From the outset, the American Athletic Conference has been unpredictable.
“You don’t want to be a betting man in this conference,” coach Seamus O’Connor said. “You’d lose your shirt because you can’t predict who’s going to beat who. From week to week you just cannot predict who’s going to win.”
As the conference tournament begins this week, the standings indicate no team can be written off as a contender — and that includes the Owls.
Temple has been competitive in each of their games this season. The Owls tied a talented Memphis team which comes into the tournament as the No. 2 seed and beat sixth-seeded Cincinnati earlier in the year.
In a conference lacking an unbeaten team, and offering little separation from the top tier to lower end of the table, O’Connor feels the Owls have as good of a shot as any to win the tournament.
“There’s just great parity and I love it,” O’Connor said. “Because every game now, we feel like we can win.”
Until recently, Central Florida was the dominant team in The American. The Owls fell to the Knights two weeks ago in a 2-0 result.
However, a few days after Temple’s loss, Connecticut was able to take down UCF, handing the Knights their first conference loss of the season.
O’Connor said the Huskies laid out a formula for his team and the rest of the conference to help expose the Knights.
“UConn now gave us all a kind of game plan,” O’Connor said. “We got close to them on Thursday and I think then UConn kind of built on what we were doing with them on Thursday and they took their chances.”
“It gives everyone encouragement come playoff time,” O’Connor added. “It’s going to be wide open and we all have a chance.”
Despite its recent signs of vulnerability, UCF is one of two particularly schools the Owls said they would like to avoid playing early in the tournament.
Central Florida and Memphis, the two programs sitting atop the conference standings, both possess fast players up front that could give Temple’s defensive unit issues if the team advances past the first round.
“Memphis and UCF are the two teams that I don’t want to meet,” O’Connor said. “Everybody else — it’s crazy — everybody else I’m OK with playing. Memphis and UCF have that special speed up top, and that speed up top gives us problems.”
As the eighth seed in the tournament, the Owls will face ninth-seeded Southern Methodist on Friday in a play-in game, a matchup sealed by Temple’s 3-0 loss to Connecticut this past Sunday. The game will be a rematch of last year’s play in, as the Owls fell to SMU in the first round a year ago.
Before the regular season concluded, the team expressed its desire to avoid a play-in game, as conference games are played on Thursdays and Sundays, giving teams two days of rest in between contests. The winner of Friday’s game will have to come back on one day of rest and play Sunday.
Before he found out where Temple ended up in the final standings, O’Connor said having less time to recover will make it more difficult for his team to make a run in the tournament.
“The only thing that scares me is just the lack of depth right now,” O’Connor said. “With so many injuries, having to play Friday and then go back out Sunday, that’s the only thing that scares me.”
Though the Owls wound up in the same position in the tourney bracket as last year, this outlook differs slightly from a year ago. The Owls saw an early exit last year in a 3-0 loss to SMU.
The Mustangs topped Temple 1-0 in a regular-season battle on Oct. 9 in Dallas, but the Owls forced a wide 15-3 advantage in shots.
Senior defender Alyssa Kirk said the Owls are in a different spot from a mental standpoint this year heading into the postseason. Kirk’s squad will face the Mustangs in a 4:30 p.m. kickoff on Friday.
“Last year I definitely just wanted to try to stay in the game and [I] remember hoping we would get lucky,” Kirk said. “This year it’s just a different mindset knowing that we can beat any team that we’re pinned against.”
Owen McCue can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on twitter @Owen_McCue