Temple junior guard Shizz Alston Jr. attempts a shot against Wichita State.
(Peter Aiken/Getty Images North America)
Benjamin Simon and William Derry
What does Temple need to do to get back on track?
If the Temple Owls want to get back on track in the American Athletic Conference (AAC) Tournament, they must start by limiting their opponent’s scoring. In games that the Owls have won this season, they have held their opponents to an average of 64 points, about 6 points less than their season average. Additionally, in 12 of their 14 losses, they have allowed the opposing team to shoot higher than 40% from the field. Improved defensive play will have to start with continued focus on the defensive end, which Temple struggles with maintaining over the length of a game.
On the offensive end, Temple must consistently take good shots and knock them down. This will also help them come out stronger earlier in the game, where they have often fallen behind. The Owls have averaged a field goal percentage of 40% in all of their losses this season, 7 percent less than their season average. In order for them to keep winning, they are going to need to keep searching for good shot opportunities and when they fall behind, they can’t settle for bad ones.
All in all, Temple is at its best when they are drilling three-pointers, as the Owls have hit 6 or more threes in all but two wins this season. Not only will the three-ball spread the floor for Temple but it will open up passing lanes for them as well. The Owls do not have a go-to scoring option this season so it will take a full team effort on offense for them to advance in the AAC tournament. Head coach Fran Dunphy will need his entire team to step up if they have any chance at making a run in March.
Why is it important for Shizz Alston Jr. to step up in the conference tournament?
For much of the season, junior guard Shizz Alston Jr. has been one of Temple’s most consistent scorers. His ability to hit contested jump shots, knock down free throws, and most importantly, play out of the pick-and-roll has made him into one of the AAC’s best offensive guards. In order for Temple to win the conference tournament, they’re going to need him at his best. That means creating opportunities out of the pick-and-roll and taking good shots. In their last four losses (all in the past five games), Alston has averaged a mere 10.8 points per game and 1 assist per game while shooting 27.7% from the field and taking only 3 total free throws. His recent lack of production and poor shot selection has been a major reason why Temple has struggled.
However, when Alston is playing well, he brings a completely different offensive dimension to the table. Not only can he shoot the three, the team’s leader at 39%, but he is comfortable with the ball in his hands. That allows a nice complement to redshirt senior guard Josh Brown’s game, which is more centered around leadership and poise. Alston adds that playmaking punch to the backcourt. He’s also a different kind of playmaker than fellow double-digit scorer, sophomore guard Quinton Rose. Rose is long and athletic, a natural athlete who can score at all three levels, but is best when he is attacking the basket. Alston is like the classic Temple guard, methodical, slow, and clutch. Over the next week, Alston will need to regain the offensive success he had earlier season as he is instrumental in their offensive success. Without him taking good shots and hitting them, Temple is missing their biggest three-point and pick-and-roll threat.
Would a “small-ball” lineup work?
It’s no secret that Temple wants to play with two bigs on the floor. They will begin the game with Obi Enechionyia at the ‘4’ and junior center Ernest Aflakpui at the ‘5’ before subbing in freshmen forwards DeVondre Perry and JP Moorman, or, less frequently, sophomore center Damion Moore. However, there have been times this year, especially more recently, when Temple has played with a four guard lineup with Enechionyia at the ‘5’. While it hasn’t happened often, this lineup has the potential to be their most effective as Enechionyia is a much improved defender this season. While he has always possessed elite athletic ability, he is finally putting it all together. He ranks second on the team in defensive box plus-minus, while compiling a team high 41 blocks (1.4 per game), third in the entire AAC. Enechionyia can not only hold his own against opposing team’s centers, but it allows the Owls to play a little faster and create mismatches for them on the offensive end.
Additionally, this lineup would equip them with their five most agile guys on the floor. The lane would be more open, encouraging more drives to the hoop. Temple ranks first in the AAC in three point attempts (456), but ninth in three point percentage (32.7%) over the course of conference play. Through mismatches on the perimeter and a higher likelihood of getting out in transition, Temple would get more looks at the basket, playing to their strengths. Dunphy and the Temple coaching staff have already shifted towards playing a little more with Enechionyia at the '5', but a full commitment to the small ball lineup could pay major dividends in the team’s energy level, shot selection, and ability to convert on the offensive end.
Which player needs to take on a bigger role in the conference tournament?
Coming into the season, senior forward Obi Enechionyia was expected to build off of a solid junior year and be one of Temple’s offensive focal points in his final season on North Broad. Enechionyia has not lived up to those high expectations, but has still put together a decent senior season. Despite averaging about two points lower than last year's 13.1 points per game, Enechionyia’s offensive rating is about 4 points higher (107.3 compared to 102.9) this season and he’s getting to the foul line more, averaging almost 3 free throw attempts per game. Getting to the basket and the charity stripe more frequently this year has given Enechionyia more scoring opptuintures. While this is encouraging, Enechionyia still has work to do in getting to the line. There are still moments where he looks hesitant to drive, instead settling for a three. If he can get to the line more over the next few games, the team’s offensive production will increase as a result.
Furthermore, with Enechionyia’s ability to step out and hit a three-pointer, he gives the Owls another scoring option from long range. However, when he’s at his best, Enechionyia is putting the ball on the floor and creating for himself, a luxury when teams are trying to make the most of every possession during the the tournament. Enechionyia will have to be more than just a shooter if the Owls want to make some noise in the AAC tournament. He will need to be a versatile scoring option on the offensive end which would provide varying options for the Temple offense out of the pick-and-roll game. Temple just can't keep settling for contested three's and that starts with the senior leader.