Familiar foes from the Keystone State make the trek to the other side of the country and find themselves in Tucson, Arizona, as the Penn State Nittany Lions and the Temple Owls clash in the second round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament.
The Nittany Lions, the 10th seed in the West Region, are somewhat of a surprise this season considering they had some awkward losses early in the campaign before gaining momentum with victories over nationally-ranked, Big Ten squads such as Michigan State, Illinois and Wisconsin. The Lions rattled off three straight wins in the Big Ten Conference Tournament, topping the likes of Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan State, advancing to the title game for the first time ever where they bowed to top-ranked Ohio State on Sunday, 71-60. The valiant effort was rewarded as PSU finished with a record of 19-14 and was 12-10 in the league. Having the fifth-hardest schedule in the nation certainly helped the team's resume' for the postseason as well.
Meanwhile, seventh-seeded Temple finished second in the Atlantic 10 Conference during the regular season and made it all the way to the semifinals of the league tournament in Atlantic City over the weekend before falling to Richmond. Ranked for much of the season, the Owls never lost back-to-back games in 2010-11 and three times had win streaks of at least four games in length as they rolled to a 14-2 conference record and a perfect 14-0 at home. However, the team was just 3-3 in neutral-site games.
As far as the all-time series is concerned, the Owls are ahead by a count of 59-32 and they won the most recent meeting last season at the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia by a final of 45-42. The teams have also locked up in the NCAA Tournament previously, with Temple putting up an 84-72 win in the Sweet 16 a decade ago.
Temple has been in the NCAA Tournament 28 times previously, sporting a 31-28 mark, while the Nittany Lions are 9-10 in their eight trips to the event over the years.
The winner of today's matchup will be back in action on Saturday versus the survivor of the Northern Colorado/San Diego State battle.
The story of this year's Nittany Lions begins with star guard Talor Battle, who is not only the all-time leading scorer in school history, but is also 11th in the history of the Big Ten Conference with his 2,190 points. The senior averaged 20.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg and 2.9 apg for PSU this year, but didn't quite get the recognition he deserved since the league was so strong. The first player in Penn State history to record three seasons with at least 500 points, Battle is just the third Division I player to ever record 2,000 points, 600 rebounds and 500 assists, so obviously he can and will do whatever is needed for this group to survive. Fellow senior Jeff Brooks finished fourth in Big Ten games with 58.6 percent shooting from the floor, putting up 13.3 ppg overall in 2010-11. Brooks, who missed one game due to a shoulder injury, teams with Andrew Jones (6.1 ppg) to give the squad a presence in the paint as the duo account for 12.0 rpg. David Jackson, who needs just 30 points to reach 1,000 for his career, is also clutch in the paint with close to 10 points and 4.5 caroms per contest.
The tradition of carrying a balanced offense continued for the Owls again this season as five players averaged in double figures, yet none reached 15.0 ppg over the course of 32 outings. Ramone Moore was responsible for 14.9 ppg, converting 39.0 percent of his three-point tries and also making his way to the free-throw line where he knocked down 116-of-147 opportunities. Moore, who made more shots at the charity stripe than anyone else on the roster even attempted, also stepped up with 103 assists and close to four and a half rebounds per outing. Lavoy Allen (11.8 ppg) handled the action in the paint for the Owls, from his 8.4 rpg to his 56 blocked shots, but for someone who generally remained close to the rim he still only shot 49.8 percent from the field. The team has had to endure countless injuries this season, the most recent of those being Scootie Randall (11.6 ppg) who had a hairline fracture in his right foot and is listed as questionable for the tournament, which means Juan Fernandez (10.7 ppg, 114 assists) and Khalif Wyatt (10.0 ppg) will have to carry more of the pressure on their shoulders.
This will be a slow and grinding game, with both teams working the clock on nearly every possession. There will be few mistakes made by both sides, but it could be one miscue here or there that determines the outcome.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Penn State 65, Temple 60