At noon on Sunday, Temple will have a chance to get back into the NCAA Tournament discussion as they host the undefeated #8 SMU Mustangs.
For Temple, this has revenge game written all over it. The Owls lost to SMU three times last season, twice in the regular season and once in the AAC Tournament. Had Temple managed to hold on to their second half lead in just one of those games, it is likely that they would have made the big dance.
This time around, Sunday’s game will be the only one between the teams this season, as the regular season does not have SMU hosting the Owls. The team from Texas is also banned from any postseason play due to academic fraud, so they will not meet up in Orlando come the middle of March.
Fortunately for Temple, they’re the host of this pivotal game. Beating a top ten opponent is always huge for any team and after Temple’s season of inconsistency, they need a win like this.
Beating one the NCAA’s top teams certainly won’t be easy though and SMU is the only remaining undefeated team in the nation with wins over teams like Stanford, Michigan, Colorado, and Cincinnati.
However, Temple has a history of upsetting top ten teams. Dating back to 2008 they have defeated Tennessee, Villanova, Georgetown, Duke, Syracuse, and Kansas. Even in the Owls’ down year in 2014, they defeated SMU when they were ranked #23. It was a loss that SMU would look back on, as they just missed being in the NCAA Tournament.
So, how does Temple pull out an upset this time around?
Firstly, they need to stay out of foul trouble. Temple has been better at that recently with Enechionyia starting games on the bench, but foul trouble hurt the Owls in all three games against SMU last season. Jaylen Bond and Enechionyia had to sit late in the games while Temple would lose their second half leads.
Temple has to additionally continue to play solid defense. SMU leads the conference with 80 points per game. The Owls need to keep SMU guard, Nic Moore, and forward, Markus Kennedy, at bay. Both of them hurt Temple last year, especially Kennedy, who dominated in the rebound category in their final outing as he finished 9 boards.
As for Temple’s offense, they need to take smart shots and move the ball a little bit more. Quenton DeCosey, Temple’s leading scorer, should find a rhythm early and keep it going. He has been much more consistent of late and they will need him to continue, as he has had two 20 point games in his past five outings. Devin Coleman also needs to continue being a big contributor off the bench and consistently hit shots. Quite frankly, it seems like all he does now is hit timely threes, which is what coach Fran Dunphy needs out of him.
However, this victory for Temple is imperative. They have already beaten top 25 teams in Cincinnati and UConn, but beating a team like SMU can take the sting away from the losses to Memphis and Houston. It’s a shame that the snowstorm hit hard this weekend causing the game to be played at noon Sunday because the Owls will need all of the support they can get from the home crowd. Hopefully, fans find a way to get to the Liacouras Center Sunday morning for Temple’s matchup with one of the nation’s top teams.
Photo: Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports