Can Temple beat another Top 10 team in Kansas?

Can Temple beat another Top 10 team in Kansas?
January 5, 2013, 6:39 pm
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The last time Temple took on Kansas, the No. 18 Owls were hammered by Sherron Collins, Xavier Henry, Cole Aldrich and the No. 1 Jayhawks in a 32-point loss at the Liacouras Center on Jan. 2, 2010.

That game, now three seasons ago, doesn't serve as much motivation for Temple's leading scorer Khalif Wyatt, but he does remember it.

"Oh yeah, I thought about it. They came in here and they beat us pretty bad," said Wyatt, who was then just a freshman and who entered the game for only four minutes. "I wasn't a big part of that team, but I know I was there. I watched it.

"I played a little bit," he continued, before breaking out in laughter, "by default."

So that game didn't go so well.

But the Temple Owls have upset five Top 10 teams in the last five seasons. They've done it three times at the Liacouras Center (Tennessee, Villanova, and Georgetown) and twice on neutral courts (Duke, Syracuse). They just haven't done it in someone else's home gym.

Sunday at 4:30 p.m., the Owls have that opportunity when Temple (10-2) faces No. 6 Kansas (11-1) at Fogg Allen Fieldhouse.

One problem: Kansas is riding a 29-game home winning streak -- second-longest in the country behind only Syracuse, who Temple defeated at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 22 -- and hasn't lost to a non-conference opponent on its own floor in 62 games.

"I think it's a wonderful environment to bring your team into," Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. "I hope we're ready to be on that stage. It's a great opportunity. It (Fogg Allen) is unique. It's 16,000 people that are sort of right on top of you, and it's loud and it's aggressive, but it's what you want your kids to go through."

The team that plays in the atmosphere starts four seniors -- Jeff Withey, Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford, and Kevin Young -- and one freshman -- guard Ben McLemore, who leads the Jayhawks with 15.8 points per game.

"They have a similar team to the team they had in 2010." Wyatt said. "They have some pretty talented guys. And now we're going into there place. So it's going to be a challenge, but I think we're up for it."

Wyatt usually is. In Temple's last two wins over Top 10 opponents, he was the games' leading scorer. He finished with 22 points against Duke last season on 8-for-12 shooting, and then dropped a career-high 33 points on Syracuse, going 8 of 17 from the floor.

"You try to prepare for these games, you try to treat them like they're just another game, even though you know they're not," Wyatt said. "I know there's a lot of history in that building, and they play really good in there.

"It's a great opportunity to play with your teammates in a hostile environment. I think it's natural at the beginning just to have jitters, especially going on the road, but only the ball gets thrown up, you get to run up and down the court and it just starts to feel like another game. You just gotta go out there and make shots and play basketball."

Making shots could prove difficult. Kansas is second in the nation, trailing only Texas, in defensive field goal percentage, allowing opponents to shoot just 34.7 percent this season. At the other end of the floor, the Jayhawks are ninth in the country, shooting 50.4 percent from the field.

"The fact that they shoot the ball at such a high percentage, and defend it at such a low percentage, that's a big gap. I don't know that we've faced anybody with that kind of gap (15.7 percent) this year," Dunphy said. "I'd like to check Duke and what their numbers are and Syracuse and what their numbers are."

Actually, it isn't close. Duke's opponents are shooting 38.2 percent, while Duke itself is shooting 48.2 percent. And while Syracuse is fourth in the country with a 35.1 defensive percentage, its only making 46.8 percent of its own looks. Those are gaps of 10 percent and 11.7 percent, not 15.7.

Kansas makes you miss, rebounds the basketball with the 7-foot Withey (7.9 rpg) and 6-foot-8 Young (6.7 rpg in 19.6 mpg) and converts a high volume of its attempts at the other end.

Consequently, Dunphy and Wyatt both emphasized responsibility, with specific regard to shot selection. Temple has fallen at times a little too in love with the three-point shot this year, and long shots make for longer rebounds.

"Kansas is an extraordinary team who can go on these runs," Dunphy said. "I think we're really going to have to manage our offensive game in order to prevent those runs from happening."

If anything is (maybe) working in the Owls' favor, of the four times Temple has defeated two Top 10 teams in the same season, it's knocked off Kansas twice. Temple downed No. 3 Kansas and No. 5 Louisville during the 1993-94 season, and did the same to No. 2 Villanova and No. 1 Kansas in the span of 10 days during the 1995-96 season.

The last time Temple beat two Top 10 opponents in the same campaign was back in the 2002-03 season, with wins over No. 10 Indiana and No. 10 Xavier.

Following its win over Bowling Green last Monday, Temple became just the sixth program in Division I college basketball history to reach 1,800 wins, joining Kentucky, Duke, Syracuse, North Carolina and Kansas.

In the annals of college basketball, Temple, despite having never won a national championship, has put itself in that kind of elite company. Now the 2012-13 Owls have to see if they can hang with the Jayhawks.

E-mail Nick Menta at nmenta@comcastsportsnet.com