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.

Temple great Tyler Matakevich soaks in rookie return to Philadelphia with Steelers

Temple great Tyler Matakevich soaks in rookie return to Philadelphia with Steelers

It’s a picturesque early autumn Thursday evening in the Delaware Valley. One of those nights when swaths of orange from the sunset to the west pierce the high sky like shards of broken glass.

Weather reports say it’s a similar type of evening all the way across the other side of the commonwealth in Pittsburgh, where Tyler Matakevich now makes his seasonal home. There could have been monsoon-like rains or gale-force winds or any type of terrible weather outside and it still couldn’t hush the excitement in Matakevich’s voice that torqued its way through the phone.

That’s because the former Temple Owl linebacker is less than 72 hours away from returning to play at the same field where he plied his trade for four years and left a program legend. And he’s coming back living his dream as a Pittsburgh Steeler. On Temple’s homecoming weekend, no less.

“I’m definitely excited for this and to come back to Philly,” the 22-year-old rookie told CSNPhilly.com prior to Week 3’s Steelers-Eagles game. “I talk to a lot of the guys still on the team like (senior quarterback) P.J. (Walker), (senior linebacker) Jarred Alwan, (senior linebacker) Stephaun Marshall. I know all those guys are looking forward to me coming back and spending time with them. … I hope to see those guys for a little bit. A good amount of them are coming to the game, too, so I’m excited about that.”

The anticipation in the young linebacker is evident. He’s coming back to his “home away from home.”


Matakevich is arguably the greatest football player in Temple history. For four years, he was the leader of a defense that grew to become one of the fiercest in the nation.  He recorded over 100 tackles in each of his four seasons on North Broad Street and added seven sacks and seven interceptions.

Not too shabby for a guy who had only one FBS-level scholarship offer and only got a shot to play as a freshman when the upperclassman above him on the 2012 depth chart was injured before the fourth game of the season. In what was supposed to be a spot start, Matakevich, then a fresh-faced 18-year-old, recorded 15 total tackles after playing sparingly on special teams the prior three games.

Incredibly, Matakevich wasn’t even the player Temple was recruiting when Matt Rhule, Temple’s current head coach who was then the recruiting coordinator under former head man Steve Addazio, went to Milford Academy Prep School in Matakevich’s native Connecticut on a scouting trip. Milford’s coach wouldn’t let Rhule leave without watching film of Matakevich.

“We watched his highlight DVD and he just kinda had it,” Rhule told CSNPhilly.com last December. “We went out and watched him play and he had it. (Former Temple offensive line coach) Justin (Frye) and I just kind of had a feeling this guy was special. I like to think I’ve always had a feel for linebackers. So we called Steve and he said if you guys think he’s that good, offer him.”

Rhule’s gut feeling turned out to be more correct than he ever imagined.

Matakevich put an exclamation point on his excellent college career with a monster 2015 season when he recorded 138 total tackles, five interceptions and 4½ sacks en route to being the first Temple defensive player to earn first-team All-American honors and the first Owl to do so at any position since 1986. He also brought home some impressive hardware as he won the Chuck Bednarik Award and Bronco Nagurski Trophy, both annually given to the best defensive player in all of college football.

Simply put, he is this generation’s Owl. Revered on North Broad Street, he is the player this crop of Temple fans will tell tales of watching play to future generations.

Matakevich accomplished all that during a season in which Temple shed its downtrodden, sad-sack label to the national eye by busting into and staying in the top 25 for the first time since the end of the 1979 season, beating Penn State for the first time since 1941 and, most notably, hosting Notre Dame in a primetime instant classic that was preceded earlier in the day by ESPN’s College Gameday broadcast from Independence Hall in front of a massive live audience.

Those who’ve followed the program, intently or casually, would have thought there would be confirmation of human life on Mars before those last two things ever happened.

But they happened. It all happened and Matakevich was the freckled face of the revolution.

“It was something special and something I’ll always remember,” Temple’s all-time leading tackler (493) said of last season. “Our senior class, what we went through, going 2-10 in 2013, coaching changes, 6-6 and not going to a bowl to the season we had last year, it was just relieving, really. Such an awesome feeling that I was just able to sit and reflect on it. I was actually doing it the other day with (Redskins defensive lineman and former Temple teammate) Matt Ioannidis. I’ve got to pinch myself a little bit. When people are telling me all these things we accomplished, I’m sort of like, ‘Wow, we did do that.’”

Despite the accolades, Matakevich wasn’t seen as a great NFL prospect in large part because of a perceived lack of athleticism.

He was too slow. He couldn’t jump high enough. He wasn’t strong enough. The list of knocks can keep going.

