Temple, Cornell face extra emotion

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – If the NCAA selection committee paired Temple and Cornell to generate a little buzz, then it’s mission accomplished.

This first-round tournament game is packed with storylines. Consider:

• Temple coach Fran Dunphy was Cornell coach Steve Donahue’s former boss at Penn;

• Dunphy and Donahue, longtime friends, are both Philadelphia guys;

Temple coach Fran Dunphy reacts as his players battle Rhode Island in February.
(AP Photo/Bradley C Bower)

• The teams style of play provides a contrasting matchup.

• Both teams could claim to be underseeded: Temple, the Atlantic 10 champion, was given a No. 5 seed; Cornell, which earned its first Top 25 ranking in school history this season, is the No. 12 seed.

“Fran’s idea is that he thinks there’s an ulterior motive by the NCAA that they look for these kinds of first-round matchups,” Donahue said. “I don’t think so. I think they’ve got enough on their plate.”

Neither coach, however, appeared happy with the matchup on Selection Sunday.

In the Cornell gym, the players erupted with cheers when they saw the draw. Donahue, meanwhile, slumped back into his chair.

At Temple, Dunphy waited outside while his team watched the selection show. Dunphy’s son J.P. found him and delivered the news that Temple was seeded fifth, not third or fourth as many expected.

“And we’re playing Cornell, right?” Dunphy asked his son.

The teams meet Friday in the first game of the afternoon doubleheader.

“There are so many emotions that go on in this tournament, I’d rather not have the extra layer of emotion competing against a guy you were hoping to root for,” Dunphy said.

The matchup appears to be particularly tough for Cornell. Its strength plays right into Temple’s.

The Big Red is a team full of big shooters. Only two teams shot more 3-pointers per game than Cornell – and no one made a better percentage.

Temple, meanwhile, is one of the nation’s top defensive teams, holding opponents to 28.1 percent from the 3-point line and 37.9 percent from the field.

Cornell, however, still appears to have a solid chance to become the first Ivy League school to advance to the second round since Princeton defeated UNLV in 1998.

Cornell coach Steve Donahue reacts to a call against Kansas.
(Denny Medley-US Presswire)

Cornell, which broke the Penn/Princeton stranglehold on the Ivy League title by winning the conference in three consecutive seasons, showed this year it could play outside of the league, too.

Cornell (27-4) went toe-to-toe with No. 1 overall seed Kansas in January before losing 71-66 in Lawrence. It also gave Syracuse, the No. 1 seed in the West, a game before falling, 88-73.

Temple figures to be just as tough a game.

The Big Red’s best chance could come in the pace of the game. Temple prefers to slow the tempo and play a low-scoring game. Cornell can play at that pace, but it also can push the pace in a high-scoring game.

“Style of play and tempo are going to be huge,” Cornell point guard Louis Dale said. “We just want to be solid and take care of the ball. We’re a team that takes what we can get. If the tempo is slow we can play slow. If the tempo is fast we can play fast.”

The preference, thought, may be to play fast.

“We don’t want to lose what we do, that’s pushing the ball and getting buckets in transition,” Dale said.

Cornell can look at its schedule this season for comfort. The Big Red defeated Princeton and its deliberate style of play twice even though the Big Red didn’t score more than 50 points in either game. Cornell also defeated a physical St. John’s team.

“If you play in the NCAA tournament, you’re going to play a good team,” Dale said. “Ours is in the first round.”

David Fox is a college football staff writer for Rivals.com. Follow him on Twitter.
Updated Thursday, Mar 18, 2010