Temple Plays Faux-Host to No. 53 Duke at Wells Fargo Tonight

Temple Plays Faux-Host to No. 53 Duke at Wells Fargo Tonight

As part of their pseudo-home-and-home agreement with the Duke University Blue Devils (12-1), the Temple Owls (9-3) will meet the fifth (or third) best team in country tonight at the Wells Fargo Center.

Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. (ESPN 2 / 1210 AM).

Injuries have played a big role in the Owls' season, but Temple will not look any more short-handed than when it takes the floor against Duke. With Mason Plumlee, Miles Plumlee and Ryan Kelly all checking into the game at 6-10 or more, Temple simply cannot match that height with only 6-9 freshman Anthony Lee and 6-6 junior Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson.

To make matters worse, Temple had its serious difficulties giving up dribble-penetration into the lane in its last outing, a 66-63 win over the Delaware Blue Hens. And while the Owls may have been able to overcome their struggles at both ends against lesser opponents like Delaware and Buffalo in games that went down to the wire, dealing with Austin Rivers, Seth Curry and all that height are altogether different obstacles.

For Temple to hang in this game, it will not only need to improve its perimeter defense, but also dramatically improve its jump shooting. Starting guards Juan Fernandez, Ramone Moore and Khalif Wyatt have gone a combined 29 for 92 (31.5%) over their last two games, while the team as a whole has shot well under 40%.

What has helped the Owls over that stretch is their fantastic work on the glass, nabbing more than 15 offensive rebounds in each of their last two games. But against the height of Duke, unless long rebounds start becoming super-long rebounds, the Owls may not have enough to speed to overcome the sheer size of the Duke frontcourt. Either way, the Temple guards will need to crash the glass hard and hopefully use their limited size to their advantage in generating extra possessions.

As for the glass at the other end, Temple is going to need to push the ball off every single defensive rebound. With the way they have struggled in the half court and the obstacles Duke will present inside, Temple has to do its real damage in transition—the Khalif Wyatt pull-up three, for example.

Sadly for the Owls, it is doubtful that Mike Kryzyzewski will make the same mistake Jay Wright did earlier this season in going small in an to attempt to better match up on defense. Duke is a big program and its bigs under the basket are its biggest strength against a team like Temple. Consequently, the Owls only recourse will be to fight like hell and use every bit of their speed and depth at the guard position to play a drastically different style than their opponent.

The first five to ten minutes are going to especially key for Temple in terms of setting the tone. They cannot afford to the play the basketball they have over their last two outings if they are going to have any shot at even staying with Duke, let alone beating them. If the guards can find their missing jumpers and Temple can use its small size to its advantage both in transition and crashing the offensive boards, than the undersized and undermanned Owls can give the Dukies a game. On the hand, if they start as slow and out of sync on offense as they have of recent, this one could be over early.

------------------Notes--------------------

Temple is not Afraid (is not Afraid)
Inspirational quotes from Juan Fernandez and Khalif Wyatt on tonight's game courtesy of Keith Pompey's ever-brilliant work on the Owls Inq. blog at Philly.com:

--  “I don’t think we are ever going to approach a game by saying let us lose by less points,” Temple point guard Juan Fernandez said. “No team should approach a game like that, especially not us. That’s not how we’ve done it in the past few years. And that’s not our mentality.

“We are practicing to beat Duke. And it will be a statement if we win.”

-- “We don’t do moral victories around here,” Temple guard Khalif Wyatt said. “We are trying to win. And we are going in thinking we can win and knowing we can win.

“We are confident. Coach [Fran Dunphy] is confident. And we are just going to prepare like we prepare for every game.”

Future Owls in Attendance?
Pompey is also reporting that recruits Rysheed Jordan (Vaux) and Jeremiah ("LUUUMP") Worthem (Math, Civics & Sciences) will be in attendance for tonight's game. Temple, Villanova and Maryland are all figured to by frontrunners for the 6-6 Jordan, while Temple has already offered (the also 6-6) Worthem a scholarship.

