Big 5 Tip-off Tonight; Penn, 'Nova, Joe's and La Salle All in Action

Big 5 Tip-off Tonight; Penn, 'Nova, Joe's and La Salle All in Action

It's that time again. Teams across the nation will kick off the opening night of college basketball season this Friday evening—two of them will do so on an air craft carrier.

Of the schools that comprise our local Big 5, four will be in action, with only the Temple Owls on the sidelines. They will open their season next Monday night in the official "Big 5 opener" when they take on the Penn Quakers from inside the Palestra.

Game times and opponents for each of the local team's, accompanied by a brief preview of the major story lines surrounding each program as they prepare to begin their 2011-2012 seasons, after the jump...

(1) The Villanova University Wildcats vs. the Monmouth Hawks (7 p.m.)
It seems like just about everybody is down on the Wildcats this year. I'm no exception. Though I'll be damned if I don't like watching Maalik Wayns play basketball.

This is the first year in some time where Villanova doesn't boast instantly recognizable names in its back court. The legacy of Randy Foye, Kyle Lowry, Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes is now passed to the less publicized, but still highly talented Wayns. The Wildcats were something of a flawed team last year, which perhaps was part of the reason Maalik would come and go on the offensive end, exploding one night and looking invisible another.

Chalk it up as part of the maturation process for the now-junior. In a guard heavy city, Wayns has the talent to be one the best, it's just a matter of whether he has the roster around him to help lead his team. Big man Mouphtaou Yarou will need to take a massive step forward if the 'Cats expect to do better than their preseason No. 8 in the Big East.

(2) The La Salle University Explorers vs. the Lafayette Leopards (7 p.m. / 990 AM)
Every year I write that head coach John Giannini is on the hot seat, that his emotional outbursts haven't correlated with a positive win total and that his ability to recruit very real talent hasn't led to any sort of cohesion on the floor. Still, every year I type this paragraph, because every year Dr. G remains the man in charge at the Gola Arena.

I wish I could say more for the Explorers, but with their greatest and most wildly enigmatic talent—Aaric Murray—now walking the streets of Morgantown, West Virginia, it's hard to see them being markedly better or, for that matter, worse than they've been in recent years. La Salle has made a habit of winning games it shouldn't win, losing games it shouldn't lose, and keeping you guessing about how good or bad it really is for three-fourths of the season. I don't mean to be so pithy, but unless freshman Jerrell Wright and and newcomer Ramon Galloway are ready to contribute immediately, there's little reason not to expect more of the same at Broad & Olney.

That said, Giannini seems more than excited for the season, and has not-so-subtly hinted at a dissatisfaction with his past players.

"We now have kids who will do what we tell them, and they're committed to winning and committed to defense," Giannini said, practically oozing enthusiasm. "Some teams don't have that. Last year, we didn't have that. We have great chemistry right now. These kids work hard without someone calling team meetings or without their teammates yelling at them trying to push each other."

It's tough to tell if this is the legitimate optimism of a coach with something of a fresh start, or the false hope that things will, this time, really be better. Hopefully for his staff's future, Dr. G is right about this group of Explorers, but keep on the lookout as I establish a charity fund to help stop the abuse of the folding chair seated beside the head coach.

(3) University of Pennsylvania Quakers @ the UMBC Retrievers. (7:30 p.m. / 88.5 FM)
Penn enters its season on the strength of a veteran back court, featuring senior guards Zack Rosen and Tyler Bernadini. Rosen—who has been described by his coach as "one of the best, if not the best guard in our program's history"—has the privilege of playing under Jerome Allen: one of the best, if not the best guard in the program's history.

Aiming to settle their friendly rivalry, the two recently went at it in a pick-up game of one-on-one, televised on Comcast SportsNet. The game, originally agreed to be played to three, was quickly extended when Rosen bested the coach. It quickly ended when Allen was the first to get to five. Not only does the old guy still have it, but he's also in control of when the game starts and stops.

Rosen and Bernadini will attempt to lead Penn back to the glory it so enjoyed when it's current coach was a player under Fran Dunphy. Picked to finish fourth in the preseason Ivy League polls, Penn will need to find a way to take down Harvard, Princeton and Yale if they want to make a serious run at the league title. Out of conference, watch for them to give their Big 5 rivals, and some of their other non-conference opponents, a legitimate scare.

(4) The St. Joseph's University Hawks @ the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (8 p.m. / Fox College Sports / 610 AM)
I'd have to go back to 2004 to remember the last time I was this emotionally invested in a St. Joseph's basketball team for all the right reasons. After years of wishing little but ill upon them as proud a Temple Owl, I am completely and totally in the tank for Langston Galloway. There's no way around it. I hate that he plays for the Hawks, but I firmly believe he's the real deal. And he'll need to be if they're going to succeed.

Carl Jones has more talent than he knows what to do with, but he still needs to find a way to channel that talent into an ability to make more responsible decisions with the basketball. C.J. Aiken, on the other hand, has more of a physical body than he knows what to do with. Honestly, I've never seen a basketball player with less natural physical movements. Still, he's one hell of a shot blocker—actually, he's one of the best in the nation. Just do yourself a favor Phil, teach the kid a post move. At his height, the ability to play face up should be a nice feature, not his dominant offensive weapon.

