Sports

Despite early wins, Owls’ NCAA chances fading

Temple’s lost nine of its last 14 games after two Top 25 wins early this season.

Temple fans were quite optimistic for the Owls’ season after the Preseason National Invitation Tournament back in November.

Temple beat Top 25 opponents Florida State University and West Virginia University at the Barclays Center on Nov. 24 and Nov. 25 to win the Preseason NIT. After a 1-2 start the Owls were 5-2 and proved they were capable of beating some of the top teams in the country.

But coach Fran Dunphy wasn’t quite sure yet what to expect from his team.

“I hope we have grown a lot, but it’s not going to mean anything when we go to play in Philadelphia next week,” Dunphy said on Nov. 25.

Temple beat Saint Joseph’s and the University of Pennsylvania upon its return from New York, but Dunphy was right. Those wins in New York weren’t any indicator of the direction the Owls’ season was heading.

Temple’s gone 5-9 in its 14 games since Dec. 7. After winning the regular-season American Athletic Conference championship last season, Dunphy’s team sits in eighth place in the 11-team league with a 2-7 record.

The marquee wins likely won’t be enough to get the Owls — who own an 11-11 overall record and rank No. 81 in the Ratings Percentage Index — into the NCAA tournament.

The Owls broke up a three-game losing streak with a home win against Memphis on Wednesday, which the team hoped would be a “statement game.” But Temple couldn’t capitalize on the momentum, and lost to Houston 79-66 late Saturday night.

So how did Temple beat West Virginia and Florida State? That’s the question Owls’ fans have asked themselves during the past two months while their team has struggled.

With each Temple loss, those wins seem more and more like a fluke. Temple shot better than 50 percent from 3-point range and averaged 85 points per game in the wins against the Seminoles and Mountaineers.

The Owls are shooting 35.3 percent from behind the arc this season and haven’t made more than 43 percent of their threes in any game since the Preseason NIT. They’ve only shot better than 40 percent from 3-point range three other times this season.

Temple’s problems have come on both sides of the floor. After nine conference games, the Owls rank among the bottom four teams in The American in points scored per game and points allowed per game.

The Owls are averaging 70.9 points per game and allowing 71.6 points per game, which rank No. 242 and No. 169 in Division I, respectively.

The scoring problems are no stranger to the Owls. They averaged 68.7 points per game last season, which ranked No. 266 in Division I, and 65.8 points per game in 2014-15, which ranked No. 211.

Temple still won more than 20 games both seasons, however, the Owls’ defense was much better. The Owls ranked No. 45 in scoring defense in 2014-15 and No. 70 in 2015-16.

The team’s fortune could turn around next week. Temple’s road trip continues with a game on Tuesday against Tulane, which is 1-8 in The American, followed by a home game on Sunday against South Florida, which has yet to win a conference game.

Owen McCue can be reached at owen.mccue@temple.edu or on Twitter @Owen_McCue.

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