Six in the City: Gearing up for the Madness

311653.jpg

Six in the City: Gearing up for the Madness

Friday, February 25, 2011
Posted: 5:42 p.m.

By Dave Zeitlin
CSNPhilly.com Contributor

Check your calendars the best month for any college basketball fan is almost upon us. But before the madness of March truly begins with postseason tournaments, teams around the nation will try to polish up their rsums and stamp their credentials for the Big Dance. With that in mind, heres a look at what each of the citys six Division I teams have done through February and what they can do, if anything, to enjoy the fruits of March.

Villanova Wildcats

Record: 21-7 overall, 9-6 Big East
RPI: 30 (14 Pomeroy)
On tap: vs. St. Johns, Wells Fargo Center, Saturday, 2 p.m.
Signature win: Jan. 22 at Syracuse, 83-72
Worst loss: Feb. 9 at Rutgers, 77-76

What theyve done well through February: The Wildcats have been ranked all season, thanks to the two Coreys, who have both lived up their billing in their senior seasons. Corey Fisher is averaging 16 points and five assists per game, while Corey Stokes is averaging 15 points per game and shooting 42 percent from three-point range.

What they need to do better in March: Villanovas third star guard, sophomore Maalik Wayns, has been up-and-down since head coach Jay Wright decided to bring him off the bench. If the Wildcats wants to slow down their Big East skid theyve lost six of their last 11 and make a deep NCAA run, theyll need all of their guards to be at their best at the same time.

Realistic expectations: Anything short of the Sweet 16 would be a disappointment for these Cats, and a trip to the Elite Eight is certainly attainable if things break right. But advancing to the Final Four is probably a stretch for a team skidding at the wrong time.

Temple Owls

Record: 21-6 overall, 11-2 Atlantic 10
RPI: 32 (36 Pomeroy)
On Tap: at George Washington, Saturday, 2 p.m.
Signature win: Dec. 9 Georgetown, 68-65
Worst loss: Nov. 25 California, 57-50
What theyve done well through February: The critics have been hard on Lavoy Allen all season, but the Temple senior is a college star, plain and simple. In the past week, Allen set the programs all-time rebounding record in an Owls win over St. Joes and followed it up with a 17-point, 13-rebound output against No. 1 Duke on Wednesday. He is the main reason why the Owls have once again won over 20 games.

What they need to do better in March: Its very simple: the Owls must get healthy and stay healthy. Micheal Erics season-ending knee injury stung, but even worse is the loss of junior swingman Scootie Randall, who was having a breakout season. Randall has missed the last two games with a foot injury and his return is uncertain. Without him, leading scorer Ramone Moore, point guard Juan Fernandez and Allen will have to be almost perfect for the Owls down the stretch.

Realistic expectations: Again, this all depends on Randalls return, but the Owls will certainly be gunning for their fourth straight Atlantic 10 tournament championship. At least one win in the NCAA tournament would also be a boon for the program and for head coach Fran Dunphy, who has lost 11 straight NCAA games dating back to 1994.

Drexel Dragons

Record: 19-9 overall, 10-7 Colonial Athletic Association
RPI: 59 (94 Pomeroy)
On Tap: at Towson, Saturday, 4 p.m.
Signature win: Dec. 14 at Lousiville, 52-46
Worst loss: Feb. 15 at UNC Wilmington, 51-43

What theyve done well through February: The Dragons have been among the best teams in the nation all season in two very important categories: defense and rebounding. Theyre holding opposing teams to less than 60 points per game, while averaging just over 40 rebounds per game one of the top 10 totals in Division I.
What they need to do better in March: The Dragons will never light teams up offensively, but theyll need to avoid going ice cold from the floor. In their last loss, an ugly 51-43 loss to lowly UNC Wilmington, they shot just 26 percent from the field.

