After Temple was downed 70-69 by St. Joseph’s University on Feb. 2, the Owls were left in an unusual predicament, having to crawl their way back into postseason competition.
At this point last season, the Owls sat perched on top of the Atlantic 10 Conference, looking to simply boost their résumé before March Madness rolled around.
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has essentially created his own job title of bracketologist and his career has been built primarily on the ability to know what others can simply guess.
After Saturday’s loss to St. Joe’s, he could be Temple’s toughest opponent in the final month of the season.
Lunardi’s primary job during the season is to predict which teams will make the NCAA tournament and which teams won’t. The highly respected analyst correctly picked 67 of the 68 tournament teams last season, and has missed only six total teams in five years. He currently has the Owls on the bubble, ranking them as the last team to make the dance in March.
Temple sits at 11th place in the Atlantic 10 standings, its worst placement at this point in the season since Dunphy began coaching the Owls in 2006. While they currently are projected to be the fifth team in the A-10 to make the tournament, the Owls know that they don’t have much time to waste in turning the season around.
“This is a fabulous league and anybody can beat anybody at any time,” Dunphy said on Feb. 2.
Dunphy’s sentiments have been a microcosm of the Owls season. Temple has beaten the No. 4, 9 and 10 teams in the conference and have lost to the No. 2, 6, 8 and 13 teams. Nine of the Owls’ 10 remaining games will be in-conference, leaving Temple with an uphill battle before the A-10 Tournament in Brooklyn, N.Y., in mid-March.
“Every game counts right now,” senior guard Khalif Wyatt said. “The Atlantic 10 is a crazy conference. Every team, every night is going to be a good game. We have a lot of good teams. It is definitely getting to the point where we have to start putting together some wins.”
If the Owls are unable to earn an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament, the option remains to make the dance with an A-10 tournament victory. Last year’s winner, St. Bonaventure, earned a tournament bid despite posting a modest 20-12 regular season record.
There is no benchmark for making the NCAA tournament. The field of 68 is chosen by a selection committee. With the exception of the conference tournament winners from the automatic qualifying conferences, there is no exact criteria that must be met for a team to make the tournament.
Generally, the selection committee rewards teams based on four categories: Ratings Percentage Index, strength of schedule, overall record and big wins, while usually punishing teams for bad losses.
Ratings Percentage Index, or RPI, is used primarily for its ability to compare teams on a scale reflective of their opponent’s ability. It is formed using a combination of the team’s winning percentage, its opponent’s winning percentage and the winning percentage of the teams its opponents have played.
Temple’s RPI is currently 55 while its strength of schedule ranks 64. While a 14-7 record won’t be enough to impress the committee by itself, a win against then No. 3 Syracuse on Dec. 22 could be the Owls’ biggest asset. Where they could receive demerits however, lies with their bad home losses to Canisius, RPI 109, and St. Bonaventure, RPI 125.
A trip to the NCAA tournament would be a benchmark for Temple in its final year of A-10 play. The Owls won the regular season A-10 championship last year before dropping their first round game against No. 8 Massachusetts. While Temple was still able to earn a fifth seed in the NCAA tournament, the Owls lost after scoring a season-low 44 points against No. 12 South Florida. While an NCAA postseason berth would be the Owls’ sixth straight under Dunphy, they have advanced to the next round only once.
Temple still has the opportunity to boost its résumé and make a tournament push. With four games remaining against the A-10’s Top 5 seeds, the Owls haven’t played themselves out of March discussions yet. But for a team that hasn’t won three straight games in the calendar year, time is running out.
“I think we are up for the challenge,” Wyatt said. “We are starting to come together as a team…We need to take it one game at a time and try to get on a roll.”
Ibrahim Jacobs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ibrahimjacobs.