By Bill Campbell

Villanova and LaSalle

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It didn’t take the game of basketball long to get the juices flowing, even before the Super Bowl game. It was quite a basketball week in the Delaware Valley – one that will be long remembered by Big Five fans.

The Wildcats of Villanova have been in the basketball limelight before; the LaSalle Explorers, not too often. Villanova beat two ranked teams, Louisville and Syracuse, in the same week. La Salle matched the feat by beating ninth-ranked Butler and nineteenth-ranked VCU in an Atlantic Ten game, distinguished accomplishments for both teams. To me, that Villanova win in Louisville was the most impressive one since it came on the Colonels’ home court, where they seldom lose. But LaSalle is the hot team in town.

The RPI computer rankings placed LaSalle at 27th nationally, Villanova at 50th and Temple at 55th. But even the most diehard supporters of any of the Big Five teams had to conclude that, for the last week in January 2013, the best basketball team in town is LaSalle. If awards were given for the most consistent defense, the most durable point guard and, maybe, the best big man, LaSalle would win the honors. And it should be noted that LaSalle, which has been competitive all season, beat Villanova earlier this season in overtime. LaSalle’s coach, John Gianinni, got guard, Tyreek Duren, into the game earlier this week and, suddenly, LaSalle steadied, scoring on the next 4 possessions and holding VCU scoreless in the match-up. You could sense the difference. Ramon Galloway didn’t hurt the cause either with his 31 points. Galloway has shot 50% or better 8 times and has averaged 17 points a game. Steve Zak and Tyrone Garland also have been impressive off the bench for the Explorers. LaSalle is now 14 and 5 this season. Temple is at 13-6, St. Joe’s 11-7, with Villanova coming on after a slow start. To top everything off, LaSalle senior, Ramon Galloway, shared honors this past week with Villanova sophomore, Darren Hilliard. Galloway was named the Atlantic Ten player of the week and Hilliard was similarly honored in the Big Five.

The Big Five or City Six, whatever you choose to call them, are making the national news and that’s good for the schools and the city. The talent is so spread around the local scene now that opposing teams know they have to play well here in order to compete. If LaSalle continues to get the job done, they could be considered for the Explorers’ first NCAA post-season tournament appearance since 1992. They’ve won enough big games now to merit NCAA attention. Finishing in the top 4th or 5th place in their league should get them there. It would not be an easy task but at least LaSalle has people interested as does Villanova. The Wildcats and Coach Jay Wright have been there before but it would be almost virgin territory for the Explorers. It would be a great experience for John Gianinni and his team. Let’s hope he and his talented crew get there.

Flyers Update

Michael Leighton, the Flyers’ second string goal-tender, started a game on Saturday night in place of Ilya Bryzgalov. It didn’t work out as planned. Considering that Leighton hadn’t started a regular season NHL game since 2010, the result came as no surprise. The Flyers are getting off to a difficult season’s start now that hockey has finally rejoined us.

Leighton had his ears pinned back by the Tampa Bay Lightning, 5 to 1, but he didn’t use rustiness as an excuse. It was the first break of the new, short season for Bryzgalov and, Leighton said, “I actually felt pretty good. My conditioning was really good. I just have to establish a rhythm. I’m not happy that I let a couple of goals in. I just have to keep working at it.” The Flyers power play was 0 for 6 and managed a total of just 5 shots in 12 minutes with an extra skater. It must also be reported that the Flyers lacked discipline. They were 2 and 4 after this game and were called for 6 minor penalties, increasing their total to a league-high 39 prior to meeting the Rangers on Tuesday night. The team also decided to send center, Scott Laughton back to his junior team for more seasoning. General Manager, Paul Holmgren’s only comment on Laughton was, “He needs to play and needs to play in all situations.”

All hockey fans, and apparently there are more of them than some predicted, are undoubtedly aware of the play of the Chicago Black Hawks, who are off to a 6-0 start – the best in that franchise’s history thanks, at least in part, to Nick Leddy who scored 2 goals 45 seconds into overtime the other night. Chicago started off 5-0 in the 1971-72 season, Bobby Hull’s final one in the Windy City and they are hot. Tampa Bay has started at 4-1 this year, New Jersey and Boston 3-0. San Jose is at 5-0. The NHL continues its scoring of 2 points for a win and 1 for an overtime loss.

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The Sixers

The 76ers improved to 18-26 with last weekend’s 97-80 decision over division-leading New York, although Coach Doug Collins had to leave the game in the second half with a painful sinus infection. The Sixers had a disappointing first half this season but Nick Young, their fourth leading scorer, recently has provided some real help off the bench. He scored 20 points in back-to-back games against Milwaukee and New York, giving the team a needed lift. Associate Head Coach, Michael Curry, who has been filling in for Collins, has been impressed with Young’s attitude as well as his play off the bench. Rather than sulk about sitting out games, Curry said that Young rose to the challenge and was “the first guy on the back-to-back days to get upstairs and get his extra work done.” Curry added that Young’s preparation “was better and it showed.” In their last two games before the All Star break on February 14th, the Sixers are home against the Los Angeles Clippers and then at Milwaukee. After the break, they play at Minnesota followed by a game at the Wells Fargo Center against the Miami Heat.

The Latest an Andrew Bynum

Barring an unexpected setback, word is that Andrew Bynum will put on a 76ers uniform next month, for sure. While it seems there’s been some internal “discussion” about the center’s return, General Manager Tony DiLeo said at this writing that, after a front office meeting and the team’s last practice, Bynum should be a “Valentine blessing” for all. Bynum has continued to practice and work long after the team has broken up, doing time on the zero gravity treadmill and even taking some “dunks”. He plans to increase his drills during the first week of February but he’s had no physical contact work. That’s next for the center. The Sixers are beginning this week just 3 games behind Boston for the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference and they have got to string some wins together now. They can’t continue to blow leads as they did last week against Memphis, letting a halftime lead of 57-54 slip away. They still wait for Bynum to help them get their act together.

The President Weighs In

President Obama is a big football fan and the father of two daughters. But if he had a son, he says, he would “have to think long and hard before letting him play football because of the physical toll the game takes.” He added, “I think that those of us who love the aport are going to have to consider that the rules will probably change gradually to try to reduce some of the violence.” He acknowledged that the game might be less exciting as a result, “but it will be a whole lot better for the players and those of us who are fans won’t have to examine our consciences quite as much.” Obama has said that he worries more about college players than those in the NFL because “the NFL players have a union, they’re grown men” who choose to play. He noted, “They can make some of the decisions on their own and most are well-compensated for the violence they do to their bodies.” It’s not the same for college players and it’s hard to argue with that.

The Super Bowl

Brothers don’t like to compete against brothers. It’s not usually something that they or their parents look forward to, is it? When it comes to the Harbaughs, their family isn’t different from any of ours. Their grandfather is 97 years old and a tie would be fine with him, as it would with their kids and everyone else in the family. That can’t be the case on Sunday in New Orleans. But it won’t be the first time that the Ravens and 49ers have met or the same dilemma has been posed for this remarkable crew.

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Last year, Jim and John Harbaugh played each other on Thanksgiving night in Baltimore. The Ravens won it, 16-6, and their locker room was ecstatic. John, the winning coach, was pleased. The losing 49ers coach, Jim, looked glum. But someone had to lose. The teams cleaned up, packed and eventually headed out of the stadium. There John was spotted, running down the row of busses looking for brother Jim, just to say a few private words. These guys are brothers, always trying to raise each other up. No doubt, it will be the same on Sunday at the Super Bowl no matter the final score. Can’t wait.