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Ben Smith

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Owls facing who’s who of trouble in Hoosiers

– Suddenly he’s the bomb-disposal guy from “The Hurt Locker,” though Fran Dunphy more resembles Jim Nabors than Jeremy Renner. Which wire do you snip, the red or the green one? And what’s up with this blue wire?

Always something about to blow up in your face, when it’s Indiana on the other end of the floor.

Always that smorgasbord of poisonous choices looking you square in the corneas when the Hoosiers are right, which happens to be, um, now.

And so here Saturday was Dunphy, 24 seasons and 467 victories into this as a head coach at Penn and now Temple, looking squarely into the abyss.

He’s got a veteran team – the cover of Temple’s tournament media guide features two seniors and three graduate students – but it’s cold comfort when you’re playing a team that put five players in double figures Friday night and a sixth who scored nine, and which shoots almost as well from the arc (.411) as it does overall (.486).

“I think the problem is, there’s not a weakness they have,” Dunphy says.

Not when they’re right. When they’re right, you double down on Cody Zeller in the post, and five other guys will drop nine threes on you, the way they did in the 82-63 disassembling of James Madison. Load up on the arc to take the three away, and, as on Friday, they’ll outscore you 36-20 in the paint, and outrebound you 38-28, and force 17 turnovers, which kicks off their merciless transition game.

Your choice. Your poison.

“They’re a good offensive team, and they play a good pace, and they’ve got some good players,” Temple guard Khalif Wyatt says, perhaps underselling a bit. “We’ve just got to be solid on defense and try to limit them to one shot as many times as we can.”

And maybe, while you’re at it, you hope Indiana looks past you a little bit, but even there the Hoosiers slam the door on you. If Indiana is looking a millisecond past 2:45 p.m. or so today, the Hoosiers disguise it well, when someone asked Victor Oladipo if he was excited to a step away from playing back home in D.C., he shook his head.

“No, I don’t really think so,” he said. “I know me and my teammates are just focused on tomorrow’s game and the task at hand.”

And so forget the fact that after today Jordan Hulls will have played more games at Indiana than any player in history, because when they asked him about it, he wasn’t even aware of it. And forget, too, the significance of passing 1,700 points in his career, because Christian Watford has.

“I just want to play with these guys as long as possible,” he said.

Hmm. Well, maybe the pressure of being a 1 seed will give Temple an opening, then.

What about that, Cody Zeller?

“We’ve been dealing with expectations all year,” he says. “Nothing has changed much.”

Only the target of opportunity. Which is Fran Dunphy’s basketball team, this day.

“I think the big thing is how talented they are, how big they are, how well-coached they are,” Dunphy said Saturday. “If all they did is shoot threes, you can control that a little bit. But each one of these guys that can make a three can also drive off the dribble and help and drive and kick for their teammates. And then transition is a huge concern, because they can run it at the rim each and every time as well.”

A deadpan stare.

“We’re … concerned,” he said.

His audience chuckled. He did not.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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