The First Four is usually fun, especially when you have a situation like this one. In addition to mid-major Belmont getting into the Tournament, this is Fran Dunphy’s last run in college basketball as he’s set to retire from Temple after the season. The Owls are from the bigger conference, but that doesn’t mean everything and that’s why they’re an underdog.
Temple already has losses to smaller teams like VCU, Penn, Tulsa and most recently to a mediocre Wichita State team in the AAC Tournament. It hasn’t been an overly great season for the Owls, but they beat Houston and UCF and are in this spot for a reason. Belmont was unlucky not to win its Conference Tournament, falling to Murray State in the final. Before that loss, the Bruins had won 14 straight Conference Games. While they have some bad losses to Green Bay and Jacksonville State, they swept Lipscomb and beat Murray State earlier in the year.
The biggest statistical outlier in this matchup is Belmont’s offense that ranks third in the country in terms of effective field goal percentage. Temple is good at stopping threes, but it was bad inside the arc, allowing the second-worst two-point field goal percentage in the AAC. That’s not going to work against a Rick Byrd offense and the main reason Belmont is favored.
Temple’s biggest test will be to stop Dylan Windler, who averages a double-double with 21.4 points and 10.7 boards per Game, He’s a stretch Four that can Scoredown low, but loves to shoot from deep where he is 42.6%. Big man Nick Muszynski’s status will need to be considered before betting because he missed the OVC title Game and he’s the guy that could change this matchup down low at 6-11. With Temple’s defensive deficiencies in the paint, Muszynski’s status will be important because while Seth Adelsperger is also a big guy, he’s not the same offensive presence. The key for Belmont will be to get something out of second-leading scorer Kevin McCLAin (16.3 ppg), but also for guys like Grayson Murphy and Nick Hopkins to step up defensively.
The Owls are a guard heavy team led by Shizz Alston (19.7 ppg) that tends to take over when needed. He can do a little bit of everything and while he only shoots 35.3% from deep, that could still be a big factor in this Game. Belmont’s biggest defensive weakness is against the three, finishing ninth-best in the OVC, a bad rate in a mid-major. The problem for Temple is that it doesn’t shoot a ton from three outside of Alston. Quinton Rose shoots second most on the team, but he’s just 27.9% from deep, while JP Moorman is above 40%, yet has taken only 79 threes. Of note, big man Ernest Aflakpui came alive in the Tourney loss to Wichita State with 16 points and 19 boards and could be a factor in limiting Muszynski in the paint.
Belmont has the better offense, but since Muszynski is dealing with an ankle injury, these teams aren’t much different and the spread should probably be lower. It’ll be fun to see Windler and Alston try and outScoreeach other, but also Byrd and Dunphy coach against each other. The Bruins have better shooters and more scoring, but the Owls could get a boost if guys like JP Moorman and Aflakpui hold their own in the paint.
Our Pick – Temple +3.5