If 1999-2000 was a season of promise for Temple men’s basketball, 2000-2001 is a season of doubt.
Expectations of Temple players, coaches and fans went unmet last March, when the Owls were upset in the second round of the NCAA Tournament by Ty Shine and Seton Hall.
“What our kids did last year, I’m pretty proud of that,” head coach John Chaney said. “A lot of teams around the country lost in that second round, like we did. I was pretty happy with it, even though somebody up above must have said, ‘This is as far as you’re gonna go.'”
This year, a second-round loss in the NCAAs would mean a mission accomplished for a recharging Temple program that features only one senior.
With three starters gone from a team that was ranked as high as No. 4 in the nation heading into the post-season last year, there can be no guarantees. Even Chaney’s 11th straight NCAA Tournament bid seems uncertain.
But not unlikely.
There is little question that the Owls have enough athletic talent to make another trip to the Big Dance, and even to defend their Atlantic 10 Conference crown. The question is whether that talent can emerge from a punishing non-conference schedule with enough confidence to develop down the stretch of the season.
Chaney has his usual pre-season doubts. His message to Temple fans:
“Stick with us. I’ll be all right. This team is horrible.”
At a less theatrical moment, he reiterated his sentiments of caution: “I just don’t see us being the kind of fluid team we have been in years past.”
The Owls have suffered losses at every aspect of the game. Point guard extraordinaire Pepe Sanchez, leading scorer Mark Karcher, four-year starting post player Lamont Barnes and supersub rebounding and defensive specialist Keaton Sanders all have left voids to be filled.
But there will be some continuity.
Fifth-year senior Quincy Wadley, a former partial academic qualifier who was awarded an extra year of eligibility for earning his degree in August, was Temple’s second-leading scorer last year. He’s also the experienced leader, something that the rest of the team lacks.
If the Owls can maintain the standard the last few seasons have set, it will be a testament to Temple’s coaching, as well as the ultimate coachability of some very talented players.
Despite the loss of starters Lamont Barnes and Mark Karcher, Temple’s biggest natural advantage this season will be in the front court.
Karcher was Temple’s leading scorer last year with 15.4 points a game. He dropped 28 on top-ranked Cincinnati in the Owls’ Feb. 20 win, leading Temple to the national spotlight. More important, he made most of the big shots when the Owls needed them, and was the best Temple player at creating his own scoring opportunities.
Junior swingman Alex Wesby is a natural scorer, but he doesn’t have the catch-and-shoot ability that Karcher had. He may be Karcher’s equal on the defensive side of the ball, however, if not his superior.
If Wesby is able to learn Chaney’s system well enough not to have to think about it on the court, his natural talent will make the loss of Karcher much less costly.
Where the small forward position might be a relative weakness for Temple early on, the post will be all about strength.
There are few, if any, teams in the nation that can physically match up with the Owls’ junior post combination of Kevin Lyde and Ron Rollerson. Both Lyde (6-9 and 250) and Rollerson (6-10 and 320) are natural centers, but they’ll fill both the starting center and the power forward positions for Chaney.
Lyde has started at center since his freshman year, 1998-1999, and has excellent rebounding instincts. Rollerson averaged 10 minutes a game last season as Lyde’s backup, but the two seldom were on the floor at the same time.
This year, that will change.
Due to a disappointing final season from departed power forward Barnes, Rollerson easily could turn out to be an improvement at the four. Barnes averaged nine points and five rebounds in 30 minutes a game in 1999-2000, while Rollerson averaged 2.2 points and 3.2 boards in one-third of the playing time.
Both Rollerson and Lyde need to improve offensively if Temple is going to score any points at all this year. If opposing defenses are able to key off the Owls in the post, sharpshooting guards like Lynn Greer and Wadley will have a hard time finding open looks.
Chaney is particularly concerned with Rollerson’s conditioning. Rollerson would have seen more playing time last season if he weren’t such a liability in the up-tempo-style game that many undersized Atlantic 10 teams play.
“He came back about 350,” Chaney said of Rollerson. “He’s always eating. It affects his stamina, it affects his confidence.
“If his weight costs him getting up and down the floor just one time and it costs us a basket, that hurts us.”
Lyde needs to improve his free-throw shooting, which was at 42 percent last season, so that Chaney doesn’t have to pull him off the floor at the end of tight games.
Freshman Cartlon Aaron (6-8, 270) will spell both Rollerson and Lyde. Aaron came to Temple with the same sorts of conditioning problems Rollerson has struggled with, but appeared to be in playing shape at the first official practice, Oct. 19.
Over the past two seasons, Temple has relied on excellent guard play, especially once the conference seasons began. The Owls’ backcourt players are not the anchor that they have been, due to the graduation of one exceptional player.
Last year’s A-10 Player of the Year, Pepe Sanchez, had a calming effect for Temple on both ends of the court. Since Chaney funnels his whole system through Sanchez’ former point guard position, the Owls often personified the word “team.”
“Team” may not be the first word that comes to mind when Temple hits the floor this year.
The sharpshooting Greer is back for his senior year, and he’ll be called upon to replace Sanchez at point guard. The Philadelphia native didn’t seem all that comfortable at the point when the Argentinean was out injured early last season.
So far, Chaney is not happy with Greer’s adjustment to the point. But he’s quick to point out that he wasn’t always happy with Sanchez either.
“Pepe didn’t play point guard when he came here,” Chaney said. “He had to be choked. I had to make him become serious, but he had the skill.”
