Sunday, March 25, 2001

Temple-Michigan State preview

Chaney cajoles Owls to cusp of Final Four

AP Sports Writer

        ATLANTA — He sniped. He smirked. He cajoled. He antagonized. John Chaney was perfectly cast Saturday in the role of grumpy grandfather-figure — reveling in stories about the good ol' days and serving notice to his Temple players they'll never be good enough to beat a big, bad team like Michigan State.

        “That team is a champion,” Chaney said, cutting his eyes disdainfully at David Hawkins. “They're going to rip you up.”

        Of course, this was all part of Chaney 101: Tear his players down, nitpick their every flaw, challenge them to please him when nothing ever will.

        Maybe, just maybe, this formula will finally carry Chaney to a Final Four. For the fifth time, he's come to the brink by reaching Sunday's title game in the South Regional.

        Temple (24-12) fell short the last four times, most recently in 1999. To break that streak, the Owls must beat the defending national champions, a Michigan State team that has won nine straight NCAA tournament games by double figures, the average margin a staggering 17.4 points.

        Of course, the top-seeded Spartans (27-4) haven't beaten Temple since the early 1940s, losing twice in the last four years against Chaney's maddening 1-3-1 zone defense.

        Except for those wearing green, just about everyone if pulling for Chaney to win again. He is unquestionably the sentimental favorite in the dwindling NCAA field, a rumpled, 69-year-old curmudgeon hoping to reach the pinnacle in the twilight of his career. That Temple is an 11th-seeded team, saddled with a seven-game losing streak early in the season and a nine-player roster because of injuries and expulsions, only adds to the storyline.

        “We've gone from America's team (Gonzaga) to America's coach,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo groaned. “I wish I wasn't playing Temple. If I wasn't, I'd be cheering for them 200 percent.”

        Then again, the blue-collar Spartans displayed little sentimentality in the regional semifinals. The Zags led early in the second half, only to get worn down by a bruising brand of play that would fit just as well on the gridiron as the court.

        With one day to prepare for Michigan State, Chaney had little time to relish the moment or shower his team with praise. Not that he's ever very generous with that sort of talk, putting down his foot at the first 5 a.m. practice and not letting it up until a player's career is over.

        “He's always going to find something wrong, no matter what,” star guard Quincy Wadley said. “You're caught between a rock and a hard place.”

        For Chaney, this is all part of the master plan. He readily wades into the asphalt jungle that is north Philly, recruiting kids who rarely have more than one parent and sometimes none at all. They're hungry for discipline and structure, turning to the crusty coach to provide it.

        “When the time comes, I'll let them know their work is done,” Chaney said. “I'm pleased with my team, of course. But don't let them know that.”

        Michigan State receives the same sort of treatment from Izzo. He's a generation younger than Chaney but a no-nonsense product of Iron Mountain, Mich., where winters are brutal and egos are not allowed.

        “If I ever do get carried away with myself,” Izzo said, “I have enough people to knock me back down.”

        On Friday night, the Spartans coach ripped into his team at halftime, accusing them of playing like wimps even though they were leading by five. Temple was getting ready for its game against Penn State next door.

        “When Coach Izzo came in, my goodness,” Chaney said, clearly impressed. “My guys were just sitting there looking at me, waiting for me to start talking. I knew there was no point. They just had to pull their chairs up to the wall and listen to him.”

        Chaney showed his bark a couple of hours later. Michigan State's Andre Hutson was getting treatment when Temple arrived in its locker room, cruising along with an 18-point lead but not playing to the coach's satisfaction.

        “Man, he was going off,” Hutson said. “They were in the locker room for 15 minutes and he was going off for, well, about 15 minutes. Both coaches go at it and push you really hard.”

        If the matchup zone is Temple's trademark, Michigan State is known for the “War Drill,” a 5-on-5 rebounding tussle that's part of most practices. Izzo throws up an errant shot and all 10 players battle for the ball, leaving battered bodies strewn about the court.

        “If the offense gets it, the defense gets chewed out,” Hutson said. “If the defense gets it, the offense gets chewed out. You really can't win.”

        No wonder the Spartans are the nation's best team on the boards, pulling down nearly 16 more rebounds per game than their opponents.

        Michigan State is trying to reach the Final Four for the third year in a row, having plugged the gaps left by departing stars Mateen Cleaves and Morris Peterson but still feeling like a bit of an outsider.

        “We're kind of just floating,” Izzo said. “We're not Cinderella, but we're not Duke or Stanford. I'm just hoping we float into the Final Four and do some damage.”

        Chaney would like to float there for the first time. Behind the rough-and-tumble demeanor is a coach who is thoroughly enjoying the moment with his gritty team.

        “Today is the most important day of my life,” Chaney said. “Tomorrow takes care of itself.”

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