Saturday Reads: SLAMMED? Asante's Decline? Voracek's Value? Why a 'Gratton' Trade? Union Dues and Player Ratings? Phillies Food?

Saturday Reads: SLAMMED? Asante's Decline? Voracek's Value? Why a 'Gratton' Trade? Union Dues and Player Ratings? Phillies Food?

What we're reading this morning instead of doing something more productive. Sports, music, and food... 
Phillies...The Phils-Giants series got off to a rough start last night, allowing Tim Lincecum to improve his gaudy 2012 ERA while also giving up a decisive, gut-punching grand slam in a 7-2 loss. Vance Worley looked amazing for a stretch that included five straight strikeouts and retiring 11 batters in a row and 12 of the first 13 he faced. But things started to come apart in the fifth, then exploded in the sixth when Brandon Crawford cleared the bases with a salami to right. Even Eli Whiteside had an RBI double. The Phils' two runs came when Lincecum slipped and fell with Shane Victorino on third, balking him in, and when Ryan Howard launched his second homer of the season. Señor Finger has more on the game and its place in the 2012 Phillies timeline... [CSNPhilly
With the trade deadline still looming, we remain in "Who's staying, who's going?" mode... John Stolnis at That Ball's Outta Here weighs in with his guesses and reasoning behind who the Phils  will trade and who they'll hang onto. [TBOH]
Eagles...Switching gears to the Birds, an entry posted yesterday by Jeff McLane had some interesting nuggets in it. McLane was emptying out his notebook in two parts, both worth a read. In the second, he talks Mike Kafka's slight uptick in velocity, Nick Foles' hand positioning, DJacc and JMac, and perhaps of most interest—DRC and Asante. McLane refers to Andy Reid's belief that Asante was in "steep decline," which is surprising in two ways to me. First, that Reid felt that way about a guy who appeared to have a pretty damn good season, and second that he let it get into the press. On DRC, McLane gets into his lack of a contract after this season and how the Eagles could already be planning for life without him, even before 2013. [Philly.com / Birds Eye View
Pro Football Talk places the Birds at 8th in their power rankings. Click the link for their reasoning. [PFT
Flyers...The entire Flyers world feels like it's in a holding pattern as we await David Poile and the Nashville Predators' decision on whether to match the Flyers' massive offer sheet signing of Shea Weber. While we wait, so does Jake Voracek, the Flyers' own restricted free agent (along with Marc-Andre Bourdon). Vorch's next contract won't be an easy one to nail, as Bill Meltzer describes this morning. What do you think the Flyers should be targeting for a Voracek deal? [Hockey Buzz (requisite autoplay video ad warning)] 
One question that keeps coming up is that of whether the Flyers and Preds will arrange a "Gratton" trade, whereby something other than the mandated four first rounders goes to Nashville in exchange for Poile not matching the offer. One reason that doesn't make a lot of sense on the surface is the growing suspicion that the Predators don't have the cash to sign Weber to the offer the Flyers arranged with him. So why would the Flyers offer them players from their roster? BSH takes a look at three possible reasons. [Broad Street Hockey
If they want to make any more moves in addition to adding Weber's salary (say, signing Shane Doan...), the Flyers might need to shed some loot...
Union...According to Chester mayor John Linder, the Philadelphia Union missed a deadline for paying the 2012 installment of their agreed-upon annual $500,000 payment in lieu of property taxes, and although 2011 is paid off, there appears to be a discrepancy as to the 2010 figure. With a massive change in Chester city politics and a new entity like a stadium and its pro soccer team all coming at once, there were bound to be some disagreements. The good news is, the two sides appear to be talking at the negotiating table on both the annual payments and proposed entertainment and parking taxes, and not just sending messages through the press. [Daily News
Jon Tannenwald and Chad Graff sat down with MLS Commish Don Garber on the All-Star Game coming to PPL Park, perhaps earlier than many would have expected, and certainly something we're really looking forward to next week. Tickets hit my mailbox yesterday… [The Goalkeeper
As for the action on the pitch, Philly Soccer Page has an excellent breakdown of the Union players over the season to date in their midseason player ratings. You may or may not be surprised to see who their lowest-rated midfielder is… [Philly Soccer Page
And finally, Kerith Gabriel catches up with Sebastien Le Toux, on what it will be like to face the Union this afternoon wearing the dirty pink cow jersey of his new club, Red Bull New York (slightly paraphrased). [Daily News]
Sixers...After their personnel changes, are the Sixers any better than they were last year? I vote we ask Sir Charles. In fact, I vote we always ask Sir Charles when we're not sure of something. [CSN Philly
Wizards/Caps owner Ted Leonsis describes former Wiz and new Sixers gunner Nick Young as someone who "wanted stats" and not exactly a team player. The quote comes on page 3 of this interview, which is a pretty good read. [WaPo]
Food...Back in 2009, we read about baseball teams moving to get rid of all the junk food that was usually found in clubhouses. The Phillies were among that wave, which continues these days. M
y man Dom at Cocina Domenico recently spoke with Dana Gollotto, a chef and dietitian from South Philly who prepares meals for the Phillies, among others. Hook a brother up with some chocolate protein balls? Ya know, for after my "workouts." [Cucina Domenico
Pretty cool local food event going on at The Shambles at New Market (Headhouse Square, 2nd & Lombard) this evening, a collaborative effort from Slow Food Philly and Farm to City called "Good Food, Good Beer and the Rest Is History." Gourmet food trucks meet local breweries Victory, Philadelphia Brewing Company, Stoudts, and Earth Bread + Brewery. $30-$35 to get your grub & drink on. [Slow Food Philadelphia
Music...Ween fan? Check out mxdwn's interview with Mickey Melchiondo, where he talks about the I-hope-only-temporary "end" of the band, everything-fishing in America, changes in the music industry, and how he listens to sports talk radio instead of music. [mxdwn
Chili Peppers fan? Flea has a new EP available for download in a pay-what-you-will offering. Proceeds will benefit the Silverlake Conservatory of Music. Download Helen Burns here, and read about it at Rolling Stone. [Rolling Stone]  
And some War On Drugs:

