Friday, March 30, 2012

The REAL All-Time NCAA Tournament Team

The REAL All-Time NCAA Tournament Team

It's Friday, Time to Dance

So apparently Vanilla Ice is performing at halftime of the Celtics-Timberwolves game tonight in Minnesota. With that, here is the greatest Vanilla Ice song of all time, and there absolutely is no debating this:

Monday, March 26, 2012

Happy Birthday, Harry

It's hard to believe, but it's already been nearly three years since the passing of legendary Phillies Hall of Fame broadcaster Harry Kalas.

I shared my feelings about Harry back then, which still hold true 100 percent. Watching and listening to the Phillies just hasn't been the same since. No need to rehash those feelings again, but since Harry would have turned 76 years old today, I thought it would be appropriate to listen to his magnificent voice on his birthday.

Friday, March 23, 2012

It's Friday, Time to Dance

A while back, I shared the awesomeness that was Dana Barros rapping. Well, since the Sixers are playing the Celtics tonight in a pretty important game, I thought I'd see if Barros, who played for both the Sixers and the Celtics, had any other tracks living in the world of YouTube. Turns out he does, and as a bonus, fellow former NBAer Cedric Ceballos joins him with some other rappers. Enjoy.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Doug, You're the Man, but We Need to Talk

I like Doug Collins. A lot. He's a done masterful job with the Sixers here, taking them from floundering in mediocrity with seemingly no end in sight to a team that is exciting, young and on the right path. Yes, they are still pretty mediocre due to their lack of any sort of superstar, but they play a fun brand of basketball, work hard and seem to like each other. That's all a credit to Doug Collins, no question about it.

Here's the thing, though. Right now, as the Sixers continue to fall back down to earth and are now in a three-team dog fight for the Atlantic division, we're beginning to see some of the reasons why a coach with as good of an overall record as Doug Collins (.533 winning percentage) has never lasted more than three seasons in one city. He toys with players' minutes (Evan Turner), stays loyal to guys who have no business getting that loyalty and throws out the playbook in the fourth quarter. Last night was just another example, as Doug Collins' bizarre (see stupid) coaching moves cost the Sixers a huge game against the Knicks as much as the team's horrid shooting did.

One of the glaring things about last night's 82-79 loss was that both Nik Vucevic and Lavoy Allen did not see a single second of action. This despite the fact that starting center Spencer Hawes, who just recently returned from an achilles injury and is still working his way into shape, was absolutely awful and played less than 20 minutes, and despite the fact that the Knicks absolutely abused the Sixers inside in the second half, turning a rebounding deficit of around five into outrebounding the Sixers by eight before it was all said and done.

This, quite frankly, makes no sense whatsoever. Granted, Elton Brand had a very good game, notching a double-double and doing some work on the defensive end with two steals and five blocks, but with Hawes struggling and the Knicks taking command of the paint, the two rookie bigs were nowhere to be found. Instead, Collins opted to go small most of the night, to dire consequences. It's almost as if now that Hawes is back, Collins has forgotten all the good work both Vucevic and Allen did while Spencer was hurt.

Admittedly, Allen's time was already decreasing before Hawes got back. That was due to a combination of his struggles offensively and Brand starting to find his game again. Still, the kid has played really hard and really smart when he's had the opportunity, and he still is a decent post defender and rebounder — something the Sixers really could have used last night. As for Vucevic, he showed a lot during the absence of Hawes, proving he has a lot of versatility offensively and moves well for a big man. Yes, he's had his ups and downs, which is to be expected for a rookie center. But he's given the team quality minutes really all season long. And yet, there those two were, wasting away on the bench as Hawes played as horrible of a game as he's ever played in a Sixers uniform and the Knicks took advantage of their size. It was beyond a baffling decision.

Hell, in that dreadful first quarter where the Sixers missed their first 14 shots with Hawes quite literally at the center of the struggles, I was calling for Nik or Lavoy to get in the game. I mean, Hawes couldn't even come close to hitting a shot, Tyson Chandler made a fool of him on consecutive blocks and you could just tell it wasn't Spence's night. Yet Vucevic and Allen never had their numbers called. I don't get it.

Then there's the use of the bench. In the first half, it was Thaddeus Young who helped kickstart the dormant Philadelphia offense. He wasn't shooting the ball well, but he was one of the rare Sixers attacking the New York defense and being active. So naturally, as crunch time came, there was Thad sitting on the bench as Jodie Meeks was out there in his place. I get it, Jodie had as good of a game as Jodie Meeks can possibly have. He hit a couple threes, even took it to the rim a few times, and clearly had his confidence going. But unless you absolutely need a three in the closing minutes, there's no reason that Jodie Meeks should be on the court in crunch time, especially over an active, versatile and far superior player like Thaddeus Young. Only for some reason, Doug Collins disagreed with that last night, as Young was glued to the bench for almost the entire fourth quarter. What the hell? No one wants to see Jodie out there over Thad. No one.

Oh, and there's also the whole fiasco that is the Sixers' fourth-quarter offense. Everyone who has watched the Sixers for more than a game or two knows that this team is at its best offensively when everyone is sharing and moving the ball. It's at its absolute worst when it tries to set up isolation plays with everyone else standing around. And yet more and more as this season wears on, Doug Collins increasingly puts the ball in Lou Williams' hands in isolation situations during the final quarter. More times than not, Lou is chucking up a shot, because that's what Lou does, and at least 50 percent of those are horrible shots to take. It's incredibly putrid basketball, made even worse by the fact that Collins keeps taking the ball out of his young, talented point guard's hands — even when Jrue Holiday is playing really well.

Last night was one of those nights. Holiday was arguably (definitely) the best player for the Sixers against the Knicks. He scored a team-high 16 points, dished out 6 assists to just 1 turnover, was one of the few guys actually going at the Knicks' defense and attacking the rim, and he played lock-down defense on Jeremy Lin. Basically, he was doing everything you could ask of him. So his reward in the fourth quarter was exactly what it's been nearly all year long — watching Lou Williams get the ball-handling duties as the offense stalls.

I don't understand it. I really don't. Jrue does a great job all game running the point, a great job taking care of the ball and being aggressive, a great job of getting the Sixers in the share-the-ball mode that brings out their best, and then once the fourth quarter rolls around, Collins turns Jrue into a shooting guard running off the ball and has Lou Williams dribble around for 15 seconds before looking for his own shot first, his own shot second and everything else third. Jrue needs the ball in his hands in that situation. Jrue deserves the ball in his hands in that situation. The team is at its best when Holiday is allowed to be the point guard, and he is the guy whom the Sixers are hoping to build their future around. The Sixers need to find out if he is that guy, need to find out if he can execute the offense when it matters most. But Doug takes the ball away from him every fourth quarter, and the Sixers look lost when they need buckets. That's just bad, short-sighted coaching, and it reared its ugly head again last night.

