Atlantic Coast Conference teams were not kind to the women’s basketball team last season.
The Owls lost four of the five games they played against ACC competition, dropping games to NCAA Tournament-bound teams Maryland, North Carolina State and Virginia before losing to Duke in the second round of the Big Dance.
Meanwhile, there was no dancing whatsoever on the men’s side last season as Temple went 6-8 against non-conference opponents. The Owls, who finished with a 12-18 overall record, were not invited to any postseason tournaments.
Although both programs were on the outside of the Associated Press Top 25 poll last season, men’s basketball coach Fran Dunphy and women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley decided to fill their respective regular-season slates with several nationally-ranked opponents.
Dunphy and Staley both signed off on schedules that include tough non-conference games, in a move reminiscent of the way former men’s basketball coach John Chaney operated for 24 years.
“I think we’re ready for any team in the country,” men’s senior guard Mark Tyndale said. “I think we live for moments like this. You don’t want to play nothing but the best teams in the country.”
The men’s team will spend the majority of its non-conference schedule playing some of those teams, including a season-opening road game against No. 7 Tennessee Friday and a matchup against No. 19 Arkansas in San Juan, Puerto Rico on Nov. 16. The Owls will face Florida, the defending national champions, on Dec. 29 and then begin 2008 by hosting No. 13 Duke at the Wachovia Center on Jan 9.
In his first year at the helm of the Owls, Dunphy received some criticism for the quality of competition on the regular season schedule.
In all likelihood, that won’t be the case this season.
“You have to be able to hold your own,” Dunphy said. “You don’t want to get to the point where you’re not getting positive feedback from [playing a tough schedule].
“Sometimes teams need to get some good results and that’s not as likely when you’re playing the top teams in the country,” he continued. “But, as I’ve said all my life, my job is to coach their memories and experiences. And this will be a great memory to go to a place like Tennessee and have 22,000 screaming fans with orange shirts on. That’s a great opportunity for our kids.”
The women’s squad will have an opportunity to take another shot at the best teams in the ACC, scheduling games at No. 4 Maryland and Georgia Tech and hosting games against NC State and No. 10 Duke. The Owls hung close in each of their four losses to ACC teams last season, losing by an average of 7.25 points.
The Owls will also face 2007 NCAA Championship runner-up Rutgers, the third-ranked team, No. 9 Georgia and Purdue, which received several votes in the AP Top 25 poll. That’s four teams ranked in the preseason Top 10.
“You get an identity of what your team is made of,” coach Dawn Staley said. “We like to think that we play for March in November and December. If we can hold strong in November and December, I think we can put ourselves in a position hopefully to get a bid into the NCAA Tournament and then win a couple of games in the tournament.”
The women’s team will be without 2007 Atlantic Ten Player of the Year Kamesha Hairston, now a member of the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun. Hairston led the A-10 in scoring, averaging 18.9 points per game. Starting guard Fatima Maddox also graduated.
In their absence, much of the offensive burden will fall on returning starters Lady Comfort, Shenita Landry and LaKeisha Eaddy. Comfort, the 2007 A-10 Most Improved Player, averaged 12.7 points and 6.8 rebounds for the Owls last season.
“We’ll play a little bit different,” Staley said. “Of course we want to get Lady the basketball as much as possible. But I think we have some guards who are capable of making an immediate impact on our team.”
In addition to Eaddy, the Owls will need contributions from guards like senior Ashley Morris and freshman Lindsay Kimmel in order to upset some of their top-ranked competition.
The men’s team will also need big-game efforts from their backcourt which includes Tyndale, sophomore Ryan Brooks and juniors Semaj Inge and Dionte Christmas.
Christmas led the A-10 in scoring, as the Owls were able to light up the scoreboard several times last season, averaging 75 points per game. But the team also gave up 74.1 points per game. The Owls will have to find a happy medium of scoring and defense to beat the top-ranked teams they will face throughout the season.
“We have an opportunity to go on the road and play some great teams,” Dunphy said. “And we look forward to it.”
Tyson McCloud can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.