Your Friday Morning Atlantic 10 Tournament Primer

Your Friday Morning Atlantic 10 Tournament Primer

Three of the City Six -- Drexel, Penn and Villanova -- are done (at least for this week). But three more -- Temple, Saint Joseph's and La Salle -- remain.

All of those still alive find themselves in Atlantic City, NJ, preparing to tip-off in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 tournament.

We'll be making our way to AC later this afternoon to check out the action, blog for your enjoyment and hopefully score a picture with the Dayton Flyer.

In the meantime, we provide this list of each game, its time, where you can watch it,  and a brief overview of the matchup. Join us for the last A-10 tournament to be held at Boardwalk Hall after the jump…

#1 Temple (24-6, 13-3) vs. #8 UMass (21-10, 9-7) / 12 p.m. / CSN / 610 AM
This game is a rematch of Temple's final home game of the year when it blew a 9-point lead with less than three minutes to play and needed overtime to squeak past UMass, 90-88. 

UMass is the only team in the Atlantic 10, besides Temple, to have defeated all four of the #2-#5 seeds this season. Their high-energy attack is spearheaded by 5-9 guard Chaz Williams, who leads the team in scoring with 16.4 points per game. 

They're fast, insanely talented leapers and play a style of basketball predicated on a full-court press and never-ending barrage of fast breaks. Temple can ill-afford to compete in the kind of track meet that was played in the first meeting. Owl senior guard Ramone Moore said after that contest that his Temple team prided itself on being able to play any style. While that may be the case, Temple will benefit from playing the game at its preferred, half-court, deliberate pace rather than trying to beat UMass at its own game.

The Massachusetts Minutemen may be the lowest seed remaining in the tournament, but they're also the most dangerous sleeper to win the title. Temple will do the other six schools in Atlantic City a big favor by bouncing them in the quarterfinals. Otherwise, keep your eyes on UMass.

Moving down the top half of the bracket, the winner of Temple and UMass will take on the winner of…

#4 St. Bonaventure (17-11, 10-6) vs. #5 Saint Joseph's (20-12, 9-7) / 2:30 p.m. / CSN / 610 AM
Like Temple and UMass, these two teams last met last Wednesday evening and needed overtime to declare a winner. Unlike Temple and UMass, St. Bonaventure and Saint Joseph's went so far as to require double-overtime.

As the game was contested in Olean, NY, it was of little surprise that the Bonnies found a way win, ultimately taking the game 98-93. They went 11-2 at home this season and lost only to Temple and North Carolina State at the Reilly Center.

Unfortunately for the Bonnies, this game will be played on a neutral court, and one that isn't seven-hour bus ride through upstate New York from the Hawks' campus.

Bonaventure's Andrew Nicholson will likely get his; really, he has all season, thus taking home the A10's Player of the Year Award. Under the basket, SJU's C.J. Aiken, Ronald Roberts and Halil Kanacevic will need to work together to steal rebounds from Nicholson and to help keep each other out of foul trouble. While those three are occupied underneath -- or, Nicholson occupied by them, depending on how you choose to view it -- Carl Jones and Langston Galloway will overmatch the Bonaventure backcourt.

Frankly, we wouldn't be surprised to see either team moving on to the semifinals on Saturday. Saint Joseph's should pull the (by seed only) upset, but the young team has shown time and again a capacity for erratic play this season. That said, they appear to be peaking at the right time, and a run to Sunday, title or no title, might just earn them a bid to next week's NCAAs. Hawks fans will have to balance expecting the world this weekend with the realization that this group may still be just one more year away. We'll find out soon enough.

#2 St. Louis (24-6, 12-4) vs. #7 La Salle (21-11, 9-7) / 6:30 p.m. / TCN / 990 AM
Dr. John Giannini has a team that legitimately could make a run -- they just happened to draw St. Louis in round two.

The Explorers own the best three-point field goal percentage in the conference at 40.3%. Temple trails just behind at 40.2%. No one else is technically close, but the Billikens are No. 3 on the list at 36.3%.

