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St. Joe's lost the game but won March Madness in so many ways

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St. Joe's lost the game but won March Madness in so many ways

The problem with the NCAA Tournament, sometimes, is we too often remember only the final moments. The incredible buzzer-beaters. The crazy meltdowns. The celebrations and the tears. (And also stuff that doesn’t involve Northern Iowa over the last four days).

So when Saint Joseph’s ride came to a gut-wrenching end Sunday in Spokane, it will be the late turnovers that sealed Oregon’s 69-64 win over the upset-minded Hawks that many people will likely remember for years to come.

And that’s a shame because, despite the tough loss, this very likable St. Joe’s team won March Madness in so many ways. Let’s count them:

1. A star is born noticed

Every hoops fan in Philly may know about DeAndre’ Bembry and his ‘fro but it quickly became apparent that not everyone in the country does, especially when analyst Doug Gottlieb referred to him as the “best player you’ve never heard of.” It was nice to see, then, that the junior swingman was able to shine on the national stage, scoring 23 in the Hawks’ first-round win over Cincinnati and going for 16 points and 12 rebounds vs. Oregon -- this after his 30-point monster game in the Hawks’ Atlantic 10 title-game triumph. He even showed what kind of leader he is for taking the blame for the loss to the top-seeded Ducks because of a late turnover before expressing gratitude and appreciation for the ride. He will be missed on Hawk Hill if he decides to turn pro.

2. A perfect game-winning shot

The Hawks couldn’t have drawn this one up any better. Trailing by one to Cincy in the opening-round 8-9 game, head coach Phil Martelli called a brilliant play out of a timeout to get Isaiah Miles open for a three-pointer that the senior drained. Miles said afterwards that it was the first game-winner he ever hit at any level even though he had been dreaming about it all his life. And it was fitting end to a remarkable senior season in which Miles turned into a bona fide star following three mostly pedestrian seasons.

3. Martelli’s got jokes

When he wasn’t thinking up great plays, Martelli was thinking up interesting responses to reporter’s questions (or their posture). After comparing Cincinnati’s defenders to bouncers at a club, the Hawks’ coach had a little fun with a writer that was, um, too relaxed at the postgame press conference following the win. “You need like a cushion or anything” is definitely going to be the name of my NCAA Tournament bracket next year.

4. “Fresh Kimble” shows the future is bright

His real name is Lamarr but everyone calls him “Fresh.” He certainly helped the Hawks look fresh Sunday night with some clutch shots and great drives in the second half while some of the veterans battled foul trouble. The point guard finished with 11 points off the bench against the Ducks but my favorite moment came when he -- a freshman -- was doing his best to console Bembry coming off the court. That shouldn’t come as much a surprise as he clearly loves the guy. And if Bembry leaves, perhaps he’ll take his mantle as the next St. Joe’s star.

5. Aaron Brown’s last hurrah

Other players came through with some big March moments for the Hawks but it’s hard not to specifically highlight Aaron Brown, who scored in double figures in both NCAA Tournament games. The senior has been through a lot and actually played in the Big Dance back in 2012 while at West Virginia. But that must seem like a lifetime ago. So it was cool to see him bookend his college career with another trip to the NCAA Tournament -- and an impressive one at that.

6. The walk-ons got moves

Do not try these dance moves at home:

7. The return of little Phil

He’s no longer wearing a custom suit, holding a clipboard and mimicking the coach like he did two years ago but Martelli’s cute grandson was stealing camera time again this March -- this time decked out in a full uniform.

8. The alums were all in

Even the ones that are now in the NBA.

9. The Hawk loses his head

Props, as always, to the Hawk. It’s alway fun hearing people marvel (or mock) how it flaps its wings the entire game, especially this time of year. Turns out, there’s a real person inside there too.

 

10. Underdog spirit

It may get overlooked since Oregon isn’t a traditional power but it’s important to keep in mind that a St. Joe’s team that had little to no expectations before the season began not only won the A-10 Tournament and a game in the Big Dance (its 28th of the season) but also went toe-to-toe with a No. 1 seed. And they did so after flying across the entire damn country. And with no true big man. And with their own city probably focusing more on Villanova and Temple than them. This is a team that needs to be remembered for a very long time -- and not just for how the season ended. 

