Sports

Postseason hopes on the line with challenging slate ahead

No. 9 Xavier and a solid Rhode Island team await an Owls squad that needs some impressive wins.

The calendar has turned.

Football season is over.

The focus, the attention, it all shifts to the world of college basketball.

And with 10 games to go until the Atlantic Ten Conference Tournament in Atlantic City, N.J., things are starting to get serious for the men’s basketball team.

Sitting at 12-8 overall and 4-2 inside the A-10, the Owls now find themselves squarely on the bubble for an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament. They’ve had some good wins, some ugly wins, some tough losses and some bad losses. There’s been a little bit of everything thus far this season.

And this week, looming showdowns with No. 9 Xavier (19-2, 7-0) Thursday in Cincinnati and Rhode Island (15-7, 4-3) Sunday at the Liacouras Center could go a long way in determining the Owls’ fate.

Temple will also be looking for revenge in the later of this week’s two contests, as last Wednesday in Kingston, R.I., the Rams beat the Owls, 67-58, in a game where the Cherry and White shot just 2-for-15 in the second half from behind the 3-point line.

Semaj Inge drives to the lane in the Owls’ 74-65 victory over Richmond. With No. 9 Xavier up next, this will be a big week for the Owls (John Birk/TTN).

Xavier, which started the season outside the Top 25 and has since piled up wins over Virginia Tech, Memphis and Louisiana State, has been the powerhouse of the A-10 this decade, making the NCAA Tournament every year except the 2004-2005 season.

The Musketeers haven’t lost a conference home game since Feb. 28, 2005, against Saint Joseph’s, and the only team to beat them this year at the Cintas Center was No. 11 Butler. Combine that with the fact that the Owls have beaten Xavier just once on the road in school history and, this year, are a less-than-stellar 5-7 outside the city of Philadelphia, and things are about to get real tough for coach Fran Dunphy’s squad in two nights.

With all that looming, senior guard Semaj Inge took a more relaxed, controlled approach to his team’s big stretch of games.

“We’re going to take [Sunday] off and get back at it in the weight room Monday and practice in the afternoon,” Inge said after the Owls’ 74-65 victory over Richmond Saturday night. “We’re just going to go as hard as we can to get ready for this next week.”

That will have to be the case, as the Owls can hardly stand to fall apart with so little time remaining in the season.

Thus far, they have tallied up marquee wins over then-No. 7 Tennessee (13-7, 4-2 in the Southeastern Conference) and a road victory against Penn State (17-5, 6-3 in the Big Ten) but have also dropped games to the likes of Long Beach State (11-9, 6-2 in the Big West) and Massachusetts (7-12, 2-4). And sure, those teams might be better than their records indicate, but the selection committee probably doesn’t care about that.

It sees losses to teams it knows Temple is better than, and that counts negatively toward the Owls gaining an at-large bid. But, the Owls still have chances to make things look better with the two contests this week, two dates with St. Joe’s (12-8, 5-1) and road matchups with Duquesne (14-6, 5-2) Feb. 15 and Dayton (20-2, 6-1).

In addition to that, the Owls have some very winnable games against Fordham, St. Bonaventure, La Salle and George Washington — which could help them pile up victories they desperately need.

Temple’s RPI currently stands at 48, and its strength of schedule stands at 47 entering tonight’s games, which are numbers that are certainly good enough to be in the discussion come March. But the Owls’ résumé will go up against the résumés of about 100 different schools, and teams like Butler, Memphis or Gonzaga — squads that are assured of at-large bids — could also lose in their respective conference tournaments, opening the door for another team to grab an automatic bid.

So with all those elements in play, it’s pretty obvious what the Owls need to do.

“We need to win every game we can. We’re in the stretch,” Dunphy said. “I think every game from now on is going to be a hellacious war that we’re going to have to get ready for. And it starts with Xavier on Thursday.”

Todd Orodenker can be reached at todd.orodenker@temple.edu.

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