This is all without even mentioning Andre Iguodala and his late-game foibles. On three straight attempts for Iggy late in the game, he missed a free throw, blew an easy layup that would have made it a one-point game and threw up an airball. Good lord, why is he so bad in the clutch and increasingly worse at the foul line?

Regardless, last night was an ugly loss that cannot be blamed on any single player, no matter how bad several guys played. It was, however, another example of Doug Collins' increasingly baffling coaching moves of late. Maybe the pressure of that early-season success combined with a tight race and tougher schedule are catching up with Doug as much as they are catching up with the players. Who knows? What I do know is that Doug needs to get back to coaching the way he was during that torrid start, and maintaining his philosophy on both ends of the court for all four quarters, not just the first three. Because right now, as the Sixers are struggling to maintain any sort of consistency, no one is struggling as much as the coach right now.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Don't Look Now, but the Rangers Are in Flyers' Sights

A month ago, the New York Rangers held a 10-point lead in the conference and were head and shoulders the class of the East. At the same time, the Flyers were struggling, no one more than goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, and injuries continued to crop up. The division looked out of reach, and the Penguins and Devils were charging to supplant the Flyers from the fourth spot and home ice advantage in the first round.

What a difference a month can make. Since the calendar flipped to March, Ilya Bryzgalov has found his game, notching four shutouts in five starts and becoming the best goaltender in the NHL out of nowhere, and the Flyers have followed suit.

Propelled by Bryz's incredible turnaround, the Flyers have gone on a tear. Including this weekend's huge pair of afternoon match-ups — a shootout loss to Boston on Saturday and a 3-2, last-second overtime victory over Pittsburgh yesterday — Philadelphia has gained at least one point in their last four games, and the Flyers have won eight of their last 10 games. They are 8-1-1 in the month of March, earning 17 of a possible 20 points in the process. And while they're still two points behind the Penguins for the fourth seed, they now have both the Pens and the Rangers in their crosshairs.

With 10 games left in the regular season, the Flyers are just three points behind the Eastern Conference leading Rangers and two behind the Pens — though both the Penguins and Rangers have a game in hand on the Flyers at the moment. That's truly remarkable given how far ahead New York was and how badly the Flyers were slipping.

The Flyers' resilience was on full display this weekend against two of the teams they are jockeying with for position. On Saturday, the Flyers got off to a painfully slow start, getting jumped on in the first period and falling behind 2-0. The Bruins controlled virtually every aspect of play and simply looked like a superior team.

But the Flyers rebounded in the second and took advantage of an opening the Bruins gave them. Matt Read netted his 20th goal of the season on the power play and rode the momentum to a third-period goal by Jake Voracek, who was perhaps the best skater on the ice for the Flyers Saturday.

Unfortunately, the game went to a shootout, and unlike the previous two skills competition, Bryzgalov was not very good.

At least Bryz was stellar in regulation and overtime, stopping 31 shots and keeping the Flyers in it until they could turn play around.

The bad news, however, was that Max Talbot and Andres Lilja were hurt in the effort. Talbot sustained what's believed to be a shoulder injury during a scrum and could not go yesterday, while Lilja was also scratched. Not good, given the injuries already on the blue line and the versatility of Talbot. In fact, Talbot has been a huge part of the Flyers' recent surge, doing an outstanding job the penalty kill for a unit that is on fire right now. Luckily, the Flyers have plenty of excellent penalty-killing forwards, led by rookies Matt Read and Sean Couturier, not to mention the likes of Giroux, Eric Wellwood and Voracek.

And yesterday, the Flyers needed those guys on the PK with Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby in town.

Yesterday's game was actually eerily similar to Saturday's. The Flyers came out sluggish, as Pittsburgh quite literally manhandled them for the first 40 minutes. The Pens built a 2-0 lead, scoring one goal apiece in the first two periods, and it could have been much worse if not for Bryzgalov and the PK unit.

The Penguins dominated every facet through two. They outshot the Flyers 27-10. They were throwing more hits. And the Flyers looked stunned. But Bryzgalov was incredible again, keeping the team in it, and the PK absolutely shut down one of the game's best power play units. I can't say enough about the work of the PK unit, with everyone doing a masterful job from the forwards I mentioned above to guys like Braydon Coburn, Kimmo Timonen, Matt Carle and Nick Grossmann on the back end.

And then, just like against the Bruins, the Flyers took advantage of an opening the Pens provided to turn the tides. As the second period was winding down, Voracek, who was stellar again, drew a slashing penalty on the Pens, giving the Flyers the man advantage. Just 31 seconds into the third, the Flyers capitalized, as Timonen scored his third goal of the year from the point to cut Pittsburgh's lead in half.

From there, it was on. An already chippy game got even chippier, and unsurprisingly, Scott Hartnell was at the center of it. He got involved with a slew of Penguins, including getting mugged by Chris Kunitz, and it got Hartell all fired up.

Just a few minutes after the opening goal for the Flyers, Giroux faked a shot, slap-passing it to Hartnell at the side of the net. Claude's incredible play faked out everyone, especially Marc-Andre Fleury, and Hartnell tied the game. It was Claude's second assist of the day, inching closer to Malkin and Stamkos for the NHL lead in points. That guy is good.

The Flyers were suddenly all even and began outworking the Pens. Then, as the game went to OT, it looked like the dreaded shutout was looming … until it wasn't. Danny Briere weaved through the neutral zone, entered the Penguins territory and made a great feed to Hartnell, who fired a laser wrist shot by Fleury with just 0.9 remaining in the OT, 3-2 Flyers.

Just like that, the Flyers went from sure defeat to a huge victory, pulling to within two points of the Pens and three points of the Rangers here in the home stretch. Suddenly, they're right back in the mix of it for home ice throughout, something that seemed unlikely just one short month ago.

Lehigh Dazzles as Temple Seniors Go Out With a Whimper

After a relatively lackluster slate of games on Thursday, I was really looking forward to Friday night. Not only was Temple set to tip off at 9:50, but Lehigh was taking on Duke as a nice preamble. Little did I know that the team I had no expectations for would provide infinitely more excitement than the team I thought was destined for the Sweet 16.

