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?

Rookie Alexander Rossi pulls off upset win at 100th Indianapolis 500

usa-alexander-rossi-indianapolis-500.jpg
USA Today Images

Rookie Alexander Rossi pulls off upset win at 100th Indianapolis 500

INDIANAPOLIS -- A new era for the Indianapolis 500 arrived in the form of a most unfamiliar driver.

An American, no less.

Alexander Rossi outlasted his faster rivals - and his fuel tank - for a stunning victory Sunday in the historic 100th running of "The Greatest Spectacle In Racing." The unlikely win allowed the long-suffering Andretti family to celebrate in the biggest race of their storied careers and it left the top drivers in the field fuming over Rossi's good fortune.

Rossi was a 66-to-1 long shot and certainly not the driver anyone would have picked to win. But the 24-year-old Californian used fuel strategy to outsmart a handful of drivers who had the most dominant cars in the race.

Rossi stretched his final tank of gas 90 miles to cycle into the lead as others had to duck into the pits for a splash of fuel in the waning laps. He was sputtering on the final lap, working his clutch and getting screamed at by team co-owner Bryan Herta to conserve fuel, and he ultimately ran out of gas after taking the checkered flag.

His victory celebration came only after his Honda was towed to the party. He sat in the car for some time before climbing out to take that sweet sip of milk.

"I have no idea how we pulled that off," he declared.

"I really was focused on taking it one lap at a time," Rossi said. "The emotional roller-coaster of this race is ridiculous. There were moments I was really stoked, really heartbroken, really stoked. I was like, `Wow, I'll need to see a psychiatrist after this.'"

Rossi didn't have the speed of Carlos Munoz, who was charging hard over the final 50 miles. But Munoz also had to stop for gas and didn't have a chance to race his teammate for the victory, even though Rossi was running on fumes and completed the final lap at a snail's pace of 179.784 mph.

The Colombian settled for second in a 1-2 finish for Andretti Autosport. He seemed devastated after his second runner-up finish in four years.

"I was really disappointed when it comes with fuel and you lose the race because of that," Munoz said. "I was really disappointed to get second. Half a lap short. What can I say? The only thing I'm clear about is that I will win this race one day."

Munoz has contended at Indy before and he's proven to be fast at the speedway.

Rossi? Well, not many know much about him at all.

He's an IndyCar rookie who has chased a ride in Formula One since he was 10. He left for Europe when he was 16 and never pursued a career in American open-wheel racing. But stuck without a ride this year, he made the decision to return to the United States to race and became the ninth rookie to win the 500 and the first since Helio Castroneves in 2001.

Rossi understood full well that it was strategy that got him this win, and he knows what an Indy 500 victory means.

"I have no doubt it's going to change my life," he said.

Although he's a relief driver for Manor Racing in F1, Rossi has no scheduled F1 races and IndyCar right now is his top commitment. He was lured back to America this year to drive for Herta in a partnership with Andretti Autosport. Herta was the winning car owner in 2011 with Dan Wheldon, the actual 100th anniversary of the first race in 1911, and now can claim a win in the 100th actual race.

"I can't compare (the wins) other than to say I am so happy," Herta said. " I can't overstate how hard it was for Alex to do what I was asking of him on the radio."

This Herta effort relied heavily on its alliance with Andretti, and the family was hoping Marco Andretti would give them their first Indy 500 title since patriarch Mario Andretti won in 1969.

Instead, Marco Andretti never contended on a day at least three of his teammates were clearly among the best in the field. Ryan Hunter-Reay and Townsend Bell combined to lead 64 of the first 119 laps, but the Americans were knocked from contention when Bell clipped Castroneves as he left pit road. The contact caused Bell to crash into Hunter-Reay.

"Ryan and Townsend looked really good up front, we thought they would be the team to beat," team owner Michael Andretti said. "Unfortunately, they had their problem in the pit, which I could not believe, and I thought that may have been our shot at winning."

Herta decided to gamble with Rossi on fuel strategy, and it's the only thing that made him a late contender.

As the laps wound down, American Josef Newgarden and Munoz repeatedly swapped the lead. Both had to stop for gas, Rossi moved into the lead and it was all his from there.

Michael Andretti earlier this month was voted by the 27 living winners as the best driver never to win the race, but he has now won the 500 four times as a car owner.

"I knew Alex was going to try (the fuel strategy), and we said `Alright, if he's going to try it, we're going to try something else (with Munoz)," Andretti said. "To come home 1-2 is just incredible. It was amazing. I don't know what to say, it's a great day, to be a part of history, to win the 100th running, and to win it with a 1-2 finish is just incredible."

Newgarden finished third and was followed by Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimball and JR Hildebrand as Chevrolet drivers took spots three through six.

Newgarden, along with Hunter-Reay, Bell, Kanaan and James Hinchcliffe, had the strongest cars most of the race. Hinchcliffe, the pole winner who missed this race last year after a near-fatal accident in a practice session, faded to seventh despite being one of the best cars in the field.

"If I was in Alex's position, I'd be the happiest person in the world right now, I wouldn't care how we won the damn race," Newgarden said. "Everyone was on different strategies, and they played that strategy. Those guys, to put it politely, weren't as strong as us. They didn't have as strong a chance to win, so they had to mix it up. It worked out at the end for them."

In front of the first sellout in Indy 500 history, Rossi stunned the more than 350,000 fans in attendance. He was in Monaco this time last year for F1's signature race, unsure of what his future held.

"I had no idea I'd be in IndyCar, I had no idea I'd be in the Indy 500," said Rossi, who becomes the 70th winner in race history.

He will now also become the 103rd face on the famed Borg-Warner Trophy.