Here's the point, La Salle has become a good enough jump shooting team that they can put a run together through a tournament -- a tournament like the NIT, CIT or CBI. As you might have guessed, we believe, with good reason, that the Explorers are in over their heads in this particular matchup. No, they won't turn the ball over 20 times, like they did the last time these two teams played, when the Billikens won in St. Louis, 59-51, but that isn't exactly saying much either.

Should they pull the shocker -- and, hey, we're all for it -- they do benefit from drawing (what we consider) the easier of the two roads to the finals when they take on the winner of…

#3 Xavier (19-11, 10-6) vs. #6 Dayton (20-11, 9-7) / 9 p.m. / TCN
It's an Ohio showdown in the late game at Boardwalk Hall. If you're a basketball junkie, you'll likely be tuning into this matchup regardless of the non-Philadelphia involvement. As for those of you who may need some convincing -- no, Dayton-Xavier isn't Cincinnati-Xavier, but it is a great rivalry made all the better at tournament time. Plus, Tu Holloway!

*

"And here…we…go." 

It's the Atlantic 10 tournament's last year in AC before moving to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, and damn it's good to be back. From our family to yours, the 24-Hour Happy Hour Bar inside the Wild Wild West Casino at Bally's. You're welcome, in advance. We'll see you on the Boardwalk.

Boardwalk Hall photo credit: The Associated Press

Penn star receiver Justin Watson ready to keep doing it all in 2016

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Photo: Dave Zeitlin

Penn star receiver Justin Watson ready to keep doing it all in 2016

As Penn football players spread out around Franklin Field to take photos and do interviews for the program’s annual media day, Justin Watson hung by the track, playing a quick game of tag near the hurdles.

“Come and get me, J-Wat!” cried out Vhito DeCapria, the precocious 5-year-old cancer patient the team adopted last year through the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation and who’s now back for his “sophomore” season.

Watson, known as “J-Wat” to most, smiled and played along. Being Vhito’s favorite player is just one of the many hats he wears. He’s also one of the team’s hardest-working, smartest and most versatile players — and he enters his junior season as perhaps the top wide receiver in the Ivy League, if not the entire FCS.

“Does he do anything to surprise me?” senior quarterback Alec Torgersen said from media day Monday. “Not anymore. He did at the beginning when he first got here. But now it’s just expected of him. I expect him to make those crazy one-handed grabs. I expect him to catch every ball I throw to him. When he doesn’t, I get disappointed.”

Torgersen has had plenty of opportunities to throw Watson passes — and not only last season when the star receiver caught 74 balls (fourth all-time at Penn) for 1,087 yards (second all-time) and nine touchdowns (third all-time). Throughout the summer, the two friends worked together at the same internship downtown. They ate lunch together every day and, at 5 p.m., they hopped on a subway back to Franklin Field, where they worked out in the weight room and practiced back-shoulder fades and option routes.

“A lot of college quarterbacks and receivers can’t have that type of chemistry but I think us being here all summer really helped,” Watson said. “It’s been cool doing that. It’s a special thing that’s definitely going to help us in the fall.”

In truth, Watson is actually more than just a receiver. Last season, he was also used on running plays, gaining 154 yards on the ground, including a 79-yard scamper that sealed Penn’s huge upset at Harvard. Watson finished with a staggering 249 all-purpose yards that day at Harvard Stadium, helping the Quakers win the game that effectively led to them sharing a piece of the Ivy League title. And he said he was all set to play another position by taking direct snaps in the team’s regular-season finale vs. Cornell before getting hurt.

“The uniqueness about Justin is not only his talent and skill on the field but his football IQ,” second-year head coach Ray Priore said. “During the course of the year, he in theory played every skill position on offense. And he didn’t even blink an eye doing it. That’s a special characteristic.”

Priore laughed when asked if he can find more ways to utilize Watson in 2016 but said he won’t put him back on kick returns, “which he probably could do.” He will, however, play safety when the Quakers line up in their “victory defense” at the end of games, “so you may see an interception.”

Watson says he’s ready for anything.

