Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sixers win second straight, top Blazers

Philadelphia, PA - Contributions from up and down the roster.

That's what Doug Collins envisioned during the preseason when he surveyed a roster devoid of superstars but deep with capable NBA rotational players.

Collins' vision hasn't played out all that often early in the season but it all jelled Tuesday as Philadelphia downed Portland, 88-79, in front of 13,556 at the Wells Fargo Center.

Elton Brand scored 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting while Andres Nocioni scored 11 on 3-of-3 shooting from long range. Jrue Holiday also added 11 points but fouled out after 23 minutes for the 76ers, who have won consecutive games for the first time since March 24-26, 2010 and have taken three straight on their home floor. Spencer Hawes chipped in with 10 points in the victory.

Wesley Matthews poured home a game-high 26 points and LaMarcus Aldridge recorded a double-double with 20 points and 12 rebounds for Portland, which has lost four in a row. All-Star Brandon Roy, who scored 21 points on Sunday, settled for just 10 points on 3-of-9 shooting in defeat thanks in large part to a lockdown defensive performance by Andre Iguodala. Portland scored just 11 points in the deciding fourth quarter and the 79 total points marked the first time that the Sixers have held an opponent under 80 this season.

"Confidence, it looks like," Blazers coach Nate McMillan said of his team's struggles."You're getting open looks but we are not knocking down shots. You've got to score in this league."

Former Sixer Andre Miller had eight points and nine assists.

"They played hard tonight," Miller said. "It was good to see the guys and say 'what's up.'"

Iguodala played nearly 42 minutes and Brand just over 36 but the rest of the nine Sixers that played toiled between 10 and 25 minutes as Collins and associate head coach Michael Curry mixed and matched beautifully.

Veteran Tony Battie continued to be Collins' closer in the middle, playing 10 minutes late and depositing two big buckets and giving the Sixers a solid defensive presence.

Iguodala only had seven points but took just four shots and was content to torture Roy at the defensive end.

"Andre Iguodala was spectacular," Collins said. "He was our ace of spades tonight even though he did not score many points."

The lone disappointment was rookie Evan Turner, who continues to struggle mightily, scoring just one point in nearly 20 minutes. In fact, Jodie Meeks got most of Turner's minutes late and proved to be much more active. Turner now has just seven points in his last four games.

Six Shots:

*Hip-hop superstar Bow Wow was in attendance.

Flyers loan Leighton to Phantoms

The Flyers have loaned goaltender Michael Leighton to their American Hockey League affiliate, the  Adirondack Phantoms, for a six-day conditioning period.

Leighton, 29, is in his ninth NHL season, his third with the Flyers.  The native of Petrolia, Ontario signed a two-year contract extension on June 30, 2010.  He underwent back surgery on October 11, a partial discectomy, performed by Dr. Alex Vacarro at Methodist Hospital in Philadelphia.

In the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Leighton made his NHL postseason debut when he entered in relief of Brian Boucher in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals vs. Boston.  He helped lead the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Final, recording an 8-3 mark with a 2.46 GAA and .916 save percentage in 14 games. During the Eastern Conference Final vs. Montreal, he set a Flyers franchise record by posting three shutouts in the series to help the Flyers capture their first Eastern Conference Championship since 1997.

In the 2009-10 regular season, Leighton compiled a 16-5-2 record to go along with a 2.48 goals-against average and .918 save percentage in 27 regular-season appearances, including one shutout. He was acquired by the Flyers off waivers from the Carolina Hurricanes on Dec.15, 2009 and went unbeaten in regulation in his first 10 starts (Dec. 23, 2009 through Jan. 12, 2010), posting a record of 8-0-1 with a 2.16 GAA and .928 save percentage. Leighton was named the NHL's 'Second Star' of the week ending Feb. 14 after going 4-0-0 with a 1.98 GAA and .925 save percentage.  He went on to set a new career high for wins in a season (17).

In 103 NHL games with the Flyers, Chicago Blackhawks, Nashville Predators, and Carolina Hurricanes over parts of nine NHL seasons, Leighton has a career record of 34-40-10-4, a 2.94 GAA, .902 save percentage, and four shutouts.

College Hoops: November in review: What teams passed, failed early-season tests

By Jared Trexler

Philadelphia, PA - Very few times in life does reality live up to dreams. Yet, when it all comes together, what flows is an embarrassment of riches.

Duke's returning core made it the nearly unanimous preseason top team in the eyes of all educated hoops followers, but certain questions made a repeat national championship far from a certainty.

The two most pressing inquisitions were answered last week in Kansas City, and if those results were an indication of the season to come, the rest of the college basketball nation may be playing for second.

In the Cameron Crazies' perfect world, one (if not both) of the Plumlee brothers would adequately replace departed senior Brian Zoubek, providing more offense while holding serve on the backboards and defending the rim. Younger brother Mason rose to the occasion under the spotlight at the CBE Classic, pouring home 25 points on a variety of routes to the scoring column, hitting face-up jump shots, putting back misses and converting through contact in the lane against Marquette.

Each time the Golden Eagles challenged the Blue Devils, it was Plumlee (not the more accomplished Kyle Singler or Nolan Smith) pushing right back, adding an interior tenacity replicating Zoubek's emotional and physical toughness that marked Duke's championship journey last season. It was a near mirror image, but with an added offensive gusto, as Plumlee spun, ducked, dodged and pummeled his way to the basket, navigating a swarming, rotating group of Golden Eagles with the drive and determination many thought was lacking from Duke's arsenal.

The Blue Devils' 82-77 victory came on an ordinary 14-point night for Singler and a never-to-happen-again 6-of-12 effort from the charity stripe for one of the nation's best squads in that department. It was a resounding answer to the critics who loudly questioned Duke's interior scoring and defending. Plumlee also blocked five shots for good measure, swatting not just heaves from Golden Eagles, but denying the lingering assumption that Duke's frontcourt lacked the physical fortitude to play with inside heavyweights.

If last Tuesday night landed a resounding blow to naysayers and Duke haters, Wednesday showcased a perfect reality that in every way matched head coach Mike Krzyzewski's ultimate dream.

If questions didn't abound about Duke's frontcourt, then they came down directly at the feet of Kyrie Irving, not knocking the true freshman's pure talents but wondering loudly if he had the moxie and makeup to keep Duke's well-oiled machine from stalling.

Working a 17- or 18-year-old high school star into a collegiate lineup off the ball or into an interior rotation is one thing, but handing him the keys to the prohibitive favorite is another. Then, on top of that, last Wednesday night's assignment included engineering an offense and locking down perhaps the nation's best shooting guard, Kansas State's Jacob Pullen.

It was a tall task. After all, Irving is just 6-foot-2. And in hostile Kansas City against the fourth-ranked team, most freshmen would have played much smaller.

Not Irving, who shook off admitted early jitters, stymied Pullen's penetration and clamped down on his outside game. Coach K assisted by rotating Smith and at times the long wing span of Andre Dawkins at Pullen, but the primary responsibility, and ultimately the credit, belonged to Irving, who held the prolific Pullen to a 1-of-12 showing roughly eight months after he guided St. Patrick's High School in West Orange, New Jersey to a 26-3 record.

"Our defense was just really good," understated Krzyzewski following his 800th victory and 27th straight in November. While in truth the team defense was "really good" it began with the effort of Duke's freshman guard, who scored 17 points and added six assists to just three turnovers.

For the season, Irving is also running Duke's offense to perfection, amassing 35 assists to just 14 turnovers (pushing a veteran-like 3-to-1 ratio) and chiming in 14.5 points per game, only surpassed by Smith and Singler. He navigated Duke through the road blocks in Kansas City, and if he and Plumlee continue to shine like they did this past week, the drive may be very smooth from here to Houston.

Other teams passed early-season tests and now head into a distracting holiday season with their heads held high, complete with resume-boosting victories and momentum for the rest of the season ahead. However, a few others missed golden opportunities and need to show improvement before conference play commences.


Tennessee Volunteers: By now, we know all about the NCAA issues and their repercussions, which include head coach Bruce Pearl's SEC-mandated eight-game suspension for conference play. How the young, freelancing Volunteers handle that stretch absent their demonstrative leader is anyone's guess. His players feed off his energy and love playing in his chaotic system. Maybe the troops rally in his absence, (winning one -- in this case eight -- for coach) or maybe they fold like a cheap tent, but in the meantime, no one can ignore their inspired play, notching two solid wins at Madison Square Garden. Tennessee won the NIT Season-Tipoff thanks to a 77-72 victory over VCU (which has already blitzed power-conference players Wake Forest and UCLA) and an impressive 78-68 takedown of Villanova. The impressive feat wasn't just the Vols' victory over the Wildcats, but how they beat Corey Fisher's crew at their own high-wire, fast-paced game and blanketed the 'Cats' star guard into a 1-of-10 shooting night one game after he blew up for a career-best 26 points against the Bruins. Tennessee's athletes held the Wildcats to a 4-of-19 effort from beyond the arc and 34.5 percent shooting overall. Tennessee's main positive can also be its downfall, as a high-energy game at times leads to careless shots, turnovers and long stretches of offensive ineptitude. So far, the Volunteers have staved off those spells, but several more early-season tests lie versus Pittsburgh on December 11 and Memphis on January 5 before Pearl's suspension kicks in.

