Two distinctly different wins at home opened the 2009-10 season for the Ball State University men's basketball team, and now the Cardinals begin their road slate tonight in Philadelphia at a perennial NCAA Tournament team at Temple University.
Coach Billy Taylor said Monday that the Owls (2-1) present problems all around the court for the Cardinals (2-0).
"Temple is a very good ballclub and will certainly be a very tough road test for us to open up," Taylor said. "We're going to have some significant challenges in the post and on the perimeter — hopefully our guys will step up to the challenge."
Historically, Temple has been one of the more successful non-power conference programs in men's college basketball history.
With over 1,700 wins in program history, the Owls have appeared in 27 NCAA Tournaments where they have made five Elite Eight appearances and two Final Fours (1956 and 1958).
The success hasn't stopped, as Temple has recently won two straight Atlantic-10 Conference Tournament championships and was a No. 11 seed in last season's NCAA Tournament, where the Owls lost 66-57 in the first round to Arizona State University.
Despite Temple's historic past, Taylor said his team will treat tonight's game as just the next game on the schedule.
"We can't look at it any differently because of the history of their program," Taylor said. "We have to just go out and play the opponent that's before us."
The opponent facing Ball State tonight is one looking to find its identity after the loss of last year's star senior guard, Dionte Christmas.
Christmas, a two-time defending A-10 Tournament Most Outstanding Player, averaged a league-best 19.2 points per game last season and was recently released by the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers after going undrafted in the 2009 NBA Draft.
In their three games this season, the Owls have responded to the loss of Christmas with a balanced scoring attack featuring five players averaging eight points or more per game.
Temple is led this season by senior Ryan Brooks. The 6-foot-4 guard is averaging a team-best 15.3 points per game and scored a game-best 23 points in the Owls' 76-56 season-opening win at the University of Delaware.
Brooks last season joined Christmas on the A-10 All-Championship Team and, according to Taylor, has the ability to really stroke the outside shot.
"Brooks is a terrific 3-point shooter," Taylor said. "He can score the ball from the perimeter, so we're going to have to try to limit is number of open looks."
Anchoring the Temple frontcourt is junior forward Lavoy Allen.
Allen, listed at 6-foot-9, 225 pounds, was a 2009-10 A-10 All-Preseason Team selection and is averaging 9.7 points and a team-high 12 rebounds per game.
Taylor said the matchup of Allen against Ball State's frontcourt — namely against sophomore center Jarrod Jones — will be critical in tonight's game.
"Lavoy Allen is just a talented player," Taylor said. "He rebounds the ball extremely well, he attacks the glass, he's long and agile, he shoots well from the perimeter — we'll just have to make sure that, as a group, we don't give him any easy looks in the painted area or on the perimeter."
Jones, who tops Ball State with a 19 points-per-game average, said he is interested to see how the Cardinals react to their first road challenge of the season.
"I think it will be a good experience for us early in the season to go out there and compete on the road," Jones said. "They've got the homecourt advantage — we just want to go out there and get that experience in, and they're a great team, so we should be ready when we step out on the floor."