Texas Longhorns basketball (8-2) returns to the hardwood on Saturday for a 1:30 p.m. CT tip with the Temple University Owls (6-2). Heading into this season I was pretty concerned about this match up, but Texas has caught a pretty significant break in catching the Owls without sharpshooting Scootie Randall (lost for the year) and 6-11 center Michael Eric, a force in the paint and rebounding machine who injured his knee in late November and will be out until January.
Losing Randall hurt, but the bigger loss is Eric, without whom the Owls are, thankfully, even more undersized in the frontcourt than Texas, and I like this match up a whole lot better than I did in the preseason. The Longhorns match up well with the Eric-less Owls and I like us to be advantaged in every way but two. But they're important ones: First, this Temple squad is more experienced than Texas, relying on a core of upperclassmen who made the NCAA Tournament last year, where they won a game before losing in double-overtime to No. 2 seed San Diego State. Second, and related, this Owls team is more tested than we are -- not only from last year, but this year, where they've faced a stronger slate of opponents, including three Top 50 squads (Purdue, Wichita State, and Villanova).
Join me after the jump for an introduction to Temple's personnel, and a look at the keys to the game.
Temple Owls Personnel
Even with the loss of Randall, Temple boasts one of the best backcourts we'll see this year, featuring three starters with length who can penetrate, shoot, and dish the rock. You may know the name of the tough and versatile Juan Fernandez (SR, 6-2, 180) following his game-winner at the buzzer to advance Temple to the second round of last year's tourney, but the Owls best playmaker is Ramone Moore, another 6-4, 180-pound senior who can stroke it outside (38% from three) or create offense on the bounce. Moore's their go-to guy, he'll play close to all 40 minutes, and he will school Julien Lewis or Sheldon McClellan if they're not sharp and paying constant attention on the defensive end. Rounding out the starting guards is Khalif Wyatt (JR, 6-4, 205), a physical guard who does a lot of things pretty well, and who like Moore I worry could get us into some foul trouble.
On the inside for Temple, the loss of Michael Eric really hurt, but freshman Anthony Lee (6-9, 205) has really stepped up in the four games he's started in place of Eric, grabbing 9 boards per game while providing some solid inside presence on defense. Starting alongside Lee is Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson (JR, 6-6, 210), who is significantly more developed offensively than Lee, but his lack of size hurts him as a rebounder. Unfortunately for the Owls -- and very helpfully for Texas -- that's literally all Temple's got by way of frontcourt players. If either Lee or Hollis-Jefferson sits, the Owls are playing four guards.
Keys to the Game
1. Which team will do a better job of attacking the rim and not over-settling for threes?
Although both Temple and Texas are good outside shooting teams, both also have length on the perimeter and defend the three well, and both are vulnerable to attacking penetration. Temple is allowing opponents to make a whopping 61% of their two-point shots this year, and they don't have the depth to defend the paint too aggressively to risk fouls. On the flipside, Temple's guards can really take a big bite out of Texas' advantages in this game if they can get Myck Kabongo or J'Covan Brown into foul trouble, and the Owls have the guards to do it.
2. Who will defend penetration better?
This was mostly covered above, but the team that better uses attacking penetration to get buckets at the rim and/or draw fouls will have the edge on Saturday. J'Bongo need to stay out on the floor, but both will be tested on the defensive end.
3. Which team takes better care of the basketball?
Limiting turnovers is a key to every game, of course, but I'll just note that if we take care of the basketball and avoid foul trouble, this match up is pretty favorable to us. We have the two best guards in this game, a deeper and better frontcourt, and home court. If we don't hurt ourselves with fouls and sloppy play, we're solid favorites to win on Saturday. Along with limiting our own ability to score, turnovers create easy opportunities for opponents to pick up a bucket. We handled a big-but-slow UCLA team quite well, but now we'll get tested against a team with more quickness, speed, and athleticism (which is weird to say). This is a big game for Kabongo, who struggled against the lengthy and athletic guards of Oregon State and NC State.
Prediction: Having made clear the factors that will make me start to sweat on Saturday, I like this match up a good bit more than I anticipated I would a couple months ago. I think we stay on a roll: Texas 74 Temple 66