In Virginia, Penn State Looks to Avoid 0-2 Start

In Virginia, Penn State Looks to Avoid 0-2 Start

After opening the season with a tough loss at home to Ohio, a result once thought impossible for a program like Penn State, the question this week is: Where do the Nittany Lions go from here? Well, the answer is simple. 

Charlottesville, Virginia.

Penn State makes their first road trip of the 2012 season when they take on the Virginia Cavaliers Saturday afternoon (12pm / ABC). The blue and white will look to regroup on offense and defense, and find a way to put together a more complete effort than they presented last week in Bill O’Brien’s head coaching debut. Against a balanced team like Virginia, avoiding the program’s first 0-2 start since 2001 will be no small task.

For Penn State to pick up its first win, it needs to focus on some of the positives from last week, and ensure that they continue after halftime. Right out of the gate, Penn State put on display the type of pass-first offense fans can expect to see under O’Brien in the years to come. Matt McGloin was effective in spreading the ball around to his receivers and was accurate going left, right and over the middle in the first half. It was a far cry from the type of McGloin fans have witnessed the past two years, as he was confident, calm and not in a need to force much. 

But the youth of some of the skill positions was also on display, with Bill Belton fumbling to kill a promising drive and unable to hold on to a short pass for a first down. Receivers also started dropping some passes or were unable to stretch just enough to bring in some big gains, a recurring theme from the 2011 offense.

That developing offense will go up against a Virginia defense that held a decent Richmond team to just 28 rushing yards. With Derek Day looking to take the lead in the running game ahead of a banged up Belton, who knows what Penn State would be able to do with the ground game anyway. The depth at tailback is shallow with Belton and Day both taking some licks last week against Ohio.

Most upsetting for Penn State last week was the way the defense allowed Ohio to find some cracks they eventually broke wide open. The wind was seemingly knocked out of Penn State’s defense when a tipped pass was caught by an Ohio receiver and taken the rest of the way for a stunning touchdown. That one lucky bounce for Ohio turned the game around, but poor tackling and a breakdown in coverage by the Penn State defense did little to stop it. The linebackers were what you would expect, but the defensive line filed to record a sack on Tyler Tettleton as the Bobcats took control.

Against Virginia Penn State will hope to be able to bring more pressure on Cavaliers quarterback Michael Rocco, son of former Nittany Lion quarterback Frank Rocco. Rocco is not a top notch quarterback, but, if given protection, he has more than enough ability to have the same kind of quietly steady performance Tettleton had last week.

This game may be a grind for both teams, but if Penn State’s defense can lock down on their tackling then they should be able to at least give Penn State’s offense a chance to do something this week.

Keep up with Kevin’s college football coverage on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.

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Sixers' Ersan Ilyasova excited to see family in adopted hometown of Milwaukee

Sixers' Ersan Ilyasova excited to see family in adopted hometown of Milwaukee

Traveling to Milwaukee means a return to where Ersan Ilyasova began his NBA career.

Twelve years later, it also means a return to his family when the Sixers visit the Bucks on Monday afternoon at the Bradley Center.
 
Ilyasova planted roots in Milwaukee during his seven seasons with the Bucks, who drafted him in the second round of the 2005 NBA draft. Though he has played for four teams since the Bucks traded him to the Pistons in the summer of 2015, Ilyasova has maintained a home base in the city he adopted after coming to the NBA from Europe.

“I kind of grew up there,” he said. “It’s a lot of time spent.”

Ilyasova’s lengthy tenure with his first team - which doesn’t always happen in the NBA - afforded him and his family the time to make Milwaukee their home.

His wife and three young children (daughters ages eight and five years old and son age three years old) have remained there while Ilyasova has moved around the league frequently. He has been a member of the Pistons, Magic, Thunder and Sixers in a matter of two seasons.

“It’s a huge thing,” Ilyasova said. “I haven’t seen the girls for two months now - a lot of Skype and FaceTime. I see my son, he flies back and forth with my wife.”

The Sixers flew to Milwaukee on Sunday from Washington, D.C. after Saturday night's loss to the Wizards at the Verizon Center. Ilyasova planned to stay at his house and catch up on the time he has missed while being away from his family. This includes missed time during the holidays while the team was on a west coast road trip.
 
“It’s always really exciting,” Ilyasova said. “They’re counting the days when I will come. They’re all excited to come to the game.”
 
