When he was at Penn, Fran Dunphy always played a tough non-conference schedule. He wasn’t alone among Ivy League coaches, and he did it for the reason you would expect, but it was always a staple of what he did. He’s continued that at Temple, aided by the fact that the Owls did the same thing under John Chaney and would play certain teams just about every year.
Coaches talk about a non-conference schedule preparing a team for conference play all the time. This year, it has really worked for Temple, even as the Owls had growing pains during non-conference play. The most recent highlight came on Sunday, when they handed SMU their first loss of the season 89-80 in Philadelphia.
Temple didn’t make waves in the first two months of the season. They entered American Athletic Conference play at 5-5 overall, with their best win coming early on against Minnesota, and no bad losses, though they whiffed against any team that has a shot at the NCAA Tournament, losing to North Carolina, Butler, Utah, Wisconsin and Saint Joseph’s (overtime). They came in as a team in personnel transition, and that transition has taken some time to translate into victories. Now isn’t a bad time for it to happen.
On Sunday, the two leaders came up big. Devin Coleman scored a career-high 23 points, going 7-7 on three-pointers, while Quinton DeCosey, their leading scorer, had 19. They were 14-29 on three-pointers With that, Temple won despite not having leading rebounder Jaylen Bond due to a lower back injury.
Coleman started the season well, then went into a funk. He had 19 points in the opener against North Carolina, going 3-4 from beyond the arc. Starting with the fourth game of the season against Utah, he shot below 20 percent from there (5-26) the remainder of non-conference play (excluding a Big Five matchup with La Salle last week, where he went 0-3). DeCosey has been one player they can hang their hat on all season. Sophomore Obi Enechionya showed promise during the non-conference portion, including a 25-point, 13-rebound outing against Saint Joseph’s, but he has come back to earth a bit in conference play.
Since the scheduled turned to conference play, Temple has knocked off Cincinnati twice, won at UConn and now knocked off SMU. They also have a home loss to Houston on their resume, which could hurt later on as the Cougars are 3-4 in conference play. But after what they have done thus far, can you count them out of the NCAA Tournament just yet? It’s probably too early, though they have a lot of work to do to get there without winning the conference tournament in Orlando. They still get a return visit from UConn and take on Villanova, so they will have chances for more quality wins. What also hurts them is that SMU is the only team in the American Athletic Conference currently in the RPI top 50, and they don’t play the Mustangs again.
For us to be talking about the Owls as conference contenders and even getting into the discussion for the NCAA Tournament now, though, is a little remarkable. Their non-conference showing was hardly eye-opening, but it has done what Dunphy surely wanted it to do, and is paying dividends now with their 5-2 conference record and their wins, including Sunday’s.
Iowa is a somewhat similar story to Temple, and they continued their fine Big Ten emergence on Sunday by beating Purdue 83-71 in Iowa City. Jarrod Uthoff was the leader once again with 22 points for the Hawkeyes.
Providence scored the big win of the day, going to Villanova and beating the Wildcats 82-76 in overtime behind a career game from Ben Bentil. Bentil had 31 points and 13 rebounds, while Kris Dunn had 13 points and 14 assists to hand the Wildcats their first Big East loss.
As North Carolina topped Virginia Tech 75-70, the Tar Heels had a player with a pretty impressive stat line. Brice Johnson continues to have a terrific season, scoring 19 points and grabbing 17 rebounds in the win. Also in the ACC, Virginia beat Syracuse 73-65.
The Pac-12 saw things shake up a bit, starting with USC being swept out of Oregon after Oregon State beat them 85-70. Later, Utah knocked off conference leader Washington 80-75 in overtime behind 29 points and 10 rebounds from Jakob Poeltl.
VCU continues their winning ways in the Atlantic 10, improving to 7-0 with an 84-76 win over St. Bonaventure in a game that was originally slated for Saturday. Dayton continues to chase them after beating Fordham 64-50 in the Bronx, as does Saint Joseph’s, 69-48 winners over La Salle.
The Mid-American Conference suspended two officials stemming from Saturday’s double-overtime game between Eastern Michigan and Ball State. Ball State won the game with a late three-pointer. Before the basket, Ball State tried very aggressively to strip the ball from Eastern Michigan’s Ethan Alvano and also missed a traveling violation, but the officials did not stop play. The conference released a statement saying that two of the three officials have been suspended for two games and will not work the conference tournament in March, and did not name the officials. Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said the final play “was not handled appropriately.”
Western Kentucky announced that guard Chris Harrison-Docks has left the program. The redshirt junior started often in his first two seasons, including his first when he was the Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year after transferring from Butler, but only started once this season and was also suspended in December for two games. His loss is not a small one in terms of numbers, as he was averaging 10 points per game and shooting 38 percent on three-pointers. According to the Bowling Green Daily News, he appeared to be doing better regarding his role with the team, including in public comments, before his departure.
The already-light slate got even lighter with some help from the storm that pushed a game out. Highlighting what is still on tap:
- Duke heads south to Miami for a nice ACC matchup.
- An Atlantic 10 game that was affected by the storm is on tap as Richmond hosts Davidson.
- The best matchup of the night is in the Big 12 as Iowa State hosts Kansas, looking for more Hilton Magic on a second straight Monday night.
In the Big Ten, Ohio State hosts Penn State.