It will be a bitter-sweet season on North Broad Street, as the Temple basketball team plays it’s last season in the Atlantic 10 before moving to the bigger stage of the Big East next year. The Owls were one of the original members of the A-10 in 1982, and it’s been a great home for them where they’ve had a ton of success, both in conference play and in the NCAA tournament.
Their final season in the league figures to be a really interesting one, as recent tournament Cinderellas Butler and VCU join the A-10. Those teams join the Owls as three of five teams with a real chance to win the league title (St. Louis and St. Joe’s being the others).
It’s hard to believe that this is already Fran Dunphy’s seventh season at Temple, and it’s hard to argue with the success he’s had. The program was definitely flagging in the last few seasons of the Chaney era, but Dunphy has put this team into the NCAA tournament five straight years now. It seems every year they lose two or three of their most important players, but every year they have a good mix of returnees with experience and newcomers to fill role-playing spots until it’s their time to take the reigns. This year is no different, except for the fact that this year’s newcomers have some experience of their own to bring to the table.
PLAYERS NOT RETURNING FROM LAST YEAR
The losses from last year’s team are big. Ramone Moore averaged 17 points a game, scored over 1,000 points just over the last two seasons, and was a 1st-Team All-A10 pick. Juan Fernandez had a disappointing senior season, but he was still a 3-year starter at point guard that was picked 3rd-Team All-A10 after averaging 11 points, 4 assists, and shooting 43% on 3’s.
6-11 center Micheal Eric was never able to stay healthy and put everything together with the potential he had, but he did average 9 rebounds and 2 blocks a game last year. Also, it’s telling that he is the only one of the three graduated seniors to find himself on an NBA roster right now, as the Cavaliers signed him to a guaranteed contract despite the fact that he was undrafted.
The one surprise departure was guard Aaron Brown, who played 15 minutes a game and averaged 6 points as a sophomore last year. He combined for 40 points in back-to-back wins over C. Michigan and Toledo in December, and scored in double figures eight times on the season. He figured to have an increased role with Moore and Fernandez gone, but his minutes were really cut towards the end of the season, and maybe he saw the writing on the wall that the coaching staff was looking in a different direction. He transferred to Southern Miss.
PROJECTED STARTING LINE-UP
PG- WILL CUMMINGS, Sophomore: This is probably the position of biggest concern for Dunphy heading into the season, because you hate to have such a lack of experience at the most important position. Fernandez logged well over 30 minutes a game for each of the last three years, which didn’t leave much room for grooming a successor. Cummings is the only true point guard on the roster, and if he isn’t able to handle the starting job, the other options won’t be pretty. He only played a handful of minutes a game last year and didn’t show much, but he does have a burst of speed that will be a huge asset to an otherwise fairly slow-footed team. More important than that, though, will be that he plays steady, takes care of the ball, and can get it to his teammates in good spots.
SG- KHALIF WYATT, Senior: The Norristown-native had a quick rise from bench-
warming freshman, to ace sixth-man as a sophomore, to averaging 17 points and earning 2nd-Team All-A10 honors last year. This year, he’s gunning for conference Player of the Year, but he may not find the points as easy to come by with defenses more focused on stopping him. It’s easy to see why Wyatt was not highly-touted out of high school: he doesn’t have much athleticism or quickness for a guard at this level. But what he lacks in natural ability he makes up for with unconventional offensive play that defenders struggle to handle, and a fiery, competitive attitude. He just seems to find a way to get clear looks at the basket without being able to blow by anybody, he can make a contested 3, and he has a knack for the big shot. And the energy and emotion he brings raises the game of his teammates.
SF- SCOOTIE RANDALL, Senior: It’s strange to think that Randall is a 5th-year senior, because he’s never even played one full season. Academic eligibility issues plagued him his first two years, and then he missed a chunk of one season and all of last season with injuries. But in his one nearly full season, two years ago, the 6-6 swingman averaged 11 points and 5 rebounds. In some ways, he could be the key to the season, because this team lacks scoring options after Wyatt. If Randall can be a consistent second-option offensively, that would be huge. He certainly showed the ability when he scored 28 points vs. Xavier and 27 vs. Rhode Island two years ago.
