Big 5 Bounced from A10 Tourney, Temple Awaits Selection Show

Big 5 Bounced from A10 Tourney, Temple Awaits Selection Show

Both the St. Joseph's University Hawks and the Temple Owls have been eliminated from the Atlantic 10 tournament. The Dayton Flyers and Richmond Spiders will meet at 1p.m. tomorrow to determine a champion.

I think we might as well just address this thing in order. We'll start with the Hawks, move to the Owls and try to fit it at all together

St. Joseph's:

The Hawks got further than anyone could have ever expected. Their 64-61 defeat at the hands of the Dayton Flyers is nothing for the young team to feel shame over.

Having only won nine games all year, their mini-run to the semifinals of the Atlantic 10 tournament is a clear sign of growth. Though no one has been officially mentioning coach Phil Martelli's job security, or potential lack thereof, the struggles of his program over the last few years have been hard to overlook. From multiple transfers to losing seasons to difficulties in recruiting, the magic of the Hawks 2004 (debatably) undefeated season seemed a far distant memory. Moreover, Phil's declaration that the run would put St. Joseph's on the national map looked more foolhardy and overblown with each successive setback.

Still, Martelli has assembled a nice young core of talent, all of whom figure to grow together as a unit over the next two to three seasons. If Jones can learn to channel his raw athelticism into consistently repeatable performances, and if Aiken can develop instincts greater than the singular ability to block shots, and if Galloway progresses on the track widelly assumed for his future, then the program could once again become a factor in the league.

Unfortunately for you SJU fans, two of those three hyptoheticals are big IFs. In the meantime, just tell your coach to chill with all that "The Hawk Will Never Die" stuff after putting together an eleven win season. There's a time and place, Phil, a time and a place.

The Temple University Basketball Owls:

As enough of you know, Saturday's 58-54 loss hits pretty close to home for me. But, in the interest of your reading enjoyment -- my number one priority at all times -- I'll do my best to divorce myself from the matter at hand.

Where to begin? Well, I suppose the top is as good as any. The Temple Owls hammered the Richmond Spiders just three weeks ago by a margin of 20. It was Temple's first match up after the loss of starting center Michael Eric to a season-ending knee injury. Beating a team like Richmond in that fashion gave both the team and its fans a huge boost of confidence heading forward. Still, I knew better than to make too much of that one outcome:

The result of this game in no way reflects the talent level of the Richmond Spiders. Kevin Anderson is an elite guard, and the substantially improved play of big men Justin Harper and Dan Geriot makes Richmond a veteran team Temple fans shouldn't be too eager to see again. The Owls are not going to shoot that well every night, and Richmond won't go quietly a second time. Chalk this is up as unexpected rolling and don't take it for granted.

And now, here I sit three weeks later, taking no comfort in the facts I knew to be true. In this case, calling it right still freaking sucks.

As for the game itself, Temple fought admirably, but succumbed to its persistent lack of depth in the face of injury. Again, absolutely nothing has changed since the Owls rolled the Spiders on February 18th:

If at any point Lavoy finds the same kind of foul trouble he did early in the year, then Temple will be forced to play a three (probably, in honest, four) guard line-up with Jefferson as the center. Also checking in at 6'6, Junior Scootie Randall, Temple's best perimeter defender, will fill in on the opposite block at power forward. This also assumes, by the way, that Rhalir is able to stay on the floor and off the PF sheet himself. If not, you're looking at graduate walk-on Dutch Gaitley as the only meaningful height on the roster.

Unfortunately, come tournament time, Temple didn't even have the benefit of Randall, whose been sidelined for the last two weeks with what is reported to be a hairline fracture on the top of his foot.

Though Temple had, thankfully, avoided the kind of foul trouble described above since losing Randall and Eric, they couldn't avoid it against the Spiders Saturday. Both Lavoy Allen and Rahlir Jefferson picked up early fouls that allowed Jason Harper, Dan Geriot and 2010 A10 MVP Kevin Anderson to create substantial match up problems for the short-handed Owls.

