Temple men’s basketball looks to control postseason fate

Temple beat Central Florida, 75-56, on Sunday to stop its two-game skid.

Freshman guard Nate Pierre-Louis crosses the mid-court line during Temple’s 75-56 win against Central Florida on Sunday at the Liacouras Center. | HOJUN YU / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Temple is on the outside looking in at the NCAA Tournament picture. As of now, it looks like this will be the fourth season out of the past five that ends without an NCAA Tournament berth.

The Owls (16-12, 8-8 American Athletic Conference) could clinch an automatic bid by winning the conference tournament, which starts on March 8 in Orlando, Florida, or strengthen their case for an at-large bid with a deep run.

With the current standings, Temple would be the No. 7 seed and face No. 10 Tulane. Temple split its season series against the Green Wave.

Temple has a 70.5 percent chance of advancing to The American’s quarterfinal round, according to sports analytics site DRatings.com.

The team’s chance of reaching the semifinals, which would require it to beat No. 2 Wichita State under the current circumstances, are just 16.3 percent, according to DRatings.com.

“We just want to control what we can control, and the more we can control things, we can just push forward to the postseason,” freshman guard Nate Pierre-Louis said.

At this point in the season, a National Invitation Tournament spot is more likely than an NCAA Tournament bid. The Owls are projected to be a No. 5 seed in the 32-team NIT, according to DRatings.com.

Though the Owls aspired to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, making the NIT would be progress toward returning to the NCAA Tournament. Temple hasn’t had back-to-back seasons without an appearance in either the NCAA Tournament or NIT since the 1975-76 and 1976-77 seasons under former coach Don Casey, who led the team from 1973-82.

Even after wins against strong Power Five schools in Auburn University and Clemson University in November, Temple seemed to be in danger of ending its long stretch of consistent postseason appearances.

The Owls had a 3-5 record in December, including three losses to close out the month. Then they lost their next two games at the beginning of January to extend their losing streak. Though, Temple has positioned itself in the postseason conversation with a 9-4 record since then.

Last season, Temple had three-game losing streaks in January and February. Then it lost, 80-69, to East Carolina in Connecticut in the first round of the American Athletic Conference tournament. Temple never led in that game.

Temple last played in the NIT in the 2014-15 season, when its 22-9 regular-season record — including a win against a top-10 ranked University of Kansas team — was still not enough to make the NCAA Tournament in the eyes of the selection committee.

Snubbed from the 2015 NCAA Tournament, Temple made a run to the NIT semifinals, where it lost, 60-57, to the University of Miami at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Senior forward Obi Enechionyia and redshirt-senior guard Josh Brown had their first tastes of a major postseason tournament during the run. Brown, then a sophomore, averaged seven points per game in the four NIT games. Enechionyia averaged 7.5 points per game and scored a then-career-best 17 points against Miami.

Enechionyia and Brown each became key players for Temple in its run to the NCAA Tournament in the following season.

“The more games you can play in the better, and I think I was able to start a few games my freshman year and that helped me get more used to the college game, especially playing in the postseason,” Enechionyia said.

A postseason appearance this year, whether it be in the NCAA Tournament or NIT, would give Temple’s underclassmen a chance to play high-stakes games. The three leaders in minutes off the bench during conference games are all freshmen.

Pierre-Louis is averaging 10.1 points per game against teams in The American. He and freshman forward J.P. Moorman II, who has averaged 4.3 points and 4.2 rebounds per game in conference play, were two of Temple’s three double-figure scorers on Feb. 18 against Houston.

Freshman forward De’Vondre Perry has played in 14 of Temple’s 16 conference games and made one start. He scored a career-high 15 points against Wichita State on Feb. 15.

“Hopefully, we make the NCAA,” Pierre-Louis said. “Our first step is the [American Athletic Conference] tournament, and we’re trying to win that. … We’re not trying to go to the NIT, but if we get to the NIT, we’re going to make the best of our opportunity.”

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