Tribune Star Correspondent
DAYTON, Ohio —
The scouting began last Sunday night, almost as soon as Indiana was aware of its potential opponents in the NCAA Tournament.
There were four teams the Hoosiers would have to prepare for: James Madison or LIU Brooklyn would be Friday’s opponent, North Carolina State or Temple awaiting IU on Sunday.
Tom Crean assigned assistant coach Steve McClain to scout Temple (24-9), the No. 9 seed who defeated the Wolfpack 76-72 to advance to today’s 2:45 p.m. matchup with the Hoosiers (28-6).
“We know we’re playing against a team that can compete against anybody in the country, because they have,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said of the Owls, whose nonconference schedule included Duke, Syracuse and Kansas. And Temple’s conference, the Atlantic-10, went 6-0 during the NCAA Tournament’s first two rounds.
“The A-10 is a tough league,” Temple’s T.J. DiLeo said. “Every night you’ve got to come out and play. I think it’s prepared us well for the tournament.”
Of course, the Big Ten is formidable too, with conference teams going 6-1 during the first two rounds.
“Each league is really competitive,” Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. “We’re playing against a Big Ten team, and that’s a great, great league, top to bottom.”
The Owls’ top player is Khalif Wyatt, a 6-4 senior guard who scored 31 points against N.C. State despite a thumb injury.
“It’s a little sore right now, but it will be fine,” Wyatt said Saturday.
“I don’t think it’s real severe,” Dunphy said. “The doctor looked at it today and taped it up, and he did pretty well.
“Even if it were (a huge concern), he’s not going to let me take him out of the game. He wants to play.”
It likely will fall to Victor Oladipo to take Wyatt out of the game, although the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year was coy about whether he would be defending Wyatt or not.
“If I draw the assignment on him, I’m going to have to do a good job of slowing him down for us to win,” Oladipo said. “ … It’s up to the coaching staff, I can’t really tell you (if I’ll be defending him).”
Seeing as how Oladipo almost always draws the opponent’s top offensive player, it would be a surprise if he doesn’t guard Wyatt for most, if not all, of today’s game.
Temple’s no one-man team, though. The Owls got 18 points from Jake O’Brien and 12 points from Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson on Friday.
O’Brien, a 6-9 forward who was 4-of-6 on 3-pointers against the Wolfpack, is a familiar face to IU’s seniors. He had 14 points for Boston University in a 71-67 win over the Hoosiers in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in 2009.
Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford, Derek Elston and Maurice Creek were freshmen on that Indiana team.
“It’s a different team, obviously,” Jordan Hulls said, referring both to O’Brien’s current squad — he transferred from Boston U after last season — and the Hoosiers. “But we know he’s more than capable.”
The Owls will have their hands full with IU’s offense, too, of course. Five Hoosiers scored in double figures Friday against James Madison, led by Yogi Ferrell’s 16 points in his NCAA Tournament debut.
“There’s not a weakness they have,” Dunphy said. “If all they did is shoot 3s, you can control that a little bit. But each one of those guys that can make a 3 can also drive off the dribble. … And then transition is a huge concern because they can run it at the rim each and every time as well.
“We’ve just got to be solid on defense and try to limit them to one shot as many times as we can,” Wyatt said.
“I think it will be a good challenge for us,” he said. “That’s why you play basketball. You want to play against the best.”
The winner of today’s game will advance to the East Regional semifinal on Thursday at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. Today’s winner plays the winner of Syracuse and California, which will be played today in San Jose, Calif.