Based on the recently released schedule, there is no questioning that the level of competition the American Athletic Conference will bring for the women’s basketball team will be strong.
The Owls will face all nine of their conference counterparts twice, once at home and once on the road. These games include the reigning national champions Connecticut and runner-up Louisville. Cincinnati, Central Florida, Houston, Memphis, Rutgers, Southern Methodist and South Florida round out the rest for a total of 18 in-conference match-ups.
Going up against UConn holds special value, not only because they have proven to be perhaps the most dominant program in all of women’s college basketball, but also because coach Tonya Cardoza will be reuniting with some familiar faces.
Having served as Geno Auriemma’s protege for 14 years as his assistant, Cardoza has blossomed in her role as Temple head coach as she is set to begin her sixth season at the helm. Both members of The American, Cardoza will now be squaring off against her former mentor on a yearly basis.
While the conference portion of the schedule has no dates as of yet, the non-conference schedule does. Unfortunately for the Owls, their non-conference opponents are not much easier than their conference matchups.
Temple will open up its season (and Big 5 play, for that matter) at La Salle on Friday, Nov. 8. The Owls will then travel to take on Delaware before returning to Philadelphia for four straight home games against Auburn, Michigan State, Oakland and Big 5 rival St. Joseph’s. Following away games against Montana and Syracuse, the non-conference schedule concludes on Wednesday, Jan. 22 following three straight home games, two of them Big 5 opponents, against Howard, Villanova and Penn.
Six of Temple’s 11 non-conference opponents were NCAA Tournament participants last season. In all, 12 of its 29 games will come against teams that were in the tournament. South Florida was the only American team to make it last season other than UConn and Louisville. The Owls’ 2013-14 opponents were a combined 404-246 last season. Non-conference opponents put up a 223-130 record and conference opponents managed a 181-116 record.
Despite a Cinderella run into the semifinals of the Atlantic 10 Tournament, Temple struggled mightily at times last season. They went 14-18 overall and 5-9 in a conference that is significantly weaker than The American on paper. They averaged a whopping 18.5 turnovers per game, shot 69 percent from the free throw line and 36 percent from the field, including 29 percent from three-point range. Those shooting percentages may be passable in the A-10, but they won’t suffice anymore.
While Cardoza struggled to get the most out of her players at times last season, the new campaign may prove to be her toughest coaching task yet. The Owls no longer have center Victoria Macaulay to run their offense through, and it remains unclear if senior power forward Natasha Thames can step into the leadership position that has since been vacated with Macaulay’s departure.
With that said, there are some aspects of this team to be excited about. Redshirt sophomore point guard Monaye Merritt has made a full recovery from an ACL tear after missing all of last season and will presumably take back her starting spot. Junior guard Tyonna Williams, who showed flashes of great scoring ability, will likely move back to her natural position at shooting guard after filling in for Merritt at the point. Sophomore small forward Sally Kabengano should continue to flourish under Cardoza’s regime after proving to be the best shut-down defender on Temple’s roster last season.
Cardoza, who made it clear she was humiliated amidst several low-points last season, may have something to prove in a newly formed conference in which not many people will look at Temple as a legitimate threat.
Not to mention the inaugural American Women’s Basketball Tournament will be held in, where else, but Connecticut.
Tyler Sablich can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @TySablich