Temple hopes NCAA appreciates Dunphy's game

Posted: February 21, 2011

LET'S BE HONEST, the NCAA selection committee isn't going to consider the influence of a Big 5 rivalry when it's deciding on tournament seeding.

Locally, people might understand that anything can happen in a City Series matchup, but to the committee, a Temple loss to a struggling Saint Joseph's program would look exactly like that.

It would be a bad loss at a bad time of the season for the Owls, the kind that would probably have a little too much impact on Selection Sunday. There are nuances that can affect a team's placement on the seeding curve, but few have as much impact as a bad loss in the final five games of the regular season.

Philadelphia rivalry aside, St. Joe's has made the NCAA field just once since it reached the Elite Eight in 2004. The Hawks are suffering through their second straight losing season and could post their first single-digit winning season since going 7-21 in 1989-90.

With Temple ranked 23rd in the Associated Press poll, there would be no other way to view a late-season loss to St. Joe's as anything but a bad one.

Conversely, while on paper a 66-52 victory over struggling St. Joe's (7-19, 2-10 Atlantic 10, 0-4 Big 5) may not look that impressive, every win this time of year is a good one.

That's the subtlety of college basketball as it races toward the NCAAs.

"There are a lot of things about this win that pleases me," said Temple coach Fran Dunphy. "The simple fact that we were able to win the game is obviously most important. Every game is so critical at this time of year."

If you believe in the concept of a "set-up game," that's exactly what this was for Temple.

The Owls were coming off a big A-10 win over third-place Richmond and have a marquee, nationally televised game at No. 5 Duke on Wednesday. In between was a fierce local rival in the midst of a bad season and riding an eight-game losing streak to the Owls.

St. Joe's had also won two of its previous three games.

"Do I believe in it? Yeah, for other people," Dunphy said. "I don't believe it in us as a team. I hear other people say that, but I can't imagine there is any coach out there that thinks like that. A coach thinks about the next task at hand, which for us was St. Joe's."

It was one of those defining performances for the unselfish style of the Owls.

Temple had 19 assists on 23 field goals with four players scoring in double figures. This was accomplished without two regular starters, Scootie Randall and Micheal Eric.

"We're shorthanded so we really have no choice but to continue to play well as a team," said Temple center Lavoy Allen, who passed John Baum to become Temple's all-time career rebounder with 1,045.

Attitude is such an undervalued part of success.

Earlier in the week, Dunphy said he sat down with sophomores Khalif Wyatt and T.J. DiLeo to explain to them why true freshman Aaron Brown, who had only averaged 6.7 minutes, was going to move into the starting lineup.

"[Brown] needs to play and sometimes it's easier to be more relaxed as a starter than to come in as a substitute where you are thinking any mistake and you could come back out," Dunphy said. "We're shorthanded and he's worked as hard as any kid in the program.

"The message to [Wyatt and DiLeo] was you deserve to play a lot, too, but here is the way we are going to handle this situation."

Brown started but Wyatt and DiLeo both played considerably more minutes than they had been averaging.

St. Joe's coach Phil Martelli said Temple's success, particularly the Owls' unselfish play, is a direct result of Dunphy.

"Everybody gets caught up in Fran Dunphy being a nice guy," Martelli said of his friend, "but he's really a bad dude. If he acted up and was more demonstrative, everybody would get what a great coach he is.

"There'll be all this hoopla about this game and that game, but tell me a top 25 team that had 19 assists in 23 baskets. That's a credit to the coaching of Fran Dunphy and his staff."

Again, a lot of NCAA seeding is about how teams are playing going into the tournament, and Temple (21-5, 11-2, 2-1) has won eight straight and 12 of its last 14.

That's a nice run of momentum to take into Wednesday night's huge encounter at Duke.

The Owls then finish with games at George Washington and Massachusetts and against La Salle before beginning defense of their A-10 Tournament championship.

Barring a complete collapse - probably like losing five straight including their first game in the A-10 Tournament, Temple, with an RPI in the upper 20s, is in the NCAA Tournament. The Owls lost as a No. 5 seed to No. 12 Cornell last year so a high seed guarantees nothing; still it never hurts to have a low number after Selection Sunday.

A bad loss, even one with a Big 5 qualifier, would not help the cause.

Send e-mail to smallwj@phillynews.com. For recent columns, go to www.philly.com/Smallwood.

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