Temple to Visit Ohio with MAC Title Hopes in the Balance; Our Freakishly Long Preview in 9 Sections

Temple to Visit Ohio with MAC Title Hopes in the Balance; Our Freakishly Long Preview in 9 Sections

Make no mistake, this Wednesday's game is the biggest of the season for the Temple Owls, and its against an opponent who has given them more trouble than they would like to remember.

At 5-3 overall and 3-2 within the conference, Temple holds a half-game lead in the MAC East over none other than (the) Ohio University, the team that has twice cost TU a chance at the MAC Championship. Kick off between the Owls and Bobcats is scheduled for 8 p.m. Wednesday evening (ESPN / 1210 AM).

And now, everything you need to know about Temple and Ohio in nine convenient sections…

(1) The Eternal Question—Bernard Pierce's Injury Status

Temple running back Bernard Pierce has sat out the last two weeks of practice, attempting to heal or, at least, not further harm an ailing hamstring. Though Pierce rushed for over 100 yards and crossed the goal line for a touchdown against Bowling Green, it was clear the he did so while in serious pain. His limp was plainly noticeable and necessitated multiple breaks on the sideline for the all-time Temple point leader.

While Steve Addazio refused to comment during his Friday press conference on whether or not Pierce would be available against Ohio, Keith Pompey was able to catch up with Bernard, who ensured the Owls' Inquirer beat writer that we would in action this Wednesday.

As we wrote over the weekend, playing a complete season has been a goal of Bernard's since training camp. Sustaining multiple injuries in his first two years as an Owl has left the star rusher with a feeling that he has something to prove to himself, his doubters and maybe even some NFL scouts in terms of staying healthy for an entire season.

While it's clear Bernard will play against Ohio, it remains unclear just how effective he'll be, given the kind of injury that seems to always be of the nagging variety.

(2) The Passing Game—Steve Addazio as the anti-Andy Reid
Ever since the loss to Bowling Green—a game in which the Owls threw the ball just 13 times, despite severe setbacks on the ground—Steve Addazio has promised a greater balance in play-calling, especially on first and second downs.

Addazio will be the first to tell you that a high-flying passing game simply isn't what his team is built to do; and, really, there is very little to dispute such a claim. Still, as the Temple fans—and presumably Addazio himself—have already learned twice this year, no matter how good a rushing attack, there's very little that can be done on the ground to break a defense who will stack eight to nine guys in the box.

This team and its quarterback simply cannot handle repeated third and longs. It is an unfortunate shortcoming of a talented football team, but a reality that must nonetheless be mitigated. The team has had success this year throwing on first down, particularly in play-action. Watch for Temple to target tight end Evan Rodriguez early and often. Even as a tight end, Rodriguez leads the team in catches and receiving yards. That statistic is no doubt influenced by Chester's preference for throwing quick underneath routes and not having to open up the offense downfield. Such plays are obviously better suited on first and second down than on third (and long). While Addazio has acknowledged that the passing game could always use more "fine-tuning," he's also maintained that it is "on him" to call a more balanced game, so as to put both the quarterback and the running backs in a better position to be be effective.

(3) The Temple Quarterbacks—"All Hands on Deck"
Continuing on with the passing game, for those of you who have been clambering for different signal caller under center, you might finally get your wish this Wednesday night—it just might not be the quarterback you think.

As this coaching staff seems determined to run the spread, Mike Gerardi has become less and less of an option. Though he is a better passer than Chester Stewart, he lacks the speed to run the formation and provide a secondary rush option. Sophomore Chris Coyer has demonstrated how explosive he can be in taking off from the backfield in limited action this year; though, by his own coach's account, Chris has been just as, if not even more erratic than Chester in his reps in practice. "One ball is going this way, and the next goes the other. There needs to be a greater level of consistency," said Addazio.

That said, the coach did not rule any possibilities on Friday when asked if Coyer would be thrown into the mix as another option. Given some of Chester's own nagging injuries, the coach simply responded, "all hands will be on deck." Coyer has taken two crazy-long quarterback scrambles to the house this year after entering the ballgame in relief of Stewart and Gerardi. While a potential increase in utilization is exciting news for Chris and the offense, if the coach is serious about "all hands being on deck," he might want to remember that he has Mike Gerardi on the bench should his team find itself trailing late and actually need to, you know, throw the ball.

(4) The Ohio Run Defense—[Bobcat D] "ain't Nuttin to F--- wit"

The Bobcats D is allowing only 117 rush yards per game, a total good enough for 27th in the nation. Bear in mind, Pierce and second-string rusher Matt Brown have both run for over 100 yards the last three weeks in a row.

