The groans reverberated through the walls as the men’s basketball team learned its fate.
Last Sunday, the NCAA Tournament selection show dragged on, and Temple did not hear its name called for the field of 68. Immediately afterward, coach Fran Dunphy and senior guard Will Cummings questioned what may have left the squad among the first four teams snubbed from the dance.
The prospect of being a less-respected basketball program became a feared possibility for Cummings.
“I guess our name doesn’t hold weight in the selection committee’s eyes,” the senior guard said. “It’s a disappointment. You work so hard all year and put in so much work during the year, to just not hear your name called it’s a big disappointment.”
“I think we had a good enough resume,” Cummings added. “Better than some teams in the tournament. Just disappointment. Lack of respect. That was the vibe in the locker room. … It’s mentally draining just sitting around watching the show and not hearing your name called is just a slap in the face.”
The squad, which posted a 23-10 record (13-5 American Athletic Conference) and beat then-No. 10 Kansas in December, appeared to be on the right side of the bubble headed into the day. Despite the success, the Owls ended up with the same National Invitation Tournament fate that conference foe Southern Methodist received last year.
Cummings and the Owls will look to follow in the footsteps of the Mustangs, who reached the NIT championship game before falling to Minnesota, in addition to two other 20-win schools from The American.
“I really didn’t think it was a guarantee at all [to get in],” Cummings said. “Just knowing that SMU didn’t make it last year. … I’ve always had it in the back of my minds that there are no guarantees for us right now.”
The Owls were forced to watch as 12 different Power 5 schools with less wins than the squad during the year received bids, most notably 11th seeded UCLA (20-13), which will face Southern Methodist and 11th seeded Texas (20-13) which will face Butler.
“I don’t know that it was a lack of respect for our conference,” Dunphy said. “It looks like the power conferences, the Power 5 as it were, seem to get a large part of the attention.”
“I think we’re a power basketball conference,” Dunphy added. “I think we should have some really good teams in there. … Watching UConn and SMU, those are two really good basketball teams. Overall, there’s no control that you have, there’s nothing you can do, there’s nothing you can say. Would I go to the committee and say ‘You should have considered Temple?’ Well, they didn’t.”
The Owls also ranked 34th in the Ratings Power Index administered by the NCAA, 14 spots higher than UCLA and eight spots higher than Texas.
Despite the displeasure, Dunphy has no plans to discuss the selection process with the selection committee comprised of athletic directors across the country.
“What good does that do you?” Dunphy said, “you’re in a situation where you can only control what you can control. … It’s an agonizing situation, you wonder what’s going to happen all day.”
The transition from the disappointing 9-22 season in 2013-14 to the squad’s Top 3 finish in The American appeared a promising improvement, one Dunphy insists won’t be lost in the tournament snub.
“If you had said to me before the season that we were going to win 23 games, I’m not so sure I wouldn’t have signed those papers right away,” Dunphy said. “Given where we were this year last time and the unknown that we had in front of us. I’m proud of our team.”
EJ Smith can be reached at email@example.com, 215.204. 9537 or on Twitter @ejsmitty17.