WRITTEN BY TOM HANSLIN @tomhanslin
PHILADELPHIA– For the first time in three seasons, the Temple Owls received an at-large NCAA Tournament bid, selected as a No. 10 seed in the South Region scheduled to play the No. 7 Iowa Hawkeyes at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn at 3 p.m. on Friday, March 18.
It is the 32nd time in program history that Temple has made a Tournament appearance, and the seventh time in the last decade.
“Everybody is excited,” said Owls’ senior Quenton DeCosey. “We got left out the previous year, so it is an amazing feeling. I was up most of the night just thinking about it.”
The Owls, who finished the 2015-16 regular season with a record of 21-11, fell to Connecticut in the American Athletic Conference Tournament semifinals on Saturday afternoon, and were once again left with a sleepless night on the eve of Selection Sunday as one of several Tournament bubble teams.
“I didn’t get much sleep last night at all,” said forward Jaylen Bond, who was named to the AAC’s All-Tournament team. “Like last year we thought we had a good enough season, so we didn’t want to take anything for granted this year.”
The South region, which is headlined by the No. 1 seed Kansas Jayhawks, includes Temple’s conference rival Connecticut as the No. 9 seed, who earned an at-large bid after defeating Memphis in the AAC championship game on Sunday. Villanova, who dropped to a No. 2 seed after losing to Seton Hall in the Big East championship, also appears in the region, and will play in Brooklyn with the possibility of a Big-Five rematch in the second round.
“It’s a crazy day,” said Owls’ head coach Fran Dunphy. “When you don’t know that you’re in, it’s a crazy, crazy day. After last year, you have second thoughts going through your mind. We’re grateful to be in the Tournament.”
Sophomore forward Obi Enechionyia, who averaged 11.2 points per game this season, was not only pleased that Temple’s name was called, but also relieved that the announcement came within the first 15 minutes of the selection show.
“It was pretty nerve-racking,” said Enechionyia. “I tried not to think about it too much, but it’s a hard thing not to think about after last year.”
While the feat is certainly rewarding, Temple’s greatest challenge will come against Iowa, who finished the regular season ranked 20th in the AP Top-25 rankings. The Hawkeyes were ranked as high as No. 4 in mid-February, but their winning ways quickly dwindled over the last two weeks, having lost five of their last six games, including an upset defeat to Illinois in the Big Ten semifinals on Saturday.
“I know they’re a tough team,” said Enechionyia. They beat Michigan State, I think twice, so we’re going to have to be ready, prepare a lot during practice and in film and just be ready come gametime.”
The Hawkeyes are led by senior forward Jarrod Uthoff, who averaged 18.9 points per game in the regular season, while junior guard Peter Jok averaged 16.2 points. Iowa’s offense scored 78.1 points on average, ranked 57th-best in the nation.
“It’s just a good, well-balanced team,” said junior guard Josh Brown. “They have a good player in Uthoff, a good perimeter scorer who can score inside, out. So we know we’re going to have to play our best basketball game to beat them.”
Of Temple’s 32 regular season games, 19 were decided within single digits, and although the spotlight will become brighter, crunch-time finishes and late game heroics are only routine to the Owls’ rollecoaster campaign.
“We’ve been in a lot of close games, so we’re not going to be as rattled in close games as other teams,” Brown said. “I think if we have our chances at the end, we’ll have a great shot.”
NCAA TOURNAMENT SOUTH REGION, FIRST ROUND
#7 IOWA vs. #10 TEMPLE, MARCH 18, 2016
BARCLAYS CENTER, BROOKLYN, NY
TV: 3 P.M. ON TRUTV
RADIO: WHIP TEMPLE RADIO (COVERAGE BEGINS AT 2:30)
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