Killer Night for Philadelphia Basketball...Unless You're Villanova

Killer Night for Philadelphia Basketball...Unless You're Villanova

If you're anything like me, one television set simply wasn't going to cut it last night. From the Flyers to Sixers to Explorers to Hawks to Quakers to Wildcats, only a trip to Kulp's man cave was going to do Tuesday night's onslaught of action any justice.

Though the title above ignores Penn's 70-58 loss to Princeton, I plead for understanding—I was going for dramatic effect. Anyway, pettiness aside, last night was just a terrific night to be a basketball fan. Each game was replete with last second heroics, attempted buzzer beaters, overtime and, oh yeah, more overtime. Tournament recaps and previews for all our Big 5 boys after the jump...

Villanova Wildcats:

The last month has not been kind to the Wildcats, and last night's defeat at the hands of South Florida wrapped up a bad end to what has been thus far a disappointing season for the "Nation."

The Cat's have lost their last five in a row and seven of their last ten. The good news for coach Jay Wright and company is that this is really just sort of a blip on the radar. It's not like they're developing any sort of pattern. I mean, had they totally tanked and dropped four of their last six and been bounced in their first conference tourney game at MSG last season, then that would really be something to talk about. 

Okay, okay, I get it. You've been banged up. Yarou's bandage was a few inches from looking like an eye patch and the rest of the team has been fighting off nagging injuries for weeks. You're a lock for the big dance. Maybe you've even talked yourself into this early loss being a good thing. Maybe you're not worried.

Still, I'd be. They've fallen out of the Top 25; and, with the milieu of  Big East teams headed to the tournament alongside the nosedive the 'Cats have taken over the last month, it isn't unthinkable to see Nova drop further down the bracket than their (unofficial) #27 ranking would otherwise put them if the committee just stacked teams in order. Reasonable prediction: 'Nova is ripe for 6-11/7-10 upset ouster. I look forward to your comments. On with the show...

La Salle Explorers:

The  La Salle Explorers went and proved me (and a lot of other folks) wrong with their 75-73 double overtime win at St. Bonaventure last night. Though Dr G's squad started out hot with a 13-4 run, they would have to overcome two sizable deficits to qualify for the Boardwalk Hall rounds of the Atlantic 10 Tournament.

Down fourteen at the half and later trailing by seven with just 46 seconds remaining in the first period of overtime, La Salle found a way to press on and claim victory on a made Steve Weingarten 3-pointer in the waining moments of double OT. For more on the unlikely hero, check out this cool piece from the Inqy about Weingarten's story as a walk-on and coach Giannini's initial skepticism of his ability to play at the D-I level:

"It's an amazing story," said Giannini of Weingarten, who came to the Explorers in 2007 at Division III Connecticut College. "I swore to him that the chances of him ever playing or getting a scholarship were very slim." 

Not found in that story is the tale of the oppositely high-touted, yet more highly-recruited Aaric Murray, who happened to let the Bonaventure chants of "Muurrrrrrraaaayyyy" get the best of him in the first extra session. The La Salle big man had been yapping at the officials all night before they finally gave up and issued an overtime technical. Truly stunning.

La Salle advances to Atlantic City where they will take on the  #2-seeded Temple University Owls Friday night at 6:30 p.m. Keep reading/scrolling for an update on the Owls below.

Penn Quakers:

Things are unfortunately done for Penn fans after their loss to Princeton last evening. As such, there really isn't much to say here. What I will say is that Jerome Allen should commended for the job he did in turning this program around from the mess it was in when he took over.

I had the opportunity to see the Quakers play a few times this season. They gave my Owls a pretty good game back in January and defeated the St. Joseph's Hawks in a "this is our house" Palestra match up just a week later.

Losing Bernadini and Eggleston to graduation won't be easy, but another of year of Rosen at the point could mean good things. Personally, I'm pulling for Jerome. Plus, he rocks such sweet looks on the floor. Move over, Jay; your three-piece suit is starting to look a little dated.

St. Joseph's Hawks:

 Speaking of dated, you can't tell me Phil Martelli wasn't positively ecstatic after his team's win over George Washington at the Smith Center last night. Phil's been facing a barrage of criticism all year to the point where it started to look a little morbid for his program's future.

The upside is that there is absolutely no question that the young team has talent. Jones, Galloway and Aiken are solid pieces to build around and should, hopefully for Phil, get the program heading back in the right direction.

As for last night, a win on the road over GW is nothing to scoff at. The Colonials, like the majority of A-10 teams, have a history of playing well in their own building. Freshman revelation Langston Galloway lead the way with 15, helping St. Joe advance to Atlantic City for a date with the #1-seed Xavier Musketeers #4 Duquesne Dukes (Thanks to commenter "Hone" for the correction. Forgot the tourney doesn't re-seed.)