Realistic expectations: This is a very solid Drexel team. The Dragons showed that with back-to-back wins over Kent State and VCU in the past week. The next step now is to try to win the CAA tournament, which begins next Friday. With conference powers George Mason and Old Dominion standing in their way, it will be a very difficult task but very likely the only way for the Dragons to make the Big Dance. If not, an NIT bid awaits.
Penn Quakers

Record: 11-12 overall, 5-4 Ivy League
RPI: 168 (171 Pomeroy)
On Tap: vs. Columbia, tonight, 7 p.m.
Signature win: Nov. 13 Davidson, 69-64
Worst loss: Dec. 29 at Marist, 66-57

What theyve done well through February: Although its not going to translate into an Ivy League title this season, the Quakers are showing signs of improvement following last years dreadful six-win campaign. Junior guard Zack Rosen and senior forward Jack Eggleston have been among the best players in the Ivy League, and senior sharpshooter Tyler Bernardini has been lights-out after a slow start.
What they need to do better in March: Losing close games has been an issue for the Quakers, whose Ivy title hoops were doomed with three straight overtime defeats earlier this month to Harvard, Princeton and Cornell. All of those games played out the same way with Penn falling behind early, storming back to force overtime and then making critical errors down the stretch. The key for Penn going forward is not getting into such a big hole to begin with.

Realistic expectations: Without a conference tournament to fall back on and with Harvard and Princeton dominating the league the Quakers dont have much of a chance to play in the postseason. For them, beating archrival Princeton in their final regular-season game would be a great finale and could also spoil the Tigers NCAA hopes. With all of their top guards coming back next season, the Quakers would also be wise to keep developing freshman forwards Cameron Gunter and Fran Dougherty, both of whom will likely be major contributors in 2011-12.

La Salle Explorers

Record: 12-16 overall, 4-9 Atlantic 10
RPI: 179 (195 Pomeroy)
On Tap: Sunday vs. UMass, 2 p.m.
Signature win: Nov. 23 Providence, 84-73
Worst loss: Dec. 29 Towson, 93-90, OT

What theyve done well through February: Offense has never been an issue for the Explorers, who rank 31st in the nation with 76.6 points per game. Sophomore center Aaric Murray (14.9 ppg), senior forward Jerrell Williams (13.9 ppg) and senior guard Ruben Guillandeaux (12.3) are all scoring in double figures, and guards Tyreek Duren (9.9 ppg) and Earl Pettis (9.7 ppg) are not far behind.

What they need to do better in March: Its been a season-long struggle for head coach John Giannini to get his team to defend, especially in key spots when they need a big stop. Theyve been giving up just about 80 points per game, and thats just not going to cut it in March.

Realistic expectations: The season began with a lot of promise after near misses against Missouri, Oklahoma State and Villanova. But the Explorers have sputtered in conference play, losing five of their last six. At this point, La Salles goal should be to win their first-round game in the Atlantic 10 tournament and then try to spring an upset in the conference quarterfinals in Atlantic City.

Saint Josephs Hawks

Record: 7-20 overall, 2-11 Atlantic 10
RPI: 200 (214 Pomeroy)
On Tap: Saturday, vs. Saint Bonaventure, 4 p.m.
Signature win: Nov. 26 Rutgers, 76-70
Worst loss: Nov. 12 Western Kentucky, 98-70

What theyve done well through February: Sophomore Carl Jones has been the top scorer in the city for most of the season, and highly touted freshmen Langston Galloway, C.J. Aiken and Ronald Roberts have all shown flashes of promise.

What they need to do better in March: With such a young team, you expect some growing pains but at the same time, all of the losses have been hard to bear for the SJU faithful who have come to expect winning on Hawk Hill. At this point, the only thing the Hawks can do is keep trying to come together as a team as they build for the future.

Realistic expectations: Just being one of the 12 teams to qualify for the A-10 tournament is important for the Hawks. To do that, they will likely need to beat Charlotte next weekend in their final regular season. Both SJU and Charlotte are currently tied for the 12th place in the 14-team league.

Six in the City is a weekly feature on the citys six Division I college basketball programs written by CSNPhilly.com contributor Dave Zeitlin. You can email him at djzeitlin@gmail.com.

Crash kills Nebraska punter, former Michigan State punter

usa-sam-foltz.jpg
USA Today Images

Crash kills Nebraska punter, former Michigan State punter

WAUKESHA, Wis. -- Nebraska punter Sam Foltz and former Michigan State punter Mike Sadler have died in a car crash in Wisconsin after working at a kicking clinic, a sheriff's department official said Sunday. LSU kicker Colby Delahoussaye was injured in the crash.

