Four City Six Teams, Plus Temple's Play-in Opponent, in Action Tonight

Four City Six Teams, Plus Temple's Play-in Opponent, in Action Tonight

If you're of the "The NIT is for losers, talk to me about the real tournament" crowd, you'll find a Cal-USF breakdown down the bottom. If you're otherwise interested in the exploits of Drexel, La Salle and Saint Joseph's (and Penn!), then you won't need to skip -- or, at least, as far.
We'll start with the Dragons...
NIT: #3 Drexel vs. #6 UCF (Daskalaskis Center) / 7:15 p.m. / ESPN3.comAfter their resume kept them out of the NCAAs, there's pressure on the Drexel Dragons to back up all the talk that has surrounded their "snub." Some will say their NIT performance has no bearing on whether they should or should not have made the NCAAs. Others will argue that their early exit or extended run will either totally validate or invalidate the selection committee's omission -- and that tipping point will obviously vary.
Speaking of resumes, Drexel has the opportunity to take on a UCF program on its way to the Big East in 2013, and one that, as a six seed from C-USA, had an arguably better resume than the Dragons to get into the NCAAs in the first place.
UCF finished the year 22-10 with the 54th best RPI in the country and two Top 50 wins -- UConn and Memphis. Six of their 10 losses came to teams in the NCAA tournament -- Memphis, Florida State, Harvard, and two to Southern Miss.
Drexel, by contrast, cannot say the same. Though they won 27 games, they played just four of those contests against NCAA teams, losing to St. Joe's and Virginia and splitting two games with VCU. They never played a Top 50 team (UVA finished 53).
Look, we're not here to rehash why Drexel didn't get in nor to browbeat them for failing to do so. The point is that UCF is very much the kind of program Drexel didn't get the chance play enough over the course of its regular season, and just one of a handful they'll have to survive if they want to prove they were more than just a good team with an awful schedule. Drexel fans can proffer every reason they want as to why the team's weak schedule wasn't the school's fault, and they might even be right. But now it's time to play the teams those same fans wish they could have just a month or two prior; so now it's time to produce.
Of course, should they beat UCF, they could get the chance for a little retribution against a team they already played...
NIT: #2 Saint Joseph's vs. #7 Northern Iowa (Hagan Arena) / 7:15 p.m. / ESPN3 / 610 AMThis NIT bid could really be good for SJU. Yes, every team would prefer "the big dance" and Joe's could have even played its way in had it squeaked by St. Bonaventure, but there's little doubt the Hawks have the tools to be successful in the NIT. 
An extended run for a young SJU roster could give this up-and-coming team a whole lot of confidence and some very worthwhile experience heading into next year, when Carl Jones will be a senior and Langston Galloway, C.J. Aiken and Ron Roberts juniors.
They'll take on Northern Iowa tonight, whose Missouri Valley Conference flew under the radar as the best Mid-Major in the country, one that finished ahead of C-USA and the Pac-12 and just behind the A-10 for the eighth-best conference RPI in the country. NIU lost both its contests with Wichita State earlier this season, but split games 1-1 with Creighton, who SJU also downed early.
For those who make use of the online feed or make it down to the Fieldhouse, the matchup between Jones and NIU's Anthony James should be fun to watch. At 6-0, James, like Jones, is undersized, quick and has dropped 20 or more five different times this season.
Also, if Northern Iowa sounds familiar, remember this guy?
NIT: #3 La Salle vs. #6 Minnesota (Gola Arena) / 7 p.m. / ESPN 2 / 990 AMThis is the only one of the City Six games that will be on basic cable tonight.
Explorers head coach John Giannini said after his team's loss to St. Louis last Friday night that an opportunity to play in the NIT would put his team in the company of some household names. In this case, La Salle has drawn a household college hockey name in round one.
The Golden Gophers will no doubt be happy to play a non-Big Ten team for the first time since Dec. 22. Minnesota went 12-1 out of conference but just 6-12 in conference. Their lone loss outside the Big Ten came to another Atlantic 10 team: the Dayton Flyers.
Tonight's meeting will be the two teams' first since 1965. The winner will move on to play the victor of Miami (FL) and Valparaiso.
CBI: Penn vs. Quinnipiac (Palestra) / 7:30 p.m. / 88.5 FM WXPN  One other note we forgot to mention earlier, the Penn Quakers are in action tonight against the Quinnipiac Bobcats in the first round of the College Basketball Invitational. Every game the Quakers play could be Zack Rosen and Tyler Bernandini's last in Penn uniforms.
The winner will move on to play the victor of the Delaware-Butler game, which can be seen on HD Net at 8 p.m. this evening.
And now, onto the big show...
NCAA: #12 South Florida vs. #12 California / 9:10 p.m. / TRU TVThe winner earns the last remaning spot in the field of 64 and the right to play the fifth-seeded Temple Owls in round one. 
It'll be a contrast of styles, as USF plays to hold opponents to under 60 -- and sometimes 50 -- points, while Cal boasts the 20th best field goal percentage in the nation at 47.9 and scores 71.9 ppg. 
The easy way to look at this is just to compare the Big East to the Pac-12 and to pick your winner from there -- and we're not necessarily discouraging anyone from doing so. If we were forced to fill out brackets, we probably would have done the same under the logic that stiffer defense and more hands in more faces will dramatically decrease Cal's shooting percentages.
That said, it's never wise to count out a team who shoots for that high a percentage. Even if it's inflated, it's still excellent enough to give you pause, regardless of how it gets done.
Again, the winner moves on to face Temple at 9:50 p.m. Friday night.
Owls fans, who would you rather play?