Temple University Owls:

The Owls are enjoying some much deserved time off after two injuries have forced them to play an undersized seven-man rotation for the last three weeks.

Much like Villanova, the Owls should be a lock for the tournament. What could drastically change over the next week, however, is just where they will fall in the bracket. In an interview with W.H.I.P. Temple Student Radio last Thursday, ESPN bracketologist and local legend Joe Lunardi suggested that the Owls could wind up anywhere from #6-10 seed depending on their play this weekend. But, neither he nor Dick Jerardi believe the Owls have enough in the tank with only seven guys to rip off three wins in three days. With Scootie Randall more than likely unavailable and Michael Eric lost for the season, winning a fourth-straight A-10 title might be a little too much to ask for this group of Owls.

Still, they will take their first step toward that goal Friday night against La Salle, a rematch of the two teams' final regular season game in which the Owls won by out-of-character final score of 90-82.

I'm headed down to Atlantic City this weekend to cover the action. Check back over the next few days for live reports from the A-10 tourney. For any of you who are considering making the short trip over the bridge and down the expressway,  Boardwalk Hall is such a spectacularly unique venue to watch a game. You won't be disappointed.

So, who's buying a strip and staring at this bad boy all weekend?

(Photo by Ron Cortes/Daily News)

Frank Reich learning from Doug Pederson, adjusting to new system with Eagles

Frank Reich learning from Doug Pederson, adjusting to new system with Eagles

Despite rain forcing the Eagles’ first full-squad practice of training camp inside, new offensive coordinator Frank Reich liked what he saw out of his offense.
 
Speaking to reporters after practice at the NovaCare Complex on Thursday, Reich was pleased with how the offense’s preparation off the field translated during practice.
 
“Overall, what we’re happy about is how you take it from the meeting room to the field and minimize the errors. Make plays that are there,” Reich said. “There were very few mental errors. [The offense] looked sharp today.”
 
Before coming to Philadelphia this offseason, Reich spent the past two seasons as the Chargers’ offensive coordinator.
 
Joining a new coaching staff means learning a new system, and Reich has noticed some unique aspects of head coach Doug Pederson’s offensive attack.
 
“This West Coast-hybrid system obviously has a very long winning track record,” Reich said. “How it’s adapted in the run game now with some of the zone-read stuff and all the different ways you can scheme wide receiver throws, when you get a heavy box, I think that’s what Doug did really well in Kansas City.
 
“Of course, I went up against it six times in three years playing against that team (with the Chargers), so I saw it firsthand,” Reich said. “It’s fun now to be on the other side of that.”
 
Now working alongside Pederson, Reich thinks what the Eagles were able to do this offseason to build a talented roster was huge for what they’re trying to accomplish.
 
“Every time we had a chance to get something done from a personnel standpoint, we got it done," Reich said. "So that fires you up as a coach."

One of those moves was trading up to draft quarterback Carson Wentz with the second overall pick in April’s draft. Although he was running the third-team offense Thursday (see Day 4 notes), Wentz stood out, making some good throws and ending the day with a deep completion across the field.
 
Reich took notice and was encouraged by the rookie’s performance, but he and the rest of the Eagles’ coaching staff are focused on the team as a whole as opposed to just one player.
 
“We’re eager to see how we develop as a team first and foremost, and certainly that’s going to include great individual performances and days,” Reich said.
 
With a new coaching staff in place, Reich isn’t the only one adjusting to a new situation. Starting quarterback Sam Bradford, who had to learn former head coach Chip Kelly’s system last season, is getting used to Pederson’s offense this time around.
 
“I’ve seen a lot of football, I’ve seen a lot of different systems,” Bradford said after practice Thursday. “Obviously, this one’s new. It’s different, but I think there’s some carryover from some past systems that I’ve been in, so it’s nice to know that everything isn’t brand new and there are some things that are familiar.”
 
Bradford and Wentz are adapting together to the Eagles' new offense. Fellow quarterback Chase Daniel is more familiar with it, having studied and played in Pederson’s offense with the Chiefs. But Reich knows it’s been a learning process for the Eagles’ quarterback group.
 
“The guys have learned it real fast, they’ve studied it hard and they feed off of each other. They challenge each other,” he said. “I give them a lot of credit, they’ve picked it up very quickly.”
 
In terms of fulfilling his own role as a coach on Pederson’s staff, Reich is dedicated to going along with how Pederson runs the team.
 
“You commit yourself to whatever way the head coach wants to do it,” Reich said. “It’s been a really good thing for me as a coach learning from him.”

Jon Dorenbos far more than just Eagles' long snapper

Jon Dorenbos far more than just Eagles' long snapper

Most long snappers in the NFL are pretty anonymous.

Mike Bartrum spent seven years at that position for the Eagles with very little fanfare.

Over the last few weeks, Jon Dorenbos has turned himself into something much more than a football player, let alone a long snapper. Dorenbos is now a celebrity.