I'm not going to lie, I didn't watch a single moment of Lehigh basketball this season until the Patriot League Conference Championship against Bucknell. In that game, I got acquainted with C.J. McCollum, easily the best player on the Mountain Hawks and far and away the best player on the court in that conference championship, but I honestly didn't know quite how good he was. Shame on me, having grown up not all that far from Lehigh's campus, having gone there several times in the summer for Eagles training camp, playing soccer tournaments there and even taking in a Lehigh-Lafayette match-up or two in my day. Still, all I knew was that C.J. McCollum looked impressive against his Patriotic League peers in the one game I watched him play. I certainly didn't think he'd be able to run rampant in the NCAA tournament, especially going up against 2-seed Duke in North Carolina as the 15-seed.

Then I watched and kept waiting for the Blue Devils to pull away. Not only did Duke roll out a bigger, deeper, much more talented lineup than Lehigh, but they were paying on a court the they had never once lost on in an NCAA tournament game. So I kept waiting and waiting and waiting for Duke to pull away. Even with Lehigh down just two at half and showing they weren't scared in the least, I felt like it was only a matter time before the Blue Devils asserted themselves and pulled away. But it never came.

Instead, the Mountain Hawks made every big play, hit every big shot, and most importantly had the best player on court. My questions about just how good C.J. McCollum was were answered emphatically, as the junior guard dominated on the way to a 30-point, 6-rebound, 6-assist, 2-steal night to lead Lehigh to the second 15 over 2 upset of the day. And I was cheering every bucket like my life depended on it.

McCollum did need 24 shots to net those 30 points, but with everything he did and all the confidence he exuded, he was unquestionably the best player on the court Friday night. That doesn't mean he's a better player than the likes of Austin Rivers or Seth Curry, necessarily, but he absolutely was on Friday night. And his performance led to one of the greatest upsets in the history of the NCAA tournament. It was Lehigh's first tourney victory ever, making history by beating Duke in North Carolina. Unbelievable. And while the Mountain Hawks couldn't sustain that last night and were ultimately bounced, it's a moment no one will ever forget.

On the flip side, Temple had one of the most forgettable NCAA tournament performances of all time.

We were warned to expect an ugly, slow, brutal basketball game prior to this one, but I'm not sure anyone was prepared to see what unfolded between South Florida and Temple.

In the first half, USF went nearly 16 minutes without hitting a field goal, missing 22 straight shots in the process. They scored just 15 points in the entire first half. And yet, Temple led by just four points at the midway point — and things only got worse from there.

As USF finally found its scoring touch in the second, the Owls only got worse, shooting a measly 35.7 percent from the field on the night and an atrocious 2-12 from beyond the arc. There is no doubt that South Florida's heralded defense played a huge role in that, but there was more at play here than that.

Ultimately, this loss falls at the feet of coach Fran Dunphy and his three senior leaders, Michael Eric, Ramone Moore and Juan Fernandez. That trio of seniors, three of the most talented players on the team and the guys expected to lead Temple on a decent run, combined for 13 points, shooting a miserable 5-18 from the field. Eric was the most effective, netting 7 and hauling in 8 rebounds. Moore had just 5 points and couldn't beat anyone off the dribble. And Fernandez was quite literally invisible, only scoring 1 point while turning the ball over four times. It was a mockery of offensive basketball. And if it wasn't for Khalif Wyatt's 19 and Rhalir Hollis-Jefferson's 10 and 9, the embarrassing 58-44 loss would have been even uglier.

After a decent start, Temple quite literally could not do anything. Moore, adept at slashing to the rim and knocking down shots, couldn't shake his defender all night. Fernandez looked overmatched and lost out there, literally doing nothing to help Temple win. Eric was unspectacular. The offense was non-existent. And as I kept waiting for the Owls to change something, try anything, it was simply more of the same. Coach Fran Dunphy, who has done a wonderful job reviving the program after replacing the legendary John Chaney, just stood there and let it all happen.

Temple played right into South Florida's hands all game long. The Bulls have been an offensively challenged team all season, preferring to slug out low-scoring games and allowing their defense to win it. The Bulls want to play a slowdown game, milking the clock and limiting possessions. And that's exactly what happened on Friday night. Not once did the Owls try to pick up the pace and force the tempo, this despite fielding a team with several strong ball handlers and a group that can run the floor. Instead, Dunphy and the Owls continued to play at a deliberate pace, the pace USF wanted, and they died a slow death. This one is as much on Dunphy as it is on the underachieving seniors, who finished their college careers with an embarrassing whimper. I blame it on the absence of the mustache.

Honestly, it was the worst performance I've ever seen from a Temple squad in the NCAA tournament. It didn't hurt nearly as bad as Ty Shine, but it was far uglier. That wasn't basketball that Temple was playing on Friday night. It wasn't much of anything, to be honest with you.

Thank goodness Lehigh was there to provide something fun and entertaining, but just as The700Level warned, that was one ugly, slow, brutal basketball game for Temple, one that was even uglier, slower and more brutal than expected.

Friday, March 16, 2012

It's Friday, Time to Dance

LeSean McCoy in a rap video about Harrisburg? LeSean McCoy in a rap video about Harrisburg.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Starting Off on the Right Foot

When the NCAA first introduced the play-in games, I was 100 percent opposed to the entire concept. The NCAA Tournament is and already was the greatest sporting event known to man, as close to perfection as it gets. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

I still feel that way in regard to expanding the field. Personally, I think 64 was just fine, and 68 is more than enough. Moving to a field of 96, which has been bandied about for a few years now, would be one of the most insanely unnecessary things ever. If that were to happen, let me tell you, I don't want to hear how the 97th team got screwed over. Seriously. If you can't make a field of the 96 best teams, you didn't deserve to be there in the first place. Please, do not screw up my March Madness.

However, I have to admit that last night's games absolutely got the 2012 NCAA Tournament off on the right foot. Two insane comebacks, two epic collapses, and a few truly great performances — none of which I saw coming for a second. I should have known better. It is the NCAA Tournament, after all.

The first game between Western Kentucky and Mississippi Valley State facing off for a 16 seed and the right to get their brains beat in by Kentucky got off to such an ugly start that I could barely pay attention to it — especially with the Flyers on the other TV. The two combined for 42 total points in the first half, and by the time Sean Couturier was scoring what turned out to be the only goal the Flyers really needed thanks to Ilya Bryzgalov's third straight shutout, a great defensive performance against the Devils and some tremendous penalty killing by the Flyers, the Delta Devils were up 16 points and looked to have the game in control. Next thing I know, there's only about two and a half minutes left and suddenly it's a three-point game.

Moments later, the Hilltoppers completed the comeback with a 22-5 run, edging Mississippi Valley St. by a point. It was some wild stuff.

No way the second game could live up to that first one, right?