Jerry Jones goes after Roger Goodell over Ezekiel Elliott suspension

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Jerry Jones goes after Roger Goodell over Ezekiel Elliott suspension

Jerry Jones, the NFL's most outspoken troll, just wants to watch the world burn.

After weeks of talk and escalation, the Cowboys' owner is ready to go to war with Roger Goodell and the league's other owners over Ezekiel Elliott's suspension.

According to an ESPN report, Jones threatened the commissioner on a conference call after Elliott's suspension was announced, saying, "I'm gonna come after you with everything I have. If you think (Patriots owner) Bob Kraft came after you hard, Bob Kraft is a p---y compared to what I'm going to do."

For weeks now, Jones has tried to disrupt talks of a contract extension for Goodell, promoted objectively bad pizza in the name of football, and landed himself in hot water with the other owners. So much so that there has reportedly been talk about removing Jones as the Cowboys' owner.

It's hard to pick a side here. Jones — the long-lost twin of Emperor Palpatine — and Goodell — a man with rulings more inconsistent than Pete Morelli. You don't really want to root for either of them, but it is fun to think about the extremely unlikely chance that Jones loses the Cowboys. 

Cowboys just another inferior opponent to Eagles

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Cowboys just another inferior opponent to Eagles

It was only a few weeks ago when it appeared this first meeting between the Eagles and Dallas Cowboys was shaping up to be a battle for NFC East supremacy. Now that we’re here, the Cowboys are just trying to save their season, and the Eagles just want to take care of business against an inferior opponent.

That’s not a stretch. Are the Cowboys a good team? Well, they’re not bad, at least based on their 5-4 record. They certainly would be a lot better were it not for injuries and suspensions. But as the team is currently constructed right now, Dallas is not on the Eagles’ level.

Name one thing the Cowboys do better than the Eagles in 2017? That’s going to be a struggle, because aside from maybe punting, or maybe having a marginally superior pass rush, or maybe running the football before Ezekiel Elliott was sent packing, there’s really nowhere Dallas possesses an edge at this point.

Doesn’t mean the Cowboys won’t pose a threat to the Eagles or even win on Sunday night. It’s simply a difficult scenario to envision when we break down the matchup on paper.

QUARTERBACKS

We’re probably going to be having this debate for many years. One-and-a-half seasons certainly isn’t enough to settle it. That being said, there’s no question who’s playing better right now, as in ‘17. Carson Wentz might be the NFL’s Most Valuable Player through 10 weeks. Wentz has thrown for more yards (2,262 to 1,994), a higher yards per attempt (7.8 to 6.9), and found the end zone with greater frequency (23 to 21) – including rushing touchdowns – compared to Dak Prescott. The Eagles’ signal caller also has just one more turnover (7 to 6) and 26 fewer yards rushing (211 to 237). Ultimately, the stats are all pretty close, but Wentz also has the more important number over Prescott right now: Wins, eight to five.

Slight advantage: Eagles

RUNNING BACKS

It’s safe to say that any combination of Alfred Morris, Darren McFadden and Rod Smith (not to be confused with Broncos great Rod Smith) is a massive drop-off from Ezekiel Elliott. The Cowboys simply can’t replace the explosive element Elliott brought to their offense, not with this collection of has-beens and one nobody, anyway. Not one of those ball carriers has the pure ability of a Jay Ajayi at this stage of their careers, and the Eagles wouldn’t swap LeGarrette Blount or Corey Clement with Dallas, either. Fun fact about the Cowboys backfield: The unit’s leading receiver is Smith with 38 yards.

Clear advantage: Eagles

WIDE RECEIVERS AND TIGHT ENDS

Zach Ertz is leads both teams with 43 receptions, 528 yards receiving and six touchdowns, and he even missed the Eagles’ last game. Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor are second and fourth, respectively, with 500 and 428 yards receiving, and tied for second with five touchdowns each. The Cowboys’ top receivers haven’t been as effective at getting down the field or in the red zone, though it’s a deep group. Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Cole Beasley are essentially possession receivers at this point, and even speedy Terrance Newman is averaging a career-worst 11.8 yards per catch. Dallas’ best deep threat has been Brice Butler this season with 10 receptions for 243 yards and two touchdowns. Otherwise, the vertical game has been nonexistent.