Best of MLB: Beltre's 2 home runs lift Rangers over A's

Best of MLB: Beltre's 2 home runs lift Rangers over A's

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Adrian Beltre hit his second home run of the game with two outs in the ninth inning, a two-run shot that rallied the Texas Rangers past the Oakland Athletics 7-6 on Monday night for their third straight win.

Beltre, who finished with four hits, had two singles in his first three at-bats before hitting a solo homer in the seventh. His game-winning drive came on the first pitch from Ryan Madson (3-4).

Until then, Texas had trailed since Danny Valencia hit a two-run homer for Oakland with two outs in the first. All 13 runs in the game were scored with two outs.

Texas turned three double plays behind starter Martin Perez, who has induced a major league-best 25 in 21 games.

Valencia also had the first of three run-scoring doubles in a three-run third that gave the A's a 5-1 lead (see full recap).

Blue Jay's Aaron Sanchez wins 10th straight decision
TORONTO  -- Aaron Sanchez pitched seven shutout innings to win his 10th consecutive decision, Kevin Pillar had three hits and the Toronto Blue Jays beat the San Diego Padres 4-2 on Monday night.

Sanchez (11-1) became the first Blue Jays pitcher to win 10 straight since Roy Halladay won 15 decisions in a row in 2003. Halladay and Roger Clemens (1998) hold the club record.

Making their first appearance in Toronto, the Padres were held scoreless until Alex Dickerson hit a two-run homer off Bo Schultz in the ninth.

Dickeerson's drive into the fifth deck extended San Diego's team-record streak of games with at least one home run to 23. The 2006 Atlanta Braves were the last National League team to homer in 23 straight games.

Roberto Osuna replaced Schultz and got two outs for his 21st save (see full recap).

Orioles top Rockies for 5th straight win
BALTIMORE -- Adam Jones scored the winning run in the 10th inning on a low throw to the plate by pitcher Jordan Lyles, and the Baltimore Orioles beat the Colorado Rockies 3-2 on Monday night for their fifth straight victory.

Jones reached on a one-out single off the third-base bag and took third on a single by Jonathan Schoop. Manny Machado followed with a comebacker to Lyles, who fumbled the ball before throwing home. Catcher Nick Hundley caught the ball near the ground and lost the handle while attempting to tag the sliding Jones.

Lyles (2-3) was charged with an error on the play.

Getting two RBIs from Jones, the Orioles climbed a season-high 18 games over .500 (58-40) and improved to 37-14 at home.

Chaz Roe (1-0) worked the 10th for the win (see full recap).

Trade candidates — especially Jeremy Hellickson — lead Phils to shutout of Marlins

Trade candidates — especially Jeremy Hellickson — lead Phils to shutout of Marlins

BOX SCORE

MIAMI — Jeremy Hellickson was standing in front of his locker speaking with reporters after his second strong outing in a week against the Miami Marlins when Cameron Rupp walked by an offered his take on all the trade talk surrounding the veteran pitcher.

“He’s not going anywhere,” Rupp said loud enough for everyone in the room to hear.

Hellickson laughed at his catcher’s commentary.

“I hope not,” he said.

If Hellickson really wants to stay with the Phillies and finish out this rebuilding season instead of moving to a contender for the final two months — and possibly beyond — he did himself a disservice Monday night.

He enhanced his attractiveness to potential buyers by pitching six shutout innings in the Phillies’ 4-0 win over the Miami Marlins (see Instant Replay).

Hellickson, who sports a 3.65 ERA in 21 starts, needed just 70 pitches to get through the six innings. He was lifted for a pinch-hitter with runners on second and third and two outs in a scoreless game in the top of the seventh. Ryan Howard struck out, following Cody Asche and Peter Bourjos, as the Phillies whiffed on a golden scoring chance.

“I hated taking Hellickson out of the game there, but we had an opportunity to score and I had to go for it,” manager Pete Mackanin said.

“After we didn’t score, I didn’t think we had a chance to win this game. I just thought that with their bullpen we were in trouble.”

The Phillies ended up winning with a rally against Miami’s bullpen. Tommy Joseph delivered a clutch, two-out double against Fernando Rodney in the eighth to score Maikel Franco from first. That was the only run the Phillies needed. They tacked on three against the sloppy Marlins in the ninth to finish it off.

Hellickson, David Hernandez, Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez then combined to allow just one base runner in three innings to finish off the Phillies’ 11th shutout of the season. That’s the most in the majors.