The Bobcats are the second best team in defending the run that the Owls have played this year, and—No—the other team isn't Penn State. It was actually the Toledo Rockets, who are ranked one spot ahead of Ohio at 26th against the run. Suffice it to say, we all remember how that game went for Temple.

This, of course, is why the balance discussed above will prove so vitally important. Bowling Green, a notoriously awful team against the run, showed last week that you can give up over 200 yards rushing to Temple, as long as you keep them pinned back on their side of the 50. Granted, Temple helped the Bowling Green cause by repeatedly Plaxico Burressing itself in the foot with penalties, but that game and this matchup remains worrying. Add Bernard Pierce's uncertain health to the equation and you could see a potential repeat of last week's affair, with each  defense rendering the opposing offense useless.

(5) The MAC Title Implications—Falcons and Bobcats and Owls..Oh My!

As mentioned up top, last week's loss to Bowling Green meant that, for a week, the Owls no longer controlled their own fate. Thankfully, Bowling Green's loss to Kent State means that as long as the Owls take care of thei
r own business over the next four games, they will be on their way to the MAC Title Game in Detroit. Otherwise, they'll need a little bit of help in getting there.

At 2-2 in conference play, the Bobcats are currently tied for second in the East with the Bowling Green. Should Temple drop this game to Ohio, they would not only fall behind the Bobcats in the standings, but they would have lost the head-to-heads with now two other teams vying for the East's bid to Ford Field.

(6) The History—Temple Only Plays Ohio When It Means Something (Something Usually Bad)
Go figure, Temple's hopes of winning the MAC East once again rest on beating Ohio. Losses to the Bobcats have effectively ended this team's hope of making it to the MAC Championship the last two years in a row. All-time, the Owls are just 1-3 against Ohio, having lost the first matchup in 2007, having won the second in 2008, and, finally, having lost the last two in heartbreaking fashion in 2009 and 2010.

(7) The Bobcat Blackout—Ohio's Attempt at Intimidation or Motivation or Something

Keith Pompey reported last week that Ohio will be wearing all-black uniforms and that those fans in attendance will be donning matching black t-shirts. I'm reporting this week that should Temple lose this game, fans on North Broad street will engage in a mass blackout of their own.

(8) The Wednesday Special—ESPN's Infatuation with Mid-Week MAC Games

Temple will play this Wednesday at Ohio and next Wednesday night at home against Miami (OH). Temple played both of these teams back-to-back on Tuesday nights last year, thought Toledo and Northern Illinois appear to filling that spot this year. Yes, it's primetime, yes, it's Wednesday; and, yes, it's the MAC; so, yes, you should take what you can get, because, yes, the game is on ESPN.

(9) The Reason Most of You are Interested—Gambling Lines and Such
Temple opened as a 3.5 point favorite and has since moved to 4, and in some books, 4.5. The over/under for this game has been slow to board. I've seen the number 45 thrown around, but most books have still yet to post.

In the event the over/under is in that ballpark, bear in mind Temple's potential difficulties on offense given the Bobcat run defense and Bernard Pierce's questionable health. Also consider that while Ohio is averaging more than 30 ppg, Temple has given up the second fewest average points per game in the nation in 2011 at 10.0.

Proceed as you will.

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Anyone who wants to get at me during the game can get in touch @cnmenta. Otherwise, see you post-game.

Photos courtesy NCAAGridironGab, Philadelphia Inquirer, Associated Press and Gridiron Tribune

NBA draft profile: Oklahoma G Buddy Hield

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NBA draft profile: Oklahoma G Buddy Hield

Buddy Hield

Position: Guard

Height: 6-foot-4

Weight: 214 pounds

School: Oklahoma

It seems rare these days for juniors considering the NBA draft to return to school. It's even more unique for those players to take a leap from likely draft picks to lottery locks.

But that's exactly what Buddy Hield did during his dazzling senior season at Oklahoma. The guard demanded the country's attention as he shot his way to 25.0 points per game (second in the nation) and helped the Sooners reach the Final Four as he racked up both the prestigious Wooden and Naismith Awards in the process.

While the scoring was certainly worthy of praise, Hield's efficiency was even more impressive. Despite attempting career highs in field goals (16.2), three-pointers (8.7) and free throws per game (5.4), the sharpshooter increased his percentages across the board. Hield connected on 50.1 percent from the field, 45.7 percent from three-point range and 88.0 percent from the line.

Even though Hield capped off his decorated career with a dud in Oklahoma's Final Four loss to eventual national champion Villanova (nine points on 4 of 12 shooting), he proved throughout the course of the season that his ceiling is higher than expected and that he belongs among the top tier of this year's draft class.

