Expect Ugly, Slow, Brutal Basketball When No. 5 Temple Meets No. 12 USF

Expect Ugly, Slow, Brutal Basketball When No. 5 Temple Meets No. 12 USF

****The CBS Selection Show was down to the final bracket Sunday night, so Owls fans knew Temple's name was coming. Even better, with the benefit of seeing all the other 6/11 and 5/12 matchups on the board, they knew who Temple wasn't playing.

So when the 12/12 play-in game between California and South Florida popped up beneath No. 5 Temple, and one took the time to reflect on who else the Owls could have been paired with, Temple's first-round* draw appeared the most favorable of the possible outcomes.
Despite USF's performance against Cal Wednesday night, and some of the worry that's begun to build about the South Florida defense and the team's sudden ability to make jump shots, the draw remains favorable, even if Temple would have preferred to play the Golden Bears. Regardless, the Owls can ill-afford take their future conference rivals lightly (9:50 p.m. / TNT / 1210 AM)
Anticipating the style and predicting the winner of what could be the single ugliest game of the first round* after the jump...
**Facing a One-Dimensional OpponentSouth Florida surrendered the seventh-fewest points in the nation this season (56.8) and the 39th fewest points per possession (0.94). They acquired those statistics by defending the third-fewest possessions per game of any team in the country (60.3).
We should also note that although Temple hasn't been as defensively strong this season as they've been in years past, the USF offense is just absolutely abysmal. Out of 344 Division I Men's Basketball programs, the Bulls finished 325th in the country, averaging 59.6 points per game. Even more staggering, they finished third-to-last in the nation in offensive possessions per game with 60.3.
But understand: it's deliberate. USF's goal is to slow the game as much as possible and to frustrate opponents into making mistakes. Moreover, if the Bulls offense runs as much time off the shot clock as possible (either by choice or sheer ineptitude), then that's less time they have to spend defending. The best defensive teams will limit their opponent's opportunities with the ball before they even have to begin guarding anyone. 
Setting the PaceConventional wisdom is that the Owls should be getting out on the break whenever possible so as to prevent the USF defense from having the opportunity to properly set itself in the half court and to maximize its own number of offensive opportunities against a team who won't allow many. That strategy is by no means misguided.
But Temple has also shown, once again this season as in countless others, a preference for playing at a very deliberate pace. Should that trend continue -- plus, it's not like they'll be able to get out in the open floor off every rebound -- then the game could very likely settle in to a slow, methodical and ugly game of basketball.
Don't Get Rattled and DON'T FORCETemple has the tools and the personnel to be very successful in transition, especially on its bench. Freshman Anthony Lee has shown a clear ability to run the floor and Aaron Brown's penchant for getting lost in corners and shooting open threes is a matchup nightmare for most defenses should Temple at any time decide to run four guards. As for the starters, Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson and Ramone Moore are as athletic as they come, Khalif Wyatt is...unconventionally agile, and Juan Fernandez has the best vision of anyone on the floor.
All those attributes are real, but Temple cannot force their use if the opportunities aren't really available. The Owls, if they choose to, will not be the first team who has tried to run on USF. Not only will the Bulls be prepared, but Temple cannot be so concerned that it becomes overly aggressive, lobbing long, ill-advised home run passes. USF wants its opponents to play undisciplined, and Temple cannot fall into that trap by attempting anything too quick, too flashy or too risky.
The same holds true in the half court. Temple's offense is at its best when its players are moving on offense and, likewise, moving the basketball. It's not that they shouldn't run some clear outs for Moore or even Wyatt when possible, but that strategy isn't, has never been and should not become the Owls dominant style. Moreover, Temple has a nasty habit of playing the wrong kind of iso, by merely staring at the ball handler and taking up rather than creating space.
Either way, this group of Owls has never been afraid to run the shot clock down in order to find the best possible look, so they shouldn't get rattled at having to do it tonight. Even when that clock is getting low, panic cannot take hold. If the Owls suffer a violation or two after proving unable to hit the rim after 35 seconds, those instances need to be accepted, immediately forgotten and cannot be allowed to result in rushed or poor attempts.
Of course, when the Owls do find their good looks at the basket, they'll need to be efficient. They'll have far too few possessions to waste them with poor shooting or, worse, poor decision-making. Temple is ordinarily comfortable and actually prefers to play in the half-court -- they cannot afford to forget that, no matter how slow or painful the game should look or feel.

