With less than a month until Selection Sunday, the talk of “who’s in” and “who’s out” of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is heating up.
Since tediously going over ESPN.com’s Bubble Watch and Bracketology pages to see where the Owls (13-11, 6-4 Atlantic Ten Conference) stand can give you a headache, let’s calmly and carefully answer a few key questions about Temple’s chances of dancing this March.
Why are the Owls currently on the outside looking in?
Because they didn’t exactly play great basketball in the beginning of the year.
The Owls blew a 25-point halftime lead to the College of Charleston on Nov. 16 in Puerto Rico. They also let a late lead slip away a day earlier against Providence. The loss at Akron on Nov. 26 surely didn’t help either.
But, the fact that they went out and played in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic and against the likes of Tennessee, Duke, Florida and Villanova can only help their cause. The Owls currently have a strength of schedule rank of 14 and an RPI below 65, that is something the Selection Committee certainly looks at come March.
What do they have to do to get an at-large bid?
It’s pretty simple: they have to win out. At 13-11, the Owls seriously cannot afford to drop anymore games before the Atlantic 10 Tournament in March. Losing in the semi-finals or finals of that tournament would give them a 20-12 or 21-12 record, which might be good enough to get them in.
But the key word there is might.
The Owls still have to worry about teams like Drake and Butler losing their conference tournaments, which would essentially take away an at-large bid that could go to Temple. And the Owls also have to worry about power conference teams on the bubble, like Maryland, Kentucky and Syracuse, who can pile up marquee wins in their conference tournament that will look a lot better than the Owls beating a Richmond or a Saint Louis.
So a lot of things have to go right for the Owls, in addition to them doing their part and winning their remaining contests. And that is a perfect segway into the next question.
What are the chances of that happening?
Not very likely.
The Owls have six games left before the A-10 Tournament and after this week they’re all pretty dangerous. After visiting Saint Bonaventure tomorrow, they host Fordham on Saturday. Those two games should be wins. But after that, it’s difficult.
Next Wednesday, the Owls host a solid Charlotte team that already beat them this year, then they head to the Palestra for a much-anticipated rematch with St. Joe’s. After that, it’s the final home game of the year on March 5 against Duquesne – a team that recently beat both St. Joe’s and Dayton. Finally, they wrap up the season with a trip up Broad St. to face Big 5 rival La Salle on March 8. And there’s no such thing as an easy Big 5 game, no matter what the records are.
So, as you can see, the Owls have really backed themselves up into a corner. And they’re really going to have to play some terrific basketball to get out of it.
What’s the most likely outcome?
Simply put, the only way the Owls are making the NCAA Tournament is if they win the A-10 Tournament. It would be a huge help if they finish the season in at least fourth place in the conference, which would give them a first round bye in the A-10 Tournament. Through Monday afternoon, the Owls are currently tied for third with Richmond and Rhode Island.
With the A-10 having its best season since four teams made the NCAA Tournament in 2004, winning either four games in four days or even three games in three days is not exactly an ideal situation to be in.
But at this point, the Owls really don’t have much of a choice. Except maybe for the NIT.
Todd Orodenker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.