Greer can be an unstoppable scorer; he ranks second all-time in Philadelphia Public League career scoring. Only Wilt Chamberlain scored more PPL points.
The Owls can’t afford for Greer not to score, but the junior may struggle with a more distributive role. His eyes are more often on the rim than on the floor, and at 6-1 and 170, Greer is a little undersized for a point guard in Chaney’s system–Sanchez was 6-4 and 195.
A similar dilemma will face fifth-year senior and returning starter Wadley.
Wadley shared the point with Greer in Sanchez’ absence last year and suffered horrible shooting woes the entire time. Only when Sanchez returned, allowing Wadley to catch and shoot from his favorite spots on the floor, did Wadley’s offensive numbers improve.
But Wadley’s presence on the court means more than the point he puts up or the assists he dishes out. The Harrisburg, Pa., native is Temple’s only senior and will continue a leadership role that he embraced last year.
Wadley is thoroughly trained in the matchup zone and is probably the Owls’ most comfortable operator within Chaney’s offense. The only time the Owl coach seems to soften when talking about this team is when he talks about Wadley.
“Quincy Wadley is just a great free spirit on the floor,” Chaney said. “I’m pretty proud of Quincy. Try to remember that the NCAA and everybody else said that Prop 48 kids (partial academic qualifiers like Wadley) shouldn’t even be in college.”
A question that remains to be answered is whether the absence of Sanchez will dislodge Wadley from his level of comfort both as a scorer and as a leader.
Freshman David Hawkins, recently declared eligible for the upcoming season, will likely contribute at shooting guard. Chaney has been impressed with the newcomer’s progress and believes he’ll make an immediate impact.
“David’s going to help us,” Chaney said.
First-year sophomore Ronald Blackshear will try to shake off the rust acquired during his freshman year of inactivity. According to Chaney, Blackshear has gifts, but he still has some refinements to make.
“I don’t care what offense you run, what happens when you get the ball to him (Blackshear), the defense has a chance to recover,” Chaney said. “Because he gives them a chance to recover by slamming the ball to the floor before he shoots. He should be able to pull the trigger on a catch-and-shoot kind of thing.”
Temple players–even those who seem like they’ll be around forever, like Sanchez and Barnes–graduate and move on. But one thing will never change as long as Chaney is at North Broad.
The Owls will play an extremely tough schedule.
The 2000-2001 trail of tears will include a bona fide national-title contender in Duke, Dec. 2 at the First Union Center; a Final Four team in Wisconsin, Dec. 14 at the Liacouras Center; and a former Philly favorite in Rollie Massimino and Cleveland State.
Perennial Temple nemesis Cincinnati was supposed to visit the Liacouras Center Jan. 20 for a nationally-televised game, but the Bearcats postponed the meeting until the 2001-20002 season, citing a misunderstanding of the NCAA scheduling rules.
Instead, it appears that the Owls will replace the Cincy game with a road date at another Conference USA program, DePaul. The Blue Demons, a solid top-25 team, are probably an even tougher assignment than Cincinnati.
This season also will rekindle a legendary A-10 acquaintance when Temple travels to meet John Calipari’s Memphis program Nov. 17.
The agreement between the two schools not only will put Chaney and former UMass head coach Calipari back on the same floor, but also will presumably bring Philadelphia-area natives and Memphis recruits Arthur Barclay and Dujuan Wagner back to the City of Brotherly Love for a 2001-2002 Temple-Memphis matchup.
The Owls also will play a full Big 5 City Series for the second straight season. Temple comes in as a prohibitive favorite in the series, though things are not as clear cut as in 1999-2000.
Villanova had a good recruiting season and will play Temple at the Pavillion on the Main Line.
St. Joe’s actually dealt the Owls a loss at the Palestra last year, a loss that probably kept Temple from a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Hawks, led by Marvin O’Connor and guided by shot-meister assistant coach Matt Brady, have the most potent perimeter attack in the city.
LaSalle has some weapons and Penn is always tough, especially at the Palestra.
The Atlantic 10 continues its slow slide from national powerhouse status to mediocrity. Temple is once again the class of the league, even in a down year. Though the A-10 doesn’t have the recruiting clout it did a seven or eight years ago, the league’s coaches remain first-rate. Few teams will roll over for the Owls.
Xavier, UMass and Dayton all will put up a fight, as usual. St. Joe’s has a chance to make some noise if the Hawks win most of their close games.
The defection of Virginia Tech to the Big East will not adversely affect the conference as a men’s basketball league, except that the Owls will have to find new quarterfinal-round whipping boys. Temple easily disposed of the Hokies in the A-10 round of eight each of the last two seasons.
Former Owl Mark Karcher was released from the Philadelphia 76ers last week. He was the franchise’s second-round draft pick and the 48th choice overall.
The move really wasn’t much of a surprise, however, as Sixers head coach Larry Brown had said that Karcher was “way behind.”
The former Temple small forward will try to catch on somewhere else, perhaps going overseas to what could be a lucrative European contract.
Sunday was a bad day for the Sixers, but possibly a good day for former Owl point guards.
The Sixers’ first-round draft choice, Craig “Speedy” Claxton, went down for the season with a torn ACL, opening the door a crack for Pepe Sanchez to stick with Philadelphia. Former Temple point man Rick Brunson’s name also has been circulating as someone the Sixers might bring in as a backup to starting point guard Eric Snow.