St. Joe's Takes on La Salle as Big 5 Title Picture Comes into Focus

St. Joe's Takes on La Salle as Big 5 Title Picture Comes into Focus

The La Salle Explorers and St. Joseph's University Hawks are set to do battle from inside the Palestra on Saturday.

It will be the first and only meeting between the programs this season; as such, it is both an Atlantic 10 and Big 5 contest, one that will have profound ramifications on this year's city title.

Tip-off is set for 12 p.m. (The Comcast Network / 610 AM (SJU) / 990 AM (La Salle).

Full game preview after the jump...

How We Got Here
In the tale of the two city rivals, it's not quite the best and worst of times, but it isn't that far off either.

Picked to finish second-to-last in the A10 preseason poll, the La Salle Explorers (17-6, 6-2, 1-1) now lead the conference. They have won their last four in the a row and 10 of their last 12. They are 15-3 since opening the season 2-3 following a Nov. 25 loss to Robert Morris. That said, very few of those wins have come against quality opponents (an obviously arguable distinction). Based on how tough they played both Temple and Dayton, there's no doubt La Salle can hang with the best in the A10, but it remains to be seen whether they can hold on to that top spot in what's become a very competitive conference. As the saying goes, "you can only beat the teams on your schedule," something La Salle done and done well. Now, they just need to prove that their early season success in sustainable both down the stretch and, most importantly, with the confines of Boardwalk Hall in March. Given the individual play of Earl Pettis, Ramon Galloway, Tyreek Duren and freshman Jerrell Wright, all indications are that the Explorers are built for the long-haul in 2012.

St. Joseph's (14-9, 4-4, 1-1), on the other hand, opened its season to a decent deal of fan fare. The young Hawks showed promise toward the end of last season with their unexpected mini-run in the A10 tourney and started out especially strong eight months later. Dominant performances over #17 Creighton and Holy War rival Villanova painted the team as a force to be reckoned with out of conference. In conference, however, it's been a different story. The new calendar year has not been kind to St. Joseph's, as the team has gone just 4-6 since their Dec. 28 win over Morgan State. At 4-4 in conference play, they are currently tied for seventh in the A10. Still, despite many a recent setback, the Hawks have found away to keep themselves afloat with key wins to stem their bleeding (1/25 vs. Dayton and 2/1 at Richmond). They'll need more than just the occassional breakout performance moving forward so as not to put themselves at an even greater disadvatage in what could be an absolute bloodbath of Atlantic 10 tournament.

The Matchup: Let's Play a Little Inside-Outside
The Explorers will take the floor with their four guard offense while the Hawks figure to counter with solid height and tremendous leapers C.J. Aiken and Ronald Roberts under the basket.

If there was an early preview of this game already played, fans may only need to look back to last weekend's Temple-St. Joe matchup for an idea of how this one could (not should) play out.

Sure, the Hawks rank second in the nation in blocked shots as a team with 7.9 per game, but it could be hard to have those contested takes prove meaningful if La Salle seems content to shoot over the SJU defense from the perimeter. The Explorers lead the A10 in both field goal and three-point shooting percentage per game at 47.7% and 40.8%, respectively. Though the Hawks are no slouches themselves with both Carl Jones and Langston Galloway more than capable of shooting the ball (Galloway is emerging as one, if not the best jump shooter in the conference), both have also been inconsistent this season, with Jones especially struggling as of late.

At the opposite end, La Salle is defending the perimeter just over 3.5 points better than Joe's (31.9% to 35.5%). In that sense, 31.9% isn't a great average from beyond while 35.5% in certainly closer to respectable. Add in La salle's abnormally high percentage from three and SJU could face their share of troubles on the perimeter.

In the event they choose to over-pursue the pursue the perimeter, they'll certainly have Aiken and Roberts under the basket -- who have no doubt helped to lead the Hawks to second-best defensive FG% in the conference -- but their struggles against the Owls make it hard not to predict similar issues against La Salle. The Explorers and Owls are actually somewhat similar in their styles and rotations (especially before the return of TU's Micheal Eric) in that both teams are deep at the guard position and rely on team defense for a sense of self-identity. Again, Temple's success against St. Joe's doesn't guarantee how this game will play out, just how it could.

Big 5 Ramifications
With Villanova and Penn already settled at 2-2 and 1-3, both St. Joe's and La Salle at 1-1 and neither having played Temple (as part of a Big 5 game), Saturday's game is of the utmost importance when it comes to a shot at this year's city title. Big 5 standings and remaining schedules below:

Temple         2-0
St. Joseph's   1-1
Villanova       2-2
La Salle         1-1
Penn             1-3

Feb. 22 -- Temple at La Salle (Gola Arena)
Feb. 25 -- Temple at St. Joseph's (Hagan Arena)

Relevant History
All-Time Series: St. Joe's leads 62-53
Streak: La Salle has won three of the last four and the last three in a row at the Palestra.
Martelli vs. La Salle: 14-8
Giannini (at La Salle) vs. St. Joe's: 3-4
Last Meeting: La Salle won 76-72 on Jan. 27, 2011 at The Palestra. Saint Joseph's Carl jones posted a game-high 24 points, while Aaric Murray led the Explorers with 19 and 14 double-double.

