By David Gough
With just two games left in the regular season before the conference tournament begins, Temple controls their own destiny if they want to participate in the NCAA Tournament.
If they win every game through the conference championship, they will have an automatic NCAA bid. Temple may have the inside track in their quest for the AAC championship, as they are currently in position for the first seed in the tournament, but this conference has been very equally matched so far this season. Temple is not anywhere near being a clear-cut number 1 seed.
Whether they played a team at the top or bottom of the conference, they haven’t had an easy win. Temple has found ways to win the vast majority of their games, but they haven’t been able to dominate a game. Their largest victory within the conference was an 18 point victory over East Carolina, but they were losing at halftime of that game and would lose at East Carolina just a couple weeks later.
So what does this mean? It would be to nobody’s surprise if Temple didn’t win the conference tournament in Orlando. If that is indeed the case, they will have to sweat it out yet again Selection Sunday and hope to hear their name called, unlike last year.
The Owls play Memphis and Tulane to end the regular season. Although Memphis escaped with a two point victory in their last meeting, both of these games are winnable for Temple. They need to win both not only to secure the number 1 seed but to avoid any bad losses if they want to have the shot at becoming an at-large bid on March 13. One more loss before the conference tournament will almost certainly eliminate Temple from a chance at the NCAA Tournament
If they do take care of business this week, they will have clinched the number one seed in the AAC Tournament. That will give them a first round bye and likely a second round matchup against either Central Florida or South Florida. Temple is 4-0 against them this season, but they have only beaten UCF twice by a combined 4 points. Also important, Central Florida is hosting the tournament so they will have home court advantage if Temple meets them for a third time.
But again, if they take care of teams that they have a better record than for a reason, Temple should be in the AAC semifinals. That could be against any number of teams, but right now it is set up to be against Houston or Connecticut. Temple is a combined 3-1 against them with the only loss being an embarrassing 77-50 defeat at home against Houston. It took a Josh Brown game-winner to win at Connecticut and double digit comebacks in the other two games against Houston and Connecticut.
If everything goes Temple’s way leading up to the semifinal, that game may be the decisive factor as to whether they make the NCAA Tournament. Last year, when Temple was left out of March Madness, they had lost in the semifinals to SMU. Had they won that game, most would agree that the Owls would’ve been in the tournament. Temple is in a similar situation this year.
At this point in the season, most bracket projections have two AAC teams in the tournament, Temple and UConn. If they can reach the championship game, Temple will have proved their standing in the conference after being the regular season champion and would only fall to the the tournament winner. This is respectable because the AAC is a solid conference, with multiple nationally recognized teams.
The only thing that should hurt Temple if they were to lose the championship game is seeding in the NCAA Tournament, but they have to reach the AAC final first. Being able to solidify themselves as at least one of the top two teams in the conference will give them a lot more hope to hear their name called on Selection Sunday.
Temple cannot suffer any more bad losses and as long as they take care of business, their chances of being in the NCAA Tournament will be good.
Photo: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Coming into the season, many questioned who would replace the playmaking abilities of Will Cummings and Jesse Morgan. Most knew that Quenton DeCosey would score, but the next few scoring options were up in the air. Could Jaylen Bond put the ball in the hoop consistently, after finishing the 2014-15 season with 8 straight single digit games? Could Devin Coleman and Obi Enechionyia become steady three point threats after both shooting below 30% from deep last year? But little did Temple fans know that the x-factor and success of the team would ultimately lie in the hands of Daniel Dingle.
If you look straight up at Daniel Dingle’s statistics, you’ll probably disregard the redshirt junior. Only 4.4 points per game? Only 36.8% from the field? How could someone averaging such pedestrian statistics be the key for a top tier program?
Multiple aspects of his game have allowed him to have a large role in Temple’s success. Dingle’s offensive versatility make him as talented as anyone when he gets it going. The forward can put it on the floor. He can thread the defense and make the right pass. He can shoot the three. And at 235 pounds, Dingle is hard to stop when his momentum gets him rolling towards the basket.
The stats back him up. When Dingle is good, Temple is good. The team is 7-2 when Dingle just scores more than 5 points. When he scores double digits, they’re 3-0 and all three of those wins have been against the top teams of the American Athletic Conference, Cincinnati, SMU, and Connecticut.
Dingle has also played solid defense. Often matched up with the other team’s power forward or, when they go small, their center, Dingle doesn’t back down. He does a strong job of playing post defense and denying the ball down in the post, as well too. His versatility and quickness for a man of his size additionally gives him the ability to cover perimeter plays when necessary.
Normally when a player is playing well, they see their minutes spike. Dingle has earned that treatment, as he has averaged 28 minutes per game in his last five games. Regardless of whether he scores a lot, when Dingle is playing well and earning himself more minutes, Temple is better off. The team is 6-1 when the forward plays 25 minutes or more.
