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Jack McCaffery is the lead sports columnist for the Daily Times and delcotimes.com. He has spent several decades covering everything from the Phillies, Eagles, Flyers and Sixers, to college hoops, to high school sports in Delco.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Noel a gamer, other Sixers notes

NEW YORK >> Injured late in his only college season at Kentucky then unavailable for his entire NBA rookie year, Nerlens Noel entered this season with a reputation to correct. Sunday at Madison Square Garden, he made one more substantial stride in that direction.
A night after suffering a swollen eye and reporting blurred vision after a collision in Charlotte with Noah Vonleh, Noel was cleared to play for the Sixers against the Knicks … and, as usual, answered the call.
“I'm feeling good,” Noel said before the game. “I'm going to go out here and play hard and do what I've got to do.”
So there Noel was, reporting no deficient vision and playing his 74th game of the season, his 70th as a starter. He has missed just four games and none since an upper respiratory infection cost him a Jan. 21 appearance against the Knicks.
“He had blurred vision but we iced it,” Brett Brown said. “He went overboard getting treatment so he could play. And we are excited to have him back.”
With the troubles at Kentucky, then with his redshirt rookie season, there would be a burden on Noel to prove he was not brittle.
As the Sixers entered their final five games, that was no longer an issue.
“The candid conversation that we have with our players daily is that there are no healthy players in the NBA,” Brown said. “And there especially are no healthy players in the NBA in April. So the sports science and the accumulation of effort that people put into their bodies through the course of the season enables them to play in April at a high standard, and then May and, we can dream, June.
“So the education has been for our 20-year-olds to be able to navigate through an NBA season and to keep on track with your body. And for Nerlens at 214, 216 pounds to play the quantity of games at the position he plays, that's a statement about durability first. And I also think it's a toughness that has enabled him to do that. Because he, too, like everybody, has been injured. And he could have shut it down and he didn't.”
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Jason Richardson (left knee) did not play in Charlotte, but was available Sunday.
“I'm good to go,” Richardson said. “I can't go two games in a row. They wanted me to sit out yesterday and play today.
“I could play two games in a row. But just to be safe it isn't really worth the risk of doing that.”
Richardson, 34, had not played since 2013 before rejoining the Sixers in February. Entering the game Sunday, he had played 16 games, starting 14.
“Since I have been back, I think I have only had three or four practices,” the 14th-year veteran said. “We haven't really practiced that much. So it doesn't make sense to even try to attempt it.”
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Knicks coach Derek Fisher said he watched the NCAA's Final Four casually, even mixing in a workout during the games, missing key parts, keeping perspective, insisting that it is difficult to project how any college player will translate to the pros.
Brown will watch the NCAA Final Monday a different way.
“Through business eyes,” the Sixers' coach said. “I love the sport. I get as much a kick out of watching my son's 10-year-old team, and I'm serious, this may sound sad, as I do coaching here. I just love watching my kid play. You watch basketball at all levels. You watch that game (Monday) and you think ahead. You are going to think about what might happen with some of the players on the court who could be a part of our team. Who knows?”
NBA rules prohibit Brown from discussing college players by name.
“At this stage of my coaching career, it is more than saying, 'This is a great game,'” Brown said. “I don't see it predominately through that lens as much anymore. I am guessing and dreaming and projecting out.”
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NOTES: Luc Mbah a Moute was not scheduled to play Sunday. “We wanted to give his shoulder a rest,” Brown said, “and his body a rest.” … Thomas Robinson (knee) was also unavailable, Brown said … Isaiah Canaan (sprained right foot) did not dress … The Sixers' next game will be Wednesday against the visiting Washington Wizards.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Top 10 Big 5 NCAA Tournament games in history

By JACK McCAFFERY


Two national championships. Four championship-game appearances. Ten Final Fours. Such has been the NCAA Tournament haul for Philadelphiaa's Big 5 programs.
That success suggests multiple NCAA Tournament achievements, in early rounds and late, in modern and not-so-modern times.
Here, though, is one for the Top 10 NCAA Tournament games involving Big 5 teams. Let the critical rollouts unravel:
1. Villanova 66, Georgetown 64, April 1, 1985: The Wildcats shot 22-for-28 from the floor, 22-for-27 from the line and stunned the No. 1-seeded Hoyas for the national championship in Louisville, Kentucky.
With no three-point shot or shot clock at the time, Rollie Massimino concocted what is widely considered the most effective single-game plan in NCAA Tournament history, controlling the pace and keeping the game close enough to steal, even though the Wildcats had entered the tournament with 10 losses.
Dwayne McClain led the Wildcats with 17 points, but it was the 5-for-5 shooting of Harold Jensen that defined the moment.

