Sunday, December 7, 2008

Holiday season pickings

After a week off for the holidays, I'll bet you're just soooo excited to make your picks this week!

I could go with a gimme—the Giants over the Eagles—but I just can't pick against the Birds. It's gonna be a painful game to watch, but I just can't pick against them.

I'll go with St. Joe's (3-3) over Creighton (4-2) Saturday night in the Hawks' first game this season at the Palestra—their home away from home while the Fieldhouse gets a makeover. The place will be rocking and Creighton won't know what hit them. — John

I love your selection this week and I will be one of the fans at the Palestra. I am in Chicago so I will go with the Bears this weekend although I don't know who they play. — Dave

I'm outside of Philly, but that's not compelling me to pick the Eagles….

I notice I'm in the basement on John's "Standings Ovations.” Perhaps I allow personal loyalties to play too strong a part in my picks. Or perhaps John never bothers to look up the Premier League scores and/or Wake soccer scores.

Regardless, I'm remaining loyal and going with host Wake Forest over South Fla Sunday afternoon in the NCAA soccer quarterfinals. (Chelsea losing 2 out of its last 3 at home has put them on my "naughty" list, so there will be no more mention of them for a while.) — Phil

Your records, I believe, are all current and correct. I do admit to giving up looking for Kurt's 3-man Colorado HS football scores after a quick internet check revealed that I need to get a life. Much like the Chelsea players. See, Phil, you may not be allowed to talk about Chelsea, but you can't stop the rest of us!!!! Chelsea. Chelsea. Chelsea. — John

Well, I, too will stick with college hoops, and with the team with which I am most closely allied. Tonight’s the “City Game” in Pittsburgh… Pitt v. Duquesne. This used to be a pretty good early test for both teams… at one time. Lately, though, the Panthers have been mopping the floor with the Dukes. And tonight shouldn’t be any different. Pitt wins handily, 86-60. — Kurt

It’s time Andy Reid returned to his head coaching philosophy, which is much like the name of his alma mater, Brigham Young University—bring them young. “Don’t trust anyone over 30” was a mantra espoused by both Reid and the movie “Wild in the Streets” (1968). In this movie, thirty becomes the mandatory retirement age.

Similarly, early in Reid’s coaching career with the Eagles, he used this magic age to determine when it was time for Eagles’ players to be sent to greener pastures. However, Reid’s philosophy has apparently changed, and so have the fortunes of the once vaulted, gold standard, Super Bowl-contender Philadelphia Eagles.

The 30-and-over roster crowd includes David Akers, Correll Buckhalter, Brian Dawkins, A.J. Feeley, Darren Howard, Donovan McNabb, Juqua Parker, Jon Runyon, and Tra Thomas. And let’s not forget that the whole offense is based around one individual that will be turning 30 next year, Brian Westbrook.

With the exception of Westbrook, the “baby” of the afore-mentioned group, we can all agree that the talent level of this 30-something group has diminished, while their propensity for injuries as increased. It’s time for Reid to draw on his coaching roots and inject the talented youth throughout the roster to revitalize this team and make it relevant again.

With regards to this week’s match-up with the New York Giants, contrary to the Erratic Sports Propaganda Network, or ESPN for short, I do not buy into the drama and hype perpetuated by its television channel, web site, and magazine. I do not agree that the Giants are infallible, unbeatable, or guaranteed a Super Bowl win this year. I believe the Eagles will keep their slim playoff hopes alive by not losing to the Giants this week. Of course, wording my prediction that way does not preclude a tie! — Troy V. of Yardley

Wow—that's a great point about the 30-year-olds. Why did he stop that philosophy? The funny thing is, for all the grief he took then about it—he was right. When he was doing it, they were winning; once he stopped, the wheels came off.

That said, I'm not letting you off that easy. "Wild in the Streets"??? You must have WAY too much free time on your hands! — John

Pot (John) accusing Kettle (Troy) of being black (having too much free time on his hands)?!? — Phil

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Most What-If-full Time of the Year

When the Eagles aren’t dominating the NFC, December in Philly is clearly the most “What If”-full time of the year. Accordingly, here are a few “What Ifs” to make you think, until Sunday’s play-calling really makes you think.

* What if Andy Reid had stuck by his old “Logan’s Run” approach to 30-year-olds? Remember “Logan’s Run”—the movie where 30-year-olds were to be eliminated?

A friend noted that Reid has not stuck to his own rule in recent years—with disastrous results.

Remember Reid’s early years, when he believed players were damaged goods when they hit 30? It was clearly stated and understood even by the players. Guys like Jeremiah Trotter, Duce Staley, and Bobby Taylor, among others, were victims of the age whack—and yet the Eagles kept winning.

Now, the Eagles field a team of plus-30s that includes inconsistent performers like Donovan McNabb, Brian Dawkins, Jon Runyan, Tra Thomas, Juqua Parker, and David Akers, among others—and the Eagles figure to be playoff-wannabes for the second time in three seasons.

