With the exception of a 32-point loss to then-No. 1 Kansas Jan. 2, the men’s basketball team has won 11 of its last 12 games and earned a Top 25 ranking for the first time since November 2001.
When fall semester classes ended Dec. 9, the men’s basketball team had a modest three-game winning streak and a 7-2 overall record.
But when classes begin for the spring semester today, the Owls will have recorded two signature wins against Big East Conference opponents, opened the Atlantic Ten Conference portion of their schedule 3-0 and achieved a Top 25 ranking for the first time since November 2001. Temple, which finished undefeated in December, currently stands at 15-3 overall and has won 11 of its last 12 games.
“There’s an extreme amount of excitement,” senior guard Ryan Brooks said after the Owls entered the national rankings before the Bowling Green game Dec. 28. “We’re definitely aware that it was hard to get here, and it’s going to be harder to stay here. Every team’s going to give us their best shot, and we’ve got to welcome that.”
Temple moved into the polls after back-to-back victories against then-No. 3 Villanova and Seton Hall. Both Big East teams were undefeated at the time.
The Owls stayed in the rankings, even after a 32-point loss to then-No. 1 Kansas Jan. 2, by beating Mid-American Conference opponents Bowling Green and Northern Illinois and taking care of business against teams like Saint Joseph’s and Penn, which had posted lengthy losing streaks prior to playing Temple. The Hawks had lost three consecutive games and nine of their last 10 games, while the Quakers had a 1-10 record. Rhode Island, at 12-1 entering its matchup, had recorded wins against teams like Davidson, Boston College and Oklahoma State before losing to Temple.
“We’ve been stressing that [conference play] was a new season for us [after the Kansas loss],” Brooks said after the St. Joe’s game Jan. 6. “The first part of the season [nonconference play], we put ourselves in pretty good position. It’s been a great way to start off A-10.
“[Kansas] was a game that really brought us back down to earth,” Brooks added. “That was definitely a learning experience for us and hopefully a turning point [in the season].”
Thanks to playing teams like Kansas and Villanova, the Owls own the 10th best strength of schedule, which takes into account the record of a team’s opponents as well as its opponents’ opponents. RPI, or ratings percentage index, calculates a team’s winning percentage, its opponents’ winning percentage and that of its opponents’ opponents. The Owls rank eighth in that category.
Temple continues to be led by its defense. The Owls are ranked No. 1 in scoring defense, field-goal percentage defense and 3-point percentage defense in the A-10. The 55.5 points the Owls allow per game trail only Arizona State and Southern California in the NCAA’s Division I. Opponents are shooting just 24.9 percent from beyond the arc against the Owls, second in Division I. The University of North Carolina Wilmington defends the 3-point line better – by .1 percent. Temple’s field-goal percentage defense also ranks in the Division I Top 10.
“We’re looking to be flawless on the defensive end, knowing that we’re going to be not quite perfect on the offensive end,” coach Fran Dunphy said following the Hawks game. “Defense is where we have to hang our hat. We’re led by one perimeter guy [Brooks] and one interior guy [junior forward Lavoy Allen], but [players like sophomore guard] Juan Fernandez are really picking it up defensively. Smart guys figure it out that if they’re not on top of their games offensively, they can still help out defensively. But I wasn’t quite sure we could get our numbers to where our numbers are right now.”
On the offensive side of the ball, three players – Brooks, Fernandez and Allen – average double figures. Allen averages a double-double. But, as Dunphy said following the Bowling Green game, the Owls will need more than their “three-and-change fixtures” to continue winning the rest of the season.
“At Seton Hall, it was Scootie Randall’s night. Tonight, it was Ramone Moore’s night. We have the three-and-change fixtures. Lavoy Allen has to be good each night, [Ryan] Brooks has to be good each night, [Juan] Fernandez has to be good each night, and Luis Guzman just has to be solid each night out. That’s what good teams do. Someone steps up.”
The Owls open up spring semester play at the Liacouras Center versus Xavier tomorrow night, followed by a game against Fordham Saturday afternoon in the Bronx.
Jennifer Reardon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.