Temple Heads South to UDel for Final Game of 2011

Temple Heads South to UDel for Final Game of 2011

Two nights after barely escaping a Buffalo team they were favored to beat by almost double digits, the Temple Owls (8-3) will head south down I-95 to take on the Delaware Blue Hens (5-5, 1-0 CAA) in their final contest of the calendar year.

Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. and can be heard on 1210 AM.

Assorted Temple-Delaware notes after the jump...

What We Learned from the Owls Getting Buffaloed:
A distinct lack of depth under the basket was a concern even before the Owls lost starting center Michael Eric to the same patella injury that ended his junior season earlier this month. Though the original estimates had the 6-10 senior out for up to six weeks, Temple officials, including coach Fran Dunphy, hoped to have Eric back by this point in the schedule. Unfortunately, the initial six-week prognosis is looking more and more correct as the Owls now expect to be without Eric another two to three weeks.

Doing his best to fill in for the injured senior, at 6-9 the "undergirthed" redshirt freshman Anthony Lee is the only member of the Owls' rotation over 6-6. His early foul trouble, coupled with that of the also undersized for his position Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson put Temple at a distinct disadvantage against the much larger, and surprisingly athletic bigs of the Buffalo Bulls.

While Buffalo is a better team than most would immediately recognize, the game is an all-too-worrying sign of the Owls future against offensively-skilled frontcourts. In conference, the prospects of an Andrew Nicholson or even a C.J. Aiken-Ronald Roberts combination look like impending disasters for the Owls without their starting center.

That said, even when Eric returns, the Owls will still lack depth when it comes to usable height. Nevertheless, his presence in the lineup should prevent from looking as badly exposed as they did against Buffalo on Wednesday. In the meantime, help defense and knockdown perimeter shooting will need to be the calling cards of an undersized and undermanned Temple lineup.

Getting to Know the Delaware Blue Hens:
Thankfully for the Owls, Delaware boasts a largely guard-oriented lineup and offers no one over the height of 6-9. That individual, Jamelle Hagins, is averaging a double-double off 14.3 points and 11.8 rebounds per game—numbers Temple will hope are a reflection of the fact that he's really the Blue Hens only meaningful size. I mean, somebody has to board (right, Clarence Weatherspoon?). Still, the kid is shooting better than 50% from the field, which isn't necessarily a given at his height.

Manning the backcourt, 6-2 sophomore Devon Saddler leads the team with 20.2 PPG, but falls way down the list when it comes to scoring efficiency, registering 38.7 FG on better than 17 shots per game.

Don't Look ahead to Duke:
A matchup with the Duke university Blue Devils is an obvious treat for any college basketball player, but Temple needs to stay focused on the task at hand. Friday night should end with an easy road victory for the Owls, but they have already proven on multiple occasions this season that they cannot afford to take any opponent lightly. Temple's meeting with Duke is scheduled for January 4th at the Wells Fargo Center and the Owls will do well not to think about it until after the New Year.

The Two-Year Anniversary of Rahlir HOLLIS-Jefferson's College Debut:
The last time Temple made its way down to Delaware was for their season opener against the Blue Hens in 2009.

The Owls won what would have been a forgettable 76-56 final had it not been for the unbridled exuberance of Rahlir Jefferson's mother seeing her son play in his very first college basketball game. I have never heard, nor will I ever hear again, a woman scream that loud or that long for any reason. It subsequently came as no surprise this year when Rahlir added the hyphenated "Hollis" to his last name in honor of all that his mother has done for him throughout his life. Cheers to Rahlir and the fam (Rondae, if you're reading, Go to Temple).

Relevant History:
All-Time Series: Temple leads 36-6
At Delaware: Temple leads 16-1
Streak: Temple has won last 16 in a row
Last Meeting: Temple beat Delaware at the Bob Carpenter Center by a final score 76-56 in 2009. Ryan Brooks lead all scorers with 23 points and finished one rebound shy of a double-double.

