game, I expect him to come through. When Andre is in that same situation, I expect him to fail. Anyone with eyes would believe the same thing. Perhaps Jim Lynam has gone blind and none of us have been informed. That's the only logical explanation.

The thing I don't understand about the whole situation is why Doug Collins continues to put the ball in Iguodala's hands there. I know he is the team's best all-around player, able to do many different things. But last season, Elton Brand was the most efficient player on the team, and Lou Williams has been for years the team's most reliable scorer come crunch time. Hell, Sweet Lou was the man who hit the thrilling game-winner against the Heat in the playoffs on Easter Sunday.

He's the guy I want with the ball in his hands when the game's on the line, not Andre Iguodala. I've seen Lou Williams succeed where Iguodala has consistently failed. And Lou especially should have been entrusted with that responsibility last night, when he was the leading scorer and had just nailed a couple of huge threes to bring the Sixers back. He had the hot hand, he's hit big buckets before and he instills infinitely more confidence that he can come through than Iguodala does.

Yet there was Andre, clanking the potential game-tying shot just as everyone not named Jim Lynam expected. That's what makes Andre Iguodala so frustrating. The man can do a little bit of everything, but he just can't carry the load. Time to let someone else try.

Friday, December 23, 2011

It's Friday, Time to Dance

I can't believe I haven't given LeSean McCoy a spot here yet this season given that he's awesome and pretty much the only player on the team I've genuinely enjoyed watching all year long, so here's Shady with a couple dances against the two teams ahead of the Eagles in the NFC East standings right now.

And here's a highlight reel that I'm sure has a couple Shady dances in it as well just for the hell of it.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Polar Opposites: Claude Giroux and Zac Rinaldo

When Claude Giroux was diagnosed with a concussion a week and a half ago, I thought for certain he'd be held out until at least the new year given all the precautions teams take, especially with their stars and especially with Sidney Crosby's frightening situation. So when rumors started circulating that Claude could return as early as last night in Dallas, I was a bit surprised and a little worried. Personally, I'd prefer to err on the side of caution with the team's — and perhaps the league's — best player.

Then again, if the guy is truly healthy and his concussion was relatively minor, you can't fault the player or the team for wanting to get such a dynamic player back on the ice. So there Claude was, back and ready to roll. It didn't take long for Giroux to show he was suffering no ill effects last night.

Giroux came out and did a little bit of everything, just as he always does. He was quick on his skates, aggressive and anything but gun-shy about throwing his body around. Oh, and he calmly scored a goal and tallied an assist in his first period back, all the while doing tremendous work on the backcheck, winning faceoffs and doing absolutely everything we've grown accustomed to Claude Giroux doing.

Before it was all said and done, it was just another day at the office for Claude, accounting for all four Flyers' goals in the chippy 4-1 win, tallying a goal and three assists and continuing to stretch his points lead. It was as if he never missed these past four games, as if he never suffered a concussion at all.

I'm not even sure I can begin to tell you how much of an honor it is to watch Giroux play the game on a nightly basis. He is just so good at everything that it boggles the mind. Whether it's getting to the right spot to score a goal, setting up the power play, perfecting a give-and-go with Jaromir Jagr or blindly throwing a perfect pass to an unmarked Andrej Meszaros for a breakaway goal, his offensive ability is unrivaled right now. But his game is so much more than that, and Eddie Olczyk did a great job breaking that down.

Olczyk, who I think does an absolutely fantastic job for the soon-to-be NBC Sports Network, broke down numerous plays by Giroux. Of course the goal and his remarkable passes were highlighted, but Olczyk, a former coach and in fact former teammate of current Flyer Jaromir Jagr in Pittsburgh, made it a point to show all the other things Giroux does. He raved about a back-checking play he made, busting his ass to get back after a turnover at the offensive blueline to negate a 2-on-1 the other way, almost astounded and most certainly in admiration, proclaiming, "This is the NHL's leading scorer working his tail off to get back. Kids watching at home should pay attention to Claude Giroux." Or something to that effect.

The guy just brings so much to the table. His puck retrieval is relentless. His passing acumen is second to none. He physicality surprises opponents and often rocks them. His speed is at times overlooked but certainly there. His stickhandling is second to none. And his defense rivals any Selke Trophy winner of recent memory. He draws penalties. He kills penalties. He dominates on the power play and controls a game at even strength.

Honestly, the only chink in Giroux's armor is that he's not an elite man in the face-off circle. Other than that, he has absolutely no flaws. Very few players can claim that. That's why watching him, particularly this season, has been so incredibly fun. He just offers so much on the ice.

Conversely, there is Zac Rinaldo. As much joy as I get watching Giroux, that's how much frustration I endure watching Zac Rinaldo.

