Temple Midseason Report
Cherry and White on top.
by Nick Rattner
Without returning any big name players or picking up any big name recruits, the Temple Owls are quietly having a great season.
Despite graduating Dionte Christmas, the A-10’s leading scorer in ’08-09, the Owls have a 18-4 record dotted with tough non-conference games, and were (until Wednesday) undefeated in league play. Moreover, they’re ranked 17th in the nation and are gaining confidence by the game. This is their strongest start in the post-John Chaney era; it matches Chaney’s best. If they can continue to carve up the A-10 and close out the breezy second half of their schedule, the Owls could land a top 5 seed at the Dance .
Last week’s victory over pre-season A-10 favorite Xavier gathered the fickle attention of the national media. Still, it remains to be seen if the Cherry and White have ripened early or whether they can raise their level of play another notch come spring. So, is their recent loss to Charlotte a heat check or the writing on the wall?
Ryan Brooks, a 6-4 shooting-guard, has authored a large section of the Owl story. After losing Christmas, Temple fans wondered who might take up the resulting scoring deficit. Though Brooks was basically a recruiting afterthought, everyone knew he was a capable defender, especially after holding ASU’s James Harden to 9 points in last year’s tourney. But few people exacted that Brooks would so readily take up the scoring deficit created by Christmas’ departure (Brooks is averaging 16.2 ppg and 5.2 rpg).
Adding to the Owls’ consistent play is returning big man Lavoy Allen, a great defender and capable scorer. Allen has continued his physical play from last season, turning in 10 & 10 every game and giving the Owls a strong presence around the rim, adding nearly 2 blocks to his column on average. Play from Argentinean guard Juan Fernandez (13 ppg, 3.7 apg) helps keep the Owl attack fluid and the defense tenacious, though he will have to use the last part of the season to cut down on turnovers.
Though the Owls took at 84-52 pummeling from the Kansas Jayhawks, their highest ranked opponent, they regained stature in their next game, meting out like punishment to Martelli’s Saint Joseph’s squad (73-46). Indeed, they went on a six-game win streak.
Last week, they took down Xavier, and extended their win streak against a hapless Fordham squad. The loss to the 49ers was only their second loss in 15 games. The 49ers outplayed the Owls at guard and on defense bringing them to a tie for league lead. Perhaps this signals the fate met by many midseason upstarts: a disappointing finish. Then again, it could sharpen their focus and help them get their claws ready for postseason play.
It looks like we’ll get a chance to find out in March.