Despite the win versus Xavier, the Owls still haven’t accomplished anything yet this year.
While neither Temple coach Fran Dunphy nor his squad will admit it, Wednesday’s 77-72 victory versus Xavier made one thing very clear – the Owls are the team to beat in the Atlantic Ten Conference this year.
Despite winning the A-10 Tournament the last two years, the Owls have consistently taken a backseat to the Xavier program in the eyes of outsiders. The departure of 2,000-point scorer Dionte Christmas added to the disenchantment with the team this year. Prior to the season, coaches around the A-10 were asked to pick who they thought would be the best team in the conference this season. They picked Dayton to finish first, with Xavier a close second. All the way down the list, tied for fifth with Duquesne, were the Cherry and White.
If any nonbelievers still remained, Wednesday’s win surely silenced them. After all, the Musketeers have won the last three regular-season titles and defeated Dayton last Saturday, seemingly making them the favorites to win yet another regular-season title. Almost as importantly, the Musketeers have been the face of the A-10 in recent history, senior guard Ryan Brooks said.
“We were playing against a Xavier team that has distinguished themselves from the rest of the league as the face of this league the past couple years,” Brooks said. “They’ve won each regular season the past couple years, and they’ve established themselves as a great team, especially when it comes to postseason time. This was a big win for us.”
“Xavier has been the best team in the league for a number of years now,” Dunphy added. “They have a terrific program. It looks like they’re going to be very good for a long period of time, too. It was a very important win for us to get.”
By defeating the Musketeers, the Owls are now the only team in the A-10 that has an undefeated in-conference record. With the win, Temple is also off to its best start since the 1993-1994 season, when the Owls started 17-3.
Although Temple has already likely secured its spot in the NCAA Tournament with wins against Virginia Tech, Villanova and Seton Hall, the Owls have the same goal they did before the season, Brooks said.
“We definitely still want to win the Atlantic Ten Championship,” Brooks said. “We just want to take it one game at a time. We know we’ve put ourselves in a very good situation at this point.”
Beyond achieving a Top 25 national ranking and potentially winning a third straight A-10 Championship, the Owls also have another step they need to take in order to completely dethrone Xavier as the face of the A-10.
Xavier reached the Sweet 16 last year after reaching the Elite Eight in 2008. The Musketeers also reached the Elite Eight in 2004.
For this season to be considered a success, the Owls need to make an impact when March Madness comes around. A win or two and a Sweet 16 appearance would return the program to the John Chaney-era level of success.
“We’ve been preaching that [the win against Xavier] is just another step along the way,” Brooks said. “We need to continue to [win].”
Brooks put it best. As the wins pile up and the national attention grows, the Owls need to remember that even though they have a lot to be proud of, they still need to remain focused to accomplish an even greater goal – returning the program to its previous spot on the national landscape.
Something tells me Dunphy won’t let the team forget that they haven’t accomplished anything significant quite yet.
Kyle Gauss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.