He is, essentially, the polar opposite of Claude Giroux. Watch any Flyers game and you'll inevitably hear one of the announcers or the guys doing the intermission report talk about one strong shift by Rinaldo, almost overdoing it. He seems to get praised for the one or two good shifts he has time and again, while no one ever even mentions that he can't actually play hockey and does way more harm than good. Even many Flyers fans seem to have taken a liking to him, despite the fact that Zac Rinaldo is terrible at hockey.

Now, I will concede that Rinaldo is fast and physical. He never shies away from contact, and his body checks legitimately look like they hurt. That's the good — the only good. Because other than that, the only thing Zac Rinaldo does is take penalties, often stupidly. Don't believe me? Then just take a look at the stats: Zac Rinaldo leads the entire NHL in penalty minutes, contributing to the Flyers leading the league in minor penalties and penalty minutes.

Contrary to what some believe, this is a bad thing. A very bad thing. Zac Rinaldo puts his team in bad situations on pretty much a nightly basis. Very few games go by where he doesn't put his team down a man, and even on the occasions where he takes someone off the ice with him, he rarely wins a fight.

So yeah, he throws his weight around and always hustles, which I do applaud him for, but he counteracts that tenfold with his stupid penalties and complete lack of offensive skill. On one of the best teams in the league, he's a minus-4 all while leading everyone on skates in penalty minutes. He really offers the team nothing, yet he's managed to suit up in 29 games now.

I don't understand Peter Laviolette's infatuation with Zac Rinaldo. I really don't. He seems like the guy Laviolette wants to be this year's version of Darroll Powe — a fast skater who forechecks hard and plays good defense — only Rinaldo doesn't play good defense, can't kill penalties and takes a ton of stupid penalties himself. Basically, he provides none of the good that Powe did. Essentially, he's the anti-Claude Giroux, a one-trick pony whose one trick isn't even that good.

Thankfully, Giroux has returned and he sees the ice exponentially more than Rinaldo. And I can stomach a little bit of Zac to see a whole hell of a lot of Claude — though I'd still rather see Rinaldo back in Adirondack as opposed to South Philadelphia.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Beatdown, a Meltdown, a City Showdown and a Touchdown (Record)

This was one hell of an eventful weekend here in Philadelphia. Saturday was jam-packed with action, as the Flyers hosted the Bruins, Temple took on Wyoming in the New Mexico Bowl in football while the basketball team headed to Austin to take on Texas, and Villanova traveled down Lancaster Avenue to St. Joe's for this year's rendition of the Holy War.

Then, the Eagles took on the Jets yesterday to try and keep their playoff hopes alive, and in between, Jimmy Rollins re-signed with the Phillies and Matt McGloin got punched out by teammate Curtis Drake and suffered a seizure.

After a relatively sports-free Friday night, I awoke on Saturday to a text message from my buddy at 10 a.m. that simply read, "Flyers/Bruins at 1. You in?" That might as well have been a rhetorical question, because of course I was in.

As I was waiting for my friend to get out of work and pick me up, I nabbed a couple hoagies from Slack's and got ready for a busy day of sports. Running a bit behind, we got to our seats just as the puck was being dropped … and literally as I plopped my ass into my seat, the Bruins scored the first of many goals in a 6-0 route.

Nothing was going right for the Flyers at all. They couldn't make a simple pass, couldn't defend whatsoever, couldn't really do anything. The only guy on the ice that looked remotely alive was Max Talbot.

Ilya Bryzgalov got hung out to dry on most of the four first-period goals he let in, though he also let in a huge softy by Zdeno Chara.

Chara, by the way, was an absolute force on the ice in his first game back in about a week. While the Flyers were missing their big defenseman, Chara showed up and dominated. He had a goal and an assist, both power play points, completely shut down any and all Flyers' chances, and also rabbit-punched Jody Shelley to death in a fight.

Now, even though Shelley clearly was bested by the enormous Chara, I'll take that trade 100 times out of 100. It's way more detrimental to the Bruins to lose Chara for five minutes than it is for the Flyers to lose Shelley for five minutes. Although that really wasn't the case here, as the Bruins scored almost immediately following that and forced the Flyers into perhaps the worst period of hockey they've played all season.

To make matters even worse, Sean Couturier took a Kimmo Timonen slap shot right off the head, dropped to the ice and laid motionless for a while. It was a frightening scene that added to the already worrisome head injuries sustained to Chris Pronger, Claude Giroux and Brayden Schenn.

