Tough matchup with 8-seed N.C. State awaits Temple

Tough matchup with 8-seed N.C. State awaits Temple
March 17, 2013, 9:15 pm
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Fran Dunphy was alone in his office at the Temple practice facility.

"I watched [the selection show] on TV," he said. "It said No. 8 N.C. State and I said, 'You know what? I'm gonna guess that's who our opponent is.'"

And there you have it.

Dunphy's ninth-seeded Temple Owls will play the eighth-seeded N.C. State Wolfpack in the East region of the NCAA tournament at 1:40 p.m. on Friday in Dayton, Ohio.

At 23-9 , Temple is one of only eight programs making a sixth straight trip to the NCAA tournament, along with Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Louisville, Marquette, Michigan State and Wisconsin.

Even though they seemed like a lock to make the field, Dunphy and his players weren't so sure. Unlike in years past, they only arrived at the university's Selection Sunday party inside the Liacouras Center after they saw "No. 9 Temple" come up on the board. The team sat down in a group of chairs at the front of the room, and the coach spoke.

"We didn't know we were in," he told the crowd.

So rather than sweat it out, Dunphy had his players spend the day doing community service. It was a way take everyone's minds off the sense of "uneasiness" that had set in after Temple's Friday night loss to UMass in the quarterfinals of the A-10 tournament by doing some good. But when 6 p.m. came around, Dunphy was watching TV in his office as his players waited for Temple's name to be called in the team film room.

"We've been pretty fortunate over the last six years to be able to go to this tournament," Dunphy said. "We've got to do a better job, there's no question about it."

That's because Temple has won its opening game of the NCAA tournament only once in its last five trips. The Owls barely survived Penn State in 2011 thanks to a last-second shot from Juan Fernandez and have otherwise lost to Michigan State, Arizona State, Cornell and South Florida in their first game.

As for the coach, dating back to his first season at Penn in 1989-90, Dunphy has now made the tournament 15 times in 24 seasons, where he owns a 2-14 record and has never made it to the second weekend. Last year, former Owl Ramone Moore said his teammates were more than familiar with the "One-and-Dunphy" routine. They then went out an played as poorly as they possibly could have against a nothing-special USF team.

So does this current group feel any pressure knowing the relevant history? Seniors Khalif Wyatt, Scootie Randall and T.J. DiLeo all said no.

Maybe they should. Temple face will an N.C. State squad (24-10) that began the year No. 6 in the preseason polls and knocked off No. 1 Duke in January. The Wolfpack finished second in the ACC in scoring with 77.5 points per game and led the conference in field-goal percentage, shooting 49.4 percent from the floor.

"Every once in a while, I'd catch them on TV," Dunphy said. "I know C.J. Leslie is a spectacular player and I know their coaching staff very well and I know they will be more than prepared.

"Would I like to have paired up with somebody who wasn't very good and we were assured of winning the game? That's not happening."

Of particular note is the aforementioned Leslie. The 6-foot-9, 200-pound junior forward leads the team with 14.9 points per game and grabs 7.4 rebounds per game. Leslie is followed by 6-foot-8 forward Richard Howell, who averages a double-double on 12.7 points and an ACC-high 10.7 rebounds. Both shoot better than 50 percent from the field.

Those two will prove a difficult for a Temple team that's allowed easy points in the paint all season. Redshirt sophomore Anthony Lee, Temple's man in the middle, said on Sunday night that he is cleared to play on Friday, following a weekend trip to the hospital where he underwent tests for a possible concussion (see story).

The Owls will need Lee and seniors Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson and Jake O'Brien to help combat N.C. State's length under the basket. They'll need Wyatt and Randall to knock down shots from the outside. Really, they'll need to do the exact opposite of almost everything they did against UMass.

"We disappointed a lot of folks on Friday, and we have to work our butts off," Dunphy said.

If they do -- if they manage to get by N.C. State -- then they'll likely face No. 1 Indiana on Sunday. The luck of the draw.

"You don't want to get caught looking ahead," Wyatt said. "Indiana's a great team. ... If we can get a chance at them, that would be great. But right now we just want to focus on N.C. State and try to take care of that.

"Then take care of the Indiana thing if that happens."