Both the St. Joseph's University Hawks and the Temple Owls have been eliminated from the Atlantic 10 tournament. The Dayton Flyers and Richmond Spiders will meet at 1p.m. tomorrow to determine a champion.
I think we might as well just address this thing in order. We'll start with the Hawks, move to the Owls and try to fit it at all together
The Hawks got further than anyone could have ever expected. Their 64-61 defeat at the hands of the Dayton Flyers is nothing for the young team to feel shame over.
Having only won nine games all year, their mini-run to the semifinals of the Atlantic 10 tournament is a clear sign of growth. Though no one has been officially mentioning coach Phil Martelli's job security, or potential lack thereof, the struggles of his program over the last few years have been hard to overlook. From multiple transfers to losing seasons to difficulties in recruiting, the magic of the Hawks 2004 (debatably) undefeated season seemed a far distant memory. Moreover, Phil's declaration that the run would put St. Joseph's on the national map looked more foolhardy and overblown with each successive setback.
Still, Martelli has assembled a nice young core of talent, all of whom figure to grow together as a unit over the next two to three seasons. If Jones can learn to channel his raw athelticism into consistently repeatable performances, and if Aiken can develop instincts greater than the singular ability to block shots, and if Galloway progresses on the track widelly assumed for his future, then the program could once again become a factor in the league.
Unfortunately for you SJU fans, two of those three hyptoheticals are big IFs. In the meantime, just tell your coach to chill with all that "The Hawk Will Never Die" stuff after putting together an eleven win season. There's a time and place, Phil, a time and a place.
The Temple University Basketball Owls:
As enough of you know, Saturday's 58-54 loss hits pretty close to home for me. But, in the interest of your reading enjoyment -- my number one priority at all times -- I'll do my best to divorce myself from the matter at hand.
Where to begin? Well, I suppose the top is as good as any. The Temple Owls hammered the Richmond Spiders just three weeks ago by a margin of 20. It was Temple's first match up after the loss of starting center Michael Eric to a season-ending knee injury. Beating a team like Richmond in that fashion gave both the team and its fans a huge boost of confidence heading forward. Still, I knew better than to make too much of that one outcome:
The result of this game in no way reflects the talent level of the Richmond Spiders. Kevin Anderson is an elite guard, and the substantially improved play of big men Justin Harper and Dan Geriot makes Richmond a veteran team Temple fans shouldn't be too eager to see again. The Owls are not going to shoot that well every night, and Richmond won't go quietly a second time. Chalk this is up as unexpected rolling and don't take it for granted.
And now, here I sit three weeks later, taking no comfort in the facts I knew to be true. In this case, calling it right still freaking sucks.
As for the game itself, Temple fought admirably, but succumbed to its persistent lack of depth in the face of injury. Again, absolutely nothing has changed since the Owls rolled the Spiders on February 18th:
If at any point Lavoy finds the same kind of foul trouble he did early in the year, then Temple will be forced to play a three (probably, in honest, four) guard line-up with Jefferson as the center. Also checking in at 6'6, Junior Scootie Randall, Temple's best perimeter defender, will fill in on the opposite block at power forward. This also assumes, by the way, that Rhalir is able to stay on the floor and off the PF sheet himself. If not, you're looking at graduate walk-on Dutch Gaitley as the only meaningful height on the roster.
Unfortunately, come tournament time, Temple didn't even have the benefit of Randall, whose been sidelined for the last two weeks with what is reported to be a hairline fracture on the top of his foot.
Though Temple had, thankfully, avoided the kind of foul trouble described above since losing Randall and Eric, they couldn't avoid it against the Spiders Saturday. Both Lavoy Allen and Rahlir Jefferson picked up early fouls that allowed Jason Harper, Dan Geriot and 2010 A10 MVP Kevin Anderson to create substantial match up problems for the short-handed Owls.
Anderson and Harper dominated the game and the box score with 22 and 18 points, respectively. Harper played a crafty mix of post-up and face-up play that allowed Richmond to create a dynamic mix of offense. At the top of the key, Kevin Anderson is just flat out too quick. When you're in foul trouble and he's beating his defender to the basket, back up can be, and was indeed, hard to find in the lane.
Before shifting back to Temple, I do take my hat off to Richmond coach Chris Mooney. When asked to provide an opening statement in his post-game presser, he intentionally cut himself short so as not to take attention away from the performance of his players:
"I couldn't be more -- I don't want to say too much, because growing up I would always make fun of the coaches who cried at the podium. So, I don't want to get too emotional, but I'm extremely proud of my guys."
Mooney was visibly emotional at times when answering questions, and appeared to almost choke up a bit in discussing what Kevin Anderson has meant to both the team and himself as a coach. Chris Mooney is a classy guy who shows tremendous poise both on and off the court; so, it's nice to see the guy's hard work pay off, even if it is at Temple's expense.
For the Owls, the small squad who lived and died by the three ultimately got burnt from the long range. Though Temple asserted itself in the game early by going 5-8 from behind the arc, the team would finish the game just 7 for 25. Quick and obvious math shows that Temple only converted 2 of its final 17 attempts from three.
The most blatant example of the team's shooting woes came in the form of the streaky Juan Fernandez. The 2010 Tournament MVP struggled to find a similar string of luck in 2011. His line against Richmond Saturday is the following mixed bag of extreme pluses and minuses:
7 pts, (a career high) 10 ast, 7 reb, 3 TO, 3-17 FG, 1-7 3FG, 0-1 FT
Putting all the totals, good and bad, aside, Temple coach Fran Dunphy remained obviously confident in his junior point guard after the game:
"Yeah...I think he tried to force a couple of things. But we're going to trust Juan Fernandez with the ball...He had a couple of tough shots at the basket that I'm sure he would change if he could. But 10 assists is very good and he's a terrific player...I'll trust Juan Fernandez with the ball anytime."
For senior Lavoy Allen, Saturday was the first time in his college career that the Owls would lose a game in Boardwalk Hall. Temple fans, take a long look at your program's all-time leading rebounder when he takes the floor next week; every game from here on out may be your last chance to see him in an Owl uniform.
The NCAA selection show kicks off at 5:30 tomorrow evening on CBS. I'll be back to break down the local match ups and points of interest. Until then, I'm gonna go lick my wounds and try to salvage this hotel room in Atlantic City. Suggested locales for my persual are welcomed.