Thanks to a successful stint on the NBC show America's Got Talent, Dorenbos has shown off his ability as a magician. With another mind-blowing trick on Tuesday night's show, it was announced on Wednesday's results show that Dorenbos has made it to the semifinals. 

With each passing stage, Dorenbos gets closer to the $1 million grand prize — but not without a few anxious moments.

"It's a waiting game," Dorenbos said Thursday of the judges determining his fate. "Because it's a variety show there's a lot of completely different acts. I think the important thing is, at least for me, is don't try to compete with them. Be who you are and focus more on what makes you unique and what makes you interesting and try and highlight that and then hopefully the act follows."

A big part of what makes Dorenbos unique is his tragic back story. When Dornebos was 12, his father killed his mother at the family's home in Seattle. Dorenbos was left with a lot of confusion, but channeled that into something positive.

Magic has been a big part of his life since he was 16. He's used it to help himself heal and he hopes it has done the same for others. He's shared his story of success through tragedy with kids who have been through similar situations.

"At first when I was a rookie and I was young, it was a little awkward for me," Dorenbos said of sharing his story.

"You eventually start seeing that you're not alone and we're all in this together and if we just kind of help each other out and share our experiences and how we got through stuff and you can help, maybe that's why I was put here. I can share my message through the way I perform. If that's the case then it's pretty cool, man. That's a big responsibility and a big honor."

People have constantly asked Dornebos how he manages to balance his newfound celebrity magician status with his day job of being a professional football player. When you put it in perspective, it's really not that difficult considering what he's been through.

Then again, with this training camp comes something the two-time Pro Bowler has never truly experienced with the Eagles: Competition. The team brought in undrafted rookie free-agent long snapper John DePalma out of West Virginia.

Whether it's on the gridiron or on the stage, Dorenbos doesn't sweat the competition.

"I don't really worry about [the competition]. I don't really care," Dorenbos said. "And it's in the most respectful way possible and I want everybody to have success and I want everybody to do well but if I worry about other people, then all of the sudden I'm not worried about myself. If you worry too much about other people and you don't handle your own business, then it's a missed opportunity on your own stupidity."

When it comes to scheduling conflicts, that's another thing Dorenbos doesn't really worry about. He knows his teammates are in his corner. 

Head coach Doug Pederson had the team watch his latest trick on Tuesday night. Some of his teammates shared pictures of the Eagles watching Dorenbos. He was genuinely appreciative of their support, saying he doesn't "think anything feels better than when you get the respect of your teammates."

As for America's Got Talent, Dorenbos doesn't know how long the ride will last, but he's enjoying it. Just like his football career, he's leaving it all out there and not leaving a single trick up his sleeve.

"To me, you gotta let it ride and worry about the next one later," he said, "because if you save it, then what's the point?"

Darren Sproles signs 1-year extension with Eagles

Darren Sproles signs 1-year extension with Eagles

The Eagles signed veteran running back and punt returner Darren Sproles to a one-year contract extension Friday morning.

Terms of the deal were not made immediately available by the team, but NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reports the deal is for $4.5 million. That would represent a $1 million raise from the $3.5 million base salary Sproles was set to earn in 2016. Rapoport also reports that the Eagles have moved money from the extension into this season. 

Sproles, a Pro Bowler in each of his two seasons with the Eagles, is now signed through 2017. He was due to become a free agent after this season.

Sproles skipped the Eagles’ voluntary organized offseason workouts and the given reason was to spend more time with his family in San Diego. But Sproles’ contract status certainly could have played a role in his reason to stay away.

Sproles, 33, is tied for seventh in NFL history with Dave Meggett with seven career punt returns for touchdowns.

After five years with the Chargers and three with the Saints, he has enjoyed a career resurgence with the Eagles, making his first two Pro Bowl teams and becoming only the second player in NFL history with four or more punt return TDs after his 30th birthday. The other is Hall of Famer Deion Sanders.

In his career, Sproles has 2,867 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns with a 5.0 average rushing and 473 receptions for 4,156 yards and 28 more touchdowns.

With 133 more rushing yards and 27 more receptions, Sproles will become only the 12th player in NFL history with 3,000 rushing yards and 500 receptions.

Sproles' 5.0 career rushing average is 14th-highest in NFL history among non-quarterbacks with at least 500 rushing attempts.

In two seasons with the Eagles, he has 646 rushing yards and 95 receptions, although his 3.8 rushing average last year was well below his career average.

He has two punt return TDs in each of his seasons with the Eagles and is one of only seven NFL players in history with consecutive seasons with multiple punt return touchdowns.

Sproles entered the league as the Chargers’ fourth-round draft pick in 2005. The Eagles acquired him – or stole him – from the Saints in March 2014 in exchange for a fifth-round pick.

That pick turned out to be Ronald Powell, a linebacker who played in just 14 career games and is not currently in the league.