Connecticut Huskies: Kemba Walker rode a scoring wave through Maui, never falling off until he pushed his Huskies to shore, where they claimed a tournament trophy that gave the nation a new perception of Jim Calhoun's club. Projected to finish 11th out of 12 teams in the Big East this season, UConn never bought into the national negativity surrounding the program due to on- court unknowns and off-court NCAA issues, stemming the tide and riding Walker's hot hand to three victories (Wichita State, Michigan State and Kentucky) in three days. Walker scored 90 points in Maui, but the best part was he needed just 52 shots (making 28, a staggering percentage for a guard swarmed by two, sometimes three, defenders). He never forced his shots, oftentimes finding Alex Oriakhi, who developed into a solid interior scoring option over the tournament, averaging 15 points per game and holding his own against the Spartans' and Wildcats' rotating frontlines. Walker's excellence didn't just end with his scoring output but his ability to efficiently run UConn's offense, committing just six turnovers in immense minutes over the three-game stretch. The question going forward will be fatigue on the cusp of conference play. Connecticut will be best served resting its star guard in games against New Hampshire, UMBC and Fairleigh Dickinson before an 11-day layoff for finals.


Gonzaga Bulldogs: Give head coach Mark Few credit. He schedules a rigorous out-of-conference ledger to prepare his team for the NCAA Tournament because it faces little comparable competition in the West Coast Conference. However, the Bulldogs failed an early-season test that may stick in the tournament selection committee's mind if they can't respond to beat the next stern opposition. Stephen Gray has been dynamic early, but he has found little assistance. He scored 35 of his team's 76 points in the loss to San Diego State and 20 of the team's 66 points in the victory over Marquette. Also, when facing physically-imposing clubs, the Bulldogs have relented on the backboards. Kansas State held a 41-29 rebounding margin and the Aztecs grabbed an astounding 18 offensive rebounds in their victory over the Bulldogs. In the early going, the Bulldogs have failed to support Gray and have been pounded on the glass, two components that must change...and fast. Few's club will be tested more than any other over the next month, including games with Illinois, Washington State, Notre Dame, Baylor, Xavier and Oklahoma State. How the Bulldogs venture into the New Year will determine whether they can afford a loss in the West Coast Conference Tournament down the line and still make the NCAA Tournament field as an at-large selection.

North Carolina Tar Heels: Listen to head coach Roy Williams' quote after a less-than-convincing victory over UNC-Asheville last week: "This team, I think we are going to be a heck of a lot better at the end of the year. There is a big question if I'm going to live through it." That sums up the start for the Tar Heels, who haven't addressed their major issues from last season despite a good amount of turnover, including the addition of true freshman (and Associated Press preseason first-team All-American) Harrison Barnes. They are still unsettled at the point, where it appears Williams is trying to shift away from upperclassmen Larry Drew to sure-handed Kendall Marshall, but the true freshman doesn't have the speed of a prototypical Williams point guard and hasn't looked much at the basket so far this season. Inside, the Wear twins' surprising decision to transfer back closer to home (to UCLA) has left the Tar Heels thin on the inside outside Tyler Zeller (the team's most consistent scorer), John Henson (the team's most maddening player) and Alabama transfer Justin Knox. And still, nary an outside shooter dons powder blue, as the team's best long-range presence last season (Will Graves) was kicked off the team this fall, and the rest of the bunch (Leslie McDonald, Barnes and Dexter Strickland) is inconsistent. The Tar Heels are best in transition, but both Minnesota and Vanderbilt controlled tempo and took advantage of North Carolina's lack of identity at the point, turning turnovers into easy points and negating the Tar Heels' desire to push the action. Two tests, this Tuesday at Illinois and Saturday versus Kentucky, will tell a lot about the state of these Tar Heels before the New Year.

Temple Owls: This is supposed to be Fran Dunphy's most complete team since he took over the North Philadelphia program. Temple returns forward Lavoy Allen, who played his high school ball down the road from my residence at Pennsbury High School, along with guard Juan Fernandez. That inside-out combination will likely overpower most of the Atlantic-10, but this is supposed to be Temple's year to grow beyond conference success to national recognition. It had a golden opportunity to win a preseason tournament and beat three power conference teams this past weekend then went out and laid an egg to California, 57-50, as Fernandez was just 2-of-14 and the normally efficient Allen needed 12 shots to score his 13 points. The Golden Bears then got waxed the next night by Notre Dame. Temple handled business against Georgia then Fernandez and Allen combined to make just 6-of-18 shots in a three-point loss, 54-51, to Texas A&M. Dunphy's group missed the chance to add major-conference victories to its resume, boost its RPI and take home some hardware. Temple has several more chances before the New Year with games at Maryland on December 5, versus Georgetown on December 9 and a Big Five tilt at Villanova on December 30. Temple NEEDS two of those three games, anything less will lower its national stature and make stockpiling conference victories much more important for not only tournament seeding, but inclusion in the Big Dance.


1. Duke (6-0): Irving is as advertised on the outside; Plumlee more than billed on the inside. Life is good in Durham heading into matchup with Sparty.

2. Pittsburgh (7-0): Solid, not flashy with solid contributions from Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker. Looks like a typical Jamie Dixon-coached team.

3. Ohio State (5-0): Jared Sullinger is a load on the inside, but this team turns its opponents' lights off when David Lighty's turn on.

4. Kansas (6-0): Circle the calendar for December 18 versus Southern California. That is when freshman Josh Selby makes his debut. The Jayhawks will then feel complete.

5. Kansas State (6-1): Not many nights will end like last Wednesday's did for Pullen, who contends he got good shots he normally makes. That may be partially true, but the Wildcats need Curtis Kelly to find a groove after his return last week and must spend some time shooting free throws in practice.

6. Michigan State (5-1): Ran into the Walker freight train in Maui. Looked lethargic a night earlier versus Division II Chaminade, so head coach Tom Izzo has some work to do before ACC-Big Ten challenge date with Duke this Wednesday.

7. Connecticut (5-0): Waxing poetic about Walker's Tour de Maui is easy, but Big East bigs better beef up the film study on Oriakhi.

8. Syracuse (6-0): Nothing is pretty about the Orange's start, especially the lack of...well, anything...from freshman Fab Melo. Kris Joseph did score 22 much-needed points in the victory over Michigan.

9. Missouri (5-0): Pretty non-descript, as-expected start. Meeting with Georgetown this Tuesday (November 30) will show a lot.

10. Kentucky (4-1): Young team played well in Maui. Not much any team -- young or old -- could have done with Walker quarterbacking UConn like Tom Brady.

11. Baylor (5-0): LaceDarius Dunn returned with 24 points last Monday in the victory over Lipscomb, then the Bears had a week off to integrate Dunn back into the offense before this Monday's victory over Prairie View A&M. It shouldn't take long. Just give Dunn the ball and let him work.

12. Villanova (5-1): Fisher needs to be more efficient offensively and play under control. In his defense, Pearl's defense forces reckless play at times.

13. San Diego State (6-0): Aztecs are attacking teams on both ends, hitting the backboards and playing swarming defense, holding three straight opponents under 70 points. Mid-major showdown beckons on Wednesday versus St. Mary's.

14. Tennessee (5-0): Big jump for a team playing for its embattled head coach. The two victories in New York were Pearl's system clicking on all cylinders.

15. BYU (6-0): Cougars have dodged a few bullets, including a double-overtime thriller versus South Florida and a one-point victory over St. Mary's. They need to be better defensively to test the nation's best, but head coach Dave Rose was right when he applauded his team's ability to win "together." Not many teams have been tested so much, so early...and survived unblemished.


ACC-Big Ten challenge: The Big Ten is defending the crown for the first time and has looked like the deeper league through the season's early stages. However, it is not off to a fast start thanks to Virginia's upset of Minnesota with several measuring-stick games to be played this Tuesday and Wednesday, including North Carolina-Illinois and Duke-Michigan State. Two other intriguing matchups pit North Carolina State (in a season that will define head coach Sidney Lowe's tenure) against Wisconsin (the Badgers are struggling to score, even for a Bo Ryan-coached team) and Purdue (coming off a bad loss to Richmond) versus Virginia Tech (really missing J.T. Thompson). Get instant analysis on the challenge at www.hoopsbench.com.

Rise remix: LeBron returns to the scene of the crime

By John McMullen

In an artsy, thought-provoking 90-second Nike commercial first aired in October called "Rise," Miami Heat superstar LeBron James asks repeatedly, "What should I do?"

The rhetorical question is James' most candid response to the enormous criticism he received after publicly announcing his divorce from the Cleveland Cavaliers in the much-hyped ESPN special "The Decision" back in July.

That's when James spurned the Cavaliers in favor of South Beach and the chance to play with fellow "superstars" Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in an effort to win his elusive first NBA championship.

Of course a return to Cleveland had to happen eventually but I'm not so sure Maverick Carter clued The King into that fact he would have to deal with the subjects he deserted in a most unflattering manner this summer.

Barring a mysterious tweaked ankle, sore hamstring or balky back, James will make his first appearance back in the Forest City since "The Decision" on Thursday when his rudderless Miami Heat face a plucky Cavaliers club that has had the gall not to completely fall apart without the services of basketball's chosen one.

While James readies the dagger for the back of his new head coach Erik Spoelstra, the Cavs have quietly gone about their business under new mentor, Byron Scott, and remained competitive.

Although a pedestrian 7-9 heading into Tuesday's action, the doomsday predictions that had the Cavaliers challenging the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers for futility have been unfounded and Cleveland is currently holding down the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.

James' Heat, meanwhile, aren't much better at 10-8 and those 70-win predictions are about to be rendered meaningless by the science of mathematics.

James was clearly no chemistry major at St. Vincent - St. Mary High in Akron but he did learn how to pass the buck.

In Cleveland, the supporting cast that was good enough to help LeBron garner 66 wins in 2008-09 and another 61 in '09-10 wasn't good enough to help him win a championship. In South Beach, Spoelstra is about to become the scapegoat for the fact that neither James or his All-NBA co-star, Wade, can't figure out how to play without the basketball in their hands.

So I'm not really interested in what LeBron should do. I'm wondering what the fans of Cleveland should do when the King returns to the Q?

Should they admit they have made mistakes?

Should they remind you that they have done this before?

Should they give us all a history lesson?

What should the fans of Cleveland do?

Should they tell you how much fun they had?

