Drexel Will Wait; Penn, La Salle, Joe's and 'Nova Will All Press on

Drexel Will Wait; Penn, La Salle, Joe's and 'Nova Will All Press on

Back iron.
Drexel's Frantz Massenat dribbled once, took a step right, fired and...back iron.
Rather than capping off a 16-point comeback to force the game to overtime, the freshman's three-point attempt went a fraction too far. With their 59-56 win, Virginia Commonwealth clinched an auto-bid back to the NCAA tournament, where just once year ago they shocked the nation (and Dick Vitale) by reaching the Final Four.

[Your City Six Champ Week primer, featuring Tuesday Night Previews,
A-10 and Big East brackets and one very special Ivy League showdown
after the jump...]

Back to the Dragons, they'll be sitting on their hands -- when not practicing, of course -- waiting for Selection Sunday to see if 27 wins and top 30 mentions in both major polls will be good enough. Unlike like the Jones' piece we linked to over the weekend, we're now throwing you over to Roob Frank for why the Dragons deserve an at-large selection.
But Drexel or no Drexel, Championship Week does roll on. So before you kick it on over to Roob, we present to you the four City Six teams in action tonight and break down the roads they'll need to travel (sometimes literally) to make it to the Field of 68.
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Richmond vs. La Salle (Gola Arena) -- 7 p.m. / 990 AMThe first round of the A-10 tournament is held on the individual campus sites. As such, the La Salle Explorers will play host to the defending champion Richmond Spiders this evening.
We've mapped the A-10 bracket above, but we'll walk you through it down here as well. The Explorers are on the non-Temple-St. Joseph's side of the bracket, meaning they wouldn't see either Big 5 rival until next Sunday, if at all. Instead, a win tonight would put La Salle in line for a quarterfinal round matchup with the second-seeded St. Louis Billikens on Friday at Boardwalk Hall.
But before they can pack up to head down the Expressway, they'll need to plug the holes in their rapidly sinking ship to pull out one last win at the Gola. The Explorers have played less than .500 basketball over the last month and decided to tank when teams need to peak. We still believe they can do damage in postseason tournaments like the NIT, CIT or certainly the CBI, but they need another win or two to regain some of their early season confidence before they receive their eventual invites.
As for tonight, perimeter shooting will be even more important than usual for La Salle, as they have literally no way to matchup with Richmond power forward Derrick Williams. This matchup has upset written all over it if Williams does to La Salle what he did to Temple and Saint Joseph's earlier this season.
We'll be in-house for this one and are looking forward to it. Follow along @cnmenta for in-game updates.
Charlotte vs. Saint Joseph's (Hagan Arena) -- 7 p.m. / Atlantic10.com / 1210 AMWethinks the Hawks might be just a little upset with the (13-16, 5-11) 49ers. Far more than the Richmond game, it was SJU's loss to Charlotte at the Hagan Arena that shot their tournament resume mostly to hell.
With the Hawks having to get to at least the championship game (and, really, they probably have to win it) to get back to the NCAAs for the first time since 2008, their first step in the process will be to get revenge on Charlotte tonight.
We've got the Hawks going over big here, so, looking forward, you can expect to see them tipping off at 2:30 p.m. on Friday against the St. Bonaventure Andrew Nicholson's who needed double-overtime to just barely sneak past the Hawks in Olean, NY last week.
From there, we could see the completion of a best-of-three series between the Hawks and the Temple Owls on Saturday (assuming both teams take care of business beforehand).
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Penn at Princeton (Jadwin Gym) -- 7:30 p.m. / ESPN3.com / 88.5 WXPN FMWhile we're taking in the Explorers and the Spiders, we'll be keeping a close eye on this one, as well. This game gets the official T7L stamp of approval for "Game of the Night."
First, some background. The Penn Quakers have been chasing the Crimson of Harvard for weeks. Last Friday night, their path to the Ivy League Title (and the league's subsequent auto-bid to the NCAAs) seemed simple enough: win three games in four days, and the worst they could do would be to face Harvard in a one-game playoff.
The Quakers are now one win away from doing just that. After defeating Brown and Yale on back-to-back nights over the weekend, Jerome Allen, Zack Rosen and Co. will travel briefly over 676 before booking it up I-95 to Princeton, NJ to take on the Tigers.
With a win, the Quakers will guarantee themselves a one-game playoff with the Crimson at a neutral location later this week. The winner of that game will move on the NCAA tournament. It would be a rubber match, as the two teams have already split games 1-1 this season.
A loss, on the other hand, would see Zack Rosen's collegiate eligibility expire without a single trip to the tourney. If you've been watching Penn, you'll already know he isn't going to let that happen without one hell of an entertaining fight.
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Villanova vs. Rutgers (Madison Square Garden) -- 9 p.m. / ESPNU / 950 AMBleh. That sums up the Wildcats season for everyone except Maalik Wayns.
And just as it was Wayns who almost single-handedly defeated the Cincinnati Bearcats over the weekend (though we saw you getting your game on Mouph), it will need to be Wayns again if Villanova has any hopes of staying in NYC for more than just one night.
Tonight, they take on the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, who they did defeat last Thursday night to snap a four-game losing streak. If they can do it again, they'll meet USF tomorrow. Should they somehow sneak past the Bulls, who are strongly in-line for an at-large, they'll have the pleasure of meeting Notre Dame in the quarterfinals.
Will a win over Rutgers and a solid showing against USF be good enough for a CBI? That's really all the Wildcats have to play for right now, other than pride.
*
And there you have it. We'll be back tomorrow with the winners and losers to set up the Atlantic 10 tournament, what's (potentially) left of the Big East for Nova and whether or not Penn will have its one last chance at Harvard.
As for tonight, what about you? Where will you be? What will you be watching?
Which of these team's do you see making a run? Which do you see in the NCAAs? The NIT? The CBI?