Instant Replay: Cubs 7, Phillies 2

usatsi_9315345.jpg

Instant Replay: Cubs 7, Phillies 2

BOX SCORE

CHICAGO – The Phillies completed a dreadful road trip with a 7-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on Sunday afternoon.
 
The Cubs swept the three-game series by a combined score of 17-5.
 
The Phils were 1-5 on the trip. They lost two of three in Detroit to start the trip.
 
The Cubs tagged Phillies starter Vince Velasquez for seven runs in 4 ⅔ innings Sunday.
 
The Cubs belted six homers in the three games. The Phillies had two and they both came late in Sunday's game after they were down, 7-0.
 
The Cubs have the majors’ best record at 34-14.
 
The Phillies have been held to two or fewer runs 19 times this season. They head home with a record of 26-24.
 
Starting pitching report
Velasquez was tagged for nine hits and seven runs in 4 ⅔ innings. He gave up two homers, a solo shot in the second and a three-run blow in the third.
 
Velasquez did not have a good trip. Against two of the toughest lineups in baseball, he pitched 8 ⅔ innings over two starts. He gave up 18 hits, five of which were homers, and 10 earned runs.
 
The righthander is 5-2 with a 3.63 ERA in 10 starts.
 
Cubs’ right-hander John Lackey gave up just four hits and one run in seven innings.
 
Cubs starting pitching held the Phils to three earned runs in 22 ⅓ innings in the series. And Jake Arrieta did not pitch.
 
Bullpen report
Brett Oberholtzer walked three in 1 ⅓ innings, but did not allow a run. 
 
At the plate
Tyler Goeddel homered for the Phillies’ first run. Tommy Joseph homered in the ninth.
 
The Phillies were out-hit, 10-6. They had just six extra-base hits in the series. The Cubs had 11.
 
The Cubs used three hits, none of which were hit particularly hard, to score a run in the first inning. Miguel Montero crushed a 2-0 fastball from Velasquez over the wall in right to give the Cubs a 2-0 lead in the second and Ben Zobrist made it a 5-0 game with a three-run shot off Velasquez in the third.
 
In the field
A day after manager Pete Mackanin praised him for his defense, shortstop Freddy Galvis had a tough day in the field.
 
His 44-game errorless streak ended in the fifth inning when made just his second error of the season.
 
Two innings earlier, with two outs in the third, Galvis failed to make a play on a scorching one-hopper by Kris Bryant. The play was scored a hit because it was hit so hard, but Galvis had made plays like that before. The play proved pivotal because it extended the inning. Velasquez then issued a two-out walk, setting the table for Zobrist’s three-run homer, which gave the Cubs a 5-0 lead.
 
Joseph started at first base as manager Pete Mackanin sat Ryan Howard for the second time in a week against a right-hander pitcher. Joseph made a nice defensive play with the bases loaded to end the sixth inning.
 
Health check
Cody Asche’s minor-league rehab stint ends Wednesday. The team can bring him to the majors at any time or option him to the minors when the rehab stint ends.
 
Up next
The Phillies return home Monday to start a 10-game homestand that includes visits from the Nationals, Brewers and Cubs. Here are the pitching matchups for the series against the Nats:
 
Monday night – RHP Jeremy Hellickson (4-3, 3.97) vs. RHP Tanner Roark (3-4, 2.71)
 
Tuesday night – RHP Aaron Nola (4-3, 2.86) vs. RHP Joe Ross (4-4, 2.52)
 
Wednesday night – LHP Adam Morgan (1-3, 6.67) vs. RHP Max Scherzer (5-4, 4.05)

NBA draft profile: Providence PG Kris Dunn

052716_okafor_noel_slide.jpg

NBA draft profile: Providence PG Kris Dunn

Kris Dunn

Position: Point guard

Height: 6-4

Weight: 205

School: Providence

Point guards are coveted on NBA rosters, and a team could land a long-term solution with Dunn. Last season, he averaged 16.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 2.5 steals in 33.0 minutes per game. The Sixers met with Dunn at the draft combine and plan to work him out as well. In order for the Sixers, who hold the first, 24th and 26th picks, to acquire Dunn, they would have to make a trade to move up in the selection order. 

Strengths
Dunn brings a physical presence to the one spot. At 6-foot-4, he has a 6-9 wingspan and can create size mismatches at the point guard position. Dunn is athletic with strong leaping abilities, which allows him to move well without the ball to the basket and attack the rim as well. While Dunn can score (16.4 points per game), he also averaged 2.5 steals per game this season.

Beyond the numbers, he has immeasurable mental strength and focus after overcoming obstacles to reach the highest level of basketball.

“You’re going to get someone who works hard every day,” Dunn said at the combine. “I like to say I’m a blue collar worker. Nothing was ever given to me and I go after it with everything I have.”

Weaknesses
As an NBA point guard, Dunn has to be disciplined running the floor. At times in college he went for the highlight play over fundamentals, resulting in turnovers (3.5 per game). He will have to improve shot selection in the pros. Dunn took 21 more field goal attempts from his junior to senior season but actually made one less year to year. He also shot 69.5 percent at the line. 

How he'd fit with the Sixers
The Sixers had a revolving door at the point guard position this season. They didn’t have a consistent starter until late December when they traded to re-acquire Ish Smith, who is a free agent this summer. Dunn could be their point guard for the future. 

NBA comparison
Dunn has been compared to Wizards All-Star point guard John Wall. At the combine, Dunn said he liked that comparison because of Wall’s defensive skillset.

Draft projection
Dunn is projected to be drafted as high as in the top five. He could be selected lower, though, given teams close to the top already have point guards.