No. 5 seed Temple faces No. 12 Cornell Friday in Jacksonville, Fla.
The No. 12-ranked men’s basketball team won its third consecutive Atlantic Ten Conference Championship last Sunday at Atlantic City, N.J.’s Boardwalk Hall.
Friday at 12:30 p.m., Temple will make its 28th NCAA Tournament appearance and will look to avoid a third consecutive opening-round loss. The Owls dropped games to Michigan State and Arizona State in the past two NCAA Tournaments.
“This is [the] third time [for the seniors and juniors], so we feel that we’re experienced at this now, and we’re due to hopefully make a run and get some wins under our belt,” senior guard Ryan Brooks said.
This year, the Owls get a higher seed than the No. 12 and No. 11 seeds they received from the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee the past two seasons. The No. 5-seeded Owls will face the No. 12-seeded Cornell Big Red at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla. If the Owls win, they would then play the winner of the No. 4 Wisconsin-No. 13 Wofford game Sunday.
“I’m kind of mad at that, but that’s the way it is,” senior guard Luis Guzman said. “I thought we were going to be a 3 seed, but [the committee] gave Baylor a 3 seed. We were ranked, and they [were not], but that’s how things worked out. We’ve just got to go out and win.”
“I was thinking a 3 or 4 seed since Xavier got a 6 [Temple defeated the Musketeers in the regular season, and Xavier lost in an Atlantic Ten Tournament semifinal game to Richmond]. But I guess the committee thought that we deserved a 5 seed,” sophomore guard Ramone Moore said. “But we can’t worry about those things. We’ve just got to go out wherever they put us and fight and win.”
Brooks said that the Owls could use the seeding as “motivation, [since] some people [are] doubting us or underestimating us.”
Cornell, which received its highest NCAA Tournament seed ever, does offer Temple a test in the first round. The Big Red, who will be playing in the NCAA Tournament for their third straight year, finished with a 27-4 record, including 13-1 in the Ivy League. Cornell’s four regular-season losses came to No. 1 seed Syracuse, Seton Hall, overall No. 1 seed Kansas and Penn. The Big Red lost to the Orange by 15 points, the Pirates by 10 points, the Jayhawks by five points and the Quakers by 15 points. Temple defeated Seton Hall by six points and Penn by 15 points but lost to Kansas by 32 points at the Liacouras Center. Cornell kept it close against the Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse and beat Saint John’s, a team that the 29-5 Owls lost to this season.
Cornell has won seven straight games since its loss to Penn and 15 of its last 16 games overall. The Owls have won 10 straight games for the first time since 2000-2001. That Temple team won 10 straight games before losing in the Elite Eight to Michigan State.
“I don’t like the bracket we’re in,” former coach and Hall of Famer John Chaney said. “I was hoping we’d be in the Midwest or the West, but looking at it, I’m just happy for what Coach and the players have accomplished.
“You’re going to play a team that’s going to sharpen their knives up just like us, and it’s going to be a tough game,” Chaney added. “It’s going to be a slow game. It’s always one game that you’ve got to get over. I don’t care what they’re rated or ranked. They’re going to flex their muscles, and they’re going to have a tough time. We’ve won 10 straight, so going into the Tournament, we can only lose one more game. My point is just be concerned about what happens today, what happens that very minute you play Cornell and approach it the same way you have all year.”
Friday’s matchup will be the first between the two basketball programs. A-10 Coach of the Year Fran Dunphy is very familiar with Cornell’s coach Steve Donahue, though. Donahue, who is in his 10th year with the Big Red, served as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator with Dunphy for 10 years at Penn. He will have a tough task taking down Dunphy and Temple, however, as a Dunphy-led team has never lost to a team led by one of the coach’s former assistants.
“I don’t know how much that means,” Chaney said. “Sooner or later, somewhere down the line, all of us end up coaching against people that either mirror us or mirror our philosophy in terms of how we coach, so unless you bring some special emotion to the event, then it’s not a problem.”
“It might be like when we played Penn,” sophomore guard Juan Fernandez said. “It could be in our favor, in their favor, [but] it’s just a matter of playing basketball in the end.”
Cornell is led by Ivy League Player of the Year Ryan Wittman, a forward who averages 17.5 points per game and four rebounds per game. He is one of eight seniors on the Big Red squad.
Senior guard Louis Dale and senior center Jeff Foote were also named first-team All-Ivy. Both players average in double figures in scoring. Foote, who pulls down 8.2 rebounds per game, received his second consecutive league Defensive Player of the Year honor as well.
The Owls will look to Brooks, Fernandez and junior forward Lavoy Allen. Brooks leads the team in scoring with an average of 14.3 points per game. Fernandez’s 16.3 points per game in the A-10 Tournament earned him the Most Outstanding Player award last Sunday. Allen averages a double-double and was named to the All-Tournament team. Moore, the A-10’s Sixth Man of the Year, could also factor into the game.
“As I said, I don’t like the bracket, but if they get past Cornell, they’re [most likely] playing a team [Wisconsin] that will mirror us,” Chaney said. “I don’t like to look in the mirror and see myself. [But] if they get past Wisconsin, I think that then you start huffing, and you start puffing, and you start blowing houses down.”
Jennifer Reardon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.