Opening Tip Off : Temple vs #1 UNC

WRITTEN BY TOM HANSLIN @tomhanslin

Eight months ago, Temple’s 2014-15 campaign ended in defeat at Madison Square Garden, as the Owls fell to the Miami Hurricanes in the National Invitational Tournament semifinals.

Prior to the loss, Temple was victorious in three consecutive postseason games, ranked as the No. 1 overall seed in the NIT.

But this postseason bid did not sit well with the players. After learning from the NCAA selection committee that the Owls overall record of 23-10 did not qualify for a NCAA Tournament bid, Temple was perceived as the tournament’s snub, a team that played under the radar, but failed in earning a rightful place among the nation’s contenders.

While the Owls reached their highest regular season win total since 2010, the team missed out on greater opportunities, and with the page turned to a new campaign, the goal remains the same: make it to the dance.

Fortunately for Temple, the biggest test is right in front of them, as the 2015 season opens Friday night in Annapolis, Maryland against the preseason No. 1 ranked North Carolina Tar Heels in the Veteran’s Classic.

“It’s a tremendous challenge,” said Owls’ head coach Fran Dunphy, who enters his 10th season on Broad Street. “I think that’s what you want. It’s what we advertise when we recruit. We want to play the best.”

In regard to Temple’s roster, the majority of players have returned, but with the graduations of star guards Will Cummings and Jesse Morgan, there are shoes that must be filled in the Owls’ starting lineup.

The two players in line for the gigs are junior Josh Brown and senior Quenton DeCosey, who were given ample playing time last season, and were key contributors to the Owls’ late success. DeCosey averaged 30 minutes per game last season, the second most behind Cummings, and averaged 12.3 points per game, also the second-highest.

“I think we’ll be fine, as long as we play together,” said DeCosey. “Not making it last year definitely gives us a lot of motivation coming into this season. We just have to play with a chip on our shoulder.”

Cummings earned the rank of captain on and off the court last season, and with his name no longer on a Temple uniform, the baton was handed off to Senior forward Jaylen Bond, who was selected as captain by his teammates. Bond, who averaged 7.9 rebounds per game, will serve as the potent force in the front court, and the commander in chief in the locker room.

“It’s a great responsibility, just leading by example on and off the court, and I take a lot of pride in it,” said Bond.

Backing up Bond down low will be sophomore Obi Enechionyia, who impressed most critics last year with contributions offensively and defensively as a freshman. In Temple’s 60-57 loss to Miami in New York last April, Enechionyia led the team with 17 points and eight rebounds off the bench, and will see more playing time this season as a pivotal player.

“I think it was a really good segue into the offseason and gave me a lot of confidence,” Enechionyia said. “It showed me the kind of player I can be every game, not just once in a while like last year.”

Although Dunphy’s projected starting lineup has yet to be determined, it’ll likely see Brown and DeCosey in the back court, with Bond and Enechionyia in the front court alongside senior Devin Coleman as the fifth man. Ten players saw playing time in 27 or more games last season, and it is expected that the same rotation will exist with a younger roster in 2015. The team still has some question marks, according to Dunphy.

At the Naval Academy on Friday night, the long awaited journey will begin for Temple against the Tar Heels, one of four nationally ranked teams that the Owls will face this year. Prior to Temple’s American Athletic Conference play, which begins on Dec. 29 at Cincinnati, the Owls will play in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, and will also visit the No. 17 Wisconsin Badgers in early December. Temple has also defeated a ranked opponent in each of the last eight seasons.

Among the conference rivals, Temple is placed at sixth in the AAC rankings, behind teams such as Southern Methodist, Memphis, Connecticut, and Cincinnati. This year, Southern Methodist can only play spoiler, as the team is ineligible for postseason play due to academic violations enforced this fall.

With one game at a time, North Carolina will test Temple’s vulnerability, but with Tar Heels’ star point guard Marcus Paige sidelined with a wrist injury, Josh Brown will face someone closer to equal competition. North Carolina’s junior forward Kennedy Meeks, who averaged 11.4 points per game along with 7.3 rebounds, will take on Jaylen Bond on the post and in the paint. Forward Brice Johnson, who placed second in most points per game (12.9) will match up with Enechionyia on the elbow.

The Owls will have no time to settle into the season schedule, which is what Dunphy wants, in order to prove that his team should play with the best in the nation. For Temple, last season left a bad taste, but it’s now time to swallow.

“We thought we should have been in, well, we weren’t,” said Dunphy. “We didn’t do enough. We needed to win another game. I think we had all our exorcisms last year. It’s over and done with. This is a whole new group, with a whole new opportunity. We’re thinking about this year.”

 

THE RUNDOWN
GAME 1: TEMPLE at #1 UNC, NOVEMBER 13, 2015
ALUMNI HALL, ANNAPOLIS, MD
TV: 7PM ON CBS SPORTS NETWORK
RADIO: WHIP TEMPLE RADIO (PREGAME BEGINS AT 6:30)

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