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NCAA Tournament Preview: Penn State and Temple tip it off in Tucson

Time: 2:10 PM EST (1:10 PM Central)


Date: Thursday, March 17

Penn State's last NCAA Tournament appearance was in 2001. Temple's last NCAA Tournament victory happened in 2001. Who was that last team they beat? Of course it was the Nittany Lions. The 11-seeded Owls ripped through 6 seed Texas and 3 seed Florida with double-digit triumphs before defeating Joe Crispin and the Lions 82-74 in the South region semifinal. After that thrilling run, which ended with a loss to Michigan State, Temple failed to qualify for the tournament again during the John Chaney era. However, Fran Dunphy took over in 2006 and after an initial 12-18 campaign, he's led the Owls to three straight NCAA births. Each has ended with first round disappointment, including last year, when Temple entered as a 5 seed only to get smoked by Cornell.

Good news for the Cherry and White! It's called the "second round' this year, so they don't need to worry about going four straight years without advancing. Well, technically they do need to worry. Even though they come in favored to win their first game again, Penn State is playing their best basketball of the season, as evidenced by back-to-back wins over tourney qualifiers Wisconsin and Michigan State. Okay, so they only really played good basketball vs. the Spartans, but they finished that one with perhaps their most complete half of basketball all season.

After the 2001 run, the Nittany Lion basketball program collapsed quickly and completely under head coach Jerry Dunn. Ed DeChellis was recruited to pick up the pieces in 2003, and seven years later, he has finally completed what he set out to do. The Lions thought they had reached the promised land in 2009, when seniors Jamelle Cornley and Stanley Pringle combined with Talor Battle to form a trio of skilled scorers. However, that team was done in by a soft non-conference schedule and was one of the first teams left out of the tourney. An NIT championship finish made for a school record 27 wins that even this year's squad will find impossible to replicate. But the next season brought trouble. Without Cornley and Pringle, Penn State was reduced to Talor and the Lionettes, and they could only muster a 3-15 Big Ten record. Amazingly, the same cast of characters has turned it all around to reach the NCAA Tournament. The dramatically improved Jeff Brooks and Tim Frazier can take pressure off of Battle when his dangerous jumper isn't falling, and more attention to defense doesn't hurt either.

KenPom Stats
Offense Penn State Temple D-1 Average
eFG% 49.9% 50.1% 49.0%
TO% 17.9% 16.4% 20.2%
OReb% 32.3% 32.8% 32.3%
FTA/FGA 31.8% 34.5% 37.9%

Defense Penn State Temple D-1 Average
eFG% 50.6% 46.0% 49.0%
TO% 18.0% 20.2% 20.2%
OReb% 30.1% 28.5% 32.3%
FTA/FGA 29.1% 27.3% 37.8%

Penn State has been mistaken recently for a great defensive team, mostly because of the Wisconsin debacle. In reality, Penn State is simply one of the slowest teams in the country. They'll frequently hold the ball until there are 10 seconds left on the shot clock, but with play-makers like Battle and Brooks, the ball often finds its way into the hoop anyway. So rather than being great on defense and ugly on offense, PSU is really a methodical offensive team that sometimes struggles on the defensive end because of vertically-challenged guards and lack of toughness inside. That said, Tim Frazier's quickness and ability to stay in front of any potential penetration as well as Jeff Brook's length and shot blocking at least give the Lions some teeth on D.

Temple has been a little too normal this season. They haven't really lost to any bad teams (worst loss was either at Duquesne on January 15 or vs. Cal on November 25), but they don't have many impressive victories either. A victory over Georgetown stands out, but that was back on December 9. The Owls beat Richmond handily during A10 season, but lost to them in their rematch in the conference tournament. Temple is 12-2 in their last 14, and hey 12 wins is 12 wins, but I'm just going to say it's nothing to go crazy about.

Junior guard Ramone Moore leads the Owls with 15 ppg to go with 4.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists, but he only shoots 44% from the field. Meanwhile, 6'9" senior forward Lavoy Allen is arguably Temple's best player with 11.8 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game to go with 49% FG shooting. Fellow big man Micheal Eric (not Eric Michael, he's someone else) is out due to injury, but super efficient (60% eFG) swingman Scootie Randall is set to return according to coach Dunphy. Penn State doesn't defend the 3-pointer very well at all, so they should be looking out for Juan Fernandez (32% from deep, but team leading 137 attempts) and Khalif Wyatt, who plays less minutes but hits on 43% from beyond the arc.

All righty. I expect this one to be close all the way through. Kind of like this barn-burner played early last season. If you want to know why PSU has such rotten depth this season (but Jermaine Marshall is dangerous; look out), just check out the Lions' box score in that game. Bill Edwards and Chris Babb were both very productive off the pine, and both transferred after the season. This time, I'm going with PSU for the win because I'm a fan. But also because Penn State is more experienced vs. stiffer competition and they are peaking at the right time. But, yeah it's gonna be close.