Fastbreak Friday: No. 2 Villanova hopes to rebound vs. No. 23 Creighton

Fastbreak Friday: No. 2 Villanova hopes to rebound vs. No. 23 Creighton

CSN anchor/reporter Amy Fadool and producer Sean Kane get you set for all of the weekend's local college basketball games with Fastbreak Friday. Look for this column every Friday during the college basketball season.

No. 23 Creighton (22-6, 9-6 Big East) at No. 2 Villanova (26-3, 13-3 Big East), Saturday, 3 p.m.
SK: Second-ranked Villanova takes another crack at securing a fourth straight outright Big East regular season championship on Saturday against No. 23 Creighton. The Wildcats couldn't capitalize on their first opportunity to do so, losing 74-66 to Butler on Wednesday. The loss snapped Villanova's 48-game win streak at the Pavilion, a run of success that dated back to February of 2013. 

Despite the setback, Villanova just needs one win in its final two games to clinch the outright league title as well as the accompanying top seed in the Big East Tournament in two weeks. The Wildcats also remain in prime position to earn the No. 1 seed in the East Region of the NCAA Tournament.

But there is cause for concern -- namely, the absence of senior forward Darryl Reynolds. A rib injury has sidelined Reynolds for each of the last four games, forcing Jay Wright to play with essentially a six-man rotation. Freshman forward Dylan Painter has seen spot minutes but played just one minute Wednesday against Butler. As a result, three Wildcats -- Josh Hart, Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges -- played 37 minutes in the loss. 

Playing with a six-man rotation can wear a team down eventually. Particularly a six-man rotation with no players taller than 6-6. And there's no denying Villanova looked gassed in the second half against Butler. Their offensive execution was uncharacteristically sloppy and defensively they allowed Butler far too many open looks at the basket. The Wildcats have survived this season without freshman big man Omari Spellman (academically ineligible) and junior guard Phil Booth (knee injury), but Reynolds' absence is beginning to catch up with them. 

