Temple Men's Hoops Preview: The Year Without Christmas

Temple Men's Hoops Preview: The Year Without Christmas

With the upcoming NCAA season upon us, we're happy to introduce some in-depth coverage of at least one of the local teams. Nick Menta, a junior at Temple who has been watching the Owls play on North Broad since he was 10 years old, will be discussing the Owls here and there throughout the season, starting with this preview of what we can expect from this year's team, which is in a major transition period as you'll read below. 

If you'd like to contribute posts on one of the other local teams, contact me or Enrico.  

It doesn’t seem all that long ago that Dionte Christmas was raining down threes on then-#8 Tennessee and projected to be a late first round steal in the 2009 NBA Draft. Unfortunately for both Christmas and the 2009-2010 Temple Owls, a lot has changed. Ignoring for a moment Dionte’s “erratic driving” and the obvious uncertainties about the former Temple standout’s future, his alma mater enters this season with questions of their own.  

Coming off their second A-10 Championship in as many years, the Owls, tied for 5th with Duquesne in the A-10 preseason rankings, are without a clear primary scorer for the first time since head coach Fran Dunphy took over the program in 2006. Led in the past by athletic swingmen like Christmas and his old counterpart Mark Tyndale, this year’s team will need a revamped offense focused more on the execution of teamwork than the takeover of individual talent if they hope to return to the NCAA tournament for the third year in a row. The graduation of key senior starters like Christmas, center Sergio Olmos and guard Semaj Inge leave the Owls with the challenge of replacing valuable minutes, scoring and experience. That lost 34.7 points per game might not come so easy this year without Semaj’s speed, Sergio’s size and, let’s be honest for a second, Dionte’s timely three-parties.   

While it is certainly easy to lament the loss of Christmas, Olmos and Inge, there is also, fortunately, quite a lot to look forward to this season. 


 originally uploaded by abmillerphotography.

Sophomore point guard Juan Fernandez drew immediate comparisons to former Temple guard and fellow Argentine Pepe Sanchez upon his arrival on campus late last December, and made tremendous strides as the season progressed. Though occasionally a bit loose with the ball, Fernandez has unbelievable vision in traffic and such forceful passing that it often took his teammates, especially the unprepared bigs underneath, by surprise.  With a year under his belt and the offseason to work with both last year’s crew as well as the new additions, Pepe-with-a-jumper’s play should prove increasingly dynamic as he gains more confidence.  His continued development figures to weigh heavily on the Owls' success this season.   

At the 4, Craig Williams played (extremely) limited minutes in last year’s out of conference schedule. But, after a 22-minute, 16-point performance against Kent State in early January, Williams cemented his place as important role player for the Owls.  At 6’9, it can be surprising to see Williams spend so much time behind the three point line; but, after finishing the season with 40.4% average from the beyond the arc, he’ll remain a viable threat from the outside.   Point guard Kalif Wyatt and forward Ralir Jefferson are also expected to contribute off the bench in their freshman seasons, as are the returning Luis Guzman, Rafael DeLeon, Ramon Moore, Michael Eric and T.J. DiLeo.   

The true keys to this team’s success, however, are undoubtedly Ryan Brooks and Lavoy Allen. Largely considered complimentary pieces to the bigger part of the Temple puzzle thus far in their collegiate careers, Brooks and Allen now figure to be the team’s leaders both on and off the court.  Averaging 10.7 PPG last season, Brooks remains the team’s best perimeter player at both ends of the floor.  Knocking down 41.7% from 3 and playing Tenacious D at the opposite end, the 6’4 senior is the heart and soul of this year’s squad.  Likewise, Allen, recently named to the A-10 All-Conference team, will be expected to continue the play that led the lineup in both field-goal percentage and rebounding last season.  

Ultimately, as Brooks and Allen go, so go this year’s Temple Owls.   

“It’s going to be tough [without last year’s seniors], but I think we’re up to the challenge,” said Allen when asked about his and Brooks’ expanding roles. “It might take us a little while to find our identity as a team, but we’re working hard and expect another successful season.”   

L.A. and the Owls will take their first step toward realizing that identity this Saturday on the road against Delaware. Tip-off is scheduled for 12 pm. Three days later, Temple squares off against AP #20 Georgetown at 4 o’clock on ESPN.   

10 other games to look forward this season:   

11/21/09    Siena (Home Opener) 
12/05/09    Penn State
12/13/09    Villanova
01/02/10    #1 Kansas
01/13/10    @ UPenn
01/20/10    Xavier
01/30/10    LaSalle
02/06/10    @ Richmond
02/20/10    @ St. Joseph’s
02/24/10    Dayton   

First St. Joe’s game is January 6th at The Apollo. Start Tailgating. 

