Not Technically a Big 5 Game: Temple Hosts La Salle

Not Technically a Big 5 Game: Temple Hosts La Salle

It seems as though every Temple-St. Joe-La Salle confrontation is always preceded by the question, "Is this the Big 5 game, or no?" Should you be unable to attend or watch tonight's game, fret not; it is not the Big 5 game. That showdown is scheduled for Feb. 22 from inside the Tom Gola Arena.

Tonight's contest, on the other hand, is a nonetheless important Atlantic 10 matchup, one that will take place from inside the Liacouras Center on the campus of Temple University. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. (1210 AM).

Storylines after the jump...

Temple out to Start New Streak and Bounce Back from Loss
This evening's game will be Temple's first at the Apollo since forfeiting its 25-game-home-unbeaten streak to the Dayton Flyers on Jan. 7.

Since that time, Temple split a two game road trip with a hard fought win over St. Louis and unfortunate beatdown at the hands of the Richmond Spiders.

They'll be looking to get back into the win column, both at home and in general, when they take on a vastly improved Explorer team tonight.

Is La Salle for Real?
So here's the question, just how improved are they are they? La Salle is a markedly different team from last year for one key reason -- defense. Somehow, amidst all the shouting and swearing and chair punching, Dr. John Giannini has gotten this group of Explorers to buy in on the defensive end. At 13-5 and 2-1 in the A10, there's no question, they are better this year than last.

That said, tonight should be a good gauge of just how much better. It's been said that you can only beat the teams who are on your schedule; and the Explorers have done that. It's just that those teams have been pretty bad.

Let's play a game: scroll down the La Salle season schedule and pick out their marquee out-of-conference win. If you can even decide on a game, ask yourself how impressive that win really was.

Look, we're not knocking the Explorers just for the hell of it. Honestly, we're actually pretty excited that they're 13-5. We love a strong Big 5. But La Salle is going to need more than just one win over a post-fight Xavier team to get us fully on board that they have the ship totally righted. A win over Temple tonight would go a long way in doing that.

Michael Eric Injury Update
He's back tonight? Wait, no he's not? What do you mean "maybe?"

Temple center Michael Eric is questionable for this evening's matchup. The 6-10 senior has missed the last two months of action after re-injuring the same patella that ended his junior season. The Owls had hoped to have him back by the beginning of January, but that obviously didn't happen.

Word getting around is that Eric really could play tonight. If not, there has been chatter this week that he will return to the lineup against Maryland on Saturday.

Don't Cry for Me, Argentina
Juan Fernandez has been….eh, not good lately. Though his jumper looked like it had returned to form earlier this season after a dreadful junior campaign, things have taken a turn for the worse as of late. Barring the Dayton game in which he went 6-11, Fernandez has made just 13 of his last 54 attempts -- a shooting percentage of 24%. True, he's still averaging double-digit points, but not with any efficiency.

If we may make a suggestion, stop forcing what isn't there. Too often, Juan will make up his mind that he's going to basket, only to heave up an ugly one-handed scoop shot because he never had the proper lane to get there and finish. There's no problem with the kid trying to shoot his way out of funk by taking his share of good looks, but the ill-advised drives aren't helping. As for his teammates, there is at least one Temple Owl whom we wish to see taking it to the rack Moore.

Beware the Dayton Flyer?
Both La Salle and Temple have dropped games within the last two weeks to the Dayton Flyers. As mentioned above, Dayton was the first program to beat Temple at the Liacouras Center since Jan. 2010; the Flyers also snapped La Salle's six game winning streak over the weekend.

Are these losses the sign of a strong A10, or is Dayton the team to watch in 2012?

Shoot the J, Shoot it
Both teams shoot the ball well from three (Temple: 39.5%, La Salle 39.7%). Although we've been harping about La Salle's commitment to defense, it should be noted that, despite their struggles to guard the basket and lane, Temple remains one of their better perimeter defenses in college -- holding opponents to just 30.3% from behind the arc.

Something will have to give in this matchup. Which team will get hot? Which team will go cold? Can Temple's perimeter defense shut down the La Salle shooters? Are La Salle's defensive statistics a product of their schedule? Will Temple's Khalif Wyatt go for 20+ for the fifth straight game?

We'll find out tonight.

Relevant History
All-Time Series: Temple leads 70-40
At Temple: Temple leads 12-5
Dunphy vs. La Salle: 22-6
Giannini vs. Temple: 3-11
Streak: Owls have won each of the last five meetings
Last Meeting: Temple eliminated La Salle from the 2011 Atlantic 10 tournament with a 96-76 win at Boardwalk Hall. Temple's Ramone Moore led all scorers with 23, while Aaric Murray posted a team-high 22 for the Explorers. Lavoy Allen also chipped in with a 14 and 12 double-double for the Owls. Only one of those players will be on the floor tonight.