Strengths
All of those days practicing on a milk crate back in the Bahamas paid off because Hield can flat out shoot the ball. His 147 threes led the nation last season and were tied for the most by any college player since some guy named Stephen Curry drained 162 in 2008.

But Hield isn't just a standstill shooter by any means. Yes, he can catch and shoot, but he also has the ability to fire off screens, pull up off the dribble and get to the rim at times.

Hield also showed he wasn't afraid to stick his nose into the trees by pulling down 5.7 rebounds per game a season ago and 4.9 a night during his time at Oklahoma.

Weaknesses
There is some concern about whether Hield will be able to get that silky shot off the way he wants to at the next level. He does have a lower release point than typical jumpers, and, at 6-foot-4, he won't be able to just rise up to shoot over smaller defenders in the NBA. That means to get open, he will have to rely more on his ball handling, which could use some work and helped lend itself to Hield's 3.1 turnovers per game as a senior. Hield will also have to improve his defense, which has never been a strong suit.

How he'd fit with the Sixers
Seamlessly. In case you haven't heard, the Sixers can use all of the outside shooting help they can get. With so many big bodies doing their work down in the paint, Hield would be able to spot up for one open jumper after another.

However, with the two perceived transcendent talents at the top of the draft, the only way we would be able to see how Hield looks in a Sixers jersey would be if Bryan Colangelo pulls the trigger on a trade to acquire another high draft pick.

NBA comparison
Sure, Hield's game has some similarities to Curry and he received a co-sign from Kobe Bryant during the NCAA Tournament, but let's not get too carried away. A more accurate comparison would be Portland guard and Lehigh product C.J. McCollum. Like McCollum, Hield is a natural shooter who can score from just about anywhere on the floor. Hield also has the drive to get even better in common with McCollum, who walked away with the NBA's Most Improved Player Award this season.

Draft projection
Hield is an early- to mid-lottery selection. Look for him to go somewhere between picks Nos. 5-9.

Flyers 2015-16 Redux: Defensemen - Part 1

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Flyers 2015-16 Redux: Defensemen - Part 1

Too many bodies and not enough room at the inn.

That pretty much describes the dilemma the Flyers will face this offseason in addressing their defense, which dramatically improved once Shayne Gostisbehere arrived in November.
 
If there is one thing the Calder Trophy finalist showed, it's you can't have enough quick, young feet with the ability to create offense on the back end.

Gostisbehere gave Flyers fans a glimpse into the defense's future — it's loaded with young talent. The line behind Gostisbehere is long — the deepest pool of young defensive talent in club history.
 
All eyes will be watching this fall to see whether Ivan Provorov can catapult himself ahead of Travis Sanheim, Sam Morin and Robert Hagg and win a roster spot, which means at least one blueliner must go from the 2015-16 roster.
 
“We're not going to change philosophically in terms of young players,” general manager Ron Hextall said April 27, the day after the players cleared out their dressing room stalls following the playoff loss the Washington Capitals.
 
“They have to come in and be better than someone else that's here and, if that happens, we proved last year that we'll make room in our roster for a young player that proves to us that he's ready to play at this level and make our team better.
 
“I'm not putting a player on the team so we can say we're a young team. They're going to come in here and earn a spot.”
 
Here is a deeper look back on this year’s defense:
 
Michael Del Zotto

Age: Turns 26 on June 25
Stats:52 GP; 4G, 9A, 13 PTS, -8, 23:24 MIN
Cap hit: $3.875 million.

Missed the final 28 games of the regular season following surgery to repair a broken left wrist that had been bothering him since being injured initially on Dec. 21 against St. Louis. No doubt the injury played a pivotal role in limiting Del Zotto's offensive effectiveness just one year after rejuvenating his career with the Flyers with 10 goals and 32 points and earning a two-year contract extension. Del Zotto's best years are still ahead of him. He hit his 400th career game in November. He seemed to get it this year, as to when not to join the attack. Just imagine a lineup with Del Zotto, Gostisbehere and Provorov. The 2016-17 season will see what kind of contract he can earn as an unrestricted free agent.
 
Shayne Gostisbehere

Age: 23
Stats: 64 GP, 17G, 29A, 46 PTS, +8, 20:05 MIN
Cap hit: $925,000.

What can you saw about the most dynamic and impactful Flyers rookie since Mikael Renberg, who was the franchise's last Calder finalist back in 1993-94. With bonuses, Gostisbehere earned over $1 million this season. If Mark Streit never gets injured, chances are we don't see Gostisbehere until late in the season. Yet, the way things turned out, he became a Calder finalist.

His offense from the back-end includes things fans have been yearning for: speed, agility, youth and a great shot, as well. He quickly began to quarterback the power play in Streit's absence. "Ghost" led all NHL rookie defensemen in points while setting a couple franchise records, including goals by a rookie blueliner (17).