Well, it sure didn't look like it, as Iona came out aggressively, determined to show all the naysayers wrong and prove they belonged. No team that made the field of 68 came under as much criticism as the Gaels. Many pundits complained that Drexel deserved the nod over Iona. Clearly, the Gaels heard the criticisms and came out fired up. Like, build a 25-point lead fired up.

Point guard Scott Machado was emphatically making his case for the NBA, doing damn near everything. He finished the game with 15 points, 10 assists, 2 steals, 2 rebounds and shot 6-9 from the field. Machado led the charge and moved the Gaels at lightning speed to build a huge lead.

But in the second half, Iona shot like it had a lid on the basket, as BYU's defense stepped it up a notch. That gave the Cougars a jolt, and the dynamic duo of Noah Hartsock and Brandon Davies simply took over the game.

Iona's lead starting slowly slipping away, and before you knew it, BYU was right back in it, tied it and then took the lead on a clutch three by Hartsock — a lead the Cougars wouldn't relinquish.

Wow. In the first half, there was no question at all who the best player on the court was. Machado owned the first 20 minutes of action. But it was all Hartsock and Davies in the second half. Hartsock scored a game-high 23 points on 10-14 shooting, including the go-ahead three-pointer that capped off the epic comeback, while Davies was a terror inside, going for 18 points and 15 boards and generally abusing the Gaels inside.

It was the kind of stuff the tournament has become known for, play-in game or not.

Last night was the epitome of why we all love the NCAA Tournament so much, and I can't wait to see what's in store next.

My Lifelong Quest for the Elusive Winning Bracke

My Lifelong Quest for the Elusive Winning Bracket

Monday, March 12, 2012

As Evan Turner Thrives, Jrue Holiday Struggles

A week ago, Evan Turner finally cracked the starting lineup for the Philadelphia 76ers. And while he struggled mightily with his shot (1-12 for just 2 points) in the 97-93 loss in Milwaukee, he did collect 12 rebounds and dish out 4 assists … while also getting a jolt of confidence that's resulted in an immediate change to Turner's game.

In his second start, a 103-71 rout of the Celtics to maintain first place in the Atlantic Division and make a statement, Turner was the best player on the floor. He broke out with his best offensive performance of his career, scoring a game-high and career-high 26 points on 11-19 from the field, while hauling in 9 rebounds and dishing out 2 assists. Perhaps even more impressively, however, Turner completely shut down Rajon Rondo on the other end, limiting the talented Boston point guard to one of his worst outings of the season — 5 points and 8 assists on just 2-6 shooting.

And Turner has only grown from there. He followed that up with 16-12-6 in a win over Utah, and then lit up the Knicks yesterday, scoring 24 points on 9-14 from the field and nabbing a game-high 15 rebounds.

Since being inserted into the starting lineup one week ago, Turner is averaging 17 points and 12 rebounds. Take away that Milwaukee game, and he's averaging 22 and 12. All this really begs the question, what the hell took Doug Collins so long to get Turner in the starting lineup? It's a question Sixers fans have pondered for the past season-plus, as we watched the below-average Jodie Meeks continue to get too many minutes and the majority of starts in his place.

Now, it's safe to say there's no turning back for Evan. He's in the starting lineup for good, and he's earned it.

However, with the good news of Turner's rapid ascent and impressive play of late comes the other side of the coin — Jrue Holiday's struggles with Turner on the floor.

As Turner has turned his game up a notch and flourished in his starting role, Holiday has fallen off the face of the planet. Truth be told, more was expected out of Holiday in this his third season than he was delivering before the lineup change, but he was still slowly progressing, and most importantly, he was taking care of the basketball while running Philadelphia's offense. That has changed drastically since Turner has become a starter and seen increased minutes.

The reason is simple enough. Evan Turner is at his best with the ball in his hands. He's a playmaker himself, one who looks to get in the lane and create his own shot, or at times find his teammates. Being an elite rebounder at the guard position, he also likes to take the ball from end to end. That's Evan Turner at his best, and with Andre Iguodala also providing another strong ball-handler who can facilitate the offense, it's left Holiday hung out to dry.

Like Turner and Iguodala, Jrue is at his best with the ball in his hands. He is a point guard, after all. Yet with Turner needing the ball in his hands and playing so well, and Iguodala occasionally taking the ball up the floor himself, Jrue has been tasked with running off the ball and playing more of a traditional 2-guard role. The good news is that this role is not something Holiday is unaccustomed to. During his one season at UCLA, Holiday played out of position at two-guard, ceding the point guard duties to senior leader and current Indiana Pacers starting point guard Darren Collison.

Here's the thing: During his one college season, Holiday did not quite meet expectations playing out of position. As a result, his draft stock dropped from a sure-fire top 10 pick to falling out of the lottery and to the Sixers with the 17th pick. Clearly, Jrue did't reach his potential playing two-guard at UCLA, and since he was expected to be one of the best point guards in his class coming out of high school, that made sense. Jrue Holiday was a point guard, he'd play point in the NBA, so with the switch back to the point at the next level, the sky was the limit.

But now, with Turner needing the ball in his hands, and Iguodala needing the ball in his hands, Jrue has been forced back to the role he didn't fully master at UCLA. He's miscast again, forced to run off the ball more than he ever has in his NBA career, essentially going from point guard to shooting guard. And much like his stint in Westwood, Holiday is struggling with his new/old role.

In the week that Turner has been starting, Holiday's numbers have plummeted. He's averaging just 10.5 points and 4.5 assists during that span, shooting a ghastly 34.7 percent, a number that gets even more troubling if you take out his one good shooting night — a 16-point game against Utah where he shot 7-11. Take out that outing, and his numbers are even more staggering: 8.7 points, 4.7 assists and just 26.3 percent shooting (10-38).

That's troubling news, no matter how you slice it. Now, it's been absolutely wonderful to see Turner thrive the past few games. He's been truly impressive, arguably the best Sixer since he's been inserted into the starting lineup. Suddenly, he looks every bit like the No. 2 overall pick that he was, the guy who dominated at Ohio State en route to being named the National Player of the Year. At the same time, it's difficult to watch the team's 21-year-old point guard regress while trying to adjust to Turner's style of play.

The good news is that it's so early in the process there's more than enough time for Holiday and Turner to get used to playing with one another. Given the talent of both, they could very well figure it out. Jrue certainly hasn't complained, at least publicly, and while he's struggling with his shot and looking like a forgotten man at times, he's still doing a decent job of taking care of the ball and setting up teammates in his now limited touches. However, it's hard not to look at Turner's style of play and see a clash with Holiday, which could have all sorts of future implications.

