League Pass Alert: Sixers Face Wolves in A Bounce-Back Game, We Hope

League Pass Alert: Sixers Face Wolves in A Bounce-Back Game, We Hope

As fun as it was to watch these Sixers for the first 25 games this year,
the last six have been pretty rough. Not historically bad or
anything—they're 2-4, but the four losses were all to good teams, and at
least one of them could have easily gone the other way—but nonetheless,
still the first really discouraging stretch of what has otherwise been a
fantastically promising season. After winning four of the first five
games of our Death March stretch, nobody can say that the Ballers
haven't beaten anyone good, but after losing four of six since, we can't
say they really deserve to be considered one of the elite teams either.

Much as we'd like to blame the recent cold streak on the condensed
season and general injuries, neither excuse really applies here. The
schedule has been rough, but no rougher than it's been for anyone
else—each of the team's four recent losses came after an off day, so
fatigue shouldn't have been a huge factor. And while obviously injuries
to some of our big man have hurt, especially the extended absence of
Spencer Hawes, it's actually been our guard play that's hurt us
recently—Friday night against Mavs, the Sixers' five primary perimeter
players went a combined 12-47, with Jrue Holiday and Jodie Meeks failing
to convert a single field goal.

So what to attribute the team's recent struggles to? Well, probably a
combination of natural factors—the schedule got tougher, scouting on the
Sixers got better, other teams (many of whom had to integrate far many
more new pieces than the Sixers) finally started to gel, and Philly was
probably due for a little regression to the mean after playing so out of
their heads in the season's first 25 games. For the record, they're not
alone in their current malaise—the Pacers, Nuggets and Blazers, all
teams that (like the Sixers) jumped out to hot starts thanks to their
deep rosters and young legs, have also struggled recently, going a
combined 12-19 for the month of February.

In any event, the Sixers get a chance to turn things around tonight in
Minnesota against a tough and trendy Timberwolves team. The Wolves,
anchored by the highlight-reel passing of rookie point guard Ricky Rubio
and the grind-it-out stat-stuffing of power forward Kevin Love, have
become the toast of the NBA blogosphere this season, a fun, young team
that, while not quite on the level of the Sixers and company
record-wise, have improved greatly this year, starting 15-16 and
threatening to give Minnesota their first winning season since 2005.
Rebounding will obviously be a key against the 'Pack, with the size and
strength of the Wolves front line of Love and surging second-year big
Nikola Pekovic a danger to muscle the Sixers off the boards completely.

7:00 tip from the Target Center. The doldrums of recent weeks are
explainable, if not necessarily excusable, but if we want to stay ahead
of the improving Celtics and the Linsane Knicks in the Atlantic
Division—and secure home-court advantage in the first round—we need to
start winning games again, pure and simple. Three more games before the
All-Star Break, let's win some of 'em, huh?

No. 1 Villanova vs. La Salle: Wildcats look to stay hot vs. Explorers at Palestra

No. 1 Villanova vs. La Salle: Wildcats look to stay hot vs. Explorers at Palestra

No. 1 Villanova (8-0) at La Salle (4-2) 
7 p.m. at The Palestra

Villanova, now the top-ranked team in the country, travels to the Palestra on Tuesday night for another Big 5 game, this one against La Salle (the home team), which has won three straight games.

Let's get you ready for the matchup:

Last time out
La Salle beat Bucknell, 83-73, on Saturday.

Villanova won, 88-47, over Saint Joseph’s.

Scouting report
Villanova, which is undefeated, has become the No. 1 team in the country after beating St. Joe’s handily on Saturday. Josh Hart, who had a triple-double in the game, has been a major reason for the Wildcats' success so far this season. The senior is averaging 17.1 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game. 

La Salle has won three games in a row after losing at the buzzer to Texas Southern on its homecoming game. Against Bucknell, Jordan Price had 20 points, while B.J. Johnson had 22. Johnson, a transfer from Syracuse, leads the team in scoring with 18.7 points per game.