The Hawks have a lot of young talent, and their surprising run in last year's A10 tournament gives rise to optimism. Am I reall
y going to root for St. Joe's to do more than just beat 'Nova this year (which I also haven't done for the last five years)? Sheesh. Moving on...

(5) The Temple University Owls vs. the Penn Quakers (Monday / 7 p.m. / 1210 AM)
After every game for the last two seasons, I've listened to Fran Dunphy tell the media, "I don't know where this program would be without Lavoy Allen." And now, here we are.

The Owls absurdly talented and experienced back court is contrasted with their troublingly thin and inexperienced front court. Michael Eric not only needs to stay healthy given an expected substantial increase in minutes, but needs to continue his improvement from last year at both ends of the floor.

Expect a lot of four guard action from the Owls this season, especially when small forward Scootie Randall returns from injury. In the meantime, he'll more than likely be replaced in the starting line-up by last year's A10 Sixth Man of the Year Khalif Wyatt. We all know what the Owls have in the back court, and they figure to absolutely frightening in the open floor, but they'll need those guards to play a big part in rebounding the basketball. They'll also need substantial contributions from junior Rhalir Jefferson and red-shirt freshman Anthony Lee at the power forward position to take some of the load off Eric in the middle.

As mentioned up top, they'll kick-off the Big 5 season schedule Monday night against Penn. One night later, Villanova squares off against La Salle.

Basketball is back. No one tell the NBA.

Best of NBA: Cavs ride Big 3 to huge win over Knicks at MSG

Best of NBA: Cavs ride Big 3 to huge win over Knicks at MSG

NEW YORK -- LeBron James scored 25 points, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love also surpassed 20, and the Cleveland Cavaliers crushed the New York Knicks 126-94 on Wednesday night.

James had nothing to say Wednesday morning about Knicks President Phil Jackson and not much more about his decision to not stay with the team in a Donald Trump-branded hotel, but he and the Cavs made a loud statement at Madison Square Garden.

It was their second straight win after a three-game skid, and they did it easily in handing the Knicks their worst loss of the season. Irving led Cleveland with 28 points and Love scored 21, 16 in the first quarter.

Brandon Jennings scored 16 points for the Knicks, who had their four-game winning streak snapped and lost for the just the third time in 10 games. He started for Derrick Rose, who missed his first game of the season with lower back pain.

Tristan Thompson grabbed 20 rebounds for the Cavs. They played without guard J.R. Smith, who returned to Cleveland for additional testing after hyperextending his left knee Monday in Toronto (see full recap).

Antetokounmpo drops triple-double in Bucks’ win
MILWAUKEE -- Giannis Antetokounmpo got his second triple-double of the season to lead the Milwaukee Bucks over the Portland Trail Blazers 115-107 on Wednesday night.

Antetokounmpo had 15 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists for his seventh career triple-double -- second-most in franchise history -- and is the only NBA player averaging at least 20 points, eight rebounds, five assists, two blocks and two steals this season.

Jabari Parker added 27 points for Milwaukee, which rebounded from a one-point home loss to San Antonio on Monday to win for the fifth time in six games.

The Bucks entered holding opponents to a NBA-best .311 shooting percentage from 3-point range, but Portland drill a season-high 17 of them.

Damian Lillard made five of them and scored a team-high 30 points to go with seven rebounds and six assists.

C.J. McCollum added 23 points, including four 3-pointers, as the Blazers continued a nine-game stretch of playing eight times on the road (see full recap).

Streaking Rockets roll over Lakers
HOUSTON -- Eric Gordon made a career-high eight 3-points and scored 26 points to help the Houston Rockets cruise to a 134-95 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night.

James Harden added 25 points in three quarters for the Rockets. They scored a season high and extended their winning streak to a season-best four games.

The Rockets were up by 12 in the third quarter, then had a 22-6 run to make it 96-68 and put the game out of reach with about 3 minutes left in the quarter. Houston made four 3-pointers and got a nifty one-handed dunk from Clint Capela in that run to pad the lead.

Gordon already had four 3-pointers seven minutes into the first quarter after making each of his first four attempts. It was his seventh straight game with at least four 3-pointers, which is a franchise record.

Houston's winning streak is its longest since taking five straight in January.

Lou Williams led the Lakers with 24 points. They have lost four in a row, their longest skid of the season (see full recap).

Eagles players react to Doug Pederson's effort comments

Eagles players react to Doug Pederson's effort comments

Two days after Eagles coach Doug Pederson agreed "not everybody" on his team played hard in a 32-14 loss to the Bengals on Sunday, players were still trying to interpret exactly what those comments meant.

"I think Doug is saying we can all do better," Eagles tight end Brent Celek said on Wednesday. "We can give more effort, we can hustle a little bit harder to the ball, after the ball is thrown on offense, after a ball is ran or caught on defense.

"It's just a team thing. We're just trying to get better."

