TEMPLE IS 6-0 for the first time in a quarter-century.
Second-ranked Duke is looking to go 9-0 for the 15th time under Mike Krzyzewski. But for the first time in program history the Blue Devils, who haven't been out of the top 10 in a little over 5 years, have beaten three top-five opponents (Kentucky, Louisville and Ohio State) before the start of conference play.
Saturday afternoon at the Izod Center in North Jersey, somebody's going to get their first loss. In each of the last four seasons, the Owls have beaten a Top 10 non-conference opponent. All those games were in Philadelphia, three on campus. Last January it happened at the Wells Fargo Center, even though the Owls were missing two starters, including their center. The victim was Duke.
It was Temple's first win in the series in 10 meetings going back to the mid 1990s. The last time the Owls beat Duke two straight was 1949 and '50.
"Last year was a special game," said senior guard Khalif Wyatt, who scored 22 points that night. "It does a lot for your program. We'll definitely be the underdogs again. You know when you're playing Duke everybody's watching. Because everybody watches Duke. You want to play in games like that, on national TV. You just live in the moment, I guess."
The Owls are coming off a 76-61 win at Villanova, their first win there in seven tries going back to 1990. Duke has been off for a week. The Devils have won a bunch of NCAA games at what used to be known as the Meadowlands. Two were against John Chaney's teams in regional finals in 1988 and 1999.
"Even last year, there was a lot of Duke fans there," Wyatt noted. "So, I mean, they travel. They'll have a lot of fans this time. Almost wherever Duke plays is a home game."
The Owls lost at Cameron Indoor two seasons ago. This won't be their only marquee opponent this season, or even this month. They'll get Syracuse at Madison Square Garden just before Christmas, and go to Kansas in early January. Next season, of course, they're moving from the Atlantic 10 to the Big East, although by then Syracuse will be in the ACC.
"Any time you have an opportunity to play Duke it's a tremendous challenge but a great opportunity," said coach Fran Dunphy. "It's arguably the finest program in the country over the last 25 years. I know Mike well. I have so much respect for him not just as a coach, but as a man and as a leader.
"I think [last season's win] was great for our [Temple] community. And it gives these guys confidence that they can play at the highest level. Now, can they do it more than once . . . I'm sure [Duke] will be more than ready to go. A kid like [senior Mason] Plumlee looks fantastic, but I wish he was the only one we had to worry about. Great players and great coaching are a tough combination to beat."
Plumlee's averaging 19 points and 11 rebounds. Only two players in ACC history have ever done that for a season. Their names are Ralph Sampson and Tim Duncan.
The Owls will show up. And probably acquit themselves well, since that's what Dunph's guys mostly do. Even a group that's still trying to assimilate some unfamiliar pieces, one that figures to keep getting better.
One thing they never lack is confidence. That mostly starts with Wyatt. "We go out there every game thinking we can win, no matter what we're up against," he said. "Coach always says whatever game you're playing is the most important game. Now that Duke's here it's time to prepare for that.
"You know what they can do. You know what you're going to get. Maximum effort. You just have to match that. I know they definitely want to win this game. We expect that. Nobody likes losing. They have a lot of guys back."
The Owls received nine votes in last week's poll, which means they're No. 37. It's early. But if they bring a 7-0 record back down the Jersey Turnpike with them, that should change.
"It's cool when there's a number next to your name," Wyatt said. "We've been ranked a couple of times since I've been here. But the only thing we care about is making sure we get to the tournament. Until then, just let the chips fall, one game at a time."
Even if some stand out a smidge more than others.