Clearly, just one week in, it's entirely too early to make any substantial long-term predictions. And it's been a blast watching Turner assert himself and start playing like the guy everyone expected him to be. It certainly will be interesting to see how it all plays out. Will Turner and Holiday be able to maximize their abilities playing side by side as the backcourt for years to come, or will it be more like a Stackhouse-Iverson situation, where their styles just didn't mesh?

I'm hoping for the former, because I really like Jrue and love what Turner brings to the table. These are two young, talented guards that could be building blocks toward becoming a consistent contender — but only if the two can co-exist.

The Shootout Shutout, Featuring Claude Giroux and Ilya Bryzgalov

I know the Flyers lost yesterday as Ilya Bryzgalov got a rare night off, and as annoying as it was losing a pretty important match-up against the Devils, it's hard to be too disappointed with the Flyers following the 1-0 shootout victory on Saturday. I mean, not only did we get to see Bryz continue his absolutely absurd run, getting his 3rd shutout in four games and once again looking stellar in the shootout, but we got to see Claude Giroux do something so insanely ridiculous that it had me texting damn near everyone I knew asking if they saw his remarkable goal.

That is just … wow. This Claude Giroux character is pretty good at the hockey stuff. So is Bryzgalov once again, finally.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Ilya Bryzgalov's Tipping Point: Finally Winning a Shootout

Last night, Ilya Bryzgalov stopped all 28 shots he faced in a dominant 5-0 victory for the Flyers, notching his fourth shutout of the season and second in three games. It was also the third straight game in which Bryzgalov was named first star.

The shootout against the Florida Panthers was Bryzgalov's fifth straight impressive outing, a streak that has seen the Flyers win four in a row following a tough 1-0 loss out in San Jose, all while the injuries have piled up. First, James van Riemsdyk broke his foot. Then Kimmo Timonen and Andrej Meszaros were sidelined indefinitely. Next it was Jakub Voracek getting demolished by Niklas Kronwall, along with Jaromir Jagr leaving the ice. And most recently, even with Jagr's return last night, the Flyers lost yet another defenseman, as Pavel Kubina was scratched with an upper-body injury last night.

Yet, the Flyers have won four in a row thanks in large part to Ilya Bryzgalov. A few short weeks ago, I didn't think I'd ever write that sentence with a straight face this season. Prior to Leap Day, Philadelphia's 9-year, $51 million goaltender looked like a major bust, posting less than pedestrian numbers. His save percentage was below .900. HIs goals against average was hovering just below 3.00. And his confidence looked shattered. He was surrendering a flurry of weak goals and looked like he may be nothing more than another painful chapter in the never-ending search for a franchise goaltender.

Then a funny thing happened. After playing laughably bad in an overtime game against the Calgary Flames — surrendering 4 goals on just 21 shots, a couple of them just dreadful — the game went to a shootout. As we all know, the shootout has been an achilles heel for the Flyers ever since it was instituted, and it's only gotten more painful this season. The offense has had some trouble beating the opposing goaltender, no matter who it has been, and Bryzgalov has looked completely lost in the skills competition — as in, he literally could not stop a shot or win a shootout.

But on that night in Calgary, where the Flyers far outplayed the Flames, outshooting them 45-21 through three periods and an overtime, Bryzgalov finally picked up his teammates in that shootout the way his teammates had picked him up all season long. Somehow, some way, Bryzgalov stoned Olli Jokinen, then Alex Tanguay … and suddenly he didn't look so helpless anymore.

Yes, he did get beat my Mike Cammalleri, but it was the only goal that slipped by Bryz in that shootout. Claude Giroux followed with a goal of his own, Bryzgalov stopped two more shooters — Jarome Iginla and Curtis Glencross — and Matt Read beat Miikka Kiprusoff to give the Flyers a rare shootout victory.

At the same time, before we even knew it, it was the catalyst for Bryzgalov's seemingly overnight turnaround. While it's true that Bryz had some decent games since the all-star break, he still was painfully inconsistent, evident by the four goals on 21 shots he gave up before that shootout victory. But since he finally ridded himself of that goose egg in the shootout, he's been a completely different goalie — the goalie the Flyers thought they were getting when they signed him to such a massive and lengthy contract.

In the five games since that shootout win, Bryzgalov has stopped 142 of the 148 shots he's faced, good for an outrageous save percentage of .956, and has surrendered just 6 goals total, a 1.20 goals against average in that span aided by two shutouts. Prior to that, Bryzgalov's numbers were horrible. In the 43 games before Leap Day, he had a .898 save percentage and a goals against average of that was closer to 3.00 than 2.00. And the tipping point, it seems, was that shootout in Calgary.

Finally winning the silly skills competition seems to have lifted a weight of Bryzgalov's shoulders, and he's been incredible since — as good as any goaltender in the entire NHL. And boy, have the Flyers needed him. With bodies falling all around him, Bryzgalov has filled the void, allowing the Flyers to remain in the race for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. He's finally playing like the goaltender everyone expected him to be, a guy capable of carrying a team when he has to. Recently, he has had to, and Bryzgalov has answered the bell, turning his season around and propelling the Flyers to their current four-game winning streak.

It took him a while to get there, but on that night in Calgary, something changed in Bryzgalov. He's been a confident, positionally sound and nearly impenetrable netminder ever since. Who knew all it would take was finally breaking through in the shootout to get his mind right and his game back on track?

It's Friday, Time to Dance

This is what the guy saddled with the Eagles' franchise tag is up to.

I have no further comment.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

On Mark Howe's Night, Ilya Bryzgalov Steals the Show (and the Victory)

Approximately an hour before the Flyers were slated to honor recent Hall of Fame inductee and one of the greatest defensemen in Flyers history Mark Howe by retiring his number in front of the team he played his final three seasons with, I got a call from my roommate asking if I'd like to go to the game and if anyone else would be interested. Naturally I said yes … the only catch is I had to wait for silver fox to make his way down from the northern suburbs — about an hour or so away.

I was somewhat nervous I'd miss perhaps the entire first period. However, thanks to the ceremony for Howe, which included a rousing ovation for his father, the legendary Mr. Hockey himself, Gordie Howe, it bought us some time. As I waited, I watched the awesome tribute and banner raising at my house, waiting for silver fox to arrive.

As the banner was being raised, silver fox pulled up outside my house and we sped down to the Wells Fargo Center. As we were walking in and meeting my other buddy to give us the tickets, the game was underway, but there was no score. Then as we got closer to our entrance, we saw Henrik Zetterberg beat Ilya Bryzgalov on the short side with an absolutely insane shot. Thankfully, it was the only goal that occurred before we got in the building.

