Return of leader Josh Brown gives Temple backcourt depth to strike back

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Return of leader Josh Brown gives Temple backcourt depth to strike back

When fifth-year senior guard Josh Brown tore his Achilles tendon in late May 2016, it dealt a huge blow to the Owls’ 2017 NCAA Tournament chances.

Brown, who led the AAC with 36.2 minutes per game as Temple’s primary ball handler in 2015-16, underwent surgery on May 25 and came back for five games early in the year. But after a 78-57 loss at Villanova in mid-December, Brown was ruled out for the rest of the season.

The loss of the Owls’ backcourt leader put their young guards in a tough position, thrusting them into the spotlight without much experience. Although they acquitted themselves well, Temple had a disappointing season, finishing 16-16 and losing in the first round of the AAC Tournament to East Carolina.

The Owls did not advance to a postseason tournament and missed the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four years.

However, with Brown returning for his fifth year after being granted a medical redshirt, the Owls' glaring weakness from last year is now their greatest strength.

“The [guard] rotation is going to be interesting for us,” head coach Fran Dunphy said. “We’ll probably play four guards a number of times because we have an abundance of guys that want to be out there and need to be out there on the court. We have a bunch of guys that are ready to go. Again, as our preseason stuff has been working, it’s been the competitiveness that has been terrific.”

Junior guard Shizz Alston Jr. will be a big part of that rotation. After Brown was lost for the season in 2016-17, Alston became Temple’s primary ball handler as a sophomore with little experience.

He had to average 36.4 minutes per game and responded well, leading the team with 13.9 points and 4.1 assists per game.

“His mindset is totally different,” Brown said about Alston. “Going from his freshman year to his sophomore year, he was thrown into the fire and I thought he did a pretty good job, you know. Now, with all that experience he has on the court, I think he’s ready to take that next step and be a consistent scorer and a be a consistent guy on defense and be a consistent guy that we can all lean on.”

Sophomores Quinton Rose and Alani Moore had to make up for the absence of Brown, as well, averaging 24.8 and 25.8 minutes per game last year, respectively. Moore, a starter in his freshman year, likely will come off the bench this season, which is a true testament to the amount of depth the Owls have in the backcourt.

Moore’s offensive versatility, which allows him to bring the ball up in certain situations and play on the wing, as well, will be very important if the Owls want to make it back to the NCAA Tournament.

“You can let other guys bring it up and have others guys do other things on the court, so it helps out a great deal,” Brown said. “It opens up everybody’s game. Like Alani Moore, he’s a point guard, but he’s also a great shooter, so he can spot up from time to time and things like that.”

“Alani and Q aren’t your average sophomores,” Alston added. “We played almost the same amount of minutes [last year] and I’m a junior, so they’re very veteran guys already.”

Players have also been raving about the talent and competitiveness that freshmen guards/wings Nate Pierre-Louis, J.P. Moorman and De’vondre Perry have shown throughout the offseason and preseason.

“It’s amazing, I’ve never seen freshmen this ready to play,” Alston said. “J.P. can bring the ball up, ‘Dre can bring the ball up, even Nate sometimes, so it’ll help us a lot.”

When you factor Trey Lowe, a redshirt sophomore guard who missed all of last season as he has been recovering from a February 2016 car accident and could return later this season, into the equation, the Owls have an incredibly deep and versatile backcourt.

The last time the Owls made it to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament was in 2001 when they lost to Michigan State in the Elite Eight. According to Alston, immediately after the Owls were bounced from the AAC Tournament last year, they talked about their potential to make a run.

“We see teams like South Carolina go all the way, teams similar to ourselves that are not the big blood teams like Kentucky or Duke,” Alston said. “We think we can make it to the second round, third round or as far as we want.”

If they’re going to do it, their veteran backcourt will be the reason why.

Penn State remains at No. 4 in AP poll for third week in a row

Penn State remains at No. 4 in AP poll for third week in a row

For the third week in a row, Penn State picked up a big win, and for the third week in a row, that win has kept them at No. 4 in the AP poll.

The Nittany Lions (5-0) crushed Indiana, 45-14, Saturday at home to stay undefeated behind a huge game from Saquon Barkley. The Heisman candidate rushed for 56 yards, caught four passes for 51 yards, returned a kick 98 yards for a touchdown and even threw a 16-yard pass for a touchdown.

Alabama (5-0), Clemson (5-0), and Oklahoma (4-0) also won their games to stay at 1, 2, and 3 in the AP poll, respectively, to round out the top 4. USC (4-1) lost to then-No. 16 Washington State and dropped from No. 5 to No. 14.

Georgia hopped No. 6 Washington and replaced USC at No. 5 after a 41-0 win against Tennessee. Michigan, TCU, Wisconsin and Ohio State round out this week's Top 10 at No. 7, No. 8, No. 9 and No. 10, respectively. 

Penn State will look to stay unbeaten at Northwestern next Saturday afternoon. 

Check out the full AP poll here.

Today's lineup: Young guns on display in Pete Mackanin's finale

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Today's lineup: Young guns on display in Pete Mackanin's finale

Sunday's game against the Mets will be the Phillies' last one of 2017 and Pete Mackanin's last one as manager of the team.

After a late-season surge pulled the Phillies close to .500 in the second half (36-38), the organization decided to part ways Friday with the 66-year-old Mackanin. Now, the Phillies will be playing for pride and their manager in the 2017 season finale.

Nick Pivetta (7-10, 6.26) will be leading the Phils on the mound in the series rubber match.

J.P. Crawford, playing shortstop, moves to the back of the lineup after batting second Saturday, while Odubel Herrera will move up and bat second.

Rhys Hoskins, Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr all dot the lineup Sunday as the Phils could be giving a glimpse of what the 2018 lineup could look like.

The only young star not playing is Jorge Alfaro, who caught last night's game. Andrew Knapp gets the nod Sunday to catch Pivetta.

Tommy Joseph and Freddy Galvis are not in the lineup.

The Phillies will face Noah Syndergaard (1-2, 3.18), who will throw only 20-25 pitches in his second start after missing most of the season with a lat muscle injury.

Both teams' lineups for the season finale can be found below:

Phillies
1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Aaron Altherr, LF
4. Rhys Hoskins, 1B
5. Nick Williams, RF
6. Maikel Franco, 3B
7. Andrew Knapp, C
8. J.P. Crawford, SS
9. Nick Pivetta, SP

Mets
1. Nori Aoki, RF
2. Phillip Evans, 3B
3. Brandon Nimmo, CF
4. Dominic Smith, 1B
5. Tomas Nido, C
6. Amed Rosario, SS
7. Matt Reynolds, LF
8. Gavin Cecchini, 2B
9. Noah Syndergaard, SP