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Hoops Preview: With a transition looming, Temple still poses a test for Mizzou

Over 13 years, Fran Dunphy has kept the Owls stable and, in his final season, has roster with scoring punch on the perimeter.

NCAA Basketball: Legends Classic Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

What is Temple these days?

Since joining the American Athletic Conference five years ago, the Owls have hovered just north of .500 overall and in the league that was a refuge for football after the (original) Big East crumbled. Two decades ago, the John Chaney-led program lorded over the Atlantic 10. Its matchup zone defense was on par with the 2-3 concocted by Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim. Mark Macon, Eddie Jones, Aaron McKie, Marc Jackson, Pepe Sanchez, and Lynn Greer headlined a program that made four Elite Eight trips between 1991 and 2001.

Thirteen years ago, Fran Dunphy ambled up from Penn to take the helm, and there was a reason to think he could restore some luster to a program that suffered slippage late in Chaney’s tenure.

No, the program hasn’t fallen into disrepair, but it’s ceiling — at least based on recent results — has been lowered. This is also the last ride for Dunphy, who has won 63 percent of his games at the helm and earned seven NCAA tournament bids, before handing over the reins to his anointed successor and a favored alum in McKie.

The roster he passes on is studded by a strong trio Quinton Rose, Nate Pierre-Louis, and Shizz Alston. After that? Well, youth is the order of the day, a state of affairs reflected in the Owls landing at sixth in the AAC preseason poll. Meantime, the Owls weren’t a fixture in preseason brackets, either.

All the while, Jay Wright’s built Villanova into certifiable blue blood sitting 16 mils to the west and lord of the newly reconstituted Big East, whose membership of mostly small, Catholic universities is an optimal institutional fit.

Abandoning the Atlantic 10 for the AAC was born out of necessity after the breakup of the Big East marooned Temple’s football program. The conference doesn’t lack luminaries such as UConn, Cincinnati, Wichita State and, when healthy, Memphis. Yet the league markets itself as a football-centric entity, while the wide dispersion of its members saps Temple of historical or regional rivalries.

The Owls that take the floor tonight in Columbia on the brink of a transition, bringing with them a savvy scouting report implemented by Dunphy and play at a controlled pace that puts a premium on sound judgment.

Down the sideline, though, they’ll also find a Missouri program that — based on early indications — is setting about the laborious task of rebuilding and restoring a sense of identity. For the Tigers, this tilt still rests at the start of a process, when optimism is still the default setting. For the Owls, a victory might show this season isn’t shaping up as a lame-duck session.

The Scout

NCAA Basketball: Legends Classic Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

The Starters

Position Missouri (3-2) Temple (5-1)
Position Missouri (3-2) Temple (5-1)
PG Jordan Geist (Sr., 6-2, 180) Shizz Alston (Sr., 6-4, 180)
CG Mark Smith (So., 6-4, 220) Nate Pierre-Louis (So., 6-4, 170)
WING Javon Pickett (Fr., 6-4, 207) Quinton Rose (Jr., 6-8, 180)
CF Kevin Puryear (Sr., 6-7, 238) De'Vondre Perry (So., 6-7, 220)
POST Jeremiah Tilmon (So., 6-10, 250) Ernest Aflakpui (Sr., 6-10, 240)

Note: These starting lineups are projected.

When Missouri has the ball...

Missouri Offense | Temple’s man-to-man concedes long jumpers, and, through six games, opponents are drilling almost 38 percent of their 3-point attempts. Nearly a third of those jumpers, or roughly five a night, are unguarded, which ranks 203rd nationally, according to Synergy Sports. Those metrics should hearten Missouri, which is searching for consistent perimeter shooting. And it’s only a boon if the Tigers can hold onto the ball. Dunphy’s man-to-man defense isn’t stifling, but he gives his players the freedom to switch and prowl passing lanes selectively. De’Vondre Perry (3.2 steal percentage) could be a linchpin, an athletic combo forward capable of harassing Jeremiah Tilmon and Mitchell Smith — both of whom have struggled to value the ball inside.

Instead of forcing Tilmon to serve as a low-post conduit, the Tigers might be better off utilizing high pick-and-rolls, targeting Pierre-Louis and a foul-prone post in Ernest Aflakpui. Getting Tilmon into the act a roller is a boon for the big man but also moves the defense, producing pass outs that might kickstart a slumping Torrence Watson. If Mizzou had shown a hint of consistency, there would be an opportunity to get early traction.

Temple Defense | Missouri has a week’s rest, but they’ll encounter a familiar situation Tuesday: a guard trio whose thievery can propel an offense. The Owls’ 14.6 steal percentage ranks second nationally and is the handiwork of Pierre-Louis (4.7%), Rose (3.8%) and Alston (2.6%) taking manageable risks — Temple also presses for roughly nine possessions a night — to siphon scoring chances. Meanwhile, in the post, Aflakpui is a one-man blockade on the offensive glass. Those same guards will allow spot-up jumpers, but they’re sound when wings drive on closeouts, especially a Rose, who only allows 0.167 PPP.

Again, running up the foul count on Aflakpui (5.8 FC/40) might tip the balance, relegating the Owls best rebounder and sole proven rim protector to the bench. He’s also been brutal staying with roll man coming out of ball screens. As for Perry, he’s an athletic combo forward more at home on the wing and playing in transition than he is bumping in the lane.

Missouri offense vs. Temple defense

Team Adj. Eff. Poss Length eFG% TO% OR% FTA/FGA 3P% 2P% FT% Blk% Stl%
Team Adj. Eff. Poss Length eFG% TO% OR% FTA/FGA 3P% 2P% FT% Blk% Stl%
Missouri 104.1 (127) 18.0 (263) 47.7 (250) 21.4 (274) 28.2 (187) 36.7 (128) 33.7 (167) 46.0 (266) 68.0 (204) 8.6 (153) 9.2 (225)
Temple 97.4 (70) 16.4 (87) 40.3 (17) 24.6 (18) 20.5 (9) 30.3 (112) 37.3 (279) 49.2 (147) 68.8 (164) 9.0 (171) 14.6 (2)

When Temple has the ball...