Eagles Training Camp Preview: We’re So Screwed  

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Eagles Training Camp Preview: We’re So Screwed  

The Eagles’ full training camp got underway Thursday and I’m already worried. In fact, I have seen nothing from this team thus far in training camp that gives me any confidence that they can compete this season. 

The Sam Bradford/Carson Wentz thing hasn’t been resolved at all. We already had no running backs to speak of, and now Ryan Mathews is hurt. And then Nigel Badham got arrested for assaulting a hotel employee in Miami -- I know I’ve been saying for awhile that the Eagles need guys on defense who “punch people in the mouth,” but that’s not what I meant. 

There’s another thing that makes me question what the hell the Eagles are doing: I don’t care if he’s the long snapper -- letting a player report late to training camp because he’s doing magic tricks on a talent show? A morning show caller the other day suggested the Eagles try some trick plays involving Dorenbos making the ball disappear -- but if there’s any hope for that, Jon needs to be at practice, instead of gallivanting in Hollywood with Simon Cowell. What would Buddy say? 

The last straw may have been Tuesday, when veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin signed with the Detroit Lions, even though the Eagles had pursued him. I for one have been calling for the Eagles to acquire Boldin since 2005, but this time hurts the most. What is Howie doing? 

Should Doug Pederson be on the hot seat in Philadelphia? Should Howie Roseman? After two days of training camp, my answer is, “yes” and “absolutely yes.” If the Eagles lose the first week to Cleveland, the clock will be ticking, if it isn’t already. 

__

The streets of Philadelphia this week were chockfull of angry people, agitating loudly on behalf of the guy who had already been defeated, wearing T-shirts with his likeness and refusing to give up on him even though he already issued a lengthy statement giving up himself. Please, people: Let Sam Hinkie go. 

Still, though: When it comes to Sam Hinkie and Bernie Sanders, things just keep getting more curious: 

Exhibit A: Chuck Todd said on NBC News Friday that, "Bernie Sanders is here to land the plane."

Exhibit B: 

Exhibit C:

Exhibit D: 

And Exhibit E taken, at a post-DNC Party: 

I’m not exactly sure what this all means, but between the national media once again making a big deal about people booing at a Philadelphia sports arena -- and the President of the United States actually said “don’t boo” --  it can’t be good news. First Dario Saric came to Philly because of his foreknowledge of the coup attempt in Turkey, and now this. 

Other Philly sports takes: 

- As @petesbigtwit pointed out on Twitter, the first female major party presidential nominee accepted the nomination on the very spot where Wing Bowl is held each year. It’s the greatest moment for women in that stage in at least five months, since Molly Schuyler ate 429 wings in 26 minutes at Wing Bowl XXIV. 

- Why shouldn’t the Eagles sign Ray Rice? I see no downside -- and he’s only been on the shelf a couple of months longer than Joel Embiid. 

- I wish the Phillies had someone passionate enough to carve up all the team’s throwback uniforms with a knife. 

- Can you believe Joel Embiid was caught using his phone on the sidelines during summer league? This would be like if Andrew Bynum had actually gone bowling next to the court during a game. 

