Expect Ugly, Slow, Brutal Basketball When No. 5 Temple Meets No. 12 USF

Expect Ugly, Slow, Brutal Basketball When No. 5 Temple Meets No. 12 USF

****The CBS Selection Show was down to the final bracket Sunday night, so Owls fans knew Temple's name was coming. Even better, with the benefit of seeing all the other 6/11 and 5/12 matchups on the board, they knew who Temple wasn't playing.

So when the 12/12 play-in game between California and South Florida popped up beneath No. 5 Temple, and one took the time to reflect on who else the Owls could have been paired with, Temple's first-round* draw appeared the most favorable of the possible outcomes.
Despite USF's performance against Cal Wednesday night, and some of the worry that's begun to build about the South Florida defense and the team's sudden ability to make jump shots, the draw remains favorable, even if Temple would have preferred to play the Golden Bears. Regardless, the Owls can ill-afford take their future conference rivals lightly (9:50 p.m. / TNT / 1210 AM)
Anticipating the style and predicting the winner of what could be the single ugliest game of the first round* after the jump...
**Facing a One-Dimensional OpponentSouth Florida surrendered the seventh-fewest points in the nation this season (56.8) and the 39th fewest points per possession (0.94). They acquired those statistics by defending the third-fewest possessions per game of any team in the country (60.3).
We should also note that although Temple hasn't been as defensively strong this season as they've been in years past, the USF offense is just absolutely abysmal. Out of 344 Division I Men's Basketball programs, the Bulls finished 325th in the country, averaging 59.6 points per game. Even more staggering, they finished third-to-last in the nation in offensive possessions per game with 60.3.
But understand: it's deliberate. USF's goal is to slow the game as much as possible and to frustrate opponents into making mistakes. Moreover, if the Bulls offense runs as much time off the shot clock as possible (either by choice or sheer ineptitude), then that's less time they have to spend defending. The best defensive teams will limit their opponent's opportunities with the ball before they even have to begin guarding anyone. 
Setting the PaceConventional wisdom is that the Owls should be getting out on the break whenever possible so as to prevent the USF defense from having the opportunity to properly set itself in the half court and to maximize its own number of offensive opportunities against a team who won't allow many. That strategy is by no means misguided.
But Temple has also shown, once again this season as in countless others, a preference for playing at a very deliberate pace. Should that trend continue -- plus, it's not like they'll be able to get out in the open floor off every rebound -- then the game could very likely settle in to a slow, methodical and ugly game of basketball.
Don't Get Rattled and DON'T FORCETemple has the tools and the personnel to be very successful in transition, especially on its bench. Freshman Anthony Lee has shown a clear ability to run the floor and Aaron Brown's penchant for getting lost in corners and shooting open threes is a matchup nightmare for most defenses should Temple at any time decide to run four guards. As for the starters, Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson and Ramone Moore are as athletic as they come, Khalif Wyatt is...unconventionally agile, and Juan Fernandez has the best vision of anyone on the floor.
All those attributes are real, but Temple cannot force their use if the opportunities aren't really available. The Owls, if they choose to, will not be the first team who has tried to run on USF. Not only will the Bulls be prepared, but Temple cannot be so concerned that it becomes overly aggressive, lobbing long, ill-advised home run passes. USF wants its opponents to play undisciplined, and Temple cannot fall into that trap by attempting anything too quick, too flashy or too risky.
The same holds true in the half court. Temple's offense is at its best when its players are moving on offense and, likewise, moving the basketball. It's not that they shouldn't run some clear outs for Moore or even Wyatt when possible, but that strategy isn't, has never been and should not become the Owls dominant style. Moreover, Temple has a nasty habit of playing the wrong kind of iso, by merely staring at the ball handler and taking up rather than creating space.
Either way, this group of Owls has never been afraid to run the shot clock down in order to find the best possible look, so they shouldn't get rattled at having to do it tonight. Even when that clock is getting low, panic cannot take hold. If the Owls suffer a violation or two after proving unable to hit the rim after 35 seconds, those instances need to be accepted, immediately forgotten and cannot be allowed to result in rushed or poor attempts.
Of course, when the Owls do find their good looks at the basket, they'll need to be efficient. They'll have far too few possessions to waste them with poor shooting or, worse, poor decision-making. Temple is ordinarily comfortable and actually prefers to play in the half-court -- they cannot afford to forget that, no matter how slow or painful the game should look or feel.

