Monday, March 15, 2010

Temple Not Pleased with Cornell Draw

By Dave Jones
Patriot News
March 15, 2010

PHILADELPHIA – They stuffed about 200 people into something called the Fox-Gittis lounge just off the lobby at the Liacouras Center after Temple's third straight coronation as Atlantic 10 tournament champions.

These weren't merely the Temple Owls and their family members who'd ridden up the Atlantic City Expressway with the A-10 trophy. These were some serious alums as cherry-blooded as those the room was named for.

They stood, reacting to CBS' NCAA selection show as the seeds were unveiled.

Two entire regionals were revealed before the placard labeled TEMPLE appeared. And then the reactions came in quick succession. There was the brief excitement of seeing the school's name on the big projection screen melded, no doubt, with squeals of recognition for the site – Florida and maybe some sun.

Then followed some disgruntled murmurs. A 5 seed? It was an insult to a 29-win champion of both the regular season and tournament of a league graded as one of the seven or eight best in the country.

Then, came the “Ohhhhhhhh!” when the Owls' opponent was revealed seconds later: CORNELL. The three-peat Ivy League champions with a profile something like Temple's – one-and-done in the last two NCAAs, coached by a former Penn guy. That would be Owl coach Fran Dunphy's former understudy Steve Donahue. That's no fun.

And finally there were the boos saved for that despised rival from up the mainline. It occurred when Villanova, loser of five of its last seven games, was unveiled as... a 2-seed?! Close to home in Providence! The venom in the room was palpable.

The words flying around carried the frustrated tenor of those who've too long fought an ethereal class struggle – and perceived they had emerged again on the short end. At least as much as six-figure earners can be so aggrieved.

How could this be? The Owls' 56-52 win over Richmond, earlier Sunday in the Atlantic 10 tournament championship game in Atlantic City, gave them their third straight A-10 title. They finished as an 8 RPI to Villanova's 11. And they beat the Wildcats straight up in December by 10 points.

Maybe worse, if the Owls get by trey-bombing Cornell on Friday in Jacksonville, they probably must face a nail-gun-tough team who finished the regular season playing as well as anyone in the league – 4-seed Wisconsin led by Chester-bred Bo Ryan. Oh yeah, Wisconsin's first-round opponent? Southern Conference champion Wofford. A team that's never been in the NCAAs before.

Those prone to bitterness about such apparent class snubs could so what Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli did six years ago in response to CBS curmudgeon Billy Packer and incite the mob.

Fran Dunphy is not that kind of guy. Ever understated, the Temple coach knew to keep that sort of vibe under wraps. Though, he did admit Cornell was, “The last team I wanted to play,” because of his decade-long association with Donahue.

“I don't think the seeding matters much,” said Dunphy. “The match-up is more what you're concerned with. Cornell's a tough match-up for us. But we were going to get a tough match-up anyway.

“It's just, for me, the personal piece is not my favorite. I'd rather have no friendship, no relationship with the guy. There's nothing really positive in it. I'm trying to grope for the positives. I'm groping my butt off right now.”

And the teacher-pupil thing?

“Yeah, well, there's the dynamic that the teacher learned from the pupil. Because he's a terrific coach. I learned a lot of basketball in the 10 years that he coached with me.”

Cornell has, not coincidentally, wrested Ivy League control almost exactly since Dunphy left the Penn Quakers. There's that to think about. But Donahue knows what he's doing. He's assembled the best 3-point shooting team of all 347 in Division I. The Big Red hit treys at a .438 clip as a team this season.

It should be noted, they did not slow down against the nation's No. 1-ranked team and the NCAA tournament's top overall seed. In a Jan. 6 game at Kansas, the Big Red took one of their four losses on the season. They did so after Ryan Wittman and his arc-spotting buddies led for the first 39 minutes. Only senior point guard Sherron Collins' scoring drives from a flat-4 set inside 60 seconds saved the Jayhawks on their home court, 71-66.

You'll remember, Temple had somewhat less success with the Jayhawks, getting blown out of the Liacouras Center 84-52 on national TV.

