Battle of wills

DENVER – Whereas the 13 players on the Temple men’s basketball team’s roster have never experienced the highest level of postseason college basketball, second-year coach Fran Dunphy has been there several times before. He coached


DENVER – Whereas the 13 players on the Temple men’s basketball team’s roster have never experienced the highest level of postseason college basketball, second-year coach Fran Dunphy has been there several times before.

He coached the University of Pennsylvania to nine NCAA Tournament appearances during his 17-year-tenure with the Quakers.

But when the No. 12-seeded Owls face No. 5 Michigan State in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament at the Pepsi Center today at 12:30 p.m. EST, it will mark Dunphy’s first time in the tournament as a member of the Cherry-and-White.

“It’s a little bit different,” Dunphy said. “It’s no less thrilling, though, I will tell you that.”

The winner of the Temple-Michigan State game will face either No. 4 Pittsburgh or No. 13 Oral Roberts Saturday in the second round.

Riding a season-high seven-game winning streak, the Owls (21-12) earned an automatic bid into the Big Dance by running through La Salle, Charlotte and Saint Joseph’s to win the Atlantic Ten Conference Championship last Saturday.

The Michigan State Spartans (25-8), who was finished No. 19 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, didn’t win their conference tournament, losing to No. 8 Wisconsin in the semifinals of the Big Ten Conference Tournament, but they have a history of recent NCAA Tournament success on their side.

Under coach Tom Izzo, the Spartans have made 11 consecutive NCAA Tournament trips, reaching four Final Fours and winning the national championship in 2000.

Along with sophomore forward Raymar Morgan, senior Drew Neitzel paces the Spartans, scoring about 14 points per game. Neitzel, an efficient three-point shooter, was a freshman on the Spartans squad that reached the Final Four in 2005.

“Hopefully [I] can lead this team along with some other guys and carry us to a deep run in this tournament,” Neitzel said.

The Spartans have eight players that have at least one NCAA Tournament game under their belts.

“It gives the advantage a little bit to the Michigan State guys,” Dunphy said about the Spartans experience. “We’re hoping to just play the best basketball we can. If we make good decisions on offense and we’re in the right spot on defense then we’ll feel pretty good about how we can approach the game.”

While the Owls kept their game strategy close to the vest, junior guard Travis Walton said the Spartans are aware that they need to slow down Temple’s scorers – leading scorer Dionte Christmas, Mark Tyndale, Chris Clark and Ryan Brooks.

“They play four guards, spread the floor and have great shooters,” Walton said. “There’s going to be tough match-ups at times. We’re going to have to shrink the floor and play team defense.”

The Spartans boast a much tougher defensive front than the Owls, allowing only 62 points per game while winning their games by a 9.3-point margin.
In the rough-and-tumble Big Ten, the Spartans often found themselves involved in physical, low-scoring battles.

But Michigan State can also put points on the board when needed.

The Spartans stomped then-No. 12 Indiana, 103-74, at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, Mich.

“I don’t know how the game’s going to go. I wish I knew,” Dunphy said. “We’re going to have to practice a fast-paced game. They are sometimes one of the best teams in the country at just blowing it up the court. One [or] two passes and they’re at the rim. It’s a great style of play. There are other times when they grind it out. We both can do that, I think.

“I don’t think it will be the coaches that determine [the pace]. I think it will be the players on the court. You know what? That’s fine by me.”

“I think we can match-up well with those guys,” Christmas said. “They’re very aggressive. They have a great leader in Drew Neitzel. Raymar Morgan is a great player. But I think with our two leaders, Mark Tyndale and Chris Clark, we can match-up well with those guys.”


Fran Dunphy and Tom Izzo have only coached against each other once before.

But they know much more about each other from their experience as members of the USA Basketball Men’s Collegiate Committee. Other members include Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, Minnesota coach Tubby Smith and Kansas coach Bill Self.

“I’ve certainly followed coach Izzo’s teams over the years and he’s done a remarkable job,” Dunphy said. “His NCAA record is as good as anybody out there.”

Izzo is 24-9 in NCAA Tournament play.

In the only meeting between the two coaches, Izzo’s Spartans beat Dunphy’s Penn squad, 77-52, in the 2003 Coca-Cola Spartan Classic.

Tyson McCloud can be reached at

(Photos by Ron Davis)

Also read: “A third punch”

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