Nevertheless, Dingle has struggled with consistency. One minute he will get to the rim and make an acrobatic finish that a man of his size should not be able to put together. But minutes later he will come down and shoot a fadeaway midrange shot five seconds into the shot clock. And occasionally, he’ll disappear and you’ll forget Dingle is even on the floor. He needs to make sure he stays aggressive, especially attacking the basket, but controls that aggression. When he does, Dingle is a unique combination of craft and bulk.
Furthermore, early in the season Dingle proved to be a liability in the final moments of games. Against Utah, he missed two gigantic free throws that would have tied the game at 70 with 16 seconds left. Weeks later at Memphis, Dingle committed a foul with 2 seconds left in a tied game that allowed the Tigers to escape with a 2 point win. Despite his struggles, head coach Fran Dunphy has stayed committed to the junior, playing him late in the game most recently against UConn and Houston. As a result of getting more comfortable in the waning moments of contests, Dingle has avoided the major mistakes and has played more under control.
The bottom line is, when Dingle is feeling it, it brings up the play of the entire team. His versatility and ability to do so many things on the offensive and defensive end makes him hard to stop. However, he needs to make sure he stays aggressive and does not get out of control. If he can do that, he could be the ultimate x-factor for the Owls, who could use a consistent playmaker to pair with Devin Coleman off of the bench.
Photo: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
PHILADELPHIA – Though the top ranked Villanova Wildcats came into the Liacouras Center this past Wednesday and seemingly dominated the Temple Owls in front of a sold out crowd, one player for Fran Dunphy refused to go down without a fight.
“Trey Lowe seized the moment,” Dunphy proudly said after the game. “It was terrific to watch two freshman go like that. No fear -- they just wanted that opportunity.”
The other freshman Dunphy was referring to was Villanova’s Jalen Brunson, a good friend of Lowe and a familiar name in the Philadelphia community.
Brunson dominated Temple from the game’s outset, leading the Wildcats’ to a 35-23 halftime lead with a team high 8 points in the first half.
In the second half, Villanova as a team was able to take advantage of the early double-digit lead by pressuring the Owls into bad shots and turnovers to make the disparity even larger. With 10 minutes left in regulation, Villanova led Temple by 23, sucking the life out of not only the Owl fans, but the entire team as well.
Though the upperclassmen seemed deflated by the insurmountable lead they let balloon, Trey Lowe was the Owl to bring life back to the cherry-and-white.
A three pointer by Lowe at the 7:37 mark in the second half closed the gap to 15 points. Though the advantage still seemed a bit too large considering the time left and the discipline of the number one team in the nation, the crowd started to buzz following the triple.
Then on the next possession, Trey Lowe and Josh Brown trapped Villanova’s Josh Hart into a turnover, and in transition, Lowe hit his second consecutive three to cut the lead to 12. This brought the Liacouras Center crowd to a roar that hadn’t been that loud since the first time Temple scored in the game.
Despite the momentum completely turning over to Temple, Jalen Brunson, the star freshman for Jay Wright’s veteran team, calmly drew a foul on the next trip down the floor to push the lead back to 14 with 7 minutes left in the game.
The quick offensive exchanges by the two New Jersey natives brought an unexpected intensity to what seemed to be a game that was already decided.
Then, the fans got a little taste of the neophytes once again at the 3:50 mark in the second half.
With a 14 point Villanova lead, after the upperclassmen on both teams traded buckets for multiple possessions, Trey Lowe was able to get his hands on the ball and draw a foul. He made both free throws to cut the Wildcat lead to 12, but for Villanova, Jalen Brunson wanted to answer back.
Answering back is exactly what the freshmen did for the top ranked Wildcats, scoring on an acrobatic, up-and-under layup to put the Wildcats up 73-59.
Trey Lowe brushed off Brunson’s rapid answer with a response of his own, drilling a corner three to bring Temple within 11 points with 3:21 left in the game, the closest they had been since the first half.
However, Brunson came out and scored the next basket of the game, pushing the lead back up to 13 with two minutes left that ultimately put the game out of reach.
Lowe would have the last shot though, draining a pull-up three with under a minute to go to give him his 21st point of the game, a career high for the young Owl.
At the game’s conclusion, Lowe ended up scoring 14 points in the final 10 minute comeback effort, more than half of Temple’s 27 points scored during that duration. 19 of Trey Lowe’s 21 total points came in the second half, proving that he truly refused to back down to the challenge.
For the winning squad, Brunson scored a game high 25 points, which included a number of clutch buckets that kept the Owls out of reach in the closing minutes of regulation.
The two freshmen were the only players out of the 19 that played to scored more than 20 points.