Thankfully Couturier did get up and skate off under his own power, but he clearly didn't look right. He was taken to the hospital and stayed overnight, and he's currently listed as day to day. Hopefully he's OK. As I've said before, Couturier has become one of my favorite players on the team. In fact, I was just telling my friend on the way down to the arena that Couturier sort of reminds me of a young Rod Brind'Amour, minus the face-off dominance. He's incredibly responsible defensively, a tremendous penalty-killer, and while he doesn't have incredible speed or awe-inspiring puck-handling skills, you can see he has the scoring touch to development into a pretty decent goal scorer. Plus, he's only 19, so he's only going to get better.

Beyond wishing him a quick recovery, his injury also brings more concern over the PK. Without Giroux and Couturier, the Flyers are without two of their top four PK forwards — not exactly good for the team that leads the NHL in minor penalties.

We knew it was only a matter of time before the injuries would harm the Flyers at least for one game. Saturday, that was the case, and that first period was about as disastrous as it gets. With a few minutes left in the 2nd, as it became clear the Flyers really had nothing to generate a comeback and fell behind 5-0, we departed so we could watch the Temple action.

I checked in on Temple's bowl game and saw the Owls were trouncing Wyoming behind a big game by Bernard Pierce. Thus, I focused my attention on the basketball team's game in Texas. Early on, things were going well with Temple leading virtually the entire first half against a young Texas team. But then they let the Longhorns go on a run and tie it before Khaliff Wyatt hit a tough three at the buzzer to put Temple up 3 at half.

Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there. The Owls couldn't buy a buck and Texas got out in transition rather easily to pull away. To make matters worse, Juan Fernandez limped off the court after getting tangled up. Ugly all around, though not as ugly as the what I was seeing on Twitter — that Penn State wide receiver Curtis Drake punched out his quarterback Matt McGloin in the locker room after practice and that McGloin suffered a seizure.

Not good. At all. The football program clearly could have done without this as the Nittany Lions prepare for their Jan. 2 bowl match-up with Houston given all the turmoil this season. Damn.

That was a pretty bad start to Saturday, but good news was sprinkled in. Beyond Temple winning its bowl game, news also circulated the Jimmy Rollins re-signed with the Phillies, keeping him in the only professional uniform he's ever worn for at least three more years.

Then, we were all given a tightly contested first half between Villanova and St. Joe's before the Hawks trounced Nova in the second half behind the shooting of Langston Galloway and Carl Jones, and especially the shot-blocking of C.J. Aiken.

Aiken, who had four blocks Saturday night, leads the nation in blocks, averaging an insane 4.7 blocks per game. This is fascinating to me. I had the opportunity to watch Aiken play a few times in high school for Plymouth Whitemarsh. He was clearly a very good player and used his size and length to block shots, but I never thought he'd turn into the premier shot-blocker in the nation in college. Yet that's exactly what he's become this year, absolutely owning the paint and altering shots.

On Saturday, you could see the Wildcats were hesitant to challenge Aiken inside. The sophomore, who set a St. Joe's freshman record for blocks last year, was in Nova's head all night long, and he was a big reason the Hawks blew away the Cats in the second half.

It's clear that St. Joe's is the real deal and will be among the A-10's best teams, on par with Temple and St. Louis behind Xavier. And this game showed that right now, Villanova is at best the third best team in the city.

Yesterday was a little less crazy, though plenty exciting. The Redskins went out and upset the Giants pretty easily, giving the Eagles' slim playoff hopes a boost. Then the Eagles went out and trounced the Jets at the Linc despite their best efforts to allow New York back in the game.

After going up 28-0 behind a defensive touchdown and an interception by Asante Samuel, the Eagles started their own turnover brigade to put the Jets back in it. But it didn't matter. LeSean McCoy continued his MVP-type season, scoring three touchdowns and gaining 102 yards to break the franchise record for single-season touchdowns and rushing touchdowns, passing Steven Van Buren for both.

McCoy has 20 touchdowns on the season, 17 on the ground, setting new franchise marks. The man is incredible.

Brent Celek also had a huge game, hauling in five catches for 156 yards and a score.

But even more impressive than the offense in this 45-19 win was again the defense. Suddenly, the Birds don't look as horrid on that side of the ball as they have for most of the year.

The Eagles held the Jets to just 241 yards of offense, forced four turnovers and got the off field on third down time and time again. Jason Babin had three sacks. The secondary looked really good. And Casey Matthews even had a nice game, flying all over the field and making plays. It was crazy, almost like these guys care about playing defense all the sudden.

Even more crazy, the Eagles really are alive for the playoffs despite this whirlwind of a season, though they still need help. First and foremost, the Birds have to win their remaining two games, next week at Dallas and home against the Skins on New Year's Day. Then the Jets have to beat the Giants next week, followed by the Giants beating the Cowboys in week 17. Still a lot that has to happen, and probably still unlikely, but certainly not impossible. Unreal.