Home Sweet [Wells Fargo Center]
I was going to go off on this myself—and did touch on it toward the bottom of this post just a little bit yesterday—but John Lamb over at the OwlsBlog really nailed it with his thoughts on Temple signing up for more of a home-and-neutral than a true home-and-home.

That said, maybe the Owls should be grateful. I've become quite partial to that Liacouras Center unbeaten streak Temple has put together since its last loss at home to then-No. 1 Kansas in January 2010. No reason to waste that baby on the Blue Devils (code for "unlike Juan, Khalif and Marshall, I am afraid").

Taking on Duke with and without Lavoy Allen
Before this even begins, I am not, nor should anyone at this stage, even think about comparing a first-year Anthony Lee to a fourth-year Lavoy Allen.

With that out of the way, and with injuries to Scootie Randall and Michael Eric once more plaguing the Owls, this is the exact same Temple lineup that took on the Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor last season, save, of course, for the Lee-Allen swap and the addition of freshman Will Cummings off the bench.

Again, this is not a Lee vs. Allen comparison because that would be wholly pointless. It is, however, a call to recognize just how invaluable Lavoy Allen was to this basketball team as the only man in the middle for those Temple supporters and Lavoy detractors who complained of the 6-9 power forward's soft play over the last two months of last season.

You're right, they would have stood a much better chance in double overtime against San Diego State had he fouled out with four to play in regulation (code for "you're wrong").

The Plumvi in a Pistachio Ad

Playing Blue Devil's Advocate:

When this post first went live, I actually had a few anti-Duke videos posted at the bottom and a picture of a t-shirt (now seen
to the right) which reads "Friends Don't Let Friends Root for Duke." I even took a cheap shot at them yesterday, posting a wholly unnecessary video of Jon Scheyer walking on three separate occasions just for laughs.

Frankly, it's as fun for some of us to root against Duke as it is for plenty of you to root for Duke (without any reasonable affiliation on either side). The Blue Devils are nothing short of the New York Yankees of college basketball, a comparison not without its limitations, but with some very real similarities built in once you tease it out.

But regardless of what you think about Blue Sox Nation (spineless bunch of frontrunners) or even the way in which the university recruits, Krzyzewski's methods are becoming harder to argue against in the current age of college athletics. I realize there are some legitimate grievances about just who Duke is and is not interested in when it comes awarding scholarships, and I am plenty sympathetic to those who may have felt or even currently feel slighted by the program.

That said, as far as the absolute top of the coaching world goes in today's game, Coach K's program at Duke could be nothing further than those team's put together by someone like John Calipari. The kids come in, play hard and, in many cases, graduate without a barrage of NCAA infractions. One-and-dones are the new reality in college basketball and its come time to accept that, which K ultimately has. He also appears, at least for now, to have accepted it without harming his program.

I add this section not because I'm really a Duke supporter, but because I realized how hypocritical it was to post an image of that t-shirt when I fully allow my very closest friend to root for Duke as he so pleases. Then again, he's also a Calipari fan. So, I guess these things don't have to make sense.

Relevant History
All-Time Series: Duke leads 18-9
Coach K vs. Temple: 11-1
Dunphy (at Temple) vs. Duke: 0-3
Streak: Duke has won last nine straight
Last Meeting: Duke won 78-61 at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 23, 2011. Kyle Singler led all scorers with 28, while Temple's Lavoy Allen posted a 17 and 13 double-double.
Last Meeting at Wells Fargo: Duke won 74-64 on January 9, 2008. Dionte Christmas led all scorers with 23, while Mark Tyndale had 20.

We'll see you post-game.

Eagles Film Review: Carson Wentz's improvisation pays off big

Eagles Film Review: Carson Wentz's improvisation pays off big

Carson Wentz takes pride in not letting plays die easily. 

In Sunday’s 34-3 win over the Steelers, one play he didn’t let die ended up being the back-breaker in the blowout. 

