Temple (1-0) presents the toughest challenge the Bruins have faced so far. Coached by Basketball Hall of Fame member John Chaney, the Owls have made the postseason (NCAA or NIT) 22 years in a row. They won 16 games last year and return 4 starters (a 5th returning starter, 6-11 JR C Wayne Marshall, has been sidelined indefinitely due to unexplained dizzy spells). They have talent, athleticism and size.
Most important of all, they have led the NCAA in fewest team turnovers for 10 of the last 13 years, including the last 2 seasons. In their opening NIT game victory against Army (a 69-37 whipping), they committed only 4 turnovers.
A huge percentage of the Bruins' offense has come off of their opponents' turnovers so far this season. The whole focus of the Bruins' in-your-face man defense, besides to deny good shots or passes, is to force turnovers and get out for easy buckets in transition. If UCLA only manages to force Temple into committing 6 to 8 turnovers Thursday night, they will have to rely on their half-court offense as never before. And Temple is, and always has been, a very good defensive team (they forced Army into shooting 28.6% from 3 and committing 19 turnovers). Army is a bad team, but Temple is a good team, and their penchant for playing virtually mistake-free ball could cost the Bruins dearly.
Temple is also known for its zone defense, though they will play some man and full court pressure sometimes. With all that height on the perimeter, their zone can be especially tough. UCLA, aside from Farmar, has not shown the ability to knock down the 3 with any consistency so far this year, so they might not be able to shoot over the zone and it will be a question of Farmar, Arron Afflalo, Cedric Bozeman and Darren Collison possibly having to break down the defense off the dribble and then make the right decisions when the zone collapses and cuts off the driving lanes.
Temple has its weaknesses, of course. They have great size and athleticism in the backcourt, but lack great quickness. Their big men are untried and inexperienced. And, traditionally, just as Temple has always had a reputation for defense, it seems they've always had a reputation for not shooting the ball all that well, especially from the outside. Now, they hit 40.9% of their 3s against Army, but that might've been an aberration. Temple is known for its big, physical guards and wings who go one-on-one a lot and score by shooting often, not by shooting well. If the Bruins aren't overwhelmed by Temple's backcourt size, they should be able to play good defense against this team. And even if that defense doesn't lead to turnovers, it will keep the Bruins in the game.
Temple's star is Mardy Collins, a strong 6-6 SR guard who averaged 17.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 3.6 apg and 2.8 spg last season. Despite weighing 215, he can handle it and pass it like a PG, penetrate off the dribble, post up inside or create his own outside shot. For some reason, he came off the bench against Army but still led the Owls in scoring with 18 points. He's a legitimate preseason All-American candidate, and no doubt Arron Afflalo and at times Ced Bozeman will be guarding him.
Temple starts a 3-guard lineup, but their other two guards are both 6-5 and weigh over 200 pounds. Dustin Salisbery, a JR, and Mark Tyndale, a SO, both started last year and scored in double figures. Both scored 13 points against Army and they both have the green light to shoot and look to make their own scoring opportunities off the dribble. Salisbery was 3-6 from 3 against Army, but did not shoot well from behind the arc last season. Tyndale, who had a very strong freshman year and should emerge as a consistent offensive force this season, is cut from the same mold, but is less likely to fire away from 3. UCLA, with Bozeman and Afflalo, has the starters to match up with two of Temple's 3 guards physically. Guarding the third man will be problematic, although presumably Jordan Farmar's savvy and quick hands and Darren Collison's great quickness will overcome the size and strength advantage to a certain extent.
Chris Clark, a super quick 5-8 SO PG, comes off the bench to give the Owls a change of pace. DaShone Kirkendoll, 6-5 JR SG/SF (2.5 ppg last year) may play some wing. Temple also has two highly-regarded big freshmen guards, Dionte Christmas, 6-6, and Semaj Inge, 6-4, who will no doubt continue Chaney's tradition of big guards in the future. Christmas, in particular, is regarded as a good outside shooter, arguably the best on the team, and will see some action against the Bruins.
Antwayne Robinson, 6-8 210 SR SF, the 4th returning starter, is more of a wing than a power player. He's long, quick and athletic, but seems tailor-made for Luc Richard Mbah A Moute to shadow, although Robinson will try to take Luc away from the basket and beat him off the dribble and in the mid-range game. Robinson averaged 8.2 ppg and 4.5 rpg last season and had 7 points and 3 rebounds against Army. Luc might be able to post him up inside.
Up front, Temple has even more problems than UCLA, which is saying something. The mysterious ailment to Marshall robbed the Owls of their only really experienced player with size. Against Army, they started 2 freshmen big men, 6-10 300 FR C Anthony Ivory and 7-0 220 FR C/PF Sergio Olmos, but neither played very many minutes and they combined for 4 points and 2 rebounds. Ivory was a last-minute recruit brought in after Marshall began having problems this summer and has struggled with his weight all through his high school career. Olmos, from Spain, is supposed to be a skilled player with decent athleticism and mobility. He didn't demonstrate his skills against Army (I haven't been able to find out anything about Temple's two exhibition games).
Backing up in the post, Temple has two veterans, 6-8 250 SR Nehemiah Ingram and 6-6 225 JR Dion Dacons. Neither player has shown much production in the past. Dacons was the team's best frontcourt player against Army with 2 points and 3 rebounds.
UCLA post players Ryan Hollins and Mike Fey (and possibly Lorenzo Mata) have to be prepared to play their best ball to date if the Bruins are going to knock out the Owls. The post is the weak spot for Temple and despite some size and strength, there's no reason why the Bruins shouldn't be able to get the ball inside to Ryan and Mike like they did in the second half of the New Mexico State game and get some easy scores. With the Bruins no doubt being forced to rely on their half-court game more than ever in this game, it's especially true that the centers have to come through for them in at least a solid way. The three big men combined for 14 points and 10 rebounds against New Mexico State; they ought to be able to do better against Temple.
Once again, this game will be hard to call. Without Josh Shipp and Alfred Aboya, the Bruins aren't the top 25 team everyone is calling them. They're simply not playing at full strength, and good teams like Temple have a chance to beat them. In this game, Temple will try to impose its great size, strength and athleticism in the backcourt to shut down the Bruin backcourt and wings defensively and score the bulk of the points for the Owls at the other end. The Bruins will be facing a size disadvantage in the backcourt for one of the few time this season, but Afflalo and Bozeman are both tall, strong and have outstanding defensive skills and can make things happen at the other end. Temple's post game appears to be its Achilles ' heel, but will the often-soft Bruin big men be able to step up and plunge in the fatal arrow at the appropriate time?
I look for a low-scoring games with both teams forced into a largely half-court battle.
UCLA 58, Temple 52.