Should they really believe LeBron ruined his legacy?

Should they remove LeBron's tattoo?

Should they notice his shiny new shoes?

What should the fans of Cleveland do?

Should they regard The King as a role model?

Should they call LeBron a championship chaser, a guy who did it for the money, the rings?

Should they expect LeBron to be who they want him to be (the villain)?

Nah, the Fans of Cleveland aren't listening ...

They are rejoicing in the fact James is now the pariah -- an overrated fool that couldn't get things done when it got tough in Cleveland so he fled for an easier life in Miami.

An easier life that is turning into anything but.

A "Rise" that is all about a fall from grace.

Brackins to D-League, Kapono back

Sixers rookie big man Craig Brackins will begin a 10-day, five-game assignment with the Springfield Armor of the NBA Development League tonight.

"We're hoping he can go get some game time and see how much he's improved," Sixers coach Doug Collins said of Brackins. "We're excited that he can go play."

The Sixers are allowed to designate Brackins to the D-League three times and the Sixers have already mapped out the three occasions they plan to send Brackins to Springfield. He has appeared in just one game  this season, scoring 6 points in 10 minutes of play at Toronto on November 24.

The only other time the Sixers have assigned players to the D-League came on November 28, 2006 when Bobby Jones and Lou Williams were sent to the Fort Worth Flyers.

Brackins (6-10, 230) was originally the 21st overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft by Oklahoma City.  His rights were traded to New Orleans along with the rights to Quincy Pondexter in exchange for Morris Peterson and the rights to Cole Aldrich.  The Sixers acquired Brackins and Darius Songaila from the Hornets in exchange for Willie Green and Jason Smith on September 23.

Meanwhile, forward Jason Kapono, who missed the last four games due to personal reasons, is back and will be available tonight against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Sixers back in action vs. Blazers

The Portland Trail Blazers look to end a three-game slide when they resume a four-game road trip Tuesday against the Philadelphia 76ers from the Wells Fargo Center.

The Blazers continued their losing ways with Sunday's 98-96 setback at New Jersey, as Wesley Matthews made 5-of-6 three-pointers en route to 25 points off the bench for Portland, which fell to 4-5 away from the Rose City this season. The Blazers had a 52-44 lead at halftime.

"Once we built the lead we kind of got relaxed and comfortable," Matthews said on the team's site. "They picked the tempo up and we slowed down and started ball-watching."

Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge netted 21 and 20 points, respectively, in a losing effort. Roy had missed some games with a knee ailment earlier this season and seems to be back at full strength. He is averaging 19.0 ppg.

Portland had won five straight against the Nets and will also visit Boston and Washington on the road swing.

Meanwhile, the 76ers have won their last two games at home and ended a three-game slide with Saturday's 102-86 win over the visiting Nets.

Jrue Holiday led the way with 20 points and 13 assists, while Andre Iguodala added 16 points and Lou Williams 15 for Philadelphia, which won for just the second time in the last 10 games. Iguodala is averaging 19.0 points and 8.8 rebounds the last four games.

"We had that big fourth quarter push and got the job done," said Sixers forward Thaddeus Young, who had 13 points and has scored in double digits in each of his last nine games.

Philadelphia has been a lion on the boards lately, grabbing more rebounds than the opposing team over the previous seven contests. No. 2 overall pick Evan Turner is averaging only 8.1 points this season and hasn't scored in double figures in each of his past three games.

The Sixers are 3-4 at home this season and 4-13 overall.

Portland and Philadelphia split a pair of meetings last season, with each team tasting victory as the guest. The 76ers have won five of the previous seven matchups with the Trail Blazers.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Sixers down Nets with strong 4th quarter

Philadelphia (The Phanatic Magazine) - Lou Williams and Thaddeus Young took over the game in the fourth quarter as the Philadelphia 76ers snapped a three-game skid with a 102-86 win over Atlantic Division rival New Jersey in front of 14,150 at Wells Fargo Center.

Williams had 11 of his 15 points in the final frame while Young had nine of his 13 as the Sixers outscored the Nets 36-20 on 15-of-19 shooting in the quarter to blow open the game.

"Anytime we can put together a fourth quarter run like that, that's big," Young said. "We had the fourth quarter push. Me, Dre [Andre Iguodala], Jrue [Holiday] and Lou [Williams] and all of us put in some work and went out there and got the job done." 

Holiday recorded a double-double with 20 points and a career-high 13 assists for the Sixers, who snared just their fourth win of the season (4-13). Iguodala contributed 16 points and seven rebounds, while Elton Brand finished with 14 points and 10 boards.

Veteran center Tony Battie, who did not play in the first half, toiled for the final 15:45 and finished with nine points on 4-of-4 shooting with six rebounds while doggedly defending Nets star center Brook Lopez.

"It was a great effort by our bench tonight," Brand said. "That is what he [Doug Collins] was trying to instill with us, play to win, do not play to lose. A lot of late-game collapses came because we were playing not to lose, trying to be too careful with it. Jrue Holiday had a great game, and Tony Battie off the bench. It was a great win for us."

Lopez had a game-high 25 points for New Jersey, which lost for the fifth time in six games. Devin Harris added 19 points and six assists, while Kris Humphries had 15 rebounds.

"It was a tough loss for us," Nets coach Avery Johnson said. "We started off the game slow, then we picked it up a little bit in the second quarter and then, again a poor fourth quarter. They turned up the pressure on their defense. We couldn't score or defend in the fourth which has been a problem for us recently."

With the game deadlocked at 66, Young set the tone in the fourth during a 10-2 Sixers run to start the frame. Young scored the first seven points in the spurt before Iguodala finished it with a three-pointer for a 76-68 Philly advantage with nine minutes to go.

Lopez's bucket cut the margin to 78-74 near the seven-minute mark, but a Williams four-point play sparked a 12-2 flurry for the hosts. Battie's jumper then provided a 90-76 cushion with 4 1/2 minutes to go, and it was a double-digit contest the rest of the way.

The Sixers rode strong opening quarters from Holiday and Iguodala en route to a 27-24 edge after the first 12 minutes. Philadelphia's starting point guard had eight points and five assists in the first frame while Iguodala
contributed nine points on 4-of-7 shooting. Lopez carried the Nets, tallying 13 points thanks in large part to 10 trips to the free throw line as he drew two fouls on both Spencer Hawes and Marreese Speights. The Sixers, meanwhile, did not go to the charity stripe in the first quarter.

Things remained tight in the second quarter but Philadelphia struggled offensively and New Jersey played the frontrunner, leading by as many as six points before settling for a 48-46 advantage at intermission.

Despite hiccups from both clubs in the third quarter, the game was deadlocked at 66 heading to the final frame.

Six Shots:

*Holiday has also recorded 13 assists two other times.

*Brand has four double-doubles this season.

*All four Sixers wins have been by double-digits.

*The teams combined for just 11 turnovers, a season-low five for the Sixers and a season-low six for New Jersey.

Calling all Bigs; Sixers need help inside

Philadelphia (The Phanatic Magazine) - Wins have been tough to come by for Doug Collins in his inaugural season as the Sixers' coach.

Collins' 76ers came into tonight's contest with New Jersey at an Eastern Conference-worst 3-13. Although you could compile a laundry list of things wrong with the team, poor interior defense and the inability to finish games have been the main culprits in the team's dreadful start.

Young teams often have to "learn" how to win and you have to believe some of those late game collapses will disappear as Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner continue to garner experience. That said, it's hard to see this group of Sixers improving much on the interior without significant personnel changes.

Philadelphia knew it was giving up some defense and rebounding when it sent Samuel Dalembert to Sacramento for Spencer Hawes and Andres Nocioni but the club expected far more out of Hawes, who is averaging just 5.8 points and 3.9 rebounds in just over 17 minutes a game. 

Elton Brand has had a bit of a renaissance at the offensive end, scoring a team-best 15.9 ppg, along with 7.7 rpg but the lift, explosion and lateral quickness are gone, making the veteran nothing more than a turnstile for the opposition's daily layup drill.

Thaddeus Young has always been a solid offensive player that is bit of a tweener on the defensive end -- too big and slow to handle opposing threes and too small to check legitimate fours. Young is also a poor rebounder which limits his minutes.

The Sixers' two bigs that theoretically haven't reached their upsides are Marreese Speights and rookie Craig Brackins. But, we have all seen enough of Speights by know by now any contribution he will make is at the offensive end. The Florida product just doesn't play with the type of energy, nastiness and toughness to excel on defense.

Meanwhile, Brackins, who has been active for just one game this season, is cut from the same cloth, skilled but unwilling to do the heavy lifting Collins is requiring to get on the floor.

The only real interior defender on the roster comes from veteran center Tony Battie. However, Battie's balky knees limit the amount of minutes Collins can call on him for especially in back-to-backs and he has never been the best rebounder.

With Brook Lopez in town tonight, the Sixers' interior problems figured to be magnified and that came to fruition early. The former Stanford star carried the Nets in the first quarter, tallying 13 points thanks in large part to 10 trips to the free throw line as he drew two fouls from both Hawes and Speights. The Sixers did not go to the charity stripe in the first quarter.

By intermission Lopez had 17 points and he finished with a game-high 25 in a 102-86 Sixers win, just their fourth of the season.

Collins made things much tougher for Lopez in the second half by double teaming him early and then going with Battie, who did not play in the first half, for the final 15:45. In short bursts, Battie remains effective and even helped on the offensive end tonight, finishing 4-of-4 from the field for nine points and six rebounds.