PF- RAHLIR HOLLIS-JEFFERSON, Senior: Wyatt may provide emotion and energy to the team, but Hollis-Jefferson is the real leader. He’s a guy that doesn’t fill up stat sheets, but he brings so much else to the table in terms of defense, doing the “little things” to win games, and being a calming presence at tense times. He’s one of the best and most versatile defensive players you will see in the college game. At just 6-6, he is definitely undersized to be a PF, but he has the length and strength to guard bigger players, as well as the quickness to check guards if needed. He will slide to the 3 when Dunphy decides to go big. It will be interesting to see if he’s developed his offensive game much. He averaged 9 points last year, and it would be a huge boost to this team if he can do more in that regard as a senior.
PF- ANTHONY LEE, Sophomore: Lee had an impressive freshman season, earning more playing time than expected because of the injury to Eric. In his first four games as a starter he averaged 9 rebounds and over 2 blocks. His most impressive performance came against Duke, when he more than held his own, with 11 points, 7 boards, and 3 blocks. He went back to the bench when Eric returned, but he has a good chance to find a consistent starting spot this season, especially if he can beat out newcomer Jake O’Brien.
PF- JAKE O’BRIEN, Senior: A transer from Boston U., O’Brien is an intriguing player heading into the season. On the one hand, he missed all of last season with a foot injury that may not be totally healed, and his best season at BU was three years ago. But, he was one of the top players in the America East when healthy, earning Rookie of the Year as a freshman and averaging 14 points as a sophomore. He’s a 6-9, face-up power forward that can stretch defenses with his jump shot, which is definitely something the Owls need. He’ll most likely compete with Lee for a starting spot, but Dunphy could also go big and play those two with Hollis-Jefferson in the frontcourt.
G/F- DALTON PEPPER, Junior: Another newcomer with experience, Pepper sat out last year after transferring from West Virginia. He’s a local product (played with Lavoy Allen at Pennsbury) who scored 2,200 points in high school and was the Pennsylvania Player of the Year in ’09. He was the star that year and played against Norristown High, where Wyatt was a lightly recruited guard. Now they’re teammates and Wyatt is the star, while Pepper is trying to find his game after averaging just 3 points as a reserve at WVU two years ago. With his high school pedigree and the inconsistency of Randall, it’s not impossible to see Pepper in the starting line-up.
G- T.J. DiLeo, Senior: Yes, DiLeo may only have landed a Temple scholarship because of his father (Sixers GM, Tony), but as a 5th-year senior, he’s a nice asset to have around. Especially with three guards gone from last year’s team and the inexperienced Cummings at the point, DiLeo’s knowledge of the system and the program has to be a positive. If all goes well, his role will be similar to what it’s been the last couple of years. If he’s playing over 20 minutes a game, that’s not a good sign for Temple’s season.
The rest of the roster is rounded out with some general unknowns, but one or more of the freshmen could surprise. The most likely to contribute appears to be Daniel Dingle, brother of former UMass star Dana. Dingle sounds like his brother as a player: a tweener forward. 6-10 Devontae Watson is a shot-blocker and a project at the offensive end. Quentin DeCosey is an athletic wing that will be lost in the crowd behind Wyatt, Randall, and Pepper. Then there are two sophomore forwards (Jimmy McDonnell and Nick Pendergast) that appear to be non-factors.
OVERALL SEASON OUTLOOK
With all the new faces and new roles, I expect this team to struggle a bit in non-conference play. But with a lot of depth and experience, and Dunphy pulling the strings, I also expect them to be a really good team by January. They have a lot of options for going with big or small line-ups that should make them hard to prepare for and able to win playing a number of different styles.
The non-conference slate includes games with Duke, Kansas, and Syracuse. Obviously, it would be great if they could just take one of those games as they start building the resume for March. After five straight tournament appearances, I see no reason why they shouldn’t keep the streak going this year, though I’m not sure yet if they have what it takes to stop the trend of 1st-round exits. It will be an exciting final year in the A10, and hopefully another successful one to springboard them into the Big East next season.