Sports

Temple men’s basketball to face No. 1 Villanova

The Wildcats enter Wednesday’s matchup at the Liacouras Center undefeated and with a 21-game winning streak in the Big 5.

For the third year in a row, Temple will face Villanova while the Wildcats hold the top spot in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.

Villanova, which had the fourth spot in last week’s poll, traded places with Duke University on Monday. The Wildcats (10-0, 3-0 Big 5) also earned the top spot in Monday’s USA Today Coaches Poll.

Temple (6-2, 1-1 Big 5) is ranked sixth in the Ratings Percentage Index as of Tuesday. The Owls, who are one spot behind the Wildcats in the RPI, will have a chance to give Villanova its first loss on Wednesday at the Liacouras Center.

“That naturally just gets guys more juiced up than usual,” sophomore guard Quinton Rose said of Villanova being ranked No. 1 heading into Wednesday’s game.

“The mindset is the same,” Rose added. “Before every game, coach preaches that it’s the biggest game of your life. The mindset is still the same, no matter if they’re No. 1 or not.”

Villanova is the first top-25 team Temple will face this year. The Owls will play Cincinnati, which is ranked 25th in the AP poll, and No. 3 Wichita State twice in American Athletic Conference play.

The Owls will also play the University of Georgia, which received three votes in Monday’s AP poll, on Dec. 22. Conference opponents Southern Methodist and Houston also received votes in Monday’s poll.

Temple has defeated at least one top-25 team in 10 consecutive seasons. Temple hasn’t, however, beaten a No. 1 team since Feb. 20, 2000, when it beat Cincinnati. The Owls, then ranked No. 15 in the AP poll, won the 11th game of their 13-game winning streak on the way to winning the Atlantic 10 Conference and reaching the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Temple is 2-17 all-time when it faces the No. 1 team.

In last year’s matchup against Villanova, Temple had a four-point, first-half deficit before the Wildcats went on a 9-0 run going into halftime. The Owls scored 16 first-half points to record their second-lowest first-half total of the season.

This year’s Villanova team ranks in the top 35 of Division I in both scoring offense and scoring defense. The Wildcats’ plus 22.3 scoring margin is second behind Virginia Tech.

“They relish the defensive end,” coach Fran Dunphy said. “And then I think their offense feeds off of that defense. They are very efficient on the offensive end, and [junior guard Jalen] Brunson is as smart and as tough a guard as there is out there. That’s a great thing to start with.”

Brunson is one of the Wildcats’ four double-figure scorers. He averages 17.2 points per game and is shooting 62 percent from the field.

“He doesn’t shoot a lot of shots,” Dunphy said. “He’s very, very efficient. He loves to pass the ball. He loves to set people up.”

Redshirt-sophomore guard Donte DiVincenzo has played in every game and come off the bench in nine of them. He averages 11.8 points per game. Redshirt-junior guard Phil Booth is the team’s third-leading scorer and is coming off a 3-for-4 performance from 3-point range on Sunday against La Salle.

Villanova’s leading scorer is redshirt-junior swingman Mikal Bridges, who averages 18.1 points per game, shoots 54 percent from the field and ranks 10th on Sports Illustrated’s most recent NBA Draft board. Bridges’ 7-foot-1-inch wingspan also helps him impact the defensive end of the floor.

Dunphy said there will be times Rose, junior guard Shizz Alston Jr. or redshirt-senior guard Josh Brown could guard Bridges because of defensive switches.

After he took a hit to the nose during Wednesday’s win against Wisconsin, Brown wore a protective facemask during Saturday’s win against St. Joseph’s. Dunphy said “there’s a little crack” in Brown’s nose and whether he continues to wear the facemask is up to Brown and the training staff.

Early in the season, Temple has had “some really good wins” and games it “fell down on,” Dunphy said.

“After eight games, none of that matters,” Dunphy said. “This is game nine and it’s Villanova and we better be ready to go.”

“Every game is so critical,” he added. “Every game. When we played La Salle at La Salle, I said, ‘This has NCAA implications.’ So Wednesday, we will have NCAA implications.”

Evan Easterling

can be reached at evan.easterling@temple.edu
Or you can follow Evan on Twitter @Evan_Easterling
Follow The Temple News @TheTempleNews

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