Advantage: Eagles

OFFENSIVE LINE

In retrospect, the Cowboys’ issues this season were easy to see coming. The retirement of right tackle Doug Free started a game of musical chairs up front, while the departure of guard Ronald Leary in free agency hurt the unit’s depth. Going from guard to tackle has been an adjustment for La’el Collins, and whether at left guard or left tackle, Chaz Green has been an abject failure. Dallas needs Tyron Smith healthy and covering Prescott’s blind side for this to even have a prayer of working. Meanwhile, the Eagles’ O-line keeps on ticking despite losing Jason Peters, which is a credit to Halapoulivaati Vaitai’s development. Peters or no, this continues to look like the best unit in the league.

Advantage: Eagles

DEFENSIVE LINE AND LINEBACKERS

The Eagles may have the best front four in the NFL, or one of them at least, but don’t discount the Cowboys here. Dallas is tied for fifth with 29 sacks, and Demarcus Lawrence leads the league with 11.5. The defense isn’t great against the run – 4.3 yards per carry allowed is tied for 23rd – but Lawrence, David Irving and Tyrone Crawford can all get after the quarterback. Of course, it’s not as if the Eagles aren’t scary rushing the passer, with just four fewer sacks, plus Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox and company boast the No. 1 run defense as well. Even if the lines are considered even, there’s going to be some separation at linebacker, as the Cowboys are without the heart soul of their defense, Sean Lee (hamstring).

Slight advantage: Eagles

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Despite a solid pass rush, teams have thrown on the Cowboys’ secondary. In terms of opponents’ quarterback rating, Dallas ranks 23rd (96.4). It’s a young backfield, with rookies Jourdan Lewis, Xavier Woods and Chidobe Awuzie – the latter returning from a hamstring injury – in outsized roles. The Eagles are young at corner themselves, with Ronald Darby finally back from an ankle and rejoining Jalen Mills, but have seasoned safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod over the top. The unit will give up some ground, coming in at 26th in terms of yards per game (249.4), yet is ninth in quarterback efficiency (81.2). Teams throw against this group because they have to, not because they want to.

Advantage: Eagles

SPECIAL TEAMS

At one point, Dan Bailey may have been the best kicker in the league, but he’s coming off his worst season as a pro and is now sidelined by a groin injury. That was the Cowboys’ primary strength on special teams. Now unreliable Mike Nugent is handling the kicking duties. Dallas punter Chris Jones has been pretty good at pinning opponents deep, which is nice, because he’s getting a lot more opportunities this year. The Eagles routinely grade among the top units in all phases, and will get the nod over most opponents, even if there is a Pro Bowl kicker.

Advantage: Eagles

COACHING

Jason Garrett is the reigning NFL Coach of the Year. He doesn’t call the plays. He doesn’t run the defense. Heck, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones probably decides when to call a timeout or throw the challenge flag. Yet, Garrett has hardware saying he’s the best. To his credit, there is a good staff in place around him, particularly defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. But as of now, Doug Pederson is well on his way to winning Coach of the Year in ’17, and will do it while actually running a team, nor are there any weak links on his staff. With an unconvincing 62-49 record, including playoffs, we’ll go ahead and chalk up Garrett’s 2016 campaign as an anomaly.

Advantage: Eagles

OVERALL

The Cowboys went 13-3 in the regular season in ‘16 on the strength of a dominant offensive line, punishing ground attack and well-coached defense. While the latter is still in place, even that aspect of the equation benefitted from ball-control offense. But Dallas’ line is an injury away from being in shambles, and the NFL’s reigning rushing champion is suspended. That leaves a young quarterback with aging weapons and adequate protection at best, and a defense that can rush the quarterback but does little else. Meanwhile, the Eagles have the best record in the league right now at 8-1, and they were firing on all cylinders heading into their bye. This is a week-to-week sport, so everything can change in the blink of an eye on Sunday night. Going in, however, there’s no denying which side is superior.

Distinct advantage: Eagles