About a month ago, Temple seemed to be on its way to another .500 finish.
But a five-game winning streak, including a game against top-25 ranked Wichita State, has changed the direction of Temple’s season.
The Owls (15-10, 7-6, American Athletic Conference) are on the bubble, currently placed in the “Next Four Out” portion of ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi’s latest projection. Sixty-eight teams make the NCAA Tournament, and Lunardi has the Owls ranked 74th.
With five regular-season games and the conference tournament remaining, the Owls have opportunities to add quality wins to their NCAA Tournament resume.
Which opponents stand in Temple’s way of earning an NCAA Tournament bid?
Two of Temple’s five remaining games are against opponents in the top three in The American — Wichita State and Houston.
A win against either Wichita State or Houston would add to Temple’s NCAA Tournament resume and boost its chances at an at-large bid.
After the Owls beat Wichita State, 81-79, in overtime at the Liacouras Center on Feb. 1, their at-large NCAA Tournament bid chances jumped nearly 20 percent.
Playing the Shockers on their home court in Kansas, however, is a disadvantage for visiting teams.
Prior to Southern Methodist’s 83-78 win against Wichita State at Charles Koch Arena on Jan. 17, the Shockers had a 27-game winning streak at home. Wichita State also won 67 of its past 68 games at Charles Koch Arena.
Temple has a 4-6 road record this season, but it has picked up tough victories away from North Broad Street. The Owls beat Southern Methodist, 66-64, on Jan. 10 in Dallas off a game winner by redshirt-senior guard Josh Brown to snap the Mustangs’ 33-game winning streak at Moody Coliseum.
A victory against Houston on Sunday at home is more likely for Temple. The Owls nearly stole a road victory in a 76-73 loss to Houston on Dec. 30. Junior guard Shizz Alston Jr.’s 3-pointer to tie the game missed the rim as the buzzer sounded.
Weaker conference opponents
While earning a quality win would certainly help Temple’s chances of earning an NCAA Tournament bid, the Owls also need to come away with victories against opponents below them in the conference standings.
Temple has done that during its five-game win streak. The Owls beat South Florida, the last-place team in the conference, 73-55, on Saturday at the Sun Dome in Tampa, Florida, on Saturday.
After playing Wichita State and Houston, the Owls will face Central Florida, Connecticut and Tulsa. All of those opponents, except Tulsa, are below Temple in the conference standings. Tulsa is a half game ahead of the Owls.
Temple suffered one of its worst losses of the season against Central Florida, 60-39, on Jan. 7 in Orlando, Florida. But when the Owls take on the Knights on Feb. 25, Central Florida will be without its starting center, junior Tacko Fall. He is out for the rest of the season due to a shoulder injury.
Fall had seven points, nine rebounds, one block and one steal in Central Florida’s win in January. The Knights are 2-3 since losing Fall. Central Florida should have redshirt-junior guard B.J. Taylor available when it faces Temple.
Taylor did not play on Jan. 7., while he sat out for16 consecutive games with an injury. He led the Knights in scoring last season and has averaged 14.3 points per game in his past seven games.
The Owls dominated UConn, 85-57, on Jan. 28 at the Liacouras Center to start their five-game winning streak. Since then, the Huskies have lost three of their past four games and are ninth in The American.
Temple’s toughest matchup of its last three games will be in its season finale against Tulsa in Oklahoma.
A go-ahead layup by Brown with 28 seconds left helped the Owls come away with a 59-58 victory against Tulsa on Jan. 17.
Temple has drastically improved its chances of qualifying for the NCAA Tournament from a month ago. But in order to play in the postseason, the Owls will need to continue their winning ways against opponents above and below them in the conference standings.