Lehigh tops Northern Iowa in FCS Playoffs

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa -  For the third straight week Lehigh found itself down at halftime, and once again the Mountain Hawks delivered a superb second half performance to come away with a victory. The No. 18/19 Mountain Hawks scored 14 third quarter points and the defense took care of the rest in a 14-7 win over No. 16/16 Northern Iowa in front of 5,990 Saturday at UNI-Dome. With the win Lehigh improves its record to 10-2 and more importantly, the Mountain Hawks advance to the second round where they will face No. 3 Delaware.
Lehigh out-gained UNI (7-5) 336-251 on the day and limited the Panthers to just 188 yards rushing, nearly 30 yards below their season average. The Mountain Hawks intercepted UNI quarterback Tirrell Rennie three times and benefitted from three missed Panther field goals as Lehigh becomes the first Patriot League team to win an NCAA playoff game since Colgate in 2003.

“I’m obviously thrilled with the effort our football team put forth through four quarters,” said head coach Andy Coen. “I can’t say enough about how our defense played and swarmed to the football [with] relentless pressure on the quarterback. They did a great job of bottling up an explosive offense all day.
“I thought our special teams were very important [as well],” he continued. “We had a stretch when we weren’t moving the football. We kept getting the ball around midfield and our punter Alex Smith did a great job of keeping them to a long field. The blocked field goal was also huge and took momentum away.”

In a game of mistakes, Lehigh made the first one on its second drive of the game as junior quarterback Chris Lum was intercepted by Craig James at midfield. UNI moved the ball 50 yards in nine plays, and Rennie gave the Panthers the lead when he scrambled left and tiptoed down the near sideline for a 17-yard touchdown.
From there both defenses took over as there was no more scoring in the first half. Midway through the second period, Lehigh moved into UNI territory courtesy of a 31-yard hookup between Lum and senior Craig Zurn on third down, but senior Tom Randazza missed a 41-yard field goal. Lehigh’s defense came up with a pair of interceptions late in the first half, the first by senior John Veniero and the second by senior Casey Eldemire, as the Mountain Hawks trailed by just seven at halftime.
Through the first 30 minutes the teams were just about even with UNI holding a slim 118-115 advantage in yards. Lum was 10-of-21 for 94 yards and an interception. He was also Lehigh’s leading rusher with 23 yards on five carries. Sophomore Ryan Spadola was the top receiver with four grabs for 33 yards.
For Northern Iowa, Rennie was 5-of-10 for 60 yards and two interceptions. He also rushed 11 times for 31 yards.
The second half started dubiously for Lehigh as Lum and Spadola connected for 15 yards and a first down on third and ten but Spadola was stripped of the ball and Northern Iowa recovered at the Lehigh 36 yard line.
The Mountain Hawk defense clamped down after stopping UNI on three rushing plays and Lehigh remained down just 7-0 after Billy Hallgren missed a 44-yard field goal wide to the right.
With newfound momentum Lehigh needed just four plays to tie the game. On a first and ten from the Lehigh 38, Lum found junior Jake Drwal along the far sideline and after eluding a defender; Drwal sprinted towards the end zone to complete the 62-yard score. Randazza’s extra point tied the game at seven.
Late in the third quarter Rennie was picked off for the third time as senior John Kennedy stepped in front of a pass and returned it to the UNI 28. On the very next play, Lum hit Spadola on a skinny post for a 28-yard touchdown, which gave Lehigh the lead.
Aided by a Lehigh penalty, Northern Iowa put together a drive to answer the Mountain Hawks’ go-ahead score, but after settling for a field goal attempt, senior Jarard Cribbs raced off the edge to deflect the kick and give Lehigh possession.
Lehigh tried to run out the clock but when an eight-play drive stalled, the Mountain Hawks were forced to punt. UNI answered with a 12-play drive of its own as Rennie and Carlos Anderson found creases in the Lehigh defense. With three-and-a-half minutes remaining, Northern Iowa opted for a field goal attempt, which Hallgren pushed wide to the right.
The Mountain Hawks gave the Panthers one more opportunity as a second-down halfback option pass by senior Jay Campbell was ruled an interception for Jordan Smith. Rinnie was knocked out of the game after a two-yard run. Zach Davis came in and after a short pass on second down; he was sacked by junior Colin Newton for a loss of 12 on third down. Senior Al Pierce stopped Anderson for no-gain on fourth-and-18 to seal Lehigh’s first playoff win since 2001.

“The kids have a confidence; we’re a second half team,” said Coen. “We’ve done it all year. The third quarter was huge. The character of our football team, how the kids work and believe in each other and believe in what we’re doing [helps lead to the comebacks]. It gets rewarded when you all work hard, plays come to you and you capitalize.”
Lum finished 18-of-37 for 267 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Spadola was the top target with nine catches for 127 yards, while Drwal finished with three grabs for 80 yards. Campbell led Lehigh with 47 while Lum added 32. Pierce led Lehigh with 11 tackles, while Newton had ten tackles and 2.5 sacks.
Rennie finished 6-of-14 for 61 yards passing and gained 86 yards on 27 rushes. Anderson added 94 yards on the ground for the Panthers.

“This is a very good football team that we played,” said Coen. “We’ve had some very good wins this season and this is without a doubt the best, the best football team that we’ve beaten. They're champions of a conference that we have a tremendous amount of respect for. It’s great that we could come and represent the Patriot League and Lehigh University very well today. I’m very proud of our team and everybody associated with our program.”
The Mountain Hawks will now travel to Newark, Delaware to face the No. 3 national seed Fightin’ Blue Hens next Saturday at noon. Tickets can be purchased through Lehigh beginning Monday at 10 a.m. by calling 610-7LU-GAME or by visiting the Lehigh ticket office, located in Grace Hall.
EXTRA POINTS… Saturday’s game was just the second indoor game in Lehigh football history… Lehigh lost 77-14 at Idaho in the next-to-last game of the 1993 season… The Mountain Hawks reached the ten-win mark for the first time since the 2001 squad finished 11-1… Lehigh is now 2-0 against members of the Missouri Valley Football Conference… The Mountain Hawks beat Western Illinois 37-7 in the 2000 playoffs and went on to face Delaware the following week… UNI lost at home in the playoffs for just the fifth time in 19 games at UNI-Dome… Lehigh’s defense recorded four sacks, with Newton securing 2.5 and three other players credited with 0.5.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Blown call hurts Flyers, as Flames claim shootout victory

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor

Rene Bourque notched the winner in the shootout as Calgary nipped Philadelphia, 3-2, in the Flyers' semi-annual day-after-Thanksgiving matinee on South Broad Street.

After Mike Richards was unable to score on the backhand to start the third round, Bourque was able to beat Sergei Bobrovsky with a snapshot inside the left post to end the contest.

Curtis Glencross and Steve Staios scored in regulation for the Flames, who stopped a three-game losing streak. Miikka Kiprusoff made 34 stops for the win.

"They're really one of the top teams in the league and it was a big challenge for us," Kiprusoff said of the Flyers, who entered play tied with Washington for the best record in the NHL. "We talked about it before the game and we've been working pretty hard, but the last two games, we weren't able to get wins there. We have to keep pushing and play as a team and we woke up."

James van Riemsdyk and Nikolay Zherdev tallied for the Flyers, who saw their three-game win streak snapped. Bobrovsky made 28 saves in the loss.

"I think that we played a hungry hockey team. I think we're capable of playing better," said Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette. "I wouldn't say we stole a point. We didn't generate a whole lot offensively."

Philadelphia appeared to have won the game in overtime, but were short-changed by a questionable call.

Flames defenseman Mark Giordano was sent to the box for holding the stick with 2:17 left in the extra session, giving the Flyers a 4-on-3 advantage. A potential game-winning shot from Richards sailed under the crossbar with 1:35 left but was disallowed when backliner Chris Pronger, who screened Kiprusoff on the score but didn't touch the netminder, was given an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

"It doesn't really matter, does it. I'm not going to get into 'he said, she said' with the refs," said a visibly angry Pronger shortly after the game. "The puck went into the net. It (the call) was five seconds after the shot went in. I wasn't turned to him (Kiprusoff), waving my stick in his face."

Kiprusoff was then forced to make a diving stick save with just over a minute left, as Philly defenseman Kimmo Timonen had the open top portion of the net wide open, but shot low.

"Yeah, I got that save, their guy was pretty open and I found a way to get it," Kiprusoff noted of his game-saver. "Kimmo had a wide open net there but he took his time and I was able to just make a desperate save with my stick."

Following a scoreless first period, the Flyers got on the board at 3:09 of the second when Zherdev made a quick stick move in the slot and ripped a wrister by Kiprusoff from the edge of the right circle.

Glencross tied the game on a partial short-handed breakaway with 6:44 left in the second, scoring on a backhand with Richards draped on his back.

However, van Riemsdyk was on the doorstep to convert a Richards feed 1:45 later and the home team led 2-1.

Calgary knotted the game with 7:09 played in the third period as Staios' quick shot off a dish from Alex Tanguay fooled Bobrovsky.

Notes: Calgary has won four of the last five games at Philadelphia since March, 2002...Van Riemsdyk tied his career best with goals in three straight games, first accomplished from November 12-18, 2009...Flames forward Olli Jokinen played in his 900th NHL contest...Calgary defenseman Jay Bouwmeester extended his NHL-best consecutive-games streak to 446.

DaMMAge Fight League results from Atlantic City

Wednesday's DaMMAge Fight League results from the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City on Wednesday: 

Piotr Andrejko b Zachary Sanders via split decision
Darnell Hooker b Steve McCable via choke at 1:34
Binky Jones b Ran Weathers via unanimous decision
Jonathan Helwig b Lewis Pescavage via arm triangle in 2:04
Jeremy Anderson b Biff Walizer via choke at 3:17
Tenyeh Dixon b Eric Moon via choke in 2:33
Rafaello Oliveira b Kevin Roddy via choke at 4:46
Chris Liguori b John Salgado via unanimous decision
Brandon Lee Hinkle b Kevin Jordan via punches on the ground at 2:30
Tara LaRosa b Takayo Hashi via scores of 49-46, 49-46, and 48-47 to become the first DaMMAge women's super flyweight champion 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

Union's Miglioranzi becomes U.S. citizen

On the eve of a treasured American holiday, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) swore in Philadelphia Union midfielder Stefani Miglioranzi and 69 others as America’s newest citizens at its field office in Philadelphia Wednesday. 

Miglioranzi addressed his fellow naturalization candidates, which included people from 34 countries, and took the Oath of Allegiance to officially gain U.S. citizenship. The 33-year-old Miglioranzi already has dual Brazilian and Italian citizenship and now can join his fellow new citizens in celebrating their first Thanksgiving as American citizens.

Wednesday’s citizenship candidates hail from: Albania, Algeria, Belarus, Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Cambodia, China, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Estonia, Germany, Guinea, India, Indonesia, Italy, Kenya, Korea, Liberia, Lithuania, Mauritania, Mexico, Republic of the Philippines, Poland, Sierra Leone, Spain, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Thailand, the United Kingdom, Ukraine, Venezuela and Vietnam.

Miglioranzi was selected by Philadelphia Union from the Columbus Crew in the 2009 Expansion Draft and became one of the Union’s most consistent midfielders, starting in 25 of 26 games played and logging 2,097 minutes.

Walker injured; off STRIKEFORCE event

Former Eagle Herschel Walker sustained a deep cut under his left eye that required multiple stitches while training Monday at American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif., and will not be able to fight on Saturday, Dec. 4, at Scottrade Center in St. Louis.

“I feel terrible about this,’’ said Walker, who was cut from a knee strike while training with AKA teammate and two-time United States Olympic wrestling team member Daniel Cormier. “I know things like this happen in all sports, but I had trained very hard and was excited to be returning to the cage again. I hope to fight again as soon as the cut heals.’’

An announcement about a possible replacement fight for the telecast will be made in the coming days, STRIKEFORCE said.

The four televised fights scheduled for SHOWTIME are:  Dan Henderson (25-8) of Temecula, Calif., faces former STRIKEFORCE light heavyweight world champion Renato “Babalu” Sobral  (36-8) of Brazil; Antonio “Big Foot’’ Silva (14-2), of Coconut Creek, Fla., meets Valentijn “The Python’’ Overeem (28-23), of The Netherlands in a heavyweight encounter, Paul “Semtex’’ Daley (25-9-2) of England battles Scott “Hands Of Steel” Smith (17-7, 1 NC), of Elk Grove, Calif., at welterweight and ex-world champion “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler (17-6, 1 NC), of Granite City, Ill., goes up against 2000 Olympic Games silver medalist Matt “The Law” Lindland (22-7), of Oregon City, Ore., in a middleweight (185 pounds) scrap.

Flyers blitz Wild, keep pace atop NHL

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor

Danny Briere, Andreas Nodl and Ville Leino posted a goal and assist each as Philadelphia used a late burst of offense to dispatch Minnesota, 6-1, at Xcel Energy Center.

Jeff Carter and Jody Shelley also lit the lamp for the Flyers, who have taken three in a row and six of their last eight.

Sergei Bobrovsky needed to make just 15 saves for his 12th win of the season for Philadelphia, which kept pace with Washington atop the NHL standings after the Capitals won at Carolina. Both clubs sport identical 15-6-2 records.

Patrick O'Sullivan scored for the Wild, who have dropped two in a row -- both at home to Atlantic Division foes. Minnesota took a 5-2 loss to the Rangers on Saturday. Niklas Backstrom was torched for a season-high six goals on 28 shots.

A three-goal burst in the final period gave Philadelphia control of the contest for good.

Bobrovsky got the rush started when he stoned Martin Havlat from in front on a Wild power play roughly 7 1/2 minutes in, and Nodl's breakaway goal gave the Flyers a 4-1 advantage at the 7:47 mark.

Seconds after that Minnesota advantage ended, the Flyers broke into the Minnesota zone. Leino's spin-a-rama pass to Briere deflected off his skate, but right back to Leino for an easy tap-in. It was 5-1 for Philadelphia just 1:05 later.

Shelley then made a beautiful backhand-to-forehand move in front and tallied his first as a Flyer to make it 6-1 with 8:48 remaining.

The Flyers got on the board 3:16 into the contest, when Braydon Coburn's right-point shot was blocked in the crease. James van Riemsdyk kept shoveling away, though, and Wild defenseman Greg Zanon appeared to have smothered the disc, but it somehow trickled over the goal line.

Carter upped the mark to 2-0 at 5:32 when he beat Backstrom through a screen on the backhand in a 4-on-4.

O'Sullivan halved the Wild's deficit at 14:49 of the second when his wide shot caromed in off the stick of Flyers defenseman Andrej Meszaros, but Briere restored Philly's two-goal edge when he redirected a Scott Hartnell feed with 59.3 seconds left in the frame.

Notes: This was the most decisive Flyers victory over Minnesota since the Wild entered the NHL in 2000...The previous best was four goals in a 5-1 win at Philadelphia on December 8, 2001...Shelley's goal was his first since the final game of the regular season in Philadelphia on April 11 when he played for the
Rangers...The first period was halted and the ice resurfaced after a shot from Flyers forward Claude Giroux shattered a pane of glass along the right-wing boards with 1:57 remaining...This is the 10th time in franchise history, but only the second time in the last 24 years, that the Flyers have had 15 wins or more in their first 23 games (73-74, 75-76, 77-78, 79-80, 80-81, 84-85, 85-86, 86-87, 05-06, 10-11)...The Orange and Black increased their NHL-best goal differential to plus-28 (84 GF, 56 GA). The next closest is Boston at a plus-19. The 84 GF are most in the lead, seven better than Washington’s 77.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Union lose Shea Salinas, Alejandro Moreno in expansion draft, pull back Chris Seitz

The Vancouver Whitecaps today selected Shea Salinas (eighth pick overall, fourth by Vancouver) and Alejandro Moreno (14 overall, seventh by Vancouver) in the 2010 Major League Soccer Expansion Draft. Both players were acquired by Philadelphia Union on November 25, 2009 in last year’s Expansion Draft.

Salinas was acquired by Nowak and his coaching staff from the San Jose Earthquakes. Salinas’ first and only goal with the Union came against Houston and was the MLS Goal of the Week for Week 10 in Philadelphia’s first-ever road win. The 24-year old started seven of the 17 games he appeared in, playing a total of 795 minutes.

Moreno joined the Union from the Columbus Crew, where he spent the three previous years. Widely regarded as one of the hardest workers in Major League Soccer, Moreno excels at holding the ball up in the opponent’s third and setting his teammates up in space. While with the Union, Moreno started 25 of the 26 games he played in, recording a total of 1,974 minutes and logging two goals and seven assists.

CLICK HERE for a pick-by-pick list of all Expansion Draft selections.

Sixers' Brand suspended one game

Elton Brand of the Philadelphia 76ers has been suspended one game without pay for his Flagrant Foul, Penalty Two against JaVale McGee of the Washington Wizards, it was announced today by Stu Jackson, NBA Executive Vice President Basketball Operations.

The incident, in which Brand made contact by shoving McGee during a layup attempt and was ejected following the Flagrant Foul, Penalty Two call, occurred with 3:32 remaining in the 4th period of the 76er’s 116-114 overtime loss to the Washington Wizards at the Verizon Center in Washington

Brand  will  serve  his  suspension tonight when the 76ers face the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Paterno says he'll return in 2011

Courtesy of the Sports Network

University Park, PA - Legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno indicated at his press conference Tuesday that he plans on returning for the 2011 season.

Paterno, in his 45th season at the helm of the Nittany Lion program, is the
all-time leader in wins for an FBS football coach. Earlier this season he
recorded the 400th victory of his illustrious career, and the 83-year-old sees
a bright future for his team.

"I am looking forward to it," Paterno said when asked if he was planning on
returning. "I think we've struggled a little bit this year, with the youth and
with the injuries and the whole bit.

"We're not where I would like us to be yet. But, I think with a good spring
and a pre-season practice, we could be a pretty good football team next year,
and I'd like to be part of it."

Paterno was later asked if he believed his return was a decision for him alone
to make.

"I don't think it's entirely my call. I'm not running the university. But I
would hope that what I want to do would be taken into consideration and go
from there," Paterno said.

Penn State is 7-4 this season and closes its regular season Saturday at home
against No. 11 Michigan State.

Spectrum Follies: It can't be a memory if you never let go

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor

cue Medieval-sounding lute solos in the background

...and yea, it came to pass under a pewter sky on the penultimate day before the Giving of Thanks, that the domicile of many an athletic competition and electric traveling troubador show did fall, cracked thusly by the crown of ye olde wrecking ball...

...in the days that followed, men wept at the dismantling of the hallowed edifice. A misty drizzle fell constantly. Children were born with antlers and hooves, and a great cry arose from the populace, in dire need of a hero to save them from this sorry state of impending wretchedness.

end music

In reality, Tuesday afternoon on Pattison Avenue, it was merely Day 253 of the ongoing end-of-the-Spectrum saga. A wrecking ball hung limply against the brown sardine can for hours, and television viewers were subjected to endless cut-ins until the moment finally...FINALLY arrived when what looked like the top of a turkey baster was raised and crashed through that monument to speed building, if there ever was such a sport.

Famously having taken less than a year to build, apparently it'll be almost two years before the grieving stops.

Though a gaping hole now exists, it will take many, many months to see the walls come tumbling down. And until that day when the very last piece of detritus is removed, we in the Delaware Valley will be subject to continued endless rumination, remembrance and hand-wringing over the Spectrum's way past timely end.

It doesn't matter if Ed Snider was pressured into seeing his "baby" demolished
to make way for the newest wave of glitzy, centralized entertainment. The endless parade of "lasts" to celebrate the once-venerated venue is getting out of control.

