Today’s Drexel story and capsule are the fifth in Philahoops’ seven-day season-ending review. Here is the schedule.
Thursday: Drexel season capsule
Friday: Villanova season capsule
Saturday: Player of Year story/Philahoops honors
– Aaron Bracy
By JOSH VERLIN
(Ed Note: Read coach Fran Dunphy’s take on the season HERE.)
Record: 24-8 overall, 13-3 Atlantic 10
Final Statistics: Leading scorer Ramone Moore (17.3 ppg), leading rebounder Micheal Eric (8.8 rpg), leading assists Juan Fernandez (3.8 apg)
The Skinny: Temple won 20 straight games for the fifth straight year under Fran Dunphy despite losing Eric to injury for 13 games in the middle of the season, but postseason success still evaded the Owls. Their first outright A-10 regular-season title in over 20 years ended with a first-round departure in both the A-10 tournament (to Massachusetts) and the NCAAs (to South Florida).
Highlight #1: There was one game on Temple’s schedule that stuck out from the others, one chance for a true top-quality win–the matchup with third-ranked Duke at the Wells Fargo Center, the final tuneup before Temple’s A-10 schedule. Virtually no one gave Temple a chance to beat one of the best teams in the country, especially with their starting center unavailable. However, Khalif Wyatt (22 points, five steals) led five Owls in double figures, giving notice to the rest of the nation just how dangerous the team from North Broad could be with a 78-73 win over the Blue Devils.
Highlight#2: Temple was riding a seven-game win streak and had improved their record to 18-5 (7-2) when they hosted preseason conference favorite Xavier in the biggest game hosted at Liacouras Center all season. The Musketeers began the season ranked eighth in the country, and despite a rocky season they still boasted the dangerous backcourt of Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons, not to mention 7-foot center Kenny Frease. An early 16-0 run in front of national TV audience led to a 20-point halftime lead for the Owls, and Moore’s 30 points led all scorers as the Owls showed off their dangerous offense in a 85-72 win.
Highlight #3: It had been over 20 years since Temple last won an outright Atlantic 10 title in 1989-90, and getting to win it in front of a hometown crowd made it that much sweeter. It looked like this one would come easy against the Massachusetts Minutemen, but a 10-point lead with under two minutes remaining in regulation evaporated behind UMass point guard Chaz Williams, and it took a six-point overtime comeback for the Owls to emerge victorious, 90-88.
Lowlight #1: The season started well for the Owls, who won three of their first four games, including a great neutral-court resume over Wichita State, but then the injury bug hit hard. Eric, who had missed the final 10 games of the 2010-11 season with a patella injury, fractured his kneecap in practice on Nov. 26. With redshirt freshman Anthony Lee forced into starting duty in just his fifth career game, a Temple squad ill-prepared to play small was out-rebounded 28-24 in a 67-64 loss to Bowling Green. The defeat dropped Temple to 4-2 on the year but set off red alarms about a team that was already without starting forward Scootie Randall (offseason surgery).
Lowlight #2: Fast forward a few months–past the 11-game win streak, past the Duke and Xavier wins, past the Atlantic 10 regular season title, and we find ourselves in Atlantic City, N.J., home of the A-10 tournament. The Owls were 10-2 in the five years that A.C.’s Boardwalk Hall has hosted the tournament, winning consecutive titles from 2008-2010, but this year would find much less success. Massachusetts, against whom Temple had just beaten for that regular-season title, got their revenge against the Owls when it counted the most. Williams had 20 points and 10 assists for the Minutemen, who forced 22 turnovers and came away with a 77-71 victory in the quarterfinals.
Lowlight #3: Even after that UMass loss, Temple was still given a 5-seed in the NCAA tournament, tying their highest seed in five appearances under Dunphy, but were unable to capitalize on a matchup with offensively-challenged South Florida, falling 58-42 in the Round of 64. The Bulls were too much for a veteran Owl squad on the defensive end, where their length bothered Temple into shooting just 15-of-42 (35.7 percent) from the floor. Fernandez and Moore combined for just seven points in their final game in a Temple uniform, the fourth opening-round exit in the last five years for TU.