Temple Offense | Getting a bead on Dunphy’s squad hasn’t been easy. They’ve played three teams rated lower than 200th in KenPom — LaSalle, Detroit and Loyola Maryland — and a pair of rebuilding high-majors in Georgia (No. 120) and Cal (No. 165). Their lone loss came to VCU, which was also the best team on the Owls’ schedule. This also happens to be Temple’s first road outing.

There’s certainly reason for skepticism given how average their metrics look against a schedule that — for the moment — is rated 302nd in the country. It doesn’t help that Rose, who made his jumper a point of emphasis this offseason, is only connecting on 15.4 percent of his 3-point attempts. Perry, another long and lean wing, is at his best when the game gets in the open floor and he can run to a spot, but his outside shooting (26.7 3FG%) is also coated in frost.

So it may fall to Alston, who is putting up 17.8 points and 5.7 assists per game, to stir Dunphy’s methodical motion — a job he does out of high pick-and-roll. If he uses a screen, he’s either hunting for a mid-range pull-up or looking to zip a pass to a spot-up shooter. In the past, Alston’s pull-up game was his primary weapon. However, he’s hitting 40 percent of his 3-point attempts this season and punishing teams for abandoning him on spot-ups.

Missouri Defense | On paper, Kansas State’s outside shooting didn’t strike fear into anyone looking over their stats. We saw how that turned out. The question then was whether the Wildcats were due to break out of their funk. The same logic applies to Rose. If the Tigers turn him into a volume shooter and keep a lid on either Pierre-Louis or Alston, the owls don’t have another player average more than six points.

It’ll be interesting to see how Dunphy chooses to probe the Tigers’ man-to-man scheme. Kansas State opted to use Dean Wade as a screener for Kamau Stokes and Barry Brown in pick-and-pop actions that let Stokes turn the corner or toss the ball back to Wade for spot-ups. Matched up with Puryear, Wade hoisted up 3-pointers to force Puryear to close down space and then began attacking off the bounce. All while Brown and Xavier Sneed spaced the floor to the wings. Temple, though, doesn’t have a stretch post to create those kinds of wrinkles.

Rose wants to use his jumper to set up rim attacks. Pierre-Louis is a spot-up shooter, and — as we noted earlier — Alston doesn’t use ball screens to shed defenders to slash into the lane. Oh, and post-ups with Aflakpui are rare events. No doubt, Temple has the personnel to inflict pain. But if all else is equal, the Tigers have shown they’re capable of clamping down on a traditional motion scheme.

Temple offense vs. Missouri defense

Team Adj. Eff. Poss Length eFG% TO% OR% FTA/FGA 3P% 2P% FT% Blk% Stl%
Team Adj. Eff. Poss Length eFG% TO% OR% FTA/FGA 3P% 2P% FT% Blk% Stl%
Temple 105.0 (111) 17.3 (193) 49.1 (223) 17.7 (112) 32.3 (87) 30.7 (247) 30.6 (267) 46.0 (266) 68.0 (204) 8.6 (153) 9.2 (225)
Missouri 96.4 (58) 17.7 (265) 48.6 (119) 18.2 (205) 25.0 (73) 31.7 (130) 37.0 (273) 44.1 (40) 65.9 (86) 4.7 (319) 7.7 (233)

The Match-Up

NCAA Basketball: Legends Classic Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

Tacko Fall | Post

Year Ht./Wt. Pts. Reb. Ast. FG% 3FG% FT% ORTG eFG% TS%
Year Ht./Wt. Pts. Reb. Ast. FG% 3FG% FT% ORTG eFG% TS%
Sr. 7-6/310 11.4 7.0 0.9 77.8 0.0 27.0 103.3 77.8 63.9
KenPom, Sports Reference

Long, sinewy and smooth, the junior can score at all three levels and create his own shot — traits that led him to declare for the NBA draft this past spring.

Ultimately, Rose, who worked out for five teams, opted to return to Philadelphia for another season. The feedback he received was consistent: he had to get stronger, his jumper needed to be more consistent, and he needed to be tougher when finishing plays in traffic.

Only six games into the season, the results are decidedly mixed. Rose’s scoring is up roughly 3-points per game, but it’s come at the expense of his efficiency. Take his 25 point outing against Georgia, a performance the required 24 shots from the floor. Meanwhile, his smooth — almost slow-loading — jumper’s been off-target.

Therein lies the proverbial rub. His perimeter stroke allows Rose to deploy shifty tactics — usually, a between the legs dribble flowing into a crossover at the top of the arc — as he changes speeds when driving out of spot-ups. Without it, defenders simply sink, and his finishing ability around the rim is dented.

The early scuffling, however, shouldn’t strip all the varnish of his game. Rose’s scoring instinct and finishing moves are polished enough to remain potent, especially if his defender is a freshman still adjusting to life at the collegiate level.

KenPom predicts...

Missouri 69, Temple 65 | Normally, Temple’s feast-or-famine existence in the scoring column would lead me to take the Tigers, but the Owls still have a commodity MU lacks. Will Mark Smith get back on track in Columbia? Will Jordan Geist’s ailing back put the kibosh on his slasher’s mentality? Will Jeremiah Tilmon stay on the floor? Until the volatility in Missouri’s shooting and ball-handling ebbs, picking them to top a squad with a trio of proven scorers, who also force turnovers, is a big ask. Can their defense and a home-court advantage get them through?