Seems like it was easier for Reid to cut guys back in the day because they weren’t “his” players, guys that he’d drafted or signed and gotten to know.

* What if Pat Burrell did the unthinkable for most pro athletes today and decided he’d rather go for a repeat title than for the big bucks?

Imagine if Burrell, already rich even by pro athlete standards, chose to sign with the Phillies for a “mere” $5 million or so per season and agreed to a platoon role. Would the Phillies want him for that amount in that role? Of course.

That’d be far cheaper than any free agent pick-up they could find, and they’d be keeping a player who’s respected in the clubhouse. And even Burrell might be relieved by not having to play like a $14 million player.

If he did it—a ridiculously unlikely idea—Burrell would bask in a season of adulation from fans recognizing a guy who just wants to win.

* What if Jamie Moyer signs with another team?

That’d be the first truly down note of the 2008 Philadelphia Story. Could it happen? Certainly. Will it? Let’s hope the Phillies don’t let it come to that.

* What if Detroit tanks this season, either by not making the playoffs or falling out in the first round? Will the rest of pro hoopdom finally realize what basketball purists have known for years: Allen Iverson’s style of play is a team-killer.

* What if we’ve seen the best days of Brian Westbrook? A 29-year-old NFL running back—dealing with multiple lingering injuries—is not the future of a franchise.

So if Westbrook’s days are numbered—and they are—who’s next? You can bet the Eagles are scouting the college ranks for running backs, because their next featured running back is not currently on the team.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Best of St. Joe's Basketball

Now that it’s December and the Eagles have won the NFC West (4-0) but lost to almost everyone else (2-5-1), there’s no better time to turn to college basketball. In Philly, that means the Big Five.

As Philly hoops fans know, city teams repeatedly have produced the nation’s best players, from St. Joseph’s Jameer Nelson recently to Villanova’s Paul Arizin in the 1940s.

To start the new season, I figured I’d select each Big Five team’s all-time top 10 players, and also name each school’s best team. First up: St. Joe’s.

The first team:
1. Jameer Nelson (2000-04)
He was the consensus 2004 college player of the year, leading the Hawks to a perfect regular season (27-0) and into the Elite Eight. Nelson is St. Joe’s all-time leader in scoring (2,094), assists (713), and steals (256), and currently plays for the Orlando Magic.

2. Cliff Anderson (1964-67)
A 6-foot-4 rebounding machine, Anderson holds career school records for total rebounds (1,228), single-season average (15.5 rpg.), and single-season scoring average (26.5), among others. He was tenth nationally in rebounding as a sophomore (15.5), and eighth in the country in scoring as a senior (26.5).

3. Mike Bantom (1970-73)
The Hawks’ sole basketball Olympian (1972), Bantom averaged 20.0 points and 13.7 rebounds for his career. The 6-9 center is the school’s second all-time leading rebounder (1,151) and led St. Joe’s to two NCAA tourneys. His nine-year NBA career (1973-82) is the longest of any Hawk.

4. George Senesky (1939-43)
The 6-3 forward is the only Hawk to lead the country in scoring, with 23.4 ppg. as a senior when he was named the Helms Foundation Player of the Year. Senesky scored more than half of his career points that season (515 of 969). He played eight NBA seasons and coached the Philadelphia Warriors to the 1956 NBA title.

5. Bobby McNeill (1957-60)
A complete player, the 6-1 McNeill had career averages of 17.2 points, 5.4 assists, and 4.9 rebounds. McNeill led St. Joe’s to consecutive 20-win seasons for the first time in school history and two NCAA tourneys before playing two NBA seasons.

The second team:
Jim Lynam (1960-63)
Paul Senesky (1947-50)
Tony Costner (1980-84)
Delonte West (2001-04)
Maurice Martin (1982-86)

The best team: 2003-04.
It’s hard to argue with a team that went unbeaten during the regular season (27-0) and was ranked No. 1. Nelson and West—the best backcourt in school history—led a perfectly balanced team that included eventual NBAer Dwayne Jones, eventual A-10 co-Player of the Year Pat Carroll, and defensive stopper Tyrone Barley. Coach Phil Martelli’s team finished 30-2, reaching the Elite Eight; St. Joe’s has reached the Elite Eight three times (’04, ’81, ’63) and the Final Four once (’61).

Other top teams:
1960-61: Ramsay’s 25-5 Final Four team featured Lynam, Jack Egan, Vince Kempton, and Frank Majewski.
1965-66: Ramsay’s last team was the preseason No. 1 team in the country and was led by Anderson, Matt Goukas Jr., Billy Oakes, and Tom Duff and finished 24-5.
1962-63: Lynam, Bill Hoy, Jim Boyle, Tom Wynne, and Steve Courtin directed Ramsay’s 23-5 Elite Eight team.
1980-81: Coach Lynam’s 25-8 team, which upset No. 1 DePaul on the way to the Elite Eight, featured Costner, Boo Williams, and Bryan Warrick.