Headed to Denver

They’ll be a long way from North Broad Street, but, in four days, the Temple men’s basketball team will feel at home again. The Atlantic Ten Conference Champion Owls — who made 17 consecutive NCAA

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They’ll be a long way from North Broad Street, but, in four days, the Temple men’s basketball team will feel at home again.

The Atlantic Ten Conference Champion Owls — who made 17 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances between 1984 and 2001 — earned a No. 12 seed in the South region and will travel to Denver, Colo. to face No. 5 Michigan State Thursday in the opening round of this year’s Big Dance. The winner will meet either No. 4 Pittsburgh or No. 13 Oral Roberts in the second round.

Tip off will be at 12:30 p.m. for the game, which will be played at the Pepsi Center, home to the NBA’s Denver Nuggets and the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche.

The Owls (21-12) sat in front of a large projection screen at the Draught Horse on Cecil B. Moore Ave. Sunday night to watch CBS’ Selection Sunday show along with team officials, family, friends, alumni and a throng of media members.

After a couple of “ooh’s” and “ah’s” while viewing other tournament match-ups, including the seedings of fellow Big 5-ers, Villanova (No. 12 in the Midwest region) and Saint Joseph’s, (No. 11 in the East region), the Owls finally heard their name called about midway through the hour-long broadcast.

“I don’t really care if they gave us a 13 or [a] 14 seed,” junior Dionte Christmas said. “I think we can match-up with anybody in the tournament this year and I think we’re going to do well against Michigan State.”

The Spartans (25-8 overall) will make their 11th straight NCAA Tournament appearance under coach Tom Izzo, who is in his 13th year with the squad. Izzo has led Michigan State to four Final Four appearances and an NCAA Championship in 2000.

In the last meeting between the two teams, the Spartans defeated Temple in the Elite Eight in 2001, the Owls last appearance in the tournament. Temple holds a 6-5 advantage in the all-time series between the squads.

Asked about his expectations leading into Sunday’s unveiling of the 65-team bracket, coach Fran Dunphy said: “You expect nothing.”

“You have no idea where you’re going, you have no idea who you’re playing, you have no idea where you’ll be seeded but you know it’s going to be a tough match-up, so you prepare for that,” he said. “Obviously, Michigan State will be a very challenging match-up for us.”

Michigan State sophomore forward Raymar Morgan leads the team in points (14.5 per game) and rebounds (6.3 per contest) while senior Drew Neitzel hits for 14.2 points per game for the Spartans. Neitzel, a threat from deep range, scored a shade over 18 points per game for the Spartans last season, while converting 41 percent of his three-point attempts.

“I know we’ve got to stop him,” senior Mark Tyndale said. “He’s a great player. We’ve just got to slow him down.”

Only a week ago, there was concern that for the first time since 1977, no Philadelphia school would qualify for the NCAA Tournament.

Now, three of the city’s six teams are in. But not without controversy.

Despite beating St. Joe’s in the A-10 Championship game and finishing with the same overall record as them, the Hawks received a No. 11 seed, one better than Temple.

Dunphy and his players said they weren’t bothered by that though.

“We don’t worry about stuff like that. We’re just happy to be in the Tournament,” senior Chris Clark said. “St. Joe’s and Villanova, they deserved it. They did a good job all-year round. We just want to go out there and get ready for Michigan State.”

For Dunphy, who guided Penn to nine NCAA Tournament appearances in his 17 years at the university, it will be his first trip back to the NCAA Tournament since 2006, when his 15th-seeded Quakers lost to No. 2 Texas in the first round.

Less than a month after that loss, Dunphy took over for legendary Temple coach John Chaney.

“It’s a new challenge for me and obviously it’s a wonderful opportunity for Temple University to be in it but the feelings that you get and how good you feel for the players that you have, that never changes,” Dunphy said about the difference between leading Penn and Temple to March Madness.

The feeling that Dunphy had was a new one for Christmas and the rest of his teammates, however.

“I’m usually watching Selection Sunday at home but now I’m here with my team, alumni and parents and it feels good,” Christmas said.

Tyson McCloud can be reached at Tyson@temple.edu.

(Photo by Kevin Cook)

Also read: “Champions” and “A-10 title, not NCAA Tournament, defines season