Another highlight of being back in Milwaukee? A home-cooked meal.
 
“They’re already preparing it,” Ilyasova said. “It’s duck with apples in it.”

Villanova's Donte DiVincenzo the next Josh Hart? Jay Wright believes so

Villanova's Donte DiVincenzo the next Josh Hart? Jay Wright believes so

NEW YORK — It’s hard to imagine higher praise from Jay Wright.

“I think he can be a Josh Hart,” Wright said. “I really do.”

Donte DiVincenzo is only two months into his redshirt freshman season at Villanova, and his coach is already comparing him to one of the heroes of last year’s NCAA championship team and a 2017 National Player of the Year candidate.

That’s pretty wild stuff, but it’s hard to argue with Wright.

The last two games have been a coming out for DiVincenzo, a Wilmington, Delaware native who played high school ball at Salesianum.

After scoring 20 points and shooting 5 for 17 in Villanova’s first four Big East games, DiVincenzo was 4 for 6 for 10 points with four rebounds and three assists Tuesday in a win over No. 15 Xavier at The Pavilion. On Saturday at Madison Square Garden — with his teammates all struggling from the field — he shot 7 for 10 from the field and 3 for 5 from three-point range for a career-high 19 points to go with three rebounds and two assists in the Wildcats’ win over St. John’s (see game recap).

Hart as a freshman? 7.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 0.9 assists in 21 minutes per game.

DiVincenzo so far as a freshman? 7.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 23 minutes per game.

DiVincenzo has been so good in these last two wins that, even coming off the bench, he’s played the third most minutes on the team – 31 ½ per game.

Josh Hart-esque.

“I talked to him about that before,” Wright said. “Just what impresses us so much about Josh is that he’s just complete. He does everything. There’s nothing on the basketball court he doesn’t do, and I think Donte can be that kind of player, too.”

On Saturday at the Garden, Villanova got off to another slow start. Ten minutes into the game, the Wildcats were shooting 2 for 12 from the field and 1 for 7 from three-point range and trailed by six.

It sure seemed DiVincenzo sensed how badly the Wildcats needed an offensive lift, because he proceeded to make four baskets in a five-minute stretch, including two confident looks from 3.

Those 10 points keyed a 16-6 run that gave ‘Nova the lead for good.

But DiVincenzo, echoing dozens of Villanova players from years past, said he never thinks offensively.

“No, not at all,” he said. “I don’t feel pressure offensively at all. Just focus on defending and rebounding. If the shots are falling for me, great. But if they’re not, just get back and focus on those two things.”

DiVincenzo is a freshman but did play in eight games last year before breaking his foot and sitting out the rest of the year. He did travel with the Wildcats and was on the bench during the NCAA title run.

Now, he’s the biggest surprise on the No. 3 team in the country. Villanova takes a 17-1 record and 4-1 Big East mark into a game Monday night at The Pavilion against Seton Hall, their first meeting since the Pirates beat the Wildcats in last year’s Big East title game.

Think about it.

‘Nova is down two players who Wright expected to be huge parts of this year’s team — title game hero Phil Booth, who's hurt and not expected back this year, and Amari Spellman, whom the NCAA ruled ineligible.

“We’re trying to get to a certain level of play,” Wright said. “We’re trying to figure ourselves out here. We thought we were going to be one kind of team earlier in the season and we lost a couple guys. We like our team, but we’re still trying to figure it out. We’re not a finished product yet.”

In six Big East games, DiVincenzo is averaging 8.2 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.2 assists.

No Villanova freshman has averaged 8.0 points, 2.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists in conference play since Lance Miller in 1990.

Overall, DiVincenzo is eighth among Big East freshmen in scoring, seventh in minutes, rebounding, assists and three-point shooting.

And trending upward.

“We’re really excited about him,” Wright said. “He’s doing everything for us. He’s playing point, he’s playing two-guard, he’s playing the three, he’s rebounding, defending, and that’s the kind of players you like to have.

“He’s only a freshman, and he works hard at it. Those two (DiVincenzo and Hart) compete against each other at practice, and he’s got the same competitiveness, so it’s exciting for us. We’re really fired up.

“And you’ve got to do it in games. We all know it’s going to come sometimes, but you’ve got to do it in games. Do it in the Garden? Against a tough aggressive team? Did it in the Xavier game? That’s big-time.”