Fran Dunphy is no stranger to the drama that strikes more than 70 college basketball programs annually in March.
The 64-year-old coach has held a head coaching position since 1989 and has appeared in seven of the last eight NCAA Tournaments, including five straight.
One blemish does appear on Dunphy’s March résumé however, a 2-14 record in the NCAA Tournament as a head coach. With the Owls sitting on the tournament bubble, this year will be harder than most to turn his record around.
“When I was asked what kind of team we had, I said, ‘I think we can be good, I don’t know if we can be great,’” Dunphy said. “It’s proving to be a little prophetic, but at this point we are too inconsistent to even be called good at this point.”
Unlike in years past, the Owls are not a lock to make the NCAA Tournament when the selection committee makes its final decision on March 17.
Last season the question was not if the team would make the tournament, but how high of a seed it could earn. While it was able to collect a No. 5 seed from voters, a loss in the first game of the NCAA Tournament ended the Owls season early. It was the fourth time in five years they had done so.
After a loss to Duquesne at home on Feb. 14, Joe Lunardi, a bracketologist for ESPN, moved the Owls out of his “Last Four In” category and positioned them among teams that would be the “First Four Out.” The loss to Duquesne was especially damaging due to the Dukes’ RPI of 212.
Temple, whose RPI is 52, saw Duquesne, replace a home loss to St. Bonaventure (RPI 124) as the Owls worst of the season. These losses late in the season make them that much more damaging to the Owls’ tournament bid.
“Everyone’s ultimate goal is the NCAA Tournament,” graduate senior Jake O’Brien said. “We have a lot of work to do and we want to keep moving forward. We will cross that bridge when we come to it.”
What could have been a favorable weekend for the Owls provided little comfort as Selection Sunday draws near. While it was able to win a game against a Massachusetts team that knocked them out of the A-10 Tournament last season, Temple received little help from other bubble teams. Saint Mary’s, Villanova, Arizona State and California were all able to win key road games, but perhaps the biggest detriment to the Owls’ postseason chances came from Maryland. The Terrapins knocked off No. 2 Duke at home.
One advantage the Owls do have is a relatively high RPI. Among current bubble teams, Temple trails only St. Mary’s in this department.
“When your back’s against the wall you respond,” Dunphy said. “We are a good team but we aren’t nearly good enough.”
Temple also has the opportunity to earn favor with the selection committee as the season winds down. The Owls face one of their biggest games of the season this Thursday, Feb. 21, when they take on A-10 and Big 5-rival La Salle at home. Temple also has a game remaining against Virginia Commonwealth, both teams expected to make the NCAA Tournament.
“We have seven really tough games coming up,” Dunphy said before taking on UMass. “Six of them in the league, and Detroit is a really good team too. We have presented ourselves with a very difficult challenge as we move forward. But that’s who we are, and we need to respond right now.”
Ibrahim Jacobs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ibrahimjacobs.