Killer Night for Philadelphia Basketball...Unless You're Villanova

Killer Night for Philadelphia Basketball...Unless You're Villanova

If you're anything like me, one television set simply wasn't going to cut it last night. From the Flyers to Sixers to Explorers to Hawks to Quakers to Wildcats, only a trip to Kulp's man cave was going to do Tuesday night's onslaught of action any justice.

Though the title above ignores Penn's 70-58 loss to Princeton, I plead for understanding—I was going for dramatic effect. Anyway, pettiness aside, last night was just a terrific night to be a basketball fan. Each game was replete with last second heroics, attempted buzzer beaters, overtime and, oh yeah, more overtime. Tournament recaps and previews for all our Big 5 boys after the jump...

Villanova Wildcats:

The last month has not been kind to the Wildcats, and last night's defeat at the hands of South Florida wrapped up a bad end to what has been thus far a disappointing season for the "Nation."

The Cat's have lost their last five in a row and seven of their last ten. The good news for coach Jay Wright and company is that this is really just sort of a blip on the radar. It's not like they're developing any sort of pattern. I mean, had they totally tanked and dropped four of their last six and been bounced in their first conference tourney game at MSG last season, then that would really be something to talk about. 

Okay, okay, I get it. You've been banged up. Yarou's bandage was a few inches from looking like an eye patch and the rest of the team has been fighting off nagging injuries for weeks. You're a lock for the big dance. Maybe you've even talked yourself into this early loss being a good thing. Maybe you're not worried.

Still, I'd be. They've fallen out of the Top 25; and, with the milieu of  Big East teams headed to the tournament alongside the nosedive the 'Cats have taken over the last month, it isn't unthinkable to see Nova drop further down the bracket than their (unofficial) #27 ranking would otherwise put them if the committee just stacked teams in order. Reasonable prediction: 'Nova is ripe for 6-11/7-10 upset ouster. I look forward to your comments. On with the show...

La Salle Explorers:

The  La Salle Explorers went and proved me (and a lot of other folks) wrong with their 75-73 double overtime win at St. Bonaventure last night. Though Dr G's squad started out hot with a 13-4 run, they would have to overcome two sizable deficits to qualify for the Boardwalk Hall rounds of the Atlantic 10 Tournament.

Down fourteen at the half and later trailing by seven with just 46 seconds remaining in the first period of overtime, La Salle found a way to press on and claim victory on a made Steve Weingarten 3-pointer in the waining moments of double OT. For more on the unlikely hero, check out this cool piece from the Inqy about Weingarten's story as a walk-on and coach Giannini's initial skepticism of his ability to play at the D-I level:

"It's an amazing story," said Giannini of Weingarten, who came to the Explorers in 2007 at Division III Connecticut College. "I swore to him that the chances of him ever playing or getting a scholarship were very slim." 

Not found in that story is the tale of the oppositely high-touted, yet more highly-recruited Aaric Murray, who happened to let the Bonaventure chants of "Muurrrrrrraaaayyyy" get the best of him in the first extra session. The La Salle big man had been yapping at the officials all night before they finally gave up and issued an overtime technical. Truly stunning.

La Salle advances to Atlantic City where they will take on the  #2-seeded Temple University Owls Friday night at 6:30 p.m. Keep reading/scrolling for an update on the Owls below.

Penn Quakers:

Things are unfortunately done for Penn fans after their loss to Princeton last evening. As such, there really isn't much to say here. What I will say is that Jerome Allen should commended for the job he did in turning this program around from the mess it was in when he took over.

I had the opportunity to see the Quakers play a few times this season. They gave my Owls a pretty good game back in January and defeated the St. Joseph's Hawks in a "this is our house" Palestra match up just a week later.

Losing Bernadini and Eggleston to graduation won't be easy, but another of year of Rosen at the point could mean good things. Personally, I'm pulling for Jerome. Plus, he rocks such sweet looks on the floor. Move over, Jay; your three-piece suit is starting to look a little dated.

St. Joseph's Hawks:

 Speaking of dated, you can't tell me Phil Martelli wasn't positively ecstatic after his team's win over George Washington at the Smith Center last night. Phil's been facing a barrage of criticism all year to the point where it started to look a little morbid for his program's future.