Watch this be the dumb year where the Eagles back in and then win the whole damn thing. Wouldn't that piss off everyone after a steady chorus of "Fire Andy!"?

I can't even believe this team has even a remote chance at the postseason, yet here were are. Crazy.

Friday, December 16, 2011

It's Friday, Time to Dance

The Flyers won their 7th straight game last night and continue to sit atop the Eastern Conference despite the devastating news that team captain Chris Pronger is out for the season AND postseason due to the severity of his postconcussion symptoms, and despite the fact that Claude Giroux, easily the team's best player, is out indefinitely with a concussion. I fucking hate concussions.

But since the Flyers are still finding ways to win, even when surrendering three leads on the road against Montreal, there's still reason to dance to the team's official victory song, even though I personally think the song itself is terrible.

Winning, however, is not terrible.

Seriously though, fuck concussions.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Ilya Bryzgalov is the Most Interesting Man in Philadelphia

Or at least the most insane. And I have to admit, I feel way better about a goaltender who seems certifiably insane in a non-threatening way. Clearly, Bryz stole the show last night. Here is a great mash-up of Bryzgalov moments by Puck Daddy, and be sure to read Wyshynski's review of the first episode.

While Bryz was the star, my personal favorite moment was watching Sean Avery be the first one to enter the locker room and see Artem Anisimov after the young forward was giving a game misconduct for his over-the-top goal celebration and just laughing at him.

However, I still despise Sean Avery, and watching him model on his off day only reinforced that hatred.

My least favorite part was without a doubt watching Claude Giroux's dejection over his lingering concussion symptoms. Not because it was bad television — in fact, watching him go through concussion tests and the updates was fascinating — but because it's painful to see the Flyers' best player and a guy who has been my favorite player since he wore No. 56 struggle with such a scary injury.

But without question, episode 1 belonged to Ilya Bryzgalov, the most interesting man in Philadelphia right now. Or at least the most handsomely paid crazy person.

Welcome to the miserable market for goalies.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Sad Recent History of Flyers and Concussions

As I was writing my piece on concussions and the NHL, I couldn't help but think about all the horrible bad luck the Flyers have had with concussions in my lifetime.

This season alone, the Flyers have been hit hard by the concussion plague. First it was Brayden Schenn, the 20-year-old lynchpin in the Mike Richards trade, who has played just six games this season, but is slated to return soon.

Then, a few weeks ago, the team lost its captain, Chris Pronger, who suffered an eye injury that turned into a virus that turned into concussion-like symptoms.

And finally, on Saturday they suffered the biggest blow of all, losing Claude Giroux indefinitely to a concussion just as Claude was turning into one of the faces of the league. He is Philadelphia's best player, the NHL's leading scorer and the foundation of these new-look Flyers.

Sadly, this is nothing new for this franchise. Eric Lindros was the preeminent superstar in the NHL, a Hart Trophy winner who led the Flyers from obscurity to the Stanley Cup Final. Then Darius Kasparaitis leveled him and gave him his first high-profile concussion. After that, Lindros was never the same, and his lasting image in the Orange and Black is him lying motionless on the ice, mouthpiece out, after Scott Stevens destroyed him near the blue line.

It was the straw that broke the camel's back in a fractured relationship with then-Flyers GM Bobby Clarke, and it was the last time Lindros ever suited up for the Flyers until he dons the Orange and Black once again during the Winter Classic alumni game. Lindros was never the sam player again, eventually being forced to retire due to concussions.

That was one captain who's career was completely altered by head trauma, but sadly not the last. Keith Primeau morphed from an underachiever in Detroit and under-the-radar in Carolina to become the quintessential leader for the Flyers — a tall task after being traded for fan favorite Rod Brind'Amour.

But Primeau quickly endeared himself with sound defensive hockey, remarkable work in the faceoff circle and of course, the immortal five-overtime playoff winner against the Penguins. Soon thereafter, he evolved into the team's biggest leader, became captain and had one of the most dominant postseason runs in NHL history before the Flyers were ousted in the Eastern Conference Finals by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Lightning.

However, the good times wouldn't last. Primeau suffered a concussion the next season and eventually was forced to retire because of it. Two captains, one a superstar, the other an unquestioned leader, snatched away by concussions.

Given the star power the Flyers have lost this season alone combined with just the unfortunate situations of Lindros and Primeau would be more than enough to prove the Flyers have had terrible luck when it comes to concussions. Sadly, the full truth is far worse.