Thanks Nick!

Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg wins 14th as Nationals down Indians

Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg wins 14th as Nationals down Indians

CLEVELAND -- Stephen Strasburg shut down Cleveland for seven innings and bounced back from his only loss this season, leading the Washington Nationals to a 4-1 win over the Indians on Wednesday.

Strasburg (14-1) began the season with 13 straight wins before he was beaten by the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 21. The powerful right-hander shook off that blemish, holding the Indians to only three hits as the Nationals recovered after blowing a two-run lead in the ninth and losing on Tuesday night.

Washington rookie Trea Turner drove in three runs and Daniel Murphy hit his 20th homer off Carlos Carrasco (7-4), who nearly matched Strasburg but was done in by one bad inning.

Nationals reliever Blake Treinen stopped Cleveland's threat in the ninth, getting a game-ending double play for his major league save.

Strasburg walked one and struck out seven (see full recap)

Cardinals snap Familia's saves streak, rally past Mets 5-4
NEW YORK -- Yadier Molina and pinch-hitter Kolten Wong each stroked an RBI double in the ninth inning, and the St. Louis Cardinals ended Jeurys Familia's streak of 52 straight saves in rallying past the New York Mets 5-4 on Wednesday night.

Yoenis Cespedes hit a go-ahead homer off Adam Wainwright to cap a three-run comeback in the seventh that gave the Mets a 4-3 lead. But then Familia, who hadn't blown a regular-season save opportunity since July 30 last year, finally faltered.

Jedd Gyorko drew a one-out walk in the ninth and was replaced by pinch-runner Randal Grichuk. Molina hit the next pitch to deep center field, and Grichuk scored standing up to tie it.

Molina was thrown out at third by Familia (2-2) on pinch-hitter Jeremy Hazelbaker's comebacker, but Hazelbaker stole second and scored when Wong lined a double just inside the left-field line.

Familia's franchise-record saves streak was the third-longest in major league history behind Tom Gordon (54) and Eric Gagne (84).

Jonathan Broxton (3-2) tossed a scoreless eighth and Seung Hwan Oh got three quick outs for his sixth save (see full recap)

Padres hit 3 HRs to extend streak, beat Blue Jays 8-4
TORONTO -- Adam Rosales hit a two-run home run, Alex Dickerson and Brett Wallace each hit solo shots and the San Diego Padres beat the Toronto Blue Jays 8-4 on Wednesday, avoiding a three-game sweep.

San Diego extended its club-record streak of games with at least one home run to 25. It's the longest run since the 2002 Texas Rangers set a major league record by homering in 27 straight.

Luis Perdomo (5-4) allowed four runs and six hits in 5 2-3 innings to win back-to-back starts.

Wallace reached base three times. He was hit by a pitch and scored on Rosales' homer in the third, connected off R.A. Dickey in the fifth and hit an RBI single off Joe Biagini in the sixth.

Dickerson homered for the fourth time in four games when he connected off Franklin Morales in the eighth. He is first Padres rookie to homer in four straight games.

Dickey (7-12) allowed seven runs, six earned, and four hits in 5 2-3 innings. The knuckleballer is winless in three starts and has allowed six home runs in that span (see full recap).

Eric Rowe explains 'hiccups,' ready for fresh start in pads

Eric Rowe explains 'hiccups,' ready for fresh start in pads

Earlier this week, Doug Pederson admitted cornerback Eric Rowe had some “hiccups” during the spring, and seemed to indicate they stemmed from learning a new defense. 

Rowe says that wasn’t the problem at all.

“It wasn’t the new defense that was giving me whatever hiccups [Pederson] was talking about,” Rowe said on Wednesday as he reported for his second training camp (see Day 3 observations). “It was just, I was having trouble breaking on top of the routes, specifically the curl routes. But fade ball, deep post, digs, I didn’t have any trouble there. It was just curl routes. I just knew I had to work on it after the OTAs.”

Rowe, 23, said the problem was technical; he just needed to get his feet down quicker.

Whatever the problem, whatever the hiccups, it seems as though Rowe’s standing within the organization and on the depth chart isn’t what it once was.

Many thought he would be a starter in 2016, like he was at the end of 2015, but that wasn’t the way things were in the spring. Instead, Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks took those positions, and it looks like Nolan Carroll, returning from an injury, and rookie Jalen Mills, who hasn’t yet practiced in pads, are vying for playing time, too.

