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

Pete Mackanin on Odubel Herrera's slump: 'He needs to battle his way out'

Pete Mackanin on Odubel Herrera's slump: 'He needs to battle his way out'

After an 0-for-5 day at the plate, Odubel Herrera isn't heading to the bench a day later.

He's leading off. 

Pete Mackanin chose to move the slumping centerfielder atop the lineup card for Friday's series opener against the Reds despite Herrera's striking out in all five plate appearances Thursday.

"I think he's a .290-plus hitter as a leadoff man and I'm not going to sit him," Mackanin said pregame. "He needs to battle his way out. You figure you're the leadoff hitter once a game. After that, it's wide open."

While he hasn't batted leadoff this season, Herrera spent the majority of his time in that spot last season. In 76 games there, he batted .285 with a .359 OBP and .417 slugging percentage. 

The leadoff hitter this season has been Cesar Hernandez, who has a day off with a groin pull he's dealt with the last 10 days. Herrera primarily has been the No. 3 hitter this season and his average is down to .226 with 49 strikeouts to just 11 walks. 

Mackanin hopes the leadoff role can help change Herrera's approach at the plate.

"He was drawing a lot of walks at leadoff, so whether he has that mindset or not, I'm not sure," the manager said. "I just want to get him as many at-bats as possible. We need to get him going. We need him and [Maikel] Franco to get going."

May specifically has been tough on Herrera. He has four hits in his last 36 at-bats and has seven strikeouts in his last two games. He has just seven hits in 22 games this month. 

"I think he's at the point where he's grinding and sometimes when you grind, sometimes there's that feeling where you get lost," Mackanin said. "I've been in situations as a hitter where I've gone up to the plate saying, 'I don't care where it is. I'm going up there and just hacking.' Because you start thinking and that's not working.

"And you look for a pitch and then all of a sudden you say I'm going to take a pitch to get a look at and it's strike one. Then he throws you a nasty slider and that's strike two and your plan is out the window. So I've gone up to the plate myself saying, 'I'm just looking down the middle and swinging. I'm not thinking.'"

When asked, Mackanin said the team had not discussed demoting Herrera or Franco to the minors to take pressure off the duo.

While Herrera tries to hit his way back into a groove, Howie Kendrick is in the midst of working his way back to the majors. He was hit by pitch twice in a rehab appearance Thursday but is back in the lineup Friday in left field. 

Mackanin said Kendrick needed four days minimum in his rehab assignment and will therefore play Friday and Saturday before the team sees how he feels.

The manager also said the team would give more playing time to backup catcher Andrew Knapp. He started consecutive games for the first time on Tuesday and Wednesday. 

"I'm going to try and see him as much as possible and keep him as sharp as possible instead of once a week," Mackanin said. "That's tough to hit, once a week. It's tough to hit twice a week if you don't hit back-to-back. There's no ulterior motive."

Report: Brett Brown accuses longtime friend of defrauding him of $750,000


Report: Brett Brown accuses longtime friend of defrauding him of $750,000

Sixers head coach Brett Brown is in Australia this week, where he has accused longtime friend and former Australian men's national team assistant coach Shane Heal of defrauding him of $750,000, according to the Australian Associated Press.

Brown invested $250,000 into each of three companies for which Heal was the sole director. Brown wasn't given a legal title regarding the companies and didn't know the specifics of how the money would be used.

"I assumed that the money was going to be used for what Shane told me it was going to be used for," Brown said. "Because it was a friend that I had for 25 years."

Heal was charged last year by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission following an investigation relating to alleged misconduct in 2008, 2009 and 2010, according to the AAP.

The sides return to court in Brisbane on July 20.

Heal played in the NBA for the Minnesota Timberwolves in 1996-97 and was with the San Antonio Spurs in 2003.