Finally, we got to our seats in section 124, row 14 — awesome seats right behind the Flyers' bench and up high just enough to see the entire ice clearly — with 10:15 remaining in the period. Not a bad turnaround at all, missing not even half a period given the late notice.

When we were all settled, the Flyers had recovered from surrendering the first goal and were completely dominating the play. A few minutes later, Jakub Voracek threw a puck across the crease, which deflected off a Detroit defenseman's skate before it could reach Max Talbot on the other side, careening in to tie the game. Then, with less than two minutes to go in the period, Claude Giroux broke out on a breakaway, which is as close to an automatic goal as there is in hockey, 2-1 Flyers.

The Flyers were in complete command in that opening period, at least once I entered the building, and as I took in the surroundings I started to gather the atmosphere after being in such a rush. I reflected on the fact that for some reason Scott Hartnell was taking every draw on the Giroux line, with Claude lining up at wing. I couldn't figure out why, and I was pretty baffled. Why was a winger who rarely takes face-offs lining up for the draws instead of the best face-off guy on the team? Giroux is over 50 percent after all, the only Flyer who can make such a claim. Turns out, Giroux did injure his wrist in the win over the win over Washington on Sunday, which is why he only took two draws last night.

The other I did was take in the scene, watching Howe's speech on the jumbotron, snapping a few shots of our view and Howe's number hanging from the rafters, and also realizing that, yes, I was in the same building as Mr. Hockey himself. Pretty cool stuff.

And the atmosphere was about to get even more intense, albeit at the expense of the Flyers.

Voracek, who opened the scoring for the Flyers and was tremendous in the first period, gathered the puck in his own zone near the blue line. Then he did something you can never do on the ice, especially with a guy like Niklas Kronwall out there — he put his head down and tried to gather the puck. That's when Kronwall pounced, absolutely destroying Voracek, who no doubt suffered a concussion. It was lights out for Jake, literally and figuratively, as he left the game with what had to be a concussion.

We had a perfect vantage point of the lethal hit, seeing right away that Jake had lost all control of his extremities. Immediately upon the violent impact, his hands involuntarily shot up in the air, almost as if he was flopping, but uncontrollably. Then he tried to get up, but his legs were spaghetti and his brain most definitely mush at that moment. He dropped right back down to the ice in a scary moment, groggy and helpless after the hit. Thankfully he did skate off under his own power, but it's hard to imagine he'll be back anytime soon. That hit had concussion written all over it.

As for the check itself, in real time I thought it was a clean check, though the Flyers' faithful were livid. The replay they showed was a bit deceiving, zooming in on the impact and aftermath, where Kronwall's arm came up a little after he had already nailed Jake. In actuality, it was a clean hit, although it was a dangerous one at the same time. The prime impact was up high, near Voracek's head. It'll be interesting to see if anything is done with that, given that it was clean yet high. Truthfully, I don't think Kronwall did anything wrong. In fact, it was Voracek's mistake for putting his head down, especially knowing Kronwall was within striking distance.

However, the big hit didn't have the intended result for Kronwall and the Red Wings. In fact, it was the complete opposite. The hit riled up the natives, and the Wells Fargo Center turned it up a notch after that. And Voracek's teammates weren't going to sit idly by and let Kronwall just take out their teammate without any sort of repercussions. Giroux had a few lengthy verbal spars with Kronwall, Scott Hartnell began throwing his body around, and Zac Rinaldo attempted to make someone answer the bell, though no Red Wing would oblige. Instead, Rinaldo got tabbed for an absolutely weak unsportsmanlike conduct penalty shortly thereafter, as he was trying to get someone to go with him as Claude was jawing at Kronwall.

That only got the crowd more into it, as the chants of "ASS-HOLE, ASS-HOLE" rained down upon the men in stripes. Detroit may have had the power play, but the Flyers had turned a scary moment into a momentum builder.

The Flyers killed off that ensuing penalty, then were out for blood. Scott Hartnell took a run and absolutely destroyed a Red Wing. Every time Kronwall touched the puck, the boos were deafening, and every time he went back in his own zone to retrieve a puck, the Flyers targeted him. Even Jaromir Jagr aggressively went at Kronwall, throwing a rare hard check on him — one that proved costly. Jagr fell awkwardly as he hit Kronwall and came up a little gimpy. He would not return after that, suffering a hip injury. Not good.

Then a few moments later, Hartnell was called for a roughing minor that really got the fans upset. Honestly, it was a penalty on Hartnell. He hit Doug Janik with the puck already long gone. But given the way the crowd was in a frenzy, it just juiced up the fans even more. And on the ensuing penalty kill, the place erupted. Giroux blocked a pass out high and streaked the other way, blowing by Ian White for a semi-breakaway. The newest public enemy No. 1 in Philly, Kronwall, was chasing down Giroux. Claude still broke in and got a shot off that was stopped, but with White chasing and Kronwall trying to cut the angle on Giroux, Max Talbot was all alone for the rebound, depositing it in the back of the net to give the Flyers a two-goal lead and blow the roof off the building.

Lost in the shuffle of all the madness, however, was the fact that after a first period in which the Flyers outshot the Red Wings 9-2, Detroit was the one getting most of the pressure. The big hit, crowd noise and shorthanded goal overshadowed what was happening in between on the ice. The Red Wings began cranking it up a notch and firing shots at Bryzgalov, and Ilya answered the bell every time. He faced 16 shots in the second, stopping them all. Then in the third, he faced 21 more. One did get by, as Hartnell took an awful goaltender interference penalty that led to a Detroit power play — horrible given the time and the situation, the Flyers trying to protect a two-goal lead — and right as the penalty expired Johan Franzen found himself all alone with room to snipe, beating Bryz on a beautiful shot.

But from there on out, Bryzgalov stopped everything in his path. With the team already down arguably its three top defensemen — captain Chris Pronger, all-star Kimmo Timonen and last year's Barry Ashbee winner for the Flyers best defenseman Andrej Meszaros — and then losing two forwards during the game last night, the Flyers needed Bryzgalov more than ever.

The mercurial goalie was brilliant last night, his fourth straight game of brilliance to be exact. He was fantastic in the 1-0 loss to San Jose last week, pretty good again in the 6-3 over the Islanders, then perfect Sunday against the Caps in the 1-0 shutout victory. And last night, he was without a shadow of a doubt the best player on the ice, stopping 37 shots, including some absolutely brilliant ones, and was in complete control in the third period when the Flyers were on their heels, getting outshot 21-6 in the final 20 minutes. He looked composed and focused, getting square to every shot, absorbing pucks and controlling things on the back end. He looked like the goaltender the Flyers thought they were getting when they dished out that humongous big contract.

