Temple Outlook: Owls face tough road in AAC

Temple Outlook: Owls face tough road in AAC

Big man on campus: Temple's Anthony Lee

November 4, 2013, 3:00 pm
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Fran Dunphy's inexperienced Owls will be tested early and often this year in the new American Athletic Conference.

Temple 2013-14 Outlook

• Head coach: Fran Dunphy

• Last year: 24-10 (11-5 A-10), 1-1 NCAA tournament

• Top returners: Anthony Lee, junior, forward/center; Will Cummings, junior, point guard; Quenton DeCosey, sophomore, shooting guard

• Key losses: Khalif Wyatt, guard; Scootie Randall, forward; Rahlir-Hollis Jefferson, forward; Jake O'Brien, forward; T.J. DiLeo, guard

• Impact newcomers: Josh Brown, freshman, guard

• Games to watch: Dec. 7 vs. Texas; Jan. 11/Feb. 22 vs. Memphis; Jan. 14/26 vs. Cincinnati; Jan. 18 vs. La Salle; Jan. 21/Feb. 20 vs. UConn; Feb. 13/Feb. 27 vs. Louisville

• Best-case scenario: Fran Dunphy coaches up a very inexperienced team that gets progressively better throughout the season into his seventh consecutive and most improbable NCAA tournament appearance at Temple.

• Worst-case scenario: Scoring is hard to come by, a taxing schedule proves too much, a thin roster becomes tired or injured and the Owls end their year without a postseason invitation of any kind in a difficult transition year.

For the first time since 1982, Temple is not a member of the Atlantic 10.

And for the first time since Fran Dunphy's first season on North Broad, there are questions about who is going to take command of his team on the floor.

The veteran leaders have always been there: Mark Tyndale, Dionte Christmas, Lavoy Allen, Ramone Moore, Juan Fernandez, Khalif Wyatt.

But not this year, not after losing five seniors.

"It's difficult. There's no question about it," Dunphy said last week at Temple's media day. "But that's what happens in our game. We've been fortunate to have a core group of veteran guys over the last six years. Maybe the first year we were here, we were a little bit new. I was new, the players were new. Over the last six, we've had a good blend of veteran guys and young guys.

"Now we're a little bit inexperienced."

Temple has just 10 eligible players on its 2013-14 roster. Three -- Dalton Pepper, Anthony Lee, Will Cummings -- have legitimate college experience, although Pepper, the lone senior, is still searching for his breakthrough season at the college level.

Five -- Quenton DeCosey, Dan Dingle, Devontae Watson, Josh Brown and Mark Williams -- are freshmen or sophomores, only one of which, DeCosey, was part of the rotation last year.

And the remaining two -- junior Jimmy McDonnell and walk-on Nick Pendergast -- have played a combined 31 minutes of basketball over four seasons with the program.

Two transfers with experience who could help -- Jaylen Bond from Texas and Jesse Morgan from UMass -- are in residence and allowed to practice but not play.

And that's it. That's what Temple's rolling with. Ten guys. Six of whom have zero meaningful college experience. Against the toughest schedule the Owls have faced during Dunphy's tenure.

There's no room for injuries. There's no room for foul trouble. Because, really, there won't be anyone to turn to.

"I think exciting is one part. I think being apprehensive is another part. And there's a little bit of fear about how we're going to handle all that," Dunphy said, referencing his team's move to the American Athletic Conference while it's a little short-handed.

"In our league, we're going to play Louisville a couple times, and Connecticut a couple times, and Cincinnati and Memphis a couple times, to say nothing of coach Larry Brown and his team (SMU) a couple of times."

Before any of that, the team opens this Saturday night at Penn. It will soon travel to South Carolina where it will meet Clemson and then the winner of Davidson and Georgia in the Charleston Classic, and it still has three other Big 5 games ... and a non-con meeting with Texas.

"We're going to be in the soup, and we're going to in the soup early," Dunphy said.

Regardless of who they're playing -- whether it's Texas Southern or Rick Pitino's defending national champions -- the Owls will have to figure out a way to replace their lost scoring from last year's team that narrowly missed out on the Sweet 16 after a near-upset of No. 1 Indiana.

Four of Temple's five leading scorers from last year -- Wyatt, Scootie Randall, Jake O'Brien and Rahlir-Hollis Jefferson -- are gone, and so are their 50.9 points per game that made up 71 percent of the Owls' total output. Wyatt, who just signed a very lucrative deal to play in China after being cut from the Sixers, accounted for 20.5 points per game by himself.

With Tyndale and Christmas and at times Moore and certainly Wyatt, there was never much of a question about who was taking the last shot. Sometimes the last six or seven shots. It was their ball.

Whose ball is it now?

"I think we were blessed to have gone to Europe this summer," Dunphy said, referencing his team's 10-day trip to Italy and France. "I think it helped us in trying to form who it is that we are."

In four games overseas, it was DeCosey, who led Temple with more than 15 points per. The 6-foot-5 shooting guard played only seven minutes a game last year, but ...

"He has to be either our first- or second-leading scorer I would think," Dunphy said.

"I'll put up with third if Pep is really starting to knock it out and Will Cummings is doing a good job. To say nothing of Anthony Lee, who has to get double-doubles for us.

"But Quenton will be expected to score. What I would really like to do is to say to Q (who's up to 200 pounds from 180 last season), 'Now you take that best perimeter scorer, and you guard him, and really do a great job.' I think he has every component athletically that he needs. Now it's just getting that discipline and the mindset to say, 'I have to be a complete player,' but he's a really talented kid."

And so it will be DeCosey and Cummings and Lee and Pepper and then whoever else figures out a way to contribute.

There's nothing that says the Owls -- despite all their apparent challenges -- can't be successful. It just won't be a surprise if they struggle, either.

Dunphy's reputation for elevating talent precedes him. Every time there's a list of the most underrated coaches in the country, Dunphy's on there. Usually towards the top. Sometimes he is the top.

But if he can find a way to take this team, with this schedule, to his seventh straight NCAA tournament, it might be the finest work of his career.

"It's going to really be an interesting year with a lot of unanswered questions," he said. "Hopefully, we'll grow as the year goes on.

"I think the goal is always the same. We try to win every game that we play, because ... at the end of the year, there's going to be people who are going to be deciding on your fate. Are we good enough to be in that grouping, in that conversation? That's the challenge for us."

Previous previews: La Salle. Tomorrow: Villanova.

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