In back-to-back days earlier this week, Pederson and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz failed to mention Rowe’s name while listing players at the cornerback spot. Coincidental omissions or a vocalized unofficial depth chart?

Rowe could possibly go from starter to deep bench player, but that’s not what he’s planning on.

“I know I had a little ups and downs in OTAs, but now the pads are coming on,” Rowe said. “I feel like it’s a fresh start for me and I’m just ready to get out here.”

Pads go on Saturday.

“Right now, I think I still stand in a good position (with the team),” Rowe said. “Football is about the game with pads on. Now we’re really about to see in a couple days when we put the pads on.”

Small in stature, Wendell Smallwood likes to play big

Small in stature, Wendell Smallwood likes to play big

He looks like a small back. He's built like a small back. He wants to play like a big back.

Wendell Smallwood, trying to make the Eagles as a reserve tailback, stands 5-foot-10, 208 pounds, but he said he’s got a surprise for defenders that think he’s one of those itty-bitty backs that dances around looking pretty … until they get hit.

“I think that’s what most people expect,” he said Tuesday. “But when I actually put my head down and fight for those extra yards and get under guys, guys start to say, ‘Hey!’ They start to feel me a little bit.

“So I definitely think that started to show my last year in college, and I started becoming more of an inside zone type of runner instead of an outside runner.”

None of this should be a surprise considering Smallwood’s position coach is Duce Staley, who during his 10-year NFL career was much more interested in running over people than around them.

Smallwood is nowhere near as big as Staley, who played at about 235 to 240. But that’s the kind of back he wants to be.

“It’s definitely important to me and it’s definitely what Duce wants me to do,” Smallwood said. “He wants me to hit the holes and hit ‘em hard and that’s the reason he got me here.

“Duce, he doesn’t like small backs. He doesn’t. I don’t think he believes in those guys. He was a big boy. Running dudes over left and right. That’s what he wants.”

Smallwood played sparingly as a freshman at West Virginia, shared time with Rushel Shell as a sophomore, then took over last year when he led the Big 12 with 1,519 rushing yards and added nine touchdowns, 26 catches and a 6.4 rushing average.

The Eagles plucked him out of Morgantown in the fifth round, and in an uncertain running back picture, he’s got a realistic chance to not just make the team but also play a role.

Just don’t expect him to play like a typical guy his size.

“I don’t consider myself a small back anymore,” he said. “People have always said that and I kind of started to agree, but then I looked at some of the guys who are around and I’m not a small back at all.

“I’m not little and the running style I like to do is suited for a big back, and my catching kind of throws people off. I definitely think I’m a mixture of both.”

Smallwood ranked 13th in Division I in rushing yards last year, and his 6.4 average was tied for ninth among backs with at least 200 carries.

He said a lot of defenders expect him to be a finesse back, a guy who likes to juke safeties and linebackers instead of bowling them over.

“Get me going downhill and I’ll get you what I can get you,” he said. “A lot of [defenders] kind of take the easy route and think it’s going to be easy and then the rest of the game they’re going low and trying to take my legs out.”

Look at the Eagles’ running back picture.

The starter is Ryan Mathews, who is talented but injury-prone. The backup right now probably is Kenjon Barner, who has 34 career carries. Then there’s Darren Sproles, whose 3.8 average last year was his lowest since 2009 and second lowest of his 11-year career.

With a strong camp, there’s no reason Smallwood can’t work himself into that picture.

The last frontier for the Northern Delaware native is blitz pickup. Something he was never asked to do at WVU.

“I don’t think I did basically any in college,” he said. “They didn’t ask me to block at all. I was mainly running routes.

“But as soon as I got here, Duce emphasized, ‘If you want to get on the field, you’re going to block. If you’re not going to block, you’re not going to play.'”

Staley’s No. 22 wasn’t available, but Smallwood is happy to wear the jersey number of another one of his favorite backs growing up, Correll Buckhalter’s No. 28, who he seems quite similar to.

It’s not fair to compare Smallwood to Staley, Buckhalter, Brian Westbrook or any other former Eagles back until the pads go on and we see what he’s really made of.

But Smallwood said he’s thrilled Staley is his coach and said there’s nobody he’d rather be playing for.

“I think he’s a great fit for me as a coach,” Smallwood said. “I need a kind of guy who drives me, tough guy, who’s not going to let up, who’s going to keep his foot on my back. I definitely need that kind of coaching.

“Just being around him growing up and seeing what he did when he was here and how he runs and him being one of my favorite backs, I was kind of star-struck to be around him, and now he’s my coach. It’s definitely a great situation for me.”