If you haven't been paying attention, No. 10 Villanova is really good at basketball right now

If you haven't been paying attention, No. 10 Villanova is really good at basketball right now

They're so good, they miraculously found -- and then won -- the lost city of Atlantis. ... We're pretty sure. (USA Today Images)

Coming into the season, this Sunday’s Villanova-La Salle game figured to be a clash between the city’s two best teams, with the Explorers -- coming off a Sweet 16 berth in 2012-13 -- maybe even holding the slight edge.

But after a month-and-a-half, one thing has become clear: Villanova is by far the best team in the city… and perhaps one of the best teams in the nation.

Just take a look at some of the numbers:

  • The Wildcats are unbeaten in nine games, thumping teams by an average of 18 points per game
  • They beat two nationally ranked teams – then-No. 2 Kansas and then-No. 13 Iowa – away from home (at a neutral site)
  • They rank fifth in the Pomeroy Ratings, seventh in the RPI and 10th in the AP poll, out of 351 Division 1 teams
  • JayVaughn Pinkston has emerged as one of the country’s most efficient players, scoring 17.8 points per game on 52 percent field goal shooting, while attempting more than eight free throws per contest
  • Unlike many other powerhouse programs that reel in one-and-done players, Villanova has a reliable star senior in James Bell, who’s slowly improved every season and is now averaging 17.6 points per game in his final year
  • Transfer Dylan Ennis and junior Darrun Hilliard are both shooting over 40 percent from three, making up for the shooting struggles of Ryan Arcidiacono, who has still buried some clutch shots and only figures to get better as the year progresses
  • Freshmen Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins are giving Jay Wright valuable depth, combining for 12 points in 34 minutes per game
  • The Wildcats have been excellent at both taking care of  and sharing the ball, as evidenced by their turnover margin (plus-3.9 per game, 31st in the nation) and their assists per game (16.7, 20th in the nation)
  • They’re holding opponents to 37.8 percent field goal percentage (22nd in the nation)

There are other stats that paint an impressive picture of Villanova’s start, but perhaps nothing has been as telling as the Wildcats’ last two Big 5 games. This past Saturday, Villanova went into tiny Hagan Arena and stomped a solid St. Joe’s team by 30, pouring in a whopping 59 points in the second half. Three days before that, in their Big 5 opener, the Wildcats cruised past Penn by 23 points despite Jay Wright saying that the Quakers played harder and executed better. (Wright has a habit of gushing about the team he just destroyed, but it’s still a good sign when a team can sleepwalk to an victory over a team they should easily beat.)

At this point, it’s hard not to think of La Salle as being anything but a big underdog against Villanova, especially on the road. And considering that the new Big East isn’t nearly as good as the old Big East (perhaps not even as good as the Atlantic 10?), the Wildcats will probably be favored for most of their games from here on out, barring a showdown at Syracuse on Dec. 28.

If the Wildcats can beat the Orange and then follow that up with a New Year’s Eve win over Butler, Villanova might very well go into 2014 not only as the favorite to win the Big East but as a legitimate Final Four contender.

Instant Replay: Phillies 4, Marlins 0

Instant Replay: Phillies 4, Marlins 0

BOX SCORE

MIAMI — Jeremy Hellickson continued to enhance his trade value and Tommy Joseph had the big hit in the Phillies’ 4-0 win over the Miami Marlins on Monday night.

Hellickson shut down the Marlins for the second time in a week. The next time he pitches, it could be for them. The Marlins are one of the teams interested in the veteran right-hander. Scouts from several other contending teams were in attendance for Hellickson’s strong outing.

Joseph’s two-out double in the top of the eighth broke a scoreless tie.

Phillies pitching held the Marlins to two hits. The Phils have 11 shutouts this season.

Starting pitching report
Hellickson pitched six scoreless innings and gave up just a hit and a walk while striking out one. He exited for a pinch-hitter after just 70 pitches. The right-hander has pitched 14 innings and allowed just one run in his last two starts, both against the Marlins. He has lowered his season ERA to 3.65.

Miami’s Jarred Cosart came up from Triple A and pitched five scoreless innings. However, he threw 92 pitches. He allowed three hits, a walk and struck out one.

Bullpen report 
Trade candidate David Hernandez pitched a strong seventh inning for the Phils, picking up the win. Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez closed it out.

Miami right-hander Kyle Barraclough came up big in the top of the seventh inning. He struck out Cody Asche, Peter Bourjos and pinch-hitter Ryan Howard with runners on second and third to preserve a 0-0 tie.

Marlins right-hander Fernando Rodney struck out the first two batters in the eighth then gave up a four-pitch walk to Maikel Franco before Joseph’s two-out double delivered the game’s first run.

Rodney took the loss.

A.J. Ramos was charged with three runs in the ninth, two unearned.

At the plate
The Phillies survived 13 strikeouts, a 1-for-9 performance with runners in scoring position and 11 men left on base to score the win.

