DAYTON, Ohio — Temple coach Fran Dunphy isn’t the sugarcoating type. He’s a non-nonsense guy from Philly. He calls it the way he sees it.
So Dunphy wasn’t about to pretend he isn’t nervous about the Owls facing top-seeded Indiana, a team with size, speed, power, depth, two All-American candidates and 3-point shooters at every position, a program primed to make another run to a national championship.
Hard to find any flaws in these Hoosiers.
“The problem is there’s not a weakness they have,” Dunphy said Saturday. “We’re concerned.”
And rightly so.
Temple, which scraped past North Carolina State in the opening round, faces a daunting task today when it meets Indiana in the third round of the NCAA tournament. The Hoosiers (28-6) have been one of the nation’s most consistent teams all season and seem to be peaking at the perfect time.
Dunphy knows what he and his team are up against.
“There’s a reason why they are a first seed,” he said. “They’re a terrific team.”
Indiana wasted little time in blowing out James Madison to win its opener 83-62, a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score. The Hoosiers blitzed the overmatched Dukes from the start, built a 33-point lead and were in such control in the second half that coach Tom Crean was able to get his starters some valuable rest.
Temple’s players were in the stands to watch, and get a firsthand look at the Hoosiers. The ninth-seeded Owls were impressed, but they’re not frightened.
Shortly after he scored 31 points, despite playing most of the second half with an injured left thumb, Owls star guard Khalif Wyatt was asked if he wanted to play James Madison or Indiana.
“Indiana,” he said without hesitation.
With a day to rethink his answer, Wyatt still prefers the Hoosiers.
“It will be a good challenge for us,” said Wyatt, the Atlantic 10’s Player of the Year. “That’s why you play basketball. You want to play against the best. It’s a good challenge for us, a great opportunity for us, and we’ll be ready for it.”
Wyatt said X-rays were negative on his thumb, which twisted when he got it caught inside the jersey of a Wolfpack defender. He came out of the game for a few minutes, got taped up and returned to make all the big plays — and six free throws in the final 32 seconds — as the Owls avoided being knocked out in their first game for what would have been the fifth time in six years.
“It’s a little sore right now, but it will be fine,” Wyatt said.
The Owls better hope so. Wyatt gives them a fighting chance against the Hoosiers, who likely will assign Victor Oladipo, the Big Ten’s defensive player of the year, to guard him. Wyatt, averaging 20.2 points per game, might be one of the few Temple players who could crack IU’s lineup.
Wyatt plays with swagger. He’s good. He knows it, and he won’t back down from any challenge.
“You can tell that there’s no moment that’s too big for him,” Crean said. “The bigger the stage, it doesn’t make any difference. He can get it to the rim, he can score on a pull-up, he can make 3s from range, and he can find his teammates.
“So when you have somebody like that that can hurt you and beat you from so many different aspects of his game, that makes him that much more of a dangerous opponent.”
Wyatt expects Oladipo to be on him, to chase him, harass him, do anything he can to take the 6-foot-4 senior out of his game.
“He’s a good defender,” Wyatt said. “But, I mean, not the first good defender.”
There’s a toughness to the Owls that makes them appealing. They play hard at both ends, share the ball and are willing to do whatever it takes to win.
Crean credits Dunphy, who took over the Owls after 17 years at Penn, for making Temple tick.
“Watching his teams, you see they’re not going to get surprised,” Crean said. “They’re not going to beat themselves. They’re going to have an answer for everything. You can just see that in the quality of their play.”
If Temple has any advantage going against the Hoosiers, it’s that they know Dayton Arena well.
On a visit earlier this season, Temple beat the Flyers 72-71 and the Owls, who have played 13 games decided by five points or less, seemed to be comfortable in the familiar surroundings against North Carolina State.
There’s also an historical nugget on Temple’s side as it tries to become the third team from Philadelphia to upset a No. 1 seed in Dayton. In 1981, Saint Joseph’s stunned top-ranked DePaul, and four years later, Villanova knocked off Michigan State on the way to a national title.
Temple’s best chance to win may be to hang around and hope the Hoosiers tighten. On Friday, Indiana freshman guard Yogi Ferrell outscored James Madison 9-0 in the opening minutes and the Dukes never recovered.
Dunphy knows keeping Ferrell under control is one of the keys to toppling Indiana.
“He can really play,” Dunphy said. “He’s just fast, can shoot, makes plays, makes his team better and looks like he’s a tough competitor.”
The same could be said of all the Hoosiers.
“I’m concerned,” Dunphy said.
He’s not kidding.