Fernandez and Moore Need to Lead (But in Different Ways)These two combined, although not necessarily in tandem, to snap a streak of three-straight NCAA first-round* exits when they led the Owls just barely over the Penn State Nittany Lions last year. Their play will once again be vital, but for far different reasons individually.
Starting with Ramone, Moore is as talented a basketball player as their is in the city, the conference or, and feel free to incorrectly quibble this, the nation. His only shortcoming is that he tends to be too passive and too unselfish. Moore -- other than Wyatt, who has no qualms about taking the big shot or getting his -- is the Owls best option in the clutch. Regardless of how the team played against UMass last Friday, it was encouraging to see Moore take and hit three straight threes in the second half to get Temple back in the ballgame. That's the kind of leadership he will need to evince if his team is going to overcome difficulties to put together any meaningful run through the tournament. When the Owls run the shot clock to single digits tonight, Moore, more often than not, will need to be the one with the ball in his hands. Both he and his teammates will be to blame if he isn't.
Fernandez, separately, will most benefit his team by doing the exact opposite. He needs to lead by creating for others rather than forcing for himself. Yes, Juan is a streaky shooter, and streaky shooters get hot, but like everyone else, he's much better shooting open and/or in-rhythm looks. Really, for all of Juan's talents, his worst shortcoming is his insistence of driving to the basket late in the clock. That strategy is not poor, in principle -- it works for plenty of other players, including some on his own team -- it's just completely ineffective for him (Temple fans have seen too many rejected one-handed scoops to need to bear witness to more in what could be Juan's final tournament game). Fernandez has been at his best this season when he has, by his own admission, "let the game come to him." Sometimes that involves him scoring 20 or more. Other times that involves him racking up assists and shooting the ball only six to seven times. Whatever is or isn't available tonight, Fernandez has to accept it and play within himself. His flash has been a true pleasure to watch in his four-year career, but his responsibility with the basketball is that
which will be the most needed. If the above book on the Argentine senior seems too harsh, just consider it a preference for wanting to remember him for all the good he's done for his program, and not for what happened against San Diego State.
When Temple lost three first-round* games in a row to Michigan State, Arizona State and Cornell, it was their most talented, most experienced players who were shut down, rattled or otherwise held incapable of producing in the manner to which they were accustomed. Moore and Fernandez cannot fall into the trap against a team whose sole goal is to hold their opponents to less than 60 -- and sometimes 50 -- points tonight. If they do, then, well...Khalif Wyatt.
The Takeaways-- There will be limited possessions. Those limited possessions must be taken advantage of with the highest possible efficiency.
-- Likewise -- as was not yet touched on, but should be -- Temple cannot give up easy or lazy baskets on defense. USF is horrendous offensively, their shooting performance against Cal was an aberration, and Temple, therefore, needs not to cede baskets USF is incapable of generating on its own. Every failed stopped is one Temple will have to work that much harder to make up for on offense.
-- Unless Temple comes bursting out of the gate really excited, really hungry, really focused and really pissed off about their play over the last two weeks (which, frankly, is a very real possibility South Florida should find itself prepared for), then get ready to settle in for one of the ugliest basketball games of this year's NCAA tournament. USF will defend hard; Temple will be expected to run a lot of clock; USF will not score often; Temple will turn the ball over a lot; and it will all be unbearable to watch unless you really appreciate the intricacies of the game of basketball. You've been forewarned.
Prediction: First team to 60 wins
Getting to the NCAAs has become old-hat for Temple. That's a cocky statement, but its true. This team knew it was going to the dance a month ago. It had won three Atlantic 10 tournament in four years. So is it possible they just lost focus down the stretch?
We're calling for a Temple team who has been waiting all year for its next shot at the NCAAs to "take the Bulls by the horns" (sorry) and go on an early run. The game will eventually settle in, but Temple is taking this thing and immediately moving on to face  Michigan Ohio Sunday. 
(But remember all those concerns written above were published and explained for a reason.)
Go Owls.
photos courtesy US Presswire