Eric Desjardins, another former captain and talented offensive defenseman, suffered concussions late in his career that ultimately played a part in his retirement. Kim Johnsson, without a shadow of a doubt the best defenseman for Philadelphia at the time — and oddly enough acquired from the New York Rangers in the Eric Lindros trade — suffered a debilitating concussion prior to being traded and eventually had to retire after winning a Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks without playing a single minute in the postseason.

Then there were the concussions struggles of all-star sniper Simon Gagne, who missed parts of two seasons dealing with the issue. As we know, his absence caused major offensive problems for the team.

Likewise, Sami Kapanen sustained numerous concussions and ultimately retired from the NHL due to health concerns. Jeremy Roenick, who had a history of concussions throughout his career, took a slap shot off the face, breaking his jaw and getting concussed, only to rush back miraculously in time for the postseason. J.R., never one to shy away from opening his mouth, has discussed his concussion issues time and time again.

And no Flyers fan alive will ever forget the incredible sacrifice of Ian Laperriere, laying out to block a shot in a postseason game already well in hand, only to get his teeth knocked out and suffer what eventually became a career-ending injury — albeit one he came back from in that very same playoffs at enormous risk. He hasn't played since.

I'm sure there are plenty more Flyers who've suffered similar injuries that I've missed. But just this list alone shows how snake-bitten the franchise has been. For the most part, these aren't bit players this team has lost, sometimes for good, to concussions. Lindros was a superstar. Primeau the captain, top penalty killer and a guy who was coming off an outrageous playoffs. Gagne was an all-star sniper. Desjardins and Johnsson two of the team's best defensemen. Roenick a star in his own right. Kapanen a do-it-all forward who even played defense when things got thin on the blue line. And Laperriere simply one of the greatest penalty killers of all time and a warrior.

Now the Flyers are without perennial all-star and future Hall of Famer Chris Pronger, one of the best players on the planet Claude Giroux, and one of the top prospects in the league Brayden Schenn.

In just the past 15 years alone, the Flyers have had a truly sad history of concussions. Here's hoping Pronger, Giroux and Schenn recover to the fullest and continue their careers unfettered, particularly the 23-year-old Giroux and 20-year-old Schenn. Because losing any of them the way this team lost Lindros and Primeau to concussions would be simply too much to take.

Concussions Are Unavoidable … and Harming the NHL

Concussions Are Unavoidable … and Harming the NHL

Monday, December 12, 2011

Bill Clement and Fran Dunphy Must Bring Back the Stache

As the Temple-Villanova game got underway at the Liacouras Center Saturday evening, there was an air that something or someone was missing. Gone were Temple mainstay Lavoy Allen - off to pursue his NBA dream after graduating and being drafted in the second round by his hometown 76ers - and Villanova's Coreys, Corey Stokes and Corey Fisher - all players who excelled for four years in the Big 5.

But that couldn't quite be it. We already knew that Allen, Stokes, Fisher and Antonio Pena for that matter had moved on. Perhaps it was the absence of Temple's Michael Eric and Scootie Randall, two key players for the Owls who are expected to be even bigger contributors than they already were this season.

That's not quite it either, because again, we knew those two would be out going in. No, the biggest thing missing in this Big 5 battle was without question was the most famous mustache in Big 5 history. Fran Dunphy, just like Bill Clement, just does not look right sans stache.

I know Dunph shaved his mustache in honor of Dionte Christmas, but it's time to grow that sucker back. Same for you, Mr. Clement.

Some people just are meant to have mustaches, and Bill Clement and Fran Dunphy are two of those people. They look ridiculous without their patented facial hair, and frankly it's disconcerting looking at them with a completely clean-shaved face. Fix this, pronto.

As for the game itself, it was everything you expect from a Big 5 clash between the two teams that have historically owned college basketball supremacy in Philadelphia. Villanova battled hard and stayed with Temple throughout the majority of the game behind tremendous play from Mouphtaou Yarou inside and Maalik Wayns on the perimeter, as the game went on the see-saw. Unfortunately for Nova, Wayns and Yarou got little help.

I keep waiting for Dominic Cheek to break out and be the Kerry Kittle-type player he was expected to become. He has all the tools. He came in as a heralded shooter. And he works hard defensively to cause trouble. But the consistency just hasn't been there for the junior as of yet, and with a cast of underclassmen behind him and fellow juniors Yarou and Wayns, Villanova needs Cheek to be at his best on a nightly basis. He wasn't Saturday, while his counterpart was fantastic.

In the end, the much more veteran Temple team was able to outlast and eventually put the Wildcats at arm's length because Ramone Moore exploded offensively while the role players did all the dirty work.