Reynolds will once again be a game-time decision for Saturday's game against Creighton. It will be Senior Day, so Reynolds will undoubtedly be eager to take the Pavilion floor one last time with classmates Hart and Kris Jenkins. Meanwhile, Hart and Jenkins will be eager to atone for lackluster performances against Butler. Hart finished 7 of 18 from the field and 0 for 4 from the foul line, while Jenkins went 1 for 8 overall and 1 for 5 from three-point range.

The good news for Villanova continues to be the play of sophomore Jalen Brunson, who is performing as well as any point guard in the country. Brunson scored a game-high 24 points on 9-of-13 shooting against Butler and is averaging 20.2 points in his last four games. He scored a career-high 27 points at Creighton on New Year's Eve.   

Look for Brunson to keep rolling on Saturday, and get some help from Hart and Jenkins on Senior Day. The Villanova seniors still haven't lost two games in a row in their careers. That shouldn't change on Saturday.

Villanova 84, Creighton 72

La Salle (14-12, 8-7 A-10) at Massachusetts (13-15, 3-12 A-10), Sunday, 1 p.m.
AF:
The Explorers book end their month of February with UMass. They will once again face the Minutemen, a team they beat by 10 points at home on Feb. 1. In that game, it took a combined 49-point effort from Jordan Price and B.J. Johnson to put the game away. At the time, that put La Salle in the upper quarter of the Atlantic 10 standings at 6-3. But this month has not been too kind to Dr. John Giannini's team. Losses to Saint Bonaventure, Richmond and George Mason have seen La Salle slip down to the middle of the pack in the conference. 

But there are still three games to play and the A10 tournament. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying the Explorers can run the table into the NCAA Tournament, but they can salvage a few wins and end a once-promising season on a high note. 

Meanwhile, UMass has lost eight of its last 10 games and while the only wins in that span came against a Philadelphia team, it was not La Salle but St. Joe's. In their previous meeting with the Explorers, the Minutemen shot very well, better than 55 percent from the field, including five three-pointers, in the first half to jump out to a lead. So La Salle needs to guard against another hot start in Amherst. 

I would like to see more from Price too. This team, full of transfers, has seemed to get away from Price. It could be because his role as the leading scorer or the best player on the team has been taken over, but Price needs to show that he can still score the ball effectively like he did last season. 

You never know which La Salle team will show up. Will it be the one who beat Rhode Island on the road, or the one who lost to St. Joseph's? I'm going with road warriors. 

La Salle 76, UMass 66

Tulane (5-22, 2-13 AAC) at Temple (14-15, 5-11 AAC), Saturday, 12 p.m.
SK:
The hits just keep coming for Temple. The Owls lost each of their last two games in the final minute, or in the case of Sunday's loss to UConn -- the final seconds. Temple has lost three straight and has lost 11 of its last 16 games. Fortunately, a visit from Tulane on Saturday offers a much-needed chance for the Owls to regain some positive vibes. The Green Wave has just five wins all season and are 2-13 in conference play. 

Temple handed Tulane a 79-71 win back in late January behind 18 points from freshman guard Quinton Rose, who was coming off the bench at the time. Rose has since moved into the starting lineup and the results have been tangible. He's averaging better than 12 points in his last five games to boost his season average to an even 10 points. Meanwhile, Obi Enechionyia continued his uneven season over the course of the last two games -- following up a two-point outing against UConn with a team-high 17 points on Wednesday against UCF.

I'd be surprised if Enechionyia and Temple don't take out their frustration on Tulane on Saturday. The Green Wave has all of two wins since Dec. 10. They're not getting one at the Owls' expense this weekend. 