His rawness on the defensive end was evident all the way through, yet that was expected. It's a fair tradeoff for what Gostisbehere produces at the other end. He had strong chemistry with defensive partner Andrew MacDonald. Offseason hip/abdominal surgery should not be a concern.

The sky's the limit with this kid.
 
Radko Gudas
Age: Turns 26 this June 5
Stats: 76 GP, 5G, 9A  14 PTS, -3; 19:50 MIN.
Cap hit: RFA who earned $991,666 last season.

In the beginning, there seemed to be no middle ground with Gudas. You either loved him or you hated him depending upon whether he threw a questionable hit and was faced a suspension or used his physical edge to the Flyers' advantage. By season's end, however, Gudas seemed to settle in as a consistent defensive presence.

Still, you worry about his questionable hits. His 304 hits were second in the NHL this season. He's the only defenseman the Flyers have who scares people on the back end.

His 157 blocks were second only to Nick Schultz's 174. Gudas is surprisingly mobile given his girth. He played his 200th career game in April and pent much of of the season paired first with Del Zotto and then Brandon Manning. He was effective in the playoffs against the Caps.
 
Andrew MacDonald
Age: Turns 30 on Sept. 7
Stats: 28GP, 1G, 7A, 8 PTS, +10; 20:07 MIN
Cap hit: $5 million

The Flyers didn't want to pay Matt Carle $5 million per year in 2012. The fans never appreciated him and when Carle left for Tampa as a free agent, it took a while for the organization to realize Carle gave them what they wanted on the back end, which is why the Flyers overpaid in trading for and then re-signing MacDonald.

The problem was MacDonald lacked on the defensive side and quickly got caught up in a numbers game, which resulted in him starting the season with Phantoms.

Del Zotto's injury allowed MacDonald's re-entry to the Flyers and he played very well as Gostisbehere's partner right into the playoffs. He was among the team's best players in postseason. MacDonald's time spent in the AHL also saw him improve his defensive play.

MacDonald is deserving on chance to remain a Flyer, but again, numbers and cap hit will again stand in his way.

Flyers legend Rick MacLeish dies at 66

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Philadelphia Flyers

Flyers legend Rick MacLeish dies at 66

Rick MacLeish, the smooth-skating centerman with a potent wrist shot whose goal lifted the Flyers to their first Stanley Cup, has died.

MacLeish was 66.
 
The center from Lindsay, Ontario, had been hospitalized in Philadelphia since mid-May while suffering from multiple medical issues, according to his daughter Brianna.
 
MacLeish was the Flyers’ first 50-goal scorer and second 100-point player behind Bobby Clarke, with both milestones achieved in 1972-73. A three-time NHL All-Star, he won two Cups with the Flyers.
 
He will forever be known for his power-play-tip goal in front of Boston goalie Gilles Gilbert in the first period of Game 6 of the 1974 Cup Final. Bernie Parent made the goal stand the remainder of the game.
 
MacLeish played 16 seasons, including 12 as a Flyer. He was an integral member of the Flyers’ 1974 and 1975 Cup squads.
 
MacLeish's 697 points are second only to Clarke (1,210) in club history among centers, and he ranks fourth in all-time points (697), fifth in assists (369) and sixth in goal-scoring (328).
 
His 741 games in orange and black are tied for sixth overall, and his 12 hat tricks are second only to Tim Kerr (17). MacLeish scored 54 goals with 53 assists (107 points) in 114 playoff games.
 
After leaving the Flyers, he also played in Pittsburgh, Hartford and Detroit, amassing 759 career points in 846 games.
 
Drafted fourth overall by Boston in 1970, MacLeish became a Flyer as part of three-team trade involving the Bruins and Toronto that same year.
 
Known for his effortless motion and blazing speed on the ice, MacLeish had a reputation as an unmotivated player early in his career until his breakout season in 1972-73.
 
“You can’t motivate someone who doesn’t want to play, and the Flyers didn’t keep you if you weren’t committed to winning,” teammate Gary Dornhoefer once said.
 
“It might have taken MacLeish a few years to mature as a hockey player, but he earned his keep as a member of the team.”
 
MacLeish was the Flyers’ first legitimate sniper, often wristing his deadly shot from the circles.
 
During the 1974 playoffs, he led the Flyers in both goals (13) and points (22) and finished second to Parent in the Conn Smythe Trophy voting for playoff MVP.
 
After his retirement, MacLeish dabbled in owning race horses and worked with the Flyers' alumni.
 
Among his last major public appearances with Cup teammates in Philadelphia was at the closing of the Spectrum party on Jan. 16, 2010, hosted by Flyers chairman Ed Snider, who died in April.