Post Birthday Sports Blogging

Finally!  Back sports blogging again.  I have been caught up in March Madness, then Easter came, and Monday was my birthday which I planned on posting then.  But I got this new laptop, and after 45 minutes on the phone with Dell support yesterday I finally got it working right after 3 days of frustration.  A lot has happened since my last post and much more to come.  So lets get right into it.

  1. The 76ers are two games above .500, the 6th seed in the Eastern conference, only a half game behind Washington for the 5th seed (not necessarily the best thing) and 3-0 since their loss to Orlando and back playing at a very high level.  They bounced back, in an ugly game against the Nets where Andre Iguodala dominated down the stretch.  Oh, by the way Richard Jefferson sucks and is clearly the weakest Arizona player of the bunch.  Follow that win with a percieved shocker over the Boston Celtics, again Iguodala played well in crunch time, and the Sixers went on a crazy 19-0 run to seal the deal.  Then they beat up on the disfunctional Chicago Bulls.  Check out Sixers 4 guidos for game recaps.  What I really am happy about: the Sixers WON’T be one of those sub .500 teams to get in the playoffs from the East.  The way they have played lately has spurred questions in mainstream media about whether they will win a playoff series.  How far we have come.
  2. Villanova dominates their way into the Sweet 16 over Siena.  The Wildcats look very strong right now, and Scottie Reynolds might be playing his best basketball at the perfect time.   I can’t wait to see how they fair against Kansas, a team Coach Roy Williams said doesn’t have any weaknesses.  Scary thought for Jay Wright and Nova, but I think they can definitely make it a game, if not provide the biggest upset of the tournament thus far.
  3. The Recliner GM will be moving soon.  Here’s a few things to look for…
    • We will be using the WordPress software with our on Web host.  Meaning – we will have significantly more flexibility to do whatever we want going forward.
    • New domain name – http://www.reclinergm.com/
    • New blog theme – Way too many people have the current theme we are using, especially sports blogs.  I am tired of blending in with the pack.  We are currently reviewing new themes now so if you guys have some ideas, thoughts or feature you like or want to see let us know.
    • Advertising – With the move comes new costs we currently don’t have so we will begin advertising on the blog.  We will strive to keep them unobtrusive and as sports-related as possible.
    • I have some new ideas to expand my 76ers coverage to provide enhanced and somewhat unique content for you guys.  As always if you have any thoughts to make the blog better shout them out.
    • Finally, we have been thinking about splitting the blog in two.  The Recliner GM would be our general sports blog and Philly GM would be all Philly sports all the time.  It really comes down to whether Pete and I can provide enough content for two separate blogs. What do you guys think?
  4. Tomorrow Pete and I will be at the Wachovia Center all day competiting in a team shooting competition in support of Junior Achievement.  So look for some photos of us doing our best 76er impersonations on the court.  I am hoping Ed and Mo will be around so I can show them I can come off the bench and knock down the three for the playoff run.  After that we will be at the game tomorrow night to witness first hand how Shaq is fitting in with Phoenix – and of course watch the Sixers get another win against a quality opponent.

That’s all I got for now.  Who will be first in the comments this time?

Villanova’s Comeback Keeps Big 5 Alive in NCAA Tourney

Scottie Reynolds drives to the hoop against Clemson in first round of the NCAA tournamentIronically, the last Philadelphia school to get in the 2008 NCAA tournament is now the only team to survive the opening round.  Villanova beat Clemson 75-69 in one of the last games of the night – and it was a great one.

Villanova struggled to handle Clemson’s relentless pressure in the first half committing the bulk of their 19 turnovers in the opening 20-minutes.  That helped the Tigers get up on Nova by as much as 18 and took a 12-point lead into the half.  The Wildcats are no strangers to halftime deficits, trailing at the half in 15 of their 33 games this season.  But Nova has Jay Wright, the “King of the 2nd Half Adjustments.”  He has been able to make the right changes and motivate his guys to come out focused in the second half to finish the game strong.  In those 15 game where Villanova trailed they have come back to win 6 times (40%).  And they did just that against Clemson.

Keys to the Second Half Comeback

  • Handling the pressure down the stretch.  Nova settled down, limited their turnovers and was able to break the press for scores in the 2nd half. 
  • Solid defense and rebounding.  The Wildcats held Clemson to 30 points in the second half on 7-29 from the field and out rebounded the very athletic Clemson Tigers 31-28.
  • Scottie Reynolds – No matter how much we hate his often erratic play and questionable shot selection this guy is the leader on Villanova and he showed it last night.  Reynolds scored 21 points shooting 7-12 from the field and was the catalyst for the comeback.
  • Free throws – The numbers say it all: Nova shot a fantastic 24-29 from the line while Clemson’s Achilles heel hurt them again only shooting 14-23.  You can’t win in the hyper-competitive NCAA tournament shooting that poorly from the line.

