Jan 11, 2010, 11:37 AM EDT
Nick Menta is the Sports Director of W.H.I.P. Temple Student Radio and the co-host of The Menta & Kellett Show. Listen in from 1-2pm Mondays and Wednesdays at www.whipradiotu.com
Guess who's back (back, back), back again? Temple's back (back, back), tell a friend. Coming off their third opening round exit in three years at the big dance, the Temple University Basketball Owls return to the home hardwood this Friday night against Seton Hall. Tip off is set for 7:30. Ranked 22nd in the nation in both polls, this is Temple's first pre-season top 25 since 2001. As is literally always the case in college athletics, each year carries with it the recurring challenge of filling the holes left by the last year's graduating seniors. For Temple, back court mainstays Ryan Brooks and Luis Guzman have moved on, opening the door for a new class of Owls to take over the reigns and lead the program forward. I suppose the easiest way to do this will be to start in the back court, transition to the bigs, address the bench and wrap up with the new recruits. Team and schedule breakdowns after the jump…
With Gooz and Brooksy gone, the bulk of the guard play figures to fall on juniors Juan Fernandez and Ramone Moore; we'll start first with Juan. Having spent the majority of his sophomore campaign as a combo guard with minutes shaded toward the two, Fernandez will be transitioning back to the point this season to run the sets full time. Juan's offensive skills improved substantially last year, demonstrating a smoother (less set-shot-y) jumper and an increased ability to get to the basket in traffic. Returning at the point, the Argentine's jaw-dropping distribution skills figure to be back on full display. The tension in his game will now rest between which portion of the stat sheet he so chooses to fill. Granted, the offense's success will necessitate both buckets and assists from Fernandez; I just feel it important to emphasize that he is the only true PG on the roster with any meaningful minutes at the position and will, therefore, have to quickly reacquaint himself with his, in many ways, old role as a defined 1 if he and Moore are to cohesively function. Summing up, expect big things out of Juan with yet another year of the American game under his belt. Having been nice enough to join us here on TheLevel last season to discuss, amongst other topics, the difference in officiating between the American and international styles of ball, Juan will hopefully be able to translate his two years of college experience into cutting down on his unfortunately high foul totals, one of the few shortcomings in his otherwise impressive resume. After already garnering MVP honors at the A-10 tournament and finishing the regular season All-Conference honorable mention, his continued improvement at both ends of the floor should prove a tremendous issue for all opponents.
At shooting guard, Ramone Moore figures to garner the majority of the minutes. A change of pace, role-playing slasher, Moore excited fans and diced defenses while filling in for Fernandez after a concussion limited Juan's minutes for the better part of a month during in-conference play. Hyper-athletic and absurdly fast off the dribble, Ramone displayed an uncanny ability to get to the basket literally whenever he wanted. Add to that a capable touch from the outside and Moore was unquestionably Temple's most potent scoring threat off the bench, a distinction that would go so far as to earn him A-10 Sixth Man of the Year honors. On defense, Ramone usually seemed more plugged in when he would actually start the contest, as opposed to merely being a one-sided scorer filling his spot in the rotation. I don't mean to say his defense was always lax, I'm just saying it was spotty and generally correlated to the sum total of his minutes. Hopefully, with his MPGs figuring to increase, he will manage to match his offensive intensity with an increased effort at other end. That small criticism aside, do not be surprised to consistently see Ramone as the leading scorer for the Owls this season. He's going to have a break out year. You heard it hear first. There is plenty of room on the bandwagon. Get on his level.
Though not a lock to start at small forward, Rahlir seems, at least to me, the most reasonable candidate. Given Temple's affinity in recent years for going small and playing Lavoy Allen at center for prolonged stretches, it's fair to assume that Rahlir is going to see a literal crap-ton of minutes this season (scientifically measure that as you will). A prominent member of Coach Fran Dunphy's substitution rotation as a freshman power forward, Rahlir evidenced from his very first game an amazing ability to rebound. His wingspan is by far his greatest asset and gives him a tremendous advantage on the boards. If he is to start at the three in combination with Allen and Michael Eric in the low post, Temple should be able to overwhelm opponents on the glass, a quality the Owls haven't had the privilege to boast in years. When it's time for Eric to eventually take the bench, it wouldn't be surprising to see Dunphy return to his old rotation of Lavoy at the 5 and Rahlir at the 4. To stay on the subject of the rotation, I think it's fair to assume we will see more of Rahlir at small forward simply because no other member of last year's bench showed nearly as much promise. What Temple fans need to hope given Jefferson's knack for rebounding and the obvious advantages he presents in terms of versatility, is that he's worked on just what to do once all his hard work has paid off and he's finally got the ball. Too often last year, Rahlir would get his hands on rebounds and be unable to finish the offensive put back. If he's learned to harness his talent in the post and managed to put in some extra time at the free throw stripe, expect a major leap forward from Jefferson in his second year as a member of the Cherry & White.
