By Mel Greenberg
On a New Year's Eve when the Penn men's basketball team got rolled by Duke down in Durham, N.C., the Temple women's team nearly got one back from the Blue Devils in Philadelphia which would have made it a split for Big Five schools against the Atlantic Coast Conference powerhouse basketball program.
Unlike a year ago when the Owls disappeared quickly on Tobacco Road, eventually losing 87-52, they hung tough and were still in hailing distance of one of the great Women's Big Five upsets in the closing minutes.
But Temple (10-3) began making a series of turnovers while No. 8 Duke (11-2) continued to dominate the boards especially on the offensive glass, to leave McGonigle Hall with a 70-62 noncnference win.
Both coaches inidividually pointed to the stats in terms of Duke rebounding and making foul shots, although Temple's Tonya Cardoza was unhappy her team's turnovers, especially with many being unforced.
The question was asked of the second-year Owls coach whether Temple had learned not to undergo the stage fright Cardoza alluded to last March when her team fell to Florida in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Storrs, Conn.
Yes and no was the answer.
"We put ourselves in position to win the game, but when the time came we still had that stage fright," Cardoza said.
A win might have locked up an eventual NCAA bid on the spot considering Temple's RPI and strength of schedule rankings and previous wins over quality opponents. That's not to say the Owls still need to perform in the Atlantic 10 wars to hold their ground.
Still, the game will go down among NCAA watchers as a quality loss and there will be juice from Duke's RPI permutations.
(Note: You can listen to audio of Cardoza and Blue Devils coach Joanne P. McCallie's postgame press conferences at the bottom of the post. Yes, that means you have to read the whole thing first. - Jonathan Tannenwald)
Even the dreadful 44-32 loss to Villanova has value for now considering the Wildcats' Big East schedule, although the smoke-and-mirrors 10-2 record may begin to level out.
But immediate opportunity is still ahead for Temple in the Owls' toughest stretch of the season.
On Sunday they travel to No. 12 Florida State, which thumped them in the Liacouras Center last season. then it's on to Atlantic 10 favorite Xavier to open conference play in Cincinnati next Sunday.
The Guru hasn't checked the Big East Cincinnati schedule but the opportunity exists for some quality time with new Cincy coach Jamelle Elliott, the former UConn assistant who shared a long time together on Geno Auriemma's staff.
In fact, Cardoza is still contemplating ways of hooking up with the Huskies socially the night before UConn is at Villanova on Jan. 23 (not sold out yet), while Temple will be playing Penn at the same hour.
Elliott, by the way, makes her first back-to-Storrs appearance Thursday night when Cincinnati meets Connecticut.
One former Huskies program participant forecasted: He'll (Geno) go easy on Jamelle and win by 25.
Meanwhile, after Xavier, Temple has the ability to strengthen its winning side of the won-loss column, which is not to say upsets can't come from the other direction.
Saturday On The Brink
Must win games are normally bad labels to apply to teams at this point in the season. And while the word "must" is a bit extreme Rutgers could regain traction at the RAC on Saturday when the Scarlet Knights launch Big East play against DePaul, which could return to the AP Top 25 with a win.
Rutgers took one of those uglier losses earlier in the week when a lead slipped down the stretch and George Washington, which had lost eight in a row, prevailed in the nation's capital.
Meanwhile Penn, off its first win for new coach Mike McLaughlin after an 0-9 start, will be in the Tom Gola Arena to meet La Salle in a game in which all the City Series battles will be for second place.
The Explorers, about to enter Atlantic 10 play, have struggled also.
The Big Five was wrapped by Villanova in an earlier than normal finish to the race for first with a 4-0 sweep.
Still, winter bragging rights will be on the line considering many players on both teams go against each other in Northeast Philadelphia in the Department of Recration's NCAA Women's Summer League.
Sunday Sunday Sunday
This is not a NASCAR commercial nor an ad for the NFL's NFC East showdown in Texas between the Eagles and Dallas Cowboys for first place on the final day of the regular season.
The Colonial Athletic Association race begins and two games could ultimately be referenced in March when the regular season standings are final.
In a rematch of last season's conference title game, defending champion Drexel will host James Madison at 1 p.m. at the Daskalakis Athletic Center. The matchup speaks for itself.
