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Six predictions for the City Six

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Six predictions for the City Six

Hey look, college basketball returns tonight! And after a lean season in which only Villanova was a player on the national stage, Philly hoops looks poised to make a comeback in 2017-18.

Here are six predictions for the City Six:

Jalen Brunson will be one of the best players in the nation

It’s hard to get a good read on Villanova — a team that, despite losing star players like Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins, are still expected to be a national title contender.

A lot has to go right for ’Nova to remain a 30-win squad but one thing that won’t be much of a question mark is Jalen Brunson.

A talented guard who Jay Wright called a “natural-born leader,” Brunson seems more than ready to run the team and have a huge season. And don’t be surprised if he’s a finalist for the Wooden Award, just as Hart was a season ago.

Three Big 5 teams will make the NCAA Tournament
Even if Villanova doesn’t continue its streak of Big East titles, the Wildcats will almost certainly make the NCAA Tournament for the 14th time in 15 years. A more pressing question is if anyone in the city will join them after ’Nova was the only team to make the 2017 Dance.

I think that if St. Joe’s can stay healthy, the Hawks have a good shot to get there and maybe even win the Atlantic 10, too. And what are the odds that Fran Dunphy misses the NCAA tourney for a second straight season, considering the last time that happened was in 1997 and 1998?

Look for both the Hawks and Temple to hear their names called on Selection Sunday after staying around the bubble all season. And if one of them doesn’t qualify, there’s always a chance that Penn wins the four-team Ivy League Tournament at the Palestra to book its ticket.

Villanova’s Big 5 streak will end
One of the more impressive feats in the city is Villanova’s 18-game Big 5 winning streak — which I predict will end this season.

Yes, Villanova will be favored in all of its Big 5 games. But without the chance to play in the Pavilion this season due to renovations of the Wildcats' on-campus home and having to play both St. Joe’s and Temple on the road in their biggest rivalry games, a Wildcats team without any seniors may get tripped up.

And if that happens, it could be a season-defining win for the Hawks and/or Owls.

B.J. Johnson will win the city’s scoring crown
Shortly after the 2016-17 season, La Salle’s B.J. Johnson declared for the NBA Draft but did not hire an agent. That last part proved to be quite a good thing for La Salle fans as Johnson opted to return for his senior season.

And the Syracuse transfer is poised for a big one after averaging 17.6 points per game in his first season at his dad’s alma mater last year.

With high-scoring swingman Jordan Price now gone, Johnson should do even more damage on the offensive end this season and perhaps average more than 20 points per game. It’s hard to imagine any player in the city scoring more than that unless St. Joe’s guard Shavar Newkirk completely recovers from a torn ACL or Brunson pumps up his scoring average.

The bigger issue for La Salle, as always, will be chemistry and defense as the Explorers aim to be a serious player in the A-10.

Omari Spellman will be the city’s breakout star
Not going out on too much of a limb with this one but Spellman will be the best newcomer in the city.

The Villanova forward has all the tools with Jay Wright saying he’s never coached a “big guy that good that early in his career.” He’ll likely start right away and get ample opportunity to shine down low with ’Nova possibly employing a four-guard lineup. And, perhaps most valuably, sitting out last season allowed him to learn the game and get used to college basketball.

If Spellman does have competition in this category, it might just be from freshman teammate Collin Gillespie, a sharpshooting guard out of Archbishop Wood.

AJ Brodeur and Kurk Lee will be among the city’s best players
Over in University City, Steve Donahue and Zach Spiker are still trying to rebuild the Penn and Drexel programs. And they each have two (very different) sophomore players to build around in Kurk Lee, a speedy, diminutive guard at Drexel, and AJ Brodeur, a skilled post player at Penn.

Brodeur was a huge bright spot for Penn last season, leading them to two signature non-conference wins by dropping 35 on La Salle and managing to score a few very nice baskets down low on UCF’s 7-foot-6 center Tacko Fall. And Lee averaged 15 points per game while shooting 40 percent from three-point range and electrifying the DAC crowds by weaving through bigger bodies in the lane and burying some acrobatic shots.

The best part: each have three seasons left.

Philly won weird Super Bowl bet with Brockton, Massachusetts

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Mayors of Philly/Brockton

Philly won weird Super Bowl bet with Brockton, Massachusetts

Mayor Jim Kenney doesn't seem to fully understand the concept of a sports wager.

The general rule I like to follow: if you win a bet, you GET SOMETHING OF VALUE in return.

Now, the Mayor of Philadelphia won a bet with the city of Brockton, Massachusetts, and he has to SEND THEM STUFF.

Makes no sense.

Anyway, I guess the city of Brockton now has to dress their Rocky Marciano statue up in Eagles gear. Lulz. So Mr. Kenney is shipping them some goods. I hope the people of New England had to pay for it.