“That’s so much fun,” he said. “When you’re a kid in middle school, that’s what you do. It’s awesome to be back doing that. Anything I can do to help us win, I’ll do it, whether it’s running back or receiver. I don’t think they’ll let me throw it at quarterback after seeing my arm. But anything else I’m definitely willing and ready to do.”

In the end, though, playing receiver is what Watson loves most, saying that catching a deep ball — and hearing the crowd “hold their breath when the ball’s in the air and then erupt” — is his favorite thing as a football player. It’s also his skills as a receiver that has him earning so much attention heading into Penn’s opener vs. Lehigh on Sept. 17. Among his preseason accolades, the junior was named one of 22 players on the STATS FCS Offensive Player of the Year Watch List — the only Ivy Leaguer to receive such an honor.

But if all of his records and accolades leads to opposing defenses paying more attention to him, Watson isn’t worried. That’s because he knows the team’s other receivers like fifth-year senior Cam Countryman and sophomore Christian Pearson are more than capable of having big years too.

“If you put two guys on me, we’ve got a bunch of other great receivers who will be open and will kill you down the field,” Watson said. “If I’ve got to take two or three guys every game, we’ll be 10-0 because I know everyone else will be making plays.”

It’s that kind of selflessness that has endeared Watson to his teammates, who enjoy the energy he brings to practice and how he always seems to be the first player in the training room.

“He’s an incredible player,” said Countryman, one of Penn’s leaders. “I have the utmost respect for him. When he came in his freshman year, you noticed right away the talent he had. So all of the accomplishments that he gets, I’m not surprised at all. 

“And they’ll keep coming in.”

Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Following a shutout, Phillies get to face Max Scherzer

Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Following a shutout, Phillies get to face Max Scherzer

Phillies (60-71) vs. Nationals (76-55)
7:05 p.m. on CSN

The Phillies couldn't hit in Monday's series opener, but they did receive the positive of Jake Thompson finally looking like he can get outs at the big-league level. Thompson allowed two runs over seven innings, but the Phils were blanked by Tanner Roark for the third time this season.

The task Tuesday night is no easier.

1. Due vs. Scherzer?
When the Phillies face Max Scherzer, you can essentially chalk it up as an automatic loss. The Phils are one of the weaker offenses, Scherzer is one of the game's best pitchers, and his track record against them is nearly flawless.

Scherzer (14-7, 2.92) has faced the Phillies eight times since 2013. He's 6-0 with 1.74 ERA and a 0.82 WHIP, with 62 strikeouts and 10 walks in 57 innings. 

Scherzer had some early missteps this season, caused mostly by home runs, but he's been incredible since the middle of May, when he tied a MLB record with 20 strikeouts in a game. Since that game, he's 11-5 with a 2.40 ERA and .172 opponents' batting average in 20 starts. He's struck out 181 and walked 29 in those 139 innings. Ridiculous. Otherworldly.

Unfortunately for the Phillies, they'll be seeing a lot of Scherzer moving forward. He's in the second of a seven-year, $210 million free-agent contract with the Nationals that, to this point, he's lived up to.

Scherzer has a blazing fastball and a disappearing breaking ball. He throws strike after strike after strike, which is ironically what gets him into trouble at times. Like Cliff Lee, Scherzer is around the plate so often that hitters tend to attack his early fastballs. The result is a lot of solo home runs. But Scherzer has even corrected that issue of late, allowing just five homers over his last 11 starts.

2. Learn from Herrera
Odubel Herrera has had by far the most success of any active Phillie vs. Scherzer. He's 6 for 19 with a double, a triple and five walks. There are only six players in baseball with at least 20 plate appearances against Scherzer and an on-base percentage higher than Herrera's .458.

Herrera had a multi-hit game Monday, his fourth in his last eight contests. He's hitting .283/.361/.413 in 540 plate appearances this season, providing pretty much the same offense he did a year ago. But still, the Phillies would like to see more consistency from Herrera over the season's final month. His OBP had declined every month this year until August.

Phils manager Pete Mackanin said on Monday that Herrera will remain in center field the rest of the season. Mackanin had indicated several weeks ago that Herrera would see some time in the corner outfield to allow the organization to get a look at Aaron Altherr and perhaps even Roman Quinn in center field in September, but that's no longer the plan. Quinn is on the concussion DL at Double A, and the Phillies don't want to move Herrera around or do anything to affect his confidence at this point.