We'll see you post-game

Several reasons behind Brandon Graham's seemingly sudden emergence

Several reasons behind Brandon Graham's seemingly sudden emergence

With three sacks in three games, Brandon Graham is off to the fastest start of his career by far, already almost halfway to his career high of 6½. Naturally, the Eagles' defensive end is excited about the production, but not nearly as excited as he was with the defense as a whole after a 34-3 romp over the Steelers on Sunday.

"For us, I was just happy we stayed together, we played together and the outcome was good," Graham said postgame. "Hats off to Pittsburgh because we did a lot of planning for them. We respect them a lot.

"I am just happy to get this win and I am happy in the style we did it."

Graham was one of four Eagles players to bring down Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, marking the first time the seventh-year veteran has recorded at least one sack in three consecutive games. In fact, prior to this season, Graham had never posted a sack in Week 1.

For once, the numbers are taking care of themselves for Graham — although that's not what he's focused on.

"Since I've been here, I've never gotten a sack in the first game, and I've never been consistent," Graham said. "I'm just trying to be the leader, go out there, get W's and be relentless."

There are plenty of explanations for Graham's seemingly sudden emergence.

This is only his second season as a full-time player in the NFL after injuries, then depth conspired to keep the 2010 first-round pick on the bench early in his career. Perhaps all he needed was an opportunity. The switch back to a 4-3 defense and wide-nine front no doubt helped rejuvenate Graham's career as well, allowing him to move from outside linebacker back to his natural position at defensive end and focus on rushing the passer.

With Connor Barwin, Vinny Curry and Marcus Smith all rotating in at end, Graham is also being kept fresh. Last season, the Eagles lacked the quality reserves to provide many breathers for Barwin and Graham on the outside.

"It's a great feeling because there's no pressure to hurry up and get back out," Graham said. "I feel like everybody is just as good and there's no drop-off when we come out of there.

"It's definitely going to help us later on in the year. It's been helping now."

There are all sorts of schematic reasons why Graham could finally be on his way to a breakout season. This will be his first full season as a starter at D-end in a 4-3, it's the first time since 2012 he's in a wide-nine and the defense no longer has to be worried about being exhausted by Chip Kelly's offense's uptempo approach.

Graham was also blessed with a new addition to his family during the offseason — a baby girl. The 28-year-old admits that changed his perspective as well, making him want to work even harder toward achieving his goals.

"Just the preparation and then the work this offseason, I took it up to another level," Graham said. "I guess because I had a daughter this offseason, everything is kind of viewed a different way for me.

"I know we have a good defense — that helps out a lot, too. I couldn't ask for a better defense right now."

Clearly, those goals are not individually motivated. Graham wants to be part of something great, and with a dominant performance against the Steelers in Week 3, the Eagles and their defense passed a huge test.

"I feel like we improved," Graham said. "We got a lot better. We stopped a good team, a great team, a well-coached team. Our hats off to them because they made us work this week."

Few people were expecting the Eagles to handle a trendy Super Bowl pick the way they did, and Graham actually prefers it that way.

"I hope we still get overlooked because it feels so good when people are talking the way they did," Graham said. "It added a little fuel. We watched a little bit of the TV (Sunday) morning, and they were just saying how [the Steelers] were going to dog us.

"I'm just happy that we came out and did what we were supposed to do, and I hope we stay the underdog because, for us, nobody gave us a chance and we stayed together. If we stay together in here, that's all that matters."

Through three games, the Eagles lead the NFL in fewest points surrendered with a paltry 27 and rank fourth in yards allowed. They're also tied for third with 10 sacks and tied for seventh with six takeaways.

If the defense stays together the way Graham says they have, how far does he think the Eagles go this season?

"I don't know," Graham said. "If we keep playing like that, there is no ceiling."

Flyers Notes: Promising performances from young defensemen

Flyers Notes: Promising performances from young defensemen

The most impressive thing about the Flyers' 4-0 preseason win over the Islanders on Tuesday night was the play of the their young defense and the outstanding work by the penalty kill.

Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers each gave a strong accounting of themselves while veteran Andrew MacDonald proved why experience helps with some terrific PK work during an extended five-on-three Islanders power play in the third period.

“Overall, they did a good job,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “I look at some of the opportunities we gave up, especially in the second period, we gave up three or four Grade A opportunities that Mase (goalie Steve Mason) was great on, but I put those on our forwards.

“We’re still not into regular-season form on our play without the puck. I thought as a whole, the group of defensemen did a good job and the young guys in there were good tonight.”

Sanheim had strong plays the entire game from the point and picked up two assists (see highlights). He gets the puck quickly on net and joins the play up front.

“It took me a little bit, even in this game,” Sanheim said. “As I play more, I started to jump up more and you start to see my game more. It’s something I want to bring to this next level.”

Provorov logged 21:43 of ice time following nearly 29 minutes at New Jersey. He had 5:17 on the PK. Some of his clears weren’t deep or hard enough, at times, possibly because of fatigue.

He also took a bad boarding hit on Joshua Ho-Sang in the third period that set up an Isles five-on-three power play. It became extended because of a trip call to Myers but MacDonald did yeoman’s work on the extended PK.

Provorov quarterbacks the first-unit man advantage for now until Shayne Gostisbehere joins the crowd. He had some very skillful passes. The Russian can find the seam up the ice on the breakout quickly and had a no-look, hard pass to Nick Cousins in the second period for a quality one-timer on net.

Expect Provorov to handle the second-unit power play during the season, should he make the roster.

The goals
Although the Flyers, using a better NHL lineup, were lacking for offensive chances early against the Isles' "B" squad, they found their way in the final four minutes of the opening period.

First, Dale Weise had one of those pinball goals as a bouncing puck hit a couple of players in the slot, including goalie Chris Gibson, to make it 1-0 during four-on-four play.

That was the Flyers' first goal of preseason in three games. A little more than a minute later, Wayne Simmonds scored off a rebound just as a Flyers power play ended. Simmonds had two goals in the game, including a wrister from the left circle to open the final period.

Smallish (5-foot-7) — but bullish — centerman Andy Miele, a former Hobey Baker Award winner as college hockey’s top player (Miami-Ohio), made it 3-0, out-battling Thomas Hickey for the rebound of Michael Raffl’s shot.

The shield
Simmonds is wearing a visor for the first time. It’s an experiment for now.

“Everyone is all over me about it,” he said. “We’ll see what happens. It wasn’t too bad tonight. The only thing is trying to track pucks in the sky when you are getting the glare from the lights. A little bit of an adjustment."

He said neither his mother nor girlfriend had pushed him as hard to wear the shield as someone else: “Ron Hextall,” he said flatly. “He gave me a call.”

Because of his tenacious play in the slot where sticks are high and pucks are deflected, a shield makes sense.

“Yeah, I think so, being that front guy and doing work on the PK,” he said. “Getting sticks in lanes like that, the game is really fast and pucks get deflected.

“Sometime you don’t know where they’re going and can’t react to that. Obviously, the shield is good for that."

He added he would wear the shield in a fight, too.

“Every time I fight and someone has a shield on, I’m at a disadvantage so I guess this evens it up,” he said.

Loose pucks
Weise did a nice job sticking up for teammates late during a melee after a Ben Holmstrom crosscheck to linemate Nick Cousins. “It was a bad crosscheck and you’re defending your teammates,” he said. “The ref was in the way and I kind of went overtop him. That’s what I’m about. Guys take liberties on my linemates, I’ll stand up for them.” … Matt Read had just 6:54 ice time through two periods. Fourth-liner Boyd Gordon had more ice time there — 9:39 — but Read finished with 13:55 to Gordon’s 13:41. More than half of Gordon’s ice time was on the penalty kill. … Goalie Steve Mason faced some point-blank chances among the first 17 shots he faced and finished with 23-save shutout.