The men’s basketball team extended its streak of reaching the postseason to 22 seasons Sunday when it accepted an invitation to the National Invitational Tournament. The Owls (16-13) play tonight at Virginia Tech.
The big news for Temple is the return of coach John Chaney. Chaney served what was essentially a five-game suspension for his actions in a game against Saint Joseph’s on Feb. 22. A win over the Hokies would give Chaney his 500th victory at Temple.
Chaney was conspicuously absent from the Big 5 Coaches vs. Cancer breakfast at the Palestra yesterday. Murmurs out of Temple and St. Joe’s last week suggested representatives of each school might protest the attendance of the other. But with neither the Hall of Fame coach nor any prominent Owls or Hawks student-athletes in attendance, the event went off free of controversy.
Assistant coach Dan Leibovitz took Chaney’s typical place on stage. Leibovitz, who led the Owls to a 3-2 record filling in for the head coach, gets to take a welcome reprieve from the spotlight when Chaney returns to the bench.
The Owls were relegated to the less-notable NIT after a disappointing 11-5 conference record and a semifinal loss to George Washington in the Atlantic Ten tournament on Friday. The Hokies (15-13) boast wins over Duke, Georgia Tech and North Carolina State, but lost to last-place Florida State and Big South Conference cellar-dweller Virginia Military Institute.
The Hokies rely heavily on three-point accuracy and offensive rebounding, two areas in which Temple opponents have had success at times this season. But the Owls are 9-0 all-time against the Hokies, who were members of the A-10 until they moved to the Big East in 2000. This was VT’s first season in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The winner moves on to play either Northeastern or Memphis in the second round. The Huskies lost to NCAA Tournament-bound Vermont in the America East Conference championship, while the Tigers fell to No. 4 Louisville in the Conference USA title game.
Leibovitz disclosed his NCAA Final Four predictions yesterday. He predicted Illinois, Connecticut, Utah and Louisville would be the four teams to make it to St. Louis.
Coach Rick Pitino’s Cardinals were a popular pick among the Coaches vs. Cancer attendees. St. Joe’s coach Phil Martelli and radio personality Howard Eskin also chose Louisville to advance to the Final Four.
Many Philadelphians will not be able to view Chaney’s return. The first-round game will be televised on ESPNU, a new all-college channel on the ESPN network. ESPNU is not yet part of the area’s local cable package.
Benjamin Watanabe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.