Now in his 10th NFL season, Celek was one of the few Eagles players we spoke to who agreed with Pederson's premise.

"I think guys are giving effort, but I think we could take it to another level," Celek said. "There's levels to that. You can go hard every single play. I think that's just what he's trying to say is, 'Listen, we can do better.'"

Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham sided with Pederson, as well, although largely for different reasons. The fifth-year veteran didn't believe effort was an issue, but if the head coach says it is, then it must be.

"It was shocking to me," Bradham said. "It's one of those things where, that's the way he felt, so if we weren't playing hard, we have to play harder."

Yet even as Bradham was attempting to back Pederson, he sounded like somebody who was unclear about the message.

"From what I've seen defensively and watching film, I feel like everybody was running to the ball," Bradham said. "I don't think that was the point he was trying to get across. I think he was trying to say we weren't paying attention to details as far as the effort part. I don't think he was saying work ethic.

"I think it kind of got worded wrong."

Many players offered their own unique takes on Pederson's statements, which might be the bigger story here than what was actually said. Nobody seemed to be especially offended — more like confused as to how anybody who went back and put on the tape could draw such a conclusion.

And honestly, they might have a point.

The Eagles got their butts whipped in Cincinnati. The Bengals could do no wrong on either side of the football, and the game turned into a bloodbath. Anybody could see the outcome was likely decided early into the second half, yet the defense forced fumbles and created turnovers with hustle plays even when almost all hope was lost.

"You look at the end, we had opportunities to lay down, to just say, 'This game's out of reach, we're not going to win this game,' but that's not what we did," Eagles linebacker Jordan Hicks said. "Guys came out.

"You look at the fumble forced by [Bennie Logan] — huge play in the game, and really one of those types of plays that is a momentum shift because then, now you look at it, we're getting off the field again. It's those types of plays that give you that type of momentum. You've got Nigel who comes in, they throw it to the big guy and he knows immediately to go for the ball.

"We had chances to not show effort, but nobody on that film does. I said it after the game, I was proud of the way we finished."

Pederson didn't necessarily imply Hicks, Logan or Bradham were among the "not everybody" who supposedly gave less than 100 percent. There are some high-profile examples of specific plays or individuals under heavy scrutiny this week, which are what was being alluded to when the coach was pressed on his team's effort.

Regardless, another detail most players agreed upon is Pederson never intended to single anybody out. At least that was the sentiment after he had a chance to address the locker room.

"I think it's more of a group comment that he made, and he addressed it," Hicks said. "He told everybody.

"There's plays we all can make if we all just give a little bit more. It's that challenge, that mentality that no matter what, we're going to continue to do what we do, and at the end of the day, every man has to look themselves in the mirror."

"I'm guessing he feels like as a team we probably need to play harder," Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins added, "but I know the intent of the guys that I practice with and play with every day, and I didn't see effort being the issue from my standpoint.

"The guys, they love this game and lay it on the line, so I don't have to coach anybody up on energy or showing up."

Another accusation that was put forth is the Eagles didn't necessarily lack effort. It was a matter of heart, intensity or energy — any of which was also disputed.

"I think I know the difference between the two," Hicks said. "It's tough to have that energy when you're down and you're fighting from such a deep hole. You try, but with energy, you have to make the plays first. When you're not making plays to give you that juice, that momentum, the things that switch the game on to your side, it's tough to have that energy."

"It's hard to have energy when you're down three scores," Jenkins said. "I think guys still played hard, but from just being a human being, it's hard to celebrate a play when you're trying to fight out of a hole.

"Everybody always talks about going out and having fun. Well, you're only having fun when you're winning, and so we have to find a way to get some of the momentum on our side, find a way to get some of the plays and things to swing in our favor, then we can have some fun as a team."

Jenkins also made it clear that questions about effort and energy have nothing to with the job Pederson has done as head coach of the Eagles.

"Me personally, although I love Doug, Doug is not the reason I get up and play and go to work every day," Jenkins said.

"I don't think our effort or how we perform is a direct reflection of Doug. It is his job obviously to lead us and get us prepared to play, but a lot of that onus is on us as players. We're the ones that have to go perform, we have to make the plays, we have to show up, we have to get our bodies ready, get our minds ready, and there's only so much a coach can do.

"Whatever is put on on that tape is going to be a direct reflection of the guys on the field."

That's really all the Eagles can do at this point if they want to dispel any and every notion that there is a single individual giving less than their all. The team's leadership seems to understand what it's going to take to quiet critics and skeptics.

"We just have to keep grinding," Celek said. "It's not easy, life's not easy. If you make a mistake, people are going to try to expose it any way that they can.

"They pay us a lot of money to do this. We all have to pick it up. We all have to do a little bit better, focus on our jobs and get a win. We just need a win."

With that, Celek may have hit the nail on the head, a point that Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox stated much more succinctly.

It's not a matter of effort right now. What would really quiet the noise about effort is performing on the field and earning a good old fashioned W.

"If we're winning, I don't think anybody is saying that," Cox said. "We just have to be better as a team."