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