It once seemed so promising.
Two weeks ago, the men’s basketball team went into the A.J. Palumbo Center and beat the Duquesne Dukes, 78-73. It was the team’s second nice road win in a row, as just a few days earlier, the Owls took down Saint Joseph’s at the Palestra.
Then they came home, finally, for three games against clearly inferior teams in Fordham, St. Bonaventure and La Salle. The Owls got by the first two without playing particularly well. But not the third.
A stunning 70-63 loss to the rival Explorers turned Temple’s trip to Dayton Saturday into a must-win situation. But at UD Arena, the Owls were never really in the contest until senior guard Dionte Christmas hit a barrage of 3-pointers in the final few minutes. Still, that was too little, too late, as the Owls fell, 70-65.
Now standing at 17-11 overall and 9-5 inside the Atlantic Ten Conference, the Owls’ at-large chances are gone. Over. Done with. Kaput.
Sure, they have nice wins against Tennessee, Penn State and Rhode Island, but the bad losses to Long Beach State, Massachusetts and La Salle clearly outweigh them. With that, the only way the Owls will make the NCAA Tournament is by winning the A-10 Tournament next weekend in Atlantic City, N.J.
To do that, the Owls will probably need to pick up a bye in the first round of the A-10 Tournament. That feat once seemed like a lock, but now with Duquesne on their heels, things are getting interesting.
However, the Owls received some help Sunday afternoon, as the Dukes fell at home to Rhode Island. Now the Owls are two games up (counting the tiebreaker) with two games to go on fifth-place Duquesne, meaning the Owls’ magic number is one to clinch a bye for the first round of the A-10 Tournament. The top four seeds gain that bye and only have to win three games to gain the automatic bid.
So, there are still things to accomplish for this Owls team, even though the days of checking “bubble watch” and Bracketology are a distant memory.
It’s the exact opposite case for the women’s basketball team.
Expectations were not high for coach Tonya Cardoza’s squad this season, but the first-year coach has defied critics’ expectations and put her team in a terrific position to gain an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament.
Actually, they’re not just in a terrific position.
Barring something crazy, the Owls are going dancing for the sixth straight season. Wins at Charlotte two weeks ago and at George Washington Sunday, combined with Wednesday’s upset of then-No. 13 Xavier, have lifted the Owls off the bubble and comfortably into the field of 64.
Nothing is guaranteed, of course, but the Owls’ chances are looking pretty good. Things seemed bleak after last month’s loss to Massachusetts, but to Cardoza’s credit, her team has rebounded and is full of confidence right now.
With a No. 2 seed in the A-10 Tournament this weekend in Charlotte, N.C., the Owls are going there to play for improved seeding in the NCAA Tournament. Three wins down there, and the Owls could climb as high as a No. 6 seed. An early exit and they might be stuck in No. 10 or No. 11 range.
Either way, Cardoza should be the frontrunner for the A-10 Coach of the Year and could even get some consideration for National Coach of the Year.
No matter what happens, the next few weeks are going to be busy ones for Temple basketball. Let the madness begin.
Todd Orodenker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.