A Few Good Reasons to Feel Good About Temple

Posted by mlemaire on December 3rd, 2014

Sometimes it can feel like Temple is the forgotten team in the AAC, and in some ways, it is a bit of an outsider. The Owls are the only basketball program that isn’t left over from the Big East or recently added from Conference USA, and because the basketball program has been decidedly “mid-major” since the John Chaney days in the mid-1980s, Temple doesn’t seem to fit neatly into either the “football” or “basketball” profile. Instead, the Owls serve as a bridge between the conference’s basketball standard-bearers and its bottom-feeders. A program that’s not quite good enough to receive the sort of attention that UConn and Memphis receive on the national level, but also a program much too good for college basketball enthusiasts to ignore. They are, however, worth paying attention to this season because as the conference has devolved into a mire of early mediocrity, the Owls have seemingly put last season’s 9-22 campaign behind them. Now, they aren’t all the way back, as evidenced by a blowout loss to Duke and a disappointing follow-up loss to UNLV, but they are obviously much improved and with head coach Fran Dunphy steering the ship, Owls’ fans should be feeling better about the state of the program.

Congrats to Fran Dunphy on His 400th Victory

Temple Coach Fran Dunphy Has Retooled The Team’s Defense And It Is Making A Big Difference. (Getty)

Temple remains under the radar this season and that makes a lot of sense, primarily because the Owls didn’t make a great first impression by scoring only 40 points in a season-opening win against American, and also because it hasn’t beaten anyone of note yet (although Louisiana Tech is pretty good). But in what is rapidly becoming a wide-open conference with more and more questions by the week, there are a few reasons folks should be higher on the Owls’ prospects this season than they currently are.

  1. Temple’s Defense is Vastly Improved: The Owls weren’t supposed to be quite so bad last season and a big reason they were is because their defense fell apart. What was a slightly above-average defense in 2011-12 and 2012-13 became the worst defense in the AAC last season, ranking just 257th in defensive efficiency according to KenPom. Even with a solid group of athletes, the Owls didn’t turn anybody over and they let opponents successfully bomb away from all over the floor. The root cause of it was one part roster limitations and one part injuries to players like Daniel Dingle, but that doesn’t excuse how easily Temple let its opponent score. This season has been a different story, though. Dingle is joined in the frontcourt by Texas transfer Jaylen Bond, who is rounding into form nicely. Junior center Devontae Watson has been a legitimate rim-protector because he is staying out of foul trouble and focusing his efforts on the defensive end. Moreover, Will Cummings, Quenton DeCosey and Josh Brown have all consistently harassed opposing ball-handlers on the perimeter. They Owls still aren’t creating many turnovers, but they are doing a better job in defending shooters and limiting opponents on the offensive glass. The results have borne out as the Owls held the Blue Devils’ elite offense to its worst shooting night of the season and they currently rank 58th in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency.
  2. There is No Way Temple Shoots This Badly All Season: Even math idiots like me can understand the concept of regression to the mean. The more times a variable is attempted or measured, the closer it will be to the average. This concept is why I am not willing to crush the Owls for what has been an atrocious start to the season in shooting the basketball. None of the team’s three leading shot-takers (Cummings, DeCosey, and Mark Williams) can boast effective field-goal percentages above 40 percent, and the team as a whole ranks 344th in the country in effective field-goal percentage and are even worse (347th) from behind the arc. Dingle is shooting 12 percentage points below last season’s effective field-goal percentage; DeCosey is almost nine points below his effective field-goal percentage; and Cummings is 10 points off his mark. Chances are that even if all three of those players continue to shoot the ball poorly, their numbers will still rise slightly and thus Temple’s 213th-ranked offense will get a corresponding boost. Now, some of those ugly shooting percentages are because someone is letting iffy shooters like Cummings, Williams, and Dingle bomb away from downtown, but that may be something Dunphy is willing to live with given the tempo at which he wants his team to play. Even so, if the Owls’ gunners would learn to be more selective and patient, they might find that those shots will start falling.
  3. Reinforcements Are Still on the Way: Dunphy has thus far given only a quarter of the team’s minutes to his bench players, which ranks 298th in the country and is borderline unsustainable once the team begins conference play. The good news is that Dunphy will have a lot more roster flexibility once the semester ends on December 8, as a pair of transfer guards — Devin Coleman and Jesse Morgan — will become eligible. The 6’2″ Coleman started last season fairly strong with Clemson but wasn’t finding enough consistent playing time and decided to transfer back home. If he can shoot the way he did in 10 games last season (42.9% 3FG) and uses his size to play physical on-ball defense, he will be an asset on both ends of the floor. Morgan is a more proven commodity given his three prior seasons at UMass, and he too will be an asset thanks to his versatile offensive game, length, and quick hands that wreak havoc defensively. The Owls’ current backcourt is only three deep as Cummings and DeCosey hog most of the minutes and Josh Brown spells both of them, but Morgan’s size will allow Dunphy to experiment with some other roster combinations, and Coleman will be better than almost every other fourth guard in the conference.

KenPom still has the Owls finishing the season with a record of 16-15 and 9-9 in the AAC, which won’t get the Owls back to the NCAA Tournament. But let’s check back in a few weeks and see if there aren’t some new members of the Temple bandwagon by then.

mlemaire (324 Posts)

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