What it means
Villanova is the best in the country right now, and it moved up to No. 1 after Kentucky lost to UCLA. Another win will give the Wildcats good momentum heading into their Saturday matchup with No. 23 Notre Dame. A victory would also extend Villanova's all-time record Big 5 winning streak to 16 games.

La Salle head coach John Gianinni could potentially be on the hot seat if the Explorers suffer another poor season. A win against the defending national champions would alleviate any chatter about his status.

Series history
This is the first and only time the Big 5 rivals will meet this season. Jay Wright is 13-2 all-time against the Explorers, and his group blew them out last season, 76-47.

What’s next?
La Salle will head to Miami for the Hoophall Miami Invitational to take on Georgetown this Saturday at the American Airlines Arena.

Villanova travels to Newark, New Jersey, to meet No. 23 Notre Dame at the Prudential Center.

Doug Pederson doesn't think 2016 struggles will ruin Carson Wentz in long term

Doug Pederson doesn't think 2016 struggles will ruin Carson Wentz in long term

In his first month in the NFL, Carson Wentz's trophy case was filling up quickly. 

He won two NFL Rookie of the Week awards to go along with being named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week in Week 3 and the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Month for September. 

It's hard to believe all of that happened this year. 

Since September, the Eagles have gone 2-7 and Wentz has looked like a rookie. Sure, the Eagles have some major deficiencies on offense that haven't made his life any easier, but it's no longer possible to simply overlook the regression of the No. 2 overall pick. 

Could this tough stretch negatively affect Wentz long term?  

"I don't think it's going to affect Carson going forward," head coach Doug Pederson said on Monday. "I just don't think it's going to affect him at all, because he's really a pro's pro and he's learning how to handle adversity for the first time, probably, in his career. It's something that we get to the OTAs and we get a full offseason in and we just continue to work on it."

It's fair to say the 2016 season was probably never really about this year and making the playoffs. It's clear the more important thing is to develop Wentz into the franchise quarterback they drafted him to be. But the one thing the team probably didn't want to see was regression. It seems like that's what has happened. 

In the first four games of the season, Wentz had a passer rating over 100 three times and hasn't done it since then. Take a look at the difference in the first quarter of his season compared to the next two. 

First four games: Completion percentage of 67 percent, 7 touchdowns, 1 interception, passer rating of 103.5. 

Next eight: Completion percentage of 61 percent, 5 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, passer rating of 70.1. 

The Eagles will enter their final quarter of the season when they host Washington on Sunday. The best way to avoid any long-term issues stemming from a tough rookie season is to end on a stronger note. 

"Well, you avoid it by trying to win a football game, and you try to win as many as you can now with these last four that we've got," Pederson said. "If you're looking towards next season, you always want to go out with a bang and try to win as many as you can down the stretch."

Way back in training camp, the plan was for 2016 to be a redshirt year for Wentz. He was supposed to sit behind Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel, but Bradford was traded and the Eagles elected to start their prized quarterback from the onset. 

Wentz went from a redshirt season to being on pace to throw 603 passes, which would shatter the Eagles' record for a single season. 

"These are some of the decisions that I made back when the trade was made that if there was going to be some growing pains, these were going to be some of the pains we were going to have to go through," Pederson said. "And just him understanding and him learning and us growing together as an offense, he and I growing as coach and quarterback together, it's all part of the process."

Wentz and Pederson seemingly had a disagreement after Sunday's game, when Pederson attributed Wentz's struggles to mechanical problems, while Wentz denied that was the case. Pederson held firm to his belief that those mechanical issues can be corrected and it's probable Wentz spoke out of frustration on Sunday night. 

If Wentz is frustrated, it would be understandable. It hasn't been an easy couple of months. 

"I see him handling it well," Pederson said. "These are discussions that we will have, myself, [Eagles offensive coordinator] Frank [Reich], Carson [Wentz], as we talk to him, because we've played obviously at this level, and my experience, even in this city playing and knowing what that's all about, we can really help him. It’s our job to help him and make sure that he stays on track and stays focused and he doesn't get derailed by anything that's coming from the outside."