We had the last Phantoms game. The last Flyers game. The last Sixers game. The last NCAA basketball game. The final Bruce, Billy Joel and what's left of the Grateful Dead concerts. The banner lowering after the Cup-era Flyers took one last skate. The final bazillion Pearl Jam shows. Everything but the last mass grope in the cheap seats during "Stairway to Heaven."

And still the process lingers on. One friend who attended the "ceremony" today quipped on Twitter that Doctor J was holding the crowd hostage with his prepared statements.

One more offered that The Doctor was getting the Meryl Streep treatment and
that if it were anyone else, music to cut an acceptance speech short at the Oscars would have played. Yet another wrote that the wrecking ball was so tired, it paused to rest a while on the steps.

They dragged Bernie Parent up there, Bobby Clarke, too. Lou Nolan came back and gave his famous intonations, including Fred Shero's immortal quote from before Game 6 of the 1974 Finals. What's next? A Pelle Lindbergh marionette?

I get the feeling that if grave-robbing weren't taboo, Kate Smith would have been the subject of voodoo revival rites so she could belt out "God Bless America" for the last (first?) time.

If you're constantly awash in nostalgia, you can't move on. It can't be a memory if you don't let go.

Wolfgang Peterson should be in line for some royalties here, because Comcast-Spectacor is straight-up swiping his idea for The Neverending Story -- plucking it straight from Fantasia planting it into Flyersixerdom.

Adam Sandler could get some points on the front end, because this lingering insanity is just the stadium version of his old "Denise Show" skit from Saturday Night Live.

It's not like legions of Philadelphians can't dip back into the memory well thanks to VHS, and DVD and website comment sections. But just in case, Channels 3, 6, 10, 17, 29 and the irrepressible Channel X will have every Top 10 list of best Spectrum moments in existence on an endless, maddening loop.

There's the book too, if you didn't know already. The cover is white and banded in the same colors that make up the visible spectrum (get it? huh? yeah? right?).

Snider said he didn't want to look when the hammer was brought down on the weathered brick. Well, maybe we don't want to see anymore either. Enough already. Bring the sucker down, and let's not have a media circus beating it into the ground.

Video: ESPN's Top 10 Spectrum Moments

Mike Vick makes SI Cover

Flyers sign LW Ryan

The Flyers have signed Michael Ryan to a one-year contract and assigned him to the club’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Adirondack Phantoms.

Ryan, 30 (5-16-80), attended the Flyers’ 2010 training camp on a tryout basis.  The native of Boston, Mass. has appeared in six games this season for the Springfield Falcons of the American Hockey League, where he recorded a goal and two assists for three points.

A second-round selection (32nd overall) of the Dallas Stars in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, Ryan has appeared in 83 NHL games for the Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes.  He has seven goals and eight assists to his credit in his NHL career.

Ryan has also appeared in 259 American Hockey League games in his professional career, including four seasons with the Rochester Americans, two with the Albany River Rats and then this season with Springfield.  In that time, he has scored 82 goals and added 85 assists for 167 points.  He was an AHL All-Star with Albany in 2009.

Temple confirms LB Joseph is out for year

Temple head coach Al Golden announced that senior LB Elijah “Peanut” Joseph suffered a season-ending knee injury during last Tuesday’s game against Ohio.

The team captain, who played in all 10 games with seven starts at middle linebacker this fall, underwent surgery to his right knee on Monday at Temple University Hospital. Joseph is expected to be ready for spring drills and the NFL Draft.

Additionally, sophomore RB Bernard Pierce (Ardmore, Pa.), who suffered an injury on the opening play against the Bobcats, has continued rehabilitation this week on his left hamstring. He did not make the trip to Oxford, Ohio, but will likely be ready for the Owls’ bowl game.

Temple (8-3, 5-2 MAC) faces Miami [OH] (74-, 6-1) tonight in the regular-season finale for both teams. Kickoff at Yager Stadium is set for 7 p.m. on ESPN2.

Spoelstra doesn't have the cachet to lead star-studded Heat

By John McMullen

Philadelphia, PA - Pat Riley's reputation took a bit of a hit back in the 2005-06 season when he came down from the front office to replace Stan Van Gundy as coach of the Miami Heat.

The Heat started that season with a disappointing 11-10 record when Van Gundy "resigned" in order to "spend more time with his family."

Most didn't buy that story and felt Riley forced Van Gundy out to try to regain his former glory by coaching a talented Miami team to its first NBA Championship, something he eventually accomplished when the Heat stormed back from an 0-2 deficit to down the Dallas Mavericks in six games in the NBA Finals.

Riley would have had no interest in coaching a pedestrian bunch but with Shaquille O'Neal set to return from an injury, Dwyane Wade having his best season as a pro and the complimentary pieces like veterans Gary Payton and Antoine Walker, he correctly assumed that the team had a real chance and went for the brass ring at the expense of his friend.

That might not make Riley a great human being but it did solidify his standing as a great coach. The Heat's title was Riley's fifth championship as a head coach, and he became the only pilot in NBA history to take over a team during the season and lead them to an NBA title on two occasions.

It's now time to try for No. 3.

When I want honesty about the NBA, I usually go looking for Charles Barkley.

I'm convinced the boisterous always entertaining Hall of Famer is incapable of lying. Some might consider that foot-in-mouth disease in today's increasingly politically correct climate, I call it refreshing.

I've never been interested in pundits afraid to take a stand and call out a player or coach with obvious deficiencies. In fact, I live my life by one simple rule, never trust anyone who tells you only what you want to hear.

Like most NBA players these days LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have likely been surrounded by sycophants for most of their careers, enablers acting obsequiously toward them in order to gain some kind of favor.

Real constructive criticism is in dangerous proximity of extinction, not just in the NBA but in our society in general. Among the talented, it is virtually extinct.

Only big time coaches with the hardware to prove it like Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich and Doc Rivers can even think about calling out star players in today's world.

You really think Erik Spoelstra has the kind of cachet to get "The King" or Bosh to work on their post-up games or encourage D-Wade to emulate Reggie Miller or Rip Hamilton off the ball?

Sadly, Spoelstra's chief role right now is rolling out the Spaldings and hoping the Heat's talent advantage is enough to get them over the hump on a nightly basis. Early on that hasn't been the case on quite a few occasions and Miami is standing at 8-6 after an embarrassing 93-77 home loss to a pedestrian Indiana Pacers team on Monday.

Barkley, a former NBA MVP and 11-time All-Star, has no problem addressing the early season problems of the Heat.

"The Miami Heat they don't run, they strut," Barkley recently said of the NBA's most star-studded club. "There are certain guys you say 'I'm going to leave that guy alone, he's going to kick my ass.' You don't see that on the Miami Heat. You don't say 'this is going to be a hard night on us.'"

You can bet the Heat will hit their stride at some point and start picking up the Ws at a breakneck pace. But, dispensing of the LA Clippers and Philadelphia 76ers of the worlds aren't what this season was supposed to be about.

James shunned Cleveland to win a championship and cement a legacy that doesn't care about MVP awards and All-Star appearances. Bosh fled Toronto and his status as a go-to-guy to win a title as a complimentary piece next to LeBron and D-Wade.

Right now, its hard to imagine the Heat being able to play with the NBA's best like the Lakers, Celtics and San Antonio Spurs. Those clubs all have nuclei that has played together for years with top-tier players that trust and believe in their mentors.

The Heat have the talent and the chemistry will come.

The coach? Well, that's up to Pat Riley.

Collins isn't the sexy choice, but he's the right one for the Mets

By Chris Ruddick

If you had polled New York Mets fans at the end of the 2010 season on who their manager would be entering the 2011 campaign, how many names would have gone by before someone mentioned Terry Collins?

In fact it is a safe bet that none of them would have named him. And why would they have? Collins hasn't managed in the big leagues since 1999 and the last I heard of him he was skippering the Chinese team at the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

I guarantee nobody in Flushing gave Collins a thought.

Collins' name, though, was brought up almost immediately upon Sandy Alderson being named the team's general manager. He had served as the Mets' Minor League Field Coordinator last season, overseeing all on-field aspects of the team's Minor League Spring Training, mini-camps and the Fall Instructional League.

He makes all the sense in the world for a Mets team that desperately needed a new identity. For the Mets fans who wanted Wally Backman, Collins is Wally Backman, only he does not come with the baggage, and he has some major league experience on his resume.

Collins will hold his players accountable, something for whatever reason has been missing from this organization for a while now. I wasn't as down on the job Jerry Manuel did as some people, but he often gave off the impression that was already defeated. He was like wallpaper, he never showed any emotion. At the end it felt as if he was counting the days until it was over.

Well if you want fiery, you got it in Collins. Like I said he is Backman without the 1986 ring. By the way that is the only reason Mets fans want him. Sure he did a good job with the Single-A Brooklyn Cyclones this year, but there is a reason he is not on anyone else's radar.

Bottom line was the Mets could not afford to be wrong with this one. Backman may very well be a great major league manager one day. But he is a wild card at best. When Willie Randolph was fired in 2008, I wrote then that they should have went to Backman.

Backman would have been the right move then, but now they can't take that kind of chance now.

Citi Field is on its way to becoming a ghost town. I doubt that Backman being in the dugout sells any more tickets. Maybe a few here and there, but ultimately it is what happens on the field that is going to pack the house.

Now you can also make the argument that Collins is a wild card too. I mean he hasn't managed in the majors in 11 years. Collins is a safe choice, not as safe as Bob Melvin would have been, but at least it is a bit of an out of the box approach.

Collins is a taskmaster and he is going to change the culture of that organization. If you have watched the Mets over the last couple of seasons, the one thing that jumped out at you is the lack of fundamentals. Collins will take them to school right from the start.

The thing that would bother me is the fact that I have heard from someone with knowledge of the situation that Alderson actually preferred Backman, while it was Paul DePodesta who favored Collins. And Jeff Wilpon for whatever reason went the Collins route instead of his new GM's choice.