Down in Newark, Del., it's another debut appearance for Blue Hens' redshirt-freshman Elena Delle-Donne when Delaware hosts longtime CAA power Old Dominion at 2 p.m. at the Bob Carpenter Center.
The graduate of Wilmington's Ursuline Academy has had stellar performances to date, including game-winning shots in two occasions in nonleague matchups.
RPI-wise, the Delaware schedule, put together before the Blue Hens ever knew the former national high school player of the year would become part of them, has not been all that bad on RPI charts.
But now the real tests begin and although ODU has been out of sorts courtesy of a killer schedule, one must still prove their worth against the Monarchs to have CAA credibility.
Furthermore, the higher Delaware finishes, the better the chance to at least gain a WNIT bid in March. And along the way, if the Blue Hens win the regular season with impressive CAA wins or at least second place, maybe an at-large bid from the NCAA might occur.
Try Broadcasting This One
The Guru noticed on the weekend schedule a game he alwasy envisioned will occur. Miami (as in ACC Hurricanes Miami) will be playing Miami of Ohio out of the Mid-American Conference.
Expect mascot nicknames to be used a lot in the play-by-play broadcasts.
Foster At 700
Congratulations to Ohio State coach Jim Foster for his 700th win after the Buckeyes beat Northwestern this week. Typically, it was one Philly guy beating another considering Wildcats coach Joe McKeown is a Father Judge graduate.
And before you ask, the answer is yes, the Guru was there for the first one at St. Joseph's and many more.
Numbers Speak For Themselves
So glancing at the RPI ranking vs. Strength of Schedule at CollegeRPI.com, the Guru offers these indexes without comment. Some of the Philly group for information sake is included and this is off the final games of 2009 on New Year's Eve.
What is important is with conference play on the horizon, the current numbers will begin to hold as nonconference RPI while the overall RPI will undergo changes for better or worse. Good RPI numbers now are often NCAA at-large bid insurance policies in weak conferences which drag down the overall number. And, of course, they help differentiate teams in the power centers.
Incidentally, other than UConn there are five other undefeated teams.Nebraska has the Big 12 ahead, Georgia the SEC, while Notre Dame, Syracuse (SOS 339) will eventually play UConn. The other is Wis.-Green Bay off a schedule that is at 218 with nothing formidable in sight,
Here we go.
Rank SOS AP/USA Poll Rankings
1. Conn. (11-0) 2 1 1
2. Stanford (10-1) 1 2 2
3. Tennessee (10-2) 4 4 4
4. Oklahoma (10-2) 6 14 15
5. Nebraska (12-0) 40 13 14
6. Notre Dame (12-0) 51 3 3
7. Ohio State (15-1) 34 6 6
8. Duke (11-2) 14 8 9
9 Georgia (13-0) 57 9 8
10. Michigan St. (10-4) 3 16 24
13 North Caro. (11-1 44 7 7
15 Xavier (9-3) 10 15 13
16. Virginia (10-2) 11 23 21
17, Vermont (10-2 ) 28 NR NR
20 LSU (11-1) 79 11 12
21 Hartford (9-3) 21 NR NR
22 Baylor (12-1) 90 5 5
28 Temple (10-3) 39 NR NR
29 Jms Madi. (10-1) 110 25 25
34 Fla. St. (12-2) 82 12 11
35 West Va. (12-1) 138 NR 19
27 Wis-GB (11-0) 218 22 20
39. S. Caro. (7-5) 8 NR NR
40. Kentucky (11-1) 165 NR NR
45 Vanderbilt (11-2) 112 18 16
46. Rutgers (7-6) 7 NR NR
56 Dayton (11-3) 114 NR NR
60. Villanova (10-2) 157 NR NR
69. Maryland (11-2) 207 NR NR
77. St. Bonav. (12-2) 252 NR NR
81. Delaware (8-3) 156 NR NR
82. Colo. (9-2) 238 NR NR
87. Pittsburgh (11-2) 264 20 18
88. Penn St. (9-4) 143 NR NR
104. Drexel (6-5) 101 NR NR
108 St. Joe (6-7) 56 NR NR
113. Syracuse (12-0) 339 NR 23
125 Old Dom. (2-8) 5 NR NR