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March 14, 2015

Owls fall 69-56 to SMU, place fate in tourney committee's hands

Temple only managed to shoot 29.3 percent from the field against Larry Brown's 20th-ranked team

When shooters get into a groove from behind the arc, you’ll often hear them describe their performance by saying, “The basket looked as big as the ocean.” If that’s the case, then how can we characterize Temple’s offense against 20th-ranked SMU in Saturday’s American Athletic Conference semifinal? The basket looked as small as a puddle, perhaps?

The Owls shot a frigid 29.3 percent from the field in the 69-56 loss, because as Doris Burke repeatedly mentioned on the ESPN broadcast, they’re simply not good shooters. Their inability to put the ball in the hole doesn’t make them a bad team, but it certainly limits their ceiling when playing against big and talented opponents like SMU. On the season, the Owls have a 38.7 field goal percentage, which is tied for 338th in the country. There are 351 Division I teams in the country.

Well said, Dunph. Short and succinct, as always. More than anything, we learned today that Larry Brown’s Mustangs are definitely a better basketball team than Temple. The game went pretty much according to script from the teams’ two regular season matchups: Temple gets off to a hot start and builds a double-digit first-half lead, and SMU’s size and skill slowly but surely reigns them in during the final 20 minutes.

In particular, Philly native and Villanova transfer (Could they be even better with him in the rotation?) Markus Kennedy has been a thorn in the Owls’ side. The 6-foot-9 forward went for 17 and 9, and his array of offensive moves was very impressive. Overall, the Mustangs’ three main frontcourt players shot a combined 14-21 from the field.

Jaylen Bond was plagued with foul trouble for most of the game, and that played a major factor in allowing SMU to dominate down low. Burke mentioned that Bond’s versatile defense — He was the first omission from my City Six All-Defense Team — is somewhat similar to Draymond Green's. The 6-foot-7 junior probably won’t ever sign close to a max contract in the NBA or get to the point where he’ll be able to say “Cool story, Glenn,” but I totally get her point: At the college level, he’s a decent facsimile of Green.

QUICK RANT: Bond’s fourth foul was a garbage call, and it made a huge impact on the game’s outcome. One possession after picking up his third, Bond tried to retrieve an ill-advised cross-court pass from junior swingman Quenton DeCosey (who was the Owls’ best player today). The ball wasn’t completely in the SMU player’s possession yet, and Bond made a play on it. While there was some contact, that is frankly not a call I want made in a sport where five fouls disqualifies a player:

Two for two, Dunph. You’re on fire! At the time of the call, Temple was holding onto a 34-33 lead. Without their best frontcourt defender, the score was 49-38 SMU only a little more than five minutes later. To be honest, Bond’s third foul was of the ticky-tack variety as well. /END RANT

Now let’s put that game, and the entire AAC Tourney, in the rearview mirror and look forward to Selection Sunday, which will be a nervous one on North Broad Street. Temple got the win they absolutely needed yesterday against Memphis and couldn’t punch their ticket in the gravy game against SMU. The selection committee won’t hold losing to a ranked team on a neutral floor against them, but they might have some qualms with a 2-8 overall record against the RPI Top 50.

Temple (23-10, 13-5) is an interesting case. The 25-point shellacking of Kansas on December 22nd is gold, Jerry! Gold! It’s hard to underestimate the importance of that victory on the team’s résumé. Before today’s game, their RPI was 32nd, which is usually a good sign for one the 36 at-large berths handed out. On the other hand, the team's 70th-ranked schedule isn’t doing them any favors.

Some of the “bracketologists” (and yes, I hate part of myself for seriously typing that word) differ on where the Owls will land. CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm just released a video that doesn’t paint a pretty picture. Palm says that only three teams in 21 years with a sub-.500 record against the RPI Top 200 (which Temple does, at 9-10) have made the tournament, and those teams all played at least 25 games against that group. Temple only has 19. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi had the Owls as one of the final four byes heading into the day. I imagine they’ll move down in his eyes, but the question is how far.

To me, it boils down to how much weight you place on the Owls’ midseason transfers. The result that is seriously holding Temple back is a 58-56 loss on December 3rd against Saint Joe’s on Hawk Hill. That specific game, possibly as well as a seven-point loss to UNLV on a neutral court in November, is one the current team most likely wouldn’t lose.

Flip one of those two games around and Palm’s cute little stat goes kaput. Since transfers Jesse Morgan (and to a lesser extent, Devin Coleman) became eligible in the middle of December, Temple has been a tourney team. Not a juggernaut by any means, but a tourney team nonetheless. Will the committee feel the same way?

The last City Six team that found itself entrenched firmly on the bubble was La Salle two years ago. The selection committee threw the Explorers a lifeline and sent them to Dayton for an extra game, and we all know how that turned out. I’m sure Fran Dunphy wouldn’t mind spending Tuesday or Wednesday in Ohio, if it comes to that. Until tomorrow night at 6 p.m., he’ll have an agonizing wait to see if he gets the chance.

Root for chalk in the rest of the conference tourneys, Owls fans. It might not feel right wanting Larry Brown to win, but it’s for the greater good.