Now that the Flyers need him more than ever, Bryzgalov is rising to the task, something I didn't think he had in him this season. But he's getting hot at the right time and as the pressure is rising. Three of the team's top defensemen are gone, and injuries continue to ravage the forwards. Yet there is Bryzgalov to save the day. And he stole the show from Mark Howe last night, earning the first star honors.

I have to give a shout-out to a few other Flyers as well. First and foremost, I cannot possibly say enough about Pavel Kubina. I liked the trade when it happened, bringing in a big, physical, steady defenseman who also happens to be a right-hand shot. I knew Kubina was a good player, having seen him so often. But I wasn't quite sure he could shoulder really big minutes given his age, and I don't think the Flyers expected him to with guys like Timonen, Meszaros, Braydon Coburn and Matt Carle.

However, with Timonen and Meszaros out, Kubina has had to play a lot, and right now, he's the best defenseman on the team. Better than Coburn, better than Carle, better than anyone on the blue line. And last night he was incredible again, doing a masterful job on the penalty kill, moving bodies and making the right play time and time again. He won a ton of battles along the boards, never got caught out of position and really steadied a defense corps that desperately needs a leader right now. I can't say enough about his effort last night. Really impressive.

As was Eric Wellwood. In the limited action for Wellwood in the NHL, I've been impressed with the kid every time he's played. But last night, he showed me even more. With Jagr and Voracek going down, he had to do a lot more than he's used to, playing a little more on regular shifts, but more importantly taking Voracek's spot on the PK. And man, did he do an incredible job chasing down pucks, winning battles and getting puck out of the zone on the PK. Great work by Wellwood last night.

Finally, I have to give credit to Peter Laviolette and Sean Couturier. In the final minute, I said to silver fox that Lavvy should put Giroux, Talbot and maybe Brayden Schenn out there to wrap up the game with the one-goal lead, since Giroux and Talbot are the best defensive forwards on the team and Schenn had been taking most of the shifts with Giroux since Jagr left the game. Before I could even finish my sentence, Talbot and Giroux were skating to the dot … along with Couturier, another tremendous defender. And to my surprise, not only was the 19-year-old Couturier out there, but he was out there taking the face-off against one of the best players in the world, Henrik Zetterberg.

Couturier proceeded to do a great job on two face-offs of tying up Zetterberg and killing valuable time, and then ultimately winning the final face-off against Henrik to help secure the victory. Great to see Couturier bare down and get the job done in the face-off circle when it mattered most, something the Flyers have struggled with all season.

It was an all-around great game and great atmosphere. Mark Howe's jersey now hangs in the rafters among other Flyers greats such as Bobby Clarke, Bill Barber and Bernie Parent; I got to be in the same building as Gordie Howe, one of the three or four most famous hockey players of all time (along with Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr and perhaps Mario Lemieux); the Flyers won; and most importantly and most encouraging, Ilya Bryzgalov stole the show, playing as well as a goalie possibly can to help steal a victory.

Hopefully Voracek isn't concussed for the rest of the season and Jagr can recover quickly. And if the Flyers can find a way to get healthy and Bryzgalov continues his recent ascent, this team may not be in quite as much trouble as was once thought.

The Most Memorable NCAA Tournament Game I Don’t Remember

The Most Memorable NCAA Tournament Game I Don’t Remember

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Bright Spots in a Dark Season on The Main Line

This season has not gone the way we have come to expect under Jay Wright. Villanova finished the regular season 12-18 and 14th in the Big East. Barring what would have to be called a beyond miraculous run at this week's Big East Tournament, the Wildcats will miss out on postseason play for the first time in 7 seasons. I fully expected this to be a somewhat down season for the 'Cats, but was thinking more along the lines of sneaking into the field of 68 or at least a trip to the NIT. Neither of those will be happening. And so all that is left for a fan to do is to look towards next season and for some glimmers of hope. Here are the few I could find and what I will be clinging to as I wait for next season.

The development of Mouphtaou Yarou.
The Rev and I have discussed the fact that Mouph's development had slowed or even disappeared during the course of the season, and there is evidence to support this idea. However, I will choose to look at his season to season improvement (4.5 pts and 3.7 rebs as a freshman, 8.4 and 7.1 last year, and 10.9 and 8.2 this season) and hope that this trend will continue into his senior year, allowing him to be an impact player for the Wildcats next season. One disturbing trend is that his FG percentage has declined each season since he was a freshman, but hopefully he will put in the work this summer to reverse that trend.

JayVaughn Pinkston.
JayVaughn came to the Main Line as a highly touted recruit last season, only to be suspended for the entire year because of an off campus incident. He redshirted and began this season with freshman eligibility. Pinkston didn't show much early in the season, and this combined with the fact that he doesn't really look like a basketball player had me concerned that he wouldn't be what Jay Wright hoped he would when he recruited him. However, Pinkston finished the season averaging 10 points and 5 rebounds, decent numbers for a freshman in a big time conference. Even more encouraging were a few select performances, most notably his 23 and 11 against Seton Hall (sadly 'Nova's most impressive win of the season) and his 28 and 14 in a comeback win over Providence after Maalik Wayns went down with a knee injury. If JayVaughn can continue to mature and put up games like that more consistently, 'Nova has a much greater chance of returning to the type of program we now expect them to be.

The 2012 recruiting class.

Highlighted by two four-star recruits, Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu, the class has been ranked as a top five group. Arcidiacono is a 6'3" point guard out of Neshaminy and Ochefu is a 6'9" center from Westtown. If coach Wright and the Wildcats can manage to add five-star Amile Jefferson and/or four-star Torian Graham to an already promising class Villanova will have the talent to start another long streak of NCAA tournament appearances and an opportunity for some very special seasons.

Maalik Wayns was a bright spot, pretty much doing what was expected of him. He averaged 17.5 points and 4.6 assists and was named second-team All Big-East. More reason for hope lies in the fact that not one senior played significant minutes for this team. Maalik and Mouph will return as senior leaders next season, and five freshman (Ty Johnson, JayVaughn Pinkston, Darrun Hilliard, Markus Kennedy, and Achraf Yacoubou) all averaged over 10 minutes a game, gaining invaluable experience. Next season should certainly be an improvement, and a few years down the line there is potential for the Wildcats to be a very dangerous team.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Duke-Carolina Round 2 Summarized in 2 Plays

In the first meeting between Duke and North Carolina, the Tar Heels blew a late 10-point lead and lost on a last-second buzzer beater by Austin Rivers. There would be no such comeback for the Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium Saturday for the regular-season finale, as UNC destroyed Duke from start to finish, winning 88-70 and taking home the ACC regular season title.

