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April 29, 2015

Summer School: Temple

The Owls look to return to Dance after being the first team out in 2014-15

If you’ll allow me (and if you won’t, too bad), I’ll begin by stealing a paragraph from my Selection Sunday post:

Scott Barnes, the athletic director at Utah State and selection committee chairman, just had to twist the knife, didn’t he? While being interviewed on the selection show right after the brackets were announced, he confirmed to the nation that the Owls were the best of the rest. “As you think about who stole bids, the win by Wyoming was obviously a challenge and kept Temple out,” Barnes said.

One of the most difficult on-court scenarios that a college basketball coach has to deal with is the lightning quick NIT turnaround after getting snubbed from the NCAA Tournament. We’re usually talking about one day here, two tops. Not only were the Temple Owls snubbed, they were THE snub. They were the snubbiest of the snubs, a fact that the head snubber casually mentioned on national television. It was a pretty snubby thing to do.

All things considered, Fran Dunphy’s bunch did a nice job weathering the initial disappointment by winning three home games and advancing to the NIT semifinals (“The Other Final Four”) at Madison Square Garden. Now the real work begins, as Temple wants nothing to do with the bubble next year. They’ll lose both transfer/sniper Jesse Morgan and point guard Will Cummings, who was the heart of this year’s team.

Let’s look back at recent history and see how the NCAA Tournament’s biggest snubs fared the following year, an admittedly unscientific study. To determine this, I looked solely at the four NIT number one seeds. The schools that made the tourney the next season are in bold, with their seed following in parentheses.

2014: SMU (6), St. John’s (9), Florida State, Minnesota
2013: Kentucky (8), Southern Miss, Alabama, Virginia (1)
2012: Washington, Tennessee, Seton Hall, Arizona (6)
2011: Alabama (9), Colorado (11), Boston College, Virginia Tech
2010: Illinois (9), Arizona State, Virginia Tech, Mississippi State

So, there you have it: As of the last five years, a little less than half of the teams make the tourney the next year. Can the Owls become one of the few to build on their success?

Temple Owls
2014-15 Record: 26-11 overall, 13-5 American, 2-2 City Six

Big Man On Campus

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This is the only time that I’ll cop out and pick two BMOC’s, but it’s hard to distinguish between Jaylen Bond and Quenton DeCosey. Those two players are going to be the senior leaders this upcoming season, which Dunphy should feel pretty good about. They both logged a lot of important minutes this season and are excellent defenders, probably the two biggest reasons Temple finished 18th out 351 teams in defensive efficiency. The Owls could lock down with the best of them.

Neither player is very efficient offensively, though, and that will likely have to change if the Owls are to return to the dance. DeCosey made the jump to 36 percent from behind the arc despite placing a sidespin on the ball that Bob Knight called out pretty aggressively during the NIT semifinal loss to Miami. Of the two, he’s actually the one I would worry less about. Bond shoots free throws worse than DeAndre Jordan and still hoisted over a three-pointer per game, which also didn’t work out.

Again, I would be very comfortable with these two guys leading my team. Bond and DeCosey are tough and can guard, which might be more than half of the battle on its own. Still, it’s worth pointing out that Temple didn’t score well enough to beat the top-tier teams in their league. The necessary improvement has to start with the rising seniors.

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It was mentioned above, but losing Cummings is a big deal. He was the unquestioned leader of a team that made a gigantic jump from nine wins in 2013-14 to 26 victories this past season. Cummings provided the Owls with the type of two-way play at the point guard position that only Villanova’s Ryan Arcidiacono and maybe the Sixers’ Ish Smith could match in the city.

Morgan isn’t chopped liver, either. Once the Philly product (with a great nickname, “Booge”) became eligible in mid-December, the Owls immediately took off. Temple’s signature victory, a 25-point beatdown of Kansas at Wells Fargo Center that wasn’t even as close as the score would indicate, came in Morgan’s second game. If you remember, the team rode the Broad Street Line before that tilt:

If Dunph had Morgan’s services for the entire year, I bet the Owls wouldn’t have seen their bubble burst. Heck, they might not have been on the bubble at all.

Freshman Orientation

Levan Alston – 6’4” SG – Philadelphia, PA
Trey Lowe – 6’5” SG – Ewing, NJ
Ernest Aflakpui – 6’10” C – Radnor, PA

As far as three-man classes go, this one is pretty darn good. ESPN has the entire group rated as four-star players, and the overall class is ranked 36th in the nation. Dunph got the job done on the recruiting trail, and there’s a chance that all three players and rising sophomore Obi Enechionyia — A 6’8” forward with some serious stretch-4 potential — could form the core of the next great Temple team.

All three are local guys, too. Well, Aflakpui is Ghanaian, but he played his high school ball for former Penn player Paul Romanczuk at Archbishop Carroll. A torn meniscus in December cut his senior season short, but he has the size, strength, and athleticism that should eventually anchor a top-flight defense. Like many African big men, he started playing soccer and then transferred the footwork he learned to basketball after hitting a growth spurt.

Alston and Lowe were the two leading scorers on Team Final, the region’s top AAU team that participates in the prestigious Nike EYBL. They’re both skinny guards that can put up points in a variety of ways. Lowe was a 2,000-point scorer and led Ewing to the Group 3 state title game in New Jersey. Alston, who is generally ranked somewhere around the 100th-best recruit nationally, starred at The Haverford School and is headed to his father’s alma mater. Levan Sr. played for John Chaney after starring at powerhouse Simon Gratz alongside the likes of Rasheed Wallace and Aaron McKie, now a T.U. assistant coach. When Alston announced his decision to commit to Temple, he did so by revealing his dad’s old jersey:

And here’s some highlights of Alston and Lowe from last summer playing against the country’s best competition:

Summer Reading

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Sometime in the last year, I was watching a video of John Calipari describing his relationship with John Chaney, specifically the infamous “I’ll kill you!” episode from February 1994. The two are friendly now, and Calipari talked about how he followed Chaney’s blueprint of playing a loaded nonconference schedule at UMass. If Jim Boeheim hides in the Carrier Dome until the New Year, Chaney was the exact opposite. I located that video, and enjoyed the way Cal described Chaney’s philosophy: anybody, anywhere, anytime. He would've scheduled the Lakers if it was possible.

As a kid, I used to love watching Temple play on ESPN six times before the Atlantic 10 schedule even started up, which wasn't all that common back then. Unfortunately, one of the main reasons that Temple didn’t make the tournament last year was because of its weak schedule (KenPom: 101st out of 351). Duke, Kansas, and Villanova were all extremely solid opponents, but they didn’t play anyone else of any note outside of their league. Playing in a so-so conference with a bunch of really bad teams in the bottom half, that didn’t cut it.

Dunph doesn’t appear to be making the same mistake twice. In addition to ‘Nova, look at two of the heavyweights he has already lined up:

We’ll see how the rest of the Owls’ nonconference schedule shakes out. As we take stock, Temple seems like it’s in a good place with legitimate contributors in every class. They made the NCAA Tournament for six straight years from 2008 to 2013, and the early guess here is that 2015-16 is the start of another long streak.

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