Fernandez and Moore Need to Lead (But in Different Ways)These two combined, although not necessarily in tandem, to snap a streak of three-straight NCAA first-round* exits when they led the Owls just barely over the Penn State Nittany Lions last year. Their play will once again be vital, but for far different reasons individually.
Starting with Ramone, Moore is as talented a basketball player as their is in the city, the conference or, and feel free to incorrectly quibble this, the nation. His only shortcoming is that he tends to be too passive and too unselfish. Moore -- other than Wyatt, who has no qualms about taking the big shot or getting his -- is the Owls best option in the clutch. Regardless of how the team played against UMass last Friday, it was encouraging to see Moore take and hit three straight threes in the second half to get Temple back in the ballgame. That's the kind of leadership he will need to evince if his team is going to overcome difficulties to put together any meaningful run through the tournament. When the Owls run the shot clock to single digits tonight, Moore, more often than not, will need to be the one with the ball in his hands. Both he and his teammates will be to blame if he isn't.
Fernandez, separately, will most benefit his team by doing the exact opposite. He needs to lead by creating for others rather than forcing for himself. Yes, Juan is a streaky shooter, and streaky shooters get hot, but like everyone else, he's much better shooting open and/or in-rhythm looks. Really, for all of Juan's talents, his worst shortcoming is his insistence of driving to the basket late in the clock. That strategy is not poor, in principle -- it works for plenty of other players, including some on his own team -- it's just completely ineffective for him (Temple fans have seen too many rejected one-handed scoops to need to bear witness to more in what could be Juan's final tournament game). Fernandez has been at his best this season when he has, by his own admission, "let the game come to him." Sometimes that involves him scoring 20 or more. Other times that involves him racking up assists and shooting the ball only six to seven times. Whatever is or isn't available tonight, Fernandez has to accept it and play within himself. His flash has been a true pleasure to watch in his four-year career, but his responsibility with the basketball is that
which will be the most needed. If the above book on the Argentine senior seems too harsh, just consider it a preference for wanting to remember him for all the good he's done for his program, and not for what happened against San Diego State.
When Temple lost three first-round* games in a row to Michigan State, Arizona State and Cornell, it was their most talented, most experienced players who were shut down, rattled or otherwise held incapable of producing in the manner to which they were accustomed. Moore and Fernandez cannot fall into the trap against a team whose sole goal is to hold their opponents to less than 60 -- and sometimes 50 -- points tonight. If they do, then, well...Khalif Wyatt.
The Takeaways-- There will be limited possessions. Those limited possessions must be taken advantage of with the highest possible efficiency.
-- Likewise -- as was not yet touched on, but should be -- Temple cannot give up easy or lazy baskets on defense. USF is horrendous offensively, their shooting performance against Cal was an aberration, and Temple, therefore, needs not to cede baskets USF is incapable of generating on its own. Every failed stopped is one Temple will have to work that much harder to make up for on offense.
-- Unless Temple comes bursting out of the gate really excited, really hungry, really focused and really pissed off about their play over the last two weeks (which, frankly, is a very real possibility South Florida should find itself prepared for), then get ready to settle in for one of the ugliest basketball games of this year's NCAA tournament. USF will defend hard; Temple will be expected to run a lot of clock; USF will not score often; Temple will turn the ball over a lot; and it will all be unbearable to watch unless you really appreciate the intricacies of the game of basketball. You've been forewarned.
Prediction: First team to 60 wins
Getting to the NCAAs has become old-hat for Temple. That's a cocky statement, but its true. This team knew it was going to the dance a month ago. It had won three Atlantic 10 tournament in four years. So is it possible they just lost focus down the stretch?
We're calling for a Temple team who has been waiting all year for its next shot at the NCAAs to "take the Bulls by the horns" (sorry) and go on an early run. The game will eventually settle in, but Temple is taking this thing and immediately moving on to face  Michigan Ohio Sunday. 
(But remember all those concerns written above were published and explained for a reason.)
Go Owls.
photos courtesy US Presswire

Flyers 2015-16 Evaluations Part 1: Goaltenders

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Flyers 2015-16 Evaluations Part 1: Goaltenders

If there's one thing the Flyers proved during the 2015-16 season, it's that you can never understate the importance of having two capable goaltenders.

Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth both shared the top spot at various points, as goaltending was one of the club's strengths.
 
Without strong performances from both, Dave Hakstol's team never would have made the playoffs.

Among the more intriguing questions that will arise in training camp next fall is who wins the starter's job. If the playoffs proved anything, it's not a lock Mason is ordained the starter.
 
Competition in goal made the Flyers better.
 
