After a 70–62 win against Wagner on Saturday, Dec. 1, gave Temple its first 5–0 start since the 1987–88 season, a year in which the Owls made it to the Elite Eight, one would think coach Fran Dunphy would be more pleased with his team’s performance in the first five games.
“[Wagner] outworked us,” Dunphy said. “They played harder, played tougher, and played better than us. That is a disappointment… am I happy sitting here after a win? Yeah. But we have to do better, there is a long way to go and it’s a long season and we need to improve in a lot of areas.”
Dunphy’s concern may be Temple’s inability to gain substantial margins of victory against teams with losing records. Of the Owls’ five wins, four have come against teams with losing records. The single-digit win against Wagner was the second such victory for Temple this season, with the other coming against Delaware. Dunphy said a lack of effort was apparent in the game and the Owls were outworked by the 2–4 Seahawks, who jumped out to a 10–2 lead to begin the game.
“We should have been tougher from the very start, I thought that Wagner beat us to loose balls, which is unacceptable,” Dunphy said. “We got outworked today. If we get outworked we are going to pay the consequences and we did. I’m hoping that we are tough enough to make critical plays at critical times.”
Temple’s low margin of victory against mediocre teams also comes with more consequences than unexpectedly tough games. Ideally, the team would use games against teams with losing records to get playing time for bench players and develop consistent depth before beginning conference play. Through five games, Temple has been unable to gain or sustain a large enough lead to allow Dunphy to access deeper parts of his bench, something that could have ramifications later in the season.
“Our depth is good, but we have some other guys that haven’t had the opportunities yet, so I will feel more confident when that happens,” Dunphy said.
The time to get depth players minutes may be coming to an end. Temple faces Big 5 rival Villanova tomorrow, Dec. 5, before taking on undefeated No. 2 Duke Saturday, Dec. 8.
“Right now we are preparing for Villanova,” senior guard Khalif Wyatt said. “It’s going to be fun and a great atmosphere. It’s going to be a Big 5 dandy.”
“The only thing we can do is prepare,” redshirt-senior forward Scootie Randall said. “Coach Dunphy has the mindset of getting us ready for each and every game. We are going to be tough and prepared for every game no matter who it is.”
The Duke team Temple will play this week is a much different team than Temple upset last year. In possibly the best example of how to put away teams, the Blue Devils are an impressive 8–0. With wins against the No. 2, 3, 4 teams in the country, Duke has a margin of victory of more than four points higher than the Owls. Two of the Blue Devils’ eight wins have come against teams with losing records.
The ultimate difference for these two teams that could potentially meet undefeated is not playing at a level that matches the competition, but one that matches the team’s ability. The only common opponent the Temple and Duke have shared this season is Delaware. The Blue Devils bested the Blue Hens 88–50, while the Owls 80–75 victory was the team’s closest contest of the season. Duke built a 42–19 halftime lead, allowing two bench players to play for more than 20 minutes. Temple’s seven-point halftime lead only prompted Dunphy to turn to four bench players, as three starters played more than 30 minutes.
The team’s effort lacking against teams with losing records won’t be a consistent issue for the remainder of the season. Temple faces three nationally ranked teams in 29 days before beginning conference play. Where exactly the Owls stand heading into more challenging games is still yet to be determined.
“I am hoping we are going to be good, I don’t know how good we are right now,” Dunphy said. “We are winning some games but we have a long way to go.”
Ibrahim Jacobs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ibahimjacobs.