Well, things could be worse I suppose.
After a little over a week clinging to fleeting hopes of an NCAA Tournament at-large berth, the Penn State Nittany Lions had its bubble popped in a matter of minutes Sunday evening, failing to hear its name called for a seventh consecutive year.
And while the realists inside all of Nittany Nation knew the odds were long, disappointment was still setting in as a collectively frustrated eye turned to ESPNU where the Lions postseason fate hung in the balance during the public access-esque NIT Selection Show.
Never one to shy away from creating intrigue out of obscurity, the NIT managed to do just that when it matched one of Philadelphia recruit’s preferred college basketball destinations against Fran Dunphy and the Temple Owls.
-No. 5 Temple Owls at No. 4 Penn State Nittany Lions
- Time/TV: 8:00PM ET - ESPNU
- KenPom Spread: Penn State (-9.5)
What makes this a compelling contest isn’t so much the game that’ll be played over four 10-minute quarters, but the off-the-court distain these two programs and fan bases have for each other.
While there’s never been a ton of love lost between the Owls and Nittany Lions, the simmering pot of water (or wooder for any readers in the 215) that is their coexistence was turned up to high earlier this week, boiling over in the process.
During a conference call, 12th year Temple head coach Fran Dunphy was asked about Penn State’s mounting inroad to the Philadelphia recruiting scene, specifically with Tony Carr, Lamar Stevens, and Nazeer Bostick in mind.
”I don’t know that I have the answer to that, Shawn. I know that Patrick Chambers made a special move to make that happen as best as he possibly could,” Dunphy said.
The idea that dropping bags of cash was the only way Penn State could land top Philly prospects has long been fodder for internet trolls living under the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge. Dunphy’s wording, however, seemed to not only feed into that conspiracy theory but lend some credence to it from a jilted lover turned credible source.
Needless to say this couldn’t have sat well with the powers that be in State College, and Dunphy released a statement where he walked back and clarified his comments.
Still, its pretty clear that Chambers and Dunphy aren’t the biggest fans of each other, and this adds a whole new level to a game that’s shaping up as a ‘loser leaves town match’ with both men coaching for their respective jobs.
On the lighter side of this rivalry being turned up to 11 was a fairly harmless tweet sent out by the official Penn State men’s basketball account:
If you’d like to have a good laugh, I’d recommend clicking through the replies to see how the cherry and white faithful reacted to the Lions self-anointed Philly swagger.
But enough mincing words, how’s this one going to play out on the court?
Eh, it’s tough to say.
The Owls do have two players I’ve been impressed with this year in sophomore guard Quinton Rose and junior guard Shizz Alston Jr. Rose dropped 27 points against Wichita State in Temple’s most recent outing, his ninth game of the year scoring 20 or more points, while Alston shoots nearly 40-percent from beyond the arc.
That said, from a talent and statistical standpoint, Penn State is far and away the better team. Temple’s offensive and defensive efficiency rankings, a middling 102 and 86 respectively, would put them in similar company as Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa.
But the Nittany Lions will again be without the services of sophomore forward and Philadelphia native Mike Watkins whose absence for the better part of the last six games has left a gaping whole in the Lions post presence.
Thanks to some experimental rules being used during the NIT, one of which is widening the lane by 4 feet, Watkins loss may be felt a little less. With a bigger free throw line comes less clogging of the lane and less of a need for a big man in the middle, thus turning this game into a skills competition.
And luckily Pat Chambers’ special moves in Philadelphia gives the Lions a definitive edge in the talent category.
As long as Penn State is able to get up for this game, and it sounds like they will be, I see no reason for them not to win this one going away.
- Pick Against The Spread: Penn State
Season Record vs KenPom’s Spread: 26-17-1