Thursday, March 17, 2011
Previewing Tucson: Battle of Pennsylvania
By Ted Miller
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Temple versus Penn State is a Pennsylvania brawl transported to the desert of the West Region, with two hard-nosed, defensive-minded teams trying to do something neither has done in a decade: win an NCAA tournament game.
Penn State hasn't played in the tourney since 2001, when the Nittany Lions reached the Sweet 16 and lost to, you guessed it, John Cheney's Temple team. A decade later and the Owls haven't won a tournament game since. In fact, current Temple coach Fran Dunphy is riding a personal 10-game tournament losing streak, which extends back to his days coaching Penn.
While Dunphy mostly danced around the topic, his players certainly are aware that postseason futility is an albatross for any program.
"That's how people grade you nowadays -- how you do in the postseason," Temple forward Lavoy Allen said.
The Owls' chances of breaking through and advancing will be better if forward Scootie Randall is able to play. The 6-foot-7 junior would help both inside and out as he's the team's best 3-point shooter. Dunphy said Randall, who hasn't played since Feb. 17 because of a foot injury, was pain-free Monday and Tuesday.
"So we're hopeful that he can give us some minutes tomorrow," he said.
Said Randall: "These guys have been playing great without me, but I think I can contribute and really help my team out if I can play this weekend. It'll be up to coach tomorrow; it's a game-time decision."
Both teams enter the matchup playing well. No. 7 seed Temple won 12-of-13 before losing to Richmond in the Atlanta 10 semifinals, and the other loss was to Duke. No. 10 seed Penn State wouldn't be here if not for winning five of its final seven games, including three in the Big Ten tournament. Both losses were to No. 1 Ohio State.
Still, there's no question who the underdog is. Penn State (19-14) is the football power where basketball is an afterthought. It's one of five at-large teams with at least 14 losses. Temple is the big-city Philadelphia school that loves its hoops. The Owls lead the all-time series 59-32 and have won the past six meetings. They didn't hook up this year, but they did face each other in a preseason scrimmage that apparently didn't go well for the Nittany Lions.
"For the two times we played in our sophomore and junior years and in this scrimmage that we're speaking about, they just beat us up in [all] three games," Penn State guard Talor Battle said. "Simple as that. They outmanned us. They out-toughed us."
Fair to say there's more on the line here than in most first-round matchups: state pride as well as tourney pride.