Three Tar Heels finished with double-doubles on the day, as Tyler Zeller more than likely solidified his ACC Player of the Year award with 19 points and 10 rebounds on 9-11 shooting, John Henson added 13 and 10, and Kendall Marshall was magnificent, scoring a game-high 20 points and dishing out 10 assists.

Carolina did what it was unable to do in the Dean Dome, suffocating Duke at the three-point line and forcing the Blue Devils to beat them inside. Even with the Plumlee brothers playing pretty well, that's a mismatch that no team in America can win. The front court of Zeller, Hanson and Harrison Barnes is the best in the country, and UNC displayed that Saturday.

However, the dominance is best encapsulated by two plays from UNC freshmen James McAdoo and P.J. Hairston.

Those plays displayed the utter dominance UNC had on the boards, hauling in 13 offensive rebounds and out-rebounding Duke 42-22 for the game. If the Heels play that kind of defense, especially at the three-point line (Duke was just 6-21 from beyond), you could just see UNC end up where it started the season — the No. 1 team in the country.

More Evan and Jrue, Less Iggy and Lou

The Sixers lost yet another heartbreaker, relinquishing a first-half lead before coming back late only to fall short 96-91 to the Chicago Bulls, who just so happened to have the best record in the NBA.

It was the Sixers' 7th loss in 9 games, an alarming streak for a team that looked so poised and mentally tough in the first half of the season. Everyone knew that as the schedule got tougher, the Sixers would come back down to earth slightly, but I don't think anyone really expected the current slide they are on. Not with the way the team had matured and progressed through the first part of the season.

The good news is that the Sixers really have been close in almost every game. They aren't getting blown out by the better teams they face. In fact, you could argue that during this current skid, the Sixers could have won 4 of those 7 losses. But last night was just another instance of the difference between the Sixers and the top teams: the Bulls leaned on Derrick Rose down the stretch, a superstar who took over and willed Chicago to victory, while the Sixers just couldn't find that go-to guy.

Rose was magnificent last night, scoring a game-high 35 points and completely taking over the game in the second half. Each and every trip down the floor, Rose had the ball in his hands, and damn near every time that meant trouble for the Sixers.

Conversely, there were Sixers, following a late comeback sparked by the tremendous play of Thaddeus Young, juggling the ball back and forth between Andre Iguodala and Lou Williams.

When the fourth quarter rolls around, Doug Collins has made it a habit of putting the ball in Williams' hands and letting he and Iguodala decide the Sixers' fate. In theory, this makes sense. Lou Will has been Philadelphia's best clutch scorer the past two seasons, a guy who is among the highest scorers in the fourth quarter this year in the entire NBA. He's hit some big shots and been the difference down the stretch in a good number of games. And Andre Iguodala, for all his clutch shooting woes, is Philadelphia's best player, a guy who has matured and developed with his shot selection the older he's gotten. So yeah, in theory it makes sense to put the ball in the hands of Williams and Iguodala, two of the senior members on the roster.

But in practice, it's actually detrimental to the team, at least in the long run, to always put the ball in those two players' hands and taking it out of the younger players' hands. For starters, Lou Will is a chucker, plain and simple. Yes, he's been a guy who has hit some big shots for this team, but his shot selection is awful. One of the worst things to ever happen to Lou is that now that he's hit a few big shots, he feels like he has to take every big shot. Here's the thing, he's not that guy. He's not Kobe or Wade or LeBron or Dirk. He's not D-Rose or Deron Williams or Kevin Durant. He's not the other-level guy who can get and make any shot on the floor. Yet he thinks he is, so he's out there to shoot, shot selection be damned. He's going to iso himself more times than not and play one-on-one, whereas the Sixers are actually at their best when the ball is moving from side to side and everyone is involved. In fact, the Sixers are actually at their worst when they iso a player and everyone else stands around. It's the opposite of the Allen Iverson era in that regard.

Then there is Iguodala, a guy who has become so synonymous with bricking clutch shots that it's becoming known as "the Iggy." That's not a good thing. It's the equivalent of "the Jimmy," in Phillies terms. Every Phillies fan alive knows what you're referring to when you say that's "a Jimmy" right there. A Jimmy is popping up the first pitch lazily for an out. Well, "the Iggy" is bricking a clutch shot that would either tie the game or win it, certainly not something any player wants to be known for, but something Andre Iguodala has earned over the years. He did it again last night, taking an absolutely horrendous three-pointer that could have tied it. It was an awful shot, one that stood no chance, because Iguodala rushed himself and fired an ill-advised shot instead of using the time he had to get or create a better one. Same old, same old.

And this brings me back to Doug Collins. It's no mystery what his logic is when he puts the ball in the hands of Williams or Iguodala at the end of games. The biggest problem is, however, that he's taking the ball out of young point guard Jrue Holiday's hands, stunting his growth, and rarely if ever putting Evan Turner, last year's number 2 overall pick, on the floor in these clutch situations. It's a clear sign that Collins doesn't trust his two youngest, most promising players, and worse, he's not giving them a chance to develop in those situations for the future. That is inexcusable to me.

Don't get me wrong, the Sixers are a competitive team that should be out there trying to win every game. But let's not fool ourselves. The Sixers are nowhere near championship-level. This current nine-game stretch has proven that, and Derrick Rose really drove that home last night. So for the betterment of the team moving forward, it would behoove Collins to put the ball in his young point guard's hands and let him decide the outcome. That's what a point guard is supposed to do, make plays at the end of the game to put his team in position to win. Jrue is now in his 3rd season. It's time to hand the reins over to him full time and let him grow, otherwise, what's the point?

The same goes for Turner. In his second year now, Turner looks a lot more like the confident, versatile player he was at Ohio State. But for whatever reason, he can't seem to get on Collins' good side. Despite playing stellar defense, rebounding with abandon and looking more confident with his shot, he never seems to be on the floor consistently, most especially in the deciding moments of the game. I just don't get it. I really don't.

If the goal for Philadelphia is to develop this young talent and ultimately decide whether or not they can become a true contender down the line, then Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner need to be the centerpieces. We all know what Andre Iguodala and Lou Williams are at this point. They are both valuable players on any roster, Iggy the do-it-all type who can defend at an elite level, Lou instant offense off the bench. But they aren't the building blocks of a potential future contender. Maybe Jrue and Evan aren't either, but they have the potential to be, otherwise they wouldn't have been drafted when they were. Now's the time to let them grow, let them spread their wings and find out what the Sixers really have in them.

For the good of the franchise, we need more Evan and Jrue, less Andre and Lou.