Moore was simply unstoppable, taking command of the Owls and asserting himself as the leader from the opening tip on. He scored a game-high 32 points, attacked the rim at every opportunity - evidenced by his 15 free throw attempts (of which he made 14) - and set the tone for the Owls. His teammates followed suit, as Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson had an outstanding game on the boards, hauling in 14 rebounds and creating a ton of second chances for Temple, and Khaliff Wyatt did what he does, chipping in with 13 big points.

Further, freshman Anthony Lee fought hard in the absence of Eric, grabbing 9 boards himself and giving Temple some much-needed size when he was in there. All that led to the 78-67 win even with Juan Fernandez struggling from the field. Though even as Fernandez was being outshined by Wayns, he played under control, limited his turnovers to 2 and made sure Moore kept getting the ball.

Basically, it was a clinic of a veteran team using its experience to put away a younger, error-prone squad. When Randall and Eric get back, the Owls are only going to get better. With all that talent coming back, even with Allen gone, the Owls are going to be formidable all year long.

As for Nova, you can see Jay Wright struggling to find a way to get his young team to mesh this season. For the first time, the reigns have been completely turned over to Wayns, Yarou and Cheek now that Fisher and Stokes are gone. With no seniors to speak of contributing, it may take a little while for the Wildcats to find their way.

In all likelihood, they're probably a year away. This season will have its ups and downs for Nova, but with Wayns, Yarou and Cheek being seniors next year, this talented freshman class getting a season under its belt and another talented crew coming in for Wright, the 2012-13 season could be big for Villanova. This year, the team still has a ways to go, as Temple just proved. And with St. Joe's defeating Creighton over the weekend, Villanova may actually be the third best team in the Big 5 this season.

All that still is yet to be determined. But what has been officially determined is that Fran Dunphy and Bill Clement must grow their mustaches back for the sake of our eyes.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Brandon Roy Deserved Better Out of His Body

As patently absurd as the Chris Paul trade veto was — and it was indefensibly absurd — it pales in comparison to the disappointment I have in the news that Brandon Roy is retiring due to his gimpy knee that has practically no cartilage left.

It's the end to a far too short career of brilliance. No, Brandon Roy was never the best player in the NBA or a champion. He was never the league's leading scorer or a highlight-reel dunker. Brandon Roy was never any of these. What he was was one of the game's most versatile, fluid and commanding players … and truly great before his body failed him.

Roy never had Vince Carter's athleticism or Allen Iverson's explosiveness. He never LeBron James' power or Chris Paul's vision. But Roy maximized every single ounce of talent he had and used his incredibly high basketball IQ to excel. He slowed the game down to his pace, never hurried himself. And no one could ever seem to speed him up.

At all times, Roy always look calm and in control. That's because he was. No matter who the opposition was or what it seemed to do, it didn't matter. Roy was going to make it his game, whether that meant dropping 52 points or setting up teammates to have the best years of their careers. The man just flat out owned on the court.

And in this era where players' egos have them either pushing others away or drawing them to fellow superstars, Roy never got all caught up in any of that. He played his ass off for a passionate Portland fanbase, never uttered a bad word about a teammate and led through both his actions and his demeanor.

Brandon Roy was quietly an assassin, a man overshadowed by bigger names playing under brighter lights in larger cities. But on the court, he was as impressive as anyone, and he never let the fans down with his effort or his performance. Unfortunately, his body did, and it's robbed both Roy and NBA fans everywhere of one of the best, underappreciated players the league has ever seen.

I wish nothing but the best for Brandon Roy in his future endeavors and hope the league and its fans realize just how important he was before injuries befell him.

It's Friday, Time to Dance

I was actually watching this game when it happened, and it was awesome. Without further ado, Pittsburgh's Ziggy Hood doing the Pee-Wee Hermand dance.

And apparently, Penn Stater Jared Odrick also did it a couple weeks ago. Seriously, awesome.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

'Game Over'

Those were the words I uttered to my roommate the exact moment Claude Giroux got the puck and had nothing but open ice in front of him and Ryan Miller in overtime last night. "Game over."

Right now, there may be nothing more automatic in sports than Claude Giroux scoring on a breakaway. Doesn't matter who the goaltender is, if Giroux is one on one with him, he's going to win every time. He's just on a whole other level than anyone else these days.

Last night, after the Flyers fell behind 3-0 in the first period before scoring a massively important goal by Max Talbot off a great play by Jakub Voracek with just one second remaining, Claude Giroux simply took over the hockey game. In a dominant second period for the Flyers, Giroux assisted on all three goals to put the Flyers ahead 4-3.

And even after Buffalo tied the game in the final two minutes of regulation, which could have easily derailed the Flyers and cost them a point, Giroux never let up. Then the breakaway happened, and everyone who's watched Giroux these past few years knew the game was over right then and there.