Flyers skate update: Matt Read's 400th game; Andrew MacDonald scratched

Flyers skate update: Matt Read's 400th game; Andrew MacDonald scratched

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Matt Read did not have to worry about being an NHL draft bust.

He did not impress scouts enough to be drafted at all while playing collegiate hockey at Bemidji State in Minnesota. Instead, the Flyers' winger had to make the NHL the hard way — as a free agent.

“Out of college, I signed with the Flyers and was just doing everything I could to get an opportunity to make the team,” Read, 30, recalled after the team’s morning skate before the Flyers take on the Vancouver Canucks.

His hard work and determination were rewarded here as he drew into the Flyers lineup for his 400th NHL career game.

“If you told me as a 12-year-old self I was playing 400 games in the NHL, I’d be pretty happy, obviously,” Read said. “I don’t have enough words to describe (what the accomplishment means.) Every day in the NHL is a blessing, I guess. You show up every day, work hard and have fun. As a kid, I wanted to be a professional hockey player, and I get to live it out everyday, which is amazing.”

Read originally signed as a free agent with the Flyers in 2011. Unlike many other NHLers, he has played his entire career with the same organization.

“The opportunity to play for the same team for six years is almost unheard of in the National Hockey League these days, so (I) take advantage of it and enjoy it,” Read said.

What has enabled him to stick?

“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m just showing up at the rink every day to work hard, have fun, be a team guy and do as much as I can to make this team better.”

Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said he has a “solid level of trust” in Read.

“There’s a lot of different pathways towards the NHL,” Hakstol said. “I think what you see in that guys that are able to hit a milestone like 400 is, there’s a level of dedication and consistency in terms of work habits to get there. Obviously, Matt has demonstrated those. It’s a hell of a milestone. (But) probably first and foremost on his mind, I would think, tonight is playing a good hockey game and helping our team.”

MacDonald gets night off
Flyers defenseman Andrew MacDonald received the night off as Hakstol made him a healthy scratch. The move was somewhat surprising, because MacDonald has played every game since he was scratched Nov. 19 against Tampa Bay.

Hakstol said MacDonald needed a rest. As a result, Brandon Manning was shifted to the right side from the left and paired with Ivan Provorov.

According to the coach, Manning has not had trouble switching sides this season.

“He’s done a pretty good job,” Hakstol said. “If you look at it, particularly this year, he’s been pretty efficient in making that transition. Is it easy? No.”

Neuvy gets the nod again
Hakstol did not think goaltender Michal Neuvirth needed a rest. He got the nod for his fourth straight start and sixth in the last seven games overall.

“He’s been the guy that’s been in a rhythm for us and he’s done a pretty good job and he’ll go back tonight,” Hakstol said.

Neuvirth was not complaining about the heavy workload.

“It’s good to be playing,” Neuvirth said. “The more I play, the more comfortable I feel. It’s been good.”

He also prepared to be comfortable with the risk of added fatigue.

“It is what it is — you’ve gotta be ready anytime, any day,” Neuvirth said. “It’s a good opportunity for me and it’s gonna be a good challenge.”

Former Flyers coach enshrined
Late former Flyers coach Pat Quinn has been honored with a life-sized statue outside the home of the Canucks. The monument, funded by a group of Quinn’s friends and business partners, was unveiled over the weekend.

Quinn began his coaching career with the Flyers in 1977-78 before holding coaching and managing positions with the AHL Phantoms and four other NHL clubs, including the Canucks. He guided the Flyers to a 35-game unbeaten streak — a record for North American sports — in 1979-80, when they reached the Stanley Cup finals.

Loose pucks
• The Flyers’ .667 winning percentage in Vancouver ranks as their best in any current NHL city. 

• Despite outshooting their opponents in 15 of 20 games dating to Jan. 1, the Flyers are 5-8-2 in the 15 contests.

Scratches: Defensemen Andrew MacDonald and Nick Schultz

Lineup
F: Schenn-Giroux-Simmonds

Weise-Couturier-Voracek

Raffl-Cousins-Read

VandeVelde-Bellemare-Lyubimov

D: Provorov-Manning

Gostisbehere-Streit

Del  Zotto-Gudas

G: Neuvirth

Phillies prospect Andrew Knapp is determined to win a job in the majors

Phillies prospect Andrew Knapp is determined to win a job in the majors

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The dew on the infield grass had barely dried when Andrew Knapp was marched out to the firing squad at Phillies camp early Sunday morning.
 
