The talking heads who cover the Atlantic Ten Conference picked the Owls to finish ninth in a preseason poll.
With a new coach, one returning starter and the loss of Mardy Collins to the NBA, expectations were not high. Still, those predictions might have been a bit too high.
Halfway through their conference
schedule, the Owls, at 3-5, sit in 10th place in the 14-team Atlantic Ten Conference.
If the season ended today, they would squeak into the 12-team A-10 tournament with the 10th seed.
“It’s a must-win situation from here on out,” senior guard Dustin Salisbery said.
“Because as of right now, I don’t even know if we’re making the Atlantic Ten tournament.” That is foreign territory for the Owls (9-12 overall), who, at this point in the season, are usually pondering
whether they will be on the bubble of the NCAA Tournament.
Before winning their last two games, the Owls had lost nine of 11 games to sink to the bottom of the A-10. The Owls needed to start somewhere, and coach Fran Dunphy called the wins against Richmond and La Salle games an improvement. After allowing their opponent to score at least 70 points in 10 straight games, the Owls have now held their last two foes under the 70-point barrier.
“We’re just hopeful that we can continue to play to the level that will allow us to get to Atlantic City [for the A-10 tournament],” Dunphy said.Salisbery and sophomore guard Dionte Christmas each said the success is partly the result of better team chemistry.
“The last couple weeks, we’ve been doing
everything as a team,” Christmas said. “From going out to studying together, we’re together right now as a team.”
We know what we need to do to get to the tournament. And I think we’re ready right now. We’re going to go on a nice winning streak.”And with struggling St. Bonaventure (6-16 overall, 3-6 A-10) rolling into the Liacouras Center Wednesday, the Owls might be able to do just that. The Bonnies, 12th in the 14-team A-10, have never beaten the Owls in Philadelphia.
Salisbery stressed that consistency is key.
“Once we’re consistent, in my opinion, I think we’re the best Atlantic Ten team there is,” Salisbery said. The Owls have an uphill battle if they are to ascend in the A-10 standings. The schedule becomes more difficult as the season progresses,
with upcoming games against Massachusetts,
George Washington and Saint Joseph’s. Rebounding has been a season-long problem for the Owls, who are being outrebounded by a 4.6 margin.
Massachusetts and St. Joe’s feature three of the A-10’s premier big men in the Minutemen’s Rashaun Freeman and Stephane Lasme and the Hawks’ Ahmad Nivens. But the schedule only forces the Owls to leave Philadelphia twice in the final eight games, because two of the Owls’ four away games are against La Salle and St. Joe’s.
Christmas said this gives the Owls an advantage.
“Our home crowd is great, magnificent,” Christmas said. “It’s like we have to win for them. They do so much for us. I think that’s really going to play a big part in our wins, us playing close to home.”
It’s no secret many of the Owls have improved their shooting under Dunphy. Perhaps most remarkable of all has been the performance of Mark Tyndale, a three-year starter who entered the season shooting at a .359 clip in his first two years. The junior guard is shooting at a .520 percent this season, 161 points higher than his career mark entering this campaign. He’s also averaging 17.3 points per game, well above his career average of 11.7.In the Owls’ last three games, Tyndale has averaged 25.9 points while hitting 65 percent of his shots.
Tyndale’s performance earned him A-10 Co-player of the Week.
The Owls take on St. Bonaventure Wednesday at the Liacouras Center. The Bonnies, who haven’t had a winning season since 2001-02, are led by forwards Michael Lee and Paul Williams. The duo has combined for 26 points and 14 rebounds per contest.
John Kopp can be reached at email@example.com.