Donahue runs a modified Princeton system of which Dunphy is quite familiar. Though the Owls really were only exposed to it this year against Chris Mooney's Richmond team. The Owls split with Spiders, losing 71-54 on the road and beating them on Sunday.

Meanwhile, up the Blue Route, cool, composed Jay Wright was graciously applying skin bronzer to an already happy face and considering a Thursday game with intrastate comrade Robert Morris. Which is sort of like saying George W. Bush and Teddy Roosevelt are blood-brothers from the same party.

“I'm very proud of the respect, obviously, the committee has for our program,” Wright was quoted by the Associated Press. “I think we've been playing better, but we just lost some games.

“And I don't know, I think the committee saw that. I was a little bit [surprised]. I kind of figured we'd be a 3 [-seed]. I can't really give you an in-depth reason why.”

Even Scottie Reynolds admitted raising eyebrows:

“I'm surprised by it. I like to follow things and see where people say we're going to be. I was thinking a 3 or a 4, and then when I saw a 2 come up, I was like, 'All right.'"

Which is what it really is for everyone who's one of the 65 in the Dance. It's all right. What you make of it now is all that matters.

By Bob Grotz
Journal Register News Service
March 15, 2010

PHILADELPHIA — Temple got its highest NCAA Tournament seed in 10 years.

But a fifth seed in the East Region is not what all of the Owls had in mind, although they said the right things Sunday fresh off their third straight Atlantic 10 Conference tournament championship.

From the outside looking in, the NCAA Tournament committee minimized the Owls’ 10-game winning streak, their 29-5 record and even the 75-65 win over Villanova, which got the No. 2 seed in the South.

Owls coach Fran Dunphy suspects the committee was intent on matching him with Cornell (27-4) because it’s coached by Steve Donahue, one of his assistants during his tour at Penn. Dunphy and frequent texting buddy Donahue square off Friday in Jacksonville, Fla.

“I think this was a planned endeavor by the committee,” Dunphy said at the Liacouris Center. “I think this was a planned matchup. If you had said to me who do you not want to play, I would say Cornell. Steve and I are good friends. There’s just a no-win situation in that.”

Dunphy also said he felt the Owls’ seed “was going to be 4 or 5.

“I thought if we could win today it was going to be 4,” he said.

The Owls’ 56-52 victory over Richmond in the A-10 title game in Atlantic City Sunday must not have wowed the NCAA tournament committee.

Owls stars Juan Fernandez and Lavoy Allen said they were much more interested in the opponent, not the seed. But Fernandez smiled when asked if the Owls deserved better.

“I’m guessing a lot of Temple people are upset now because they wanted a higher seed,” Fernandez said. “Really I was waiting to see who we would play. I really didn’t care that much about the seed. Cornell is going to be a tough matchup but I think we have a pretty good chance. We just have to play our basketball and I think we’ve been doing that this year.”

Allen knows enough about Cornell to understand the Owls better forget about the seeding angst if they want to win the school’s first NCAA tourney game since John Chaney beat Penn State in 2001.

“I’m just happy to be in the tournament altogether,” Allen said. “I don’t really care what seed we’ve got because we’ve got to face everybody anyway. I think we’ve got a tough matchup in the first round. Cornell is a really good team. They played Kansas tough at Kansas so it’s going to be a real tough matchup for us.”

If the Owls win they would oppose either Wisconsin, the third seed, or Wofford, the 13th seed in the East. The badgers are coached by Bo Ryan, a product of Chester.

Dunphy didn’t bite when someone suggested the Wildcats – losers of five of their last seven games – aren’t exactly on a second seed roll.

Instead Dunphy applauded the Wildcats’ coup of the No. 2 seed and wished them well in the coming weeks.

“They deserve it,” Dunphy said. “They’re a great team and they’ll do a lot of damage in the NCAA Tournament.”

While the Liacouris Center emptied, the last Owls coach Owls coach to win an NCAA tournament game chatted with Dunphy.

“I was just telling Fran when you play against teams that go slow, make them go slower,” Chaney said. “Teams that play fast, make them go faster.”

Chaney wasn’t upset with the Owls’ seeding. And he didn’t take a shot at Villanova, either. Chaney thinks the Wildcats could reach the Final Four.

