Two of the four remaining Non-BCS Watch List teams call the Atlantic 10 home, starting with a team coming off their first NCAA Tournament win since 2001.
The Owls won 26 games and finished an impressive 14-2 in the conference after reeling off 11 straight wins to close out A-10 play. Despite a loss to Richmond in the conference tourney, Temple earned an at-large bid and proceeded to knock off Penn State in the first round. Their season ended two days later in a double overtime loss to San Diego State.
Temple finished 38th overall in the final Pomeroy Ratings with both their offensive and defensive efficiencies falling inside the Top 55. On offense, they ranked 12th in the nation in turnover percentage, but their propensity for taking jumpshots led to a poor free throw rate. Defensively, the Owls finished in the Top 50 in opponents’ free throw rate, offensive rebounding percentage, and effective field goal percentage. Interestingly, the team allowed their opponents to shoot extremely well from three-point range but were among the nation’s best against two-pointers.
This Year’s Owls
The strength of this team lies firmly in the backcourt, starting with the duo of Ramone Moore and Juan Fernandez. Moore led the team with 15.2 points per game and finished second in assists and steals. He also chipped in better than four rebounds per contest and canned 38.3 percent from beyond the arc. Despite logging a lot of minutes, Moore rarely committed fouls and posted a relatively low turnover rate. His role will remain unchanged as a senior, and I expect him to earn a spot on the All-Atlantic 10 team.
I feel like Fernandez has been on the team for about seven years now, but he provides tremendous stability at the point. He posted a team-high 3.9 assists per game last year and chipped in 11.2 points per contest as well. Fernandez’s shooting percentages fell across the board, so a bounce back season isn’t out of the question. Regardless, his high assist rate and ability to facilitate the offense make him invaluable to Coach Fran Dunphy.
Forward Scootie Randall showed huge improvement last season and finished fourth on the team in both scoring (10.7 ppg) and rebounding (4.7 rpg). His overall offensive rating was 45th in the country thanks to his impressive shooting and an extremely low turnover rate. Randall is an efficient rebounder at 6-foot-6, and he’s shown the ability to score both inside and outside the arc.
Khalif Wyatt is the team’s fourth returning double-digit scorer after pouring in 10.1 points despite playing just over 20 minutes per game. He connected on over 42 percent from three-point range and also led the team in steals. Wyatt also did a solid job of drawing fouls and getting to the line, finishing second to only Randall in offensive rating.
In case you haven’t noticed, I have yet to mention any players over 6-foot-6, mostly because there are just a few guys on the roster who fit that description. Center Micheal Eric is the only one with any college experience, although a knee injury cut his season short last year. He finished second on the team in rebounds and blocked shots while posting 7.1 points per game. Had Eric played a larger percentage of the team’s minutes, his rebounding and block percentages would have placed him among the national leaders. With his knee healthy, Eric will be asked to anchor the interior, but it will be imperative that he stay out of foul trouble if the Owls are to be successful this year.
Rahlir Jefferson is the other key returnee in the frontcourt. His 5.3 rebounds per game were good for third on the team, but he’ll need to step up his scoring with Allen gone. Jefferson hit better than 52 percent from the field and posted a solid free throw rate. Unfortunately, he hit fewer than 56 percent of his free throws, but his ability to contribute on the glass will keep him in the rotation and most likely the starting lineup.
Guards Aaron Brown and T.J. DiLeo both played sparingly last season but will provide additional backcourt depth.
Will Cummings is the only true freshman on the roster and will be ready to take over point guard duties once Fernandez graduates. Scouting reports laud his quickness, deft passing, and defensive ability, all of which will serve him well as he learns the ropes this year.
A pair of redshirt freshmen will be asked to play reserve roles in the frontcourt. Anthony Lee missed last season due to back surgery, but he should at least be able to help on the glass this year. Jimmy McDonnell is 6-foot-10 but still needs to add weight to be a consistent factor inside. However, a lack of height will likely force both players into the mix early on.
The Owls have no shortage of talent in the backcourt and on the wing, but questions inside have them projected to finish second in the A-10 behind Xavier. The NCAA Tournament monkey is off Dunphy’s back, but he’ll need to find ways to mask their inefficiencies down low.
Temple will be tested early in the Puerto Rico Tipoff, where they open with Western Michigan before facing Purdue or Iona in the second round. They also play Villanova at home, travel toTexas, face Duke on a neutral floor, and take on Maryland at the Palestra.
Moore, Fernandez, Randall, and Wyatt form the nucleus of the team, but Eric is the clear x-factor inside. If he can stay healthy and build on last year’s success, he gives the team at least one reliable option inside. Otherwise, the Owls will have to turn to untested and unproven youngsters to shoulder the load down low, which isn’t exactly the blueprint for success. Still, if Dunphy can get anything out of his inside players, the talent is there to earn an at-large bid and head back to the Big Dance.
* – Ramone Moore/Juan Fernandez photo source: So Much Sports