Late-Night Homework
You kids meet for an en masse rollout party in Manayunk last night?

Flyers-Stars 5 things: Streaking like it's 2002?

Flyers-Stars 5 things: Streaking like it's 2002?

Flyers (16-10-3) vs. Stars (11-11-6)
1 p.m. on CSN and CSNPhilly.com

Remember when it was a fight for the Flyers to simply sew together back-to-back wins?

Prior to this run, they had done it just twice in the first 22 games.

Now, they’re the hottest team in the NHL, winners of seven straight and trying to make it eight on Saturday afternoon when they welcome the Dallas Stars to the Wells Fargo Center.

Here are five things you need to know for the matchup:

1. The great eight?
Jeremy Roenick, Mark Recchi, John LeClair and Eric Desjardins.

Roman Cechmanek and Brian Boucher.

These are just some of the players that were wearing Flyers jerseys when the team last won eight consecutive games, back on Jan. 6-19, 2002.

It’s worth mentioning, before the 2004-05 season, winning streaks were a bit more challenging with a tie being the result if overtime went scoreless. The extra session was also not 3-on-3, like it is now.

Still, what the current Flyers are doing is impressive. They’ve gone to the shootout only once over the seven-game spurt and have outscored the opposition by 10 goals, 27-17.

2. Raffl winners
Dave Hakstol has called Michael Raffl a big-bodied, straight-line forward, which is certainly not off the mark.

But from time to time, Raffl will show the deceptive skill side of his game.

He did it Thursday night to win the Flyers’ 6-5 affair over the Oilers in the final minute and a half of regulation for his second game-winner over the last three contests.

"Raf has this stutter step that's undercover speedy," Steve Mason said postgame Thursday (see story). "He used it in Nashville to get a big goal and then here tonight.

"It looks like he's going to stop fully up, but he finds another gear and he really adds another element to that line that brings physical play.

"He has that sneaky talent, too, that can make you pay."

Raffl is quietly making teams pay. The Flyers are 4-0-2 in games that he scores a goal. Despite missing eight games because of injury, the 28-year-old Austrian is on pace for around 20 goals.

That’s much-valued secondary scoring and complementary play.

3. Not so bright
Before reeling off seven straight wins, the Flyers were in a similar spot to which the Stars are in now.

Dallas, which finished 50-23-9 last season — best in the Western Conference — after starting 19-5-0, can’t find consistency through 28 games this season. The Stars have won back-to-back games just once thus far and goaltending has been an issue as Dallas is surrendering an NHL-worst 3.18 goals per game.

The Stars do not lack offensive firepower, however. Center Tyler Seguin is tied for second in the NHL with 29 points (10 goals, 19 assists), while linemate Jamie Benn isn’t far behind at 24 (eight goals, 16 assists).

Also, veteran forward Jason Spezza is coming off a three-point game (one goal, two assists) in Dallas’ 5-2 win over the Predators.

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: We’ve got to go Jakub Voracek after the winger’s one-goal, three-assist performance on Thursday night. Voracek has been an absolute monster on the seven-game winning streak, posting 11 points with three goals and eight assists for a plus-6 rating.

Stars: It’s hard not to say Seguin, a dynamic player who always gives the Flyers trouble. His 21 career points (nine goals, 12 assists) against the orange and black are his second most versus any team.

5. This and that
• Mason is on a career-best six-game winning streak in which he’s posted a 2.27 goals-against average and .931 save percentage. Since Nov. 12, Mason is 9-3-1 with a 2.34 goals-against average and .923 save percentage.

• Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen is a dreadful 1-10-3 lifetime against the Flyers with a 3.49 goals-against average and .891 save percentage, while backup Antti Niemi is 4-1-0 with 1.48 goals-against average and .947 save percentage.

• Dallas has won its last three meetings with the Flyers by a combined score of 7-3.

• The Stars have lost 11 of 15 on the road.

• Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov has four points (two goals, two assists) in his last four games.

Penn State fan surprised with Rose Bowl tickets in heartwarming video

Penn State fan surprised with Rose Bowl tickets in heartwarming video

It's been a long road back to relevance for the Penn State football program. 

The Nittany Lions surprised just about everyone this season by finishing 10-2, winning the Big Ten title and claiming a spot in the historic Rose Bowl against USC on Jan. 2. 

For one fan, the surprise season went one step further.

Per ESPN's Instagram account ...

But wait, there's more. 

Not only was he surprised with Rose Bowl tickets in what could be the most touching video of the year, but he even got a personal call from Penn State head coach James Franklin thanking him for his support. 

Not a bad way to close out 2016.