Anderson and Harper dominated the game and the box score with 22 and 18 points, respectively. Harper played a crafty mix of post-up and face-up play that allowed Richmond to create a dynamic mix of offense. At the top of the key, Kevin Anderson is just flat out too quick. When you're in foul trouble and he's beating his defender to the basket, back up can be, and was indeed, hard to find in the lane.

Before shifting back to Temple, I do take my hat off to Richmond coach Chris Mooney. When asked to provide an opening statement in his post-game presser, he intentionally cut himself short so as not to take attention away from the performance of his players:

"I couldn't be more -- I don't want to say too much, because growing up I would always make fun of the coaches who cried at the podium. So, I don't want to get too emotional, but I'm extremely proud of my guys."

Mooney was visibly emotional at times when answering questions, and appeared to almost choke up a bit in discussing what Kevin Anderson has meant to both the team and himself as a coach. Chris Mooney is a classy guy who shows tremendous poise both on and off the court; so, it's nice to see the guy's hard work pay off, even if it is at Temple's expense. 

For the Owls, the small squad who lived and died by the three ultimately got burnt from the long range. Though Temple asserted itself in the game early by going 5-8 from behind the arc, the team would finish the game just 7 for 25. Quick and obvious math shows that Temple only converted 2 of its final 17 attempts from three.

The most blatant example of the team's shooting woes came in the form of the streaky Juan Fernandez. The 2010 Tournament MVP struggled to find a similar string of luck in 2011. His line against Richmond Saturday is the following mixed bag of extreme pluses and minuses:

7 pts, (a career high) 10 ast, 7 reb, 3 TO, 3-17 FG, 1-7 3FG, 0-1 FT

Putting all the totals, good and bad, aside, Temple coach Fran Dunphy remained obviously confident in his junior point guard after the game:

"Yeah...I think he tried to force a couple of things. But we're going to trust Juan Fernandez with the ball...He had a couple of tough shots at the basket that I'm sure he would change if he could. But 10 assists is very good and he's a terrific player...I'll trust Juan Fernandez with the ball anytime."

For senior Lavoy Allen, Saturday was the first time in his college career that the Owls would lose a game in Boardwalk Hall. Temple fans, take a long look at your program's all-time leading rebounder when he takes the floor next week; every game from here on out may be your last chance to see him in an Owl uniform.

The NCAA selection show kicks off at 5:30 tomorrow evening on CBS. I'll be back to break down the local match ups and points of interest. Until then, I'm gonna go lick my wounds and try to salvage this hotel room in Atlantic City. Suggested locales for my persual are welcomed.

Related links:

Stay or Go Part 9: Jalen Mills to Wendell Smallwood

Stay or Go Part 9: Jalen Mills to Wendell Smallwood

In the ninth of our 12-part offseason series examining the future of the Eagles, Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro give their opinions on who will be and who won't be on the roster in 2017. We go alphabetically — part 9 is Mills to Smallwood.

Jalen Mills
Cap hit: $559K

Roob: Mills has all the tools to be a capable cornerback except world-class speed. He’s fearless, he’s cocky, he’s smart, he’s a hard worker. He just doesn’t have that make-up speed you want your top outside corners to have. I’ve seen enough positives from Mills that I definitely want him on my team. I’m not sure he’ll ever be a starter, but I definitely want him around.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Mills really got thrown into the fire as a seventh-round rookie, didn’t he? It wasn’t all good, but it wasn’t all bad either. It’s pretty obvious defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s loves Mills’ competitiveness. He doesn’t have top-end speed and that’s probably going to prevent him from ever becoming a top-of-the-line corner in the league. But there’s no reason he can’t stick around for a long time. He certainly has the right mindset to be a corner in the NFL and that’s a part of the battle. The Eagles really need to upgrade the corner position, which could greatly reduce Mills’ role, but he should still have one. 

Verdict: STAYS

Aaron Neary

Roob: Neary is a guard who spent the year on the Eagles’ practice squad.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: I’d say there’s a fair to good chance most of you have never heard of Aaron Neary. He’s an undrafted O-lineman out of Eastern Washington who was on the practice squad in 2016. I’d be lying if I told you I knew a lot about him. 

Verdict: GOES

Jason Peters
Cap hit: $11.7M

Roob: Cut Jason Peters at your own risk. You want the $9.2 million cap savings that the Eagles would gain by releasing the perennial Pro Bowler? Find it somewhere else. Because some guys simply should never be released. Peters is an all-time great Eagle and unless his level of play drops off dramatically, he should be allowed to decide when it’s time to go. Only Chuck Bednarik has been picked to more Pro Bowls than Peters in Eagles history. Peters rebounded from a subpar 2015 with a vintage Peters season this past year. Considering that the Eagles have a promising young quarterback who has to be protected and considering that Lane Johnson is one more positive test from a two-year suspension, Peters has to stay. I don’t care what the cap savings would be by getting rid of him. He’s too good and means too much to cut him. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Sure, the Eagles could save over $9 million in cap room if they cut Peters, but who would they get to play? While they’d be fine moving Lane Johnson to left tackle, they’d then be relying on Halapoulivaati Vaitai to play right tackle. And while that might be the plan in coming years, it would weaken the team in 2017. Peters might not be the dominant force he once was, but he had a very good season and he was able to play 97 percent of the team’s offensive snaps, which is huge. He gets paid a lot, but he’s still worth it. 

Verdict: STAYS

Isaac Seumalo
Cap hit: $764K

Roob: I asked Jason Kelce about Seumalo back in training camp and Kelce said he thinks the third-round pick will one day be a Pro Bowl center. Pretty clear Seumalo is the heir apparent to Kelce, it’s just a matter of when the transition occurs. Kelce wasn’t as awful as some people seem to think. He actually finished the season strong. But I think Kelce goes this offseason and Seumalo is your opening-day center in 2017. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Seumalo’s rookie year was a really interesting one. It started with a pec strain in training camp that slowed him down, but eventually ended with his getting some real experience. In all, Seumalo played six different positions in 2016: right tackle, right guard, left guard, left tackle, fullback and tight end. He didn’t even play center, which might be his most natural spot. I think he’ll have a real shot to be the team’s opening-day starter at left guard. 

Verdict: STAYS

Aziz Shittu

Roob: Rookie defensive tackle spent the year on the practice squad. Depending on what happens with Bennie Logan in free agency, the Eagles could be on the prowl for defensive tackle depth this offseason, and Shittu is an interesting guy. He had a good training camp last year coming off a solid career at Stanford and it’s fair to say he has a chance, depending on what the Eagles do in the draft and free agency. Going with my instincts on this one.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: I actually really liked Shittu coming out of Stanford and not just because I giggle like a schoolgirl every time I hear his name. For an interior defensive lineman, he has some real pass rushing potential. I think he would have been the undrafted guy to make the team over Destiny Vaeao had he not missed the spring because of the silly college graduation/quarters rule. I’d like to see him get a legitimate shot to stick here. It’s a longshot, but I’m going to take a chance with this one. I think he can make the roster. 

Verdict: STAYS

Wendell Smallwood
Cap hit: $601K

Roob: We spend so much time talking about the Eagles’ desperate needs at cornerback and wide receiver that it’s easy to forget they're just as desperate at running back. Assuming Ryan Mathews isn’t back, the Eagles will have a real need for a No. 1 back. You can’t draft or sign every position. So Smallwood could get a real shot at the lead back role. Can he handle the role or is he best suited to be a No. 2? Not sure yet. I like how Smallwood responded when he got double-digit carries against the Steelers, Falcons and Seahawks. Averaged 4.2 yards in those three games. And he had nine runs of 10 yards or more out of just 77 carries. I know Smallwood is a player. I’m just not sure where he’ll fit in. Maybe it’s the No. 28 jersey, but at worst I see him as a Correll Buckhalter-type, a solid No. 2 back who can fill in once in a while as a lead guy. At best? We’ll see. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Smallwood might not be the true answer at the running back position, but he proved enough to earn a roster spot next year and a role in the offense. I’m not sure if his ceiling is very high, but he got better throughout the year, specifically as a blocker. He’ll be back for Year 2. 

Verdict: STAYS

Flyers in familiar spot in standings as critical games before break await

Flyers in familiar spot in standings as critical games before break await

While many people believe the Flyers are in far better shape right now than where they were a year ago, the fact is, they are pretty much the same.
 
After 48 games played, the Flyers have the same number of points now as they did last season – 52.
 
The critical difference – and this is why fans say they’re better off – is that a year ago at this juncture, the Flyers were five points behind Pittsburgh in the wild-card chase.
 
Right now, they own the second wild-card spot, but there are five teams behind them within four points or less of catching them, two of which have games in hand.
 
Earlier this week, Toronto was ahead of them and the Maple Leafs have three games in hand, which makes Thursday’s showdown against the upstart Leafs at Wells Fargo Center a very critical game.
 
That game represents the back end of the Flyers' 13th back-to-back set, which starts Wednesday with a date at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers.
 
If ever two games in a short week prior to the All-Star break were of prime significance, these next two seem to qualify.
 
“A hundred percent,” said Jakub Voracek, the Flyers' leading scorer with 42 points. “It’s the same for every game. Practice and come to the rink with a win in your head.”
 
To a man, the Flyers go into the nationally televised showdown with the Rangers feeling great about themselves because of the extraordinary effort they showed in Sunday’s 3-2 comeback victory against the Islanders in OT.
 
“I felt like we won the Stanley Cup with that overtime goal,” Voracek kidded. “That’s how happy we were. There was a lot of relief. Now we have to keep going.”
 
Just five points separate nine teams from the second wild-card position right now. The Eastern Conference is just as tight as it’s always been. Within the Metropolitan Division, just five points separate the Flyers from the three times tied for last in the conference - the Islanders, Sabres and Lightning.  
 
“It’s been that way,” said coach Dave Hakstol. “Right from the drop of the puck in October, it was going to be a battle. You can’t get too distracted by it. You worry about the job in hand and that’s tomorrow.”
 
The focus this week is rather narrow: two games left before the All-Star break begins on Friday.
 
“Yeah, both these games have implications directed to us in the standings,” said goalie Steve Mason, who will start against the Rangers. “Both being Eastern Conference teams and they are right with one another.
 
“We have to have a short mindset. We have the Rangers and that’s going to be a tough game going into MSG. Once that game is over, we focus on the Leafs.”
 
The Rangers have beaten the Flyers twice this season already – both in South Philly. While the games were mostly competitive, there remains a huge disparity in one critical area for both teams this season: goal differential.
 
The Rangers have a plus-40 differential while the Flyers check in at minus-18. As poor as Henrik Lundqvist (2.75 goals against average) has been this season – although his recent performances are trending upward – he still owns the Flyers.
 
In his last 15 games against the Flyers, going back to Jan. 1, 2013, Lundqvist is 11-3-0 with a 1.91 GAA and .938 save percentage.
 
“This is huge, especially in MSG,” Voracek said. “We lost two games in a row to them at home. Hopefully, we get points.”
 
In his last three starts this month, Lundqvist is 3-0, with a 1.32 GAA and .952 save percentage. In other words, the “old” King Henrik appears to have regained his throne just in time to face the Flyers.
 
“Their goaltender has been outstanding over this past stretch for them,” Hakstol said. “Their team is playing well.
 
“We have to worry more about our team. We’re not going to control what their side is going to do. We can control what we do.”