The 6-foot-1, 235-pound tackling machine slipped down draft boards and watched teammates corner Tavon Young (Ravens) and Ioannidis get selected. But he didn’t fall all the way off the board. In the seventh round, the Steelers used pick No. 246, eighth from last, to take a flier on the Temple linebacker.

Matakevich was left virtually unwanted by the big boys. Sounds familiar, huh?

“Once I finally got that phone call, I was just so excited,” Matakevich said. “That’s been my dream since I was a little kid. And to finally actually get that phone call, it made it feel like everything was worth it. All those long days I put in. I told the coaches, ‘This is just the beginning.’”

Matakevich earned his keep during training camp and was rewarded with a spot on the Steelers as a special teamer.

“He’s doing some of the things here that he did in Philadelphia,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said last week. “He’s displayed great instincts and urgency. He gets to the ball and he’s always around the ball. He makes a lot of plays. He’s acclimating himself right now in terms of being one of our core special teams contributors. I don’t see why he can’t be great in that area while he continues to grow as a young linebacker. I’ve been pleased with his progress.”


Fast forward to a gorgeous Sunday afternoon in South Philadelphia. Earlier in the day, Young recorded his first career interception with the Ravens and Ioannidis suited up for the first time with the Redskins in a regular-season game after he was activated from the practice squad.

But here is Matakevich, standing in a familiar tunnel, staring out at a familiar swatch of grass. He’s standing in the tunnel the Owls come out of and staring out toward the grass he tackled so many foes on.

But he’s not wearing cherry and not coming out to the sounds of Temple’s band and a screaming student section. He’s wearing Steelers black and gold and he’s standing in enemy territory, surrended by a sea of Eagles midnight green.

“It was awesome being back on that field again,” Matakevich said after Carson Wentz and the Eagles pummeled his Steelers, 34-3. The rookie saw kickoff and punt return snaps, but he did not record a tackle.

“It didn't go the way we wanted it to, obviously. But I was so excited and so amped up. I played a lot of football here. Just to have the opportunity to come back and play here. I couldn’t be anymore excited and happy. I just tried to enjoy it. I get to keep playing football for a living. Not many guys get to move on after TU. So I’m just thankful and enjoying it and having fun.”

“I was just so happy to see him get out there and play and come back to his old stadium,” Rhule said of his former pupil after Sunday’s game. “For me, it’s always gratifying any time I see any of the guys that played for me being successful in anything, whether it’s their personal lives, their business lives, their football lives. It’s a lot of fun for me. It’s pretty cool for me to turn on the TV and see Tavon making big plays for the Ravens or to see Tyler out there playing and see Matt get activated and make the Redskins.

“I was really happy for Tyler. I’m proud of him and I’m excited he got the chance to come back and play in Philly.”

Matakevich still keeps a keen eye on the Owls and tries not to miss a game, even though professional responsibilities sometimes get in the way. He wasn’t able to catch Temple’s 48-20 homecoming win over Charlotte and had to later settle for highlights because the Steelers were traveling to Philadelphia, but he watched all of the narrow 34-27 defeat at Penn State two weeks ago.

“Let me tell you, it’s been frustrating,” Matakevich said with a chuckle. “I’ve never had to watch those guys play from so far away and now I’ve started doing that. At first, it took a little adjusting getting used to it. But I watch. I thought we had it. I really thought we had that win at Penn State.”

Matakevich mentioned he was able to spend time on Saturday night with former teammate and Temple star running back Jahad Thomas after the Owls’ victory. He and Thomas remain close and Matakevich is always there to provide a listening ear when needed.

That’s the thing about Matakevich and his relationship with Philadelphia, a place he gleefully calls his adopted hometown. Though he’s a Connecticut guy through and through and always will be, there will always be people and places here that will be a part of him forever.

“I love it here,” he said of Philadelphia. “I have some unbelievable memories here, especially on this field. It’s always been good to me. It’s always going to be my home away from home.”

- CSNPhilly.com's Dave Zangaro contributed to this story.

AP Source: LSU fires Les Miles, promote Ed Orgeron as interim head coach

usa-les-miles-lsu-fired.jpg
USA Today Images

AP Source: LSU fires Les Miles, promote Ed Orgeron as interim head coach

Two people familiar with the decision say LSU has fired head football coach Les Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and promoted defensive line coach Ed Orgeron to interim head coach.

The people spoke to The Associated Press on Sunday on condition of anonymity because no announcement has been made.

Miles' firing, reported first by The Advocate of Baton Rouge, comes one day after No. 18 LSU (2-2, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) lost 18-13 at Auburn.

Miles went 114-34 at LSU, the second-most victories in school history. He coached the Tigers to a national title in the 2007 season.

But LSU has not been a late-season contender for a national championship in the past four seasons and started slower than its experience-laden squad was expected to this season.