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Five Things To Know: Penn State Hoops vs. Temple

After its deepest Big Ten Tournament run since 2011, Penn State men’s basketball earned a spot in the postseason for just the second time in Pat Chambers’ tenure as head coach. After winning 21 games, a feat that hasn’t happened in Happy Valley since the 2000-01 season, the Nittany Lions earned the right to host Temple Wednesday at 8 p.m.

The Owls, finishing with a 17-15 record after getting bounced in the American Athletic Conference quarterfinals, have missed out on four of the last five NCAA Tournaments after earning six-straight appearances from 2008 to 2013.

The two programs, with a decent amount of history between them, each hope to launch a postseason run and build for a shot at the Big Dance net year. Here’s what you need to know:

Postseason Rematch

The last time Penn State went to the NCAA Tournament, or even played a postseason tournament game of any importance (sorry, CBI), it was against the Temple Owls.

The 10-seeded Nittany Lions succumbed to the seven seed in a back-and-forth battle, ending with Temple’s Juan Fernandez knocking down a mid-range jumper to take a 66-64 lead with less than a second to go.

That’s the last time these two in-state foes have met, but it was not the only meeting they’ve had in the Big Dance. After Penn State’s most recent NCAA Tournament win in 2001, an upset of No. 2 North Carolina in the second round, the Owls ended the Nittany Lions Final Four dreams with a 12-point victory during their most recent run to the Elite Eight.

NIT Magic

Wander into the Bryce Jordan Center for tonight’s matchup and you’ll notice that one of the few banners hanging from the rafters for the Penn State men’s basketball team commemorates the team’s 2009 NIT title.

Led by All-Big Ten first team point guard Talor Battle, the second-seeded Nittany Lions swept through a region of George Mason, Rhode Island, and Florida to make it to Madison Square Garden for championship weekend. After ousting Notre Dame in the semifinals, Penn State used a game-high 18-point effort from senior Jamelle Cornley to win the school’s first NIT, 69-63 over Baylor.

Neither school is a stranger to making deep runs in this tournament. The Owls made it to the semifinals in 2015 and have two titles to their name, including the first-ever NIT held in 1938. While Penn State hasn’t competed in the NIT since it won in 2009, the Nittany Lions also made quite a few runs to the Garden, akin it to the semifinals four times from 1990-2000.

Dunphy Questioning Penn State’s Recruiting Tactics

Temple head coach Fran Dunphy seemingly made a strong statement about Chambers recruiting Philadelphia players after the NIT bracket was released.

“I do know that Patrick Chambers made a special move to make that happen as best as he possibly could, so they really worked hard at it,”  Dunphy said. “I will tell you that just about all of those kids that he recruited, we also did. So they did a really good job, and I feel really good about how we recruit and how we go about doing what we do.”

The Nittany Lions have seven Philly-based players on their roster, including this season’s regular starters Tony Carr, Lamar Stevens, Shep Garner, and Mike Watkins.

Dunphy said through a team spokesperson that the comments were misinterpreted and that “they deserve a lot of credit for how they have recruited Philadelphia.”

Still, it’s difficult to understand how exactly a “special move” could be a positive implication when followed up by “I feel really good about how we recruit and how we go about doing what we do.”

Mike Watkins Injury

Penn State forward Mike Watkins hasn’t appeared in a game since departing late in the first half during a February matchup with Michigan. Deprived of depth in the low post, the Nittany Lions went 2-3 without Watkins, including a pair of crippling losses to the Wolverines and Nebraska at the end of regular season.

Watkins, who averages 12.1 points and 8.9 rebounds per game, is likely out for the entirety of the NIT, according to Chambers.

Going against Temple senior forward Obi Enechionyia, who at 6’10” doubles as much of a perimeter threat as he is a low post power, Penn State will use its trio – Julian Moore, Satchel Pierce, and John Harrar – from its Big Ten Tournament semifinal run to take on the bulk of the minutes. The Penn State squad could also alternate to a much smaller lineup, featuring none of the bigs and small forward Lamar Stevens as its man in the paint.

NIT Rule Changes

The NCAA is experimenting with four rule changes for the NIT:

  • The three-point line will be extended to international distance.
  • The free-throw lane will be widened.
  • The game will be four 10-minute quarters instead of two 20-minute halves.
  • The shot clock after an offensive rebound will reset to 20 seconds instead of 30.

The tournament will give the NCAA an opportunity to see how the changes affect the game for possible use in the future. The NIT has been the guinea pig with rule changes in the past, and previously helped usher in a shorter shot clock and larger restricted area arc after the changes were first tested in the postseason tournament.

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About the Author

Steve Connelly

Unfortunately, former editor Steve Connelly has graduated. Where is he now? He might be doing something related to that PR degree he got in 2019. Maybe he finally opened that sports bar named after one of his photos, the Blurry Zamboni. Or he might just be eating chicken tenders and couch surfing. Anything’s possible. If you really want to know, follow him on Twitter @slc2o.

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