Waukesha County Sheriff's Lt. Thom Moerman said speed was likely a factor in the single-vehicle crash that happened around 11:45 p.m. Saturday.

The 24-year-old Sadler, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, was driving. He and 22-year-old Foltz, of Greeley, Nebraska, both died at the scene. Delahoussaye, 21 of New Iberia, Louisiana, was also a passenger. He was treated at Waukesha Memorial Hospital and released. A statement from LSU said his injuries were minor and that he was scheduled to return home Monday.

Moerman said in a statement that Sadler lost control on the wet pavement, left the roadway and struck a tree.

The University of Nebraska said Sunday the team will skip this week's planned Big Ten media days in Chicago because of Foltz's death. Officials with Michigan State didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Foltz was a three-year starter for the Nebraska team and last year he was named the Big Ten's punter of the year. Foltz graduated from Nebraska with a degree in agronomy in May. He led the Big Ten in punting last year at 44.2 yards per kick and ranked fifth in school history (42.6).

Nebraska Coach Mike Riley said Foltz was respected on the team, and had a positive influence on everyone he interacted with.

"The young men in our football program are hurting but I know that their strength of character and resolve will bring us together and we will honor Sam every day moving forward," Riley said.

Several hundred friends and teammates of Foltz gathered outside Memorial Stadium in Lincoln Sunday afternoon to remember him. Several players talked about how hard Foltz' worked and his faith in God.

"Sam was a kind and thoughtful young man who was a leader on the playing field, in the classroom, and in his community," Nebraska Chancellor Ronnie D. Green said in a statement. "He was an exemplary student-athlete who grew as a player and as a person on his path to recent completion of his degree in agronomy from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and anyone who knew him can testify that he had an enduring influence on those around him."

Sadler was a four-year starter and four-time academic All-American at Michigan State. He finished his college playing career after the 2014 season. He drew something of a cult following during his playing days because of his sense of humor and wit.

"I just asked my waitress what sport she thought I played. Her answer? Disk golf. Time to reevaluate my life," Sadler once tweeted.

He helped get his own mock Heisman Trophy candidacy rolling one season by pushing the hashtag (hash)sadler4heisman. He would also regularly exchange funny lines on Twitter with the (at)FauxPelini account, a popular parody of the former Nebraska and current Youngstown State coach Bo Pelini.

"Mike impacted so many people not only as a football player, but also from an academic standpoint and in the community as well," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said in a statement. "The world has lost a rising star who dreamed big and was accomplishing those dreams, one after another. He was one of those people that brightened your day."

Dan Tracy with Kohl's Kicking said both Sadler and Foltz had been working at a weekend clinic at the camp in Wisconsin. Tracy said the camp ended early Sunday after an announcement about the deaths.

A statement from kicking camp director Jamie Kohl said the staff was mourning with the players' families and football programs.

"We mourn today with all of the people who were better men and women for knowing Sam and Mike," Kohl said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with them."

The Basketball Tournament: Pitt-led Untouchables take down Boeheim's Army

noah-levick-levance-fields-brandon-triche.jpg
Noah Levick/CSNPhilly.com Contributor

The Basketball Tournament: Pitt-led Untouchables take down Boeheim's Army

As far as The Basketball Tournament was concerned, Thursday night’s game was a matchup between No. 2 seed Boeheim’s Army and No. 3 seed Untouchables. However, in the minds of the players and the rowdy fans at Philadelphia University’s Gallagher Center, it was Syracuse vs. Pittsburgh, another edition of a classic rivalry.

Pitt and Syracuse, as the two normally do, delivered an entertaining game, a 91-84 win by the Untouchables, who were led by a team-high 22 points on 8 of 11 shooting from streaky lefty Jermaine Dixon. Ricky Harris, a former UMass guard and friend of Dixon, added 16 points.

For Syracuse, Friends Central High School alumnus and NBA veteran Hakim Warrick was the star attraction. Warrick posted 14 points and two crowd-pleasing dunks. Syracuse had another player from the Philadelphia area in center Rick Jackson. If the name rings a bell, it may be because of his partnership at both Syracuse and Neumann-Goretti High School with point guard Scoop Jardine. The January 2006 contest between Episcopal Academy, led by future NBA players Wayne Ellington and Gerald Henderson, and Neumann-Goretti, headed by Jackson and Jardine, is one of the better Philadelphia high school basketball games in recent memory.