The upside is that there is absolutely no question that the young team has talent. Jones, Galloway and Aiken are solid pieces to build around and should, hopefully for Phil, get the program heading back in the right direction.

As for last night, a win on the road over GW is nothing to scoff at. The Colonials, like the majority of A-10 teams, have a history of playing well in their own building. Freshman revelation Langston Galloway lead the way with 15, helping St. Joe advance to Atlantic City for a date with the #1-seed Xavier Musketeers #4 Duquesne Dukes (Thanks to commenter "Hone" for the correction. Forgot the tourney doesn't re-seed.)

Temple University Owls:

The Owls are enjoying some much deserved time off after two injuries have forced them to play an undersized seven-man rotation for the last three weeks.

Much like Villanova, the Owls should be a lock for the tournament. What could drastically change over the next week, however, is just where they will fall in the bracket. In an interview with W.H.I.P. Temple Student Radio last Thursday, ESPN bracketologist and local legend Joe Lunardi suggested that the Owls could wind up anywhere from #6-10 seed depending on their play this weekend. But, neither he nor Dick Jerardi believe the Owls have enough in the tank with only seven guys to rip off three wins in three days. With Scootie Randall more than likely unavailable and Michael Eric lost for the season, winning a fourth-straight A-10 title might be a little too much to ask for this group of Owls.

Still, they will take their first step toward that goal Friday night against La Salle, a rematch of the two teams' final regular season game in which the Owls won by out-of-character final score of 90-82.

I'm headed down to Atlantic City this weekend to cover the action. Check back over the next few days for live reports from the A-10 tourney. For any of you who are considering making the short trip over the bridge and down the expressway,  Boardwalk Hall is such a spectacularly unique venue to watch a game. You won't be disappointed.

So, who's buying a strip and staring at this bad boy all weekend?

(Photo by Ron Cortes/Daily News)

Sixers' future payroll: Flexibility, Robert Covington prioritized over Nerlens Noel

Sixers' future payroll: Flexibility, Robert Covington prioritized over Nerlens Noel

As the Sixers were expending all of their energy Monday night trying to stay with the 50-9 Warriors, Nerlens Noel was down in Dallas contributing to a Mavericks win, their second in a row since acquiring him at the trade deadline.

In two games off the bench for the Mavs, Noel has played a combined 55 minutes, scored 15 points with 16 rebounds, two steals and two blocks, made 6 of 11 buckets and 3 of 4 free throws.

He's played crucial minutes down the stretch in both games for Dallas, helping them at the defensive end even on plays in which he doesn't affect a shot. His length, activity and paint-roaming ability is why the Mavs traded Justin Anderson and two second-round picks for a half-season of Noel and his restricted free-agent match rights this summer.

The Noel trade has already been analyzed to death at this point, so this won't be another examination of whether the Sixers got enough in return or what they should have done.

Since the trade was clearly about the contract Noel will receive this summer and the Sixers' unwillingness to allocate so much money to the center position, let's take a look at the Sixers' finances moving forward.

Next season's payroll
The NBA salary cap spiked to $94 million last offseason and is expected to take a smaller jump to about $100 million this summer.

As of now, the Sixers have $48,077,210 committed to the 2017-18 payroll.

* Jerryd Bayless and Gerald Henderson are due $9 million each.

* Ben Simmons will make just under $6.2 million, and Joel Embiid will make $6.1 million.

* Jahlil Okafor is owed just under $5 million, Nik Stauskas $3.8 million, and Dario Saric $2.4 million.

* Justin Anderson, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Robert Covington, Richaun Holmes and T.J. McConnell will all make between $1 million and $1.6 million.

* And the Sixers will pay $500,000 of dead money to Tibor Pleiss, who they immediately waived after acquiring from the Jazz last August for Kendall Marshall and a swap of second-round picks.

That leaves the Sixers with $52 million to spend.

How will they spend it?
Based on recent history, don't expect the Sixers to spend every last dollar in the offseason. They are focused on improving the team while not crippling its future, and Bryan Colangelo accomplished that goal somewhat this season by signing Henderson and acquiring Ersan Ilyasova early in the season.