With #13 Siena upsetting #4 Vanderbilt, Nova is in a good position to reach the Sweet 16.  This coming after all the speculation Nova wouldn’t even get in the tournament this year.  But please don’t think I am overlooking Siena, they scare me a little bit.  The Vandy isn’t even the best team they beat this season.  Siena beat Stanford by 12 early in the year.  But it looks like Nova will finally face a team they are a little bigger than inside.  Siena’s tallest starter is only 6’7 and they only bring in a 6’9 kid for minor minutes. 

NOTE: The last time Villanova played Siena was in the NIT tournament in 02′ – 03′.  They lost in that first round game 74-59.

I heard by far the best Scottie Reynolds play-by-play quote ever last night:  “All these baskets are coming Reynolds wrapped.”  Love that!

Villanova beats Syracuse in a Battle of the Bubble Teams

Villanova’s Shane Clark Dunks against SyracuseThis was a game which undoubtedly would decide the tournament fate of both Big East teams.  Villanova and Syracuse were sitting either squarely on the bubble or on the outside with their faces pressed firmly against the bubble looking in.  Somebody wouldn’t be dancing next week.

Villanova started the game tentative and off from behind the arc and managed to remain only one down going into halftime.  In the second half, on the other hand, a completely different team showed up.  I don’t know what Jay Wright told the Wildcats at half time (probably shoot the damn ball and stop hesitating), but they clearly got the message.  Villanova came out in the second half and blasted Syracuse to the tune of 55-35.  I guess Pete and I picked the wrong half to watch during our lunch break.  That explosive 2nd half of basketball gave Nova an 82-63 win and ensured that they are still in the hunt for an NCAA tournament bid.

Undersized Villanova dominated the boards, out-rebounding the Orangeman 34-20.   And in the second half Nova finally found their shooting touch, ending the game connecting on 48% of their shots and 52.4% from three.  Scottie Reynolds, as usual, lead the team in scoring with 22 and also dished out 6 assists.  But the real story was the Wildcat bench, led by Cory Stokes (18 points) and Shane Clark (11 points) outscoring the entire ‘Cuse bench 29-8.

Great performance by Villanova in a must-win game.  But there is still a lot of work to be done.  Next up is the overrated Georgetown Hoyas, but they have been playing much better basketball lately. 

With the recent upsets by San Diego over Gonzaga and Middle Tennessee State over South Alabama in the mid-majors, there are fewer at-large bids available meaning Villanova, as well as Saint Joseph’s and Temple, will need to make an even stronger case for themselves in their respective conference tournaments.  Nova took the first step today beating up on Syracuse, but I don’t think that alone is enough.  One more win, a signature win against the Hoyas, will likely move the Wildcats from outside the bubble into the field of 65.  Let’s just hope the refs don’t @#$% Villanova this time around.

LET’S GO BIG 5

Big Win Keeps Villanova’s NCAA Tournament Hopes Alive

Just when we thought the big five was dead, the Villanova Wildcats step up with a huge 67-65 victory in a well-played, hard fought contest against Big East foe, the #13 Connecticut Huskies.  The win makes it 3 in a row for Jay Wright’s club and ended Uconn’s 10-game winning streak.Villanova was lead by Corey Stokes hot outside shooting in the first half, leading 33-27 at the break.  Stokes finished with 18 points in the game.  The second half was all Scottie Reynolds who scored 15 of his 18 points after the break.The Wildcats were able to overcome a big size disadvantage and 38-22 rebounding disparity in similar fashion as they have all year – with quickness.  Nova forced 13 turnovers including 9 steals that lead to many easy buckets.  Add the 9-20 three-point shooting and that is a winning combination for the Wildcats.Key plays in the last minute:

  • With 39-seconds and a two-point lead Scottie Reynolds coming off pick from Dante Cunningham drives to the basket with 7′ 3 Hasheem Thabeet on his hip and puts up a right hand floater high of the glass, ala Allen Iverson to give Nova a 4-point lead.
  • A.J. Price had a chance to tie the game with 6.9-seconds but missed the first of two free throws.
  • Dante Cunningham at the line with 4.9-seconds to go, missed the front end of a 1-and-1.  Antonio Pena tipped the miss back to Cunningham, secured the most important rebound of the afternoon.  He was fouled again with 2.3 seconds remaining and Cunningham hit the first free throw and missed the second.  Leading 67-65 the desperation heave from half-court proved fruitless for Uconn.