More NFL Notes: Texans star WR DeAndre Hopkins not at training camp

More NFL Notes: Texans star WR DeAndre Hopkins not at training camp

HOUSTON -- Houston Texans star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins did not report to training camp Saturday.

Entering his fourth pro season, Hopkins is holding out for a new contract. He is scheduled to make $1 million in salary in the final season of his rookie contract, though the Texans have picked up his fifth-year option.

Hopkins can be fined up to $40,000 for every day he misses camp.

He comes off a huge season with 111 receptions, 1,521 yards receiving and 11 touchdowns despite inconsistency at quarterback and few other receiving options on the Texans.

Houston general manager Rick Smith said in a statement: "We are disappointed DeAndre has elected not to report to training camp with the rest of his teammates. He has expressed his position regarding his contract status, and we have been clear with both he and his representatives of ours. Our focus is on the 2016 season and all of our collective efforts and attention will be centered on that endeavor."

Hopkins was the 27th overall pick in the 2013 draft out of Clemson. He has started all 48 games in his career, making 239 catches for 3,533 yards and 19 touchdowns. He went to the Pro Bowl last season.

49ers: Offensive lineman Anthony Davis reinstated by NFL
SAN FRANCISCO -- Right tackle Anthony Davis was reinstated by the NFL on Saturday after an 11-month retirement that he planned to come back from all along.

The San Francisco 49ers made the announcement ahead of their first day of training camp Sunday under new coach Chip Kelly.

Davis was the 49ers' first-round draft choice, the 11th overall pick, in the 2010 draft out of Rutgers. He was affected by a concussion late in the 2014 season.

On June 5, 2015, at age 25, Davis announced his retirement in another surprising offseason departure last year for the 49ers. He became the fourth prominent San Francisco player to retire in a three-month span, joining linebackers Patrick Willis and Chris Borland and defensive end Justin Smith. The announcement came four days before the team's mandatory June minicamp.

Also Saturday, San Francisco placed nose tackle Ian Williams on the reserve/non-football injury list (see full story).

Bears: LB Willie Young signs to 2-year extension
CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bears signed outside linebacker Willie Young to a two-year contract extension on Saturday.

Financial terms of the contract were not disclosed.

The 30-year-old Young signed with the Bears two years ago after spending his first four seasons with division-rival Detroit. He had a career-high 10 sacks that year before tearing his Achilles tendon in December, but bounced back to play in 15 games with 6 1/2 sacks last season.

MLB Notes: Nationals acquire All-Star closer Mark Melancon from Pirates

MLB Notes: Nationals acquire All-Star closer Mark Melancon from Pirates

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Washington Nationals have acquired All-Star closer Mark Melancon from the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Washington sent reliever Felipe Rivero and pitching prospect Taylor Hearn to the Pirates for Melancon, who supplants Jonathan Papelbon as Washington's closer.

Melancon, a 31-year-old right-hander, has 30 saves and a 1.51 ERA this season. He is making $9.65 million and is eligible for free agency after the World Series.

Papelbon is 2-4 with a 4.41 ERA and has allowed eight runs and seven hits in his past three outing. Manager Dusty Baker wouldn't say earlier Saturday whether Papelbon still was his closer. Baker pulled Papelbon from a game Thursday in the ninth inning.

Rivero, a 25-year-old lefty, is 0-3 with a 4.53 ERA this season. Hearn is a 21-year-old lefty who was the Nationals' fifth-round pick in the 2015 amateur draft (see full story).