Lavoy has come a long way since I watched him play Junior Varsity basketball for Pennsbury High School. The team's senior leader, L.A. managed to rake in just about as many awards as he did rebounds per game last year — a total of 10.7. In conjunction with his presence of the boards, Allen would finish the year with 11.5PPGs, making him the first Owl to average a double-double since Ollie Johnson in 1971. I'm struggling now not to write in superlatives, so let me just bottom line you: Lavoy Allen is the 2010-2011 Temple Owls. Period. The leader at both ends of the floor due in part to his All-Conference defense and already addressed rebounding capability, Lavoy also possess a well above average talent for passing down low. With guards who love to shoot and slash, Temple tends to run in its offense through Lavoy in the post, allowing the big man to then look for either backdoor cuts or left open shooters as defenders begin to double down. A natural power forward who has previously and will again be asked to spend time at center, Lavoy has done and will do everything Dunph asks of him. I have nothing more to say; I'm completely in the tank for Lavoy Allen. Moving on…..
Oh, and did I mention I also once participated in a snowball fight with him? Okay, now I'm done.
It's amazing I got this far without typing "Nigerian Nightmare." Anyway, standing in at 6'11, Eric eeks out the red-shirted 6-foot 10-inch, 190-pound soon-to-be-eating-pasta-after-midnight Jimmy McDonald for the honor of tallest man on the roster. Contributing very little his freshman year, Eric came on noticeably in his second season during A-10 play, just ask the St. Joe Hawks. Last year's rotation usually called for about seven to eight minutes of Eric early before moving to the small ball lineup discussed in the section on Rahlir. From there, Eric would see sporadic minutes, but usually struggle to fit into the flow of the game upon his return. What gets lost in his total averages from last season is just how effective he was in those opening minutes. Though not a game changer, there were moments during the second semester last season where members of the student section would look at each other in astonishment and ask, "Was that Michael Eric?" "The Nigerian Nightmare" indeed, word is that Eric has been able to transform some of those flashes of brilliance into a more consistent output in the intervening months since his, um, completely ineffectual performance against Cornell last March. If this is the case, and Basketball God willing it is, Temple should be able to produce strongest front court presence a very long while. No offense, Sergio & Co.
The Bench/New Recruits/Challenges to Making the Whole Thing Go
The phrase "mixed bag of sorts" comes to mind when addressing what's left. In this case, we have an awkward combination of the guys we know (Craig Williams), the guys we sort of know (T.J. DiLeo, Scootie Randall, Khalif Wyatt), and the guys we really don't know (newcomers Aaron Brown and Anthony Lee). Let's just go in order:
Who We Know: Craig Williams
Good ol' "Body Shots," Williams, who leads the team in differentiable nicknames, saw a dramatic decrease in his minutes last year following a pretty substantial role as a substitute for parts of his sophomore and junior seasons. As Rahlir became a more viable option at the 4, Williams presence as a power forward who jacked a ton of treys, refused to play on the block and offered little more than length on D soon became expendable. Let's be fair, I like Craig Williams. He seems like an awesome guy, and if I'm picking one dude on the squad to party with, it's him. As related to basketball, however, Williams' tendencies on the offensive floor are largely crippling if he's not knocking down from the outside. With only Lavoy and the guards left to rebound, the Owls effectively create their own match up problem with a power forward who stands on the wrong side of the arc. In a perfect world, Williams will have been so motivated by his diminished role at the end of last year to have worked unbelievably hard on his inside game in the offseason in order to become a true two-dimensional threat, inside and out. Time will tell. I'm pulling for you, "Bu Bu."
