Road trip continues for No. 3 Wildcats at Temple in season’s final Big Five game

Andrew Gordon

The men’s basktball team will travel into Philadelphia Sunday afternoon to face the Temple Owls in its final Big Five matchup of the season. Temple heads into the contest with a 6-2 overall record after their victory over Penn State, while ‘Nova boasts an impressive 8-0 record as of its home victory over Drexel.

The Owls entered this season hoping to win a third-straight Atlantic 10 Tournament title and look to be well on their way to achieving this goal with an impressive nonconference record thus far. With fourth-year Head Coach Fran Dunphy at the helm, Temple looks quite capable of gaining a third straight NCAA Tournament berth in March. Their most recent accomplishment came in a three-point home victory over last year’s NIT champion Penn State.

The main concern for the Owls going into this season was the difficult task of replacing the only three-time scoring champion in A-10 history, Dionte Christmas. Luckily for the Owls, the team has found a strong replacement leader in senior Ryan Brooks. Brooks, the first of Dunphy’s signees at Temple, may not provide the same offensive spark as Christmas but provides solid defense and serves as a composed court general. Along with the increased role of junior forward Lavoy Allen, who has stepped up to the challenge so far this season, the Owls appear to have compensated for the huge loss of Christmas, who is now testing the free agency market of the NBA.

Temple’s backcourt consists of two seasoned veterans, seniors Luis Guzman and Brooks, along with sophomore Juan Fernandez who has lived up to the hype surrounding him. Guzman provides staunch perimeter defense and a scrappy style of play. He averages four points and four rebounds per game and leads the team in 3-point field goal percentage (.429). Brooks is the team leader in points, averaging over 14 points per contest, and also in free throw percentage (.773). The Argentinean-born Fernandez has proven to be a pass-first floor point guard, creating countless opportunities for his teammates. He averages 10.6 points per game and leads the team in assists (4.0), 3-pointers (15) and steals per game (1.0).

The Owls’ big men have neither the depth nor the experience of their guards. Temple does, however, have one major presence in the paint in Allen. He has all the talent in the world – great hands for a post player, quick feet and a soft shooting touch. Allen averages nearly 10 rebounds per game along with nearly two blocks in each contest. He also leads the team in minutes and field goal percentage (.476). Much of the Owls’ success relies on the play of this junior forward. To aid Allen under the boards, Temple utilizes the big body of classmate Craig Williams who averages six points and almost three rebounds per game.

Temple has shown that its defense has been their strength so far this season, averaging 61.2 points per contest and holding their opponents to an average of only 54.2 points. On four occasions, the Owls have held opponents to point totals of less than 48. Accordingly, the Wildcats have proven that they also play stingy on the defensive side of the ball, meaning that this contest may end up being a low-scoring affair if the Wildcat 3-point shooters fail to heat up.

The biggest problem for the Owls will be finding scoring threats outside of Allen and Brooks. If Antonio Peña and Maurice Sutton can shut down Allen in the paint, the lack of interior depth for Temple will provide major problems. No other Owl post player has shown the ability to take some of the pressure off of Allen so far this year. Similarly, if Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher can prevent Brooks from getting off many shots, the ‘Cats will be in good shape. Neither Guzman nor Fernandez is a true scorer and will struggle to make up the points if Villanova can stop Brooks.

If the ‘Nova guards struggle to make shots early, the staunch Temple defense and home-court advantage may provide an opportunity for a huge upset in downtown Philadelphia.

If the Wildcats can prevent Allen from making his presence known on the interior, though, the Owls will struggle to find enough offensive firepower to topple the surging ‘Cats.