Unsurprisingly, the key for the Untouchables was their smooth ball movement and shooting against Boeheim’s Army's vaunted 2-3 zone. The Untouchables held a substantial edge from three-point territory, making 13 of 31 attempts, compared to 6 of 19 for the 'Cuse contingent. After nailing one of his four three-balls to give the Untouchables a 40-28 lead, Dixon leaned over to the Boeheim’s Army bench and exchanged a few words.

James Southerland, a “ringer” for Syracuse brought in for this game, said, “There were some words here and there. But it’s a rivalry, so that’s how it’s going to be.”

Dixon said the level of intensity is “pretty much the same [as playing in the Big East]. We knew when we were playing them what kind of matchup it was going to be — physical. We knew they were going to sit in the zone, we knew what we were going to do. But ultimately, we were ready to win.”

The addition of Southerland and Donte Greene as ringers appeared to put a greater burden on coach Ryan Blackwell, who had to allocate minutes to 11 players. Pitt suited up only eight.

“We just struggled to find the best five-guy rotation throughout the game,” Boeheim’s Army guard Brandon Triche said.

The Untouchables had none of the same issues gelling as a unit. Dixon and coach Brandon Driver studied film and organized a pregame walkthrough to refresh their memories about how to attack the Boeheim’s Army zone. Even the players who didn’t share the court during college looked like they played together before.

“Team chemistry was big,” Harris said. “You add a big-name guy to your team, nine times out of 10, that’ll hurt you because they want to go out and show how good they are instead of playing the right way.”

Along with the desire to beat their rivals, personal pride was a major motivator for the The Untouchables.

“We’re competitive guys, we’ve always been underdogs our whole lives, and we want to show people that we can still play basketball five, six years out of college,” Harris said, “and I think we’re starting to bring our names back to light and proving ourselves again.”

LeVance Fields, the 5-foot-10 point guard of the 2009 Pitt team that lost to Villanova on Scottie Reynolds’ game-winner in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, continues to lead his squad. He yelled out instructions from the bench and called his teammates into a huddle when they started to show some nerves from the free throw line in the final minute.

Antonio Graves, who made four three-pointers and scored 12 points in only 19 minutes, said, “Getting to practice and compete against guys like LeVance every day, it made playing teams like Villanova, Syracuse and Connecticut so much easier because we knew we had competed so hard in practice.”

That competitive spirit and strong work ethic clearly led The Untouchables to be confident in their ability to beat any team in this tournament … especially Boeheim’s Army.

“Many of us haven’t lost to Syracuse,” Fields said. “Unfortunately, me and ‘Ton (Graves) lost to Syracuse when (Gerry) McNamara had that unbelievable run at [Madison Square] Garden, so we just wanted to keep our good streak going against them. Even though it’s years later, no disrespect, we feel like we own Syracuse. We always play pretty well against their zone, and we felt like we were going to do that tonight.”

Pitt players have proven time and again that they will beat you if you underestimate them. They have a difficult quarterfinal game against No. 1 seed City of Gods Saturday at noon on ESPN2. But as long as they’re playing with other guys whose toughness and dedication they trust, they’ll enjoy themselves and feel pretty good about their chances.

“We always talk about Pitt guys play together,” Dixon said. “We missed that. It’s always fun playing with Pitt guys, so that was the No. 1 thing — we wanted to play together.”

The Basketball Tournament: Philly-heavy Family Over Everything eliminated

noah-levick-tbt-dionte-christmas-maalik-wayns.jpg
Noah Levick/CSNPhilly.com Contributor

The Basketball Tournament: Philly-heavy Family Over Everything eliminated

It’s not often that nostalgia blends with shoving, trash talk and desperate dives on the floor. At The Basketball Tournament, a 64-team competition with a $2 million prize for the winners, all those elements are in play.
 
Philadelphia University’s Gallagher Athletic Center hosted the Super 16 Thursday night, including the first contest of the evening between No. 1 seed City of Gods (COG) and No. 5 seed Family Over Everything (FOE), which ended in a 99-83 win for COG.
 
