La Salle coach John Giannini tells his players if his team can win three or four games in the Big 5, it will be good enough to reach the NCAA Tournament.
The Explorers are halfway there after their win against Temple on Nov. 26, but they have yet to play Villanova, which is ranked No. 4 in the Associated Press Top 25.
The Owls (4-2) will face Villanova on Dec. 13 when they’ll play the third game of a four-game homestand. They’ll open their home slate on Wednesday against the University of Wisconsin after six games either on the road or at neutral sites.
“It’s always nice to get to the Liacouras Center and play, but that’s the way the schedule worked out,” coach Fran Dunphy said after Sunday’s 71-67 loss to George Washington University. “Scheduling is very difficult at this level, but we had a wonderful opportunity to be in New York City Thursday, a great opportunity to be in D.C. at a professional arena playing a good basketball team. So we’re excited by that, and whenever we can go play, we should be unbelievably excited.”
George Washington shot 60 percent from the field and 9-for-16 from 3-point range on Sunday. Temple trailed by 15 at halftime before it tied the game twice in the second half.
“Our play the other night [against the University of South Carolina], we were good defensively,” Dunphy said. “[Sunday], we weren’t nearly as good.”
“We just had a tough loss to La Salle last Sunday, and I told the guys, ‘We got NCAA Tournament hopes, and we can’t have losses like this on our resume,’” junior guard Shizz Alston Jr. said after Sunday’s loss. “So we just tried to pick it up.”
The Owls faced a tough forward during their win against South Carolina in junior Chris Silva, who scored in double figures in all five NCAA Tournament games to help the Gamecocks in their run to the Final Four last season. He entered the game as South Carolina’s leading scorer, but Temple held him to just five points.
On Wednesday, Temple will face Wisconsin redshirt-junior forward Ethan Happ, the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. He is nearly averaging a double-double with 16.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game.
After their game against the Badgers, Temple will play back-to-back Big 5 opponents. St. Joseph’s will come to the Liacouras Center on Saturday with an injury-affected roster.
St. Joseph’s sophomore forward Charlie Brown Jr., who averaged 12.8 points per game as a freshman, has yet to play this season because he fractured his left wrist in October.
Junior guard Lamarr Kimble is out for the season after re-injuring his left foot during the Hawks’ season-opening loss to the University of Toledo on Nov. 11. The injury kept him out of the final seven games of the 2016-17 season.
St. Joseph’s has benefited from the return of senior guard Shavar Newkirk, who tore his ACL on Dec. 30, 2016. He is averaging 16.5 points per game.
After its game against Villanova, Temple will close the homestand against Drexel on Dec. 16.
Temple started the season with six games away from home for the first time since the 2007-08 season. Temple came out of that stretch with a 2-4 record, but it went 14-7 at home on its way to winning the Atlantic 10 Conference title and reaching its first NCAA Tournament since the 2000-01 season.
As Temple tries to continue to build its NCAA Tournament resume early in the season during the nonconference stretch, it has a chance to earn two quality wins during its four-game homestand.
Villanova is tied for No. 14 in the Ratings Percentage Index, and Wisconsin is 53rd in ESPN’s Basketball Power Index and has the 24th-toughest strength of schedule out of 351 Division I teams as of Monday.
The Owls reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament during the 2000-01 season, which is the last time Temple has advanced to the second weekend of the tournament.
“It’s easy to say we’re not going to talk about that, but it’s on all of our minds,” senior forward Obi Enechionyia said at American Athletic Conference media day on Oct. 16. “Obviously getting to the tournament, I’ve been there once. I know what it feels like to play in the tournament, and it’s something that we all want to get back to.”