2. La Salle 92, Bradley 76, March 20, 1954: Trailing, 43-42, at halftime, the Explorers dominated the second half to win Philadelphia's first NCAA championship in Kansas City. All-American Tom Gola was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, scoring 19 points in the final. But Frank Blatcher and Charles Singley scored 23 points apiece in the championship game.

3. St. Joseph's 49, DePaul 48, March 14, 1981: John Smith scored a layup with three seconds left, on a pass from Lonnie McFarlan on the baseline, and the Hawks stunned the top-seeded Blue Demons in a second-round game in Dayton.
Skip Dillard, renowned as a good free-throw shooter, had missed a front-end of a one-and-one, the Hawks pushed the ball and created the winning play.
The Hawks defeated Boston College in their next game, but fell to Indiana, leaving them short of the Final Four. But with the NCAA Tournament gaining televised popularity at the time, their upset was an earlier definition of what has become known as March Madness.

4. UCLA 68, Villanova 62, March 27, 1971: With a chance to catch UCLA in between the Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and Bill Walton eras, the Wildcats fell just short when center Steve Patterson went for 29 points and the Bruins won a fifth consecutive championship in Houston.
Howard Porter bagged 25 points --- and the Most Outstanding Player designation --- for the Cats.

5. San Francisco 77, La Salle 63, March 19, 1955: Trying to defend their national championship, the Explorers were stung by 24 points from K.C. Jones and 23 from Bill Russell in the NCAA Final in Kansas City. Singley scored 20 and Gola, the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, added 16 for La Salle.

6. Penn 72, North Carolina 71, March 11, 1979: Though the Quakers would win twice more, their second-round victory over the Tar Heels in Raleigh, N.C., signified their march to the Final Four.
Tony Price provided 25 points --- that, and a defensive rebound and long outlet pass to James Salters, who scored, was fouled and completed a three-point play for a four-point lead late.

7. Temple 60, Canisius 58, March 17, 1956: At the Palestra, the Owls rolled into the Final Four when Guy Rodgers scored 22 points.

8. Temple 69, Dartmouth 50, March 15, 1958: In Charlotte, N.C., Rodgers scored 17 points and the Owls reached the Final Four for the second time in three years.

9. St. Joseph's 96, Wake Forest 86, March 18, 1961: Also in Charlotte, Bill Hoy scored 20 and the Hawks advanced to their only Final Four.

10. Villanova 78, Pitt 79, March 28, 2009: In Boston, Scottie Reynolds' jump shot with two seconds left sent the Wildcats to the Final Four. Dwayne Anderson led the Cats with 17.


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Some Sixers notes

Finally recovered from a kneecap injury and a resulting injury to his foot, Jason Richardson was delighted to play in his first NBA game since Jan. 18, 2013 Friday.
“I'm super-excited, man,” the 34-year-old shooting guard said before the game. “I might have gotten four hours of sleep last night because I was so excited to get up and just realize that I am here.”
For reasons practical and inspirational, Brett Brown chose to include Richardson in the starting lineup. With that, there was an irony: On the day after the Sixers tried to move way forward in their program with frenzied trade-deadline activity, they turned to their most tenured player.
“I brought him into my office an hour ago and say, 'Jason, we're going to play you and I want to start you, how do you feel about that?'” Brown said. “And to look at him, you just get goosebumps. Because he is a man with a resume that he has still looking like a child playing his first game.
“For us to introduce him and playing him again is an incredible message for all of us.”
Richardson has been with five organizations and is a 44-percent career shooter. To come back so late in his career for a team in a youth movement was considered among his longest shots of all.
“I'm a veteran,” he said. “So I know not to force it too much. I just want to get out there, get warm, get involved in the game, add some energy out there and just play ball.”
Brown's plan was to limit Richardson to one four-minute shift per period.
“He told me I was starting and I said, 'Seriously?'” Richardson said. “It was his call. I didn't want to be unfair because I hadn't had the work in. But he said he would take care of that aspect of it and he wanted to start me.”
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Isaiah Canaan was in the Wells Fargo Center Friday, but he remained a passed physical away from starting for the Sixers at point guard.
“I am a competitor,” Canaan said. “I am not going to back down to anybody. I was born a winner and that's how I like to be. And I will go out there and leave it all out on the court and do whatever the coaches and my teammates ask of me and do whatever I can to help.”
Brown anticipates starting the second-year guard from Murray State Sunday in Orlando.
“That kid can score the ball,” Brown said. “And he has a body like a Jameer Nelson. And he played with Robert Covington (in Houston last season). I asked Robert to tell me about him. He said, 'Coach, he competes.' And then you go look at what he does in a skill package, and he can shoot.”
In two seasons with the Rockets, Canaan shot 38.5 percent from three-point range.
“We all know when we start playing with Joel (Embiid) and Nerlens (Noel) and some other players, we are going to have to sprinkle some perimeter players into the game,” Brown said. “That's the game. You have to put the ball in the hole from the perimeter. And he can do that.”
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The Sixers' deal with Denver Thursday essentially yielded them a first-round draft choice in exchange for lifting the burden on the Nuggets to pay JaVale McGee for the rest of the season … and $12 million next year, too.
For that, it was expected that McGee was just a moveable piece, likely to be bought out of his contract. That was not the case Friday when the 7-0 center showed up, climbed into uniform No. 1, declared himself ready to play and promised to hang around for a while.
“I don't want to get bought out,” the 27-year-old veteran said. “It's not a positive thing. You don't get all of your money when you get bought out. So it doesn't make any sense for anybody, unless they are older and want to go to a contender or something like that. I'm not that old. I just want to play basketball.”
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Tim Frazier was signed to a second 10-day contract and started at the point Friday. He had played three games for the Sixers, starting twice and collecting 26 assists.
Last week, he started in the D-League All-Star Game.
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Not surprisingly, Brown endorsed Hinkie's decision to move Michael Carter-Williams and K.J. McDaniels.
“I am going to miss those guys,” he said. “I appreciate the effort they put in. They gave A-plus effort. They were great teammates. And they showed tremendous improvement.
“It's an example of a club making extremely difficult decisions and having the guts to make extremely difficult decisions in order to get to someplace special.”  

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Berube supports Hextall's plan

Craig Berube met with the press before the Flyers-Blue Jackets game Tuesday.

This was the conversation:

On struggles of the top line:

“It's not that they are not doing their part. There's more to it than just scoring. Everybody looks at them to score. But they have been playing pretty solid defensively and doing other things, too. So that's very important in the game. And this time of year, you need all kinds of people to produce --- and big goals at big times. Because they are going to get checked, those guys, hard. So there is not a lot of room for them. They are going to get the best matchups every night from the other team. And it is important that the other guys are producing and helping out.”

The GM said he wouldn't make a trade just to make the playoffs this year. How does that make you feel?

“He didn't say that. He said he didn't want to give up a young asset. I don't blame him. I wouldn't either. I like our team. I liked it last year, too, at the deadline. Same thing. This team can play. And when they play together, and as of right now, the roll they are on right now, they are a good team. They can play against anybody.”

A player like Raffl, what about his versatility?

“He does a lot of different things for the team. I said I've always liked him at center. He's a good, strong skater. He has the puck more and does good things with it in the middle of the ice. And any role I give him, he does it. He enjoys the game. He's a good, all-around hockey player.”

Decision to keep MacDonald out of the lineup?

“They are all tough. Those are tough decisions with the defense. We've got eight healthy 'd', and they're good players. It's just unfortunate that a couple of them have to sit. But it's a team game and they've just got to be ready to go when called upon.”

You are not losing any … Del Zotto was on the fence, and came back … Mac has been in the league longer …

“They all want to play. I respect that. And when they are not playing and are not happy, I respect that, too. They shouldn't be. But they are part of this team. They've got to be good teammates. That's the bottom line.”

When you are setting a defensive lineup, are you looking at balancing the puck-movers, the stay-at-home guys, etc.?

“That's all part of it. There's different things that come up at different times that we look at. Opponents. How certain players are playing.”

Raffl injury? Until that happened, he was playing great. How much did it set him back?

“Injuries are funny. A lot of times they come back from injuries and they look good right away. And the first two or three games after the injury, there is a lot of adrenaline and things like that. It wears off a bit as the speed and conditioning really set in. It's hard to get game-related in practices. And that's the biggest thing. That's a challenge. I think it's important that we manage Raffl's minutes and keep him as fresh as we can, I believe, and build up and not over-use him and wear him out early on here since he's been back.”

Is he is equally as comfortable on the wing as he is at center?

“I think he probably prefers center. I think some of these guys, it's more freedom, skating, and being involved in it more. But he'll play any role we want. He does a good job either way.”

If you make the playoffs, you will go in as a hot team.

“Let's talk about tonight and that's it. Let's not get ahead of ourselves, OK?”

On Eric Desjardins

“Him and Kimmo remind me a lot of each other, the way they think the game and play the game. Just a real heads-up player. Obviously a winner. Quietly does his job. Just shows up every day and works. He takes it on the ice and leads by example on the ice. A very, very good defenseman. Very under-rated.”

What was he line in the room, off the ice?

“A quiet guy, but if you wanted to know something, or if a player wanted to learn something or talk to him, he was always open, a very nice guy, and he would talk to you. But he saved his talking for the ice. He really wasn't a rah-rah guy or a talker off the ice. But like I said, he led by example --- a very intelligent player. Played hard. Good defenseman. He just had an unbelievable stick. That was his biggest asset --- that and his brain.”




Sunday, February 15, 2015

Sports Notes: Come and get 'em

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Berube sensing Flyers momentum

Craig Berube met with the press before the Flyers-Islanders game.

This was the conversation ...


On Peter Luukko returning to the NHL:

“We all really liked him. And he’ll do a great job for them. Good guy, good hockey guy. Good to see him back. He loves hockey.”

Did Flyers survive the time off pretty well, with other  teams having played and not lost much ground?

“Yeah. I guess. It all works out either way. We are going to make games up and play teams that we are going to have to catch. So we’ve got to win those games. Like I said before, it doesn’t really matter; I can’t worry about other teams and neither can our team. We just have to worry about us. That’s what we have to do.”

Four in a row … is there such a thing as momentum? Can you sense it?

“Yeah. There’s confidence. When you’re winning, guys feel good about themselves. They play looser, play faster. I think those things, when you’re winning games, definitely help.”

More jump at practice, etc:

“Yeah. I can only go by right now. I like the fact that we had good jump and good life at practices, good energy. So I think it will translate into tonight’s game.”

Is it crucial to have the same kind of wall play that you had against Winnipeg?

“Yeah, breakouts in general are so important in the game. If you don’t come out with the puck, with possession, it seems like you’re on your heels all game. They just put it back in and you’re back in your own end again. So it’s important. Wall play is very important. Making good breakouts and having the puck coming out of your end with speed is important. That’s where you get a lot of your attacks and your rush chances.”

Evander Kane has been in the news with off-ice stuff. What is your impression of him on the ice?

“He’s a straight-line power forward. That’s the way I view him. Skates well. Physical player. Goes to the net. Shoots the puck well. That’s what he is in my opinion.”

What importance do you put on dress code and getting to meetings on time, etc.?

“Yeah. We all have a dress code. Suit and tie to a game. Travel is coat and shirt. With off days on the road, there are different things and we discuss them, the dress code. But, yeah, it’s all important I think. Discipline is important, whether it is meetings, dress code, all that stuff. Taking care of yourself. All those things. It’s all very important. It’s one of the most important things that comes up.”