- Who cares if the Pikachu guy flipped the bird at Citizen’s Bank Park? The Phanatic averages three obscene gestures per game. 

Follow @FakeWIPCaller on Twitter. And don’t vote- boo! 

Union's homegrown program produces latest signing Derrick Jones

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Philadelphia Union

Union's homegrown program produces latest signing Derrick Jones

CHESTER, Pa. — Long after most of the Union players retreated from the heat Wednesday, Derrick Jones remained on the practice field. Not even his new rookie responsibility of carrying the bag of balls could dampen the 19-year-old’s enthusiasm of participating in his first official training as a member of the Union.

“I was just excited,” said Jones, who signed a homegrown contract with the Union a day earlier. “I was just happy. I didn’t know where I was going to be four years ago.”

Jones' path to the pros was certainly an interesting one as he came from Ghana to South Philly in 2012, and at the time, “didn’t know anything about the Union.” But he soon found his way to YSC Academy, the Union-run high school in Wayne, and after graduating from there, was the first player ever signed by the Bethlehem Steel, the team’s expansion minor-league affiliate.

He then played well enough for Bethlehem this season to ink a deal with the Union on Tuesday as their first Homegrown signing since 2012 and just the fourth in franchise history.

“It's a proud moment for me as a coach, a former academy coach,” Union head coach Jim Curtin said. “I’d like to thank (YSC Academy head and Union part owner) Richie Graham and (academy director) Tommy Wilson for the job they did developing Derrick, and also (Bethlehem Steel head coach) Brendan Burke sprinkling in that extra polish for the half a season that Derrick put in. I'd also like to thank the players because the one thing people don't always get to see is how valuable it is with our first-team players being around Derrick in the preseason and putting him under their wing and all of those little things. 

“As a club, it's a proud moment because everybody has played a role, from our medical staff to our trainers to our equipment guys, all the way through our academy to Bethlehem to now our first team.”

Ever since the franchise’s inception, Union coaches and executives have always said how they wanted to build a team from their youth ranks with several players hailing from the Philadelphia area. But, as it turned out, it was easier said than done.

Zach Pfeffer was the first player to sign a homegrown contract (an MLS mechanism that allows teams to directly sign youth players from their own development academies) as a 15-year-old Upper Dublin High School sophomore in December of 2010. And although he showed some promise, the teenager was never able to become a regular and was traded to the Colorado Rapids this past offseason. Former manager Peter Nowak signed two other homegrown players — Jimmy McLaughlin and Cristhian Hernandez — during his tenure but neither played much and they're no longer with the club.

You can certainly argue that Pfeffer, McLaughlin and Hernandez were all victims of an old system that didn’t allow them to properly develop at such a young age. In many ways, that’s why the Union launched YSC Academy and the Bethlehem Steel: to create a more surefire pathway from high school to the pros without throwing teenagers directly into the fire.

And Jones, the only current homegrown player on the roster, is the first to truly benefit from that improved structure — and will very likely usher in a new, better era of youth development for the Union.

“Everyone likes to compare who's doing it the best, and there's a lot of really good things being done right now in the U.S. Developmental Academy and specific MLS academies, but I can say with confidence, having coached in it and lived through it and having seen it up close, our academy is the one that prepares these kids for life more so than any,” Curtin said. “So everyone wants to talk about the successful homegrowns and how many each team has, but no one writes the article about a lot of the homegrowns that are out of this league in a year and no one cares about them anymore.

“It does need to be said that our structure, in the way Richie Graham has set it up, is holistic in every way. The school and the things that they do there, it is amazing. It’s a special environment, and it’s one that is based on each individual kid and their needs, because every kid has different spurts in their development, highs and lows. And the support system that they provide at our academy is second to none in this country.”

Curtin’s glowing praise of YSC Academy is not hyperbole. The school is the first in the country to fully integrate a college-preparatory education with an MLS-affiliated youth soccer development program with practice time embedded into the school day. And although Jones is the first from the school to sign with the Union, many others in the first two graduating classes have moved on to play high-level Division I soccer (and can still sign with the Union, or the Steel, as a homegrown player if they shine at the collegiate level). 

“They helped me a lot,” Jones said of YSC Academy. “It was good. I got to train twice a day. I spent my whole day over there. In terms of working on my fitness, it really helped me.”

The school also helped Jones adapt to the United States away from the field, and even though he’s a quiet kid, his new teammates made sure to greet him with a lot of smiles this week. MLS veteran Chris Pontius said he expects Jones’ personality to come out in a few months and praised his soccer skills, calling him “a good two-way player” in the midfield.

It might be unfair to expect Jones to play right away for the Union, but the 19-year-old will certainly be ready if called upon, as early as Sunday’s home game vs. Real Salt Lake (7 p.m., CSN).

“I don’t know what that’s going to be like,” Jones said. “Maybe I’ll get nervous since it’s my first game. But I’m looking forward to it.”

Phillies-Braves 5 things: Chance for Nola to respond vs. worst offense

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Phillies-Braves 5 things: Chance for Nola to respond vs. worst offense

Phillies (46-57) at Braves (35-66)
7:10 p.m. on CSN

The Phillies were throttled Wednesday, 11-1, as they dropped their fourth straight series coming out of the All-Star break. 

The Phils have gone 2-4 through the first two stops of their three-city, 10-game road trip which now takes them to Atlanta. It's a winnable series against the majors' worst team that could get the ice-cold Phillies' offense back on track.

Let's take a look at the opener:

1. Important night for Nola
Aaron Nola came out of the All-Star break with six shutout innings of the Marlins. It didn't mean he was all the way back. Sure enough, his next start was a struggle, just like his five before the break.

Nola allowed six runs in four innings to the Pirates last weekend as his ERA rose again to 4.75. He's allowed four runs or more in six of his last seven starts, five runs or more in five of his last seven, and he's pitched more than five innings just once in that span.

His command is just gone right now. And that's why this is such an important start for him. Facing the worst offense in baseball in a pitcher-friendly environment could build back Nola's confidence and result in a quality start, even if he's not locating perfectly. There is one dangerous hitter in Atlanta's lineup, Freddie Freeman. Other than that, Nola should be able to get away with a curveball that hangs a bit or a fastball that doesn't perfectly nip the outside corner.

His focus tonight should be attacking. Nola has faced the Braves four times and gone 2-1 with a 1.73 ERA.

2. Situational struggles
The Phillies went 2 for 21 with runners in scoring position in the Marlins series. On Wednesday, they had 10 hits but left 10 men on base. 

Rarely do you see a team come an out away from being shut out when its first two hitters reach base seven of 10 times. Cesar Hernandez was 3 for 4 with a walk, Odubel Herrera was 2 for 4 with a walk, and Maikel Franco also had a multi-hit game batting third.

But the Phils have just been unable to come up with the one big hit since the break and it's why they're averaging 2.6 runs per game.

3. Scouting Wisler
The Phils get another look at young Braves right-hander Matt Wisler (4-10, 4.92), whose ERA is much higher than it was the last time they faced him.

Wisler, like Nola, has been pounded lately. He ended May with a 3.16 ERA, but has a 7.40 ERA in nine starts since, allowing his opponents a .329 batting average and .934 OPS. 

Wisler faced the Phils twice in a 10-day span on May 10 and May 20 and allowed four runs in 14⅔ innings.

Wisler's fastball averages 94 mph, but he doesn't strike many batters out (6.8 per nine this season). He usually uses three pitches: four-seam fastball, sinker and slider.

Current Phillies have hit .299 against him in 67 at-bats with seven doubles and three home runs. Franco has done the most damage, going 5 for 9 with two doubles and a homer.

4. Bullpen blunders
The Phillies' bullpen has a 5.14 ERA since the All-Star break, another reason they've struggled. The main culprits have been Andrew Bailey (seven runs in four innings) and Brett Oberholtzer (four in five). 

The Phillies have three legit bullpen pieces in Jeanmar Gomez, Hector Neris and Edubray Ramos, but none of the others have been reliable, which is a problem when the Phils don't carry a lead into the later innings. 

Expect to see a lot of bullpen turnover next season. The Phils have two promising young relievers in the minors in Jimmy Cordero (Double A) and Victor Arano (High A) who could turn this unit into one of the hardest-throwing in the game when they're ready to join Neris and Ramos. 

Bailey and Oberholtzer are not long for this organization. Both are free agents after the year and both could be designated for assignment to make room for another player over the next month.

5. This and that
• The Phillies are 6-3 vs. the Braves this season after going 30-45 against them from 2013 to 2015.

• Atlanta is a majors-worst 14-36 at home.

• Freeman is hitting .280 with 18 home runs and an .881 OPS, but he has just 41 RBIs because the Braves barely get on base ahead of him.