With the upcoming NCAA season upon us, we're happy to introduce some in-depth coverage of at least one of the local teams. Nick Menta, a junior at Temple who has been watching the Owls play on North Broad since he was 10 years old, will be discussing the Owls here and there throughout the season, starting with this preview of what we can expect from this year's team, which is in a major transition period as you'll read below.
If you'd like to contribute posts on one of the other local teams, contact me or Enrico.
It doesn’t seem all that long ago that Dionte Christmas was raining down threes on then-#8 Tennessee and projected to be a late first round steal in the 2009 NBA Draft. Unfortunately for both Christmas and the 2009-2010 Temple Owls, a lot has changed. Ignoring for a moment Dionte’s “erratic driving” and the obvious uncertainties about the former Temple standout’s future, his alma mater enters this season with questions of their own.
Coming off their second A-10 Championship in as many years, the Owls, tied for 5th with Duquesne in the A-10 preseason rankings, are without a clear primary scorer for the first time since head coach Fran Dunphy took over the program in 2006. Led in the past by athletic swingmen like Christmas and his old counterpart Mark Tyndale, this year’s team will need a revamped offense focused more on the execution of teamwork than the takeover of individual talent if they hope to return to the NCAA tournament for the third year in a row. The graduation of key senior starters like Christmas, center Sergio Olmos and guard Semaj Inge leave the Owls with the challenge of replacing valuable minutes, scoring and experience. That lost 34.7 points per game might not come so easy this year without Semaj’s speed, Sergio’s size and, let’s be honest for a second, Dionte’s timely three-parties.
While it is certainly easy to lament the loss of Christmas, Olmos and Inge, there is also, fortunately, quite a lot to look forward to this season.
originally uploaded by abmillerphotography.
Sophomore point guard Juan Fernandez drew immediate comparisons to former Temple guard and fellow Argentine Pepe Sanchez upon his arrival on campus late last December, and made tremendous strides as the season progressed. Though occasionally a bit loose with the ball, Fernandez has unbelievable vision in traffic and such forceful passing that it often took his teammates, especially the unprepared bigs underneath, by surprise. With a year under his belt and the offseason to work with both last year’s crew as well as the new additions, Pepe-with-a-jumper’s play should prove increasingly dynamic as he gains more confidence. His continued development figures to weigh heavily on the Owls' success this season.
At the 4, Craig Williams played (extremely) limited minutes in last year’s out of conference schedule. But, after a 22-minute, 16-point performance against Kent State in early January, Williams cemented his place as important role player for the Owls. At 6’9, it can be surprising to see Williams spend so much time behind the three point line; but, after finishing the season with 40.4% average from the beyond the arc, he’ll remain a viable threat from the outside. Point guard Kalif Wyatt and forward Ralir Jefferson are also expected to contribute off the bench in their freshman seasons, as are the returning Luis Guzman, Rafael DeLeon, Ramon Moore, Michael Eric and T.J. DiLeo.
The true keys to this team’s success, however, are undoubtedly Ryan Brooks and Lavoy Allen. Largely considered complimentary pieces to the bigger part of the Temple puzzle thus far in their collegiate careers, Brooks and Allen now figure to be the team’s leaders both on and off the court. Averaging 10.7 PPG last season, Brooks remains the team’s best perimeter player at both ends of the floor. Knocking down 41.7% from 3 and playing Tenacious D at the opposite end, the 6’4 senior is the heart and soul of this year’s squad. Likewise, Allen, recently named to the A-10 All-Conference team, will be expected to continue the play that led the lineup in both field-goal percentage and rebounding last season.
Ultimately, as Brooks and Allen go, so go this year’s Temple Owls.
“It’s going to be tough [without last year’s seniors], but I think we’re up to the challenge,” said Allen when asked about his and Brooks’ expanding roles. “It might take us a little while to find our identity as a team, but we’re working hard and expect another successful season.”
L.A. and the Owls will take their first step toward realizing that identity this Saturday on the road against Delaware. Tip-off is scheduled for 12 pm. Three days later, Temple squares off against AP #20 Georgetown at 4 o’clock on ESPN.
10 other games to look forward this season:
11/21/09 Siena (Home Opener)
12/05/09 Penn State
01/02/10 #1 Kansas
01/13/10 @ UPenn
02/06/10 @ Richmond
02/20/10 @ St. Joseph’s
First St. Joe’s game is January 6th at The Apollo. Start Tailgating.