By Martha Sullivan
Let me be blunt:
Temple got screwed out of an NCAA tournament berth last year.
One of the many teams left out of the Big Dance, the Owls posted an outstanding 26-11 record and finished above teams like the Memphis, Connecticut and Cincinnati in American Athletic Conference play.
Heading into 2015-16, however, some of the key players who led them to that record are gone, so we should expect a slightly less impressive record.
Fortunately, Quenton DeCosey (above) and Jaylen Bond both return. These two players averaged a combined total of 19.9 points, 12.5 rebounds and 2.2 steals per game and will both need to step it up offensively if this team is to repeat their success from a season ago. The Owls know these two players are good, but they need at least one of them to be great next season.
Although DeCosey and Bond will be the team’s biggest focal points, there are several young players who will have an opportunity to step forward and contribute. Obi Enechionyia (above) played well as a freshman and should see a lot more time on the court, as should Daniel Dingle. Watch for the three incoming four-star recruits to make an impact as well.
In non-conference play, Temple will face several difficult opponents in the North Carolina, Wisconsin and Villanova. These three opponents will likely prove too much for the Owls, but that’s what most thought about the Kansas Jayhawks last season and we all know how that turned out. Temple should be favored throughout the rest of the non-conference slate and head into conference play with at least seven wins.
In conference play, the teams that finished just behind the Owls in the AAC standings take a step forward, meaning that Temple should finish a few spots lower in the final conference standings than they did last season. Luckily, Temple balances out a home-and-home with Memphis, Cincinnati, Tulsa Golden Hurricane and UConn with home-and-homes with beatable teams like the Houston Cougars,South Florida Bulls and East Carolina Pirates.
Expect Temple to finish the season with around 20 wins, but I think that a trip to the NIT is far more likely than a trip to the NCAA tournament. This is a transition year despite the talented roster and should reveal the Owls’ future stars early on in the season. Watch for this team to make a big improvement in 2016-17.