It seems as though every Temple-St. Joe-La Salle confrontation is always preceded by the question, "Is this the Big 5 game, or no?" Should you be unable to attend or watch tonight's game, fret not; it is not the Big 5 game. That showdown is scheduled for Feb. 22 from inside the Tom Gola Arena.
Tonight's contest, on the other hand, is a nonetheless important Atlantic 10 matchup, one that will take place from inside the Liacouras Center on the campus of Temple University. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. (1210 AM).
Storylines after the jump...
Temple out to Start New Streak and Bounce Back from Loss
This evening's game will be Temple's first at the Apollo since forfeiting its 25-game-home-unbeaten streak to the Dayton Flyers on Jan. 7.
Since that time, Temple split a two game road trip with a hard fought win over St. Louis and unfortunate beatdown at the hands of the Richmond Spiders.
They'll be looking to get back into the win column, both at home and in general, when they take on a vastly improved Explorer team tonight.
Is La Salle for Real?
So here's the question, just how improved are they are they? La Salle is a markedly different team from last year for one key reason -- defense. Somehow, amidst all the shouting and swearing and chair punching, Dr. John Giannini has gotten this group of Explorers to buy in on the defensive end. At 13-5 and 2-1 in the A10, there's no question, they are better this year than last.
That said, tonight should be a good gauge of just how much better. It's been said that you can only beat the teams who are on your schedule; and the Explorers have done that. It's just that those teams have been pretty bad.
Let's play a game: scroll down the La Salle season schedule and pick out their marquee out-of-conference win. If you can even decide on a game, ask yourself how impressive that win really was.
Look, we're not knocking the Explorers just for the hell of it. Honestly, we're actually pretty excited that they're 13-5. We love a strong Big 5. But La Salle is going to need more than just one win over a post-fight Xavier team to get us fully on board that they have the ship totally righted. A win over Temple tonight would go a long way in doing that.
Michael Eric Injury Update
He's back tonight? Wait, no he's not? What do you mean "maybe?"
Temple center Michael Eric is questionable for this evening's matchup. The 6-10 senior has missed the last two months of action after re-injuring the same patella that ended his junior season. The Owls had hoped to have him back by the beginning of January, but that obviously didn't happen.
Word getting around is that Eric really could play tonight. If not, there has been chatter this week that he will return to the lineup against Maryland on Saturday.
Don't Cry for Me, Argentina
Juan Fernandez has been….eh, not good lately. Though his jumper looked like it had returned to form earlier this season after a dreadful junior campaign, things have taken a turn for the worse as of late. Barring the Dayton game in which he went 6-11, Fernandez has made just 13 of his last 54 attempts -- a shooting percentage of 24%. True, he's still averaging double-digit points, but not with any efficiency.
If we may make a suggestion, stop forcing what isn't there. Too often, Juan will make up his mind that he's going to basket, only to heave up an ugly one-handed scoop shot because he never had the proper lane to get there and finish. There's no problem with the kid trying to shoot his way out of funk by taking his share of good looks, but the ill-advised drives aren't helping. As for his teammates, there is at least one Temple Owl whom we wish to see taking it to the rack Moore.
Beware the Dayton Flyer?
Both La Salle and Temple have dropped games within the last two weeks to the Dayton Flyers. As mentioned above, Dayton was the first program to beat Temple at the Liacouras Center since Jan. 2010; the Flyers also snapped La Salle's six game winning streak over the weekend.
Are these losses the sign of a strong A10, or is Dayton the team to watch in 2012?
Shoot the J, Shoot it
Both teams shoot the ball well from three (Temple: 39.5%, La Salle 39.7%). Although we've been harping about La Salle's commitment to defense, it should be noted that, despite their struggles to guard the basket and lane, Temple remains one of their better perimeter defenses in college -- holding opponents to just 30.3% from behind the arc.
Something will have to give in this matchup. Which team will get hot? Which team will go cold? Can Temple's perimeter defense shut down the La Salle shooters? Are La Salle's defensive statistics a product of their schedule? Will Temple's Khalif Wyatt go for 20+ for the fifth straight game?
We'll find out tonight.
All-Time Series: Temple leads 70-40
At Temple: Temple leads 12-5
Dunphy vs. La Salle: 22-6
Giannini vs. Temple: 3-11
Streak: Owls have won each of the last five meetings
Last Meeting: Temple eliminated La Salle from the 2011 Atlantic 10 tournament with a 96-76 win at Boardwalk Hall. Temple's Ramone Moore led all scorers with 23, while Aaric Murray posted a team-high 22 for the Explorers. Lavoy Allen also chipped in with a 14 and 12 double-double for the Owls. Only one of those players will be on the floor tonight.