Temple 75, Tulane 60

Saint Joseph's (10-17, 3-12 A-10) at Saint Louis (9-19, 4-11 A-10), Saturday, 4:30 p.m.
AF:
 Has there been a team more snake bitten in one season? Former Drexel coach Bruiser Flint might tell you yes, but even he didn't have to suffer through three players out for the season, two of them leading scorers at the time of injury. 

The Hawks have been decimated by devastating, season-ending injuries. But the band must play on. Phil Martelli will be the first one to tell you that. So as SJU winds down it season, the coach, players and fans alike are looking for positives. And one of those is the playing time opportunity the injuries have bestowed upon younger members of the roster. Freshman Charlie Brown and sophomore Chris Clover have seen their roles increased and that should pay dividends for the Hawks in the future

Back to the here and now, it's a visit to Saint Louis this weekend. And pretty much the only reason the Billikens have been in the national news this season was because of a stolen bus. Tough times out in Saint Louis for a program that was once seen, under Rick Majerus, as a rising star among the mid-majors. Travis Ford, the former Oklahoma State coach has a chance to get their program back on the map, for something other than a drunk bus driver that tried to make off with their gear and bus. 

For the Hawks, having James Demery and Brown, the two remaining double-digit scorers still healthy, step up and take the reigns is a positive sign. In their recent loss to Saint Bonaventure, Demery poured in 21. Brown struggled a bit scoring, but was effective on the defensive end. The Hawks just didn't have enough to stop a guy like the Bonnies' Matt Mobley on a career night, but still only lost by six. 

I know they are down players on the roster. I know that turnovers have plagued them in close games. I know their shooting percentage has been down. But I think the Hawks could get a win this weekend on the road. Call me crazy, but I like "the little engine that could" mentality of this team right now. 

St. Joe's 72, Saint Louis 70

Pennsylvania (11-12, 4-6 Ivy) at Cornell (7-18, 3-7 Ivy), Friday, 7 p.m.
Pennsylvania (11-12, 4-6 Ivy) at Columbia (10-13, 4-6 Ivy), Saturday, 7 p.m.
SK:
Don't look now... but here come the Penn Quakers, winners of four straight following an 0-6 start in conference play. Steve Donahue's team isn't just winning, they've been steamrolling the competition. Penn has won its last four games by an average of just under 17 points. As a result, the Quakers have moved into a tie for fourth place in the conference with a 4-6 record against Ivy League opponents. 

In previous years, Penn's fourth-place standing in the conference wouldn't have mattered much. Until this season, the Ivy League did not have a conference tournament and would simply send its regular season champion to the NCAA Tournament. This year that would have likely been Princeton, which has a perfect 10-0 league record and a two-game lead over second place Harvard. But times have changed. The first ever Ivy League Tournament will be played next month, with the top four teams squaring off at the Palestra for the right to earn the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. So not only does Penn have a shot at playing their way into the Big Dance, they could potentially do so with a homecourt advantage. 

But first things first. Penn hits the road this weekend to visit Cornell on Friday and Columbia on Saturday, a pair of teams the Quakers beat two weeks ago. Things figure to be tougher on the road, but I'm not betting against this resurgent Penn team. They'll be focused on improving their chances of advancing to postseason play -- particularly against Columbia, who is tied with Penn for fourth place in the conference. 

Expect more big things from freshman guard Ryan Betley. The Downingtown native is averaging a shade under 21 points in his last three games and has given the Quakers a sorely needed consistent perimeter threat to complement freshman big man AJ Brodeur. Betley, Brodeur and company will creep closer to an invitation to the Ivy League Tournament with a pair of wins this weekend.

Penn 71, Cornell 66
Penn 73, Columbia 70

Drexel (9-21, 3-14 CAA) at Charleston (22-8, 13-4 CAA), Saturday, 5 p.m.
AF:
 This is it for the Drexel Dragons. Senior day earlier this week wrapped up the home portion of the schedule. But it was not a happy send off as JMU spoiled the seniors final game at the DAC, winning by six. Once again, however, a freshman stole the show for Zach Spiker's group. Kurk Lee led the Dragons with 18 points. He's really coming into his own, both shooting and defensively. Lee has shown range as well, making four three-pointers in that loss to the Dukes and shooting 50 percent from the field. 

