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.
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.
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.