In my opinion this was the first of three straight must win games for Nova to be considered for an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament.  With a mediocre overall record (17-9) and .500 in the Big East conference (7-7) it’s clear the Wildcats need to rack up some quality wins down the stretch to build their resume for the selection committee. Up next, they face #24 Marquette at home then go to #23 Louisville next Sunday.  Those are the two tough games left on the schedule that Villanova really needs to win.  They finish up the regular season with South Florida and at Providence.If they can win out their resume looks like this going into the Big East Tourney:

  • 21-9, (11-7 in the Big East)
  • 8-4 in their last 12 games (last 12 is the new measure since seasons are longer)
  • Quality wins: Marquette, Louisville, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, George Mason
  • Bad loses: Rutgers, DePaul

I think that is good enough to make them at the very least one of the last 4 in.  Throw in a few wins in the conference tournament and they are a lock for the big dance.  For now, Jay Wright needs to have them fully focused on Marquette.

Philly Ramblings

I’ve been working diligently on my 7-part baseball preview, so I’ve been a little lazy of late in terms of posting. But unless I want Dannie to take over the blog entirely – I figured I’d spend my 25th birthday with some quick hits on what’s on my mind in the Philly and National sports scene.

1. The Big-5 is in trouble – Since the creation of the NCAA tournament, 1 team from the Big-5 + Drexel has made the tournament every single year. Right now, it looks like our best bet is St. Joes, and they have lost 2 straight. ‘Nova looked like they would make it, but their very young team has looked, well, very young (and phantom fouls to end the games against NC State AND Georgetown don’t help either). Usually in these types of years, we could rely on Penn to win the Ivy, but they are struggling at 2-2 in the conference and 7-14 overall. Hopefully St. Joes can finish up their A-10 schedule tough and keep the streak alive.

2. That’s all it costs for the best pitcher in baseball? The Johan Santana trade was an absolute punch in the gut for Phillies’ fans. Before that trade, the Phils had made some solid, albeit small, upgrades and the Mets and Braves had done very little. We were the solid favorites to win the division. But, not only did the Mets get the best pitcher in baseball, but they got him for LESS that the Mariners gave up for Eric Bedard and lost NO ONE who was going to be of impact to their team in 2008. The real victims here are the Twins fans (who also lost fan-favorite Torii Hunter), who just watched a once in a lifetime pitcher leave for no other reason than they don’t live in New York or Boston. Phillies fans will moan your ear off that we don’t spend enough, but I can’t imagine being as passionate about baseball as I am and live in Kansas City, Minnesota or Pittsburgh right now.

3. The Sixers are a half game out of the what?? The recent 4-game home winning streak has put the Sixers in a position that neither their pre-season expectations, nor their 22-30 record would seem to indicate: 1/2 game out of a playoff spot. Part of the recent surge has been the outstanding play of Andre Miller (NBA player of the week) and energy of the young guys. In particular, Thaddeus Young, 19, has shown he may be special player. He had a great feel for the game, is an elite athlete, and is already showing some big time moves. Also, if you watched the Dallas game tonight, he completely shut down Dirk Nowitzki. Dannie will write more about him soon, but I’m excited about him (Young, not Dannie).

4. Pitchers and Catchers on Wednesday – Please no one get hurt, please no one get hurt, please no one get hurt, please no one get hurt, please no one get hurt, please no one get hurt, please no one get hurt, please no one get hurt, please no one get hurt, please no one get hurt, please no one get hurt, please no one get hurt, please no one get hurt, please no one get hurt, please no one get hurt.

5. Chad Johnson is ticked off – TRADE FOR HIM! I very much enjoyed the recent espn.com headling “Johnson’s agent says he will not sit out ’08” for a couple reasons. First of all, I love the stories where they announce something isn’t going to happen that they never originally announced might happen. Something like “Bob Knight decides he will not go on a homicidal rampage” – wait, Bob Knight was going to go on a homicidal rampage? When did that happen? This is usually a big hint that ESPN is trying to make a non-story a story. The second reason I love this headline is because it means the rumors of Ocho-Cinco wanting out are true. With B-West getting McNabb’s back that we could use a big-time receiver, I still say you offer up an impressive package that the Bengals can’t resist.

