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Next Up - Temple

Duke takes on Temple Wednesday night, as the Owls continue the long journey away from the John Chaney era into quite a different era under Fran Dunphy.

We have a sincere admiration for John Chaney, who was deadly serious about using basketball to save young men from wasted lives. He took a lot of chances on kids and usually made them pay off. But at the end of his career, he began to behave more harshly in public. Whether it was threatening to kill John Calipari or asking a big kid to hurt someone in a game, his behavior became a topic of conversation. When he did step down, you got the feeling that Temple was grateful both for his brilliant career and also his absence.

Fran Dunphy is very different. He's no pushover - no coach can be for long - but he is a milder man than Chaney. Then again, most people are. But he's also less rigid, and that will let air back into Temple's program.

Chaney had some absolutes: crack of dawn practices, matchup zone, deliberate offense among them.

You get the impression that Dunphy is not nearly as rigid. Chaney was formed by his life experiences, which included a level of segregations unimaginable to most people today.

Like Chaney, though, Dunphy has some beef on the roster. Spaniard Sergio Olmos, is a seven footer who is capable of playing well. Michael Eric is a 6-9 rookie out of Nigeria. But freshman Lavoy Allen has perhaps had the best year of their big men, averaging 8.7 ppg and 5.1 rpg. Certainly he's the player Dunphy will build around.

At 6 -6, Temple isn't off to a blindingly great start, but it ain't a nightmare either, although starting off with losses to Tennessee, Providence, and Charleston might have seemed like one at the time. They've also lost to Akron, 'Nova, and Florida.

They've got a basic eight-man rotation, with Dionte Christmas and Mark Tyndale, both at 6-5, a big pair of guards.

The Owls are averaging 71.3 ppg, which is probably more than Chaney's teams did. Christmas and Tyndale lead with 20.9 ppg and 14.8 ppg respectively. That's basically half their offense and so you can guess where Duke is likely to concentrate their defensive efforts.

Philly is home to Gerald Henderson, of course, and the sophomore has worked hard to line up tickets for everyone back home.

Coach K is likely to approve of his efforts to communicate off the court, and very likely to insist that he do so on the court, and that his teammates do so as well.

Against Cornell, that was a definite negative.

Henderson also has the advantage of being able to tell his teammates a lot about the Temple players as he played with and against them frequently this summer.

Under Chaney, Temple shot threes but preferred to pound it inside. Under Dunphy, who like most Ivy coaches used the shot as a neutralizer, the Owls are hitting .376, with Christmas leading the way with 38 so far, or 3.1 per game.

Stats are an interesting way to gain insights into the game, but they can't tell you everything. For instance, they won't be able to explain how Greg Paulus and Nolan Smith shot against a substantially taller backcourt, or how DeMarcus Nelson did (or didn't) succeed driving against a team which has a big frontcourt.

Nor can it explain how Duke adapts to the absence of Brian Zoubek, or how quickly Dave McClure rounds fully into game shape.

Zoubek's absence is a big deal. Some Duke fans like to focus on his weaknesses, but the fact is that the kid can block shots without jumping. As the old saw goes, you can't teach tall.

But it's also true that you can't teach savvy. You learn that by playing a lot and picking up insights. That's a great strength of Dave McClure's, who had a remarkable season last year before getting hurt. He just had a feel for the game, whether it was where the ball was going come off the rim, or how to get in the right place to move the ball closer to an assist. He's extremely smart.

Duke has been in a similar situation before: in 1987, they were very successful with no starter taller than 6-7. They played from '87 to '90 with Robert Brickey defending the post. And you will surely remember the brief era where Reggie Love started for Carlos Boozer as he recovered from an injury.

Height is very important, but not more important than heart or passion or, for that matter, communication on the court.

Duke has some challenges in this game, but we're guessing that intensity and defensive passion will rule the day. If they manage those two things well, and improve their communication, Duke will be fine.