NCAA

Matt Rhule's mission for Temple: Stay focused, stay together

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Matt Rhule's mission for Temple: Stay focused, stay together

For the second straight year, Matt Rhule took his football team to the movies.

On Sunday night, Rhule, his wife, Julie, and the Owls saw "Straight Outta Compton." (Yes, Temple contributed to the $60.2 million the movie made in its opening weekend.)

Rhule did not get a chance to talk with his players about the film's message as of the conclusion of Monday's practice, but planned on doing so at night.

But what possibly can a biopic about N.W.A. teach a college football team?

"One of our messages to our guys is when you make selfish decisions, you go through your life and you do things for yourself, you end up alone," Rhule said at Temple's media day Monday. "If you do things for other people, you always end up with a lot of people at the end of your life that are there to love you. Trying to get our guys to play for each other.

"I think that's one of the messages of that movie. And I think one of the other messages is you have to have a vision, a dream of what you want to be, how you want to do it and you have to go do it no matter what the adversity is. … Football's a great game. We have kids from the inner city, we have kids from the suburbs and we have kids from farms.

"They all come in these rooms. We have kids with high SATs, low SATs, all these different issues, good, bad, indifferent. They all come together and they sit here under one standard that they learn from each other."

Entering his third season as the Owls' head coach, Rhule is still learning. He no longer talks about championship with his team. He did early on.

He doesn't even want to talk about Temple's season opener against Penn State at Lincoln Financial Field on Sept 5.

"We want to talk about us for the next two weeks and then we'll talk about them next," the 40-year-old said. "Just trying to get our guys to focus on us because we got so far to go."

The Owls have 18 returning starters with a solid group of senior leadership and a junior quarterback in P.J. Walker hoping to take the next step in his progression.

But if there has been one constant in the Rhule era, it's been inconsistency on a week-to-week basis. That's something he wants to address. He cited last season how they forced seven turnovers in an impressive season-opening win at Vanderbilt only to see the Owls give up 517 yards against Navy the next week as an example.

What Temple has to do is learn to tune out the outside noise. Rhule says the team — coaching staff included — listens to everything. He sees a difference so far during summer camps, but as he said, it's not easy to get student athletes to disconnect and focus on the game on hand.

"I know they're excited to get started, but as I said to them, we had a great opening win last year and the season ended another way," Rhule said. "I want us to really just be great today, great tomorrow. I've been trying to get myself to do that. Believe me, I get hyped up about playing games. Just trying to get all of us really good day in and day out. That's our mission."

Listen closely to senior linebacker Tyler Matakevich and it sounds like Rhule's message is getting through. The focus isn't on the opponent, but how the Owls execute.

"Never worry about your opponent," Matakevich said of the season opener. "Your opponent won't beat you. You'll beat yourself and Coach has really been preaching that."

And for the team's signal caller?

Walker isn't paying too much attention to national rankings, the Nittany Lions or whether he's on any preseason watch list. The dual-threat QB, who added he needs to stay focused throughout each game this year, mimicked his coach about caring for his teammates.

"We're not really talking about other teams," Walker said. "We're talking about us, the guys in this room. If you're on the field with us, we don't worry about the other team. We're not worried about Penn State, Cincinnati. We're worried about each other."

Under Rhule, Temple has gone 8-16 in his two years on North Broad Street. When he took over, it was a young, inexperienced team. He won just two games that year.

Last season, the Owls finished the season 6-6 and were bowl eligible. This year, Rhule expects his team to compete for the American Athletic Conference championship.

"All the other major conferences except for one have a conference championship game," Rhule said. "Football is a game that should be settled on the field. Settled on the field in high school, settled on the field in the NFL, so I think it's a great for us to have that opportunity. For us to get into that game would be wonderful."

"That's the goal every year. Our goal is, we want to win or compete for the conference championships every year. You're not going to win the conference every year, but you want to be relevant. You want to be in the mix, you want to go to a bowl game every year. You want to graduate all of your seniors every year.

"Are we there yet? I don't know. I really don't know. There's a lot of really good teams, but I want us to be a team in the mix for it."

Part of Rhule's message is to tunnel out distractions, a reason he had his players turn off their phones during the movie. Team-building activities are common practice, and while Sunday night's viewing of "Straight Outta Compton" was positive for the Owls, there was some disappointment for Rhule.

"I'm sitting there like I'm the coolest guy in this movie right now," he said, "because I'm the only guy who knows any songs."

Can Villanova get back to the Final Four earlier than expected?

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USA Today Sports Images

Can Villanova get back to the Final Four earlier than expected?

Is Villanova ahead of schedule?

It's a question worth considering as this college basketball season careens towards what figures to be an especially wild and unpredictable month of March. 

With no scholarship seniors on the roster, a lot of people - myself included - figured the Wildcats were a year away from seriously contending for another national championship. I expected this year's group to improve as the season progressed, compete for a Big East championship and maybe win a couple NCAA Tournament games. Then, with everyone returning for the 2020-2021 season, they'd be a Top 5 team with a legit shot of winning the program's fourth national title and third since 2016.  

But several factors have me thinking these Wildcats could arrive at the Final Four a year early.

Villanova won its 20th game of the season Wednesday night at DePaul, a convincing 91-71 victory in which the Wildcats made 18 of their 26 three-point attempts. They are ranked 12th in the country, with an opportunity to climb higher with a win Saturday at Xavier. They are 20-6 overall and 9-4 in the Big East, and a three-game losing streak a few weeks ago is starting to feel like a distant memory.  

