#12 South Florida Bulls vs. #5 Temple Owls -2
Perhaps no team in the country finished the regular season more impressively without attracting any attention than the Temple Owls. They won 13 of their final 14 games, including wins over Xavier, St. Louis, and UMass. Go back one week further, sandwiched in between a let-down loss at Dayton, and you see an impressive 78-73 win over Duke. That’s one heck of a finish, I don’t care what conference you play in.
South Florida showed they earned their bubble bid with a daunting beating of Cal in Wednesday’s night’s play-in game in Dayton. The Bulls led 36-13 at halftime and cruised to a victory than was never even near as close as the final 13 point margin. To think that last glimpse on national television didn’t have a tremendous impact on tonight’s line would be foolish. If that game didn’t happen Wednesday, Temple is at least a five point favorite, deservedly so in my opinion.
South Florida’s strength is a stifling, physical defense that keeps teams from running their offense and getting quality shots at the basket. Once you miss, they rarely allow second shot opportunities. However, it has been a while since they faced an opponent with anything resembling the poise and skill of Temple’s fantastic backcourt. The only team in the Big East with comparable guards is Syracuse, and frankly, I’d give Ramone Moore, Juan Fernandez and Khalif Wyatt the edge over Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche. It’s close, but I’d lean Temple.
We all hear the cliché about how important guard play is in the NCAA Tournament, but it is undeniably true. The main reason? Tempo against teams with contrasting styles whom you’ve never faced before. Conference teams and coaches tend to know each other very very well after a few seasons. The players change, but no so dramatically that the style of the team does. With the possible exception of Coach K, there are few coaches whose style adapts on an annual basis. Therefore, it is incumbent on a team to have strong and SMART guard play to handle the varying tempos and defensive looks you encounter in a one-and-done tournament format.
I am not sure many teams in the country are more adequately prepared to do this than Temple. That is the main reason I like them tonight against USF. The Bulls would be a very dangerous team for much of this field, and a fair dark horse Sweet 16 pick, but I think their run meets an early end tonight with Temple.
Free Pick: Temple Owls -2