Chaney also feels the Owls will break that NCAA tournament losing streak. The Owls have been ousted in the first round of the last two tournaments.

“I think they’re going to win a tournament game this time,” Chaney said. “They’ve already seen the best. I think one of the best is Villanova. Without question Villanova in our city, in my opinion, is a team that could very easily get to the Final Four.”

Chaney thinks the Owls’ upset of the Wildcats “really made them something special.”

Whatever the seed, the new Owls season starts Friday.

FRAN DUNPHY FELT it was going to be Cornell. He didn't want it to be Cornell. He wanted to play any of the other 63 teams in the NCAA Tournament. But Temple got Cornell on Friday in Jacksonville at 12:30 p.m.

"I think this was a planned matchup," Dunphy said.

Perhaps the tournament committee members knew that Cornell coach Steve Donahue was a longtime assistant for Dunphy at Penn, knew that they remain as tight as any two coaches can be, so tight that they were texting back and forth yesterday before Temple's Atlantic 10 championship win over Richmond. Perhaps they thought this would be a matchup with a story line. Or perhaps this is just the way it fell.

"If you had said to me who do you not want to play? Cornell," Dunphy said. "We're good friends and there is a no-win situation in that."

Well, some team is going to win on Friday. But the winning coach won't be as happy as he normally would be.

Dunphy and Donahue both knew approximately the seeds their teams would be, knew that this matchup was possible. The committee did the Owls, seeded No. 5 in the East, no real favors. Temple, the Atlantic 10 regular-season and tournament champions, with an RPI of 8 and 12 true road wins, really seemed more like a 3 seed.

The Temple fans gathered in the Fox-Gittis Room of the Liacouras Center as the selections were revealed did not seem too upset about a trip to Florida, or Cornell. But when it was revealed Villanova was a No. 2 seed, playing in Providence on Thursday against Robert Morris, they booed loudly.

After all, the Owls had beaten Villanova, had swept the Big 5 and won 29 games. The committee, however, has issues beyond the obvious. It has certain seeding principles that often mean teams have to move up or down a seed line. Still, the difference between 2 and 5 did seem like a large gap.

"[Villanova] deserves it," said Dunphy, ever gracious. "They're a great team and they'll do a lot of damage in the NCAA Tournament."

The coach is more concerned with the matchup than the seeding. Temple did not get an easy one. Ivy League champion Cornell is 27-4, and played well in losses to top seeds Kansas and Syracuse.

That there is this personal relationship is what makes it more difficult.

"There's nothing I can do," Dunphy said. "I have no control over it so there's no need to worry about it. We have a game in front of us against a really good basketball team. The only interesting thing is that it's the first time that I've ever been in position to wear a white uniform on the first day."

The Temple coach always looks at the big picture.

"This is a great day for student-athletes that play college basketball," Dunphy said. "If you end your season sitting down on Selection Sunday waiting for your name to be called, there is no better feeling than that."

The Cornell gym was filled for the announcements. The place went wild when Cornell's name appeared on the screen. Donahue did not go wild.

"I was totally shocked," Donahue said. "Everybody is jumping up and down. I couldn't even get off my seat. I was, 'Oh bleep.' "

Temple's athletic director, Bill Bradshaw, was not all that pleased with the seed.

"Most basketball experts had us at a 3 or a 4," he said. "Going into this, my feeling was that if it was a 4, that would seem about right. A 3, I'd be pleasantly surprised. Anything lower than a 4, disappointing."

Bradshaw pointed to the RPI, that the Owls won their last 10 games, went through the A-10 Tournament as the No. 1 seed without ever trailing for a single second.

The point-spread mavens in Las Vegas clearly did not look at this as a typical 5-12 matchup. Temple is favored by just four points.

Owls star guard Juan Fernandez did not seem all that concerned with seeds. "I was waiting to see who we would play against," he said. "I really didn't care that much about the seed."

Dunphy thinks he knows what went down.

"They look for angles like this to have first-round matchups," Dunphy said.

Maybe, they did. Maybe, that is just how it fell on the S Curve. Maybe, they had to move Temple a line for some other reason. Whatever, Temple will play Cornell, the good friends will coach against each other and there will be a winner and a loser. The last part never changes.

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