Monday, March 31, 2008

2008 Phillies - Preview

With both of the Philly winter sports teams still vying for playoff berths, can it get any better than your NL East Champion Phillies getting ready to defend their title? Thousands of people across the Delaware Valley will be making up bullshit reasons to leave work or avoid responsibility in some way in order to catch the opener today. Will you be one of them?

And honestly, how could you NOT be one of them? This Phillies team is terribly difficult to dislike.

Afterall, last year's Phils overtook the choking New York Mets for the NL East title and did so with style and panache. NL MVP Jimmy Rollins, the shortstop and spiritual leader of the Phils, called the Phillies "the team to beat" and he made it happen. Former NL MVP and first baseman Ryan Howard had 47 homers and 137 RBI in what some folks considered to be an off year. Chase Utley, MVP-in-waiting on the Phils, hit a lusty .332 and proved himself to be good in the clutch, hitting .304 with runners in scoring position. Cole Hamels emerged as the staff ace, going 15 - 5, with 177 strikeouts. I could go on and on.....the ceiling on this team is incredibly high.

The real question for this year's edition of the Phils is the following: Can the Phillies repeat, given the improvements made by both the Mets and Braves in NL East?

To attempt to answer this question, I will use the format I used for last year's preview and give 5 reasons, for and against, the Phillies being able to repeat.

5 Reasons that the Phillies will absolutely repeat as NL East Champs:

1.) A full year of Brett Myers in the rotation: Moving Brett Myers back to the rotation makes sense in every way, and to be honest, he should have never been moved out of the rotation last year to begin with. The Phillies were incredibly lucky that the move of Myers to the bullpen did not blow up in their faces last year, when their rotation became a shambles with injuries to Freddy Garcia, Jon Lieber, Cole Hamels, etc. Myers has high-end pitching talent and that talent is best leveraged once every 5 days. He has the ability to be an ace on just about any staff.

2.) Expect big things from Pedro Feliz this year: The move in the offseason to add Pedro Feliz has made a very good infield even better. Over the course of his career, spent exclusively in hitter unfriendly San Francisco, Feliz never posted fewer than 20 homers and 70 RBIs. In Philadelphia, with the calibre of hitters in this lineup and the dimensions of the home park, I would not be shocked if Feliz hit 30 homers and approached 90 RBI. Despite the fact he strikes out a great deal and doesn't get on base very much, he has never slugged below .418. He is also very good defensively. This is a far cry from the Wes Helms/Abe Nunez/Greg Dobbs trifecta that we all lived with last year.

3.) Pat Burrell WILL hit consistently this year: This is Pat Burrell's free agent year; any thoughts of him not hitting should be abandoned. However distracted Burrell was in the past with "off-field" hobbies, baseball should have Burrell's full attention this year. A 40 home run year should not be ruled out.

4.) The Geoff Jenkins/Jayson Werth Platoon: The Phillies could not get Jayson Werth out of the lineup towards the end of the 2007 season, where he hit .298 in part-time duty. This includes the month of August last year, where Werth hit .414. Geoff Jenkins has 212 homeruns in 10 major league seasons and is a well-respected veteran. The on-field and off-field contributions of these two men should be more than enough to make up for the loss of Aaron Rowand (who perhaps played over his head last year in his walk year).

5.) Confidence is everything: Going into last year, the questions around the Phillies centered around whether the team would ever have success. Going into this year, success seems a foregone conclusion, but rather, how successful will they be? The players, in spring training, have exuded the confidence of a team on the rise. It seems they had a taste of winning last year and are thirsty for more. Don't underestimate the after effects of winning last year.

5 Reasons the Phillies will NOT make the playoffs this year:

1.) Adam Eaton: Actually not so much Eaton himself (we know he sucks) as much as he represents the hole we currently have at 5th starter. Kris Benson is waiting in the wings, but as he is still rehabbing, he may not be available to sometime in June. And even if Benson is the answer, how good can he be coming off of surgery? The 5th starter spot will require watching all year.

2.) Missing Aaron Rowand: Aaron Rowand was a Philadelphia sort of player. He hustled out everything, he played with reckless abandon, and famously face planted out against the center field wall in trying to make a catch. There is no type of player we like more than the player who will risk life and limb to catch a baseball. Not only did the fans seems to respond to Rowand, but it was obvious even to an outsider that Rowand was fairly popular amongst his teammates for his style of play and leadership. He also hit a cool .309 with 27 homers and provided a level headed consistency to the lineup that the Werth/Jenkins platoon may struggle to replicate.

3.) Jimmy Rollins....Back to Earth?: Jimmy Rollins will never be a reason that the Phillies lose. But can Rollins put up numbers similar to, or surpassing last year's performance? Almost every offensive category from last year, from his batting average to his slugging percentage, was far beyond his 162 game average over the course of his career. The thinking with the inclusion of Jimmy Rollins on this list isn't so much that I think Rollins will have a bad year; it's more an acknowledgement of just how special of a year that Rollins had last year and how difficult it will be for JRoll to repeat it.

4.) Cole Hamels' Wonky Back: That Cole Hamels is an elite pitcher is no longer in doubt; his 15 - 5 year last year as well as 177 strikeouts bear that out. What is not clear about Hamels, is his ability to stay healthy. His wiry frame seems especially conducive to injury. There was even some controversy last year about Hamels' complaints that the Phillies did not have a chiropractor last year (which have since been addressed). If the Phillies can keep Hamels healthy for a full year, there is no telling how much Hamels can acheive. But Hamels has never gone through a full year without injury, so the next time he does it will be the first time. How it will affect the team remains to be seen.

5.) Can Kyle Kendrick Repeat his success?: Last year, around the time Freddy Garcia went into the toilet, Kyle Kendrick was called up to the Major Leagues. Kendrick was largely considered a middling prospect by most scouting reports. Who knew this guy would come along and stabilize the rotation by going 10 - 4 with a 3.87 ERA? Unfortunately, this is a new year and Kendrick will not be sneaking up on anyone. To further scare the hell out of Phillies fans, Kendrick got smacked around pretty much all spring long. And don't give me that business of Kendrick "just getting his work in". Guys that have been established vets "just get their work in" during spring training. Guys that come out of nowhere, like Kendrick did last year, have heightened expectations and need to dominate Spring hitters. Which Kyle Kendrick will come out this year? The one that calmly stabilized the rotation or the one that got smacked around in spring training?

This year's Phillies prediction? Sure the Mets added Santana, and the Braves got better, with a full year of Mark Teixeira. But this Phillies team has too much talent to be kept out of the postseason. I can see 92 wins for this team and another NL East crown.

Other baseball predictions. Like last year, I do not have to justify these predictions with actual facts:
1.) Johan Santana will not get 20 wins nor will he be as dominant as advertised. He'll still be good, winning 17 games and will not pitch the number of innings he pitched in the AL.

2.) The Yankees will overthrow Boston for the AL East crown this year. New manager Joe Girardi will put some life back into what had become a comfortable existence for some of the players in Yankee pinstripes.

3.) Tony LaRussa will be fired by July.

4.) New Twins GM, after his horrible Johan Santana trade, will try to trade Joe Mauer to the Blue Jays for P Dave Stieb, OF Joe Carter, and C Rod Barajas. The Blue Jays will turn down these overtures, however, when GM Bill Smith refuses to throw in Ottawa Senator playoff tickets.

5.) The Houston Astros will fire GM Ed Wade when they finally realized they hired ED FUCKING WADE! UGH! How does this guy have a job in baseball still?

6.) White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen will finally implode this year and mercilessly beat up a reporter. Don't know when. Don't know how. It will just.....happen.

7.) The Detroit Tigers will be so good this year, Jim Leyland will give up smoking.

8.) NL MVP: David Wright. The entire national media has such a man-crush on David Wright, it's inevitable that he'll win the award. David Wright is to the baseball media as Brett Favre is to the football media. AL MVP: Magglio Ordonez.

9.) NL Cy Young: Dan Haren; AL Cy Young: Jered Weaver (yeah, I know I picked Weaver last year....this time, I'll be right)

10.) 2008 World Series: Detroit over Arizona

Friday, March 28, 2008

Sweet 16 Villanova: Where's All the Love?

Villanova University, who defied the odds this year to make the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament, faces off tonite with the number one seed in their bracket, the storied Kansas Jay Hawks.

In the days since last weekends games, I've heard some talk on the radio and have seen some internet chatter featuring some significant scheudenfreude towards the Wildcats coming from those in the St. Joe's community and vice versa.

Now, I love me some scheudenfreude. Nothing makes me happier than when the Lakers or the Celtics have a losing season. I hate all of the NFC East teams. I almost hate Mets fans as much as I hate the actual Mets themselves (smarmy fucks). The Rangers, Devils, Isles, and Pens? Hate'em. This sort of hatred is part and parcel to being a Philly fan and, on some level, tied to geography and history.

But rooting AGAINST another Big 5 school just because your favorite Big 5 school is out of the NCAA tournament? Don't get it. At least, not anymore.

And it's not like I don't have a little credibility here. Take the St. Joe's-Villanova rivalry. I did go to St. Joe's (before transferring elsewhere), so I definitely get the rivalry. I've been to SJU/Villanova games, albeit this was back before St. Joe's had a national reputation (during the end of the Jimmy Boyle era). When I went to the games, Villanova was about 3 years removed from their NCAA title and Rollie Massimino was busily trying to extract his team from it's Big 5 city series obligations so the Villanova program could go "big time" with the context of the Big East conference.

I remember hating Villanova and it's students at that time because, by eschewing the Big 5 in favor of Big East play, they were pretty much telling the Big 5 they were too good for City Series play anymore. By the way, for background purposes, I believe the Big 5 is probably the coolest thing in all of college sports. It's an interconference super-conference based on regional rivalries. If you can think of something like that in all of Division I college sports, please bring it to my attention.

So with that information in mind, you can see that yes, at one time, Villanova was well-worthy of true scheudenfreude status from St. Joe's, Temple, LaSalle, and Penn folks (yes, you too, Drexel). Villanova was telling all of us they were too good for us.

Well, not anymore. Especially since Jay Wright took over Villanova.

Jay Wright has stood by the Big 5 affiliation pretty much since he took over the program. Not to the extent that Phil Martelli does, by having St. Joes' Big 5 home games at the Palestra, but he's done a magnificent job of putting more emphasis back on City Series play. He's a Council Rock High kid, so Wright definitely understands the importance of the Philadelphia college basketball scene and the Big 5.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not asking you to go out and buy Villanova gear or to memorize the Villanova fight song (which, if you know the words, is annoyingly catchy....check it out here).

All I'm asking is that you don't openly root for Kansas out of Big 5 scheudenfreude and to root for Villanova in a detached, dignified way.

That is, unless, you have Kansas in your bracket pools.

Newsflash! Bobby Knight is a Dick!

Speaking of college basketball coaches, 950 WPEN had Bobby Knight on a couple of days ago to talk about some of the Sweet 16 games this weekend. Jack McCafferey, the longtime Delco writer, was sitting in for Jody Mac and attempted to conduct the interview with a man, who, it seemed like couldn't be bothered to talk to a lowly radio guy. The interview itself was a complete train wreck; Knight gave Jack nothing during the interview and eventually, abruptly, cut the interview off.

Now, Bobby Knight may have been a great basketball coach, but his dealings with McCafferey in this interview illustrates my biggest problem with Knight. Bobby Knight is incapable of seperating how he deals with his kids versus how he deals with his peers. He treats both other adults and his kids the same way; like shit. And I never really had a problem with how he treated his players. That to me was always a case of "buyer beware" knew that Knight was medieval in his tactics with his players, so if you went there and didn't like how Knight did things, well, you got no sympathy from me.

But adults that needed to deal with Knight on a daily basis were subjected to the same condescending bullshit that he gives the teenagers he instructs on the basketball court and no one should have to deal with someone like that in a professional setting.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Phils Prospects and other stuff.....

- Keith Law posted the top 5 prospects for each organization in his blog back in January (article available via ESPN Insider). Always find it relevant at the beginning of each year to see who we should be monitoring in the minors. He sees the Phils top kids as follows (I provided links to stats for each guy):

1. Carlos Carrasco, rhp
2. Joe Savery, lhp
3. Kyle Drabek, rhp
4. Josh Outman, lhp
5. Travis d'Arnaud, c

Conspicuous by his absence from this list? Catcher Jason Jaramillo, the son of renowned hitting
guru, Rudy Jaramillo. Jaramillo could be on the roster this year, if the Phils incur injuries, and will likely be your 2010 starting catcher. A quick snapshot of Jaramillo's career is presented in this article from the Morning Call.

- Apparently, Lenny Dykstra's son, Cutter, is a pretty good player. Regardless of the kid's lineage and playing ability, the name "Cutter" is just ridiculously bad.

- The graphic below is from one of those silly little quizzes that linked that I couldn't resist. Based on a bunch of questions, the quiz determines which big leaguer you are most like. Apparently, I am "Matt Holiday"....which disappoints me greatly:

Find out Which Major Leaguer Are You at!

Getting Ready for Baseball

Can't even begin to relay how excited I am about opening day of the baseball season. I was especially juiced when posted a trailer about an upcoming DVD that will trace the life of one of the greatest Phillies to ever play, Richie Ashburn. Still writing up my 2008 Phils preview, but it felt like much less of a chore after watching that trailer.

In the spirit of the upcoming Whitey Ashburn documentary, I give the following clip, featuring Rich Ashburn: pitch-man.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Richards Delivers! Flyers Win!

The play started out with a brutal turnover by first ballot douchebag Ranger Sean Avery. Jason Smith scooped in the gift and patiently looked up ice. What happened next showed some cool symmetry. Current captain Jason Smith hitting future captain Mike Richards with a pass right on his tape as he was cutting into the Rangers zone. With Marek Malik draped all over of him, Mike Richards chipped a backhand past the glove of Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundquist, giving the Flyers a desperately needed 2 - 1 win in overtime.

The goal was the first OT game winner scored by Richards and possibly the most important goal he's scored to date. The win solidified the Flyers 7th place standing in the Eastern Conference, 2 points ahead of 8th place Boston (who won last night), and 4 points ahead of Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals (who also won last night).

Any win against the hated Rangers is sweet; what was even more encouraging was the way the Flyers played in this game. They played a tight defensive game and gave the Rangers almost nothing. As well as Biron played, he probably should have had the one goal the Rangers did manage did get. After that goal, though, Biron battoned down the hatches and played a stellar game and the Flyers will desperately need his best game, not only down the stretch, but into the playoffs (should they make it).

Want more encouraging signs for the Orange and Black? How about the developing chemistry between Vinny Prospal and Danny Briere? The Flyers scored their first goal, mid-way through the 3rd period, on a sweet give-and-go between Prospal and Briere, where Prospal dished a no-look backhand pass to Briere, who made it count. Given Simon Gagne's now cloudy future with post-concussive syndrome, GM Paul Holmgren is going to have to think long and hard about giving Vinny Prospal a contract this summer. Prospal has shown tremendous chemistry with Danny Briere and it shows in the numbers for the last 12 or so games:

Briere (12 games): 8 G, 6 A, + 3 (Briere did miss a game with a bad shoulder)
Prospal (13 games): 3 G, 8 A, +5

With this game out of the way, the Flyers can now concentrate on the team that pretty much owned them this season; the hated New Jersey Devils. The Flyers and Devils match up this Friday night at 7pm in Newark.

Programming Note: Yeah, I know baseball starts this Monday. I got plenty of baseball stuff coming up, starting either tonite or tomorrow. The "one post per day" rule is going to have to be suspended for the next week or so.

(Picture from; (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images) )

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Sixers Finally Beat the Celtics

If you are Andre Iguodala's agent, and you're trying to get max money for your client this summer from the Sixers, you may want to commit last night's game against the Celtics to DVD and send a copy to the Sixers about every other day during the negotiations to remind the Sixers just how good Iguodala is now and will be in the future.

The Sixers, behind Iguodala's defense and a 19 - 0 4th quarter run, beat the Eastern Conference leader, the Boston Celtics by a score of 95 - 90. A cynic may say that the Celtics were weary, coming off a long road trip. I'm not sure it matters as the Sixers, for the first time this season, finally solved their old rival that they hadn't beaten all year. I am far more inclined to credit the athleticism of the Sixers and the way they are all pulling together at about the right time then any fatigue the Celtics might have been experiencing.

Andre Iguodala's night? 28 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals. Also, Iggy threw down some tremendous dunks that will fit in nicely with his ever-growing portfolio of highlight reel moments.

I don't know who the Sixers are going to meet in the playoffs, but whoever it is, better know that this isn't the Sixers from last year, that folded under pressure. This Sixers team will run and run, and then, run some more. They play pressure defense and can make you look silly with the resulting easy buckets. Take it from Doc Rivers:

“If they play like they’ve played, that’s a talent the other team can’t practice against,” Rivers said. “You can’t practice against hard play - and that’s a huge advantage for them.” - Doc Rivers - Today's Boston Herald

As I've been saying during this run, where they've knocked off some elite teams, this team definitely has some holes. They have almost zero low post offensive presence and no dead-eye from long range to create openings down low. But they are making the most of what they do have and it has been more than enough to create an entertaining brand of basketball.

The best analogy I can come up with for this season is that this Sixers season is the $20 bill you find in your pocket when you are doing the wash. You completely forgot about the $20 bill, but now that you have it, you figure you'll do something cool with it because it's found money. Well, that's what this Sixers season feels like; found money.

Andre Miller continued his brilliant season with a 20 point, 6 rebound, 6 assist effort and Thaddeus Young contributed 16 points to pace the reserves.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Flyers Playoff Push

The Flyers have won 3 in a row since the 7 - 1 debacle in Pittsburgh back on March 16th and find themselves on Easter Monday in sole possession of the 7th spot in the Eastern Conference. The next 8 days feature the Flyers playing on the road against each of their Atlantic Division rivals on a last chance power drive to the Stanley Cup playoffs, with the final two games at home.

How have their upcoming opponents been faring?

Tuesday, March 25th vs. New York Rangers (6th, Eastern Conference)

The Rangers have lost 3 of their last 5, including Good Friday's 4 - 3 shootout loss to the Flyers. The Rangers are a strange team in lots of ways. They are immensely talented, offensively, but their power play is 3 for 32 for the month of March, so far. Four of the Rangers' wins (as well as two of their losses) are by way of the shootout. Let's just say this is not a matchup the Flyers should be that scared of right now, considering the lack of success the Flyers have had against the Rangers this season.

I don't know if the Rangers can be considered a scary team to play against at this time, but as the games become more and more important, you wonder if Scott Gomez and Chris Drury will come to the fore and dominate as their pedigrees suggest.

Friday, March 28th vs. New Jersey Devils (4th, Eastern Conference)

It's very simple for the Flyers; if they beat the Devils in the next two games against them, it would do incalculable good for the collective psyche of the Flyers. The Devils are 4 - 1 against the Flyers this year, winning the last 4 games by a score of 17 - 5. Quite simply, the Devils have owned the Flyers this season and the Flyers play the Devils twice down the stretch. They will need to win at least one game against the Devils not only for their confidence, but for their playoff lives.

If the Flyers are going to steal a couple against the Devils, now may be the best time. The Devils have lost 4 of the last 6, losing last Saturday to Pittsburgh by a score of 7 - 1. Their offensive leader, Patrik Elias, has been day-to-day with the flu and has been nursing a bruised knee, but should be back when the two teams meet this Friday.

Saturday, March 29th vs. New York Islanders (13th, Eastern Conference)

The Flyers just beat the Islanders last night by a score of 4 - 1 and the Flyers have owned the Isles all season long. Furthermore, the Islanders, already out of the playoff chase, will be even further out of the chase by the time these two teams meet. The only potential issue with this game is that it is the tail-end of a pair of back-to-back games......the type of games that have given Martin Biron lots of trouble.

Wednesday, April 2nd vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (2nd, Eastern Conference)

Pittsburgh, the leader in the Atlantic division right now, has won 7 of their last 10 games. They've done most of this damage without NHL cover boy Sidney Crosby, whose high ankle sprain is obviously far worse than anyone let on. It is thought that he could be back when the Pens play the Isles tonite.

The engine that has made the Penguin machine go lately has been the goaltending of Marc-Andre Fleury and the play of Big Evgeni Malkin. Fleury has won his last 4 starts, giving up no more than two goals in any of the games and Malkin now has 102 points on the year, including a 2 goal, 2 assist effort against the Flyers in the last time the two teams matched up.

Obviously Pittsburgh is playing better than any other team in the Atlantic and will just get healthier with Crosby back in the fold. This team is my odds-on-favorite to come out of the Eastern Conference, because of the sheer volume of high-end offensive talent that they have with Crosby, Malkin, Marian Hossa, and the vastly underrated Petr Sykora.

While the Flyers did dominate the Pens early on this season, the last couple of games against the Pens have not gone well for the Flyers. While the Flyers have been decimated by injuries and without several players of late, I'm not sure it will matter as the Pens begin to kick it up a notch, with the playoffs around the corner.

To put the games against the Pens in some sort of perspective, I think the games against the Devils may show where the Flyers' head is going into the playoffs and the games against the Pens will show the Flyers where their heart is going into the playoff push. Don't forget Pens crushed the Flyers 7 - 1 in their last matchup in embarrassing fashion, so if the Flyers have a heartbeat, expect them to show it in the Pens games.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Allen Iverson Returns. And Loses.

"I came to this organization, I was 21, I thought I was ready," he said. "I wasn't ready. I never had a dime in my life, and then all of a sudden I came into a bunch of millions . . . I was a fish out of water.

"I did a lot of things [with the Sixers] . . . Looking back on it, it's embarrassing, but I can share a lot of experiences, a lot of do's and do nots. I don't regret any of it." - Allen Iverson 3/19/2008 (Phil Jasner's piece in the DN)

Last night was about as positive of an experience as you could wish for if you're a Sixer fan. You got to thank Allen Iverson for all he did for the franchise. You watched your team beat the Nuggets and maintain position for a playoff spot in the Eastern conference. Your floor general, Andre Miller, raised his game even higher against one of his old teams, on his birthday no less.

What made it better? It was nice to hear Allen admit he made mistakes here, because he clearly did. If he had applied himself in such a way that would enhance his natural ability, there is no telling what heights Allen and this franchise would have gotten to. But last night was not about negatives.

During the postgame press conference, Iverson went on, at length, about how much he loved the fans here, how much he missed the area, and he seemed genuinely touched by his reception. It was good to see Iverson, who so often puts up a hardass front, express himself so emotionally about his time here.

It was also good to finally hear from an athlete an acknowledgement of the type of fans that we are without references to Santa Claus, batteries, or snow balls:

"Philadelphia fans are the best in the sense that they care about their team," Iverson said. "They are diehard fans here. At times it was, 'I love you, A.I.,' but then it was, "We gonna whup your ass.'

"Yes, I respect you, and I love what you did, but I'm still Philly all the way. You've got to respect them for that. You've got to love them for that." - Allen Iverson 3/19/2008 (John Smallwood's piece in the DN)

The game itself might have been one of the best the Sixers played all year. The win brought their record to the .500 mark at 34 - 34. The money play? With under a minute to go, Andre Iguodala was driving the lane, lost his footing, and threw up a blind and desperate shot/pass (depending on who you want to believe) that ended up in the hands of Sam Dalembert, who (amazingly) caught the ball and deposited it for the go-ahead bucket.

As for Andre Miller, what else can be said of him that already hasn't been said? He was tremendous, playing against his former team, putting up 28 points and dishing out 12 assists. His signature play was posting up Allen Iverson down low and pump faking Iverson into the air and having Iverson fall down hard on his back. Miller subsequently shot and drew the foul. Afterwards, the usually stoic defiantly Miller yelled and pumped his fist. He clearly wanted this game.

Allen Iverson wanted this game as well. Let's thank Allen for all he had done for the franchise, but let's be glad the current edition of the Sixers wouldn't let the night be perfect for him.

(sneaker picture from; Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Return of Allen Iverson

Allen Iverson returns to the Wachovia center tonite for the first time since the December 19th trade that saw him get traded to the Denver Nuggets.

Many Philadelphians have many differing opinions on Allen Iverson and his career here in Philadelphia. I don't intend to write any sort of "what was AI's legacy" type of article this morning. Not yet anyway. And apparently, neither do the Sixers, who rightfully will not do any sort of video tribute or unnecessary pregame ceremony. I love the way the Sixers, while allowing for a modified intro of AI, are still remembering that this is an opponent, and a dangerous one at that.

While now may not be the time for that full-spectrum Allen Iverson retrospective, it is important to remember that no matter what happened when Allen Iverson was a member of the Sixers, no one can dispute that Allen Iverson made Sixer basketball relevant not only locally, but on a national level. From upper middle-class folks in Radnor to the badlands of West Philly, EVERYONE had an opinion, either good or bad about Allen Iverson. When it came to his effort on the court, the opinion was almost universally positive. When it came to his effort off-the-court and how it indirectly may have hindered his on-the-court performance, opinion was much more gray.

Let's not forget what this franchise was like in 1996, when Pat Croce put together an ownership team to buy to buy out Harold Katz. They were a rotting corpse of a franchise; the shit on the bottom of everyone's shoe. Then Croce came in, they drafted a skinny kid out of Georgetown named Allen Iverson, and despite a few bumps on the way, went on to become the hottest sporting ticket in town.

Far be it for me to tell people what to do during a game with respect to whether to boo a certain player or not to boo a certain player. If you feel compelled to boo Allen Iverson to remind him of how you feel about his practice habits or about his penchant to park in the handicapped spot at TGI Friday's on City Ave, go right ahead and boo your lungs out. That is your right as a fan.

But hopefully, you'll hold off on the boos, just this once, and warmly welcome home a player who gave everything he had on the court during game time.

Now one more time, for old time's sake, the "Tyron Lue Stepover":

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Flyers' Jason Smith: Cockeyed Optimist

"We're going to get into the playoffs and we're going to be a hard team to play against." - Jason Smith - 3/18 Courier-Post

So sayeth the current captain of the Philadelphia Flyers. I'm not terribly sure where he gets his optimism. After all, this team is 8 - 17 sinces the All-Star break and has only won 5 of their last 21 games. That is hardly enough to engender enthusiasm headed down the stretch.

Their latest shitting of the bed, a 7-1 loss to the Crosby-less Penguins, had GM Paul Holmgren openly questioning the preparation of coach John Stevens.

"This time of year, it [falls] on the coaches, and it's got to come down to the players themselves," he said. "They're the ones who are going out there and playing. We're all in this together. We haven't done very well here lately. . .
We're not getting the push we need to put us over the hump right now, for
whatever reason." -- Paul Holmgren (Yesterday's Inky)

Now, while Tim Panaccio checks in today to let us know not to expect John Stevens to be fired right this second, I do believe that if the Flyers don't make the playoffs this year, I think Stevens will be gone.

I'm not so sure he shouldn't be gone anyway. This team looks suspiciously like the 2001-2002 Flyers, who, under Bill Barber (who coached Stevens when Stevens was a player on the Phantoms) won the Atlantic Division, but lost in the first round of the playoffs to a much faster (and better prepared) Ottawa team. The similiarities with this edition of the Flyers lie not so much with the lockerroom discord that was going on at the time, but with the style of play the two teams employ. Barber's team did not seem to have any sort of a system (and those players openly rebelled after the season) and this team seems to be the same way. What does this team do well? Are they tenacious forecheckers who score off of the cycle and thrive on puck possession or are they dashers and flashers who score off of the line rush?

Perhaps this team would do better to go with a more system oriented coach who can take the talent they do have and mold a system around it. Their power play has been highly ranked all season; they clearly have offensive skill players. Why that success doesn't translate into consistent 5-on-5 play is beyond me.

The Flyers' playoff death march continues this evening at home against Atlanta.

Monday, March 17, 2008

3 Philly Teams in the NCAA Tourney

This is one of my favorite times of the year. St. Paddy's day, with it's irresponsible binge drinking and rowdy Irish women, always seems to occur at the same time with the NCAA tournament. Not to be underestimated is the anticipation that comes with the winding day of Spring training and having MLB Opening day right around the corner (2 more weeks!).

A nice little gift that the sporting gods have given Philadelphia is that 3 teams from the Philadelphia area have made the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1999.

Each of Temple, St. Joe's, and Villanova made it to the NCAA Tournament as a result of their work in their recent conference tournaments.

Temple, sort of the long shot in the group, got their bid the hard way. Temple defeated St. Joe's in the finals of the Atlantic 10 tournament on Saturday night by a score of 69-64 in one of those games that will probably enter Philadelphia college basketball folklore for the magnitude of the game between two long time local rivals. Before this game, St. Joe's and Temple had never met for the A-10 title before.

St. Joe's was up at half-time, and then Temple seemed to simply blow past the Hawks behind junior guard Dionte Christmas. Christmas had 22 points on 8 of 14 shooting, which was in direct contrast to the struggles of Hawks' swingman Pat Calathes, who never seemed comfortable in posting his 14 points. Calathes, usually an excellent outside with a 40% average from 3-point land, hoisted up 10 3's making only 2.

As a result of the win, Temple got the automatic bid for the Atlantic 10 conference. That left St. Joe's at the mercy of the NCAA selection committee, which saw fit to admit St. Joe's as an 11 seed in the Eastern bracket (ironically, higher than the Owls, who drew a 12 seed in the Southern bracket).

The team that turned the dancing duo into a traipsing threesome (no McGreevey jokes, please) was the Villanova Wildcats. Some thought the 'Cats would be in as long as they won their first round game in the Big East tournament against Syracuse, which they managed to do easily. They eventually got thumped by Georgetown in the Big East tournament and had to sit and wait for the NCAA selection committee, just like the Hawks. Their prayers were answered in the form of a 12th seeding in the Midwest bracket of the tournament.

The first round matchups for the teams are as follows:

Thursday 12:30pm: Temple (12) vs. Michigan State (5)
Friday 7:10pm: St. Joe's (11) vs. Oklahoma (6)
Friday 9:50pm: Villanova (12) vs. Clemson (5)

Quick Asides

- Can't believe the Sixers beat the Spurs on the heels of taking out Detroit. Wow. Just. WOW.

- After yesterday's 7 - 1 drubbing at the hand of the Pens, John Stevens better update his resume as I think if the Flyers miss the playoffs, he is likely going to be fired.

Friday, March 14, 2008

St. Joe's, Temple Advance in A-10 Tourney

Both St. Joe's and Temple won in their respective A-10 tournament games, meaning that 2 of the 4 teams remaining in the A-10 tourney are Big 5 teams.

St. Joe's beat Richmond by a score of 61-47 in a game I monitored on my PC at work and was unable to see (damn work). Rob Ferguson scored 16 points on 6 of 6 shooting. Bob Cooney of the PDN sings the praises of Tasheed Carr in his game recap this morning.

Temple took down fellow Big 5 school LaSalle in a game that was much closer than the scored indicated. The final score was 84-75, but it was a 2 point game with under a minute to go. Dionte Christmas had 29 points to pace Temple.

Games in the A-10 tourney continue today with St. Joe's playing No. 12 Xavier at 6:30pm and Temple plays Charlotte at 9pm. According to the TV Guide (listings may vary depending on where you live and what cable system you may or may not have), these games should be on CN8.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

HUGE Win on the Road for the 76ers

Had to come back today to post a 2nd time to give some love to the Sixers.

Despite not shooting all that well (40% as a team) and despite missing their floor leader, Andre Miller, for the final 7 minutes of the game, the Sixers went on to gut out an 83-82 win over perennial Eastern Conference power Detroit Pistons.

Andre Iguodala managed 22 points on 6 of 22 shooting, but most importantly, he made 9 of 12 free throws, but Iggy was not the whole story here.

With Miller out (low back bruise and ab strain), everyone seemed to contribute from Sam Dalembert (15 boards, 3 blocks that should have been 4 but for a bullshit goaltending call) to Rodney Carney (16 points on 7 of 10 shooting) to even Jason Smith, who used all 5 of his fouls (I mean that in a good's not a horrible thing to be an energy guy and come out, play physically, and use up your fouls).

It's been said by better writers and observers of the team than myself, but I cannot say enough for the style of play this team has taken on since Ed Stefanski became the GM. Don't listen to me.....take it from Chauncey Billups (from Phil Jasner's article in today's DN):

"I think you've got to run different sets that sometimes you might not run," he said, "because [the Sixers] are locked in, and that team is long and very athletic, and they used that to their advantage."

Basically, what that means is that a coach is using the talent he has in the most appropriate way. Not sure there is another coach in the city that can be said of other than Mo Cheeks. Sure, this Sixer team definitely has holes (no consistent, dead-on 3 point threat, no low-post offensive presence) and Lou Williams' development sometimes scares me (1 for 10 shooting last night....yikes!), but you can't dispute that this team has been damn entertaining for some time now.

It's fun that Sixer basketball is starting to matter again.

The Flyers Are Annoying On And Off the Ice

I want to get to get this Flyers rant out of the way. I want to say nice things about the Sixers coming up big against Detroit on the road and I don't want to co-mingle the stink around the Flyers franchise right now with the Sixers, who, however flawed, still manage to come out with strong efforts night in and night out. I will violate my own "one post per day" rule for the Sixers later today.

How the fuck could they drop two in a row to the Maple Leafs? The Leafs are dead team walking; their star player, Mats Sundin, went out after the 1st period of last night's game. They were ripe for the beating.

The Flyers' insistence on taking dumb penalties will almost certainly cost them in the playoffs. Scott Hartnell and Joffrey Lupul took two of the dumbest penalties I've ever seen.

Also, could Martin Biron have given up a goal softer than the one he gave up to Ian White to start the game? That was just a demoralizing goal to give up and frankly, I think this team is too fragile to have your goaltender give up softies like that one.

Let's just right now that I don't see this team going too far in the playoffs.

Now, let's get to issues off of what the Flyers did off of the ice to piss me off. The team announced yesterday that they decided to raise ticket prices for next year.

There is only one reaction to this announcement: complete outrage. How in the hell can you, not too far removed from a lockout that provided you with cost certainty, claim that you need more money? Furthermore, the franchise is one year removed from being the worst team in the league and frankly, after last night's performance, they are by NO means a lock to make the playoffs.

So, help me to understand how you need MORE money to fund a team that could possibly go TWO years in a row NOT making the playoffs

As a Season Ticket Holder, I received an invitation to go to a town hall style meeting for next week (March 20th, I think). After this money increase, it should be high comedy to hear these guys justify a ticket price hike.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Flyers Fall to Leafs; Will St. Joe's Make the NCAAs?

I had no expectations of a Flyers win going into last night's game. The Leafs have been surging since their core group of players, when confronted with waiving their no-trade clauses, decided to take over the team and actually play hockey down the stretch. They publicly targeted last night's game and tonites game as games they had to win and win in regulation in order to catch the Flyers.

Furthermore, I also knew that last night's game was played in Toronto. I've been watching hockey for a long time and one thing I know is that a team based in the US will never catch a fair break as far as officiating goes in a Canadian rink. I'm not complaining; it is what it is.

Both of these thoughts came into fruition last night, as the Leafs huffed and puffed and blew in the Flyers' house by a score of 4 - 3 in OT. Sure, the Flyers got a point, but they could have demoralized the Leafs with a win, making tonite's game easier.

The Leafs played desperately for most of the game, but to no avail as a combination of Martin Biron (played tremendously) and bad luck worked against them.

The Flyers, on the other hand, counterpunched well, breaking out to a 3 goal lead after 41 minutes of play. Vinny Prospal was tremendous in the game, picking up two assists. Prospal is definitely giving Holmgren something to think about this offseason as he is steadily building chemistry with Danny Briere.

Then, the meltdown occurred. Randy Jones, who must have pictures of John Stevens, coughed the puck up on the tying goal and had the game winner go in off of his skate as he passively tried to fish for the puck in the waning minutes of overtime. I'm sure Randy will be patted on the head by Stevens and given his 20 minutes of icetime tonite, however. How do I know that? The guy Stevens went after in the lockerroom to the press after the game was Scottie Upshall, who took a ticky-tack penalty that led to the Flyers' first goal.

This leads me into my point about officiating games north of the border. There were several non-calls against the Leafs for similar violations to the one Upshall took. Replays showed the blatant hold Mats Sundin had on Jason Smith in the Flyers' zone. Kubina probably carried the puck as he caught a clearing attempt by Marty Biron. Announcers pointed out on several occasions that the Leafs were changing in such a way that they should have gotten at least 2 too many men on the ice penalties. I mean, these are just the kind of things that just don't get called at the Air Canada Centre against the home team.

The two teams meet tonite in South Philly. The Leafs barely beat the Flyers last night and they probably played the best they played all year. I don't expect the Leafs to duplicate the effort, and fully expect a Flyers win tonite.

(Photo courtesy of; (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn))

Will St. Joe's Make the NCAA Tournament?

St. Joe's starts their journey into the A-10 tournament today at 2:30 as they face Fordham in the first round of the tournament. If they get past Fordham, Richmond, a team they've already beaten, sits waiting.

St. Joe's probably needs to get to the finals of the tournament, at the very least, to be looked upon favorably for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. There is a very real threat that all of the Philadelphia schools will get shut out of the tourney this year. As three of the Philadelphia Big 5 are in the A-10 and are all playing good ball, I do believe one of them will come through and win the A-10 tourney.

Other Philly schools in the A-10 tourney include LaSalle, who plays Duquesne at 6:30pm today and Temple, who got a first round bye and will play tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Pat Croce's Rum Barrel and the Parrot Lounge

Just got back from 4 days of doing nothing in Florida but sitting around reading, drinking, and looking at co-eds down for Spring Break. The Spring Break part wasn't planned; the trip was originally supposed to go off last week, but one of the guys going down on the trip couldn't make last weekend, so we rescheduled.

I did follow the local sports teams as best as I could down there, but I did refuse to bring my laptop; it's not getting away if you bring civilization with you. I was happy to see that both of the winter sports teams are still in the mix, playoff-wise, for their respective sports and was even pretty much OK with the decision to let Takeo Spikes go (especially if it's a precursor to a bigger move to get a WR).

A couple of things I did manage to do in South Florida was to hit a couple of bars with a local flavor:

1.) Pat Croce's Rum Barrel: In Key West, towards the Mallory Square end of Duval Street, you make a right onto Front Street (very appropriate) and on the corner of Front and Simonton, you find a bit of Philadelphia in Pat Croce's Rum Barrel bar. It is adjacent to a Pirate museum that Pat set up down there that I was lucky enough to visit a couple of years ago.

I would imagine it is sort of tough to find a niche in the Key West bar scene; there are alot of legendary places to visit such as Sloppy Joe's, the Green Parrot, and Rick's/Durty Harry's. But Pat's place, just off of the beaten path has good potential to hang around for awhile.

As you enter the place, there is a pretty large bar on the left and table seating on the right. The pirate motif is everywhere; even on an Eagles shirt that the bar sells.

When I went (about 8pm or so), there didn't seem to be much of a crowd. They had the Sixers-Sonics game on one of the TVs and yes, they had plenty of pictures of Philadelphia athletes (a couple of weird ones too.....Terry Harmon, Greg Gross.....such odd selections).

I and my friends ate at the bar; one of my buddies had the jerk chicken wings ($8.95.....he liked them) and I had the cajun shrimp po' boy with extra hot sauce ($9.50......good sandwich with plenty of shrimp). The prices were reasonable (for Key West, that is) and the portions were pretty good.

There were two highlights of this visit:

- The discovery of their signature drink, the Rum Barrel. Pretty good good drink (can't remember the price) served in a pint glass and contained Bacardi Select, Bacardi Gold, Bacardi 151 with cranberry, pineapple, and OJ with a splash of grenadine. Had about 5 of these things and they knocked me on my ass.

- The first floor (thankfully) wasn't the extent of the place. They had an upstairs bar called the Quarterdeck, which was an outside deck that had another bar and live entertainment. The atmosphere was lively (it was Spring Break) and when we discovered this part of the place, we ended up sticking around for awhile.

While it is not one of the legendary Key West bars, Pat Croce's Rum Barrel is definitely worth a visit and who knows? You sure have a better shot of seeing Pat Croce in Key West than you do Jimmy Buffett.

2.) The Parrot Lounge (Ft. Lauderdale, FL): For some reason, I have never considered going to Ft. Lauderdale for any sort of vacation. I might have to reconsider as there seems to be much more to do than I ever expected there (again, it was Spring Break, so maybe it was just the timing of my visit).

The Parrot Lounge was a place I had heard about in news reports and read about in the papers, but I finally was able to visit. There are two rooms in this place. Where you enter, there is a medium sized bar with a ton of televisions. Now, I had heard about this place as a great "Eagles" bar, but I have to say, I was unimpressed by what I saw upon initial entry.

The second room in the place is off to the left and that allowed me to see what made this some great Eagles bar. There was an entire wall painted with Philly sports logos. There were old Sports Illustrated covers of Philly athletes and a ton of old pictures of players of all the 4 major Philly sports teams. I was pleasantly surprised, as a Penn State alum, to see plenty of PSU stuff as well. It looked like my memorabilia collection threw up in their bar.

Now, after 4 straight days of drinking like Nic Cage in "Leaving Las Vegas", I couldn't force down another alcoholic drink. They did have a good selection of beers (BTW: you can get Yuengling in Florida rather easily). Our group did manage to grab a bite to eat. Their menu had a touch of Philly with the ubiquitous cheesesteak and even soft pretzels (listed under "snacks"). My buddies had the wings and a double-cheeseburger, respectively. Both enjoyed their meal. The best I could force down? A bowl of wedding soup, which was also pretty good.

The place did not appear as if it could support live music, but appeared to be a typical Irish pub type establishment. If you're in Ft. Lauderdale, I definitely recommend this place; this bar and the area around looks like a lot of fun at night. Ideally, you'd hit this place during football season during an Eagles game. The bar is also only a block off of the beach, so it's location is pretty good too.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Davey Lopes and Larry Bowa

First of all, I wish nothing but the best to Phils coach Davey Lopes, who earlier this week was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

I always thought it was strange that a guy like Lopes, such a staunch competitor of the Phillies during the Dodger hey-days of the late 70s, early 80s, would go on to be a coach of distinction with the Phillies.

But when I saw the picture of Larry Bowa today in a Dodger uniform, the reverse symmetry of the whole thing with Bowa and Dodgers and Lopes and Phillies was just too weird. It also gave me the uncontrollable urge to use my meager mspaint skills (see results below).

In the late 70s, early 80s, both men were fiery competitors on their respective clubs and shared many characteristics. Lopes was a fiery lead off man for the Dodgers, hitting 28 homers one year and leading the NL in steals twice. Bowa, equally fiery for the Phillies, was more of a singles hitter, but he also showed speed on the basepaths (9 seasons with 20 or more SBs) and was as slick of a fielder at shortstop as there was during his era (2 gold he won at SS the same year as Lopes won one at 2B....1978).

(Bowa photo courtesy of AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Flyers Lose, Pull Biron; Eagles Need WR

The Flyers dropped one to the Sabres last night by a score of 5 - 2. The game was marked by some bad defensive breakdowns and a weak night by Martin Biron. They desperately needed a big game from the goaltender, as Danny Briere was out with what is being called a shoulder sprain. The Flyers don't know (or aren't saying) how long he'll be out.

Stop me if you've heard this one before, but I can't remember the last time Martin Biron made a really big save. I especially cannot recall the last time he made a stop on a breakaway. When Biron seems to encounter a break away situation, you can see him backing into the net and making himself smaller; as if he has no confidence that he can make the save.

Biron's ineffectiveness in net became an issue for at least two of the goals last night. I felt like he should have made better plays on both Maxim Afinogenov goals. The first Afinogenov goal featured Jaroslav Modry being treated like a pylon, but once Afinogenov made a play past Modry, Biron never even attempted anything remotely resembling an aggressive maneuver to make the save, despite their being, at least, a poke check opportunity. The second Afinogenov goal, Biron flat out missed out on the short side.

The worst part of Biron's performance last night is that it gives John Stevens an excuse to give Antero Niittymaki more time than he rightfully deserves in net. And while we're on the topic of John Stevens, someone needs to help me understand how an injured Jaroslav Modry (he will require shoulder surgery and looked old and slow in the last two games) is a better option on the ice than Lasse Kukkonen. Stevens really, really seems to have it out for Kukkonen and I don't understand why. All Kukkonen does is skate well and block shots. My bet is that if Kukkonen were one of Stevens' Calder Cup boys, then the Modry trade never happens.
Photo: ((AP Photo/Tom Mihalek))

Eagles' WR Situation

With Javon Walker signing with the Raiders last night, it would appear that the Eagles WR situation will not be resolved by going the free agent route. That leaves two alternatives, with really, only one of them being probable:

1.) The Eagles will draft a WR. The problem with this route is that Andy Reid almost never starts rookies, let alone rookie WRs, because apparently, it takes like 10 years to learn Reid's highly intricate offense. Of course, that is a smaller piece of a bigger problem that Reid has, in general; his complete inability to quickly put rookies in a position to help the team. Available at pick 17 for the Eagles will be some quality wideouts: Malcolm Kelly from Oklahoma and Limas Sweed from Texas immediately come to mind. Another choice, perhaps further down in the draft, could be Indiana WR James Hardy. I saw Hardy burn Penn State's best CB Justin King for double-digit catches during last football season with great size and quickness, which are two attributes the Eagles desperately need at wide receiver.

2.) The Eagles will trade for a WR. This is the more likely route. Each of the last couple of years, starting with the acquisition of Donte Stallworth from the Saints, the Eagles pulled off some sort of trade that absolutely no one saw coming. Last year was the Takeo Spikes deal. Could such a trade be in the offing this year? Perhaps. The internet has been rife with rumors of the Cardinals and the Eagles hooking up, with the Eagles landing Larry Fitzgerald. Also, as Roy Williams of Detroit expressed unhappiness with his situation in Detroit, it was/is thought that there is a trade opportunity with Detroit.

Furthering the idea of the Eagles getting a WR via trade is the presence of a premium trading chip: CB Lito Sheppard. Sheppard's only problem is staying on the field; he simply can't stay healthy. Otherwise, he's a really good player, who is unhappy about his contract (which I think happens to be fair considering he's missed 14 games in the past 3 years).

Regardless of the player acquired, the Eagles front office, for all of their faults, have been creative in the past couple of years in filling holes through the trade route and this is the likely avenue for this hole to be fixed, or at least patched.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Andre Miller: Sixers Floor General

Philadelphia basketball fans have a very specific idea on what a point guard should play like. Almost unanimously, fans will first bring up the name of Maurice Cheeks, the point guard on the 1983 championship team as well as the head coach of the current incarnation of the Sixers.

Cheeks was an unselfish passer, almost to a fault. He had a smooth jump shot that he seemed to almost always bury when given an open shot. He could penetrate the lane and kick the ball out and he could run the fast break. He was the consummate floor general.

With that said, it must do Cheeks proud to have a player on his team like Andre Miller, who seems to have many of the same attributes Cheeks himself had as a player. Like Cheeks, Miller does not seem to do a lot of talking off of the basketball court and in the press. As a kid, I didn't even know what Mo Cheeks' voice sounded like, mostly because there were so many other stars on the team that served as team spokesmen.

But make no mistake; it's Miller's floor leadership that has enabled this latest Sixers team to challenge for a playoff spot in the Eastern conference. The NBA thinks Miller is pretty good too; he's been named the Eastern Conference player of the week for his work in three games last week.

Even in last night's game, a 106- 80 laugher over the LA Clippers, Miller recorded only 6 points, but managed 8 assists in only 28 minutes of work. Despite not playing real big minutes because of the blowout, Miller's influence is even felt (to some degree) in his understudy, Lou Williams, who recorded 16 points and 8 assists.

As for Miller, he mostly plays down his own effectiveness (emphasis in bold is mine):

"[The award] is the last thing I expected," Miller said. "The first time[for Feb. 4-10], it was a surprise. The second time was something I didn't
expect at all. I'm sure a lot of other guys could have won the award. Andre
[Iguodala] has been playing good basketball. Other guys on other teams have been
playing good basketball. I think there will be more recognition when we win games and try to make the playoffs."

Worrying about winning games and making the playoffs? Must be music to the ears of all Sixers fans.

(photo:; Andy Hayt/NBAE via Getty Images)