The Bayless signing did not work out this year -- he's out for the season with a wrist injury -- but he's on the books the next two years at $9 million a pop.

Expect to see those kinds of moves made by the Sixers, unless they're able to identify a free agent young enough, good enough, and enough of a fit to sign to a long-term deal.

Guys who might potentially fit that description?

* Kentavious Caldwell-Pope of the Pistons
* Otto Porter of the Wizards
* Tim Hardaway Jr. of the Hawks
* Ian Clark of the Warriors
* Jrue Holiday of the Pelicans
* Jeff Teague of the Pacers (maybe)

Clark, Holiday and Teague are unrestricted free agents; the others are restricted. So if the Sixers were to offer KCP or Porter $80 million over four years, the Pistons and Wizards would have the opportunity to match. If they do, the Sixers wouldn't get them.

Of course, those teams would have to have enough money to re-sign them. That's where the Sixers' ample payroll space comes into play.

KCP and Porter seem like locks to get max contracts in the $20 million-plus per year range. Holiday and Teague may or may not get that much; it will be determined by how the point-guard market plays out.

Clark and Hardaway Jr. would require lesser commitments because they're currently role players with the potential to grow into more.

Joel Embiid's inevitable extension
The Sixers are going to need to max out Embiid in the near future. Although he's played only 31 games in three NBA seasons, those three years count contractually.

The last guaranteed year of Embiid's rookie contract is next season. After that, he's a lock to make $25 million per year, provided he's healthy. 

In similar positions, C.J. McCollum got $106 million over four years from the Blazers, and Hassan Whiteside got $98 million over four years from the Heat.

The Sixers could sign Embiid to such an extension before Oct. 31, 2017, but it wouldn't go into effect until the 2018-19 season. 

Looking ahead to 2018-19
Two seasons from right now.

The eventual Embiid max contract will not cripple the Sixers financially. They'll still have a lot of wiggle room.

Why? Because of how few long-term commitments they have. 

For example, Henderson makes $9 million next season but is then a free agent. So if Embiid gets $25 million per year, the net is $16 million of additional payroll once you account for Henderson's expiring deal.

If the Sixers trade Jahlil Okafor between now and 2018, that would trim $6.3 million more from their 2018-19 payroll.

So, looking ahead to 2018-19, the Sixers would have $55 million committed to Embiid (max deal), Bayless, Simmons, Okafor, Saric, Anderson, TLC, Holmes and McConnell.

Missing from that equation is Covington, who will be an unrestricted free agent that summer. If Covington keeps playing like he has, racking up steals, hitting threes, improving in the lane and defending the best perimeter player every night, he's going to be in line for a contract in the $15 million per year range.

So, for the sake of logic, let's add Covington's $15 million to that 2018-19 payroll and subtract Okafor's. That would put the Sixers at about $64 million of payroll commitments two years from now, leaving them around $36 million to $40 million of cap space to sign free agents.

In 2018, the Sixers theoretically will be closer to actually contending, and free agents will be more realistic and meaningful. 

This is why the Sixers traded Ilyasova, for example. He's a free agent this summer and could command an annual salary in the $12M to $15M range given the scarcity of available stretch-fours. If the Sixers kept him and re-signed him, they might not have enough money down the road to pay Covington, a younger and more important player.

That 2018 free-agent class is not extremely appealing -- it's highlighted by Kyle Lowry, Isaiah Thomas, Chris Paul, Paul Millsap, Greg Monroe, Derrick Favors, Avery Bradley and C.J. Miles.

A few of those guys, like Thomas, won't even reach free agency -- they'll be extended ahead of it.

Mentioning that only to point out that the Sixers' options in free agency this summer might be better than their options next summer.

So ... did they need to trade Noel?
Some think Noel is going to get $20 million per year in free agency. 

I personally think his contract will be more in the $17 million per year range, a figure in between the annual average salaries for Timofey Mozgov ($16M), Tristan Thompson ($16.4M), Joakim Noah ($18M) and Ryan Anderson ($20M).

In any event, it's going to be a pricey contract for Noel.