Many of the teams in the tournament are comprised of alumni from one school or players from a certain region. For FOE, there was a distinct Philly flavor; Scott Rodgers (Drexel ’09), Dionte Christmas (Temple ’09) and Maalik Wayns (Villanova ‘12) all played for Philadelphia schools. Co-coaches Marcus and Markieff Morris, members of the Pistons and Wizards respectively, grew up in Philadelphia and attended Prep Charter. Two of their teammates at Kansas were also on the squad, Tyshaun Taylor and Thomas Robinson (serving as an assistant coach).
 
City of Gods had a much more diverse mix of players, including 2005 Drexel graduate Phil Goss. The roster included Xavier Silas, who played in two games for the Sixers during the 2011-12 season, DerMarr Johnson, the sixth overall pick in the 2000 NBA draft and Michael Sweetney, the ninth pick in the 2003 draft.
 
The first of two 18-minute halves started at a high tempo, even though the tournament uses a 30-second shot clock. While Wayns, Taylor and Rodgers had some early success driving to the hole, COG stifled FOE’s offensive rhythm by switching to a trapping zone defense midway through the half. As FOE began to settle for threes, missing most of those attempts, COG got hot from long range. For the game, COG shot 14 of 27 from behind the arc, and FOE shot 9 of 27.
 
By the end of the half, COG had a 51-40 lead. Despite the occasional sensational floater by Wayns, who scored a team-high 22 points, or 25-foot rainbow jumper by Christmas, COG’s solid fundamentals, disciplined defense and balanced scoring neutralized FOE. Six players scored in double figures for COG, including Goss with 15 points on 4 for 5 shooting from the field. Silas’ 19 points (6 of 8 FG, 3 of 4 from three-point range) led the team.
 
“The one thing all these guys do is sacrifice their personal game — you look at Phil Goss, he’s so consistent … maybe not flashy, maybe not something where the crowd will jump out and go crazy, but consistent,” said COG coach Joe Connelly III, a former player development coach in the NBA and the older brother of Denver Nuggets GM Tim Connelly.
 
The Morris twins took their coaching duties very seriously on the other sideline, drawing up plays, calling out-of-bounds sets and constantly lobbying for foul calls to the referees. It was indeed a very physical game, as the teams combined to shoot 68 free throws. If the referees had decided to be more stringent about calling fouls for contact off the ball and during the elbow-heavy exchange for every rebound, there could have been even more.
 
When the lead stretched to 58-42 midway through the second half, FOE began to play with a stretch of desperation. For a spurt, that was effective, as a hoop by Sean Evans capped a 15-6 run. But with their thin eight-man rotation, FOE wasn't able to sustain that energy. COG continued to spread the ball around and force turnovers as the pro-Philly crowd voiced its frustrations with the referees and the fact that FOE’s tournament run was about to end.
 
“The first round, FOE had a big following and we knew that was going to be in their favor, but we still believed that we were the better team,” Silas said. “This is what we do. Every game overseas, every game in the NBA, there’s going to be thousands of people yelling at you, so that wasn’t a problem. That wasn’t even a factor.”
 
“The fans can’t play. They can do all the chanting they want to, but they can’t step on the floor and check up,” Goss said.
 
If FOE’s tournament hopes weren’t already dead, Goss nailed the dagger three with 3:03 remaining to make it 89-73.
 
It’s not hard to see why COG is a No. 1 seed. It's a determined, talented squad. In last year’s tournament, the team lost in the semifinals.
 
“We were pissed off that we lost, and we still feel how we felt after that game,” Silas said. “So we got some unfinished business.”
 
As COG discussed its approach to the tournament after the win, power forward James Gist and Connelly had an interesting exchange.
 
“We go with the flow of the game and whoever is getting it done is getting it done,” Connelly said. “You think about some of these teams that are adding ringers, we got a team full of ringers.”
 
“We got a team full of alphas,” Gist added.
 
“But they’re all alpha males,” Connelly said, “who have accepted it might not be the James Gist show, or it might not be the Xavier Silas show.
 
“We look at the stat sheet and then just throw it right in the trash. Because all that matters is win, go on to the next game.”
 
City of Gods will play The Untouchables, a team of mostly Pitt alumni (see story), in a quarterfinal matchup on Saturday.