It still seems likely that Herrera will end up at a different position in the future because the Phillies have better defensive centerfielders.

3. Their steadiest starter
Jerad Eickhoff tonight makes his 27th start of 2016 and 35th career start for the Phillies. He's 9-12 with a 3.87 ERA this season and 12-15 with a 3.57 ERA in his career.

Eickhoff is coming off yet another quality start, his 14th. He's pitched at least six innings in 17 of his 25 starts. 

Strange as it is, Eickhoff has faced the division-rival Nationals only once in his career so far. He allowed two runs to them over seven innings with 10 strikeouts in his penultimate start last season.

Eickhoff has been much better this season at home (3.27 ERA) than on the road (4.56).

4. A night for small ball
One of the Phillies' goals this season was to manufacture runs because they don't have a ton of power. That will be especially necessary tonight against Scherzer, who's shut down every Phils hitter with pop.

Maikel Franco, Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp are a combined 5 for 31 (.161) off Scherzer. Ryan Howard, who's unlikely to play, is 1 for 18 with 11 strikeouts.

Meanwhile, Herrera has gotten on base with regularity against him, and Cesar Hernandez is 5 for 18 with a double. Herrera and Hernandez will need to reach base and run tonight. Scherzer, however, does a better job than most aces of controlling the running game. He's allowed just 11 steals on 14 attempts in 60 starts with the Nationals.

5. This and that
• A loss tonight would put the Phillies 12 games under .500. Their record hasn't been that bad since June 27, which was 53 games ago.

• The Phils are 6-12 against the NL East since the All-Star break.

• It would have been difficult for Jayson Werth to play up to the seven-year, $126 million contract he got with the Nationals after 2010, but when you look back at his tenure in Washington he's had only two bad years out of six. In more than 3,000 plate appearances with the Nats, Werth has hit .269/.361/.442 for an .803 OPS that is 18 percent better than the league average over that span.

Phillies shut out, but Jake Thompson's best start yet and kudos to that one fan

Phillies shut out, but Jake Thompson's best start yet and kudos to that one fan

You knew it probably wasn't going to be a very good night for the Phillies after Jayson Werth led off the game with a home run for the Washington Nationals. After the smarting blow from our former WFC RF, the Nats picked up another run to go up 2-0 in the first, and that was plenty for the NL East leaders on a windy Monday night in Philly. The Fightins managed just four hits, one walk, and zero runs worth of offense, and Tanner Roark and the Nats shut 'em out, 4-0, for the series opener. (That's Werth's 18th homer against the Phils, btw — one off his single-opponent high of 19 against the Braves, and in about 60 fewer games.)

Luckily, the night wasn't a complete wash for the Phils: We got our best start yet — indeed, the first one that would likely qualify as "good" — from young righty starter Jake Thompson, who buckled down after the two first-inning runs, and went six scoreless from there. (Thompson had yet to pitch more than three consecutive innings without an earned run in his four starts to date.) The starter's finest inning was his last, where he notched all three of his strikeouts on the evening, including a particular beauty dropped in for a third strike on an incredulous Trea Turner to close the frame. For a 22-year-old pitcher whose early-career issues are often said to be more mental than mechanical, it could be a huge confidence boost to come through like that against one of the best offenses in the NL.

Meanwhile, the other hero for the Phils tonight came in the guise of a fan sitting on the first-base line, who responded to a Frank Herrmann pickoff overthrow by reflexively cleanly fielding the ball as it bounced near the seats. The fan-interference got Nats third-baseman Anthony Rendon, who was well on his way to third base, called back to second, incensing Washington manager Dusty Baker and earning the fan a good deal of high-fives from the fans in his section. He got booted from the stadium — and Rendon was rewarded third base anyway after Baker's challenge was supported by replay — but y'know. No one can say dude didn't do what he could, and that's all anyone can ask of a real fan.

Jerad Eickhoff vs. Max Scherzer at 7:00 tonight. Still just 9.5 games out of the second wild-card spot.