“Our bullpen did a great job,” Mackanin said.

Three of the four pitchers that the Phillies used in the game — Hellickson, Hernandez and Gomez — are very much available for trades. They all pitched well with a gaggle of scouts sitting behind the backstop. A number of contending clubs — the Cubs, Orioles, Giants, Rangers and Blue Jays — had scouts at the game. Pitching, starting and relief, is high on the needs list for most of those teams.

Of course, the Marlins are looking for pitching, too. They have interest in Hellickson, though it’s not clear whether he is a top target of theirs. Maybe he will become a top target after what he’s done to the Marlins in the last week. Hellickson has pitched 14 innings over two starts against the Marlins. He has given up just six hits and a run.

“Just executing,” said the pitcher, explaining his success. “In my last two games the ball has been down for the most part. I’ve just gotten a lot of easy outs. The ball's down and not missing too many spots right now.”

Hellickson will be a free agent this winter and does not appear to be in the club’s future plan. Nonetheless, he has steadfastly said he would like to remain with the club for the rest of this season. Phillies management is not opposed to keeping Hellickson. He provides veteran stability and innings to a young rotation. But management would move Hellickson for a player that has the potential to help in the future.

Trade rumors can be distracting for a player. But Hellickson, who has been dealt twice in his career, is locked in.

“It doesn't bother me,” he said. “Once I'm in this locker room — obviously you still see it on TV and stuff — my focus is on helping us win today. Now it's on to the next start. It's been like this for a few years now so it's pretty easy to go out there right now.”

Mackanin said he had no idea what will become of Hellickson’s fate. But if the pitcher stays, he won’t complain.

“At this point, I don’t want to lose him,” Mackanin said. “I wish he could stay here. He’s that solid for us. He’s been like that the whole year.”

The Phillies needed a good pitching effort to pull this one out. Their hitters struck out 13 times, left 11 men on base and went just 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position.

“We don’t show plate discipline,” Mackanin lamented. “We’re taking fastballs early in the count that are hittable pitches. If you’re going to take fastballs early in the count that are hittable pitches, you cannot swing at breaking balls in the dirt. That’s all I can say about that. We have to have more plate discipline.”

On the positive side of that, Franco and Rupp both walked three times, and Franco’s two-out walk in the eighth became the biggest run of the game on a night when Jeremy Hellickson and his status with the Phillies was the biggest storyline.

Instant Replay: Phillies 4, Marlins 0

Instant Replay: Phillies 4, Marlins 0

BOX SCORE

MIAMI — Jeremy Hellickson continued to enhance his trade value and Tommy Joseph had the big hit in the Phillies’ 4-0 win over the Miami Marlins on Monday night.

Hellickson shut down the Marlins for the second time in a week. The next time he pitches, it could be for them. The Marlins are one of the teams interested in the veteran right-hander. Scouts from several other contending teams were in attendance for Hellickson’s strong outing.

Joseph’s two-out double in the top of the eighth broke a scoreless tie.

Phillies pitching held the Marlins to two hits. The Phils have 11 shutouts this season.

Starting pitching report
Hellickson pitched six scoreless innings and gave up just a hit and a walk while striking out one. He exited for a pinch-hitter after just 70 pitches. The right-hander has pitched 14 innings and allowed just one run in his last two starts, both against the Marlins. He has lowered his season ERA to 3.65.

Miami’s Jarred Cosart came up from Triple A and pitched five scoreless innings. However, he threw 92 pitches. He allowed three hits, a walk and struck out one.

Bullpen report 
Trade candidate David Hernandez pitched a strong seventh inning for the Phils, picking up the win. Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez closed it out.

Miami right-hander Kyle Barraclough came up big in the top of the seventh inning. He struck out Cody Asche, Peter Bourjos and pinch-hitter Ryan Howard with runners on second and third to preserve a 0-0 tie.

Marlins right-hander Fernando Rodney struck out the first two batters in the eighth then gave up a four-pitch walk to Maikel Franco before Joseph’s two-out double delivered the game’s first run.

Rodney took the loss.

A.J. Ramos was charged with three runs in the ninth, two unearned.

At the plate
The Phillies survived 13 strikeouts, a 1-for-9 performance with runners in scoring position and 11 men left on base to score the win.

The Phils had just six hits. Joseph had a pair of them and now has 25 RBIs in 54 games.

Cesar Hernandez gave the Phils some cushion with an RBI single in the top of the ninth. Miami’s defense fell apart after that and the Phils scored two more runs to put the game away.

Asche had a hit to break an 0-for-26 skid. Bourjos is 0 for his last 17.

Trade talk
Andres Blanco is out for six weeks so he’s no longer a trade candidate, but others are (see story).

Up next
Jerad Eickhoff (6-11, 3.98) pitches against Miami right-hander Tom Koehler (7-8, 4.42) on Tuesday night. Koehler pitched eight innings of two-run ball in beating the Phillies last week at Citizens Bank Park.