“Jalen Brunson is a great player,” Lowe said of his 19 year-old counterpart after the game. “We played in high-school and he came into college as a known player…I figured he would come out and play his hardest game.”
When asked if he played with any of Temple’s players in casual pick-up games before, Brunson responded that he knew the freshmen class very well.
“Trey and (Levan Alston Jr.), we’re good friends,” Brunson said. “Those two I have a good relationship with. They’re great freshman and they played well.”
Though Alston has played several fine games this season, in the Villanova contest, it was clearly Lowe’s shining moment.
“We knew he was a great. We recruited him too…he was a great scorer in high-school.” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said of Trey Lowe after the game. “Once he got it going, it didn’t surprise us. We were hoping, (since) he’s a freshman, he wouldn’t get it going, but he did.”
Overall, despite this year’s contest not being as close as many would prefer, the head-to-head exchanges by Lowe and Brunson may have foreshadowed what Philadelphia Big 5 and college basketball fans have in store for the next few years in this rivalry.
Hopefully, the rise of Lowe and Brunson -- and even Levan Alston Jr. -- will not only bring excitement back to the Big 5, but also make the rivalries that much more competitive, and that much more intense.
Photo: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Coming into the season, sophomore Obi Enechionyia was expected to play a big role for Temple. It is evident that the 6-foot-9 forward and occasional center has been a key player, but not in a way most people imagined.
He has had his ups and downs this year just like Temple has had as a whole. For a while inconsistency was a theme for Enechionyia. In five of his first nine games, he put up double digits on the scoreboard but he also only had a two point effort against Wisconsin. In one of those double digit efforts, he did have a career-high 25 point night in a loss to St. Joe’s. He made four threes in that game and also in a win against Delaware a few games prior.
After making four of his six threes in the Delaware game, Enechionyia talked about how he wanted to come into the season as the go-to shooter for the Owls. He wanted to be the next Jesse Morgan for Temple, who was that guy last year making threes in crucial moments. He said this despite only shooting 12 of 43 beyond the three-point line last year.
This season however, he would be 18 of 42 just twelve games into this season. He definitely has showed some improvement by making 33 of 84 threes up this point. On the other hand, he has not played the role of the go-to shooter by any means.
That role has belonged to either one of two people, seniors Quenton DeCosey and/or Devin Coleman. DeCosey is shooting over 40% from three and he has hit plenty of timely threes this season when the Owls have needed it the most. Then there’s Devin Coleman. Despite having a three-point percentage just below Enechionyia, Coleman has shot beyond the arc over a hundred times. That shows just how much he has been the main go-to guy this season. Evident by his spectacular 7 of 7 game in the upset of SMU and his three pointer against Tulsa that sent the game to overtime, it appears to be the right idea for Coleman to be the go-to guy. Enechionyia isn’t at that point yet, but he could be that man if he keeps improving his long range shot.
Unfortunately for a while, foul trouble did Enechionyia in and it has not really stopped being an issue. He combined for a total of 19 points in the four games after his 25 point night against St. Joe’s. After that rough stint, head coach Fran Dunphy started him on the bench in hopes of making him more productive every minute he is in the game. It was and still is evident that once he has three fouls under his belt, he is less aggressive on defense and he cannot do a ton on offense either.
For the next five games however, Enechionyia still didn’t produce enough coming off the bench averaging just barely over five points per game. Even with his inconsistency and foul trouble as a starter, he still seemed more comfortable in that role compared to coming off the bench.
Because of a Jaylen Bond injury, he would find his way back into the starting lineup in the upset against SMU, despite his recent struggles. However, he was able to manage eight points. Since then, it can definitely be seen how much more confident Enechionyia is when he is in the starting role. With the help of avoiding serious foul trouble, he has averaged 15.5 points per game in the last four games subsequent to the SMU match.
Though Temple took a bad loss at East Carolina, it was refreshing to see an 18 point effort from Enechionyia. He gave a big second half boost in the Owls close win at South Florida the next game. The same can be said for his 17 point effort in the overtime win against Tulsa and 14 point effort at Central Florida. Temple needed every bit of his effort for them to now have a three game winning streak.The lowest field goal percentage he had in those four games was 40% against ECU, a mark he only hit in two of the tens games prior. He has been much more efficient with the ball taking smarter shots at better times these past few matches, as he has become more comfortable in his role.
For Temple to stay at the top of the American Athletic Conference, they are going to need Enechionyia to be as consistent as he has been lately. Joining players like DeCosey, Coleman, and Josh Brown in players who are beginning to find their groove right now. As a result, Temple may just be able to continue their win streak into a very important stretch of games that includes matchups against Connecticut and #1 Villanova.
Photo: Jenny Kerrigan/The Temple News