So, how would a contract of say, four years, $68 million for Noel have affected the future payroll numbers laid out above?

It would mean that with Embiid's max deal, with Covington re-signed to a higher number, with Noel here and with Okafor traded, the Sixers would have around $79 million committed to payroll, leaving them about $20 million free to spend.

That would be enough for one really good-but-not-great player. Or they could try to creatively move a few contracts and line themselves up for a great player. 

But consider then that in 2018-19, Ben Simmons will be in the position Embiid is in now. Simmons would be in the third year of his rookie deal and eligible for a max extension before Oct. 31 of that year.

The numbers just do not add up.

I hated the Noel trade because I thought they should have gotten more, but dealing him did indeed make financial sense.

If the Sixers chose to keep Noel and re-sign him, they could have had a 2018-19 core of: Embiid, Simmons, Saric, Noel, Covington, Holmes, McConnell, TLC, and either a few mid-tier free agents or one star.

That could be a solid core if everyone continues developing at their own rate and if Embiid and Simmons can stay on the court ... but the Sixers wouldn't have many options. The goal is a championship and that probably isn't a championship core.

The $17 million or so of savings from not keeping Noel will be very important then. 

In a way, the Sixers essentially chose Covington over Noel.

Rating the Rumor: Eagles 'In on' Alshon Jeffery

Rating the Rumor: Eagles 'In on' Alshon Jeffery

Ian Rapoport for the NFL Network reports the Chicago Bears are not expected to place the franchise tag on free-agent wide receiver Alshon Jeffery before the March 1 deadline. Meanwhile, league sources previously told Jason La Canfora for CBS Sports that they “anticipate” the Eagles “being in on” Jeffery should the 2013 Pro Bowler become accessible.

Put two and two together, and there are folks around the NFL who believe the Eagles will pursue Jeffery when free agency opens on March 9.

Yet while receiver is one of the Eagles’ two greatest needs this offseason, whether they should make a run at Jeffery and whether they can afford him might be two different answers. Getting another weapon for Carson Wentz seems like it will be the top priority in free agency, but doing so will not be cheap, and the club is up against the salary cap.

There’s little doubt the Eagles will reach out to Jeffery. Aside from the organization being known for always doing its due diligence with players, the 27-year-old is hands down the best option on the market. Over the 2013 and ’14 seasons, Jeffery averaged 87 receptions, 1,277 yards and 8.5 touchdowns per year. He’s dealt with injuries and a terrible supporting cast in the two years since, yet still managed to go over 800 yards receiving in each.

Jeffery has some baggage, specifically the four-game suspension for violation of the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy in 2016. Despite everything, only nine active players are averaging more than his 72.2 yards per game, and only 10 better than 15.0 yards per reception. The talent is undeniable, and with a quarterback of Wentz’s caliber throwing him the football, the sky is the limit.

The Eagles absolutely should pursue Jeffery. Actually signing him is where this begins to get tricky.

For starters, the Eagles are currently sitting at an estimated $9.69 million under the cap, according to OverTheCap.com. Only three teams are in worse shape. There may be more moves to free up space in the coming days, which will help, although even if they get that figure closer to $25 million through a series of trades and releases, the numbers are tight.

Jeffery collected $14.6 million under the franchise tag in ’16, and while he might not see quite that much annually on his next contract, it’s not out of line with expectations. Antonio Brown, A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant are all making $14 million or more per season. Jeffery may not have the body of work of those players, but as the top receiver available, the market will value him and be willing to pay as such.

That $25 million the Eagles can theoretically free up might be the best case scenario. It likely won’t be that, which means signing Jeffery would take up practically all of their cap space for ’17. Obviously, there are ways to structure a contract to push money into future years, and the case could be made the Eagles don’t need to sign any other free agents.

No matter how you slice it, there are some logistical concerns here. Until the Eagles shed some of those contracts and we can see what they’re working with, it’s difficult to envision how they win a bidding war against suitors with upwards of $50, $60, even $70 million to spend.

It’s not so much a question of interest for the Eagles. It’s whether or not signing Jeffery is realistic in the first place.

Rating the Rumor: We’ll see