Not hearing their named called on the first selection sunday show must have been fairly disappointing for the Nittany Lions. Like several seasons before this one, “close, but no cigar” has been the name of the game. The difference this time though is that Penn State gets to play in the consolation tournament, also known as the experimental rules tournament, also known as the NIT. This is something the program hasn’t done since the 2008-09 season.
In it they face their achilles heel, the Temple Owls. As former Atlantic 10 members, the Lions and Owls have history. Temple owns the series lead by a wide margin, 60-32, with two of the most recent meetings coming in the postseason. In both of those times, Penn State was bounced from the NCAA Tournament at the hands of Temple. Let’s hope the fortunes are reversed this season.
Although the team may be disappointed to miss the tournament and less enthused to play in the NIT, I don’t think motivation will be a problem for either team. Temple may just be happy to be here given how their season went. The Owls’ season is a more exaggerated version of the Nittany Lions. They beat Auburn, Clemson, South Carolina, Wichita State, and Wisconsin, but also lost to George Washington, Georgia, Tulane, and UConn. You’d think Penn State would want nothing to do with this game, but given the opponent, and the now “taken out of context” comments from Temple Coach Fran Dunphy, Pat Chambers and the gang might set out to make a statement.
Dunphy’s career as a coach is inarguably more accomplished than Chambers, with the former having been consistently in the tournament with both Temple and Penn, while the latter has made the tournament exactly once. So on the surface, it could be logical to be surprised that Dunphy would be taking shots at a program that isn’t in the same stratosphere as Temple. When you look deeper, though, Penn State and the Owls have been going in completely different directions over the past few seasons. Temple missed the tournament once as a member of the Atlantic 10. As a member of the AAC, however, they’ve only made it once. Temple has gone from being a consistent power in a smaller conference to being just there in a bigger one, and many blame Dunphy for that. When you look at things from that angle, it becomes a lot easier to understand why a coach on a once proud, and now lingering program, would be upset at a coach in a once terrible, and now rising program, seemingly plucking away at the recruits in a talent-rich area. Even if the quote was “misinterpreted,” it would be enough to make someone mad.
Scouting the Opposition
Temple doesn’t lack talent, they lack consistency. A team doesn’t beat several tournament foes without some level performance, and that’s what Quinton Rose, Shizz Alston, and Josh Brown provide. Rose’s steal percentage of 2.8 is highest on the team, and while not as good as Josh Reaves (or Jamari Wheeler’s, for that matter), it’s still good enough to cause some problems for Penn State’s ball handlers if they don’t take extra care with the ball. Alston and Brown are Temple’s best shooters from distance at 39.9 and 39.7 respectively. I expect to see Reaves, and Shep Garner, on both of these guys to ensure Temple has to move the ball inside if they want to score.
That brings up the next potential pitfall for the Lions. Without Mike Watkins on the floor, Obi Enechionyia and Ernest Aflakpui, as Enechionyia’s block rate 168th in the country, while Aflakpui offensive rebound rate rivals that of Watkins (and Julian Moore, whom I just noticed has the same OR% as Watkins).
What to Watch For
The rules change - How will the experimental rules affect Penn State? The deeper three-point line shouldn’t make much of a difference for Garner and Tony Carr, given that they insist on shooting from half-court anyway. But what about Reaves, Lamar Stevens, and the rare three-pointer from Nazeer Bostick? The change to quarters could also help the Lions, as not having to shoot the 1-and-1 could relieve the pressure on their improving, but still inconsistent free throw performance. Lastly, if Temple does get a number of second-chance opportunities, having 10 fewer seconds to take advantage of said opportunities can also relieve the Nittany Lions of having to defend full possession after full possession.
Shoot the J! Shoot it! - This is fairly obvious, but the way the Nittany Lions will ensure this game is never in question is by shooting the ball well from the start, and avoiding any extended scoring droughts that might help Temple potentially cut a deficit or build its own lead. The rule changes above could help the Lions out, they just need to do the rest themselves.
Motivation - As mentioned earlier in the article, motivation could be a key to this performance. Will Penn State come out with something to prove, or will they go through the motions and have a letdown?
Vegas thinks this shouldn’t be a contest. Bad memories from previous meetings give me pause, but I do think Pat Chambers will make a special move to send a message to both the opposition and the rest of the NIT field. Penn State 79, Temple 65