Tuesday, January 20, 2015

BERUBE SAYS FLYERS MUST BE MORE COMPETITIVE

Craig Berube met with the press prior to the Flyers-Penguins game Tuesday.

This was the conversation:

What are your defensive parings?
“Watch warmups.”

Is Colaiacovo hurt or able to play and just out?
“I don’t know. Who said he was out? Just watch warmups. I didn’t say anything.”

So Schultz is the only one out?
“He’s out.”

How did he get hurt?
“I don’t know.”

So you’ll have seven defensemen in warmups and choose?
“Yep.”

Reports on Manning and Lauridsen?
“Manning has had a very good year. He’s an all-situations player down there.  We’d had him up here before. The last couple years,  he’s done a good job when he’s up here. Oliver’s been up here. Two years ago he was up here and played two games at the end of the year and did a good job. He’s a big body. And that’s one of the decisions, having a big body up here.”

Is it appealing that he is a physical player?
“It’s nice to have a physical guy who can skate back there.”

How important is it to win and feel good going into the long break?
“It’s huge, just like any. We’re always trying to get a win. But it’s a big game, for sure, going into the break against Pittsburgh, obviously.  So it’s going to give us momentum coming out of the break, for sure.”

Is it a good time to get these guys because they will be locked-in to play Pittsburgh?
“Definitely. We have had success over Pittsburgh the last couple  years, first of all checking them and being good without the puck against Crosby and Malkin and those guys. And special teams will be big tonight. They have a great power play and we have to make sure we stay out of the box and kill penalties.”

Two All-Stars in top five in the league in scoring …
“They have played really well all year. Very consistent. They both work extremely hard, game in and game out. And that’s the real reason for their success.  When you’ve got skilled players like them, and smart players like Jake and G and they put in the hard work, and with the competitiveness of them, they will have success.”

Voracek had 62 points last year, yet still leading the league this year. Surprised?
“Well, not really. You watch him night in and night out and you see the hard work and the effort, and I think that his game has just gone to another level this year. He shoots more pucks , and that’s a big key. I think in the past he was reluctant to shoot. He shoots more pucks. He get s more pucks to the net and gets to the net more.”

Would missing the playoffs be a lost opportunity with the years that they are having?
“Any time you don’t make the playoffs it is a lost opportunity.”

How about how it relates to Voracek and Giroux?
“Well, there have been lots of players who have had great years and their teams missed the playoffs. 
The most important thing is making the playoffs and trying to win a Stanley Cup. And that’s the most important thing for them, too.”

When you are not getting the results, is there a certain anger you want to see from these guys, showing that it is unacceptable to them?
“I don’t think it is. I don’t think they accept it. I don’t know if anger is the right word to use. It’s more that we’ve got to play more consistent. And we have to be more competitive on a consistent basis. That’s the biggest thing.”

Giroux’s year?
“Along with Jake, hard work, has been a real good leader for us. I think he leads by example every night on the ice. And that’s what captains are supposed to do, and he does it, and he is producing. He’s had a real good year. I think his game is really more rounded than it was last year. He is a better defensive player than he was last year, in my opinion. Faceoffs, one of the tops in the league. A lot of little things he does every night.”

Stamkos and St. Louis are the only guys who were 1-2 in scoring and missed the playoffs ever … to be that high, and where the Flyers are, is that crazy in this day and age, where everyone is keying on them?

“Well, I just kind of answered that question. There’s been players in the league that have done it before.  Just named a couple of them. You can have success individually with your stats but the team not have success. And I know that doesn’t sit well with anybody, including them.”

Expand on being more competitive? Do some teams lack a competitive streak?
“It boils down to individuals at times in games where you make a mistake because maybe you’re not as competitive as you should be, you know? Winning a battle here or there. It’s all what it boils down to. Hockey is about mistakes and a lot of one-on-one battles and little things that come up in a game.  We don’t have enough secondary scoring, well, we’ve got to work harder to get secondary scoring. It’s about getting to the net more and doing little things like that. So that’s what it boils down to.”

Decision to start Emery?
“I had that decision made before the Islanders game.”