Punching myself in the face repeatedly…
Well that was prophetic wasn’t it? Fellow Temple fans you’re welcome for putting the reverse jinx on the game; my friends call me Mush for good reason. Obviously, I now regret my decision to pass on tonight’s big win – one of my best friends text me video of the post game celebration, and told me, “I’ll be grinning all day tomorrow at work”. Oh well, this was one of those rare no-lose situations for me since I was either going to be right, or the Owls would pull off the upset. It’s one of the few (ok, only) times I don’t mind being so entirely wrong about something. But while I’m disappointed I wasn’t there, I’m thrilled (see what I did there) that Temple won the game. Great win that should pay off big down the road. But hey, the Sixers won after trailing for three quarters in New Orleans, with Jrue Holliday knocking down big three after big three to seal the win. Gives them a winning road trip(3-2) to start the season, with both losses being winnable games, and they now come back for a long homestand full of crappy Eastern conference teams. Notice how I’m talking myself up for Friday now…man, they better have something good in store for us.
But back to the Temple/Duke game… I both miscalculated a few things and was surprised by a few things that led to me being completely off base with my prediction. First, my miscalcualtions. I was swayed a bit too much by the fact that Temple had not exactly been playing lights out recently, and was sort of on cruise control against mediocre opponents. I did not take into account the tendency of players, particularly college players, to play up and down to the level of their opponents. Heck, NBA teams do it fairly often so I don’t why I neglected to factor that into my thought process. Not to mention the fact that the Owls always seem to get juiced up to play big programs historically, particularly at home. Secondly, I didn’t put enough credence in an old axiom that almost always holds true in the college game – senior, or experienced, guards win games. While I mentioned the Owls’ big senior guards as a factor in a possible upset, I didn’t anticipate them outplaying Duke’s talented, but younger, less experienced guards so thoroughly. It showed down the stretch as Juan Fernandez repeatedly made the right play, while the Duke guards continued to turn over the basketball. However, my biggest miscalculation was forgetting just how good of a coach Fran Dunphy is; he outcoached Coach K pretty definitively in this one, even if he did have the benefit of those senior guards.
As for the surprises, there were quite a few. I said that I didn’t think Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson and Anthony Lee could give Coach Dunphy 40 minutes against the bigger Blue Devils. Well Dunphy got 36 big minutes from Hollis-Jefferson and another 29 from the talented, but green, freshman Lee. Their play inside combined with the aggressiveness of the Temple guards led to two astounding stats: Temple actually outrebounded Duke by 1, 30-29, and also scored more points in the paint in the first half. That allowed the Owls to lead at the half despite only shooting 1-6 from 3 point range. But the fact that Temple only attempted 6 threes in the half and 10 threes in the game against the Blue Devils is another testament to their aggressiveness in taking the ball to the rim. I knew Temple needed to shoot well to have a chance to win, and they did at 56%, but I assumed that most of that damage would have to come from the outside.
I was also surprised by Duke’s complete lack of awareness on both the defensive and offensive ends. I expect Duke to be extremely well-coached under Coach K (yes I’m being lazy and not spelling out his name), but even something as simple as their pick and roll defense was atrocious down the stretch against Temple. Fernandez continually beat the trap off the pick with slick bounce passes for easy layups. Then again, didn’t the US national team struggle against the pick and roll the year they lost to Greece and others? Maybe we’ve found Coach K’s fatal flaw. On the offensive end, aside from their turnovers, it seemed like the young Duke guards went through stretches when they forgot that the Blue Devils were almost scoring at will when they pounded the ball inside to the Plumlees. It was almost as if they were trying to respond to the Temple guards’ aggressiveness by matching it, but it only led to turnovers and contested shots. After Temple went up 10 early in the second half, the game began to play out the way I expected all along with Duke going down low on every possession and Temple having no answer for it. Temple responded the way I expected – by trying to stave off the Blue Devils from the three point line. And they did as Khalif Wyatt made three huge 3s to extend the lead back to 9.
Regardless of how they got to the final result, it was a great win for the Temple program, both for the present and future. There were several promising recruits in attendance at the game, including Rysheed Jordan, the 25th ranked prospect in the class of 2013. This was definitely the kind of win and atmosphere that can sway recruits towards choosing your program.
Finally, I hate to end on a sour note, but Temple MUST clean up its free throw shooting if they hope to make a run in this year’s NCAA tournament. It began their unraveling against Texas, and several missed free throws, including a couple by 80% FT shooter Wyatt, kept this one interesting for too long in the final minute. Often tournament games come down to the wire and free throw shooting like Temple has displayed could end up costing them down the road.
To avoid ending on the sour note, I’ll give a quick shout out to Mom’s alma mater, La Salle, after talking about Dad’s for so long. The Explorers took down A10 favorite Xavier tonight in the shadow of the Temple win to move to 11-4. Sure Xavier has collapsed ever since their ugly brawl with Cincinnati, but the Explorers have a young talented team that also almost knocked off Big East perennial power Pitt. Keep an eye on the Explorers as they seem to be poised to make noise in the A10. With Temple and St. Joe’s also looking strong, it could be a great season for the Big 5.