True confession time. If you hooked me up to a sodium pentathol drip you would discover I hate watching Temple basketball games. I know I shouldnÂt Â thereÂs a ton of reasons to like and respect the Owls. Most of them center on head coach John Chaney, who was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame this summer, along with Coach K. Chaney takes guys most schools donÂt even look at twice. Guys with marginal academics or maybe a mistake in their past. ThatÂs not terribly unusual as there are a lot of coaches who do the same thing. The big difference is that Chaney makes them go to class and they graduate.
ChaneyÂs also one of the gameÂs top minds, especially on defense. He didnÂt invent the matchup zone, but he did perfect it. He makes his guys get up at 5 AM for pre-dawn practices. Then, to top it off, he has an air of danger to him. Remember a few years ago when he barged into John CalipariÂs post game press conference and threatened to kill him? Do you think that was in the back of Cincinnati Coach Bob HugginsÂ mind last week when he apologized to Chaney for negative recruiting practices? ChaneyÂs smart, tough, dedicated to his kids, and just a little bit crazy. So whatÂs not to like?
Well, there is that whole zone thing. When the Temple matchup zone is working, the other team usually ends up with some frustrating offensive numbers and a game score that prompts flashbacks to peach baskets and center jumps after every made basket. For someone used to watching Duke basketball, with its high scoring offense and high risk, high reward defense, Temple basketball is a completely foreign concept.
It goes beyond the way Temple plays defense. On the other side of the ball, Chaney conducts his offense with the steady deliberate patience of tectonic plates shifting. Somewhere near the end of each shot clock, the ball will end up in the hands of the designated scorer who will then proceed to attempt some sort of shot. ItÂs basically 40 minutes of delay game. Again, not a familiar concept for most Duke fans. Combine the defense that makes opposing teams grind it out, with an offense that is looking to slow the game down, and you have the perfect cocktail for the type of basketball that drives me insane. Not "kill John Calipari" type of insanity, but not too far removed either.
The Blue Devils could not have picked a better time to play Temple. The Owls are coming off a double overtime win over Wisconsin on Monday night. TheyÂre also coming into Cameron without their best interior player, Kevin Lyde, who is out with an ankle injury. Adding to the Owls woes, swingman David Hawkins who is sitting out the first semester because of academic difficulties. Still, you can never discount any Chaney team and the Owls are riding into Cameron on the crest of a three game winning streak after dropping their first two games in this yearÂs Coaches vs. Cancer Classic.
WednesdayÂs contest marks the third game between Temple and Duke in the last two seasons. The teamÂs faced off in the finals of last yearÂs preseason NIT, a game the Devils won 63-61. In their second game last year, Duke down the Owls 93-68 on TempleÂs home floor. The difference in the two games was primarily DukeÂs performance behind the three-point line. The Devils struggled in that first game, shooting 30% on threes. It took a huge night between Jason Williams (10 assists) and Carlos Boozer (26 points) for Duke to prevail. The second game, just 8 days later, was an entirely different story. Duke hit 17 three-point shots, including going 11-18 in the first half, to blow the Owls out of their own gym.
Given the way Duke has been shooting the deep ball thus far this year, itÂs likely the game will bear a closer resemblance to the first game last year than the follow up contest. Of course, if youÂre into such things, the second Temple game last year was the 7th game of the year for Duke. This year, itÂs the 7th game of the year also. Last year, Jason Williams entered the game shooting just 29% from on his three-point attempts. This year, Jason Williams enters the game shooting just 28% on his three-point attempts. Last year Jason Williams hit 8 out of 10 three-point shots in the Temple game. This yearÂ . well, you can see what IÂm hoping for.
Playing the role of Mark Macon this season will be Lynn Greer. Macon was one of the original designated scorers on ChaneyÂs Temple teams. The guy who would average 30 shots a night. This year, the designated scorer is Greer, a 6-1 point guard out of Philly. The Temple captain has a long legacy of putting up big numbers. His Philadelphia high school scoring totals rank second, behind only Wilt Chamberlain. Insert your own Wilt-scoring joke here.
Without Lyde or Hawkins, the Owls have become even more dependent on Greer on the offensive end. In MondayÂs game against Wisconsin, Greer turned in one of the best performances of the season with a 47-point outburst that accounted for 67% of TempleÂs offense. For the evening, Greer shot 47%, including going 6-16 on threes.
He is the perfect type of guard for the Temple system; solid with the ball (check out his 2.5 assist to turnover ratio last year), has the patience to work the shot clock, and can get his shot off under pressure. HeÂs also leading the nation in scoring right now at 28 points per game and rarely misses a free throw. Look for Duhon to lock up with him and for the rest of the Devils to provide plenty of help defense. Like Duke did with Will Solomon last year, the goal tonight will be to make GreerÂs shot attempts equal or exceed his point production.
Starting with Greer in the backcourt is Nile Murry, a 6-4 freshman who can play both the point and the off guard spot. Temple is somewhat like Duke in that regard as both backcourts feature a pair of guards who can play both positions. MurryÂs not much of a shooter or scorer, but is comfortable handling the ball. Chaney will be very happy if Murry can handle some point responsibility and allow him to keep Greer fresh throughout the game.
Temple goes with a three-guard lineup, especially with Lyde on the sideline. That third guard is Brian Polk, a 6-4 sophomore who sat out last year as a redshirt. Chaney likes the offensive potential that Polk brings to the game and rumor has it that he may let him shoot by the time heÂs a senior. Polk scored over 30 ppg as a high school senior but heÂs been struggling thus far in college, hitting on only 27% of his shots and 17% of his threes.
