Saturday, February 13, 1999

Temple's in a league of its own vs. A-10


Tough early schedule get Owls ready

BY MICHAEL PERRY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        When New Year's 1999 rolled around, Temple found itself 6-6 heading into Atlantic 10 Conference play. For some programs, that would spell doom. For the Owls, there was no panic.

        Coach John Chaney, whose squad plays Sunday at Xavier (1:41 p.m. tipoff), has long held the attitude that his team would play any opponent anywhere.

        Top-ranked foe on the road? No problem. The tougher the environment, the better.

        This season, that meant 12 games against teams whose Rating Percentage Index rankings are top-100. Five non-league opponents are in the top 30, led by Stanford (2), Michigan State (3) and Wisconsin (8).

        “That's what Temple does every year,” junior guard Pepe Sanchez said. “We start by playing against the greatest teams which are very hard to beat, maybe at their place, but in the conference we always make runs of eight or nine games.”

        The Owls (16-7) started the season 4-0, then dropped four straight. That's when Chaney says he learns the most about his players.

        It can be especially telling with young players. This season, freshman Kevin Lyde and first-year sophomore Mark Karcher are among Temple's starters.

        “My team, at times, showed me a bad attitude early in the season,” Chaney said. “We started ... fighting with each other, and arguing and fussing and finger-pointing at each other and things like that.

        “When you're losing, that's your best time to teach, because not only are you teaching Xs and Os (but) you're teaching kids where do we go from here, how are we gonna live together, how are we gonna get along together, how to tolerate other people, how to overcome losing with the right attitude, how to get up every time somebody knocks you down. That is our job as coaches.”

        Temple suffered two one-point losses (Penn State, Indiana) and two three-point losses (Penn, Fresno State). The only other two non-league losses were by seven points (Stanford and Wisconsin).

        “I wasn't scared at all,” Sanchez said. “I didn't like to be 6-6 ... but I was sure we were ready to make a run in the Atlantic 10.”

        “You know they're going to get better and better because that's the kind of coach he is,” Xavier coach Skip Prosser said. “I don't anticipate them ever being down. They're a national-level program. They have national-level players and a Hall of Fame coach.”

        So here we are, with Temple having won 10 of 11 games and atop of the Atlantic 10 East at 10-1, preparing to meet Xavier (17-7, 9-2) at the Cincinnati Gardens.

        The Musketeers are vying for at least a share of their third straight A-10 West Division title. Temple is trying to repeat as the East champ.

        The Owls have not had a losing record overall or in league play since 1982-83. In 16-plus years under Chaney, Temple has won:

        • 70.5 percent of its games

        • 77.8 percent of its league games

        • 62.2 percent of its non-conference games

        Four times the Owls have had a losing record in non-conference games, and three of those years they went on to play in the NCAA Tournament. Chaney's teams have earned nine consecutive NCAA invites and 14 in 15 years.

        Next month, the Owls will be trying to win their first Atlantic 10 tourney title in nine years, which they think will better position them for the NCAA Tournament.

        Xavier feels the same.

        “I expect it's going to be a good game,” Sanchez said. “Our goal is basically to keep playing better and show to ourselves that we can win in an environment like it's going to be Sunday.”

       



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