Turning point: In the final game of their 11-game win streak that took Temple from 11-5 (1-2) to 22-5 (11-2), the Owls had a 10-point lead on La Salle with 2:47 to play, but needed overtime to get past the Explorers at Tom Gola Arena. After that, Temple looked flat in a loss at Saint Joseph’s before once again blowing a late 10-point lead in the conference-clinching win against Massachusetts. It wasn’t like there was one specific event that forced Temple’s season off the tracks, but from the end of that La Salle game onwards they seemed to lack that spark that drove them for much of the season.
Most revealing: The game after the big Duke win was the A-10 opener against Dayton, a home contest against a Flyers team that had just lost star forward Josh Benson to a season-ending injury. Temple had a chance to continue a huge surge of momentum with a difficult upcoming slate, but instead fell flat in a 87-77 loss. Both teams shot an identical 29-of-62 from the floor but the Flyers out-rebounded the Owls 37-23 and made 11 more free-throws to help account for the final margin.
Area of strength #1: For much of the season, Temple’s three-guard combination of Moore, Fernandez and Wyatt was widely recognized as one of the best guard trios in the country. All three were 6-foot-4, able to use that size to their advantage on both ends of the court, creating mismatches against often smaller guards who couldn’t get a shot off on defense while being versatile enough to both post-up or hit the trey on offense. The three combined for 45.6 points, 10.5 assists, 10.3 rebounds and 4.3 steals per game while playing an average of 33.8 minutes per game each. When Temple’s guards were good, they were nearly unstoppable; when they struggled–like they did in their final two games of the year–it could shut down the whole team.
Area of strength #2: Three-point shooting. As a team, Temple made 39.7 percent of their attempts from beyond the arc, a number good enough for 11th in the country. Fernandez, at 43.1 percent, was the most accurate sniper on the team, though every Owl with more than 25 3-point attempts was at 38.0 percent or better. That great conversion rate from 3-point territory is partially due to having good shooters and partially due to their willingness to share the ball (.573 assist rate).
Area of improvement #1: Defense. Temple allowed just .870 points per possession two years ago, a number that was in the top-10 in the country, but that got up to .973 this season–still in the top-100 in the country, but not quite at the levels they need to be at when they move up in competition next year, which we’ll discuss in a second.
Area of improvement #2: Depth. Temple’s bench too often disappeared this year, with Lee prone to foul trouble while T.J. DiLeo and Aaron Brown could struggle to make an impact on the offensive end, which forced Dunphy to have to play his starters for extended minutes the entire season. That cost the team at the end of the year, when deeper teams like Massachusetts and South Florida were able to wear down Temple and end their season the way they did. Temple’s bench accounted for 24.7 percent of their minutes, 293rd-most in the country, but that should jump into the low 30s next year.
Biggest surprise: Wyatt was the A-10′s Sixth Man of the Year in 2010-11, when he averaged 10.1 points per game in 20.7 minutes off the bench, a roll he was expected to repeat this season before Randall was forced to the bench for an extended period of time. The Norristown native exploded in his junior year, breaking the 20-point barrier 12 times and lifting his scoring average by seven points, earning a spot on the A-10′s All-Conference Second Team. Using his size (6-foot-4) and and a vast array of offensive moves, Wyatt carried the team on his back multiple times, including hitting the game-winning three-pointer in a 66-63 win at Delaware and his second-half outburst against Duke.
Overall review: The Owls were picked to finish second overall in the 14-team Atlantic 10 conference, and winning 13 games in that league is certainly no small feat, not in a season that saw four teams make the NCAAs and another four make the NIT. There were plenty of quality wins–Wichita State, Duke, Maryland, Saint Louis, Xavier–but ultimately none of it really mattered, as making the second weekend of the NCAA tournament was the ultimate goal for a program that needs some postseason success to draw the top-level recruits. That regular-season championship unfortunately gets forgotten after the two first-round losses that followed it, which is an unfortunate reality in the “what have you done for me lately” world of sports.
Did you know: Temple’s new basketball practice facility is just part of a $58 million renovation to Pearson/McGonigle Hall?
Key returnees: The Owls will have four seniors on the roster in 2012-13, three of whom played this year. Wyatt will be the go-to guy on offense next year, and he’s going to have to clean up his act a little bit off the court as well–he was late to team functions on three separate occasions, forcing him to start as many games on the bench throughout the year.
Still, he should be a First Team All-Conference performer next season, and he’s going to need to carry the team in even more games in 2012-13 than he did this season.
Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson has improved his game in each of his three years at the school, going from a 39.8 percent shooter his freshman season (2009-10) to making 56.7 percent of his shots this year, upping his scoring average from 3.9 points to 9.3 in the process. He also chipped in 6.6 rebounds this season as an undersized (6-6, 210-pound) power forward who used his quickness and a developing midrange game to force matchup issues against bigger, slower players.
DiLeo, who earned his marketing degree in 3.5 years and will be pursuing his master’s during this coming season is the ultimate bench player. The Jersey native is an unselfish guard who’s willing to put in all of his energy on the defensive end, averaging just 2.9 points in 16.5 minutes but still managing to come up with key plays in nearly every Temple win–whether it’s a steal, layup or the occasional 3-pointer.
There are a number of non-seniors returning who will also serve prominent roles on the team next season. Lee will become the full-time starter at center, and with an unknown quantity behind him (we’ll get to that) he’s going to have to make a big step up from his debut season. The 6-9 F/C showed flashes of skill on both ends of the court–especially on defense, where his 38 blocks were just one behind Eric for the team lead, but he’s going to have to increase his production from five points and five rebounds per game and cut down on his fouls.
Will Cummings, the only true freshman on the team this season, played just 6.3 minutes this season and sat out five of the final nine games as Dunphy tightened his rotation down the stretch. He’s going to see the biggest workload increase on the team with Fernandez’s graduation, as the only true point guard on the roster. There’s a chance that Cummings won’t start, as Wyatt is more than capable of bringing the ball upcourt, but his minutes should more than triple in his sophomore season assuming he can pick up his defense.
Brown, a rising junior, played everything from shooting guard to power forward this season while Eric was out and then saw his minutes dwindle down the stretch after eight double-figure scoring games earlier in the season. He’ll most likely be Temple’s top offensive option off the bench, though he’s going to have to fight for minutes in 2012-13 on a team that should be much deeper than the eight players in Dunphy’s main rotation this season.
Key losses: There can’t be enough said about the contributions of Temple’s three departing seniors. Moore, Fernandez and Eric have all been making noise on the court for the better part of three seasons (and more), and their departures leave a sizable hole in production that Dunphy is going to need to fill.
The three combined to provide 44.9 percent of Temple’s points, 35.2 percent of their rebounds, 50.5 percent of their steals and played 41.1 percent of the total minutes this season, even with Eric missing those 13 games in the middle of the season. They leave with a record of 101-34, the best record in a four-year period since the 1990 senior class graduated with 102 career victories.
Moore, a First-Team All-Conference selection, led the team in scoring 14 times this season, averaging a team-high 17.3 points per game. The fifth-year senior graduates 27th on the school’s all-time scoring list (1,388 points) after breaking the 20-point barrier 10 times this season. A former A-10 Sixth Man of the Year (2009-10) and Second-Team All-Conference (2010-11) selection, the Philadelphia native and Southern High graduate improved his game in every year in Cherry and White.
The other fifth-year player was the grad student Eric, who battled his fair share of injuries in his years as an Owl but was a force in the paint when he was healthy. If you remove the first five games after he returned from a fractured patella, he averaged 10.5 points and 10.5 rebounds in those 14 contests, plus at least one block in every game but his first back on the court (7 minutes vs. Maryland). Though he wasn’t exactly the strongest big man on the floor, he certainly had an impact on the defensive end due to his athleticism and shot-blocking ability.
Perhaps the most divise player on the city scene this year, Fernandez was both adored by Temple fans and despised by opposing teams’ fans for his physical style and international flair on the court. Though he was often deemed the “point guard” by those outside the program, the truth is he was just as much a scorer as Wyatt and Moore, the best 3-point shooter of the bunch if not the craftiest with the ball. He’ll always be remembered for his game-winning leaner against Penn State in last year’s NCAA tournament, to date Dunphy’s only NCAA victory at the school.
Key additions: To me this is the most intriguing part of Temple’s offseason because of the five bodies they add to the active roster–one transfer, one medical redshirt and three true freshman, all of which have the chance of playing big minutes as the season develops. Randall, who’s been mentioned before in this overview, should be 100 percent healthy when he takes the court in November for the first time in about 21 months. In the eight games before he suffered the foot injury back in February of 2011, he was averaging over 17 points and six rebounds while shooting 55.2 percent from the floor and 44.4 percent from 3-point territory–numbers Temple would be thrilled to see him duplicate in his final season.