Next up, a tough ending on a even tougher season. A visit with Charleston, who has kept pace with conference leader UNCW. If you're looking for a fun, sleeper team in the NCAA Tournament, do yourself a favor and tune in for the CAA title game. These two are on a collision course and are playing great right now. One of the two will be in the NCAA tournament and providing they aren't a 16-seed, could win their first round matchup. 

This one won't be pretty for Drexel. It's Charleston's senior day and the Cougars are looking to go into the CAA tournament with momentum.   

Charleston 83, Drexel 65

Prediction Records
Sean Kane: 25-10
Amy Fadool: 22-13

Sixers-Wizards 5 things: Refresh and reset after trade deadline

Sixers-Wizards 5 things: Refresh and reset after trade deadline

The Sixers (21-35) return from the All-Star break against the Washington Wizards (34-21) at the Wells Fargo Center on Friday (7 p.m./CSN, CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports app).

Let’s take a closer look at the matchup:

1. Refresh and reset
The dust from the NBA trade deadline has settled and, as expected, the Sixers look a bit different. Perhaps what wasn’t expected: the pieces of the Sixers that changed.

Out are Ersan Ilyasova and Nerlens Noel. In are Justin Anderson, Tiago Splitter (injured all season, so not really), Andrew Bogut (buyout coming in …) and an array of draft picks.

You can argue for days about the long-term implications of the Sixers’ trades, but let’s focus on the here and now. The team lost a scoring punch in Ilyasova (14.8 points per game). However, Ilyasova’s offense has dipped drastically in recent games, which coincided with a strong push on that end by rookie Dario Saric (see story).

In Noel, the Sixers parted with a defensive presence and finisher at the rim. They’ll regain the defense in a different form with Anderson’s ability to lock down on swingmen (see story).

We’ve got 26 games to see how it plays out, starting with tonight against the Wizards.

2. Just kidding, Jah
It’s been an eventful few weeks for Jahlil Okafor to say the least.

The big man went from multiple DNP-CDs to back in the starting lineup to a reserve role and even sent home amid trade rumors. Okafor eventually rejoined the team as potential deals fizzled, but was still expected to be shipped at the deadline.

Then the deadline came and went with Okafor still on the roster.

With Noel traded and Joel Embiid still sidelined because of an injured knee (see story), Okafor should be in the starting lineup. That will give the second-year center the opportunity to improve on his 11.4 points and 4.8 rebounds averages and perhaps improve on that once-high trade stock.

3. Can you Beal it?
John Wall gets the attention when it comes to the Wizards and rightfully so. The guard is a four-time All-Star and one of the best floor generals in the entire league.

However, the reason the Wiz have been able to rise to No. 3 in the Eastern Conference at this point is the play of Bradley Beal.

Beal has been on an absolute tear this season. The two-guard is averaging a career-high 22.2 points per game on 47.3 percent shooting from the field and 40.2 percent from three-point range. He’s also putting up 3.7 assists, 2.9 rebounds and 1.0 steal per game.

Any hope the Sixers have of knocking off the Wizards will have to start with an attempt to at least slow down Beal and Wall.

4. Injuries
Embiid (knee), Splitter (calf), Ben Simmons (foot) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are out for the Sixers.

The Wizards have no players listed on the injury report.

5. This and that
• The Sixers have lost seven of the their last eight games against the Wizards.

• The Sixers weren’t the only team to pull off a deadline trade. The Wizards acquired Bojan Bogdanovic and Chris McCullough from the Brooklyn Nets.

• Okafor scored a season-high 26 points with nine rebounds in the Sixers’ last meeting with the Wizards, a 109-93 loss on Jan. 14.

• Wall has averaged 19.3 points, 9.0 assists and 5.2 rebounds agains the Sixers during his career.