Used to change, Temple shifts over to new-look AAC
PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Temple found a foreclosure sign on its new home before it ever had a chance to move in.
Again, the Owls were out of the Big East.
Unlike a decade ago, when the program was evicted from the Big East, the Owls split this time because of the alignment shake-up that forced them into the American Athletic Conference. The conference may not be what Temple wanted, but it's still a move into the high-rent district of college hoops.
Coach Fran Dunphy made the Owls an NCAA tournament fixture by winning big non-conference games, then running wild over the Atlantic 10.
But the Owls can say so long to padding the win column with games against Fordham, Duquesne, and Rhode Island.
It's time for twice-a-season meetings with Louisville, Connecticut and Memphis. All three of those teams are locks to start the season ranked in The Associated Press' preseason poll.
''Exciting is one part,'' coach Fran Dunphy said. ''I think being apprehensive is another part. There's a little bit of fear of how we're going to handle all that.''
With good reason. The Owls lost their experienced core of Khalif Wyatt, Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson, Scootie Randall and T.J. DiLeo. They helped the Owls go 24-10 last season, and they took top-seeded Indiana down to the wire in the third round of the NCAA tournament. Dunphy has led the Owls to six straight tournaments and done a remarkable job of molding the program into a tough postseason out since taking over for Hall of Fame coach John Chaney.
But so many changes have made this a unique season for Dunphy
''It's probably the biggest challenge,'' he said, ''since our first year here.''
Who will step up for the Owls - a proven team that opens Nov. 9 against Penn - is one of the five biggest challenges. A closer look:
BIG LOSSES: The Owls lost more than a conference. They lost a ton of production. Even Dunphy knows why the Owls have had so much success the last few years: ''We've been fortunate to have a core group.'' That started with Wyatt, the A-10 player of the year, and a 20.5 points-per-game scorer. Hollis-Jefferson led the Owls in 3-point shooting and DiLeo was a stout defender. Without them, the Owls could see their streak of six straight 20-win seasons end.
STEP UP: So who steps up? Point guard Will Cummings, forward Anthony Lee and guard Dalton Pepper all need to make the most of their increased scoring opportunities. Guard Quenton DeCosey could become the new Wyatt, maybe not right away in terms of consistent big buckets, but in developing into a top perimeter option. Pepper shot only 32 percent from the floor and was a disappointment in his first season after transferring from West Virginia. Perhaps one full season playing in Dunphy's system will get him more comfortable as a go-to scorer.
PLAYING TOUGH: Few programs can topple the top teams quite like Temple. The Owls have defeated a top-10 team each of the last five seasons, including last year's 83-79 victory against No. 3 Syracuse at Madison Square Garden. Dunphy has carried on a Chaney tradition of playing a nonconference schedule dotted with ranked programs. But playing in the mediocre A-10 required that approach to boost the Owls' tournament resume. This year? Different story. The Owls will face top 25 teams regularly in the AAC. ''I wish we were not as challenged as we were early in the season,'' Dunphy said.
EUROPEAN VACATION: Temple went on its first foreign tour over the summer, a 10-day trip that took the Owls to Paris and Rome, among other locations. The Owls took in some culture and some experience, playing four games over the tour. With so many new faces, it made for a strong bonding trip and a chance to play together on the court - a jump-start on what will surely be Dunphy's toughest season. ''We were blessed to have gone to Europe,'' Dunphy said. ''It helped us in trying to form who it is that we are. It doesn't mean that we're flawless. It just means that we know each others' warts a little bit so we can figure out what to do on occasions.''
DUNPHY'S FUTURE: Dunphy has won regular-season and conference-tournament championships with the Owls, has had them ranked in the poll, and established one of the more respected programs in the nation. But times are changing at Temple. The program is on the hunt for a new athletic director, always leaving open the possibility a new administration may not be as forgiving about Dunphy's March failings. He's yet to lead a team into the second weekend and beyond of the tournament, the true mark of a major program. With rebuilding ahead, the pressure could be on him.