Okay, so "marquee" might be an exaggeration. After all, things haven't gone as planned for the Temple Owls this year. They fell to both California and Texas A&M in the 76 Classic, and though neither of those wins are damning, those were games that they were supposed to win. If the Owls fall to Maryland, too, they'll probably knock themselves out of the rankings for the better part of the rest of the year, and there goes that murderer's row.
That said, I'm staying optimistic. With the A-10 being as weak as it is this year, Temple's still expected to win the conference, and they'll still be plenty respectable with 13 conference wins in March. After all, neither of those early losses should sink Temple too low.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Maryland needs to actually win the game first before they can start wondering about whether or not it'll get them into the tournament. Temple's a darn good team, too, and they'll be quite the challenge for the Terps. After all, if the Owls need a résumé win, they could grab one of their own right here.
Temple's not a markedly different team from what they were last year, when they were arguably the best team in the A-10 and a 5 seed in the NCAA tournament. The hallmarks of that team - a plodding pace, a conservative offense, great coaching from Gary Williams disciple Fran Dunphy, and a stifling defense - remain alive and well in this year's squad.
The most striking thing about Temple is usually defense, and it's no different this year. They're 8th in the country so far in defensive efficiency and were in the top 10 last season. They haven't allowed upwards of 58 points all year. There are no easy baskets to be had against Fran Dunphy's teams, and that's a little disconcerting considering how average Maryland's halfcourt offense has looked this year. Maryland's sets looked terrible against Penn State (if they were even there) and the Nits are nothing compared to their Philly counterparts.
The Owls' defense isn't one of the gimmicky zones or even the ol' "Forty Minutes of Hell." It's straight-up man-to-man with tight pressure and very, very good execution. The slow pace helps things out a lot - if Temple didn't have one of the slowest paces in the country, the points would probably reach into the 60s or so - but this defense is legit; they even have two 6-9+ inside presences in the post. Temple hangs their hat in one area, and that's on their man-to-man defense.
The one area Maryland might find success is in transition. Temple's a little deeper than Penn State was and won't be as flabbergasted by seeing uptempo play, but they're at their best in the halfcourt. The Terps found success on Wednesday on the break. They'll probably have to use the same formula against Temple this time around.
But you can't have a defense that good and still have two losses without some major shortcomings offensively. Taking out the game against Toledo, who are among the worst teams in the country, the Owls haven't topped 65 points this year. They're one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the country and lack any type of consistent scoring presence.
A big reason for that is the loss of last year's leading scorer and starting point guard, Ryan Brooks. Expected to take his place were last year's secondary options, Argentinian 6-4 junior guard Juan Fernandez and the long, athletic 6-9 senior forward Lavoy Allen. And in what could be about the worst possible outcome for Temple, both of their scoring production has dropped.
It's early, of course, and too early to make any type of conclusion as to either Allen or Fernandez' scoring ability. Allen, for example, was hurt by the Georgia game, in which he was in foul trouble and had to sit for stretches at a time. But he hasn't taken over a game yet: his season-high is just 13 points (against Cal and Central Michigan) and he looked tentative against Texas A&M, when his team needed a serious scoring boost. There's no doubt that he's both athletic and talented, both in the post and while facing up, but he hasn't made the leap most thought he would from last season. Heck, he's even pulling in four fewer rebounds a game than he was last year.
Meanwhile, Fernandez has had struggles of his own: he's averaging only 11 points a game and topped 12 points for the first time all season against C. Michigan. He's shooting a dreadful 33% from the field and 27% from deep. Considering this guy was a sharpshooter who nailed 45% from beyond the arc last year, that's shockingly bad and is the biggest reason Temple's shooting is as bad as it's been. And to make matters worse, he's leading Temple in turnovers; he has more TOs than assists on the year.
So, who's picked up the slack? That would be Ramone Moore, a 6-4 junior guard and last year's fourth-leading scorer. He's this year's points leader for Temple, averaging 11.7 per game. He's a dreadful three-point shooter and his shooting percentage from the field is middlin', but he gets to the line a fair amount and is excellent at penetration.
He's also been the mysterious key to stopping Temple this year. In the Owls' four wins, Moore is averaging a team-leading 14 points on 45% shooting from the field. In the two losses, he's averaging 7 points on 16% shooting from the field. So far, it's been stop Moore and stop Temple.
Elsewhere, Temple does have a solid big man in Michael Eric, who checks in at 6-11 and 225 (he looks way thicker than 225). Eric isn't good for much more than 20 minutes, 7 points, and 5 boards, but that's a nice bonus at his size and for what he provides in the low blocks defensively. He's raw, so I'm not sure Jordan Williams won't find success against him anyway - or, actually, will even match up with him - but it'll be an interesting battle to watch.
You'll notice that I didn't mention anyone replacing Brooks at point guard. That's because no one really has. Brooks was replaced in the starting lineup by a forward; Fernandez has kind of taken on the role of lead guard, but, as noted above, has more TOs than assists. Same for Moore. And they're the only guards that receive a lot of playing time. That's yet another shortcoming of this offense. They've been able to absorb it without too many turnovers so far - they're in the top 80 in the country in TO% - and that's indicative of a Dunphy-coached team, but it's impossible for a lack of point guard play to not hurt eventually. With a pressing team like Maryland, they might pay for it.
On the boards, the Owls have been up and down. They outrebounded Georgia by one and destroyed Seton Hall on the glass. Then they were outrebounded against Cal by four and destroyed on the glass by Texas A&M. As mentioned earlier, Allen's rebounding numbers have dropped pretty drastically and Temple doesn't have a lot of height, but they've been very effective at times and very ineffective at times. If Allen is on, Maryland can't match his athleticism and length. If he's not, Temple might have trouble with their lack of size. It'll be an interesting give-and-take there with a Maryland team almost as inconsistent.
First impression is foggy. Even if Maryland wins, it'll likely be in ugly fashion again. Temple is going to put up a fight against everyone they play this year, and Maryland will either need to develop some halfcourt offense or control the tempo to get the score into the 60s. The losses to Cal and TAMU have me encouraged, but Temple's not about to roll over. The keys might be pushing the tempo and forcing turnovers against a slow, point guard-less team.