GIANTS: Pence back after 48-game absence
SAN FRANCISCO -- Giants right fielder Hunter Pence was activated Saturday and in the starting lineup against the Nationals after missing 48 games with a strained right hamstring that required surgery.

San Francisco hopes Pence will bring some much-needed life to a club that had lost 11 of 13 since the All-Star break.

Newly acquired infielder Eduardo Nunez made his first start since joining the team in a trade from Minnesota on Thursday and having his first at-bat Friday. Nunez was playing shortstop Saturday because Brandon Crawford, who lined into a bases-loaded triple play during Friday's 4-1 loss, had a sore left hand from a swing early in the game.

Center fielder Denard Span also was out of the lineup because of a tender quadriceps from a collision at home plate Friday.

The Giants designated for assignment infielder Ramiro Pena to clear roster room for Pence's return.  

MARINERS: Karns to DL, Martin recalled
CHICAGO -- The Seattle Mariners have placed right-hander Nathan Karns on the 15-day disabled list with a lower back strain a day after he was roughed up in a relief appearance.

Right-hander Cody Martin was recalled from Triple-A Tacoma before Saturday's game against the Cubs.

Chicago scored five runs in two innings off Karns in Friday's 12-1 romp. He gave up three hits, walked three and allowed a home run to David Ross.

Karns began the season as a starter, but was moved to the bullpen in June. He has a 5.15 ERA.

Martin has appeared in two games and thrown four innings for Seattle this season, allowing one run and five hits.

Brian Dawkins excited for scout role with Eagles, hopes it leads to something 'bigger'

Brian Dawkins excited for scout role with Eagles, hopes it leads to something 'bigger'

This is how much of a kinship Brian Dawkins has with the game of football.

And it won’t surprise anybody.

“I was in Orlando with my family and we’re passing by a football field, me and my brother in law, to go to the gym,” Dawkins said. “There’s nobody in the stadium. But as I passed by, there’s a certain comfort I have when I see football fields.”

That connection, that bond, to the game he loves and the team he loves has ultimately brought Dawkins back to Philadelphia, where from 1996 through 2008 he firmly established himself as one of the greatest Eagles of all-time.

The Eagles announced Saturday morning that eight years after he was allowed to leave for Denver as a free agent, Dawkins has rejoined the franchise to work in the scouting department (see story).

Dawkins’ initially joins the Eagles' scouting team as part of the NFL’s Nunn-Wooten Scouting Fellowship, a new program aimed at introducing former players to the world of player personnel and the duties of an NFL scout.

As of now, Dawkins is committed to working with the Eagles through the draft in April.

But both Dawkins and Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said this relationship could evolve into a permanent one. And a very important one.

“I’m very excited about this opportunity, I really am,” Dawkins said. “It’s something that I’ve been thinking about for a while and it just so happened we were able to talk about it and get something done with it.”

Dawkins retired after the 2011 season, his third year in Denver. He worked for ESPN from the fall of 2012 through this past football season. He said ESPN did not renew his contract after last year, which opened up the door for him to explore a return to the NFL.

“I enjoyed my time there, I really did,” he said. “But it was one of those things where everything fell into place for me to have more freedom to do other things, and this was that opportunity and it presented itself and I jumped on it and we’re rolling with a fluid situation.

“This is something that I’ve been thinking for a while. I didn’t know it would come to fruition this fast, but here it is. And sometimes, you’ve got to step out of your comfort zone to really see what you can achieve. And so this is something that I’m really looking forward to, to see if this will move to something even bigger.”

Dawkins is with the Eagles at training camp this week, but he will be based for the time being in Denver, where he’s lived since signing with the Broncos and where his daughter is still in high school.

Roseman, very interestingly, revealed on Saturday morning that he has used Dawkins as an informal player personnel consultant, both when he was general manager through 2014 and again since being re-instated in a similar role with a new title by owner Jeff Lurie after Chip Kelly’s firing.

