It's because they don’t suffer fools up at Temple. They can’t. Life is too short and there are things to do. If you can't hang it's probably best to move on.
There’s no time to mess around.
Nevertheless, when one gets to Temple these days it looks as if someone took a fancy snow globe and dropped it in the middle of North Broad Street. Yeah, those red flags with that big “T” are still there, but so too are a whole bunch of new buildings, new chain-type places and tidier surroundings.
You know… gentrification.
Yet for those who haven’t seen the basketball team play since John Chaney left after the 2006 season, the Temple Owls are a bit different now, too. Fran Dunphy is in charge now and that tangled web of a defense called the match-up zone has been packed away and put in a closet somewhere in McGonigle Hall. They have pushed all of the relics aside at Temple. Sure, they remember the good old days, but they pretty much just live in the now.
And why not? Dunphy’s team is off to a 16-3 start to the season, which is the best a Temple club has performed since Eddie Jones, Aaron McKie and Rick Brunson staked Chaney to a 16-3 start during the 1993-94 season. That was the year where the Owls climbed as high as No. 4 in the polls, but drew a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament only to get shot down by Indiana at the Cap Centre.
Those Owls from the ’94 tournament were better than just a second-round exit and it would take until the upset by Seton Hall in the second round in the 2000 big dance for them to have a more disappointing end to a season.
There won’t be that level of disappointment for Temple in the tournament in 2010. Oh sure, Dunphy’s team is all alone atop the standings in the Atlantic 10 with a perfect 4-0 record after holding off Xavier on Wednesday night, but after being pegged as the fifth-best team in the conference (behind La Salle) it seems as if most folks are jumping on the bandwagon and just going for a ride.
Who cares where it winds up?
These Owls are (wait for it…) a hoot. Remember the sluggish way in which Chaney’s teams played offense? Remember how dependent they were on a strong point guard to impose the coach’s iron grip to choke out any creativity? Yeah, well they packed all that away, too. These Owls were not afraid to mix it up with Xavier in a fullcourt slugfest. Why not? Entering the game with a defense that held opponents to the third-worst shooting percentage in the country, the Owls must figure that sooner or later the odds are going to fall in their favor. How else could one explain away the fact that Temple shot 58 percent against Xavier on Wednesday, yet needed six foul shots from senior Ryan Brooks in the final 22 seconds in order to salt it away.
It didn’t hurt that Juan Fernandez, an Argentinean like Pepe Sanchez only with a legit jumper, buried a rushed 15-footer with 43 seconds to go in the game to keep Xavier off by two possessions.
Remember how Chaney used to ride his five starters until he squeezed every ounce of effort out of them? Yeah, well try this out — seven Owls scored in the first half against Xavier even though four guys played at least 37 minutes.
“When you have a team as talented as them with guys who play a lot of minutes, it’s difficult,” Xavier’s coach Chris Mack said. “Because they play all those minutes together they have an incredible chemistry. It’s tough because they spread your defense out.”
Brooks and Fernandez are the focal points of the offense, but big man Lavoy Allen can take it outside and bury a three. In fact, five different players took a three-point shot for Temple, including a 2-for-3 effort from 6-foot-9 reserve, Craig Williams.
“If they shoot the ball like that, they’re going to be a tough out, no matter who they play,” Mack said.
That is something that has never changed with Temple — they are always a tough out. When they announce those pairings in the NCAA Tournament selection show, no one wants to see their team lined up against the Owls. It’s no fun playing those guys.
It’s a lot of fun watching them, however, but not that one would notice from the crowd at the Liacouras Center. Oh sure, the student section behind the far end hoop was as raucous and rowdy as ever while cheering on their Owls with an array of clever tunes and chants, but there was a lot of empty space on the second deck in the building.
Certainly those Temple students can find a couple of hours away from their studies to watch an exciting basketball team, can’t they? Then again, there were always a few empty seats over at 3,900-seat McGonigle Hall when Temple had Mark Macon, Eddie Jones and Aaron McKie.
“To be honest, I was hoping [the fans] would be there last Saturday against UMass, as well,” Dunphy said, almost forlornly. “Our students are coming back from break, but a lot of them are coming from 25 miles away. It’s not like they’re coming from great distances and they can’t get to a game. It’s really important for our students to be here. We need as much support as we can get. We need our students, our alums and great Temple fans — we need to get as many people in here that we can and hopefully really support this basketball team.”
Better yet, with Villanova and Temple back to carrying the mantle for the Big 5, it’s kind of hard to stay away. Go check it out for yourself… it ain’t the same Temple anymore.