It happens right around mid-November. The critics get together and decide what college basketball teams can and cannot do. Temple basketball isn’t immune.
Would the men’s basketball team be able to replace Mark Tyndale and Chris Clark? Could Tonya Cardoza continue to lead the women’s team down the path Dawn Staley treaded?
Matching NCAA Tournament appearances and an Atlantic Ten Conference Championship for the men put most skeptics to rest — for now.
Here’s how both teams got back to the Big Dance.
The men’s basketball team hobbled through November looking for an identity. Minor injuries to senior center Sergio Olmos and sophomore forward Lavoy Allen limited coach Fran Dunphy’s squad. A numbing 68-52 loss to Miami (Ohio) in the Owls’ home opener would serve as a wake-up call.
“We’re definitely not where we’re supposed to be right now,” senior guard Dionte Christmas said. “Offensively, we’re there. But on the defensive end, we’re giving up way too many points and easy shots.”
The Cherry and White found some rhythm with a Dec. 6 road win against Penn State. With Christmas held to just two points, senior guard Semaj Inge cashed in with a career-high 19 points.
The signature win of the season came at home against then-No. 8 Tennessee. In front of a boisterous crowd, the Owls manhandled the Volunteers with the help of a Christmas scoring barrage. The All-American candidate had 35 points with plenty of scouts on hand.
A difficult road stretch (Kansas, Long Beach State and Villanova) put the Owls on a three-game slide, as they closed out 2008 with a 5-6 record.
The women were tested early with a difficult non-conference schedule. They lost on the road to Auburn, 95-76, Nov. 17 but bounced back against Illinois, winning 66-47. On Dec. 1, the Owls gave Rutgers a serious challenge, leading 32-21 at the half. However, it wasn’t enough to stop the Scarlet Knights, as Temple lost, 64-60.
The Owls also fell to Villanova, 65-56, Dec. 20, a loss that snapped an 18-game winning streak against Big 5 opponents. Still, the team managed to have a 7-4 record heading into 2009.
The men welcomed freshman guard Juan Fernandez to America Dec. 26 and introduced him to collegiate basketball Jan. 5. The Argentine chipped in with eight points and four assists in a 73-58 victory over Kent State. The headlining story of the night was the emergence of sophomore forward Craig Williams. Previously a regular on the bench, Williams sparked the starting lineup with 16 points on 5-for-9 shooting.
“It was just a hunch, just throwing Craig in there,” Dunphy said. “He had worked pretty hard over the last couple of weeks. He has that ability where he can make shots.”
The Owls promptly won three more games before conference play began. A tough road loss to Massachusetts Jan. 17 was righted with two cakewalks at home against Saint Louis and Charlotte.
A loss to Rhode Island and a win against Richmond put the team at 12-8 (3-2) heading into February.
The women played their busiest month of the year and also began conference play. The Owls’ offense kicked into gear against Rhode Island Jan. 14, as they netted 95 points and shot 58 percent in a landslide win.
“We thought it was time to prove ourselves and play all 40 minutes,” sophomore guard Lindsay Kimmel said.
The rollercoaster month saw the men’s team cough up any hopes of an at-large bid. The Owls started off with an 83-74 loss to then-No. 9 Xavier, then collected five straight wins. On Feb. 12, the Owls squeaked past city rival Saint Joseph’s. A 10-point Owls’ lead with 54 seconds to play turned into an unsuccessful last-second heave for the Hawks’ senior guard Tasheed Carr.
A shocking 70-63 home defeat to La Salle and ensuing loss at Dayton left the team at 17-11 (9-5).
The women picked up momentum in February, going 6-1 and winning games by an average of 12.3 points. The Owls went on the road and defeated a strong Charlotte team, 77-73. Then, they saved the month’s best game for last by beating then-No. 13 Xavier at home, 74-65. Cardoza became the first Temple women’s basketball coach to take down a ranked team in her first year.
“It was big because it keeps us alive,” Cardoza said. “We played three of the top four teams in the league and held our own. We put ourselves in good position for postseason play.”
The men cleaned up two easy wins to close out the regular season, finishing at 19-11 (11-5). Then they traveled to their favorite road arena: Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J., for the A-10 Tournament. The Owls are 6-2 by the beach under Dunphy.
A convincing 79-65 takedown of St. Joe’s in the A-10 quarterfinals set the stage for two more do-or-die slates. The Owls got involved, but it was Christmas’ 20 points — and 3-pointer with 1:09 to play — that carried them to a 55-53 victory over then-No.19 Xavier.
Against Duquesne in the finals, Christmas delivered again by sinking 29 points in a 69-64 win.
Christmas nabbed his second consecutive Most Outstanding Player award of the Tournament. The Owls ended the season with a 22-12 record and were dancing.
Cardoza’s crew closed out the regular season by knocking off rival George Washington, 59-49. The win gave the Owls a second-place finish in the A-10 at 11-3.
In the A-10 Tournament, the Owls slipped past St. Bonaventure, 67-64, but fell hard to host Charlotte, 73-50. Cardoza finished the season with a 21-10 mark and an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament.
“I never thought that I’d have the type of season that I had,” Cardoza said.
Both teams then fell in the NCAA Tournament, with the 11th-seeded men losing to sixth-seeded Arizona State, 66-57, in Miami. The ninth-seeded women couldn’t get past eighth-seeded Florida, losing 70-57 in Storrs, Conn.
Anthony Stipa can be reached at email@example.com.