By AARON BRACY
First-placed Temple is sitting pretty in the Atlantic 10, but fortunes can change quickly in the conference this season.
With eight teams within three games of their lead and a tough three-game stretch upcoming, the Owls (20-5, 9-2 A-10) can’t afford to look past Duquesne (15-10, 6-5) when they host the Dukes at 2 p.m. (CBS-SN) Saturday at the Liacouras Center.
Temple has done just about everything well of late, shooting a whopping 50 percent (245-for-490) from the field during a sizzling nine-game winning streak that has shown the rest of the league that the A-10 title will once again have to go through North Broad Street.
Ramone Moore, the A-10’s and Philahoops’ player of the week the last two weeks, leads the league in scoring (18.8 ppg) while backcourt mate Khalif Wyatt (16.7 ppg) is right behind on the conference scoring chart. Juan Fernandez (11.2 ppg, 3.8 apg) rounds out the three-man backcourt that is as tough as any in the league, for sure, and likely in the country.
The trio will need to be on its game on Saturday against a Dukes team that can present all kinds of problems for the opposition with the unconventional and exciting style of coach Ron Everhart.
Now in his sixth season at the helm, Everhart has transformed the Dukes from a perennial laughingstock into a respectable league foe. Everhart has done it with a unique ball-hawking, run-and-gun style.
“They do a lot of switching so we’ll have to change a little bit of what we do,” Owls coach Fran Dunphy told Philahoops at practice on Friday. “They don’t let you run your plays so it’s really going to be a lot of reading of the defense.”
The Dukes turn teams over better than almost anyone, ranking third in turnover margin at the week’s start (+5.5) after leading the nation (+6.7) in that category last season. Their fast-paced style offensively has led to 74.0 points per game, third in the league behind the second-placed Owls’ surprisingly high 75.4 points per contest.
B.J. Monteiro, a 6-foot-5 senior guard, leads three Dukes players in double-figures at 14.9 points per game, with 6-2 junior guard Sean Johnson (14.6 ppg) and 6-1 sophomore point T.J. McConnell (11.8) also scoring threats.
Besides leading the conference in assists (5.8 per game), McConnell also is a challenge defensively as he ranked second in the nation through midweek with 3.0 steals per game.
“If you look at his assists, they’re outstanding,” Dunphy said of McConnell. “Steals are as good as they can be. He’s really a very good basketball player, really knows the game. And he’s a tough guy for us to match up against us. He’s got some Jeremy Lin in him.”
His speed could present problems for the Owls’ backcourt, which also will have its hands full with Monteiro. The Dukes’ leading scorer is back at full strength after missing three games last month due to 25 stitches he received in a New Year’s Eve off-campus altercation.
“He’s just a scorer,” Dunphy said of Monteiro. “He can make 3s, he can take it to the basket, not only can score for himself, can make his teammates better. He’s really a tough matchup for us as well.”
-Rim shots: Temple leads the series 39-14 and has won 15 of 18, including the A-10 tourney final matchup in 2009. … The Owls are 10-1 at home this season. … Duquesne has lost eight straight at Temple, last winning on Jan. 30, 1995. … Dunphy said Owls center Micheal Eric, who missed 13 games due to a right patella injury and has played in the last eight, is nearly fully healthy. The coach said Eric is “a tick or two away on the offensive end.” … The Dukes, who have won three of four, snapped George Mason’s 18-game home winning streak on Dec. 21. … Duquesne had 17 steals in a game earlier this season. … Johnson is shooting 44.7 percent (13-for-38) from long range in league play while McConnell is hitting 58.6 percent (17-for-29) from distance during A-10 action. … Following Saturday’s game, Temple plays at La Salle on Wednesday and at St. Joe’s on Saturday before hosting UMass on Feb. 29 in the penultimate regular-season game.
-Philahoops staff writer Josh Verlin contributed to this story.