Sports

Season’s second half hinges in conference

Despite playing mostly on the road, the Owls are in a good position to make the NCAA Tournament after completing their non-conference schedule. Now it simply comes down to winning games inside the A-10.

It’s been an interesting season for the men’s basketball team.

From a road-laden non-conference schedule to the upset win over Tennessee to the arrival of freshman guard Juan Fernandez, the past two months have been very eventful for coach Fran Dunphy’s squad.
The results, well, they’ve been mixed. There have been some good things, some bad things and some unfortunately unlucky things.

Juan Fernandez handles the point last Wednesday against Penn. The Owls’ freshman guard from Argentina has been splitting time at point guard with Semaj Inge and could replace the senior in the starting lineup if his play continues to improve (John Mehler/TTN).

The Roster
This much is certain: senior guard Dionte Christmas, junior guard Ryan Brooks and sophomore forward Lavoy Allen are going to play about 35 minutes a game. That leaves just enough room for the point guard combination of senior Semaj Inge and Fernandez to split time in the backcourt, though many expect the recent import from Argentina to play more and more and possibly unseat Inge as the starter as the season progresses.

Left to spectate from the bench are junior guard Luis Guzman and freshman guard Ramone Moore, two guys who played a lot early in the season but who have since become odd men out.

As for the final spot on the court, sophomore forward Craig Williams has come out of nowhere to win a starting job over senior center Sergio Olmos, who looks to be falling out of favor with Dunphy.

Freshman forward Micheal Eric also factors in, as he’s been a spark off the bench in recent games against La Salle and Massachusetts.

Williams has played well since getting the nod Jan. 5 against Kent State, averaging 9.4 points per game as a starter. With Olmos continually sporadic and Eric improving by the game, the battle for playing time alongside Allen down low could continue to intensify.

The Schedule
Sure the Owls have had a grand total of three home games so far this season, but all those games away from the Liacouras Center have done wonders for the team’s RPI.

Despite a 9-7 record and just two true quality wins over Tennessee and Penn State to boast about, the Owls are ranked 40th, which puts them in a great position to gain an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament.

Yes, it hurts the fans, who only get 11 opportunities to see the team play at home this year. But with the yearly games against Penn and Villanova taking place on the road this year, to a certain extent, this was the hand the Owls were simply dealt.

In addition, the Owls already got two of their eight road games in the Atlantic Ten Conference out of the way, so with one of the remaining six road games at the Palestra against Saint Joseph’s, they will only have to travel outside of Philadelphia five times between now and the A-10 Tournament in Atlantic City, N.J.

For a team that’s spent a majority of the season on chartered flights and buses, that has to feel good.

The Tournament
The Owls have seven losses.

Teams have a tough time gaining an at-large bid with more than 10 losses.

Simple math reveals the Owls are in trouble if they drop more than three games. And with two games against St. Joe’s (9-7, 3-0) and Rhode Island (12-6, 1-2) and road games against No. 13 Xavier (15-2, 4-0), Dayton (16-2, 2-1) and Duquesne (12-5, 3-1) remaining on the schedule, logic tells you it’s going to be a really tough task for the Owls to pick up that at-large bid.

But it’s possible. Even if the Owls finish with 11 or 12 losses, a possible second or third place finish in the A-10, combined with a win or two in the A-10 Tournament, could be enough to sway the committee.
Last year, St. Joe’s received an at-large bid with 12 losses. So it can certainly be done.

However, the key word there is “could.” An Owls team that enters the A-10 Tournament with nine or 10 losses is all but guaranteed a bid. Otherwise, they need some things to go their way. And with March a normally crazy time in college basketball, relying on other teams to win or lose is about the last thing you can count on.

With that, it will certainly be a fun last month and a half for the Owls.

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

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