The Sun Devils enter the game coming off a loss to USC in the Pac-10 Tournament Championship. After beating Arizona for a third time this season and fifth consecutive time dating back to last season; the Sun Devils then beat Washington to meet USC in the finals. The Devils came out scorching but squandered a 15-point lead in the final 20 minutes to lose 66-63. The Sun Devils were led by Jeff Pendergraph with 18 points and 7 rebounds while James Harden was limited to just 10 points but did dish out eight assists. Leading the Trojans was DeMar Derozan with 25 points.
Temple had to earn their way into the Big Dance. In order to get a bid, they needed to capture the Atlantic-10 conference tournament and that wasn't going to be easy with perennial favorite, Xavier, standing in their way in the conference semi-finals. Yet the Owls beat them by a bucket to move on to the finals where they took down an upstart Duquesne squad, 69-64. Dionte Christmas led four Owls in double figures with 29 points including nailing seven shots from beyond the arc.
Head Coach – Fran Dunphy
G – Semaj Inge – (7.1 PPG, 3.6 APG)
G – Ryan Brooks – (10.7 PPG, 42% 3PT)
G – Dionte Christmas – (19.2 PPG, 5.8 RPG)
F – Lavoy Allen – (10.9 PPG, 8.9 RPG)
F – Sergio Olmos – (8.4 PPG, 4.1 RPG)
The Sun Devils make their return to the NCAA Tournament after six years of watching from home. In 2003, the Sun Devils beat Memphis in the first round as a 10-seed before falling to Kansas in the second round. This current squad advanced to the quarterfinals of the NIT a season with victories over Alabama State and Southern Illinois before ultimately falling to Florida.
Temple won the Atlantic-10 a year ago as well and made the Tournament only to get beaten in the first round by Michigan State.
The Owls have shot 36.7 percent from beyond the arc, which is not only nearly identical to the Sun Devils, but also shows how successful Temple is from long range. ASU's zone defense always makes it tempting for the opponent to chalk up threes, and if Temple will be shooting at their average from beyond the arc, let alone have Christmas be unconscious from that range; ASU could be in for a long day.
When ASU has the ball
Harden and Pendergraph, the two first-team All-Conference players in the ASU starting lineup will be 1A and 1B as far as scoring options go but it's the "other" scorer that will be most crucial. Whether it be Derek Glasser, Ty Abbott, or Kuksiks – the Sun Devils are far more dangerous when a third player emerges as a scoring threat. The bench will get a nice addition if Jamelle McMillan returns from a groin injury that kept him out of last week's fun. If a third scorer can show up big; the Devils will be tough to beat.
When Temple has the ball
The Owls are a balanced team with a good inside-outside combo. With Dionte Christmas handling the majority of the scoring, his backcourt mates, Ryan Brooks and Semaj Inge are quality players that can score when given the chance. Down low, Lavoy Allen is a bruiser and Sergio Olmos is a capable man in the middle. The offense is centered around Christmas, a gunner that can shoot his team in or out of a game on any given night. If Christmas gets hot, the Owls are extremely dangerous.
"I don't think we have a specific style of play," said coach Dunphy during an Atlantic-10 coaches' conference call this week. "We try to push it when we get a chance. I think defensively, I'd like to think we are a solid man-to-man team, which occasionally plays zone. Our style isn't unique by any stretch – we just play basketball.
"I'd like to think we're just a good solid team and I hope we play our best on Friday."
When asked what makes Christmas such a prolific scorer, Dunphy replied: "I think he's a very good shooter. He knows how to get shots and doesn't need a lot of time or space. He did have some games where he didn't shoot that well and we had some other guys step up for him and do well. I'd like to think we're more balanced than we were last year."
Derek Glasser has never been known as a scorer but after watching him play the last couple weeks, he has really gained confidence in his shot and has expanded even more poise in attacking the basket. Glasser needs to be a distributor but if the shots are there and he can knock them down, ASU will put itself in great position to win the game.
Who will win and why?
Herb Sendek and the Sun Devils have worked too hard in the last three seasons to let this opportunity slip away in 40 minutes. While Christmas is a premier scorer, the Devils have done well in containing similar players in Chase Budinger and Patrick Christopher. When their zone defense is clicking, they can easily frustrate teams and cause turnovers. The Devils did have a long trip to Miami but they have played well in neutral settings thus far and they will beat the Owls in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Final Score – ASU 66 Tempe 61