The other experienced player that Dunphy gets to plug right into his rotation is junior wing Dalton Pepper, who averaged 3.7 points in 12 minutes his sophomore year at West Virginia back in 2010-11 before sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer regulations. The 6-5 Pennsbury graduate was a 33.3-percent 3-point shooter in his two years at WVU, and is often the first player working on his shot before practice. The consensus four-star recruit never really got a chance to prove himself in Morgantown, but could be a diamond in the rough for Temple next year.
Finally, the three freshmen–three players who all committed to Temple a little under the radar but have made names for themselves their final years of high school. First to commit was Devontae Watson, a beanpole of a center at 6-10, 190 pounds who played at Lincoln Park (Pa.) High School, in the smallest (A) class of high school basketball in the state. By the end of his senior year, Watson had packed on 15 pounds and joined a very rare club nationally by surpassing 1,000 points, rebounds and blocks. With a 94-inch wingspan, he’s blocked more than 10 shots per game in each of his last three seasons, and for that reason alone he should see the court next season as the backup to Lee.
The second to commit–last September 15, just 10 days after Watson–was Quenton DeCosey, a 6-5 wing out of St. Joseph’s (N.J.). All DeCosey did his senior year was average over 20 points and eight rebounds per game to lead his team to a 29-1 record and their first-ever state championship, beating Seton Hall Prep 77-68 in the final. The most talented scorer of the incoming freshmen, ESPN says DeCosey is “an excellent finisher both off the drive as well as in transition” and that “defensively, he has all the physical tools to develop into a valuable contributor on that end of the floor.” DeCosey is the most likely of the freshmen to redshirt as he’s behind Wyatt, Randall and Pepper in the “scoring wing” rotation, but will clearly have a place on this team in two years.
The last to join the group was Daniel Dingle, a consensus four-star recruit out of St. Raymond’s (N.Y), the Bronx basketball powerhouse that’s seen names like Allan Ray (Villanova), Julius Hodge (N.C. State) and Truck Bryant (West Virginia) come through its doors recently–not to mention Dingle’s older brother Dana, who starred at Massachusetts in the ’90s. The younger Dingle, a 6-foot-7 forward, says he can play anywhere other than center for Temple, though it’s likely he’ll wind up as Hollis-Jefferson’s backup at power forward. Another 20-point scorer in his senior year, Dingle also added 11 rebounds per as well as five assists and was named First-Team All-City Catholic League.
Looking ahead: The 2011-12 Temple Owls went with an eight-man rotation for much of the year, though Lee, DiLeo and Brown were too often non-factors as Dunphy let his starters play maybe a few too many minutes.
Next season will be a much deeper team, with four seniors, two juniors, two sophomores and some really talented freshmen. Wyatt, Pepper, Randall, Hollis-Jefferson and Lee are all good enough to play over 25 minutes per game while DiLeo, Brown, Cummings and probably two of the freshmen (Watson and Dingle?) will deserve more than a taste of the action each contest.
While still undersized with the 6-6 Hollis-Jefferson most likely starting at power forward, Dingle’s ability to play that spot early in the season could really help the team’s depth and ability to contend with some of the longer teams that gave them issues. A lineup of a 6-4 Wyatt, 6-5 Randall, 6-5 Pepper, 6-6 Hollis-Jefferson and 6-9 Lee is my early guess for how the team starts the season, but it’s obviously a very early guess. Work ethic and team chemistry are going to have a big say in who sees the most court time for the Owls this winter. Still, not many teams in the country can say they’re graduating three players of the caliber of Moore, Fernandez and Eric and still have a chance to be a potentially better team the following year–but Temple can.
Final thought: Dunphy’s legacy right now is unfortunately that of a coach who’s only won two NCAA games in 14 appearances, with just a 1-5 record in his years at Temple. With that move to the Big East just one season away, making it to the Big Dance is going to become that much tougher, and the Owls need to be able to capitalize on their ability to really dominate the league they’re currently in. The level of incoming talent is sure to increase over the next year or two, but turning those freshmen into the caliber of players who can win 20-plus games in the Big East is not going to be a walk in the park. The 2012-13 version of the Owls could actually be better than this year’s squad if a few things come together, especially if a deeper team still has what it takes to win in March, not just December and January.
Click HERE for all of Philahoops’ Temple coverage from the 2011-12 season.