More Basketball Than Usual for Happy Valley

More Basketball Than Usual for Happy Valley

While yesterday was an absolutely horrible day for Philly sports teams, at least Penn State students and alum had something to cheer for. For the first time in school history, the Nittany Lions men's basketball team advanced to the Big Ten Tournament Final, and did so with a convincing 61-48 win over Michigan State. With that upset victory, 19-13 PSU may have earned the right to go dancing for the first time in 10 years.

Of course, they could make it official with another W today. All they need to do to grab their first ever Big Ten Championship is topple the number one team in the country, Ohio State.

The top ranked Buckeyes won both this season's previous meetings against Penn St., rolling 82-61 in their most recent tilt. The Lions were almost able to steal one back in January however, hanging tough for 40 minutes, but ultimately falling in the final seconds 69-66.

All things considered, it's amazing to even find the program in this position so late in the year. During yesterday's broadcast, the announcers noted PSU has been the lowest seed in the conference tournament six times in 14 years. Needless to say, it's not often the basketball team is worthy of this kind of attention.

2010-11 has been a different kind of season. Win or lose today, the Lions deserve some serious consideration for March Madness, if they haven't punched their ticket already. With the #40 RPI and sixth toughest strength of schedule in the nation, plus four wins against top 25 teams—MSU, Illinois, and Wisconsin twice—PSU would be a very deserving addition to the tournament regardless.

Besides making the selection process a formality, a win today would have the added bonus of being a setback for Ohio State, one that at the very least could cost them the top seed overall in the tournament.

Not that Penn State needs any extra incentive today. The opportunity to bring a Big Ten Championship back to Happy Valley, and guarantee the school's first spot in the dance since 2001 is plenty. Tip is at 3:30 on CBS, so best get those Are U Hungry orders in soon.

AP Photo

Brandon Manning to face hearing for hit on Penguins' Jake Guentzel

Brandon Manning to face hearing for hit on Penguins' Jake Guentzel

As if Saturday night's deflating loss to the Penguins at Heinz Field wasn't enough, the Flyers could be coming out of the defeat minus a defenseman in the lineup.

Brandon Manning will have a hearing with the NHL's Department of Player Safety on Monday morning for his hit on Pittsburgh forward Jake Guentzel during the second period of the Stadium Series game.

That means a suspension is looming.

Just over three minutes into the second stanza on Saturday, Guentzel tried to corral a bouncing puck as he exited the Penguins' zone. He did not see Manning, who flattened him with a huge hit.

While the hit did seem a bit late in real speed to the naked eye, no interference penalty was called and play continued. Manning did look to leave his feet to the deliver the hit and make contact with Guentzel's head, though, so both could work against him during the hearing.

Video of the hit in question can be seen above.

Guentzel was not injured on the play, stayed in the game and finished the evening with two assists.

Manning has a clean history as he has never been suspended in the NHL.

If Manning does get suspended by the league, Michael Del Zotto is likely to draw back into the Flyers' lineup Tuesday against visiting Colorado.

Del Zotto, who is a prime candidate to be moved before Wednesday's trade deadline, has sat out the past three games as a healthy scratch.

Sixers' trio of double-doubles overshadowed in loss to Knicks

Sixers' trio of double-doubles overshadowed in loss to Knicks

NEW YORK -- Carmelo Anthony stole the show on Saturday with 37 points and a game-winning shot against the Sixers.  

His dramatic bucket was the difference maker in the Knicks 110-109 victory (see story), but a deeper look into the box score tells another story of a strong comeback attempt fallen short.

While the Knicks were led by one player (Derrick Rose had 18 points and was the only other Knick to score more than 14), the Sixers fought back with standout efforts from a trio of starters.

The frontcourt of Jahlil Okafor, Robert Covington and Dario Saric combined for 67 points and 35 rebounds. That’s 61.4 percent of the Sixers' total offense and 70 percent of their production on the boards.

In a game remembered for one shot, don’t forget about these performances.

Okafor: 28 points, 10 rebounds (six offensive), one assist, 28:45

Okafor scored a season-high 28 points (three shy of his career-high) starting in place of the injured Joel Embiid. He was aggressive from the start, scoring 11 points in the first quarter alone. He followed that up with another 11 in the fourth. Down the stretch, Okafor scored the Sixers' final two baskets, including the critical go-ahead jumper with nine seconds left.

“There was a real bounce even at the start,” Brett Brown said of Okafor, who received treatment after the game and was not available to speak to the media. “He is such a gifted scorer when he has that fluid nature that we saw at the start. … I feel like there was a real mentality for Jahlil to look to score.”

The most significant aspect of Okafor’s game, though, was in the rebounding column. He has struggled on the boards -- his defense has been the knock on him since he entered the league. On Friday, he grabbed just two rebounds against the Wizards while Richaun Holmes had 10 off the bench.

That changed on Saturday. Okafor pulled down six rebounds … in his first 11 minutes. That equaled his total from the past two games combined. Okafor gave the Sixers a glimpse into what they hope to see more of from their man in the middle.

“Jah did an amazing job on both sides of the court,” Covington said. “He made a bunch of tough plays on the offensive and defensive end. He got a couple big rebounds for us, he does that a lot but we’ve just got to get him to keep doing it more consistently.”

Saric: 19 points, 15 rebounds (six offensive), five assists, 39:34

How do you keep up with 20 points and 11 rebounds on Friday? Post a 19-point, 15-rebound double-double the next night (a career-high in boards).

Check out Saric’s total numbers from in his last two games: 39 points, 17 for 36 field goal shooting, 26 rebounds, nine assists and 73 minutes. Saric ranks second among all rookies in double-doubles (seven) behind only teammate Embiid.

“That’s massive numbers by any standards,” Brown said. “His versatility and his skill package, all under the roof of how competitive he is, makes him a very, very unique rookie.”

There has been an increase in Saric’s ball movement of late. His comfort level and growing team chemistry is translating into more assists.

“I just think he’s just so at peace within himself, and so his game takes the same type of shape,” Brown said. “It’s not forced.”

Saric’s game has been driven by effort from the beginning of his rookie season. He approaches each play with a high level of intensity and his stat lines reflect his mentality.

“We fought until the end,” Saric said. “We never gave up.”

Covington: 20 points, 10 rebounds, three steals, two blocks, 38:53

Covington’s locker was crowded after the game as he was the one who guarded Anthony on the final shot. Yet, in spite of being tasked with Anthony, Covington still posted a 20-and-10 double-double and came up with a major defensive play down the stretch.

With the Sixers trailing 108-107 with just over 30 seconds to play, Covington picked off Lance Thomas’ pass to start a fast break. This steal started a Sixers possession that eventually led to Okafor scoring the go-ahead basket. Covington is averaging 3.4 steals in his last five games.

“He helped us coach him to being a two-way player. Now he’s for real,” Brown said of Covington before the game. “I look at him as somebody that has just grown right before us all and bought in as a wonderful teammate, is a two-way player, is amongst the NBA’s elite wing defenders when you look at his position and can guard multiple people. That has come through work."