With Hawkins ineligible, the Owls have no depth in the backcourt. I mean that literally. Against Wisconsin, Greer, Polk, and Murry all played the entire game, including both overtimes. ItÂs hard to believe theyÂll be very fresh for Wednesday and the Duke ball pressure could be very effective late in the game.
Typically, the Owls would start two landmasses up front with Lyde and the almost unbelievably large Ron Rollerson. Without Lyde, the Owls are down to just Rollerson who has a body that is better suited to be covered in tarmac than a uniform. Rollerson is humanely listed at 6-10, 290 pounds but those numbers may have been taken shortly after birth or the last donut.
Rollerson has actually been rumored to have slimmed down some from last year when he spent much of the season hobbling around on an injured ankle. Without Lyde, heÂs the only inside force for the Owls and he has responded nicely, nearly averaging a double-double (9.6 ppg, 7.8 rpg). The problem for Rollerson is that dragging around 290 pounds in a defense that requires you to work at all times can be a draining experience. He tends to tire easily and when exhausted heÂll commit some lazy fouls.
While Greer may get the most looks on this team, Chaney has another offensive weapon in forward Alex Wesby. The 6-6 senior was the club leader in three point attempts last year and is converting on over 40% of his attempts this season. Defensively, heÂs the guy who will likely draw the assignment of the back man in the 1-3-1 zone, the most demanding position in that defense.
Providing frontcourt depth are Greg Jefferson, Glen Elliot, and Hawley Smith. Jefferson is a 6-5 junior who doesnÂt contribute much on offense other than to catch the ball and throw it back to Greer. He has some quickness and rebounds adequately. Elliot and Smith are both freshmen and the 6-9 Elliot is the only size the Owls can bring off the bench. Smith measures 6-5 and rarely shoots the ball. Chaney would probably like to have the luxury of bringing his freshmen along a little more slowly, but the injury to Lyde has forced him to play some guys who typically wouldnÂt see much time.
The first thing you think of going into a Temple game is how to attack the matchup zone. In the second game last year, Duke used one of the more traditional approaches to attack the zone by penetrating and kicking out for open jump shots. That may not be as easy this year because of DukeÂs recent shooting woes. In particular, Jason Williams has not shot the ball well to date and appears to be in a real funk looking for his shot.
If Duke cannot hit the three or even some closer jumpers, Temple will be comfortable to pack the zone in and take Boozer out of the game. Duke could deal a real blow to the Owls if theyÂre able to get Rollerson in foul trouble. Without Rollerson in the game, the Owls will either have to go very small or go with Elliot inside. Neither option is a good choice for Chaney to try and contain Boozer.
Traditionally, Temple likes to trap out of the matchup zone and try to force the other team into bad shots or turnovers. ItÂs unlikely youÂll see much of that against Williams and Duhon in the backcourt. However, when Duke one of the Duke starting guards goes to the bench, Temple is likely to test the poise of Duke freshman Daniel Ewing by trying some traps.
When the Devils are on defense, the key will obviously be containing Greer. That job will likely fall to Duhon although with the Temple three-guard set you could potentially see both Williams and Jones getting a chance at defending Greer. If Duke is able to take Greer out of the game, or at least limit his effectiveness, the Owls wonÂt have too many other places to find offense. The most likely source would be Wesby or one of young guards.
Once again though, the big key for Duke is a sustained, intense effort. With the Clemson game, Duke finally put together 40 minutes of Duke style basketball. Unfortunately, thatÂs a cumulative statistic for the entire year and is not reflective of the last game played. After a lackluster first half, the team put together a fine 10-minute run which put the ballgame out of reach. Or at least, it should have put the game out of reach.
Instead, the Blue Devils finished out the game with a mediocre effort and a uncharacteristically casual focus on offense. Despite repeated instructions to finish the offense and play strong, Duke went through a series of late-game possessions where they ran the clock only to turn the ball over when finally attacking the basket. On the defensive end, ClemsonÂs Hobbs and Christie fattened up their averages late in the game as they repeatedly beat defenders for low post or transition baskets.
The Duke staff is also probably concerned about Jason WilliamsÂ continued struggles from the three-point line. Williams finished the game at 0-5 and the experiment of Williams at the off guard spot was dubious at best. One of the motivations for the backcourt switch may have been to help get Williams back on track from the perimeter. But midway through the first half, with Williams struggling, the coaching staff tried to jump start his offense by giving him more touches in the halfcourt sets. Williams responded with several great drives to the hoop and was able to get to the foul line, but he didnÂt hit a long jumper until late in the game.
There were still plenty of positives to be taken from the Clemson game Â including another double-double from Carlos Boozer, improved shooting from Duhon, continued fine play from Dunleavy, and a great bench performance from Ewing. But up to this point, Duke has been living dangerously by winning on talent, not execution. At some point, thatÂs not going to be enough. TonightÂs game with Temple has all the signs of one of KrzyzewskiÂs challenges where the team needs to make a statement. Poor shooting is undesirable, but something that you have to work through. What has never been acceptable to Krzyzewski is a sloppy effort on the floor. Anyone who has followed Duke basketball for long knows exactly what the focus in practice has been over the last two days.
ItÂs up to the guys in the uniforms to share that message with Temple