“I’ve (been) always trying to get him here because he’s got such a bright future, he’s got such a great football mind and a great presence and leadership ability, which translates to the front office,” Roseman said Saturday.

“I always think about (Hall of Fame tight end and Ravens general manager) Ozzie Newsome and how he made that transition, and then talking to (Dawkins) during the coaching search, as we were going into the offseason about the team.

“And then he did more evaluations this year for the draft and (we) continued to try to find the right role for him that he felt comfortable with and when this came along it was a perfect transition for him, and we couldn’t be more excited to have him in the building and helping us as we move forward here.”

Dawkins was a first-team all-pro four times and a Pro Bowler seven times with the Eagles. He made two more Pro Bowls with the Broncos.

It's interesting that the Eagles’ safeties the last time they won a playoff game – 2008 – are now back with the team.

Quintin Mikell, who spent the 2003 through 2010 seasons with the Eagles and made the Pro Bowl in 2009, was a coaching intern last year and currently serves as director of player engagement.

Dawkins said evaluating players comes naturally to him.

“I love it,” he said. “When you get up there in age playing the game, you see young guys come in and you’re hoping they can help the team win that year, so you start to evaluate, even back then.

“So now that I’m out of the game I just take those things that I learned then and apply them now. Evaluating guys and seeing if they can help this team going forward.”

Asked what he wants to accomplish in this role, Dawkins looked up at the NovaCare Complex 50 feet away and spoke in that hyper-intense Dawk whisper we all know so well.

“To bring this place back to someplace when we played, when I played here,” he said. “The energy was completely different. There were expectations every year with what we were going to do, and I’m pretty sure the players would tell you the exact same thing. They want to get this thing back there as well.

“This is a place I feel comfortable. Not just this organization, but the football field, watching tape, having those conversations, I feel comfortable doing those things.”

But Dawkins said he ultimately doesn’t want to limit himself to scouting.

“I’m trying to grasp the whole gamut of football operations, how a team is run,” he said. “So I’m learning about the scouting part of it, but sometimes it’s either you have an eye or you don’t, and I’ve been blessed to have an eye to be able to see talent, so if I can help in that respect I’d love to that, but I also want to learn everything I can about running a football team.”

Roseman and Dawkins both hinted at a major role for Dawkins in the organization moving forward.

Could he one day be the general manager? A team vice president?

Don’t bet against it.

“He’s going to start with scouting and work with Joe (Douglas, vice president of player personnel) and his guys because he’s done that and he’s written evaluations for us,” Roseman said.

“But we don’t want to limit him to that. His ability to communicate to the players … everything that we’re doing that’s different than when he was a player from a strength and conditioning standpoint, from a sports science standpoint, his observations on the team as a whole.

“We’re really going to drop him into a bunch of areas that he’s interested in, but it starts with the scouting department.”

Beyond his individual accomplishments, Dawk played for the Eagles during the most successful period in modern franchise history.

The Eagles have won 19 playoff games, and Dawkins was on the field for 10 of them.

More than half.

“He’s been part of championship-caliber teams, so he understands about what that looks like and the energy and enthusiasm that that has, and he’s been in a defense simiar to this, so he knows the responsibilities,” Roseman said.

“He’s also looking at it from a guy who played the position. When he’s watching DBs … when you sit with him and watch him watch safety play, he’s looking for different things than maybe we are maybe as a scouting staff or guys who maybe never played the position.

“He’s able to come into the meetings and impart what he saw, and that helps all of us as we’re evlauating guys and that’s the biggest part of it for all of us. To be able to pick his brain.”

Where will this ultimately lead? Dawkins just smiles and says he has big plans. Bigger than just working in scouring.

“Bigger is bigger,” he said with a gleam in his eye. “Bigger is bigger. I don’t know what bigger is. I just know bigger is not where I’m standing right now.

“So whatever bigger is, that’s what we’re shooting for.”