“To have inner competition is a good thing,” general manager Ron Hextall said after the season. “We've got two good goalies and I think, as we saw this year, it's nice to have.
 
“If we have one of them this year, then we're probably nowhere near the playoffs. They were a strength of ours and I give them both credit for giving us a chance to win those nights.”
 
Neuvirth has made it clear that he sees himself as a No. 1.
 
“Michal Neuvirth's become a better player this year and I think that Michal Neuvirth has a belief that he can be a No. 1, maybe for the first time, maybe when he was younger he did,” Hextall said.
 
“He proved it to himself, he proved it to us, and on the other hand, Mase did the same thing. Mase has played the last month and a half and was terrific. He played a great game and quite honestly, there is no rounds to go, we didn't have another guy to go to.”
 
Hextall feels Anthony Stolarz likely needs one more year of AHL grooming.
 
“Stolie is a good, young prospect, but he's young and he's not ready to take the ball at this level, so Mase took the ball and ran with it,” Hextall said. “We get two guys that I think our team feels very comfortable with and so do I.”
 
The Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning have both demonstrated during this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs that you can win with a young goalie coming off the bench and stealing the top spot with a strong run.
 
He’s a recap of the goaltenders - not including Stolarz, who was on the roster for 16 games but did not play:

Steve Mason
Age: 28
Stats: 54 GP; 23-19-10; 2.51 GAA; .918 SV%
Cap hit: $4.1 million
 
Mason played his 400th career game in March. Despite a terrible start that had more to do with a serious personal matter off the ice, Mason was the Flyers' late-season MVP, starting 12 consecutive games down the stretch and enabling the Flyers to erase a three-point gap and claim the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

After a stellar showing in the season-opener in Tampa, Mason's off-ice issue hit full brunt. His focus was gone the remainder of October and it showed with a 3.39 goals-against average heading into November. More bad luck came as he got the flu and missed a series of games before returning as the Flyers struggled through a series of overtimes and shootouts during which Mason came up small.

While Mason has shown he can make a critical save on a breakaway during games, he seems to make himself small in net during shootouts, during which he was 2-6 this season.

True, you can argue the Flyers have lacked for goal-scoring in the shootout for years now. Yet, the point is, Mason's confidence in shootouts is poor.

A knee injury bothered him in the start of the second half, as he lost his job to Neuvirth, who kept the Flyers afloat. Mason's return to full health began in March.

Mason finally hit .500 — 15-15-7 — with a 4-2 win over Tampa Bay on March 7. His sprint to the finish began March 19 and he went 6-4-2 to help push the Flyers into the playoffs.

In Game 1 against Washington, Mason played well, but he was terrible the next two games in which he allowed 10 goals, three of which were horrific, and then lost the net to Neuvirth as the Flyers faced a 3-0 deficit.

His playoff goals-against average of 4.09 and .852 save percentage were proof of his poor play. Puzzling stat: His save percentage when the Flyers were on the power play this season was just .878 after being .958 the year before when he faced more shots against.

Mason continues to mystify as to whether he has the mental toughness to overcome adversity. While he proven his value in the regular season, until he shows he can carry this team deep into the playoffs on his own, there will forever be a question as to whether he's capable of winning a Stanley Cup.
 
Michal Neuvirth
Age: 28
Stats: 32 GP; 18-8-4; 2.27 GAA; .924 SV%
Cap hit: $1.625 million

Where would the Flyers have been this season without Neuvirth, especially at the start?

You could make a compelling argument Neuvirth was the club's first-half MVP while Mason struggled. Neuvirth was 11-6-2 at the All-Star break compared to Mason's 10-12-6.

Bang vs. buck. He's a steal at $1.625 million. The only knock on Neuvirth, which has dogged him throughout his nine-year career, is his health. He has an uncanny way of getting hit with freak injuries and admits it's held him back.

In all, he had six different injuries that caused him to miss 18 games — almost a quarter of the season. Yet despite late-season knee surgery, which forced him to miss eight games, Neuvirth came on strong in replacing Mason for Games 4 through 6 in the postseason.

Neuvirth clearly showed he was far more on top of his game than Mason, winning two of three, one of which he faced 44 shots and earned a brilliant 2-0 shutout. Neuvirth has played half as many games as Mason in his career yet he has a chance in camp to get that coveted starter's job back, which he once briefly held in Washington.

Neuvirth's 2.27 goals-against average and .924 save percentage during the regular season were career bests. Interestingly, this is a contract year for both Neuvirth and Mason to show their value for that next deal.