As Eagles fans know all too well, the official Eagles gear is not cheap.

Did the Sixers Really Win That Game II: The Portis vs. The Process

Did the Sixers Really Win That Game II: The Portis vs. The Process

Geez, if you only watched the ends of the last two Philadelphia 76ers games, you'd think they were owed years' worth of good karma from getting perpetually screwed in the fourth quarter or something. That's right, the basketball gods may have finally approved the Sixers' line of credit: One game (and eight days) after Brett Brown's squad came back from 20-plus down to squeak one past the Miami Heat, the team again pulled out a miracle last night in Chicago, coming from five down in the final minute against the Bulls to win 116-115. 

And boy, did this one feel like a loss, too. After surging out to a 25-7 lead in the first, the Sixers quickly relinquished the majority of their lead to the Bulls, who pulled even in the third and kept the Sixers from ever running away with it. They hit an absurd 18 threes, tying a season high, and two role players posted career highs: starting wing David Nwaba (21 points on 9-14 shooting) and bench forward Bobby Portis (38 points on 15-26 shooting, including a stupefying 6-9 from three). 

Meanwhile, the Sixers went cold down the stretch; Robert Covington missed a clean look at a three, Ben Simmons missed two of two from the line, Joel Embiid dribbled the ball off his foot. When Zach LaVine hit a tough pull-up three to put Chicago up five with a minute to go, and then Cov missed an open baseline two, it almost felt a merciful end to our suffering. 

But somehow, that wasn't it. Portis shot a long two a little too quickly at the other end and missed, and Simmons put back his own miss at the other end for a quick two to cut it to three. LaVine bricked a tough jumper with 17 to go, and J.J. got fouled at the other end to prevent a possible tying three. He made both, and then good ball denial on the ensuing Chicago inbounds led to an Embiid steal and pass to Simmons, who got fouled. 

After going just 4-9 from the line to that point, Simmons calmly nailed both his free throws to put Philly up one. Embiid stonewalled a Portis attempt near the basket at the other end with seconds to go, Denzel Valentine's putback attempt missed, and the game was over, with the Philly outscoring Chicago 6-0 in the final minute to seal the W. 

It was beautiful, man. There aren't going to be many games in this life where you give up 18 threes, allow two opposing players to go for career highs, miss 14 free throws and go down five with 60 seconds to go and still somehow manage to win the damn thing. 

But there also aren't gonna be many teams in this life with a one-two punch as potent as Simmons and Embiid. The latter picked up where he left off at the All-Star Game, scoring 30 (on 11-17 shooting, including 3-3 from deep) with 13 boards, five assists, three steals and two blocks -- just a few box score tallies away from his first 5x5 game. And the former picked up where he left off before the All-Star Game, scoring a career-high 32 (13-18 shooting) to go with seven boards, 11 assists a steal and a block. And maybe most impressive of all? The two had just three turnovers between them in 69 combined minutes. 

Ben and Jo were nothing less than dominant on offense all night. They couldn't turn the faucet off on the Bulls defensively for most of the game -- though aside from a couple slow-ish rotations in the first half, I'm not even sure they played all that badly, rather just paying the three-point defense regression to the mean that Liberty Ballers writer Sean O'Connor had long been warning fans about

But in any event, Embiid finally got the best of Portis in the final minutes, shutting him down on a couple crucial possessions (including the final one), and he made the play of the night on that inbounds steal. When you have two transcendent talents -- as Embiid and Simmons undoubtedly have proven they are, even this early in their careers -- you win a lot of games you probably shouldn't, and gravity was finally on the Sixers' side tonight. 

Of course, the Sixers might not've needed such combined brilliance from their two best players if their supporting cast was able to pick up the slack a little. But no one else was really cooking for Philly last night, and as is becoming a distressingly frequent occurrence this season, Covington hit a couple shots early and then went flat for the rest of the game. Even on the Bulls broadcast, they were talking about how Cov was gonna have to hit shots in the playoffs for the Sixers to have a chance, and they're probably right: We need Rock's defense and smarts out there, but if he's gonna routinely brick open looks in big moments, he's gonna be a liability -- and he's now 6 of his last 29 from deep. 

But that's a concern for another day -- one that seems more and more likely to actually be upcoming at this point. In the meantime, Philly is 31-25, having won six in a row, and with a creampuff game coming up next at home against Orlando, before a three-game roadie against East playoff teams (Washington, Miami and Cleveland) that represents the only really tough swing remaining on the Sixers' schedule. The playoffs seem increasingly probable, and with Simmons and Embiid playing at this level, just about anything seems possible if we get there. Pity the foolish rival execs who still don't trust the process at this point.