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?

Eagles-Steelers: Roob's 10 observations

Eagles-Steelers: Roob's 10 observations

BOX SCORE

We could probably fill 100 points tonight after this wipeout of the Steelers.

Fifty of them might just be: Wow.

The Eagles on Sunday handed the Steelers' their worst loss in 27 years, walloping everybody's AFC favorite 34-3 and extending their streak to a game and a half without allowing a touchdown (see Instant Replay).

New coach, new quarterback, but you could make an argument the Eagles are the best team in the NFL.

Three games in, the Eagles have won three blowouts. Sunday's was the most impressive (see photo gallery).

1. What Carson Wentz is doing simply defies belief. He isn’t playing at an insanely high level for a rookie, he’s playing at an insanely high level for a quarterback. It’s not about him being a rookie anymore. There’s nothing rookie about him. Wentz has managed to put together one of the finest three-game stretches in Eagles history, not just by a rookie but by any quarterback. And this after missing all of training camp and getting promoted to the starting spot exactly one month ago? It’s scary how good this kid is playing. His ability to recognize and diagnose what a defense is doing is off the charts, and he’s so accurate that as soon as he realizes who’s going to be open, the ball is on the way. He can fire it, he can float it, and he can do it all in mistake-free fashion. That’s what’s most impressive about all of this. Zero turnovers playing in his NFL debut, on a Monday night at Soldier Field and against a hot pick to win the AFC.

2. We all knew this defensive line was talented. But this? This group has played out of its mind so far. In all three games the opposing quarterback really had no chance by the second half. They are simply wearing people out, getting stronger and stronger as the game goes on and taking over in the second half. The Eagles still haven’t allowed a second-half touchdown this year. Look at net passing yards against the Eagles this year:

                                 1H                  2H

Browns                    118                  50

Bears                       145                  75

Steelers                   138                  84

They’ve been OK in the first half, but they are just destroying people in the second half. They have yet to allow 100 net passing yards in a second half. And that’s when teams that are trailing by double digits generally pad their passing stats. Ben Roethlisberger is a two-time Super Bowl winner, and by the second half, the Eagles’ defensive line was just teeing off on him, giving him very little opportunity to get the ball down the field. This has been an astonishing stretch from the entire defense, but the defensive line in particular has been playing at a breathtaking level.

3. There was no announcement in the press box about Ryan Mathews, but we’re assuming his sore ankle, originally injured on opening day, was bothering him. Mathews had minus-five yards on two early carries, then didn’t play the rest of the game. In his place, we saw a real emergence from the Eagles’ two young backs. Rookie Wendell Smallwood ran 17 times for 79 yards and Kenjon Barner was 8 for 42, both career highs. Mathews has looked sluggish running the ball all year, and Darren Sproles – as electrifying as he is in all other facets of the game – really isn’t a runner anymore. Smallwood and Barner both hit the hole decisively and have wheels once they get into open space. Sunday, they combined for 25 carries for 121 yards. Very promising start for both backs.

4. One thing the Eagles did throughout this game was tackle exceptionally well, something that’s been a problem around here for a while. The Steelers, unable to run the ball, and with Roethlisberger under tremendous pressure, tried snap after snap to get the short passing game going, trying to get 1-on-1 matchups and then break tackles for big gains. But time after time, the Eagles swarmed the receiver as soon as he caught the ball, quickly limiting the damage. Fourteen of Roethlisberger’s 24 completions went for six yards or less, and this is a quarterback who is as good as anybody getting the ball down the field.

5. Malcolm Jenkins in particular was exceptional Sunday, both in coverage, stopping the run and tackling in the open field. Jenkins has been playing at such a high level since he got here in 2014 it’s easy to take him for granted. But he’s playing as well right now as any safety we’ve seen here. This is Brian Dawkins-level stuff right now.

6. A few words about Brandon Graham. This guy was so vilified early in his career for not being Earl Thomas, and all he’s done for seven years is work hard in practice, play as hard as he can on gameday, and hope to finally get an opportunity to show that he can play. Graham hasn’t been bad. He had 23½ sacks coming into this year, including 12 the last two years. But he’s been playing his best football ever this year, not just pressuring the quarterback, getting sacks and being around the ball — he’s got a forced fumble and a fumble recovery to go with three sacks this year — but also playing very stout against the run. Graham has played under three head coaches and five defensive coordinators, and he’s finally in a scheme that really suits his strengths. Graham has perservered, he’s overcome a lot, and you might notice nobody ever talks about Earl Thomas around here anymore.

7. As impressive as the offense and defense have been, Doug Pederson has been just dazzling so far. His ability to call a game, to keep defenses off-balance, to establish the pass early and then start pounding the run … all of this is remarkable for a first-time head coach who’s never called plays before. Pederson has guided this team masterfully through a difficult few months, with the starting quarterback disappearing and then getting traded, two players in legal trouble, another player likely to get suspended and several players protesting during the national anthem. And here they are 3-0. Pederson has been astounding.

8. And how about the Eagles’ rush defense. The Steelers managed just 29 yards on 10 carries, and that includes a seven-yard Roethlisberger scramble. Their backs had just 22 yards. Nobody’s been able to run on the Eagles yet, and that makes this defense even scarier.