As is often the case with Jay Wright's teams, this group is picking up steam as February comes to a close. They are playing that familiar selfless brand of 'Villanova basketball' that has served Wright's previous teams so well in postseason play. 

And, maybe most importantly, there aren't any dominant teams in college basketball this season. No teams that would be an insurmountable obstacle to Villanova in the NCAA Tournament.

So does Villanova have a shot to win it all this year? Here are three reasons why it could happen, and three reasons why they could fall short.

3 reasons Villanova can win a National Championship

1. The Gillespie-Bey 1-2 Punch

Junior Collin Gillespie and sophomore Saddiq Bey are as good a duo as any in the country. Both guys are capable of carrying Villanova in March. Gillespie leads Villanova in scoring, assists and steals. He scored a season-high 29 points last Sunday at Temple and is averaging more than 18 points in his last 13 games. He's shooting 43 percent from three-point range over that span and is a strong candidate for First Team All-Big East honors.

Bey is in the midst of a breakout season that has put him squarely on the radar of NBA talent evaluators. He's averaging 15.6 points and 5.0 rebounds and leads Villanova with a 46 percent three-point accuracy. Like Gillespie, Bey has stepped up his production in recent weeks. He's averaging more than 17 points and is shooting 52 percent from three point range in his last 12 games. Of course, Bey is playing himself into becoming a potential first round draft pick, which would throw a wrench into the notion that everyone will be back for Villanova next season.

2. Three-Point Barrage

Villanova shoots a ton of three-point shots. It can be ugly when those shots aren't falling (more on that later). But when the shots are going down, they can beat anyone in the country, and we've seen the Wildcats at their best recently. Dating back to halftime of Sunday’s win at Temple and extending through Wednesday's win at DePaul, Villanova has made 31 of its last 46 three-point attempts, a staggering 67 percent.

It would be silly to expect that type of shooting to continue. But even if they can make close to 40 percent of their long range shots, they'll be a very tough out in March.

3. Freshmen Maturing

Villanova's two freshman starters are X-factors: the Wildcats are very difficult to deal with when Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Justin Moore are playing well. Robinson-Earl was just named the Big East Freshman of the Week for the sixth time this season. He's averaging 10.9 points and 9.3 rebounds and has established himself as an elite rebounder on the collegiate level. He's also playing with more confidence on the offensive end, trusting his ability to knock down the perimeter jumper.

Moore was terrific against DePaul, scoring 17 points and making 4 of 5 three-point attempts. He's proven to be a very skilled guard capable of getting to the basket as well as scoring from the outside, and he plays a valuable role as a complementary scorer to Gillespie and Bey.

3 reasons Villanova could fall short

1. Trouble on the Boards

The Wildcats have been significantly out-rebounded on several occasions and are particularly vulnerable on the offensive glass. This problem is exacerbated when Robinson-Earl gets in foul trouble. They were out-rebounded by an average of nearly seven rebounds per game during a three-game losing streak in early February. Villanova currently ranks 129th in the country in rebounding margin, pretty average among 350 Division 1 schools. This is definitely something worth monitoring in March when each possession becomes more valuable.

2. Sleeping in the Streets

One of Wright's favorite mottos is 'Shoot 'em up and sleep in the streets'. It means, for better or for worse, Villanova is going to keep shooting. Wright doesn't want his players to hesitate when they have an open look. Shoot first and ask questions later. As mentioned earlier, when the Wildcats are making shots it's a thing of beauty. But when they're not, it can make for some agonizing offensive performances.

Villanova has its share of good shooters, but they also have several inconsistent shooters. In the one-and-done format of the NCAA Tournament, they're one cold-shooting night away from elimination.

3. Slow Starts

Villanova has struggled at the beginning of games quite a bit this season. It's not uncommon to look up at the scoreboard 10 minutes into the game and see them with 10 or 12 points. Sometimes they're able to overcome these sluggish starts, sometimes they're not. As the level of competition picks up in March, it becomes more difficult to climb out of a double-digit hole in the first half. Starting games with more energy will be a point of emphasis with postseason basketball right around the corner.

Former Temple coach Matt Rhule selling sprawling estate for $2.5 million

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Realtor.com

Former Temple coach Matt Rhule selling sprawling estate for $2.5 million

It's a big month for Philly-connected college coaches and real estate. 

Former Temple football coach and current Carolina Panthers coach Matt Rhule is selling his very nice Waco, Texas estate for $2.5 million, according to the Charlotte Business Journal.

The listing news comes just days after rumblings emerged of Villanova's Jay Wright listing his Berwyn home for a similar price.

Rhule's house going up for sale, of course, is a little more self-explanatory: he just landed a new job in Charlotte, with a mind-boggling seven-year deal, meaning he has no longer has any reason to hold on to Texas real estate.

The house itself holds up plenty of axioms about Texas culture: full of wooden bannisters and exposed brick, and laid out over a sprawling 8,150 square feet, everything truly is bigger (and more rustic) in that state.

The main house comes with five bedrooms, five full bathrooms, a commercial-grade kitchen, a temperature-controlled wine cellar, and... an elevator.

An elevator.

The rest of the 5.53-acre estate includes 3,000 square feet of covered exterior space, an in-ground pool, a basketball court, and a gym.

Here's a look through some highlights: