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.
---------------------------

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).
---------------------------
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.
---------------------------

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?

Temple QB Phillip Walker provides leadership, offensive spark as Owls beat Charlotte

usa-jahad-thomas-temple-celebrating.jpg
USA Today Images

Temple QB Phillip Walker provides leadership, offensive spark as Owls beat Charlotte

BOX SCORE

Temple quarterback Phillip Walker rolled on the ground in pain after taking a shot late in the first quarter and was immediately forced to the sideline.

With the Owls already trailing and their starting QB’s shoulder dinged up, things certainly weren’t going how the team envisioned opening up its homecoming game at Lincoln Financial Field. 

“It’s a nagging injury that comes and goes,” Walker said.

The pain was able to quickly go away, and then the Owls were able to go off.

Walker returned after a one-play absence to throw a deep touchdown pass and spark 28 unanswered points by Temple during the second quarter of a 48-20 win over Charlotte (see Instant Replay).

The Owls (2-2, 0-0 American Athletic Conference) evened their record with the win before opening up AAC play next week against SMU.

“It was big for us just because we needed to get going offensively,” Walker said of his beautiful 51-yard touchdown pass to Adonis Jennings on the first play of the second quarter. “We knew it would happen. It just takes time. A lot of people come with the same energy every game at the beginning of the game. Just let that energy wear off a little bit. Once you get your opportunity, then you take your shots and make your plays as an offense.”

The Owls’ offense made plenty of plays during that big second quarter. 

A couple of possessions after Walker’s TD pass gave Temple back the lead, the Owls got a gift when Charlotte (1-3, 0-0 Conference USA) quarterback Kevin Olsen and running back Kalif Phillips botched a read-option exchange. The fumble was scooped up by TU defensive lineman Praise Martin-Oguike and returned 20 yards to the 49ers’ 13-yard line. On the very next play, Jahad Thomas scampered around the left side for a touchdown.

Temple’s defense then forced a three-and-out to get the ball right back for Walker, who connected with Brodrick Yancy on a 40-yard score to break the game open.

Ryquell Armstead tacked on a one-yard touchdown plunge right before halftime to give the Owls a 31-7 advantage at the break.

In all, the Owls outscored the 49ers 28-0 and outgained them 176-66 during the period.

“Once we got the turnover, we had another opportunity in the red zone to make something happen and we did,” Walker said. “Give us the ball in the red zone, we have to capitalize off of it and we have to be able to make a play.”

“I thought the turnovers and field position started helping hitting the big play,” Temple head coach Matt Rhule said. “I just think we kind of settled down on offense, got into a rhythm. I think you’re seeing that we’re able to get our quarterback into a rhythm and he’s playing pretty well.”

Temple got contributions from several key players on offense to rack up 507 total yards and 26 first downs in the victory. Thomas and Armstead each had a pair of rushing touchdowns. Eight different players caught passes with five reaching at least 40 yards, including sophomore wideout Yancy, who had four receptions for 70 yards and a score.

However, it all starts with Walker as he continued to build on the momentum he found last week against Penn State. Walker completed 15 of 26 attempts for 268 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions.

The senior quarterback is starting to hit his stride at the right time with conference play coming up and his teammates are following his lead.

“He likes throwing the ball. The more we catch the ball for him the more it makes him look good, makes others look good and allows us to run the offense the way it can be run,” Yancy said.

“He’s been productive,” Thomas said. “Definitely coming into the season he was talking about his completion percentage. He’s a senior now. He feels more comfortable just getting his feet set. When you don’t have people breathing down your neck all the time you can be comfortable out there, so I’m quite sure that’s the reason why he’s playing so well in the last two games.”

With the defense still showing some warts (429 total yards allowed to Charlotte, including 231 on the ground) and the meat of the schedule coming up with conference play, Temple will be counting on Walker to keep his game at a high level to help the Owls defend their East Division crown.

“Looking forward to it,” Walker said of opening up the AAC portion of the schedule. “There are a lot of great teams in this conference. I think this conference can go either way whether it’s anyone from the West or anyone from the East. There’s a lot of great talent. We just have to bring our A game every week. We’ve got a long stretch here, so we just have to come out here and play our game.”

Phillies' Darin Ruf could be facing quiet goodbye

Phillies' Darin Ruf could be facing quiet goodbye

The final eight games remaining on the Phillies’ 2016 schedule will undoubtedly serve as a farewell to Ryan Howard.

Lost in the background may be the fact this week could quite possibly be the end for the man who was supposed to platoon alongside him this year, as well: Darin Ruf.

Both men have been supplanted by Tommy Joseph, who's hit 21 home runs in just 100 games this year while positioning himself as the Phillies first baseman of the near future.

Ruf will start Saturday night against Mets’ lefthander Sean Gilmartin. The Phillies are not scheduled to face a lefty starter for the rest of the season, so Saturday could be one of the final chances to see Ruf in a Phillies uniform, especially considering manager Pete Mackanin’s stated intent to give Howard more playing time down the stretch.

“It seemed like we never faced a lefty for the first month of the season. So that didn’t help Ruf at the time,” Mackanin said.  “Joseph entered the picture and made an immediate impression.”

Ruf’s departure from the majors set the stage for Joseph’s immediate emergence. At the time of his May 13 demotion to AAA Lehigh Valley – and Joseph’s promotion -- Ruf was had a .158/.206/.193 slash line.
  
Since his Sept. 1 return to the majors after rosters expanded, Ruf has done what he can to make sure his possible final season in a Phillies uniform ends on a high note. On Friday night, he drilled a home run to left center off Mets reliever Josh Smoker in pinch-hit duty, the first time Ruf had gone yard since Oct. 1, 2015.

“It felt good,” Ruf said about ending his home run drought. “You just try to simply things and last night it worked out for me.”

Where Ruf will be next year is a more complicated matter, as the 30-year-old is out of minor league options. Japanese scouts were spotted at the games he played for AAA Lehigh Valley.

With Lehigh Valley, Ruf received an opportunity he’s never truly been able to get with the Phillies due to the longstanding presence of Howard: a chance to play every day and consistently accumulate plate appearances. He hit .294/.356/.529 in 390 trips to the plate for the IronPigs. 

Ruf has never made more than 300 plate appearances in a major league season and would struggle to crack that number if he remains in Philadelphia as a backup to Joseph, who will still be 25 on opening day next year.

“I learned [this year] that you can’t take anything for granted in this game,” Ruf said. “You’ve just got to keep working to get better every day, got to put up numbers no matter where you’re at in order to get to where you want. 

“Hopefully, wherever I’m at next year, I can do that.”