In Neuvirth's case, it's about getting starter's money — not back-up. That said, even if this shy Czech becomes the Flyers' starter, his penchant for injury dictates wariness over the long haul.

Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg stays unbeaten as Nats pound Cards

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Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg stays unbeaten as Nats pound Cards

WASHINGTON -- Stephen Strasburg (9-0) won his 12th consecutive decision dating to last season, pitching six innings of one-run ball as Washington salvaged a four-game split.

Strasburg improved to 12-0 in 15 starts since losing to the Mets on Sept. 9, and the Nationals have won all 15 of those games. The 12 consecutive winning decisions is a franchise record for a starter, breaking a mark shared by Livan Hernandez (2005) and Dennis Martinez (1989).

Jayson Werth connected for a pinch-hit grand slam. Wilson Ramos had three hits, including a two-run homer, and drove in four runs. Bryce Harper hit an RBI single during a three-run fourth off Michael Wacha (2-6), who lost his sixth straight decision (see full recap).

Dodgers score twice in 9th to top Mets
NEW YORK -- Adrian Gonzalez snapped a ninth-inning tie with a two-run single off suddenly struggling closer Jeurys Familia, and Los Angeles beat New York.

Curtis Granderson hit a tying triple for the Mets immediately after Clayton Kershaw was lifted with two outs in the eighth. But the Dodgers quickly regrouped for their sixth victory in seven games since losing four straight.

Kershaw struck out 10, walked none and capped a magnificent May with another sublime performance.

Adam Liberatore (1-0) got the win. Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect ninth for his 15th save.

Familia (2-1) allowed two runs on two hits and two walks (see full recap).

Castro's homer Yanks' only hit in victory
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Starlin Castro's two-run, seventh-inning homer off Jake Odorizzi was the Yankees' only hit of the game, enough to give New York a 2-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday.

According to Baseball Reference data going back to 1913, the Yankees' only other one-hit win was when Charlie Mullen had an RBI single to beat Cleveland in six innings in a doubleheader nightcap on July 10, 1914.

Nathan Eovaldi (6-2) gave up one run and six hits in six innings to win his career-best fifth consecutive start and beat Odorizzi (2-3).

Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman each pitched a perfect inning and combined for seven strikeouts. Chapman got his seventh save (see full recap).

Deitrich hurt on odd play in Marlins' win over Braves
ATLANTA -- Derek Dietrich hit a tiebreaking, two-run homer and drove in four runs before getting hurt on a foul ball hit into Miami's dugout.

Dietrich's homer landed deep in the lower section of the right-field seats in the sixth, giving Miami a 3-1 lead. A former Georgia Tech star, Dietrich added a two-run double off Eric O'Flaherty in the seventh inning, then was hit by a foul ball off the bat of Christian Yelich in the ninth.

The team said X-rays were negative and Dietrich was to remain in Atlanta on Sunday night for further evaluations.

Tom Koehler (3-5) allowed three runs -- two earned -- three hits and five walks in seven-plus innings. Julio Teheran (1-5) gave up three runs, five hits and three walks in 5 1/3 innings (see full recap).

Correa's home run lifts Astros over Angels in 13
ANAHEIM, Calif.  -- Pinch-hitter Carlos Correa had a three-run homer off Mike Morin (1-1) in the 13th inning.

Correa got a run-scoring hit in the 13th inning for the second time in six games, following up his game-ending single against Baltimore on Tuesday.

Albert Pujols had three hits for the Angels, who blew an eighth-inning lead and stranded 14 runners while losing for the fourth time in five games.

Michael Feliz (3-1) pitched the 12th for Houston (see full recap).

Report: P.J. Carlesimo won't join Sixers' coaching staff

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Report: P.J. Carlesimo won't join Sixers' coaching staff

It doesn't sound like the Sixers' replacement for Mike D'Antoni will be the most rumored name for the position.

NBA coaching veteran P.J. Carlesimo has decided to not join Brett Brown's staff as associate head coach and instead will remain a television analyst, according to tweets Sunday night by ESPN's Mark Stein.

Stein added that despite "strong mutual interest," Carlesimo made the decision for family reasons.

The 67-year-old Carlesimo has spent parts of nine seasons as a head coach in the league and five more as an assistant. He was last on a NBA bench when he took over as the Brooklyn Nets' interim head coach in 2012-13.

So the Sixers still have a vacancy on their bench after D'Antoni, who joined the Sixers in the middle of last season after Jerry Colangelo joined the organization, signed on to become head coach of the Houston Rockets last week. Who the team's next choice for the role is remains to be seen.