Pesky Villanova Wildcats Turn Pitt Over in Win

Villanova's Malcolm Grant's quick hands knocks the ball loose from Pittsburgh's Ronald Ramon.Dante Cunningham’s 2 clutch free throws may have sealed the win for Nova, but it was 22 forced turnovers that made the difference for the Wildcats.  10 seconds left and a chance to win the game Pitt went to its bread and butter end-game play (see the win vs. Duke).  But without the playmaking ability of Levance Fields and against the quick hands and feet of Villanova, that play ended the same way the entire game played out for Pittsburgh.  With a turnover. 

This was a great bounce back win for Nova coming off a disappointing loss to DePaul in their Big East opener.  The Blue Demons shot 51% in that game, and it was apparent from the start of today’s game that Jay Wright had his team pick up the defensive intensity against Pitt.  Full-court pressing and trapping most of the game combined with a depleted back-court for the Panthers resulted in 11 steals and 22 points off turnovers for Nova. 

That suffocating defense and 39-7 bench scoring difference was just enough for Villanova to overcome a poor shooting day (33% from the field & 27% from behind the arc) and a sub-par game from leading scorer Scottie Reynolds (1-6 fgs 4pts).  With the game on the line, Reynolds did make a great pass that ultimately lead to Cunningham‘s game-winning free throws. Freshman Malcolm Grant picked up the scoring load with a career high 22 points on 6-12 from the field while suffering leg cramps late. 

“He’s incredible. He’s a freshman but he’s the heart and soul of our team,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said about Grant. “I try to diminish that but I can’t. He’s really energized our team since he’s gotten here.”

Pittsburgh got another monster game inside from freshman DeJuan Blair (12pts & 15 boards) who gave the Panthers their last lead of the game with a fall-away shot after being bumped in the lane.

This was the Wildcats 5th straight victory over Pitt in the last 5 meetings at the Pavilion.  Hopefully Nova, currently ranked 16th in the country, won’t drop far in the rankings, having redeemed themselves after the DePaul loss against a tough, 13th-ranked conference foe.

What I Really Want for Christmas

1. Chad Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, or any other elite WR the Eagles can get their hands on– Plain and simple, Donovan deserves another chance with a quality wide-out. He toiled through Todd Pinkson, Charles Johnson, Torrence Small etc, etc and still led us to playoff wins. The ONE year he had an elite WR, he had 104.7 QB Rating and we went to the Super Bowl, only to lose to a truly great football team. He is better than the majority of NFL QB’s and can be spectacular with a game breaking WR. Hopefully the Eagles take a break from their stubborn nature and give McNabb the weapon he needs. Getting rid of him is not the answer – yet.
2. A healthy starting rotation for the Phillies – As exciting as the So Taguchi signing is, the Phillies 2008 campaign will rest on the shoulders of their non-improved starting rotation. Luckily, there were so many injuries in the rotation last year that this crew can improve simply by going out there every 5th day. Unfortunately, the “crew” consists of 2 guys with a history of DL stints (Hamels and Myers), an unproven sophomore (Kendrick), a legitimately 45 year-old man (Moyer) and some combination of Adam Eaton, Chad Durbin and somebody so good, the last-place Giants didn’t protect him in the Rule 5 Draft (Travis Blackley, career ERA, 9.35).
3. That anybody but the Patriots or Cowboys win the Super Bowl – I tried to write a paragraph explaining this, but my dislike is just so engrained in my being that I couldn’t gather words to do so adequately.
4. That David Lee and Kyle Lowry get traded to teams that don’t suck – These two guys are a joy to watch, but their teams are so un-watchable they don’t ever make national TV. The world at large needs to see these kids play – they define leaving it all on the court.
5. That Notre Dame football is playing on New Year’s Day in 2009 – and that they deserve to be there- Notre Dame has a tendency to be placed in bowl games they shouldn’t be in because they are a huge draw for the bowl and the TV network. The result is they often play better opponents, lose, and look like, well, they didn’t belong there in the first place. Next year, I would love to see us in a bowl game for our play on the field, not the monetary benefits off of it.
6. Villanova makes the Final Four, at some point – For a city so in love with college basketball, Philadelphia hasn’t had the chance to go crazy for a final four weekend since Villanova took home the title in 1985. The current Nova team is filled with an exciting young core, a very good coach and a bright future (more on this in a future post). They are currently ranked #16 – and don’t have a single senior on the team. They will be good for a couple years, and have the potential to be great.
7. A Championship – For God’s Sake – I was born in 1983, the year the Sixers won the NBA title. Since that title, the 4 Philadelphia teams have played in 84 playoffs series (or games for the Eagles) and 7 championships. They have won 0 titles. If I could only get one thing for Christmas, I’d want to know what it feels like to have a team you love win a title, just once.