Will Cummings prepared himself as the 68-team field for the NCAA tournament began to take shape without Temple’s name.
Until Wednesday, while the men’s basketball team readies itself for its first National Invitation Tournament in 10 seasons, the senior guard will attempt to set aside the fact that his team wound up on the wrong side of the bubble on Selection Sunday.
But nothing, he said, will help him forget it.
“Honestly, it’s never going to settle in,” Cummings said. “I’m always going to have that chip on my shoulder, that anger, just knowing that we didn’t get in for all the hard work that we put in.”
For Temple’s efforts, which included a 23-10 overall record and the 34th-best ratings percentage index in all of Division I, it wasn’t enough to earn its first NCAA tournament bid since Spring 2013.
Six of its losses – three to Southern Methodist, a pair of defeats to Tulsa and a 29-point loss to Cincinnati on the road – were to three of the Top 4 teams in the American Athletic Conference regular-season standings. The Owls were the other, finishing in a third-place tie with Cincinnati.
The Bearcats (22-10), meanwhile, defeated SMU twice in the regular season and won down the stretch, taking victories in each of their final five games of conference play before falling to Connecticut in a conference-tournament quarterfinal last Friday.
While the Owls topped UConn by 12 points in the regular-season finale at the Liacouras Center on March 7, they also dropped back-to-back games to SMU and Tulsa, respectively, on their final road trip of conference play. They also failed to solve the eventual conference champion in SMU, losing the two regular-season matchups after leading by double digits in both games.
Cincinnati was given the eighth seed in the Midwest region of the tournament, while Temple will compete among the 32-team field of the NIT as a No. 1 seed.
“Could we have done something else?” coach Fran Dunphy said. “As you look at it, we’re probably one win short of being in. If we could’ve beaten SMU, any one of the three times, could we have been in? Probably.”
“There probably is another win or so along the way that could’ve gotten us where we wanted to go,” Dunphy added.
Alongside its six conference losses, the last being a 69-56 defeat to the Mustangs last Saturday in the conference semifinals, two of Temple’s defeats came to both Duke and Big 5 rival Villanova early in the season, both of which carry the top seed in their respective NCAA tournament regions.
Early-season losses to the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and Big 5 opponent St. Joseph’s – both teams that failed to make either tournament – could also have been a factor.
When the season entered the final stretch, Dunphy said, each game was critical for Temple’s tournament resume, as the Owls were projected to be a bubble team entering Sunday night’s announcement.
“I’ve sensed [that we needed to win] the last number of games that we’ve played,” Dunphy said. “And [Saturday], yeah. Were we thinking that if we could get [Saturday’s] game that we would be in? Yeah, we thought that. But, obviously it didn’t happen, and you’re reduced to hoping.”
Cummings is one of two Temple seniors in Dunphy’s 10-man rotation that will miss the NCAA tournament in their final opportunity, the other being guard Jesse Morgan, who averaged 11.8 points per game after regaining NCAA eligibility on Dec. 18.
Cummings, a Jacksonville, Florida native who paces the Owls with game averages of 14.2 points, 4.3 assists and 2 steals at point guard, will attempt to lead his team once more in the NIT.
“First, I have to get myself back up in order to get [my teammates] back up,” Cummings said. “We’ll probably have a team meeting or something to refocus the guys and try to set our sights on winning the NIT.”
“You could see the look on everybody’s face,” Cummings added of his team’s post-selection reaction. “Everybody’s disappointed. We’ll let the guys soak in and regroup their minds and stuff like that, come back [Monday] and it’ll be a better day.”
Bucknell University will visit the Liacouras Center Wednesday as the eighth seed in Region 1 for a first-round contest at 7 p.m. The Bison finished the season 19-14 (13-5 Patriot League) and earned an automatic NIT bid after taking the Patriot League’s regular-season title.
“We’ll start to get geared up and we’ll do the same thing we did in the previous number of games this year, and have a plan in store for us to play our best basketball,” Dunphy said of the upcoming competition. “Hopefully guys will rise to the occasion.”
Andrew Parent can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 215.204. 9537 or on Twitter @Andrew_Parent23.