Who We Sort Of Know: DiLeo, Randall, Wyatt
I use the language "who we sort of know" because although these three guys have previously been with the program, they haven't spent much time on the floor. Scootie Randall is a junior forward with a peculiar habit of vacillating between draining open looks and missing the basket altogether. Next, a sophomore guard, T.J. DiLeo often looked tremendously uncomfortable in his own skin and couldn't quite seem to harness his natural athletic ability in the limited time he saw. Kaliff Wyatt, a former Norristown High guard I arbitrarily decided to love last season as "my guy who never plays, but should," is a guy who never played, but should have — maybe. What they all have in common are their own unique forms of untapped talent that Dunph needs to find a way to utilize. Randall can run the floor like crazy, DiLeo can apparently throw down alley-oops (I know, right?), and Wyatt should pose a pretty substantial match up problem for opposing guards at 6'4 and 205 — that's a big freaking guard. If you have any idea what to expect out of these guys this season, then you have my ultimate respect as a basketball fan. They all present something valuable to the team; the issue is really just whether or not they'll actually be able to bring it to the table, and how much time they will or won't be given to do so.
Who We Don't Know: Brown, Lee
The following figures to be largely speculative since, well, we really don't know either of them. Brown is a 6'5, 210 shooting guard and another apparent match up problem. Out of St. Benedict's Prep in Heckensack, NJ, Brown averaged 17.6 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.5 dimes and 3.0 takeaways as high school senior. A member of the U.S. Virgin Islands contingent in the 2010 Centrobasket Championship (which we've all heard of before), he drained 8 of 17 from beyond to finish with the tournament's third highest three point average at 47.1%. Prior to the Centro, he participated in the FIBA U18, an event with which more of us are familiar. Either way, Temple has been very dependent on outside shooting in recent years and another kid who can launch is okay by me.
As for Lee, I've been harping on the 6'9, 225 Lavoy Allen to put on more weight for three years. At that same height and 205, Lee can expect the same. A talented rebounder and possibly brought in as Allen's successor, Lee averaged 23 points, 14 boards and 3 blocks in his senior season at West Oak Academy in Orlando. Anthony, please put on weight. I want you to be a force. We will have this conversation again.
Putting aside the lankiness, he will be a tremendously valuable asset for the Owls if he has the potential to fit in right away. Even though it's highly convenient to be able to play Rahlir Jefferson at power forward some of time, he is only 6'6 and a long reach will only get someone like him so far, especially if he is getting backed down in the post. I can't honestly I have anyway idea what plans are for Lee going forward, but literally any form of production from him this season makes Temple a much deeper squad.
A Recurring and Wholly Unexplained Issue From Last Season:
Ridiculously strong on D, Temple was plagued at times last season by a stagnating offense. For whatever reason, this team goes into persistent lulls with four guys standing in place staring at the ball handler. The aforementioned strategy of dumping into Lavoy and looking to kick and cut only works if guys are moving to get open from the outside or weaving their way toward the rack. By that same standard, Williams' streaky shooting from the outside only increases this problem and makes team rebounding that much tougher. There is absolutely no shortage of athleticism in the starting line up nor on the bench, so there is really no excuse for this kind of play. Whatever causes it, Dunph needs to have it righted. Standing around has killed this team out of conference for three years and will only make the struggle to get out of the first round of the NCAAs that much tougher. If I'm the man with the mustache and the whistle at practice, I'm channeling my inner Herb Brooks and having the boys run suicides until every single one of them has the conditioning and innate fear not to take breaks on offense. And then we'll do it "again."
The Schedule: 10 Must See Match Ups
- 11/12/10 Seton Hall (Season & Home Opener)
- 11/25/10 Cal (Neutral Site)
- 12/5/10 Maryland (Neutral Site)
- 12/9/10 #21 Georgetown
- 12/30/10 @ #6 Villanova
- 1/22/11 @ Xavier
- 1/26/11 Charlotte
- 2/17/10 Richmond
- 2/20/10 St. Joseph's
- 2/23/11 @ #1 Duke
First St. Joe's game is January 29th at the Palestra at 11am. I love the smell of napalm in the morning. Smells like victory. Go Owls.
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