9. Seeing Cody Parkey miss two field goals for the Browns in their overtime loss to the Dolphins Sunday, including a 31-yarder as time ran out in the fourth quarter, and seeing Caleb Sturgis continue to boot all his attempts through the uprights is a good reminder of how a difficult roster decision has really paid dividends for the Eagles. Maybe it didn’t seem like a tough decision, since Sturgis outplayed Parkey throughout the preseason, but getting rid of a Pro Bowl kicker, who two years ago broke the NFL rookie scoring record, can’t be easy. Sturgis has been solid, making both his field goal attempts Sunday and seven of eight so far this year.

10. A couple quick stats to put this all in perspective:

• The last time the Steelers lost a game by 31 or more points, their quarterback was Bubby Brister. It was 1989 and a 41-10 loss to Boomer Esiason and the Bengals at Riverfront Stadium.

•  Wentz’s 102 pass attempts are the most in NFL history by any quarterback in his first three games. Dak Prescott is at 75 going into the Cowboys’ game Sunday night.

•  Wentz is the first quarterback in NFL history to throw 30 or more passes with no interceptions in each of his first three games. Only three others had done it twice.

• The Eagles are the 23rd team in NFL history to open a season with three straight wins by 15 or more points. Of the first 22, 18 went to the playoffs.

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Instant Replay: Eagles 34, Steelers 3

Instant Replay: Eagles 34, Steelers 3

BOX SCORE

It was just the Browns and the Bears, right? The Eagles hadn’t beaten anybody yet, right? We don’t know what this team is yet, right?
 
That all changed Sunday.
 
Big time.
 
Led by rookie phenom Carson Wentz and an absolutely stifling defense, the Eagles took down a Super Bowl contender at the Linc, demolishing the cross-state Steelers, 34-3.
 
With the win, the Eagles are 3-0. And thanks to the Giants’ loss, they’re all alone in first place in the NFC East.
 
After taking a 10-point lead into halftime, the Eagles absolutely poured it on in the second half.
 
They scored early in the third quarter on a special play from Wentz to Darren Sproles. Wentz avoided pressure, stepped up and hit Sproles in stride. The veteran running back did the rest, going 73 yards for a touchdown to put the Eagles up 20-3. They added a couple more scores after that.
 
As impressive as the Eagles’ offense was, the defense might have been more impressive.
 
The Eagles’ defense held a future Hall of Fame quarterback, the NFL’s leading rusher after two weeks and the NFL’s best receiver to three points.
 
Sunday was the worst loss the Steelers suffered since Sept. 17, 1989, when they lost to the Bengals, 41-10.
 
Turning point
The Steelers got off to a hot start, but Markus Wheaton dropped a touchdown pass and then the ensuing field goal was blocked. On the next drive, the Eagles put up the first points of the game. That was a huge swing and the Eagles never looked back.
 
Key stat
Wentz has now thrown 102 passes without an interception to start his career.
 
The Eagles’ defense, which had allowed 17 points coming in, gave up just three to the Steelers on Sunday afternoon. In total, the Eagles have given up just 27 points through three games. That’s the fewest points they’ve given up through three games since 1992.
 
First half
The Eagles had an impressive first half, taking a 13-3 lead into the locker room after two quarters.
 
The Steelers actually got the ball first and put together an impressive drive. Ben Roethlisberger hit Wheaton in the back of the end zone for what should have been a touchdown, but Wheaton dropped it. So the Steelers settled for a 36-yard field goal attempt, but it was blocked by Bennie Logan.
 
The Eagles responded with a field goal drive that went 63 yards on seven plays. The Eagles have now scored on their first drive in each of the first three games of the season. On those first-possession drives, Wentz has completed 16 of 19 passes for 167 yards and a touchdown.
 
A Wentz to Jordan Matthews touchdown early in the second quarter put the Eagles up 10-0. That touchdown capped an 82-yard drive.
 
The teams traded field goals later in the second quarter to keep the Eagles up 10.
 
Offensive stud
Wentz takes the honor yet again. The rookie has been unreal. On Sunday, he completed 23 of 31 passes for 301 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. His passer rating was 125.9. He became the third rookie in Eagles history to throw for 300-plus yards with two touchdowns in a game.

Sproles also had a huge day in the passing game. The Sproles' touchdown was the 16th 73-yard-plus passing touchdown in Eagles history and was the longest for an Eagles running back since Herschel Walker's 93-yarder in 1994.

Offensive dud
Ryan Mathews never really got it going Sunday. He has been dealing with an ankle injury, which might have limited him. He finished with minus-five yards on two carries that came in the first quarter.  
 
Defensive stud
We’ll give this to the whole unit. Just an all-around incredible performance.
 
Defensive dud
Rookie Jalen Mills got beat a couple times and had a defensive pass interference called against him. Overall, not a terrible day, it’s just that there wasn’t much to pick on with the Eagles’ defense.
 
Injuries
The Eagles entered Sunday’s game without Zach Ertz (ribs), Leodis McKelvin (hamstring) and Isaac Seumalo (pec). Pederson said he expects all three back after the bye week. 

Pederson said did not have an update on the condition of Ryan Mathews, who ran twice in the first quarter (for minus-5 yards) and didn't have any carries after that.
 
Up next
The Eagles have an early Week 4 bye so they’ll have an extra week to prepare for the Detroit Lions. Players will be at the NovaCare Complex on Monday, then go their separate ways. The Eagles will play again on Oct. 9 at 1 p.m. in Detroit, as they try to keep their perfect record intact.

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