I love the Mets front office with Alderson, DePodesta and J.P. Ricciardi. A better group of baseball minds you will not find. I just hope that there aren't too many cooks in the kitchen. Alderson's voice needs to be the loudest, as they embark on their most important offseason in some time.

The bigger question is how Collins will accepted in that locker room. In his last big league stint with Anaheim he wore out his welcome pretty quickly, almost creating a mutiny upon leaving. I am not sure how tight a ship Manuel ran, but I guarantee Collins won't stand for some of the stuff that has gone on with the Mets over the last few seasons.

Collins' demeanor could very well go over like a lead balloon in Flushing. But he is exactly what that team needs right now.

Mickey and Mai Tais: Early-season excursions test teams' mettle

By Jared Trexler

Philadelphia, PA - I always marveled at the way Gene Keady pulled off the Hawaiian attire.

The former Purdue head coach was a broad-shouldered, steely-eyed man's man, one of those guys never caught with the pink drink or snacking on Wheat Thins. Yet, Keady would gladly wear a necklace made of flowers to spend several days on the Big Island judging the readiness of his players, testing their late- game execution and learning the proficiencies and deficiencies of his team in a true tournament setting only replicated when it matters most in March.

It was that important to him and his Boilermakers. Just like it is important to every coach searching for answers. Early-season holiday visits run the spectrum in beauty and luxury. The envious embark on San Juan, Maui, Cancun and Disney. Others are regulated to "holidays" in Charleston, South Carolina and Kansas City, Missouri.

Yet, no matter if a team's plane lands in paradise or purgatory, the main purpose is to pass a litmus test set forth by a variety of tournament-quality circumstances that expose and elevate teams and players for the long, winding road ahead.

When coaches return home from these events they have "teaching moments" on tape and internal player reports full of situations to focus on in individual skill drills. Practice is a valuable commodity between Thanksgiving and Christmas, as players and coaches juggle family time, fall final exams and practice in a time period void of many actual games.

Those that are played are pivotal to all involved. Everyone has a job to do. This isn't about Mickey and Mai Tais, but rather the self-discovery for each coach and his players.

Below are the marquee early-season tournaments of note complete with what to watch for and team thoughts.


When: Championship rounds on November 22-23 in Kansas City, Missouri

Team Thoughts: Like many Gazelle Group-run events, the four marquee host schools automatically advance to the championship round no matter an improbable upset in earlier games. Duke's first showcase with the target on its back begins versus Marquette on Monday, which returns Darius Johnson-Odom but also features plenty of fresh faces in what is being initially billed as a rebuilding year. The marquee game of the semifinal round features Kansas State and Gonzaga, which already lost to San Diego State in an earlier round. After Zags head coach Mark Few takes tournament organizers to dinner as a show of thanks for the format, he must find a way to better handle the backboards. The Aztecs took it to the Bulldogs on the glass, and if Kansas State's Curtis Kelly plays, which is still up in the air, the task will certainly be tall.

What to Watch For: Easing into the season was a plus for freshman point guard Kyrie Irving and transfer Seth Curry, who have demonstrated their skill sets as advertised. Irving is running Duke's well-oiled machine to a better than 3- to-1 assist to turnover ratio and Curry is making over 50 percent of his long- range shots. Now the test comes, not necessarily against the Golden Eagles, but in how Irving handles a pro-Wildcat atmosphere in Kansas City if Jacob Pullen's club gets past Gonzaga. The talent barometer is through the roof at this tournament with the likes of Duke's Kyle Singler and Pullen (two-fifths of my preseason All-American team) along with Gonzaga's Stephen Gray, who scored 35 points in the loss to the Aztecs. Look for the maturation of a Gonzaga supporting cast; it may determine its success outside the bubble of the West Coast Conference. Also keep an eye on Kansas State's "other players", which all stepped up in the victory over Virginia Tech. Was that a mirage? If not, these Wildcats are nationally legit bordering on title-worthy when Pullen stays out of foul trouble.


When: Championship rounds on November 26-27 in Atlantic City, New Jersey

Team Thoughts: Another Gazelle Group event will bring Georgia Tech, Michigan, Syracuse and Texas El-Paso to Atlantic City in the days following Thanksgiving. This classic should be dubbed "teams in transition" because each is shifting and at times sliding to find its place. Georgia Tech has a young team, but head coach Paul Hewitt may be running out of time, especially after an embarrassing loss to Kennesaw State last week. Michigan's head coach may have more rope, but John Beilein is using his early-season travels as a way to incorporate seven freshman and six sophomores to his 1-3-1 zone defense and offensive philosophy based on sharp cuts without the ball and spacing. One of the freshmen, Tim Hardaway, Jr. (name sound familiar?) is off to a flying start. Syracuse's Kris Joseph is struggling early in his role as "the man", shooting under 30 percent and averaging less than double figures before Sunday's breakout. His teammate Rick Jackson is off to a good start as the Orange's main threat on the interior. UTEP's main draw is its new head coach, Tim Floyd, but the early returns already include a loss to Pacific, which in turn was waxed by still-evolving UCLA.

What to Watch For: Randy Culpepper is a great guard to build a program around, and Floyd has the sweet shooter at his disposal. Culpepper can take over games, and after watching the Yellow Jackets twice this season, I wonder if they can handle Culpepper's dribble penetration. Speaking of Georgia Tech, a team still developing its identity should attack the rim more. Look at the movement in the Yellow Jackets' offense, as stagnation equals wasted scoring trips. Their top two scorers, Glen Rice, Jr. and Iman Shumpert, are hovering around the 20-percent shooting mark from long distance. Syracuse rarely leaves the state of New York before conference play, so head coach Jim Boeheim's venture several hours south should be a good acclimation project for star freshman Fab Melo, who has been unselfish, bordering on tentative to date.


When: November 22-24

Team Thoughts: "Aloha" will be a tough goodbye for fans who flock to Maui to see a big-time event with storylines abound. One team with a solid identity, Michigan State, leads a field with several "name" programs searching for theirs while plodding through the early season. Who are John Calipari's Kentucky Wildcats sans John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins via the NBA draft and Enes Kanter due to eligibility issues stemming from a form of salary he took while playing in Turkey? Who are Jim Calhoun's Connecticut Huskies after Kemba Walker and with recruiting violations hanging over the program's head? Who are the Oklahoma Sooners, the team that routed Coppin State or needed overtime to escape North Carolina Central? The tournament's sleeper may be Washington, the Pac-10 favorite with the speedy guard, Isaiah Thomas. The field also includes Virginia, which is trying to resurrect itself from the bottom of the ACC, and tourney host Chaminade.

What to Watch For: The maturity of Michigan State in its first test of the season. Everyone waxes about the veteran presences on the floor and on the sidelines, and rightfully so. The Spartans should get a good test of their moxie in any of several major-conference players. It will be interesting to see Washington's Thomas use his speed to test the repaired Achilles of the Spartans Kalin Lucas if the two teams square off. Lucas' burst and lateral quickness are basketball traits only truly tested in game situations. Look at how UConn's Walker integrates the rest of his teammates in the offense. A nameless supporting cast will need to be recognized if the Huskies are to mature throughout the season. The ball will initially be in Walker's hands so he is largely responsible for their growth.


When: November 24-27 in Anchorage, Alaska

Team Thoughts: This is the quintessential barometer event for new head coach Steve Lavin's St. John's Red Storm. Dwayne Poole, Jr. showed plenty of promise in the narrow loss at St. Mary's and in the second half of a comeback victory over Columbia. This tournament is manageable for Lavin's crew with just one other power school in the field, Arizona State. The Sun Devils are not seen as a serious threat in the Pac-10 then went out and laid an egg in a season- opening loss to New Mexico. Ball State already had one game to judge its competition level on Saturday versus an angry Butler squad at Hinkle Fieldhouse, and it drove into a buzzsaw, 88-55. This field also includes Southeastern Louisiana from the Southland Conference, Southern Utah from the Summit, Houston Baptist from the Great West and tourney host Alaska-Anchorage, a Division-II squad.

What to Watch For: Keady traded in his Hawaiian shirts for parkas. He is now an assistant under his former disciple Lavin, and the two could not have different appearances. So, after talking with friends about Lavin's New York motif, look at St. John's set offense, because we already know the Red Storm is athletic enough to generate points in transition. Also, make a note to watch Arizona State guard Trent Lockett, a sharpshooter who can fill up a stat sheet quickly.


When: November 25, 26, 28 in Orlando, Florida

Team Thoughts: The fifth edition of this event may feature its most balanced field. Steve Donahue's first real test as Boston College's new head coach will come on the 25th versus Texas A&M in a matchup of two teams that may end on the NCAA bubble, which means a victory is a big-time notch on the resume. Lavoy Allen and nationally-ranked Temple can score one for mid-majors and the Atlantic-10 by taking down California, which is not the same team without departed guard Jerome Randle. Jon Leuer is the benefactor to Jordan Taylor's freelance ability, and Wisconsin's offense runs through those two and Josh Gasser. The Badgers are seen as a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten finisher this season, so winning this event would go a long way to disposing that notion. Georgia has already taken down power-conference foe Colorado without projected conference standout Trey Thompkins, while Notre Dame's offense and defense go through Ben Hansbrough.

What to Watch For: Defenses. Several of these squads' personalities are framed by their defensive identifies. Temple plays a lot of matchup zone with plenty of length on the wings. Wisconsin plays tight on-ball man-to-man with solid principles, as does Notre Dame. Points may be at a premium in a tournament that also features the coaching talents of California's Mike Montgomery, the Fighting Irish's Mike Brey and Wisconsin's Bo Ryan.


