The Owls will almost certainly have to gain an automatic bid by winning the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament in order to take part in the NCAA tournament. However, just making it to the conference tournament is no guarantee at this point.
Following Temple’s (12-13, 5-5 A-10) 49-41 overtime loss at St. Joseph’s University (18-6, 9-1 A-10), the Owls remain two wins away from solidifying an A-10 tournament berth. With just four games remaining, the Owls are no lock to return to Hagan Arena for the first round of the A-10 tournament come March 8.
Despite their current situation, coach Tonya Cardoza said the Owls’ strong effort against the Big 5-rival Hawks was an encouraging sign heading down the stretch.
“Obviously, we’re not into moral victories, but I’m happy with how we played for most of the game,” Cardoza said. “[St. Joe’s] is a team that can score a lot of points and has played really good basketball at the top of the conference.”
There are other ways Temple could potentially make the A-10 tournament even if it fails to pull out two more wins. With the Top 12 teams in the conference moving on to postseason play and the Owls currently in seventh place, they hold tie-breakers against both Richmond (13-13, 3-7 A-10) and St. Bonaventure (9-16, 2-8 A-10). Richmond is currently in 11th place, while St. Bonaventure has faltered as of late, dropping to 14th place. However, Virginia Commonwealth (10-15, 3-7 A-10), clinging to 12th place, holds the tie-breaker against Temple.
The Owls’ next match-up comes against Xavier tomorrow, Feb. 20. Xavier (9-15, 3-7 A-10) is currently ranked fourth to last place in the A-10, ahead of only St. Bonaventure, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. While it is undoubtedly a game that Temple should win, the Owls have been far from consistent, and they lost to a Bonnies team that is one conference loss worse than the Musketeers.
Senior center Victoria Macaulay said she knows the Owls have showed a tendency to play down to their opponents.
“We’re just trying not to play down to their level,” Macaulay said. “Every game is just a game. Every game we have to go out there and play our best.”
Following the Xavier game, Temple’s final three contests get significantly tougher. The Owls will travel to Ohio to face reigning A-10 champion Dayton (21-1, 9-0 A-10) on Feb. 24, a squad that is ranked first in the conference and No. 17 in the nation. Temple will then head to Indianapolis, Ind., on Feb. 27 to take on A-10 newcomer Butler (14-10, 5-4 A-10), which is one spot ahead of Temple in the conference standings. On March 3, the regular season will conclude against fifth-place Fordham (18-7, 8-2 A-10).
Although earning a trip to the A-10 tournament is within reach, coming out on top is a different story. Dayton, looking to repeat as champions, will be the clear-cut favorite. The Flyers are a squad that beat La Salle – who beat Temple 71-55 – by a score of 95-47 on Jan. 16. Dayton also crushed Butler 82-39 four days earlier on Jan. 12.
Dayton is not the only A-10 team that presents a formidable match-up for Temple. Charlotte (20-4, 9-1 A-10) and Duquesne (19-5, 8-2 A-10) are ranked second and fourth, respectively, and beat Temple by a combined 43 points. St. Joe’s is ranked third and although the Owls gave the Hawks a run for their money, is a well-balanced team loaded with gritty veterans.
While “cinderella stories” pop up seemingly every March Madness, the Owls second straight trip to the WNIT appears likely.
“You still have to work hard and fight for that position even though things are not going well,” Macaulay said. “You still have to keep your head up and stay positive.”
Tyler Sablich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @TySablich.