The Phils had just six hits. Joseph had a pair of them and now has 25 RBIs in 54 games.

Cesar Hernandez gave the Phils some cushion with an RBI single in the top of the ninth. Miami’s defense fell apart after that and the Phils scored two more runs to put the game away.

Asche had a hit to break an 0-for-26 skid. Bourjos is 0 for his last 17.

Trade talk
Andres Blanco is out for six weeks so he’s no longer a trade candidate, but others are (see story).

Up next
Jerad Eickhoff (6-11, 3.98) pitches against Miami right-hander Tom Koehler (7-8, 4.42) on Tuesday night. Koehler pitched eight innings of two-run ball in beating the Phillies last week at Citizens Bank Park.

NBA Notes: Dion Waiters signs 1-year deal with Heat

NBA Notes: Dion Waiters signs 1-year deal with Heat

Two people with knowledge of the situation tell The Associated Press that the Miami Heat have agreed to terms on a one-year deal with free agent guard Dion Waiters.

The two sides came to agreement on Monday. Waiters will make $2.9 million. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because the team has not announced the deal.

Waiters averaged 9.8 points for the Oklahoma City Thunder last year, but had several big games in the playoffs. He played particularly well against Dallas and San Antonio in the playoffs before his role was reduced in the seven-game loss to the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals.

Waiters will give the Heat another scorer off the bench (see full story).

Blazers: C.J. McCullom inked to four-year extension
PORTLAND, Ore. -- A person familiar with the deal confirms that guard CJ McCollum has agreed to a four-year, $106 million contract extension with the Portland Trail Blazers.

The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity on Monday because the deal hadn't been formally announced by the team. It was first reported by Yahoo Sports.

McCollum, who was named the NBA's Most Improved Player, averaged 20.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists for the Blazers during the regular season. He raised his scoring average by more than 14 points over the previous season.

As the 10th overall pick for the Blazers in the 2013 draft, McCollum bided his time on the bench for his first two seasons. He became a starter in the backcourt with Damian Lillard last season after four of the team's starters departed in the offseason (see full story).

Michael Jordan donates $2 million to ease racial tensions
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Michael Jordan is trying to help ease tension between African-Americans and law enforcement.

The NBA great and Charlotte Hornets owner said Monday he's giving $1 million to the Institute for Community-Police Relations and $1 million to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. The aim is to help build trust following several shootings around the country.

Jordan says in a statement to The Associated Press on Monday that "as a proud American, a father who lost his own dad in a senseless act of violence, and a black man, I have been deeply troubled by the deaths of African-Americans at the hands of law enforcement and angered by the cowardly and hateful targeting and killing of police officers," (see full story).

Phillies Phodder: On injuries, trade possibilities, more roster moves

Phillies Phodder: On injuries, trade possibilities, more roster moves

MIAMI — The Phillies will be without their best utility man and bat off the bench for at least six weeks.

Andres Blanco needs surgery to repair his broken left index finger. He suffered the injury making a tag play at third base during Sunday’s game in Pittsburgh. According to manager Pete Mackanin, Blanco will have a pin inserted in the finger during surgery on Wednesday.

“That’s a shame,” said Mackanin, who has called Blanco the best utility man he’s seen in his 47 years in pro baseball. “He was one of our best players. Maybe in six weeks he can come back. But it’s going to be a while.”

With the trade deadline a week away, Blanco would have been a nice fit on some contending teams. Now, he will stay put. 

Pitcher Jeremy Hellickson and outfielder Peter Bourjos remain strong trade possibilities. Hellickson started Monday night against the Marlins, who are interested in his services. A source confirmed a FOX Sports report that the Phillies have been scouting the low levels of the Marlins farm system in preparation for a potential deal (see story). The Marlins are considering other pitchers, as well. Some industry insiders view Hellickson and Bourjos as backup targets for teams looking for pitching and outfield help. Translation, the fate of bigger names on the trade market might have to shake out before the Phillies know if they can strike a deal. The trade deadline is next Monday.

The Phillies recalled infielder Taylor Featherston from Triple A to take Blanco’s roster spot (see story).

Mackanin gave a succinct answer when asked whether the team considered bringing up top prospect J.P. Crawford.

“None,” he said “No talk about him.”

Crawford could still see time in the majors later this season.

The Phillies are expected to make another roster move later this week when Aaron Altherr’s minor-league rehab assignment expires after Wednesday’s game. Altherr, who suffered a wrist injury that required surgery in March, is playing at Triple A. The Phillies could bring him up Thursday. To clear a roster spot for Altherr, the Phils could trade Bourjos or subtract a player such as seldom-used Jimmy Paredes.

Altherr was on target to be a starter in the Phillies outfield before he went down in spring training. He will play a corner outfield spot when he arrives.

“I'm sure he'll be here sooner rather than later,” Mackanin said. “I'm anxious to see him. He's important for us to get a good look at. I'd like to see two months' worth if I could.”