When: November 25, 26, 28 in Anaheim, California

Team Thoughts: How big is the loss of J.T. Thompson? It looked large as Virginia Tech didn't put up much of a fight -- unless it was with the officials -- in last week's loss to Kansas State. It appeared to be a perfect storm for Virginia Tech, as Pullen was saddled with early foul trouble and Kelly was out due to disciplinary reasons. Yet, the Hokies' struggles coincided with Malcolm Delaney's shooting woes, and there was no one else (where were you Dorenzo Hudson?) to pick up the slack. Virginia Tech starts this event versus Cal State Northridge, which has already been handled by both UCLA and California. Oliver Purnell left Clemson for DePaul in an offseason move seen by many as lateral at best (despite the Chicago media market and the Blue Demons place in the Big East). He already has headaches with his team's inconsistent shooting, resulting in an early-season loss to Western Carolina. Oklahoma State eases through the out-of-conference slate, so this event is its only measuring stick until a New Year's Eve tilt with Gonzaga. The rest of the field includes Murray State, in the first Fine 15, but now out after an uninspired performance in a 16-point loss to Mississippi, Stanford, Tulsa and UNLV, which dropped Old Spice Classic participant Wisconsin, 68-65, to notch an impressive tournament-resume booster on Saturday.


# 1. Maryland needs to practice free throws. The Terrapins had Pittsburgh on the first-half ropes, leading, controlling the game's pace and handling the glass with Panthers standout Brad Wanamaker on the bench with two fouls. However, an early 0-for-6 effort from the charity stripe allowed Pittsburgh to surge to a four-point lead late in the opening 20 minutes. Overall, Maryland was 14-of-30 in a nine-point loss. It was better (13-of-18) in a four-point defeat at the hands of Illinois, but consistency on freebies will be mandatory come conference play. One silver lining is the Terps played two possible Top 10 teams within single digits despite two setbacks.

# 2. Demetri McCamey's two 20-plus-point outings in New York didn't just label him a true scorer, but also an efficient one. McCamey played within himself in an 8-for-16 effort in the overtime loss to Texas, but had to have more than 15 combined points from Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale. He needed just nine shots to score 20 points in the consolation game victory over Maryland, but again Illinois' inside combination scored just 15 total points. They or D.J. Richardson need to support McCamey's unselfish effort or the guard will need to change his offensive mindset.

# 3. Great job by Dante Taylor and Lamar Patterson off the bench in the victory over Maryland. Wanamaker played very little in the first half, yet the Panthers withstood the storm and pushed ahead in the second half. Pittsburgh's bench will be important in Big East play because its physical style will put head coach Jamie Dixon in some foul predicaments.

# 4. Texas is better than many thought. The young Longhorns stood toe to toe with two heavyweights, inching past Illinois in overtime then dropping a two- point decision to the Panthers. Jordan Hamilton was big time with 28 points in the loss to Pitt. Cory Joseph was out of control on the sprint to the basket in the final seconds, which is a sign of inexperience. A more mature player is not only under control but eyeing both the rim and wing players for a last- second drive-and-kick jumper.


# 1. North Carolina can't play in the half court, which leads to unnecessary chances on defense, which leads to easy baskets for the opposition. It is no surprise a Roy Williams-coached team is more comfortable in transition, but the Tar Heels have no half court offensive identity in the season's early stages. Freshman Harrison Barnes' preseason knock was his lack of killer instinct, and the super talent must quickly learn the offense must move through him and skilled post man Tyler Zeller. Far too often North Carolina is playing an off- the-dribble game with somebody other than Barnes, when in truth the ball should enter the post at least once to space the defense. North Carolina will improve, but this was just another example of meaningless preseason rankings. This team is still unsettled at the point with a freshman go-to player and a lack of frontcourt depth.

# 2. John Jenkins is a big-time scorer with great feel for time and place on the court. Vanderbilt needs more consistency from Jeffrey Taylor, who scored just five points in the loss to West Virginia before a better 15-point outing in the victory over North Carolina. The biggest surprise out of Puerto Rico may be the improvement of Commodores big man Festus Ezeli. The loss of A.J. Ogilvy to graduation was supposed to make the Commodores a more well-rounded team in the words of head coach Kevin Stallings at SEC Media Days. Ezeli's evolution into an offensive threat, a more adequate free-throw shooter (he shot below 40 percent last season) and a better rebounder will make the Vandy opposition respect the interior instead of shadowing an extra defender to Jenkins' side of the court.

# 3. These Golden Gophers may run through Al Nolen, but balance and fundamentals cement Tubby Smith's bunch as Big Ten sleepers. Nolen is a legitimate scorer, but Minnesota received contributions from Blake Hoffarber, Trevor Mbakwe and Colton Iverson in victories over North Carolina and West Virginia that will help seeding come March. Yes, I said seeding not selection. Barring major injury, these Golden Gophers will be playing meaningful hoops later this season.

# 4. Casey Mitchell can fill it up, scoring 31 and 27 points in the two pivotal games in San Juan. Yes, West Virginia came up small in the final loss to Minnesota, but it wasn't because of Mitchell's productivity. One wonders what happened to the sweet stroke of Joe Mazzulla, though, and the Mountaineers can't survive the arduous Big East schedule without another player but Mitchell in double figures.


1. Duke (3-0): Its first test comes this week against a top-20 team and its star player (here's hoping its Pullen and Kansas State).

2. Michigan State (2-0): Spartans' offensive efficiency is a good sign as they embark on the distractions of Maui.

3. Pittsburgh (5-0): Almost moved it up a spot with two quality victories over Maryland and Texas in New York. The bench -- and Ashton Gibbs -- proved big.

4. Kansas State (3-0): A lot to digest. Pullen now sixth on school's all-time scoring list, but effort and execution was lacking over the weekend in victory over Presbyterian. Wildcats may have been guilty of looking ahead to statement week, but will they have Kelly back?

5. Villanova (4-0): Tour through Northeast mid-majors gets broken up by statement game against upstart UCLA. It is the first and only look at how good Wildcats are until the game versus Temple just before the New Year.

6. Syracuse (4-0): Syracuse looks out of sync early, still figuring out role definition and it almost caught up with it in a three-point win over William & Mary. Freshman Fab Melo is prime example with a goose egg on the scoreboard in just 12 minutes against the Tribe. The good news? Kris Joseph was better with 18 points in the win.

7. Kansas (3-0): Big news in Lawrence comes when Josh Shelby can play.

8. Illinois (4-1): Overtime loss to Texas does not hurt Illini too much as they still pass the eye test. Now, time to find a secondary scoring option.

9. Missouri (2-0): Fast and furious tempo meant great returns versus North Florida. Western Illinois played at a snails pace, and lost by just five to the Tigers in the opener. Missouri's success will come with dictating tempo, but also being able to grind out victories in conference play.

10. BYU (3-0): Six-point victory over Utah State better than non-purists realize. Jimmer Fredette has been as advertised early.

11. Baylor (3-0): LaceDarius Dunn's season debut could come Monday night versus Lipscomb. Struggles versus LaSalle illustrated his importance.

12. Purdue (3-0): E'Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson are doing the heavy lifting, which is fine against the Alcorn State's of the world. Another week to find more offensive balance before Virginia Tech comes calling.

13. Kentucky (2-0): Who are these Wildcats? Maui will provide a glimpse at the answer.

14. Memphis (3-0): Good second-half rebound by a young team to down LSU. Coupled with victory over Miami-Florida, these Tigers are maturing fast.

15. Florida (3-1): Took foot off the gas in second half versus Morehead State. Gators shot under 30 percent from beyond the arc. Troubles still lie in that area.

Sixers and Wizards clash in nation's capital

Two teams looking to get star players back in the lineup clash this evening in the nation's capital, as the Washington Wizards play host to the Philadelphia 76ers at the Verizon Center.

Wizards No. 1 overall draft pick John Wall has missed the past four games with an injured left foot and is averaging a team-best 18.1 points and 9.8 assists this season. He hasn't played since a Nov. 13 loss at Chicago and beat up on the Sixers for 29 points, 13 assists and nine steals in a win earlier this month in DC.

Wall experienced some soreness in practice this week and will be a game-time decision, according to Wizards coach Flip Saunders. Saunders also said Wall went through the entire practice and did some scrimmaging, and will need clearance from the team's medical staff in order to play.

Washington has lost four of its last six games and is coming off Sunday's 115-110 overtime setback at Detroit. Richard Hamilton scored 12 of the Pistons' 13 overtime points, while Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee both had 20 points for Washington, which fell to 0-6 on the road this season. McGee also
grabbed a career-high 16 boards and is averaging 11.8 rebounds per game in the last four contests.

"These are the ones that hurt. The blowouts don't hurt but these are the ones you should have won," said Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas, who had 19 points and a career-high 16 assists in a losing cause.

Philadelphia put the brakes on a five-game losing streak with Friday's 90-79 home win over the Milwaukee Bucks. Thaddeus Young registered a season-high 23 points off the bench and reserve Lou Williams shook off a shoulder injury to score 19 points for the 76ers, who won for just the third time this season.

Andres Nocioni provided 12 points in a winning effort. The Sixers bench outscored Milwaukee, 47-32.

"We got past this one, now we've got to go on to the next one with our heads on straight," Young said. "We can't live off one win, we've got to get more, more, more."

Young and Company hope to get star forward and defensive specialist Andre Iguodala back tonight. Iguodala's missed three straight games with a strained Achilles tendon and is averaging 12.8 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.0 assists.

The Sixers are just 1-6 as the visitor this season and will begin a three-game road trip tonight against the Wizards, Raptors and Heat. Iguodala, Nocioni (foot) and three-point threat Jason Kapono (personal) are all listed as questionable for tonight's contest.

Philadelphia rookie Evan Turner, the No. 2 overall selection in June's draft, had nine points and six rebounds in the first meeting with Wall and the Wizards. Washington has won four in a row against the Sixers after losing the previous four matchups.

The 76ers have lost three straight and 10 of 13 trips to the Verizon Center.