He took his position at first base and looked across the diamond where Phillies instructors Doug Mansolino, Chris Truby and Larry Bowa were lined up at third base, shortstop and second base, respectively. Armed with fungo bats and a dozens baseballs each, the trio of sharpshooters proceeded to smash bullet one- and two-hoppers at Knapp, who was tasked with pulling them out of the dirt to complete the putout.
 
“Good job,” shouted Bowa, a tough grader when it comes to infield work, as Knapp finished up the hellacious early-morning drill.
 
Knapp is a catcher by trade, but he will continue these intense individual sessions at first base throughout the spring — in addition to his regular defensive work behind the plate.
 
A 25-year-old switch-hitter, Knapp was the Phillies’ second-round selection in the 2013 draft. He’s getting a lot attention in this camp because he has a shot to make the club as a reserve player. The Phils are in need of a backup catcher and a backup first baseman and Knapp, in big-league camp for the second time, is trying to show he can handle both assignments in one package.
 
“Last year it was more of a happy-to-be-here thing,” he said. “I was just trying to pick as many brains as I could and take in as much knowledge as I could.
 
“But this year it’s more of a let’s-go-win-a-job kind of deal.”
 
General manager Matt Klentak and manager Pete Mackanin first floated the idea of carrying Knapp as a two-position reserve at the winter meetings.
 
Of course, it came with a lot of qualifiers. Knapp is still considered a developing player and team decision-makers would have to consider what impact a reserve role would have on his development. Also, the prototypical backup catcher in the majors is a plus defender who has experience handling a big-league pitching staff. Knapp has never played in the majors and his defense is considered a work in progress. Later in the winter, the Phillies signed two big-league veteran catchers (Bryan Holaday and Ryan Hanigan) to minor-league deals and they are very much in the mix for the job.
 
“I kind of understand there’s a definite value in having a veteran guy as a backup, but I think I can do the job on the field,” Knapp said.
 
A potential separator for Knapp could be his bat and his versatility if he can continue to develop it. He is not a novice at first base. He played there as a sophomore at the University of California. Knapp also has this going for him: He’s on the 40-man roster and with so many young prospects on it and the probable need to add an outfielder like Chris Coughlan later in camp, that could work in Knapp’s favor.
 
Another factor that could held Knapp’s chances: The Phillies’ development blueprint calls for Rhys Hoskins and Jorge Alfaro to get the bulk of the playing time at first base and catcher, respectively, at Triple A.
 
“You’d like to see him get 500 at-bats, but it’s not a perfect world,” Bowa said. “Our Triple A team is loaded. He might find himself in the same role at Triple A. if that’s the case, it might be best if he came here if he swings the bat like he can and he can provide versatility.
 
“A guy like him can give you some options and flexibility. When you face the Mets and they have three stud right-handers throwing 95, it might be nice to have a guy like that to give (first baseman) Tommy Joseph a blow.”
 
Knapp had a brilliant season with the bat at Double A in 2015. He hit .360 with 11 homers, 56 RBIs and a 1.050 OPS in 55 games, earning him the franchise’s Paul Owens Award as minor-league player of the year.
 
Knapp tapered off at Triple A last season. He hit .266 with eight homers, 46 RBIs and a .719 OPS over a full season. Knapp’s day last summer typically started with defensive work at 1:30 in the afternoon.
 
“I would get my hitting in, but I don’t think there was as much of a focus on it as there was the year before,” he said. “I do think last year I took a real step forward defensively, especially in the second half of the year. I kind of had a tough first half, but the second half I really honed in on the defensive part, blocking and throwing mostly, just kind of keeping everything in front and shutting down the running game.”

A lot of eyes will be on Knapp when the exhibition games start next week.
 
“We need to find out if he’s capable of doing it,” Mackanin said. “Catching is a defensive-oriented position. We need good defense. We need good game calling, a catcher who can handle pitchers, and that’s what we’re going to be looking at from a guy like Knapp as well as the other guys. We’re going to take a good long look at that.
 
“He’s definitely in the mix. I want to play him a lot to see him. We all want to see what he can do offensively and defensively. From what I’ve been told he’s shown a lot of improvement and we’re going to look for that. We’re looking for the 25 best men. There’s a good chance he might be one of them.”
 
Knapp is determined to show that he is.
 
“It’s open for someone to go take it and I want to be that guy,” he said.