The team’s matchup with Penn State works in Temple’s favor.
I don’t think you could have picked a more perfect first-round matchup for the men’s basketball team.
Penn State? Really?
The same Penn State that routinely punches Temple in the mouth in football? The same Penn State that Temple scrimmaged against earlier this season? The same Penn State that Temple beat in the 2001 NCAA tournament to advance to John Chaney’s last Elite 8?
Yeah, that Penn State.
While Penn State went on a nice run in the Big 10 Conference tournament, defeating Indiana, No. 13 Wisconsin and Minnesota, before falling to No. 1 Ohio State, 71-60, this will be coach Fran Dunphy’s best shot at advancing past the first round while at Temple.
Here’s why I think the Owls have an advantage over the Nittany Lions:
Penn State isn’t particularly large. Senior guard Talor Battle and sophomore guard Tim Frazier both check in at under 6 foot 1 inch. Only redshirt-senior forward Andrew Jones at 6-foot-10-inches is particularly large, meaning he will likely draw the attention of Temple senior forward Lavoy Allen.
With Allen playing the way he has, double-doubles in seven straight games and in 11 of 13 contests, the Owls should look to force the issue against Jones and the Nittany Lions. If sophomore forward Rahlir Jefferson can get his offensive game going, something that went missing in the Atlantic Ten Tournament, the Owls should have a very distinct
advantage in the paint.
Now, you might say the Nittany Lions have had some great wins this year – that’s why they’re in the NCAA Tournament to begin with. That’s true. The Nittany Lions, led by Battle’s 20.1 points per game, have collected four wins against Top 25 opponents this year, two of which came against Wisconsin. However, all of Penn State’s marquee wins came at home. Tucson, Ariz., while a long distance away from Philadelphia, is also a while away from State College, Pa. This matchup should be the true definition of a neutral-site game, so Penn State’s home-court advantage won’t be a factor.
The Owls, playing without redshirt-junior center Micheal Eric, will most likely see the return of junior forward Scootie Randall. Randall, out since Feb. 17 with a hairline fracture in his foot, will attempt to keep Battle in check.
“It doesn’t matter to me, even with the injury,” Randall said. “We do a lot of switches, and even our bigs can guard guards … If that’s my matchup, I’m going to do the best I can do to stop him.”
No official score was announced for the preseason scrimmage between Temple and Penn State, but Temple’s players left the game feeling confident with their performance. Still, a lot has changed since then.
“I think, in our scrimmage earlier in the season, Battle wasn’t as good as he is now,” Randall said. “Then their program started to come together and get wins as a team. I think, for us, we just have to stick to the game plan and come together as a group.”
It would be easy for Temple to look toward a second-round matchup with the No. 2 seed San Diego State. Before the team can start envisioning a Sweet 16 run, the Owls need to take care of the Nittany Lions first, Dunphy said.
“We need to win a game,” Dunphy said. “We haven’t done that in the last three years. In order for us to win a game, we have to play great defense, make great decisions on offense and make our share of shots.”
Still, with the return of Randall, the lack of a distinct size advantage on Penn State’s side, the fact the two teams have faced off before and the game’s location at a true neutral site, the Owls may very well have to start game-planning for the Aztecs.
Kyle Gauss can be reached at email@example.com.