To be perfectly honest with you, I can't remember Claude ever being stopped on a pure breakaway in game action. Yes, he's failed to score in the shootout plenty of times, but during the actual game, he just never seems to miss. It's uncanny.

Then again, just about everything Giroux is doing this season is uncanny. With last night's four-point performance, Giroux leads the NHL in scoring with 36 points (16 goals, 20 assists) in 26 games. He's on the Flyers' top power-play unit and their top penalty-kill unit. He's physical. He's fast. His ice vision is second to none. Everything about his game makes you marvel.

Centering Scott Hartnell and the ageless Jaromir Jagr, Giroux is the centerpiece of perhaps the best line in the NHL and unquestionably the star of the team. To be perfectly honest, with Sidney Crosby on the mend and Alexander Ovechkin struggling, Claude Giroux very well may be the best player in the NHL right now. No one in Philadelphia would argue with you about that.

Last night, he showed exactly why people feel that way. He did everything and was far and away the best player on the ice. Without him, the Flyers lose and probably lose badly after digging themselves that 3-0 hole. But with a helping hand from Voracek and Talbot to stop the bleeding, Claude simply took over from there. He wouldn't let the Flyers lose.

Then when the Flyers really needed it, he exploded the other way with only Ryan Miller between him and the net. And at that moment, every Flyers fan knew, "game over."

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Best College Basketball Game We May See All Season

Saturday in Rupp Arena, No. 1 Kentucky defeated No. 5 North Carolina 73-72 as freshman shot-blocking phenom Anthony Davis gave junior shot-blocking sensation John Henson a taste of his own medicine as the seconds ticked away.

Our friend Ed broke down the excitement in depth, but I wanted to add a few of my own reactions.

For starters, I was watching the game with my roommate, and just witnessing the sheer athleticism and high level of play for a college game made us both take notice that something was different about this one. Sure, there were still plenty of mistakes that college players make, particularly in the early season, but there was a level of intensity combined with skill in this one that put it on a different plain.

Heading into the season, these were perhaps the two most hyped teams in the country, and as the game approached, many pundits were projecting anywhere from nine to 12 NBA players might be taking the court in this one. After watching the contest, those proclamations are easy to understand.

As Ed noted, highly touted sophomores Harrison Barnes and Terence Jones went toe-to-toe, with Jones getting things started in the first half and Barnes, after a slow start plagued by foul trouble, hit big bucket after big bucket in the second half to keep UNC in it. Tyler Zeller was having his way in the first half before being constantly doubled in the final 20 minutes. Doron Lamb showed a killer instinct, dropping clutch shots for the Wildcats. John Henson and Anthondy Davis used their go-go gadget arms to bother and block shots.

P.J. Hairston showed the shooting stroke he displayed in high school, while Kendall Marshall showed he has an outside shot too. Darius Miller quietly did his thing, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, one of the top recruits in the nation, exploded for a game-high 17 points and 11 rebounds, becoming the true difference-maker in the 2nd half.

It was an incredibly exciting, fun game to watch. The only thing I didn't like was the outcome — and the final possession for UNC. I know that I just preached to the Tar Heels to get Tyler Zeller the ball, but you absolutely have to put the ball in Harrison Barnes' hands there at the end. He's the team's best shot-maker, he had hit some huge threes in the 2nd half, he has a penchant for hitting game-winning shots, and Kentucky was swarming Zeller every time he touched the ball.

Regardless, it was easily the best college basketball game so far this year, and it very well may be the best one we see all season. As Ed said, we would be lucky as hell to get a national championship game like this one.

Friday, December 2, 2011

'Don't Give Up. Don't Ever Give Up'

We're in the midst of Jimmy V. week, and I simply cannot not watch Jim Valvano's impassioned speech.

Heed his words. The world could use another Jimmy V. right about now.

It's Friday, Time to Dance

As I'm sure you're all well aware of, the atrocious, quite possibly racist and most certainly horrific Sixers mascot Hip-Hop has been mercifully put down by the new ownership.

Coincidentally, the Eagles were also officially put down last night in a predictably embarrassing effort out in Seattle. Might as well put in a waiver claim for Donovan McNabb for old time's sake, am I right?

I hate everyone on this team but LeSean McCoy.

Enjoy the weekend.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

For the Love of God, Get Tyler Zeller the Ball

Roy Williams is an excellent basketball coach and his North Carolina Tar Heels are a very good basketball team. However, there is one thing that has been bothering me for quite some time when it comes to Roy and his UNC teams, and really it's about coaching.