We’re, of course, talking about the 73-yard touchdown pass to Darren Sproles at the 13:08 mark in the third quarter. Coming into the second half, the Eagles had a 10-point lead, but this touchdown pushed it to a 20-3 advantage and the rout was on. This play was a tone-setter (see story)

“That’s something that we talk about a lot,” Wentz said after the game. “We always say that a play is never dead. I like to make plays when we need to and everyone just does a great job of getting open in those situations.”

This was the first big off-schedule play Wentz has hit during his three weeks as the team’s starter, but the signs were there. In the Chicago game, there were several times where he showed his ability to extend plays. We broke them down in a film review last week (see story).

Throughout the week, Wentz had been compared to Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. One of the reasons was their shared ability to extend plays and make something happen. Big Ben showed his ability in the first quarter and almost connected on a huge touchdown pass to Markus Wheaton in the back of the end zone, but the receiver couldn’t pull it in. 

When Wentz got his shot later in the game, Sproles was able to pull it in, then make something happen with his feet. 

“I saw Carson scrambling this way,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “Darren was literally right in front of me and when I saw him wheel, my first reaction was to find the sideline to see if he stepped out to be quite honest.  He hadn’t, and Carson just — it was like in slow motion — floated that ball up the sideline and Darren did the rest from there. It was a tremendous play from those two individuals. I guess the last thing I did is I always look back to make sure there are no flags on the ground on those long plays.”

There were no flags. Touchdown. Game. 

Let’s take a closer look at the play: 

Wentz is in shotgun with Sproles in the backfield with him. The Eagles come out with three-wide on the far side of the field and a lot of space on the near side. 

Stephon Tuitt, who actually had a pretty good game against the Eagles, takes this route to the quarterback. When he gets to left guard Allen Barbre, Barbre either didn’t see him or didn’t react quickly enough. 

While Sproles is still running his short out, Wentz feels the pressure and is able to step up through the hole created by Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks. As soon as he makes it through, Wentz still has his eyes downfield. 

Now Wentz is through the hole and sees Sproles finishing his out-route. This is when Wentz, on the run, motions to Sproles to take off. This is something we’ve seen Wentz do a few times during his three weeks as Eagles quarterback. 

Wentz was left with a tough decision here. He could have run for 10, maybe even 15 yards. It was wide open, but he decided to try to make a play with his arm instead. 

“I always want to be a thrower first,” he said. “Even when a play breaks down, I’m always looking [to throw] because that’s where the big plays are happening. If I scramble I might get 5, 10, 15, 20 yards, but I’m not that fast. I always want to get it to the guys that can make plays. We always want to make plays when they’re there, and that’s what happened.”

With the line of scrimmage at the 27, Wentz has enough awareness to run horizontally to make sure he didn’t cross. And as soon as Pittsburgh safety Mike Mitchell takes that first step toward him, Wentz sees how much room Sproles has to work with. 

Ryan Shazier, who was covering Sproles on the play, froze and then started to step toward Wentz too. He said he thought the quarterback crossed the line of scrimmage, but Wentz was aware enough to stay behind.  

Once Sproles catches the ball in open space, he begins to do Sproles things. Defensive back Sean Davis took a bad angle on him and once he gets close, the veteran turns it inside. Davis said he was trying to buy time for the rest of his defense to get there and stop Sproles. It didn’t work. 

“Man, it’s Sproles!” receiver Nelson Agholor said. “Did you think he was going to get tackled?”

While he’s blocking downfield, Dorial Green-Beckham actually trips himself up and does a somersault. But it didn’t matter — Sproles didn’t need a great block. He pretty much did it himself. 

“Anytime that you can put it in the hands of [Sproles] something special can happen on any play, and he did the rest of it,” Wentz said. 

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Travis Konecny leaves impression with vets in Flyers' preseason win

Travis Konecny leaves impression with vets in Flyers' preseason win

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Michael Raffl had just finished playing alongside Travis Konecny, the 19-year-old kid that has Flyers fans abuzz about the now and future.

