No. 7 seed Temple will face No. 10 seed Penn State in Arizona.
Out of all the possible first-round matchups Temple could have faced for the NCAA Tournament, the tournament selection created a little extra drama when region-rival Penn State was picked as Temple’s opening-round opponent in Tucson, Ariz.
It’s a rare opportunity for the Owls to face a team that they have some degree of familiarity with. Last season, the Nittany Lions visited the Liacouras Center on Dec. 5, 2009, when the Owls won the defensive battle, 45-42. Only one player on both sides scored in double digits and both have since moved on from their respective schools.
Former guard Ryan Brooks scored 19 points in his senior season and then-Penn State sophomore guard Chris Babb had 11 points, but transferred to Iowa State at the conclusion of the 2009-10 season.
Temple and Penn State also faced off in a scrimmage before the start of this season.
“We scrimmaged those guys earlier in the year, so we know what they are capable of, they weren’t playing too well earlier in the year,” redshirt-junior guard Ramone Moore said. “Both teams are more improved than they were earlier in the year. It’ll be two different teams in a bigger state … We can’t look back and say, ‘Wow, we played well against them in a scrimmage, so we’ll be able to beat them now.’”
“People think that it will be easy because it’s a [No. 10] seed in Penn State, but I don’t look at it that way,” Moore added.
Penn State was the definition of a bubble team heading into the tournament, sporting a 19-14 overall record with a 9-9 record in Big Ten Conference play. Despite the mediocre record, their résumé is littered with quality wins against Top 25 opponents, downing the likes of then-No. 18 Michigan State and then-No. 16 Illinois, two teams in the big dance.
There was also the matter of the Nittany Lions’ run through the Big Ten tournament, where the team defeated Indiana, No. 13 Wisconsin and Michigan State before falling, 71-60, to No. 1 Ohio State in the championship round.
Penn State’s offense rolls through one player, senior guard Talor Battle. Battle was the second-leading scorer in the Big Ten by averaging 20.1 points per game. He had the most overall points in the conference with 664 points and made the most shots from three-point range with 101.
As a team, Penn State ranks last in scoring offense in the conference by averaging 63 points per game but is No. 4 in the Big Ten in scoring defense by allowing just 62.4 points per game.
Temple enters the tournament for the first time since 1999 as an at-large bid after losing to Richmond in the semifinal round of the Atlantic Ten Conference tournament. A 25-7 overall record with a 14-2 A-10 record earned the team a No. 7 seed.
A difference maker for the Owls could be the return of junior forward Scootie Randall, who hasn’t played since Feb. 17 after suffering a hairline fracture in his foot. Even with the injury, he’s the third-highest scorer on the team, averaging 11.6 points per game while also acting as the team’s primary defensive stopper.
During his time away from playing, Randall said the time on the bench has given him a different perspective on the game.
“Some of the things coach says is nonsense, but some of the stuff you got to listen to and just take everything in and use it to your advantage because coaches see a lot of things,” Randall said. “Coach [Fran] Dunphy has been around the game for a long time, and he knows a lot of things.”
Randall joins four other Owls that average in double figures, a stat that makes Temple appear more balanced than Penn State on paper. Moore is the team’s leading scorer with 14.9 points per game. Senior forward Lavoy Allen follows Moore with 11.8 points per game.
Allen’s game has been on fire lately as he has a double-double in seven-straight games. Junior guard Juan Fernandez averages 10.7 points per game, and sophomore guard Khalif Wyatt comes off the bench to average 10 points per game.
Dunphy is 1-13 in the big dance from his time as the head coach of both Penn and Temple with his last win coming in the 1993-1994 season with Penn.
“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.”
Tipoff is 2:10 p.m. EST on Thursday and will be broadcast on TNT.
Brian Dzenis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.