Being on the outside looking in at a NCAA Tournament berth is a position senior guard David Hawkins didn’t think he would have to get used to.
For the third straight year, the Owls, 14-11, are on the fringes – contrary to a team on the bubble – and are in desperate need of running the table if they plan on ending their two-year NCAA drought.
“We probably just have to win our tournament to make it,” Hawkins said, “so we’re just going to take it one step at a time. I know it’s in my head and I know what it takes.”
Last year’s improbable run in the Atlantic Ten Tournament, which saw the Owls take out then No. 10 Xavier, fell short in the title game to eventual champion Dayton.
“All the guys came together at the end of the year and, going into A-10s, we all really wanted it, so that made it even better,” sophomore guard Mardy Collins said.
The competition looks even stronger this season. Temple is in the middle of the pack and, right now, in the midst of another late-season rally. The Owls have won seven of their last eight games.
While Temple avoided a horrendous beginning, they did suffer a few damaging losses, which erased any hopes of securing an automatic NCAA bid. Those losses were at the hands of Arizona State, Miami, Dayton and Massachusetts. Conversely, the Owls have just two wins against quality opponents: South Carolina and Indiana.
Temple’s RPI [Ratings Percentage Index] is currently at 82. Ideally, they’d like to be somewhere in the 40s to have a solid shot at an at-large bid. Even if the Owls win two games in the A-10 and lose in the final, it probably still won’t be enough for them to gain a bid. The NCAA Selection Committee uses an assortment of criteria, not just a team’s RPI, to determine which teams are tournament-worthy.
“That was our mindset from day one since we started, that we wanted to win the A-10 and go to the NCAAs,” sophomore forward Antywane Robinson said. “Now it’s a lot more pressure to add onto it; to go and run the table.”
Last night’s game with Massachusetts leaves the Owls with one game left in the regular season against Xavier on Saturday at the Liacouras Center. Regardless of the outcome, Temple has secured the No. 2 seed in the conference tourney and a first-round bye.
“I don’t really want to think about it,” Hawkins said about the various scenarios. “Sometimes, us being a young team, [we] get to thinking about it and we begin to lose focus and start thinking about the outcomes instead of putting in the work to get there.”
The road to the title
Winning the A-10 Tournament will require Temple to win three games against teams they were 0-4 against this season. The teams they are most likely to face are Richmond in the quarterfinals, Dayton in the semis and Saint Joseph’s in the championship.
Richmond [17-11, 9-6] is led by guards Mike Skrocki and Tony Dobbins, who combine for 28 points per game. They allow an A-10-best 59.6 points per game. The Spiders are a team on the tournament bubble with an RPI of 43. They earned huge wins at Colorado and Kansas to go along with a strength of schedule ranked No. 17.
Richmond beat Temple Jan. 17 for its third-straight regular-season win over the Owls. Temple center Keith Butler played only seven minutes in that game. In last year’s conference tourney, the Owls knocked the Spiders out of the quarterfinals.
If the Owls advance to the semis, they will most likely face Dayton [21-6, 11-3], the top seed in the West Division. The Flyers might be the most dangerous team, with a noticeable home-court advantage and plenty of experience from last year’s squad that won the title.
Temple’s Achilles’ heel has been a presence in the middle and the Flyers boast the top frontcourt in the conference with 7-foot center Sean Finn and forward Keith Waleskowski.
The Owls reeled off 13 straight points and nearly upset the Flyers at UD Arena earlier this season but came up short, 60-56.
If Temple gets past Richmond and Dayton, they will probably see unbeaten Saint Joseph’s. What else is there left to say about the Hawks [27-0, 16-0] that hasn’t been said before?
At 5-foot-11, guard Jameer Nelson is a lock for A-10 Player of the Year and a likely candidate for National Player of the Year. Essentially, he does whatever it takes to put his team in position to win. In two games, the Hawks beat Temple by an average of 17.5 points a game.
Jason S. Haslam can be reached at email@example.com.