Yet for Raffl, he wasn’t thinking forward. Instead, he was looking back.

“Yeah, well, I couldn’t do that when I was 19, that’s for sure,” the 27-year-old said smiling, eyes wide open. “No, it’s impressive, he’s a really, really good hockey player.”

Konecny had that resounding affect Wednesday night at the PPL Center, recording a goal and an assist while leading the Flyers to a 2-0 preseason win over the Devils (see 10 observations).

He dazzled with speed and shiftiness.

He showed off vision and smarts.

When he touched the puck, he had everyone’s attention.

Paired with Raffl and Brayden Schenn in a game featuring mostly prospects, the 2015 first-round pick made the molding of Ron Hextall’s roster that much more difficult. With the general manager looking on, the highly touted winger started fast before making his imprint in a span of just four minutes and 34 seconds.

First, he redirected a blast by Andrew MacDonald to hand the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Not long after, the 2015 first-round pick deceived the defense to find Raffl right in front on a backdoor pass for a 2-0 advantage.

“We had a cycle play going and he had a nice fake up top there and I was just going to the net,” Raffl said. “Somehow I was all by myself and he saw me, put a perfect pass on my tape and I just went around the goalie and put it in.”

Following his first goal, Konecny nearly tacked on another less than a minute later when he appeared to hit the crossbar on a shot. He also flirted with a few more assists.

“I think I just played relaxed,” Konecny said. “I came into the game tonight trying not to do too much and just keep things simple. The main thing for me was getting pucks out of the zone, so I think I did that well tonight and hopefully I can keep building on it.”

Relieving pucks from the zone isn’t a problem when you possess the speed and skill of Konecny, who racked up 101 points last season at the junior level.

At just 19, that’s where he’ll have to return if he doesn’t crack the Flyers’ roster.

With cuts already made and more coming, that sometimes is on Konecny’s mind.

“It weighs on you a little bit. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about it and it’s definitely the time I need to step up and make sure I’m playing good hockey,” Konecny said. “And just earning another day — that’s just the way I’m looking at it. Every day I wake up and just work hard and move forward from there.

“I think everyone comes into camp and tries to give them (management) a reason not to send you back and make it hard on them.”

Wednesday night didn’t hurt his chances.

“He played a good hockey game,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. “Had an impact offensively. He did a pretty good job. There’s some youthful mistakes in there, but overall, he had a real good night tonight playing with Raf and Schenner.”

Placing Konecny with two capable NHL forwards offered the Canadian an opportunity to prove what he could do if he was in fact on the big club.

“We played well together,” Konecny said. “I think from the start we just had a lot of communication, we talked in the room, in warmups, we all knew what we were going to do throughout the game and in certain scenarios.”

If anything, Konecny left an impression on Raffl.

“He’s a very smart player,” Raffl said. “Once he has the puck, he makes smart decisions with it. It was very easy to play with him out there. He plays a mature game and I really enjoyed it.”

Time will tell if more is in store come Oct. 14.

Loose pucks
Anthony Stolarz and Alex Lyon combined for the shutout. Stolarz started and made 11 saves over 29:23, while Lyon played 30:37 and stopped seven shots. “I like both of our guys tonight,” Hakstol said. “Stolie did a good job, he made a difference in this game in the first 10 minutes, those two or three really good saves there. Then Alex came in halfway through, which isn’t an easy thing to do and was ready to go and did his job.” … Schenn, MacDonald and defensive prospect Robert Hagg finished with an assist apiece. … With the roster currently standing at 49, the Flyers expect to make 15 cuts on Thursday. … Defenseman Nick Schultz is out four to seven days with a lower-body injury suffered in Tuesday night’s preseason game. ... The Flyers are off Thursday before likely practicing Friday ahead of Saturday's preseason game at 7 p.m. against the Bruins at the Wells Fargo Center.