Since returning to his alma mater in 2003, Williams has certainly done a masterful job, winning two national championships and maintaining the historic excellence Dean Smith created. However, there are spells where Roy's teams have bafflingly and inexcusably ignored their best, most efficient interior players — Tyler Hansbrough excluded.

For instance, take Williams' first national championship team from 2005, a team that included Jawad Williams, Rashad McCants, Raymond Felton, Marvin Williams and Sean May. We all remember the controversial one-point Sweet 16 victory over Villanova in the NCAA Tournament and the infamous phantom traveling call on Allen Ray.

What everyone seems to forget is that that game should have never been that close to begin with. Don't get me wrong, Villanova played incredibly well with an awesomely talented team that included Ray, Randy Foye, Mike Nardi and Kyle Lowry, and there was no way they were going to make things easy for the Tar Heels. However, if you recall, Sean May was literally dominating inside, scoring every time he touched the ball on the extremely undersized Wildcats. No one on Nova could stop him — yet May only managed to hoist 9 shots despite making six of them, hauling in 10 boards and completely abusing Villanova inside.

The entire game, I was screaming at Felton and Roy Williams to demand May get a touch inside on every position, and each time my pleas went unanswered. As a result, Villanova played their tremendous perimeter defense and almost pulled off the upset. In that game, had Roy simply demanded his players to feed May the ball, that game most likely would not have been as close as it was, seeing as Nova had absolutely no answer inside for May. But Williams didn't, and it nearly cost his talented team the national championship it ultimately won.

Fast-forward to last season. All the hype that surrounded the Tar Heels was in large part due to the highly touted freshman Harrison Barnes, a freshman so highly regarded that he was the first-ever to be named Preseason All-American. As we know, it took Barnes a while to fulfill that promise, but he did eventual turn into the player people expected. However, as the Tar Heels had a bit of a roller-coaster season, the one steady hand had been Tyler Zeller.

Plain and simple, Zeller has been without question UNC's most efficient player, if not its best, for the past few years. As great as Barnes is, no one has been more reliable on a nightly basis than Zeller. If you've watched North Carolina the past few seasons, you know that if Zeller has a big game, the Tar Heels win.

And yet, there were stretches of games where Zeller would be ignored for large portions in the first half of last season. It wasn't until Kendall Marshall took over at point that Zeller really began to get the ball consistently, and uncoincidentally, that's when UNC took off.

I was hopeful that the late-season surge from last year would make Roy Williams and the Tar Heels realize that Tyler Zeller has to get more touches more consistently for this team to realize its full potential — much like everything ran through Tyler Hansbrough during his days in Chapel Hill. Yet in this early season, Roy's blind eye toward demanding his players to feed his talented, efficient center has already cost the preseason No. 1 team to lose embarrassingly to UNLV and allowed Wisconsin to keep the game close throughout last night.

In the 90-80 loss to the Runnin' Rebels, Zeller took just six shots. And while he only made one of them, you know that low percentage wouldn't last. Zeller is a career 52 percent shooter from the field and coming off a career-best season of 54.7. The man knows how to score and score efficiently. Yet in that loss, he was essentially ignored.

And last night, as Wisconsin did an incredibly effective job of slowing down the pace and making the Tar Heels play Badger basketball, Zeller was largely ignored again. He only had five field goal attempts — though he did get to line six times — despite this being a half-court game for the most part. That makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever, and it really comes down to coaching.

I know Roy likes to push the pace and have his team get as many offensive possessions as possible. He likes to score quickly and make it a track meet. But when the opposition effectively slows the pace and your squad isn't the best shooting bunch, you go down low to your most reliable player. That guy is Zeller. The game flow dictated him getting a lot of shots, yet it didn't happen. And that's why Wisconsin was able to keep it close and actually take a second-half lead before Harrison Barnes took over with some remarkable shot-making and Dexter Strickland shut down Jordan Taylor with tremendous defense.

But like in that Sweet 16 game in 2005, last night's contest should not have come down to that, just as the loss to UNLV probably should have never happened. Those games were the pressure-cookers they were because Williams and his Tar Heels ignored their efficient big men who very rarely could be stopped.

It is his one coaching flaw that I have noticed over the years, but a big one. I'll concede that at a school with so much talent, it can be difficult finding enough shots for all the McDonald's All-Americans on the roster. But it's the job of the coach to put his team in the best position to succeed. For the most part, Roy Williams does that. But when his teams ignore their big men, especially when those guys are as good as Sean May and Tyler Zeller, he's not doing his job.

If North Carolina wants to hoist its third national championship banner under Roy Williams this season, they have to stop ignoring their big man and — for the love of god — get Tyler Zeller the damn ball.